A letter to St Ignatius
Dear St Ignatius,
I am wondering whether I should write you this letter. To be honest, I am not gifted with a special devotion or love of saints, and that includes you. But I am not ungrateful. Without you, there would be no Society of Jesus, and without it, I would not be who I am today. Therefore, personally, I am deeply grateful to you. Actually, I came to know you quite late because your name is not so popular in my country. Even your transliterated name in Vietnamese (“Inhã”) is quite tricky to pronounce. At first, I was not even sure if the first character was a capital “I” or a small “l”.
For your information, I wanted to find my life direction after graduating from college even though I was sure of what I wanted. My desire to live a religious life had never changed since I was a child. Coincidentally, there was a book entitled, “A Life Direction”, which was the first book I read from the Society of Jesus. I did not know anything about the Society of Jesus except for its inexplicable popularity. I did not care how famous people thought about it then because that fact had nothing to do with me. I just needed a place to help me live my vocation.
Dear Saint Ignatius, as a Jesuit, I have learned quite a lot about you most especially after reading your autobiography and some letters you wrote during your time as the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus. I also reviewed many pieces of research on your life. However, I don’t remember much of it! I am neither a fan of books on the life of saints nor the one who easily believes the flattering or even fabricated words people use to honor someone, that is why, I do not idolize you. I think you can understand and will not be sad or criticize me for that. You know clearly that you are a sinner like many others; however, you listened more attentively and generously committed yourself to God’s call.
Perhaps, I would not have had anything to say to you if you had not shared your spiritual experiences with other people through the Spiritual Exercises. I am grateful to you because I, myself, have benefited from the Spiritual Exercises. I love giving appreciation such as thanking the author whenever I read a good book and the cook for the delicious food. So how could I not be grateful to you when the Spiritual Exercises have changed my life and helped me find God? It is one of the reasons why I am always thankful to you. Perhaps because of your humility and holiness, you might say, “I didn’t do anything. It’s all God’s work. It’s all for the greater glory of God!” Well, it is right to say so, but I have to acknowledge that you are an effective tool that God uses to help many souls, including mine.
Another thing I need to thank you for is the Society of Jesus itself. Please do not get me wrong, I do not thank you because you established a famous religious congregation where I am in. You know well that the growth of the Society of Jesus does not come from your original intention or plan but entirely from God’s will. You always considered the Society of Jesus as “the least congregation”. The Society of Jesus is not so important. It was even wiped out in the history of the Church for more than 40 years. I am grateful that you instill in Jesuits not to glorify themselves or the Society, but first and foremost, to glorify God. By doing God’s will, the Jesuits have done many valuable things for the society and the Church. As a Vietnamese, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Jesuits for their great contribution to the evangelization in Vietnam. I could, of course, mention other significant contributions of Jesuits all over the world, but I do not want you to think that I am glorifying the Jesuits.
As a member of the Society of Jesus, I embrace the Jesuit way of proceeding. I am very thankful to you for that. As I have said, I would not be who I am today without the Society of Jesus. Of course, I could be a different person, and still live happily and peacefully. However, I prefer who I am as a Jesuit right now. I am inspired to live your conversion experience in my life. Precisely 500 years ago you had your conversion during convalescence that changed your life direction. Instead of seeking vainglory, you wanted to serve God in helping souls. The Spiritual Exercises are a great blessing to me because I am glad to see all things new in knowing and following Jesus.
Dear Saint Ignatius, you said that you found yourself having a particular zeal for holiness in the early days of your conversion. Something extraordinary must have happened to you. However, you were afraid that people would praise you and thereby render your conversion futile as it would seem ultimately that you were seeking only your own honor. That is why when you thought you were about to die, you asked people around to shout loudly, “You are a sinner! You are a sinner!” That story is fascinating to me. At this time, the Society of Jesus worldwide celebrates the Ignatian year to commemorate your conversion. Given your personality, I am sure that if you see people honoring you, you might shout, “Don’t praise me! Let’s praise the wonders God has done in my life and in your life!”
I still hope to meet you one day in Heaven, although I am not very close to you. We have many things in common. For one thing, I am trying to imitate your way of following Jesus. I wish that people who know me will also see the wonders God has done in my life. I hope I can have a part of your apostolic zeal, restlessly seeking to help souls in any way possible. I pray that I may have a spirit of discernment and generosity like yours, diligently seeking and doing God’s will under any circumstances.
Dear Saint Ignatius, please pray to the Lord for me and for the other Jesuits who are living your conversion experience. Let us pray that God can use us as useful tools in His hand like what He did for you.
Le Dac Thang SJ (proud and grateful to add the letters “SJ” after my name)