Reflections On The Virtues Of The Venerable Ignacia Del Espiritu Santo
September 10, 2009 Mass Introduction (S. Maria Rita Ferraris, RVM)
“…the Servant of God, Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is found to possess to a heroic degree the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity toward God and neighbor, as well as the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude.” (Papal Decree, 6 July, 2007)
The theological virtues are God-centered, with God as origin, motive and object. They are free gifts from God, but become habits of doing good by our use of them, that we may direct our whole life to Him.
Faith, Mother Ignacia’s response to God’s invitation.
By revelation, God, from the fullness of His love, addresses us as friends, and moves among us in order to invite all into His company. The adequate response to this invitation is faith, whereby a person completely submits his intellect and will to God. (From the Homily of Fr. Joey Martin, September 7, 2008. The concise definitions of the other virtues are likewise paraphrased from this source.)
Mother Ignacia received the gift of faith during her baptism at the Church of the Holy Kings in the fifth Parian de Chinos. As with other yndias of her times, this faith gradually matured, nurtured by the Sacraments, teachings, practices and devotions inculcated by the zealous missionaries and a pious mother. The growing child’s faith manifested itself in the ordinary Christian observances in the context of parochial activities. It was only when Ignacia was 21 years old, and her parents began to plan seriously for her future in terms of marriage, that the level of maturity in faith of this simple yndia manifested itself. Her life’s aspiration was to life solely for her God. She was not sure how or where, but that was her heart’s desire. It was faith that prompted her posture of discernment, that she seek the will of God for her. And God led her steps to a mentor in discernment, the son of Ignatius at the Colegio de San Jose. Paul Klein saw her soul the prepared ground for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and put her through the process of discerning the will of God for her. Her retreat experience is shrouded in mystery. We only know that during that time God “inspired her to remain in the service of His Majesty,” and her response was one great leap of faith: “to live by the sweat of her brow.” With one act of the will she placed her life in the hands of the ‘Divine Majesty.’
Colonial policy dictated that no institution could be established unless it proved financial stability, or at least indicate its source of income so that it does not become a burden to the Royal Treasury. What presumption for this lowly yndia to set out on her own. Perhaps her vision did not include an institution; and by herself, her needle and pair of scissors would be adequate, supported by her trust is Divine Providence. Still it was her faith that gave courage to do the will of the Father, whatever that would entail. It was this faith that allowed her to accept the coming of other women like her, seeking to serve the Lord in chastity, poverty and obedience, and not to panic at the thought of additional mouths to feed. It was heroic faith to trust that as long as they did all they could, His Providence will supply their needs. She harnessed her indigenous resourcefulness to make ends meet, and believed that God will do the rest. When the women kept coming, she was practical enough to call a stop to admission, only until she had the means to enlarge the house. And the means came: Don Jose Ignacio de Bertis (Vertis) willed a legacy of three hundred pesos annually for the support of the retreat ministry. But this was only about 1726; the forty-one years since she cast lot with the Lord were years of light and shadows: consolations and trials, in the midst of which she urged her community to “bear their sacrifices in order to draw down God’s mercy on them.”
This unschooled yndia led her members to assist the Jesuit missionaries in facilitating the retreat of women by the hundreds, from all strata of colonial society, and then to open the doors of her beaterio to little children to be educated in basic doctrine and literacy. It was faith that made her accept the role God entrusted to her, of providing a place where women of her race could serve His Majesty in a life of the evangelical counsels, to prepare a set of Rules and Constitutions to preserve the legacy of spirituality that was revealed to her in her search for the service of the Divine Majesty. From her faith grew the other virtues that drew the admiration of her biographer, who until then, had only disdain for the lowly yndio: humility, zeal for souls,…. It was from faith the sprung up hope, and love, and temperance, justice, prudence and fortitude.
The crowning of Ignacia’s faith came in the early morning Mass of September 10, 1748, when the God to whom she gave her life in His turn gave her life – EVERLASTING.
hope The Spiritual Legacy in the life and virtues of the servant of god, Ignacia del Espiritu santo.
“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await that God will grant us life eternal for our happiness, placing our faith in the promises of Christ and our expectation in the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit and persevered until the end..” (Translation from the Compendio del Catechismo della Chiesa Catholica. P. 387)
“The Servant of God had great hope…” These words are applied to our Mother in the process of the deliberation of the Congress of Theologians in Rome. He further defines the virtue as evident in Mother Foundress.
Hope in the heart and action of Ignacia
The record of the first adult aspirations of the Venerable Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, to dedicate her life to a closer following of Christ in a religious community, reflected this disposition: the expectation to be acceptable to God even as an Yndia one generation away from conversion to the faith. The resolution by which she responded to the charism she received during her retreat underscores the virtue of hope that formed one of the fundamental disposition of her spiritual life.
“There, (during the course of her retreat) God inspired her to remain in the service of His Majesty.” This was the gift the Lord granted her for the service of His people: the charism for her vocation. Ignacia’s response to the initiative of God was unique in the Church as well as in her times. Women in Europe as well as in the colony needed the protection of father or husband in society. Fiscal stability was required of any social initiative. But Ignacia was not an española. In her veins run the blood of two cultures with a different set of social values: The Chinese valued industry and hard work; the yndio, resourcefulness and self sacrifice. In answer to the invitation to “remain in the service of His Majesty,” Ignacia “resolved to live by the sweat of her brow,” although she had parents who could decently support her. And from her home she brought her sewing kit, representing her skills by which she would earn her keep. Her faith made her recognize God’s invitation, her hope prompted her to “cast off into the deep” with a pair of scissors and her needle. Thus, another theologian said: “The decision to dedicate herself to God in 1684 was fruit of an act of hope. By the Spiritual Exercises and spiritual direction she underwent a serious discernment, abandoning herself to the bounty of God. Having arrived at her decision, she pursued this up to the end.”
The test to Ignacia’s HOPE will run through her lifetime and beyond. Because of her decision not to depend on her family’s resources but to “live by the sweat of her brow,” she and the other native women who joined her in a common search for the life of perfection, had to live in “extreme poverty.” She and her companions clung to the hope that the Father will provide, but at the same time they had to work for their living. Theirs was the delicate balance between native industry and resourcefulness and trust in Diving Providence. Further, the same theologian continues, “Her firm hope in God urged her to labor with great insistence that was sustained in the face of the difficulties before her. She knew how to reconcile initiative and industry with faith in Divine Providence.
Hope embodied in legislation
The Constitutions (1726) underline her virtue of hope, the precondition for perseverance in her vocation.” (Quoting the same source.)
The increase in membership in the native Beaterio showed Ignacia that the service of His Majesty entailed the foundation of a community of yndio women bound by the common vision of living the life of evangelical perfection, and the mission to be at the service of God, our Father. The foundational values had to be preserved for membership in the future. The habitual posture of living in hope and trust in the God who called them was to be preserved and embodied in the Rules and Constitutions.
Chapter I.22. “their ordinary support should come from the labor of their hands… They should place their confidence in the providence of the merciful and compassionate God.”
Although poverty was not explicit in the profession of the vows, the members are urged not to keep their private property since discipleship calls for leaving all things.
Chapter I:23. “In this House of God, no one should have her private property or wealth, and anyone who would desire to possess anything for her own does not deserve to be called a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Finally, the members are enjoined to grow in the virtue of Hope and expectation in the promises of the Lord through these spiritual advices:
Chapter I:48. “ All should make frequent acts of living faith, of firm hope, or filial fear and constant gratitude to God, our Father, for the blessings we have received and hope to receive from His infinite mercy.”
Chapter II:1. …Placing their trust in divine assistance they should strive to live steadfastly in the way they have begun, in the love and service of God and thereby attain the blessings of eternity.
The long life the Lord granted Venerable Ignacia “remain in the service of His Majesty” came to a finality on the 10th of September, 1748. Murillo Velarde’s eulogy is such a fitting epitaph to her living in HOPE. “Y despues de tantos trabajos, como padecio en su vida, descanso en paz en su muerte, y espero de la misericordia de Dios, le dara en premio el descanso de la gloria siguiendose a la tarde triste de llanto de vida la mañana alegre de felicisimos consuelos en la eterna.” “After much labor suffered in her life, she rests in the peace of death, and hoping in the mercy of God that she be granted the reward of peace in glory, that after the tearful afternoon that life is, the joyful morrow of eternal blissful consolations.” (Note: This sounds a bit cumbersome translation but this is in the hope that the sentiments of her biographer be fully transmitted.
CHARITY : Paul 1 Cor.12-13 “Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”
“She spent her life loving God and serving Him in the hope of eternal joys, which she longed for. She loved her neighbor, sharing her material goods with the poor and thus worked with apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls.” (Decree on Virtues.).
The practice of the theological virtue of CHARITY in the life of Mother Ignacia became the hallmark not only of her person, but was faithfully embraced and passed on to generations to come of her religious family. In the lifetime of the Servant of God her biographer recorded the distinguishing mark of the foundational community that made them an exemplar of virtue in the colonial community.
a. Murillo Velarde: fame in the city
810. Era ya tan el buen olor que daban en la Ciudad con su modo de vida, oracion….
Such was the fragrance that permeated the City with their mode of life, prayer…
Lo que a mi siempre me ha admirado es, que siendo tantas en numero, y todas Indias o Mestgizas, governadas por si mismas, en mas de sesenta anos, no hayan dado que decir en la Republica, antes bien la tienen del todo edificada por su devocion, humildad, y aplicacion al trabajo y a los Exercicios Espirituales.
What had always caught my admiration is that, although they were of such numbers,, all natives or mestizas, governed by themselves, in more than sixty years, they had not given any cause for gossip in the colony, rather, they had everyone edified by their devotion, humility, assiduity at work, and in the Spiritual Exercises.
b. embedded in 1726 RULES AND CONSTITUTIONS of the native Beatas, Maidens who serve God Our Lord in this Beaterio of Manila, under the spiritual guidance of the Reverend Fathers of the Society of Jesus.
“The Ecclesiastical Fiscal of this Archdiocese saw the petition presented by Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo, superior of the beatas, known as residents of the beaterio or house of retreats, which is under the direction of the Reverend Fathers of the Society of Jesus. He also saw the rules and written code of customs to be observed by the beatas. After having read the aforementioned rules and customs, I can only repeat what on a similar occasion His Holiness Pope Paul III had said to my Father and Patriarch St. Ignatius of Loyola when he petitioned the Pope to confirm and approve the rules of the Society of Jesus. “Digitus Dei est hic.” These rules can only be attributed to the interior law of charity under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Chapter I. 8. In order to please God, there should be mutual love and union of wills among the Sisters, because discord is a great obstacle to perfection. Moreover, by their love, they show that they belong to Jesus.
9. … they should not dispute with each other. If it is necessary to make the truth known, they should manifest it with humility, without desiring triumph over their Sisters.
26. One who happens to know of the serious temptation of another Sister ought to inform the Superior or the Spiritual Director of the Sister, so that she may be helped properly.
Chapter II. Spiritual Advice which should be observed by those who are engaged in a life of perfection and in the service of God.
4. How great a deception it is to wish to serve God without mortifying such degrading passions and vices as disunity, envy, impatience, aimless chatter, immodesty and the like.
5. One who does not learn to bear with the faults of her Sisters forfeits glory and reward. Whoever envies the neighbor’s well-being acts like the devil; Whoever does not forgive another or possess charity has no right to be called a child of God.
6. The peacemakers are called the children of God; they are those who live in the union of genuine charity, mutually bearing with one another’s shortcomings, striving to correct each other with meekness in order to avoid further wrongs rather than to avenge them.
In the words of St. Paul: “Have the peace and concord with all, without which no one may come face to face with God.” St. Lawrence Justinian says:
7. “Discord is oil to the fire of the devil, which disrupts peace, foments quarrels, produces hatreds, fans revenge, dims honesty, confounds reason, destroys wisdom, darkens the eyes of the spirit, repels the light of grace, breaks family love and kills divine love in oneself.”
8. “The tongue that foments arguments and quarrels is venomous,”, says St. Bernard, “and unless restrained, causes scandal to others.”
9. Contention and lack of conformity among those who profess to walk the path of virtue are fruits of worldliness, from which, as the Apostle says, “generate harsh arguments, envy, angry words, quarrels and discords, vices unworthy of those who claim to please God only, Who is CHARITY and LOVE.
10. “One who has charity for his neighbor,” says St. Bonaventure, “does not advertise their faults, detract from their good, slander or belittle them, but on the contrary, praise the good in them.” The perfection of this virtue is reached by one who is able to sympathize with the failures of others, and to rejoice in their strivings for virtue.
11. Those who, by words or action upset the tranquility of others do not possess genuine charity. On the other hand, one who does not cause pain and mortifications to others, even by mere signs, has attained the highest degree of charity and perfection.
12. This living in community should avoid all sorts of partiality and exclusive friendship, but should have an all-embracing love in Jesus Christ. Those in position of authority should observe this injunction with greater fidelity, manifesting to all an equal benevolence, assisting all those in need, bearing with their imperfections, and correcting them with motherly love.
17. First of all, make yourself mortified and spiritual. You will benefit others only in as much as you benefit yourself in the spiritual life.
18. Conquer yourself in all things… Do not complain of others, but of the meagerness of your advancement in the service of God.
21. It is neither prudence nor charity to carry tales. If you do not have the courage to correct your Sister pleasantly, represent the matter objectively to one who can correct with love. To accuse another because of envy and ill will is a form of revenge, and is most displeasing to the Lord.
22. It is illicit for superiors to take advantage of their office…
26. If these counsels are observed, God will live among the Sisters and the House will be a heavenly abode, otherwise the House will be a little hell, and its government violent.
Chapter IV. 17. If a Sister should ask permission to leave the Beaterio to return home, the rectora shall try to comfort her and advise her to persevere in the divine service, and shall give her ample to think it over….
c. Legacy transmitted by the missionaries in the missions.
The Missionary Beatas
Prompted to seek the greater glory and service of God as a legacy from the foundation, the beatas entered into whatever demands were made of them in the mission When a plague attacked the settlement, they served the victims unselfishly. Fr. Guillermo Bennasar reported the death of Sor Brigida (Palinis), “newly arrived at the orphanage, a hard worker and a model of charity towards her Sisters. At 8:00 in the morning of November 23 (1883) she still attended Mass, but at 2:00 p.m. she had become a corpse. Her sudden death filled the Sisters and the girls with consternation. Not surprisingly; the latter had lost a loving mother, the former a real sister. I believe God had already rewarded her charity.”
The Jesuit missionary partners were full of admiration for the services and the spirit of the beatas as several of their letters indicate.
“Your Reverence cannot imagine how much an influence on the girls the Beatas of St. Ignatius have proven to be, and how helpful! When I observed the one assigned to accompany the girls to the fields – she is a young lady about 26 years old, of a wealthy family, and well-educated (she plays the piano, for she had been a music teacher in her youth!) – I say, when I see her going daily to the fields with the girls and, morning and afternoon, waiting by a narrow path with no other shade than what a coconut tree gives, and at times, only that of an umbrella, I exclaim to myself,’ Those who say the Indios are not a people, those who consider them incapable of virtue, let them come and let them see.”
The accolade continues in a letter from another missionary in the Rio Grande mission.
“The great work of these Sisters is admirable. How they sacrifice themselves for the good of the entire mission! No less admirable is the girls’ college. So many of them and in such recollection and silence, it is like a nunnery. How well the Moro girls imitate their teachers’ virtues! Among these is Sister Luisa, very deserving of the name, for she is like another St. Aloysius.”
The Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude.
They are called cardinal (Latin: cardo, hinge) virtues because they are hinges on which all moral virtues depend. These are also called moral (Latin: mores, fixed values) because they govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to faith and reason.
The cardinal or moral virtues are natural, because they can be achieved through human effort, aided by grace. Without going into polemics, Latin philosophers summarize the cardinal virtues thus: "Each man should so conduct himself that fortitude appear in labours and dangers: temperance in foregoing pleasures: prudence in the choice between good and evil: justice in giving every man his own.”
Prudence: is the virtue that disposes reason to discern our true good in every circumstance, and to choose the right means of achieving it. It guides the judgment of conscience. We see it reflected in Mother Ignacia’s life decisions to a heroic degree in her embracing St. Ignatius’ magis option. The basic Christian option from baptism is the choice of good over evil. During one’s life, human weakness may sometimes result in culpable behavior despite one’s resolve to the contrary. These lapses are set aright by repentance for sin committed. For one steadily growing in spiritual maturity, there is the disposition to transcend the resolve to be/do good, and to aspire for what is better. From the record of Mother Ignacia’s decisions as an adult Christian, one sees the exercise towards what is better, great, more: in what St. Ignatius referred to as the magis option. This option she applied to almost every aspect of the life of the foundational community, to become imbedded in the spiritual legacy of the religious family she gave life to.
The initial concept of consecrated life as envisioned by the young Ignacia included a life of austerity expressed in acts of penance and physical mortification. Her biographer noted that she and her early followers practiced severe acts of penance that they learned from the lives of saints, spent long hours of prayer that sometimes deprived them of the necessary rest at night, to the point that most of them succumbed to illness. It was the virtue of prudence that enlightened these well-intentioned women to perceive that the “service of His Majesty” called for apostolic action which would be hindered by the physical disability that resulted from their extreme penances. When the Rules of 1726 was designed, prudence dictated that moderation in the practice of physical penances in the lifestyle of the foundational community, else the members be rendered incapable of the ministry to which they were called. “In mortification and corporal penances they should observe moderation, discretion and temperance in order to preserve their good habits while the body is still strong. The Spanish proverb ‘walk a step in order to last’ should encourage the beatas not to be indiscreet in her corporal austerity which results in the weakening of the body.” (1726.I:7.)
Prudence likewise dictated that interaction with “secular persons” be regulated in order that the wiles of worldliness not dilute the religious fervor of the beatas, all for the greater service of God.
Justice: is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor: ‘render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.’
From Mother Ignacia’s life story we see reflected the virtue of justice that lay at the source of her decisions. Filial devotion would have been served in aligning herself with her parents’ decision regarding the disposition of her life in marriage; but to pursue that inspiration to dedicate her whole being to the service of the Divine Majesty was to render to God what God desired of her. Shepherding her first community to serve God in chastity, poverty and obedience she upheld the right of a colonized and evangelized people, women, no less, to the pursuit of religious perfection, just as much as anyone in the colony and in the Church. That same sense of justice gave birth to a religious family consisting of only one level of membership, regardless of race or social distinction, as well as an apostolic service that did not discriminate between the Española and the Yndia, the ‘haves’ and the’ have-nots.’ And in the light of social mores of the period, this constituted a challenge that only this ‘valiant woman’ yndio lang, responded to heroically.
This posture of justice the Venerable Ignacia carried throughout her 85 years, to her last breath, rendering to her God what belonged to Him, namely, her whole being.
Temperance: is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures, and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the mastery of the will over instincts, and regulates desires within the limits of what is honorable.
The cross had become central in the spiritual legacy of Mother Ignacia. Murillo Velarde used very specific words to describe the ascetical practices exercised by the Servant of God, and how her first community emulated her example, to the detriment of the health of the members.
For Mother Ignacia, temperance was not limited to foregoing pleasure, but even to chose what went against the grain, to the practice of penances and mortification “in order to draw down God’s mercy upon them.” However, motivated by the greater glory and service of God, she learned to exercise temperance even in her desire to self-sacrifice, and legislated that these ascetical practices be regulated by the primary motivation of anyone who wished to live the life: the greater service of God. Reflections related to the practice of the virtue of Prudence may likewise be applied to the practice of virtue of Temperance.
Fortitude: is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in the face of difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of good, strengthening the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life.
The Decree on Mother Ignacia’s heroic virtues further states: “In various occasions she proved herself to be a ‘woman of strength.’ This was proven by her prudent and long-suffering spirit in the face of all the problems she encountered from the beginning until the completion of her work for the institute: ‘desde el cimiento hasta el capitel.”
The cardinal virtues are truly the hinges from which swing the human actions as prompted by grace. In Mother Ignacia, it is not enough to take these virtues one by one to arrive at their implication in her practice of the spiritual life. She lived these virtues, their practice integrated in the manner she gave life to her faith, and hope and love.
“No one who has left home, brothers or sisters, mother or father, children or property, for Me and for the gospel who will not receive in this present age a hundred times as many homes, brothers and sisters, mothers, children and property, and persecution besides, and in the age to come, life everlasting…” (Mk. 10:29030)