The Two Standards [SE 136-148]

First Prelude. The First Prelude is the narrative. It will be here how Christ calls and wants all under His standard; and Lucifer, on the contrary, under his.

Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see a great field of all that region of Jerusalem, where the supreme Commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord; another field in the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.

Third Prelude. The third, to ask for what I want: and it will be here to ask for knowledge of the deceits of the bad chief and help to guard myself against them, and for knowledge of the true life which the supreme and true Captain shows and grace to imitate Him.


I have always felt attracted to liberation theology, possibly because it satisfies my thirst for economic justice. It releases the inner tension I feel when looking at the world around me.

This may be why I so enjoyed an article mentioned by Fr. Jacques Haers, SJ, (who lives and teaches in Leuven, Belgium) in his blog. The article, written by Fr. Victor Codina, SJ, is entitled “Dos Banderas” Como Lugar Teológico (The Two Standards As A Theological Place). It was presented at a Symposium on the Election in the Spiritual Exercises (Bogotá, October 2009). It can be found on the Jesuit site of Cristianisme i Justicia/Eides (in both Catalán and Spanish).

The article took me back to Ignatius’ times in Manresa. On his way to Barcelona, where he was going to take a ship for Jerusalem, he stopped in Manresa for a few days and ended up living there for eleven months (1522-23), mainly in a cave. There he started writing his Spiritual Exercises. He experienced several mystical visions which led him to become not only the founder of the Society of Jesus but also a great saint and mystic, and a spiritual guide for generations to come.

In this article, Ignatius leads us to discover the true face of Godde through a Spirit-driven Jesus who will turn down wealth, honor and pride and choose poverty, opprobrium, and humility. This choice will lead him to the Cross and his Resurrection.

The meditation on the Two Standards, writes Codina, is a reflection of Ignatius’ own life experiences and choices. In the first thirty years of his life, his greatest aspiration was to serve the King of Spain. After a cannon ball in Pamplona shattered this dream, his life abruptly changed course. After some years of soul-searching and spirit-churning, he realized in a vision in a chapel in La Storta, not far from Rome, that he and his companions were asked to serve Jesus and the Trinity.

Victor Codina contrasts the Two Standards, as the Standard of Mammon and that of Jesus, a Jesus who after being anointed by the Holy Spirit at the time of his baptism in the Jordan River, will be driven into the desert by the same Spirit to discern what sort of Messiah he will be. Codina explains that Godde not only chose to be man, but to be a poor man.

That same Spirit, says the author, will lead, inspire, and carry Jesus through his years of mission, helping him to stay on course — and in the process threaten the religious, political, and economic powers of his times. The Jesus we discover, then, through his mission and Ignatius’ Exercises, is the true face of Godde, a face that anyone wishing to follow Christ in one way or another will want to grow into.

Early in his presentation, Codina concludes by saying that Jesus could choose between two “messianisms”:

“the logic of self-sufficiency, security, rationality without mysteries, triumphalism, avoiding conflicts with the political and religious power, removed from the suffering of the people, in the line of ‘courtier prophets’ of the Old Testament who prophesied what would please the king,”
“the logic of solidarity, from the margin and the periphery of the political and religious society, from the people, from below, living the sonship and trust in the Father, in gratuity, in a style of simplicity and poverty as an alternative to the ‘system’, opting to serve before being served, a logic of inclusion and vulnerability in front of the suffering of the people, in the line of the Servant of Yahweh and of all the great prophets of Israel.” (8)

Jesus, Codina says, chooses the “logic of solidarity, from below.”

This article goes beyond these points, while keeping to this line of thought, showing why and how as a follower of Christ one would want to embark on this path — which may often prove more than challenging and even dangerous at times.

As the author contrasts the two “Messianisms”, I could not help remembering the surprise and pleasure I felt in Rome when I went from the gilded baroque of the Gesú, the Jesuit church, to Ignatius’ apartments which were inspiring in their naked simplicity. It also conjured up the difference in style between Pope Francis’ today and his predecessor’s last year.

I have a hunch that our new Pope comes from a theological place similar to that of Fr. Codina’s. By their Latin American origins, both know the great poverty and insufferable injustice one encounters in the streets of Bogota, Buenos Aires or Lima. I feel then for our new Bishop of Rome who might want to bring a new awareness of justice and poverty into our comfort zones.

This is heady stuff for me, something I can relate to. When I tried to share some of my thoughts, I just scared some friends in making them fear that I need to reject the “World” to follow Christ, when in fact I need to make space for Christ in my life and let go of much of what the World tells me I need to have to be happy.

I have not finished thinking about this. I pray for the grace to be led by the Spirit and start living, one tiny step after another, the way my heart seems to want me to live.


Illustration: Montserrat Gudiol, Ignatius in Manresa, 1991