Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
Towards the end of my graduate studies in theology I participated in an intensive summer spirituality course at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Designed for those preparing for ordained ministry in the Church, the programme consisted of several weeks of spiritual exercises, lectures, and retreats that challenged us to grow and deepen our spiritual life and to ground our ministry in the Living God. Led by members of a Roman Catholic order of priests known as the Jesuits, the summer programme guided us through some of the greatest treasures of Western Christian spirituality. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Jesuits, I’d encourage you to read the life of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and his rather insightful works of Christian spirituality. We Anglicans commemorate Ignatius’ life in our liturgical calendar on the 31st of July.)
One day, early in the programme, I noticed one of the facilitators write on top of the chalkboard the letters AMDG. Soon I began to see these letters written on our materials, letters, and many other items. I quickly learned the acronym stood for the Latin phrase Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, or in English, “all for the greater glory of God.” The expression is attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola and serves as the motto for the religious community which he began, otherwise known as the Jesuits. In a sense, the phrase captures the heart and spirit of the Jesuit mission.
Now you might be wondering, why is an Anglican priest talking about a phrase from a Catholic priest?
Fortunately, since the late 1960s, Christians from various denominations have engaged in some level of dialogue and relationship, a wonderful reversal of the vicious battles following the Reformation. This dialogue, better known as ecumenism, has enabled Christians of all backgrounds to discover the treasures of each other’s particular tradition. Anglicans have been among the leaders of Christian dialogue and we’ve been blessed by the fruits of ecumenical dialogue, so much so that our own liturgical, biblical, and theological life has been greatly influenced by Catholic, Orthodox, and many other Christian traditions. In fact, our Book of Alternative Services is a product of this movement and a return to a common Western Liturgy, making it nearly identical to Catholic liturgy.
Among the treasures we’ve discovered from our Christian siblings include spiritual writings and practices. Even well before the Ecumenical Movement of the 1960s, Anglicans were taking a fresh look at Methodist, Catholic, and Orthodox writers and preachers. Now it is not uncommon to read Anglican preachers quote Catholic writers such as St. John of the Cross or St. Ignatius of Loyola, or the Methodist preacher Jonathan Edwards, or even the 20th Century Orthodox writers Georges Florovsky and Vladimir Lossky. Those are just a handful of theologians, preachers, and spiritual guides to whom we now look for wisdom in our spiritual journey.
As I reflected upon our scripture lessons for this Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of St. Ignatius of Loyola and recall the letters inscribed on the chalkboard so many years ago. First, Jesus’ repeated variation of the word glory in our lesson from the Gospel of John caught my attention. The very essence of Jesus’ ministry was to glorify his Father, as we hear him pray “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” (John 17) Then, as I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension in the Book of Acts, I came across Jesus’ words to his disciples: “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1) As I pondered those phrases and considered them more fully, I heard in my prayer that Latin expression of so long ago: ad majorem Dei gloriam — all to the glory of God.
Indeed, the mission of every Christian is to glorify God in all we do. In glorifying God, we witness to the saving grace of God at work in all of creation. Our discipleship of Jesus, our following in his way and entering into communion with God, is not simply a practice by which we admire the good things God has done for us in Christ, but rather our discipleship is lived out in our every day-to-day life. Everything we do ought to glorify God and invite others to share in the new life we have found in Christ.
It is striking that some of the greatest obstacles to others’ acceptance of Jesus have been the terrible scandals that have plagued the Church. In fact, some would suggest, and I would rather agree, that the scandals of the past century have greatly wounded the Church and led many to question the integrity of the Church’s leadership. While secularism may have a role in the decline of the Church, I think those of us in the Church’s leadership have to take responsibility for some of the wounds that have been caused over the past many decades and have led to our Church’s decline.
Although it is greatly unfortunate, the harm caused by one person is more likely to be remembered than the good acts of many. Perhaps it is because we truly want to believe in the the radical transformation of the world brought about by Jesus and anything contrary to his life-saving work repulses us. And rightly so; anything that does not glorify God or build-up God’s people and creation is contrary to the very Gospel of life proclaimed and lived by Jesus.
As Christians, we share the great responsibility of living as Christ in the world today. Marked with the cross of Christ at our Baptism and anointed by the oils of chrism, we share in Jesus’ priestly, prophetic, and royal ministry. We are the living Body of Christ. As such, we share in Jesus’ ministry to glorify our Father in Heaven. All our words and actions ought to not only praise God, but also lead others into the glory of God.
Perhaps the Jesuits’ motto could be our motto. I wonder what the Church would be like if we consistently reminded ourselves that all we do, we do for the glory of God? I firmly believe that when we live in such a way, others will be drawn to Jesus and his Good News.
Before I close, I share with you a reflection I came across the other day. The writer ponders the question “what does it mean to live for the greater glory of God?” It’s wonderful reflection and offers numerous ideas for how we can live for the greater glory of God. I invite you to take a look at it by visiting this link and to perhaps take a few moments this week and consider how you may live to the glory of God in your own particular life. Amen.