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The JBC, the Olympics and St. Ignatius

About the time that the Judicial and Bar Council was winding down its interviews of the candidates for chief justice, the 2012 Olympiad opened. Although I did not watch all the interviews, I saw enough to be able to sense the spirit into which the candidates entered the fray. I found a good description of that spirit in one of the passages of an article by Nicholas King, SJ, professor of Biblical Studies at Campion Hall, University of Oxford, on the sporting metaphors in the letters of St. Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul writes:

“Don’t you realize that the runners in the Stadium, all of them run, but only one gets the medal? You are to run in such a way as to win. (Each one) who is in athletic training exercises self-control (but they do it to win a medal that will fade away…!); so I am running in such a way as not to be without purpose. When I box, I do it in such a way as not to land my blows on empty air—instead I let my body know who is boss, and I make it my slave . . .”


Paul, of course, was exhorting the Corinthian Christians to be serious about their Christian responsibilities as athletes are about training and winning. There is no question that each of the candidates for chief justice prepared to present themselves to win. It’s just too bad that only one of the 20 will get the medal.

In the course of the interviews, there were allusions to internal conflicts within the current Supreme Court and to conflicting views on the existence or nonexistence of such conflicts. Although the interviews showed no evidence of conflict among the candidates themselves, I might mention another Pauline athletic metaphor cited by King from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter which Paul wrote from prison. King refers to the passage where Paul, exhorting the Christians to work together, uses a Greek verb which roughly means “playing on the same side together in an athletic contest.” Paul uses the verb again “when he is trying to persuade the two redoubtable ladies, Evodia and Syntyche, to stop scratching each other’s eyes out.” This is by no means to suggest that among the ladies interviewed or in the Supreme Court there are redoubtable ladies going after each other! Paul was simply exhorting them to “play on the same team as me and Clement, and the rest of our team.” Later on, Paul would add: “We are engaged in the same agon,” an agon being any kind of athletics contest “and an ‘agony’ is what you go through when you are in deep training for the Olympics.”


There are other sporting metaphors which King cites, but let me just conclude on a positive note with Paul “talking again in athletic terms of ‘my boast… that I did not run a pointless race, nor was all my hard training pointless,’ and he is happy to have been through it all for the sake of the Philippians and their joy” (see 2:17-18). This, I suppose, is where we hope the JBC Olympiad will lead to.

Finally, since tomorrow (Tuesday) will be the feast of St. Ignatius, my favorite spiritual athlete, allow me to say a word about his Olympic experience.

I guess that for many of us, one of the consoling facts about the life of St. Ignatius is that he was not born a saint. We have some in our Jesuit roster who were born saints, like John Berchmans, Stanislaus Kostka, and Aloysius Gonzaga. They died early in their youth. They were put up to us as our models when we were young Jesuit novices trying to become saints; but we were quite aware that it would be an uphill struggle for us because we knew that we carried a baggage more like that of the unreformed young Iñigo. We were made aware that like Ignatius we would have to go through a Pauline agon. (For that reason, perhaps, God has not allowed me to die early.)

Ignatius was born Iñigo during an era when legislators were not yet fighting about family planning. He was the youngest of 13 children. He lost both father and mother at a very early age. That usually does not augur well for the development of a child. Thus, as might be expected, the young Iñigo gave way to an abundance of wild energy. He himself tells us in his autobiography that he reveled in gambling, dueling and wenching. But, and this is a remarkable fact, as I always tell my law students, he never landed in jail.

Although becoming a priest was farthest from his youthful dreams, he went through the early steps toward the priesthood by taking what were then called “Minor Orders.” These were enough to make him technically a “cleric,” and, in an era when there was no separation of church and state, these were also enough to give him immunity from arrest for minor offenses. (Even now, fortunately, being a cleric can get us out of minor traffic violations.)

Significantly, Ignatius also joined military service; however, he fought and lost in only one battle, the defense of Pamplona. But now even our own Armed Forces honor him as patron saint with his statue presiding over Camp Aguinaldo and every major military camp. More significantly, however, we are all familiar with the story of his conversion while convalescing from battle wounds. Thence commenced his agon.

In celebration of his feast, we can perhaps recall and be thankful for his foresight in founding the Jesuit Order and his skill in nurturing it from 10 members to 1,000 before he died. In the metaphor that has come down to us from the 35th General Congregation, Ignatius lit a fire, little fires in the hearts of his companions in the University of Paris, companions who themselves spread out worldwide to start a conflagration.


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TAGS: JBC, judiciary, Olympics, Religion, sports, St. Ignatius
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