September 17, 2023 Essay: “Without Windows or Doors”

Sep 11, 2023

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Mt. 7:24-25)

Saint Ignatius, who loved to refer to himself as “the pilgrim,” lived in many houses: the Loyola ancestral castle, hostels for the poor, a cave in Manresa, under the porticos of St. Mark’s in Venice, college dormitories in Paris, prisons of the Inquisition.

The first “official” house was in Vicenza, Italy, an abandoned cottage, “without windows or doors,” as Ignatius described it. (I put “official” in quotation marks because that house was where they first called themselves “Companions of Jesus.”) The poverty and openness of that first house have always inspired me. Without windows and doors, it is not a safe place. Anyone can enter. There’s no privacy, making one’s life public, demanding a life that is decent and upright, where the deeds must match the words. It can’t keep out the cries of the poor, the noise of injustice. There’s no insulation from the chaos of the world. A good place to hear, to speak, and to live the word of life.

Then they went to Rome and found another house in the heart of the city: next to the papal palace, up the street from city hall, near the Jewish ghetto and the red-light district. People thought the house was haunted, so they were able to live there on the cheap. They weren’t afraid of ghosts, or politicians or Popes or prostitutes or Jews. Ignatius wanted his house in the middle of the conversation of the city, not in a mountaintop monastery or a hermitage in the forest. They placed themselves at the service of the Pope. They were bursting with happiness.

For the past fifty years, I have lived as a Companion of Jesus in many houses around the world, and I find myself bursting with happiness and gratitude.

  • The novitiate in Syracuse, where I felt God’s invitation, undeniable and loving. It is God’s freely offered gracious love that took hold of my heart and mind.
  • Xavier School in Manila, where I taught religion to 17-year-olds and (believe it or not) coached the track team.
  • The Japanese-style house in Taiwan where I studied Mandarin and fell in love with the Chinese people.
  • The houses in Rome—three of them, where I studied theology and canon law, and was sent to teach at the Gregorian University (the first Jesuit university) and then to take responsibility for the academic programs of the university and as dean of the canon law faculty.
  • The Church of Saint Ignatius Loyola in New York, where I have been given what I consider a second priesthood, serving in a vibrant parish with outstanding Jesuits and colleagues, witnessing remarkable faith in parishioners who are facing all sorts of challenges, delighting in accompanying engaged couples as they prepare for marriage, sharing Ignatian discernment in spiritual direction, and celebrating the Eucharist that nourishes and unites us in mercy and love.

Our church has many windows and doors (stained glass and bronze, respectively), but the windows and doors of my heart have been flung open by the affection and support of so many! I try every day to live my vocation ever more joyously and wholeheartedly.

There could be for me no life, no work, more fulfilling than that of walking with, and sometimes leading, men and women, young and old, through knowledge and understanding, into the life of the heart and the Heart of Life. It has its joys and its challenges. I associate the joys with you, who are the company I keep. You have shared your hearts, your minds, your homes with me.

— Fr. Michael Hilbert, S.J., Associate Pastor