Saturday, January 28, 2006

St. Ignatius' Autobiography, Part 2: Piety, The Communion of Saints, and Coincidence

His condition grew worse. Besides being unable to eat he showed other symptoms which are usually a sign of approaching death. The feast of St. John drew near, and as the doctors had very little hope of his recovery, they advised him to make his confession. He received the last sacraments on the eve of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the doctors told him that if he showed no sign of improvement by midnight, he could consider himself as good as dead. The patient had some devotion to St. Peter, and so our Lord wished that his improvement should begin that very midnight. So rapid was his recovery that within a few days he was thought to be out of danger of death.

The kind of piety expressed in this short passage might, in a modern understanding, seem naïve. Ignatius’ faith that the coincidence of the Church feast and his devotion to St. Peter had something to do with his recovery might even strike some as superstitious. Even if we are Catholic and believe in the Communion of Saints, we recognize in our reticence to endorse this kind of piety a reflection of contemporary cultural attitudes which we perhaps didn’t even choose, but simply absorbed as a consequence of growing up in 20th century America. After all, how rational is it to imagine that the date on which an event fell, coupled with the intercession of someone long dead, would have any impact on the course of events? Who’s to say it isn’t all just coincidence?

As I grow older, I come to believe less and less in “mere coincidence.” If as Catholics we believe in the Communion of Saints, and the guiding hand of God in history, don’t we also believe that God and the Saints can impact that history in all sorts of “irrational” ways? In his book, The Strangest Way, Fr. Robert Barron points out that Christianity is the “strangest way,” that it does fly in the face of the rationality that has so dominated Western culture since the Enlightenment, an eventuality that has led to the loss of many of the things that make us distinctively Catholic. Reading of the “strange” piety of heroes like Saint Ignatius can help us to recapture the beauty and the reality of our traditions.

J.R.R. Tolkien was one who also believed in the providence of God, and the importance of even specific days within that providence. This is reflected in his epic tale The Lord of the Rings, in which the newly formed Fellowship of the Ring sets out on their journey to destroy the ring on December 25 (Christmas), and Frodo and Sam, with a little help from Gollum, succeed in destroying the ring on March 25 (9 months before Christmas). Coincidence? I think not!

6 Comments:

Blogger ShadowMayhem said...

Thats why I like the Jebbies, being able to find God everywhere and in all things and in all times.

7:31 PM  
Anonymous G Shroff said...

Mark: Great idea, to post these comments from St. Ignatius and then your own reflections. Looking forward to the rest! Best wishes,

12:21 AM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

As I've grown older, I've become more aware of how my actions are interdependent on those of others, and the cause & effect of it all. It's made me a more humble person - I *haven't* don't it all on my own, after all...

6:41 AM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

Oops - not enough coffe yet... I meant to say 'done it all'

6:42 AM  
Anonymous David Nowaczewski said...

Amen, amen. Keep the commentary coming Mark, great stuff. Veni Sancte Spritus. BTW, are you off to theology, if so where?

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are "the Jebbies?" Is this a nickname for Jesuits? If so, where does it come from and is it disrespectful? Thanks, and keep up the inpiring work. I just finished reading the 77 commments received a few days ago, and I'm just exhausted. I don't know how you do it, but thank God that you do!

7:21 PM  

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