Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"God Ate My Homework": Worthwhile Temptations

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 33

On his arrival at Barcelona he told Isabel Roser and Master Ardevol, who was then teaching grammar, of his inclination to study. Both thought very well of it, Ardevol offering to teach him without charge, and Isabel to supply him with what was necessary for his support. In Manresa the pilgrim had known a friar, a Bernardine, I think, a very spiritual man. With him he wished to remain to make greater progress in the spiritual life and even to be of help to souls. He, therefore, answered that he would accept their offer if he did not find what he wanted in Manresa. But when he went there, he discovered the friar had died. Returning to Barcelona he began his studies with great diligence. But there was one thing that stood very much in his way, and that is that when he began to learn by heart, as has to be done in the beginning of grammar, he received new light on spiritual things and new delights. So strong were these delights that he could memorize nothing, nor could he get rid of them however much he tried.

Thinking this over at various times, he said to himself: “Even when I go to prayer or attend Mass these lights do not come to me so vividly.” Thus, step by step he came to recognize that it was a temptation. After making his meditation, he went to the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, near the house of his teacher, having asked him to have the kindness to hear him for a moment in the church. Seated there, the pilgrim gave his teacher a faithful account of what had taken place in his soul, and how little progress he had made until then for the reason already mentioned. And he made a promise to his master, with the words: “I promise you never to fail to attend your class these two years, as long as I can find bread and water for my support here in Barcelona.” He made this promise with such effect that he never again suffered from those temptations. The stomach pains which he had suffered in Manresa and were the cause of his taking to shoes, left him, and he felt well enough in that regard from the time he left Barcelona for Jerusalem. For this reason, while he was still at his studies in Barcelona, the desire returned of resuming his past penances, and he began by making a hole in the sole of his shoes, which widened little by little until by the time the cold of winter arrived, nothing remained of the shoes but the uppers.

Here’s an excuse that’s way better than “the dog ate my homework”! Well, you see, I couldn’t get my homework done because of all the great spiritual insights I was receiving from God. Who could argue with that? But the question my students ask when I say “I know this happens to you all the time” is: If Ignatius is getting spiritual insight from God, how can that be a temptation? It’s a good question.

I guess what I can best relate it to is the writing process, as I don’t find myself frequently distracted by deep spiritual insights equal to Ignatius’. Often when you’re engaged in a writing project, like I am now, you suddenly discover you have all kinds of interesting insights coming to you about just about every subject except the one you are writing about! I know I’m supposed to be writing this book on the spiritual life, but suddenly all the ideas I need for my screenplay on the life of Saint What’s-Her-Name are just pouring into my brain. They are good insights, and they might even be coming from God somehow; but guess what, I have a deadline to meet on this other project! Maybe I can jot down a few notes for later, but right now such thoughts are a temptation, even if they’re not evil. This can be true of any worthwhile project that we are engaged in. Darn it, once we’ve made a commitment to it, it seems like there are all these pulls in other directions, not necessarily to bad things, just to distracting things.

Having recognized this, we might be inclined to ask another question at the end of this passage. Now that he feels better, Ignatius has decided to again take up some of his austerities, the result of which is that he has arrived at wintertime with no bottoms to his shoes! I wonder if it’s merely a coincidence that he is telling us this right after he’s recognized the previous temptation, or is he inviting us to ask the now obvious question: Is this a temptation too?

Big Cheese

Take a look at Salon's interview with the creator of the best reviewed film of 2005, Nick Park:

"I've always loved working with chunky arms and chunky legs, big fat fingers."

and check out one of the Wallace & Gromit shorts here.

"This Fellow Has No Brains": So Christ Was Treated Before Me

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 32

He then left Ferrara for Genoa. On the way he met with some Spanish soldiery who that night treated him well. They were very much surprised he had com that way, for he had to pass between both armies, the French forces and those of the Empire. They suggested that he avoid the royal highway and take a safer one which they pointed out. He did not, however, follow their advice, but continuing straight on his way, came upon a town that had been burned and destroyed and until nightfall met with no one who gave him anything to eat. But at sunset he came to a walled town where the sentries took him into custody, thinking that he was a spy. They put him in a hut close to the gate, and began to examine him, as they usually do with suspects. To all their questions he answered that he knew nothing. They stripped and searched him even to his shoes, overlooking no part of his person, to see whether he was carrying any letters. But as they could in no wise learn anything from him, they were angry with him and led him to their captain. “He would make him speak.” When he told them that they had taken away all his covering with his clothes, they would not return it to him, and led him away clad only in his breeches and jacket, as above described.

While they were on their way, the pilgrim remembered how Christ was led away, although there was no vision here as on other occasions. He was led through three main streets. He went without any sadness, rather with joy and satisfaction. He kept it is a practice to address anyone he met in the direct form of “you,” finding devotion in the fact that Christ and the Apostles so spoke. As they went along the streets, he fancied that it would be good to give up that custom for the moment, and use the more elevated form of addressing the captain, with some lurking fear of the torture they might inflict on him. But he recognized this as a temptation, and told himself that he would not use the courtly manner of speech, nor show any reverence, nor even take off his cap.

Arriving at the captain’s palace, they left the pilgrim in one of the lower rooms, and there the captain spoke to him for a while. But he answered without giving any sign of courtesy, in a few words, with a considerable pause between one and the next. The captain thought he was crazy, and said so to those who brought him in: “This fellow has no brains. Give him his things and throw him out!” As he left the palace, he fell in with a Spaniard who was living there, who brought him home, and gave him something with which to break his fast and what was necessary for that night. He left in the morning, and walked until towards evening two soldiers caught sight of him from a tower, and came down to examine him. They brought him to their captain, who was French and who asked him, among other things, where he came from. Learning that he was from Guipuzcoa, he said: “I am from nearby there,”—probably from the neighborhood of Bayonne—and then went on: “Take him along, give him something to eat, and treat him well.”

On this journey from Ferrara to Genoa many other things of less importance befell him. He finally reached Genoa, where he was recognized by a Viscayan named Portundo, who on other occasions had spoken to him when he was in the service of the Catholic King. He helped him to find a ship bound for Barcelona, which ran great risk of being taken by Andrea Doria, who gave them chase, as he was then in the service of the French.

In my first months in the novitiate I was rather incredulous at the suggestion. “Wait a minute,” I challenged the Novice Master, “are you saying that Saint Ignatius is saying not only that we should accept persecution, but pray for it!” I felt ready and confident to accept it if it should come, but I wasn’t going to go looking for it! But, yes, he assured me, that is what Saint Ignatius was saying. I wondered whether or not I could do this Jesuit thing if that was what was expected of me. I still do.

This is something we see in many saint’s personalities, not only a willingness, but an eagerness, a desire to suffer as Jesus suffered. I wonder if that was Ignatius’ motivation when he decided to spurn the soldiers’ advice and take the royal highway anyway. Was he hoping that by doing so he might have an opportunity to suffer as Jesus did? He certainly finds consolation in his mistreatment by the soldiers who capture him, remembering “how Christ was led away.” I have to admit that I still find somewhat troubling this desire to suffer and even die in imitation of Christ characteristic of many of the saints, while I do admire it and pray to better appreciate it myself. Among Saint Ignatius’ favorite books was Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, which is apparent from his spirituality, which is so centered on the life of Christ (this was very different from his contemporary Luther, whose approach to the Christian life became so focused on Christ’s death and resurrection). I’ve even seen The Imitation of Christ mistakenly attributed to Ignatius, so closely is he associated with it! I think the goal of Ignatius’ life was to try to imitate Christ in every way possible, both in joy and suffering. This drive to achieve proximity to Jesus undoubtedly also factored into the name he and his companions took, though some thought it presumptuous—the company, or society of Jesus.

This is the radical transformation of desire which in The Spiritual Exercises Ignatius says that we should pray for: “ . . . whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.”

So far in my spiritual life, there have been moments when I’ve been able to make this my true and sincere desire, but only moments. I pray for those moments to increase, but still end up most of the time being a little incredulous.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Great fun at parties

For the chocaholic psycho who has everything:

Yes, it's Chocolate Russian Roullette!

US residents, sorry: This product can only be delivered to addresses within the EU.

via Semina Verbi.

Gen-X Mommy

R.C. Mommy offers her thoughts on the Gen-X post below.

"I also think that Catholics in general need to realize that being "on fire for God" is a good thing, not something to be suspicious of. Can we please go back and read the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles? Remember Pentecost? 5000 people do not get baptized in one day if the Apostles are not "on Fire for God." I know a couple who are coming back to the Church after spending a few years in an evangelical protestant community. They were drawn to it because of the fire that the evangelicals had. The husband was being trained to lead other Catholics away from the faith. Praise God, as he was reading the ancient fathers, he became more convicted that the Catholic Church was the True Church. He told me that when he tried to share what he had learned with his pastor, the man didn't want to hear it. I said, "Well, he didn't want to be converted." When confronted with the truth, one must either embrace the truth or continue to live a lie knowing that it is a lie.

It all comes back to the fundamentals. The Eucharist. The constant call to conversion of self, and the bringing of others with us. This is how we achieve unity."

Read the whole thing here.

What Now, Lord?

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 31

They left on the next day, and when they arrived at Cyprus, the pilgrims parted company and went on different ships. There were in the harbor three or four vessels bound for Venice. One of them was Turkish, another of them a very small vessel, and a third a very rich and heavy ship belonging to a wealthy Venetian. Some of the pilgrims asked the master of the ship to take the pilgrim, but he, as he knew the pilgrim was without funds, would not do so, even though they renewed their insistences and praised the pilgrim. The owner answered that if he were a saint he could travel as traveled St. James, or something of the kind. But the petitioners found it very easy to prevail upon the owner of the smaller vessel. They left one day in the morning with a favorable wind, but by afternoon they ran into a storm, which separated them, the great ship going down, close to the island of Cyprus, with only the passengers saved. The Turkish vessel and all on board were lost in the same storm. The small vessel had a hard time of it, but finally made Apulia, right in the midst of winter. It was very cold, and there was much snow. The pilgrim had no more clothes than some breeches made of coarse cloth which reached to the knee, leaving the rest of the leg bare, a jacket of black cloth, much slashed at the shoulders, and a short vest of light hair.

He arrived at Venice about the middle of January, 1524, having been at sea on his way from Cyprus all the months of November and December, and part of January. In Venice he found one of the two men who had received him into their homes before he sailed for Jerusalem, and was given an alms of fifteen or sixteen julios and a large piece of cloth which he folded several times over his stomach because of the severe cold.

After the pilgrim understood that it was not in God’s will that he remain in Jerusalem, he kept thinking on what he ought to be doing, and finally felt more inclined to study so as to be able to help souls. He then made up his mind to go to Barcelona, and left Venice for Genoa. One day while he was at his devotions in the principle church of Ferrara, a poor man asked him for alms, and he gave him a marquete, which is equal to five or six quatrines. Later, another came, and he gave him another small coin he had, but a little higher in value. When the third came, he had nothing but julios, and gave him one. As the poor saw that he was distributing alms, they did not stop coming until he had given away all he had. Finally, a large number came together to ask an alms, but he told them they would have to pardon him, as he had no more.

When you thought you were following God’s will, what do you do when you hit a roadblock?

Though he doesn’t say so, you’ve got to imagine that Ignatius is a little frustrated at this point. He’s been kicked out of Jerusalem, and nobody wants to bring him back to Europe, because he has no money. The owner of one ship even suggests that if he’s so saintly, he ought to get to Europe like Saint James did (legend has it that St. James was brought to his supposed resting place in Spain by angels)!

Faced with such frustrations, I usually find myself asking a few questions. Was I wrong about what God wanted? Or was I doing what God wanted, but he just failed to warn me about this abrupt and unexpected change in direction? In either case, it’s probably time to go pray, and try to get a sense of where to go next. Ignatius’ choice of what to do next may not seem so inspired. After all, you probably know a number of people (and maybe have done it yourself!) who, unsure what to do next, come to the conclusion: Maybe I should go back to school! Of course, maybe this wasn’t the case with Ignatius. Jesus was appearing to him on a daily basis, after all! You’d expect he might get some guidance from these mystical encounters. But, who knows? Jesus hasn’t appeared to me lately, so I can’t quite say how these things go. We’ll learn later that going back to school seems likely to have been a providential decision, but right now it might just seem like as good a choice as any.

Perhaps while praying over such questions, Ignatius is interrupted. This interruption reminded me of a line from Ronald Rolheiser’s book, Against an Infinite Horizon: “I always resented interruptions to my work until I realized that those interruptions were my real work.” Praying about what path he might take to be “of help to souls,” Ignatius finds a number of poor souls there with him in need of immediate help and, rather than scold them for interrupting his prayer, he gives them all he has.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

You Are Boston

Both modern and old school, you never forget your roots.
Well educated and a little snobby, you demand the best.
And quite frankly, you think you are the best.

Famous people from the Boston area: Conan O'Brien, Ben Affleck, New Kids on the Block

Happy Mardi Gras!

Well, it's not New Orleans,
but the oh-so-Catholic Jesuit scholastics (see previous post) here at Weston scrounged up some beads, baked some king cakes and invited our fellow students and friends to celebrate with us here in Cambridge. A good time was had by most.

Happy Mardi Gras to all and Happy Lent!

Busted Podcast

Check out Busted Halo's podcast.

(click on the image)

Gen Xers Adrift

Alan Creech offers an apt description of where a lot of young Catholics, especially Catholic Gen Xers like him and myself, find themselves in relation to the Church. I know, because I've been there (and still am to a certain extent):

So, can there be fundamentalist Catholics? Sure there can. There are. There can be fundamentalist anything. That word strict and the other one, literal - they would be key. They dredge up pictures of other words: harsh, cold, unbending, legalistic, etc. I have known both Protestants and Catholics who are like this. And both were in a bad place if you ask me. It feels very right to hold a tight line. It feels secure you know. It makes you feel very safe and right. This is a dangerous feeling.

I was closer to being a fundamentalist Catholic than I ever have been anything that anyone would refer to as Protestant. I still don't consider myself a protestant. You can consider me whatever you like I suppose. Have fun. I am not mounting an organized protest against Catholicism. I have more good to say about that Church than many inside it as far as I know. If I play favorites in any way, it's probably in favor of the Roman Catholic Church. I probably shouldn't. I have a soft spot, sue me. I figure "she" gets enough grief from people - doesn't need any from me. At this point, though, I am no fundamentalist - not in the estimation of anyone who knows what it means and who knows me at all. I'm conservative to some and liberal to others. Some would condemn me as too Catholic, others as a schismatic Protestant. I sort of like this ground, at least for now.

Are there things to hold a hard line about? There certainly are. To not be a fundamentalist does not mean you are noncommittal. It doesn't for me anyway. I'm quite committal about several things. There is Truth. There is a common Christian orthodoxy. Sure, we don't become wishy-washy, anything goes kind of theologians or Christians as a reaction against fundamentalism. I don't think that's the answer. I see it happening, but that, to me, is just as unhealthy as the harsh alternative.

How do we go about inviting the many young people who find themselves in such place to participate in the Church in a way that makes them feel welcome? How do we get past the "love it or leave it" attitude that characterizes much of the rhetoric of those that call themselves "orthodox" or "faithful" Catholics? How do we get past the demands for "openness" and "tolerance" which "progressive" Catholics demand for just about anybody except those that disagree with them? These are the attitudes that have led to the alienation of many Gen Xers from the Church in the first place.

As we start to place our hopes in the millenial generation, I think a fundamental choice is beginning to come into view: We can write off Generation X as too complicated, and set our sights on converting millenials to our various fundamentalisms. Or we can embrace the challenge that Gen Xers offer us as a chance to build up the Church, to build up the Kingdom in a new way that transcends the tired battles and prejudices of the past.

Read Alan's words and ask the question: Where do we see there the opportunity to invite, to celebrate and to build up in a way that will bring us closer to the unity that Christ prayed for?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Wretched Excess: The Foolishness of Holy Love

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 30

This done, he returned to where he had been before, and was seized with a great desire of again visiting Mount Olivet before leaving, since it was not our Lord’s will that he remain there in those holy places. On Mount Olivet there was a stone from which our Lord ascended into heaven and the print of his footstep is still to be seen. It was this he wished to see again. Without a word to anyone, therefore, or without taking a guide (for those who go without a Turk as a guide run great risk), he slipped away from the others and went alone to Mount Olivet. The guards did not want to let him in, but he gave them a desk-knife which he carried with him. After having prayed with deep devotion, he wanted to go to Bethpage, and while he was there, he recalled again that he had not noticed on Mount Olivet in what direction the right foot was turned, or in what direction the left. Returning, he gave his scissors, I think, to the guards for permission to enter.

When they learned at the monastery that he had left without a guide, the friars made every effort to find him. As he was coming down from Mount Olivet, he fell in with a Syrian Christian who worked at the monastery. The man had a large staff and showing signs of great annoyance made as though he were going to beat him with it, and when he came up with him, grabbed him roughly by the arm, and the pilgrim easily allowed himself to be led away. The good man never let go of him. Coming thus in the grasp of the Syrian Christian, he had great consolation from our Lord Who he thought he saw above him all along the way. This consolation lasted in great abundance till they reached the monastery.

I remember reading St. Therese’s Story of a Soul and thinking her rather silly when she described escaping the guides and sneaking into the Roman coliseum herself, so that she could kiss the ground where the martyrs had been killed. If I remember correctly, I think she even pried a stone from the ground and kept as something of a holy relic. The excesses, I thought, of an overly pious and silly young girl! Yet, when I read this part of the Autobiography of Saint Ignatius I can’t help but be reminded of that silly young girl, except that Ignatius is a grown man! Is Ignatius any less silly for bribing the guards twice? Once, so he might just see once more the place from which Jesus ascended, and the footprint there. And then, again, because he failed to notice in which direction the foot was pointing! He might even have it over on Therese here for silliness! Not to mention that he does so when he is supposed to be leaving, and without adequately ensuring his safety. It’s wretched excess, but there is something wonderful about it.

The problem is that we’ve come to a point in our history in which we are used to dismissing such passion as irrational and even disturbed—when it comes to things religious. Ironically, we are much more forgiving and accepting of this type of behavior when people show this kind of devotion to celebrities—just think of the last rock concert you went to. When I taught a class on religious experience class last year, I showed the films Field of Dreams and Almost Famous, two of my favorites. Few recent films capture the nature of passionate religious experience like they do, and neither of them is about religion. I think that’s why, like many of my generation, I love those movies so much; they portray a passion of the kind we would like to be able to invest in something, something transcendent. How is Ray Kinsella’s irrational baseball field in the middle of his cornfield in Iowa any different than Ignatius’ and Therese’s irrational races to their holy sites? Indeed, aren’t those dead baseball players come to play on that silly baseball field a bit like the communion of saints?

There are signs that young people today want to invest their passion into something transcendent like that and, as risky as this might seem for some of us, we should allow them to invest that passion into their faith, no matter how excessive it might seem. Kenda Creasy Dean writes, in Practicing Passion:
“Acts of passion enact love in light of the cross, not in light of human fulfillment—a love that is never “toned down” for the sake of propriety. No wonder holy love looks foolish; it is foolish. Through the historic practices of the Christian church, young people are invited into and odd and holy life that imitates and participates in a life and death commitment: the life, death, and resurrection—or Passion—of Jesus Christ.”
But this isn’t just a message for young people. Therese is a young girl, but Ignatius is approaching what for him would be mid-life. Yet what we see in both Ignatius and Therese, to use Dean’s words, is foolish, holy love. Something that we could all use a lot more of in our lives.

Barney Fife's Final Patrol

Don Knotts, who brought me many laughs as a child, has died. It's hard to believe he was 81! When I lived in South Carolina, you couldn't go a night without an episode of "Andy Griffith" somewhere on the TV, and my friend John was ever doing his Barney Fife imitation. R.I.P.

Knotts' only serious role ever was a brief stint on "Search for Tomorrow."

The actor's half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality and five Emmys.

The show ran from 1960-68, and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year. It is one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top: The others are "I Love Lucy" and "Seinfeld." The 249 episodes have appeared frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active network of fan clubs.

As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.

Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered that way.

Read the rest here.

Meet Christopher

My nephew, who's in 8th grade, is taking a web design class, for which he designed his own web page. There he tells us about his family, his school and his personal interests. Christopher is pretty accomplished at origami and quite modestly notes that many say he's the nicest kid in school. Who knows, he might be blogging before long.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 29

It was his firm determination to remain in Jerusalem, perpetually visiting the holy places. But in addition to this devotion, he also proposed to be of help to souls. For this purpose, he brought letters of recommendation to the Guardian, which he gave to him, telling him of his intention to remain there to satisfy his devotion. But he said nothing of his desire to benefit souls, for this he had told to no one, while he had often spoken freely of the first part of his plan. The Guardian told him that he could not see how he could remain, since the house was in such need that it could not support the friars, and it was for this reason that they had determined on sending some of the friars to the west with the pilgrims. The pilgrim answered that he wanted nothing from the house, but only someone to hear him when he came to confession. At this the Guardian told him that they might be able to arrange things, but that he should wait until the provincial came, who was the chief superior of the Order and was at the time in Bethlehem.

The pilgrim remained satisfied with this promise, and set about writing letters to some spiritual persons in Barcelona. Having written one, he was at work on the second on the eve of the departure of the pilgrims when he was summoned to the provincial and the Guardian, the former of whom had returned. The provincial addressed him kindly and told him that he had learned of his good intention to remain in the holy places, and had given the matter careful thought. From the experience he had of others, he thought that it would not be wise. Many, he said, had entertained a like desire, some of whom had been taken prisoner, others died, and that his Order had been later obliged to ransom those who had been taken captive. For this reason, he should get ready to leave the next day with the other pilgrims. His answer was that he had made up his mind to stay, and was determined to let no reason prevent him from sticking to his resolve, giving him honestly to understand that although the provincial did not agree with him, if it was not a matter which obliged him under pain of sin, he would not give up his purpose out of any fear. To this the provincial replied that they had the authority from the Apostolic See to dismiss or retain those whom they wished to dismiss or retain, and to excommunicate anyone who refused to obey. In his case he judged that he should not remain.

As the provincial was willing to show him the bulls which gave him power to excommunicate, the pilgrim said that there was no need of his seeing them, since he believed their reverences, and since they so judged with the authority conferred on them, he would obey.

Some of our greatest learning experiences can come when we don’t get what we want. Such moments force us to rethink our priorities and perhaps question what we thought was God’s will for our lives. Ignatius thought it was God’s will that he go to Jerusalem. How could it be then now that he has arrived there that he would be sent home? We can see his resistance to the idea with his defiant statement to the provincial. Up to now it seems as if God had made things happen for Ignatius, but suddenly he’s hit a roadblock.

A few years ago my mother confessed to me that there was something she regretted doing to me when I was in high school. At the time, I was a leader in our city’s Junior Achievement program. I had planned a day trip to New York City for the students involved in the program, organizing everything from the bus to dinner reservations, etc. When the time for the trip came, I was short the money I needed to pay for the trip. But I was certain that my mother would give me what I needed to make up the difference. So, it was a bit of a shock when she told me that she would not give me the money. I was furious! How could she prevent me from going on the trip that I organized! It was strange that weekend to be sitting at home, knowing that all that I had planned was happening without me. I learned from that experience the wisdom of planning ahead (though I’m still not always so great at it), and I learned not to presume that someone is always going to bail you out at the last minute, even a parent. I assured my mother those many years later that she had indeed done the right thing, no matter how angry I’d been about it at the time.

In light of what we know about Ignatius now, we can see that he too is learning some important lessons, though he may not have realized it then. He speaks of his great desire to be “of help to souls.” His hopes for doing so in Jerusalem dashed, he discovers that he will have to find other ways to do it. Later, this attitude of finding ways of being of help to souls will be foundational to the work of the Society of Jesus. Indeed, in The First Jesuits, John O’Malley suggests that being “of help to souls” was to be the primary motivation of all the work of the early Jesuits. We also see some echoes of principles that will later appear in The Spiritual Exercises, with regard to decision-making:

From the First Principle and Foundation: “We must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice, and are not under any prohibition.”

Regarding “Matters about which a choice should be made”: “It is necessary that all matters of which we wish to make a choice be either indifferent or good in themselves, and such that they are lawful within our Holy Mother, the hierarchical Church, and not bad or opposed to her.”

Finally, we see at work something which later comes to be considered one of Ignatius’ hallmarks, his emphasis on obedience. Among Saint Ignatius’ most famous letters is one on obedience, which he wrote to the province of Portugal, whose provincial had defied him. He writes:

“Of course I wish you to be perfect in all spiritual gifts and adornments. But it is especially in the virtue of obedience, as you have heard from me on other occasions, that I am anxious to see you signalize yourselves. I desire this not only because of the rare and outstanding blessings connected with obedience, as may be seen from the many distinguished proofs and examples of it to be found in Holy Scripture, in both the Old and the New Testaments; but also because, as we read in St. Gregory: ‘Obedience is the only virtue which implants the other virtues in the heart, and preserves them after they have been so implanted.’ . . . We may the more readily allow other religious orders to surpass in the manner of fasting, watching, and other austerities in their manner of living, which all of them devoutly practice according to their respective Institutes. But in the purity and perfection of obedience and the surrender of our will and judgment, it is my warmest wish, beloved brethren, to see those who serve God in this Society signalize themselves.”

Though not without expressing his desire (and stubbornness), Ignatius demonstrates such obedience in Jerusalem.

Listen To Me

Thanks to Susan Rose, I've discovered a great new toy.

Click on the "Feed to Podcast" button on the right and you can, well, listen to me (sort of).

To see how to do the same with your blog, go here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Victory For the Faculty, Loss for Students?

An interesting take on the Harvard situation. Highlights an important question on university campuses these days: are the faculty looking out for the students or just for themselves?

Coup d'Ecole
Harvard professors oust Larry Summers. Now they must face their students.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 12:01 a.m.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--The resignation of Lawrence Summers as president of Harvard turns the spotlight on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), which has consecrated more time and energy to his ouster than to any other project of the past five years. Until now, all blame has been leveled at the president: "Fear and manipulation have been used to govern maliciously," charged one professor, who has since been awarded with a deanship. But now that these cowering professors have successfully unseated their president, scrutiny will quite rightly be leveled at them. What do they gain from their victory, and what does the rest of the university stand to lose?

. . . Harvard students frankly blossomed under the special attention he paid them. No university president in my experience had ever taken such a warm personal interest in undergraduate education. Not surprisingly, the students return his affection, polling three to one in favor of his staying on. The day he announced his resignation, they were out in force in Harvard Yard, chanting "Five More Years!"

The student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, has been outspoken in its criticism of the faculty that demanded the president's ouster. "No Confidence in 'No Confidence' " ran the headline of an editorial demonstrating the spuriousness of the charges being brought against the president, and reminding faculty to stay focused on the educational process that ought to be its main concern.

. . . But student response to the ouster suggests another long-term outcome. Although the activists of yesteryear may have found a temporary stronghold in the universities, a new generation of students has had its fill of radicalism. Sobered by the heavy financial burdens most of their families have to bear for their schooling, they want an education solid enough to warrant the investment. Chastened by the fall-out of the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, they are wary of human experiments that destabilize society even further. Alert to the war that is being waged against America, they feel responsible for its defense even when they may not agree with the policies of the current administration. If the students I have come to know at Harvard are at all representative, a new moral seriousness prevails on campus, one that has yet to affect the faculty members because it does not yet know how to marshal its powers.

Read the whole article in WSJ.

From the Harvard Crimson article mentioned above:

The Faculty, like the president, must be held to account. As much as discontented Faculty members may lack confidence in Summers, we would modestly submit that, at this point in time, we lack confidence in them. It is the Faculty’s job to stay focused on issues that have a greater bearing over this university’s future. As Faculty members consider how they will vote on Feb. 28, they should ask what the no-confidence resolution is intended to accomplish. They should search their hearts and minds, asking whose interests they have in mind—is it merely theirs, or is it the whole University’s?

Also from The Crimson:

One of the worst things about University President Lawrence H. Summers’ resignation is the message that it seems to signal to Harvard’s students, both past and present. Summers stood for many things, but most importantly he represented the interests of our students.

In a formal sense, he participated in the curriculum, teaching a freshman seminar and co-teaching a large lecture course. But this teaching role just begins to touch the core reasons that students supported Summers: he was passionately interested in their ideas and their experiences. He didn’t listen politely and then move on to the next student in line. Instead, he argued with students about every conceivable topic, from curricular reform to the ethics of stem cell research to the war in Iraq. Summers showed up at undergraduate events, and he meaningfully talked with students. He asked tough questions and then listened to thoughtful answers. He forced students into real conversations, short on platitudes and long on substance. Occasionally the students forced him onto the dance floor.

Hat tip to Kathryn.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

There's Something About Ignatius, part 2

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 28

Although many pilgrims had come to Jerusalem that year, many had returned to their own land because of the recent fall of Rhodes. There were thirteen, however, in the pilgrim ship which left first, eight or nine waiting for the Governors’ ship. While it was on the point of sailing, our pilgrim came down with a violent fever. It left him after giving him a few bad days. The ship was to leave the day he had taken a purgative, and the people of the house asked the doctor whether the pilgrim could embark for Jerusalem. He answered that he could, if he wanted to be buried there. He did embark, and left that day, and vomited so much that he felt very light, but began to make a complete recovery. Some on board ship were guilty of manifest indecencies which he severely reproved.

The Spaniards who were along advised him against doing so, because the crew of the ship were thinking of abandoning him on some island. But it was our Lord’s will for them to arrive quickly at Cyprus where, leaving that ship, they proceeded overland to another port which was called Salinas, about thirty miles distant, and there boarded the pilgrim ship, to which he carried no more for his upkeep than the hope he had in God, just as he had done in the first ship. Throughout this time our Lord appeared to him very often, which gave him much strength and consolation; but he thought he saw something that was large and round, as though it were of gold. This kept appearing to him from the time he left Cyprus until they reached Jaffa. While they were making their way to Jerusalem, mounted on their little donkeys, as usual, a noble Spaniard by the name of Diego Manes, two miles before reaching Jerusalem, suggested with great devotion that since they would arrive at a spot from which they could see the Holy City, it would be good for all to prepare their consciences and make the rest of the way in silence.

The suggestion seeming good to all, each one began to recollect himself. Shortly before arriving at the spot from which they could see the city, they dismounted, because the friars, who had been expecting them, came with their cross. As he gazed upon the city, the pilgrim felt a deep consolation, which they all felt, according to their own testimony, together with a joyousness that did not appear natural. He felt the same devotion in his visits to the holy places.

A regular visitor to my blog confided to me recently that up to this point in The Autobiography, she didn’t much care for Ignatius. And in this passage, I think we can see why. People are starting to notice that “the pilgrim” can be a bit of a pain in the ass! Sick, the doctor tells him that if he goes to Jerusalem, he’s likely to die. He goes anyway, vomiting “so much that he felt very light,” and reproving others aboard the ship for their “indecencies.” So annoying was he, that the crew was contemplating leaving him alone on an island somewhere! But, Saint Ignatius assures us, God had other plans.

The nineteenth century American writer, Christian Nestell Bovee, is noted as saying, “Living with a saint is more grueling than being one.” Many of us who live in religious communities know the truth of this saying. Many a religious over the centuries has said, “Oh yes, Father so-and-so is a saint, unless you have to live with him!”

Some years ago, inspired by two weeks working with the poor in Calcutta, I decided that I wanted to spend the following summer also working with the poor in some way. Since I had spent the previous summer studying Spanish, an opportunity that was available to work with poor Hispanic immigrants in the South seemed like a perfect fit. Summer arrived and I went to work with a priest who was well known for all the great work he was doing with the Hispanic community. Indeed, he traveled hundreds of miles each week to different communities around the state to offer Mass, to help people get settled and find work, and to administer the Sacraments, performing baptisms and weddings and hearing confessions. The people in these communities loved him, and he offered them all of himself. He was definitely an inspiration, perhaps even a saint. Yet, as the weeks went by I started to see another side of things. He was overdoing it, a couple of times I saw him fall asleep at the wheel of his car (he had crashed a car months earlier doing the same), and while loved by the people he ministered to, his focus on them made it difficult for others to help him, often leaving them angry and bitter. I also experienced this frustration. I soon realized he hadn’t really thought out how he was going to make use of me. Much of my time was spent waiting for a call telling me what to do next. Sometimes those calls came at midnight! I begged him to sit down with me and come up with some kind of schedule, as I couldn’t healthily follow the haphazard pattern which he did. He kept assuring me he would, but never found the time. There were always other things more important, more pressing. I was also frustrated because when he did call with something for me to do, it was more often “gopher” type jobs than the ministry opportunities I had been promised. After some desperate e-mails to my superior back home, and some research into alternative possibilities for work, I sat him down and told him that I couldn’t continue working with him in this impossible situation. I assured him—and I was sincere—that it had nothing to do with how I felt about him. Indeed, I liked and admired him, but I just couldn’t work with him. I spent the remaining weeks of my summer doing Hispanic ministry with someone less “saintly,” but in a much more structured and sane environment.

Yes, there is definitely something inspiring about saintly people, but they can also be maddening!

Results Now Official

The Catholic Blog Awards results are now official and, despite the threat of absentee ballots, it still seems I've won in the category of Best Blog by a Seminarian. Thanks again to everyone. Thanks also to Josh LeBlanc and those that assisted him to make the awards a success.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There's Something About Ignatius

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 27

During this journey to Venice he slept in the piazzas because of the measures taken against the plague. Once it happened that as he awoke in the morning, he met a man who, seeing that he was alive, took to his heels with fright, because he must have appeared extremely pale.
Continuing his journey he reached Chioggia, and from some companions who had joined him he learned that they would not be allowed to enter Venice. These companions decided to go to Padua to get a health certificate and he went along with them. But as they traveled at a good pace, he could not keep up with them, and they left him at nightfall in a large field. While he was here Christ appeared to him as he was accustomed to, as we have already described, and strengthened him considerably. With this consolation, the next morning, without forging a certificate as, I think, his companions had done, he arrived at the gates of Padua and went in, the guards making no demands of him. The same thing happened when he left the city, at which his companions were taken very much by surprise, as they had come to get a certificate to go to Venice, about which he did not trouble himself.
On their arrival at Venice, the officials came to the boat to examine all the passengers, one after the other. Him alone they left undisturbed. In Venice he maintained himself by begging, and slept in the Piazza of St. Mark. He did not care to go to the house of the Ambassador of the Emperor, nor to make any special effort to find something with which to get along. He had a deep certainty in his soul that God must give him the means of getting to Jerusalem, and this gave him such confidence that no reasons or fears suggested by others were enough to make him doubt.
One day a rich Spaniard met him and asked him what he was doing and where he wanted to go. Learning his intention, he took him home for dinner, and kept him there for several days until arrangements were made for his departure. From his Manresa days the pilgrim had this custom that when he ate with anyone, he never spoke at table, unless to answer briefly; but he listened to the conversation and made note of some things, from which he later took occasion to speak of God. When the meal is over, that is what he did.
That is why this good man with all his family took such a liking to him that they wanted him to remain with them, and made an effort to keep him in the house. His host himself brought him to talk with the Doge of Venice. When the Doge heard the pilgrim, he gave orders to give him passage in the Governor’s ship which was sailing to Cyprus.

There’s something about Ignatius. We’ve seen it before in his story. At times, he just seems to get what he wants. Sure, we have a sense that God takes care of him. But there also seems to be something about Ignatius himself—his presence, his charisma—that draws others to him. Indeed, there is a stark contrast from the beginning of this passage to the end. It begins with the “undead” looking Ignatius scaring the Hell out of somebody! But by the end, we have a rich Spaniard going out of his way to get Ignatius what he needs! He casually mentions, as an aside, that “Christ appeared to him as he was accustomed to . . . and strengthened him considerably.” But this encounter with Christ, no matter how ordinary Ignatius makes it appear, seems to make the difference. The next thing we know, he’s passing by, as if invisible, the city’s guards. Is there something about our encounter with Christ that can make us appear different?

Now I don’t consider myself a particularly charismatic person. Saint Ignatius, I expect, like John Paul II, probably had a natural charisma which immediately attracted people to him. That’s not really been my experience. However, I have found that at times when I’m giving a talk, or offering spiritual direction, something changes in the quality of the encounter. I realize that my audience is in rapt attention, or the individual I am working with is being particularly responsive. Suddenly, I sense that Christ is present, working through me in a particularly powerful way. And I am tempted to step back, to end the moment, surely this is too much for me to be doing, too privileged a position. I expect that part of what made someone like Saint Ignatius so effective is that he was able to give himself over to such an encounter, to overcome any hesitation and let himself be used in a powerful way. Even this early in Ignatius’ journey to sainthood, we can begin to see it here.

In The Sickness Unto Death, the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard speaks of us as being “offended” by God’s coming so close. How can the transcendent God come so close to my unworthy self? How could I not offend by entering into this mystery? The frequent result to this offense, Kierkegaard observes, is to fall into despair. However, the challenge for Christians, he insists, is to look this offense right in the face and accept it, moving to faith in that mystery that is, rather than to the despair of, “How could this be?” As I described in my own experience, this is not necessarily so easy, and it may take some time to get there. How do we get there? As in the case of Ignatius, we get there by giving ourselves over to this mystery and allowing God to use us more and more.

Impractical Outrage and Trust In God

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 26

So fresh a following wind blew that the trip from Barcelona to Gaeta was made in five days and nights; not, however, without great fear because of the rough weather. All through that land there was a dread of the pestilence, but the pilgrim, as soon as he disembarked, set out for Rome. Of those who sailed with him, a mother and her daughter, who was wearing boy’s clothing, joined him, together with another young man. They went along with him because they too were begging their way. When they arrived at an inn, they found a great fire and many soldiers about it, who gave them something to eat and plied them with much wine, as though they wanted to warm them up. Then the travelers separated, the mother and daughter going upstairs to a room and the pilgrim and the young boy to the stable. But about the middle of the night he heard loud cries coming from upstairs, and getting up to see what was going on, he found the mother and daughter below in the courtyard weeping and bewailing that an attempt had been made upon them. So angry did he become at this that he began to cry out, “Do we have to put up with this?” and similar expostulations, which he expressed with such effect that everybody in the house was amazed and no one offered to do him any harm. The boy had already fled, but the three of them resumed their journey even though it was still night.

When they arrived at a town that was nearby, they found it closed, and not being able to enter it the three of them spent the night in a damp church. They were not permitted to enter the city in the morning, and they found no alms outside it, although they went to a castle which seemed nearby, where the pilgrim felt a weakness coming on him, as much from the sea voyage as from the rest of his experiences. As he was unable to proceed, he remained where he was, while the mother and her daughter went on to Rome. Many people left the city that day, among them the lady of the land. When he heard that she was coming he presented himself to tell her that he was ill only from weakness, and asked her to be allowed to enter the city to seek some remedy. She readily granted his request. He began to beg throughout the city, gathered a good number of small coins, rested there for two days, resumed his journey and reached Rome on Palm Sunday.

Here whoever talked with him, knowing that he had come moneyless on his way to Jerusalem, tried to persuade him to give up the idea, suggesting many reasons why he would not find passage without money. But in his soul he had a great certainty, which would admit of no doubt, that he would find a way of getting to Jerusalem. He received the blessing of Adrian VI, and then left for Venice, eight or nine days after Easter. He took along with him six or seven ducats which had been given to him to defray his passage from Venice to Jerusalem. He had taken them because of the fear with which others inspired him of not being able to get to Jerusalem otherwise. But two days after leaving Rome he began to realize that accepting this money meant that he was losing the confidence he had had, and he worried much for having taken the ducats and thought it would be good to get rid of them. Finally, he made up his mind to distribute them generously among those who presented themselves, who were usually poor. He did so in such a way that when he reached Venice all he had left was a little change which was necessary for that night.

This is not a passage for the practically-minded. But, then again, pilgrimage is not exactly a practical exercise. Its goals are spiritual, not material, its success not measurable, and it can be fraught with danger, as the experience of the mother and daughter accompanying Ignatius suggests. Informed of the “attempt” on the mother and daughter, a practical Ignatius might have seen that there was nothing to do about it, no recourse, and suggested that they quietly slip away. However, Saint Ignatius, instead, does something impractical and potentially dangerous by expressing his outrage against the treatment of these women. In doing so, he offers us an important example. Our choice whether or not to express outrage when faced with injustice should not be based on whether or not it is likely to produce results. This is a utilitarian point of view, not a Christian one. As Christians and human beings we have an obligation to speak out against injustice, regardless of results, and sometimes to our own peril.

Ignatius doesn’t forego practicality altogether. Experiencing some problems with his health, he presents himself to an influential woman and convinces her that his illness is not the pestilence so that he can enter the town and seek help. He even stores up some money for his journey, heeding the advice of a number of more practical people. But, in a move that will again make the practical uncomfortable, his scruples get the better of him and he gives away all he has stored except enough for the immediate needs of that night. Is this foolishness? Or the trust in God expected of a pilgrim?

Times have changed, and such pilgrimages aren’t as common. And who would embark on a pilgrimage these days without sufficient funds for the journey, internet access or a cell phone? It causes one to wonder: In what “impractical” ways might we today learn to put our trust in God? Or are those days gone?

News Flash!

According to a commentor at Bettnet:

"The Jesuit scholastics who study at Weston are, from my limited experience with them, Catholic."

So glad that's clear!

In other news: It has further been discovered that the Jesuits scholastics who study at Weston are, in fact, men.

Thanks to such news I have, thankfully, avoided an identity crisis.

(Boy, Catholicnews.org is going to be so jealous that it didn't get this story)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thank You For Your Support

I've resurrected the old Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler guys to say "Thank you for your support" in the Catholic Blog Awards. Though the results are still unofficial, it seems I've won in the category of Best Blog by a Seminarian. In lieu of a teary-eyed speech--you don't want to see a grown Jesuit cry--I just want to say what a privilege it has been and continues to be to journey with so many wonderful people here in the blogosphere. Dale Price is to blame for getting me started, and that's a funny story! And so many people like fellow nominees Susan Rose, Steve, Maureen and others like Maggie, Penni, Amy, Karen, Omis, Jenn and Gashwin are responsible for keeping me here.
I've also been pleased to be introduced via the awards to Bro. Lawrence, Kevin, Jeff and Julie (who appears to have beaten Amy by 3/10 of a percentage point for Best Blog by a Woman).

I also wanted to share with you what I take to be some of the CBA's contenders for next year (i.e. great blogs that might have been nominated, but weren't):

Martha, Martha

Higher Plane

Confessions of a Wayward Catholic

All Things Seen and Unseen

Maior Autem His Est Caritas

Letters from a Young Catholic


V for . . .

Now that the drama of the Catholic Blog Awards is over . . .

"Hey, I wonder who won the Catholic Blog Awards?"

Get ready for some new drama.

V for Vendetta opens March 17.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Leave the Blancas, Take the Biscuit: Lost In the Ordinary

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 25

When it came time to arrange for this biscuit he suffered great scruples. “Was this the faith and the hope that you had in God, of His not failing you?” The thought caused him a great deal of annoyance, and at length, not knowing what to do, as there were probable reasons on both sides, he made up his mind to place himself in the hands of his confessor. Thus, he made known how great was his desire for perfection, and for the greater glory of God, and the reasons which caused him to doubt whether he should bring anything along for his support. The confessor decided he should ask what was necessary and take it along with him. Asking it of a lady, she enquired where he was going. For a moment he doubted whether he should tell her, and finally did not dare tell her more than that he was going to Italy and Rome. Taken by surprise, she said, “You want to go to Rome? Why, there’s no telling how they return who go there,” meaning to say they who go to Rome get little spiritual profit from it. His reason for not saying that he was Jerusalem bound was his fear of vainglory, a fear that so afflicted him that he never dared to say what land he came from or to what family he belonged. Finally, he got on board with his biscuit. But when he came to the seashore, finding five or six blancas in his pockets, all that was left of what he had begged from door to door, as this was the way he used to get along, he left them on a bench there on the seashore.

He went aboard, having been in Barcelona a little more than twenty days. While he was still in Barcelona before embarking, he sought out as usual all spiritual persons, even those who were living at a distance in hermitages, to hold conversation with them. But neither in Barcelona, nor in Manresa, could he find anyone to help him as much as he wished. Except in Manresa, that woman mentioned above, who said that she asked God that Jesus Christ appear to him, was the only one who to him seemed to be deeply versed in the spiritual life. Therefore, after leaving Barcelona he lost for good this eagerness to seek out spiritual persons.

In today’s passage Saint Ignatius seems a bit lost and unsure of himself. He is troubled by his scruples and seems unable to find anyone sufficiently spiritual to talk to. Is he losing some of his zeal, as he observes, “he lost for good this eagerness to seek out spiritual persons”? Or is he, perhaps, being challenged to give himself over to things somewhat more ordinary, like having a biscuit so that he can eat on his way to Jerusalem? There seems to be a lesson here that even a person of great holiness just isn’t always going to have it all together.

Speaking of the ordinary, I am struck by the lady’s response when Ignatius says he’s going to Rome. There, she seems to believe, he will also face the dilemma of finding too much of the ordinary and not enough of the spiritual.

It reminds me of a story in Boccaccio’s classic medieval text, The Decameron. Like The Canterbury Tales, it is a collection of stories told by a group of people escaping The Plague. In the second story of Day 1, he tells the story of a man named Jehannot, who was friends with a rich Jew named Abraham. Jehannot is eager that Abraham might convert to Christianity, and tries to get him to do so. Finally, Abraham announces one day that he is going to travel to Rome to learn more about the Christian Church, and whether he might be compelled to convert. Jehannot is not pleased with this announcement and determines that Abraham’s conversion will never happen for the same reason expressed by Ignatius that “they who go to Rome get little spiritual profit from it.” For Jehannot knows that in Rome Abraham will find a Church represented by people who are far too ordinary—subject to the same sins and corruptions of all human beings. Despite Jehannot’s protestations, Abraham does indeed go to Rome, and upon his return he and Jehannot have the following conversation (the translation is an old one, but I think you can get the gist of it):

After some few dayes of resting, Jehannot demanded of him; what he thought of our holy Father the Pope and his Cardinals, and generally of all the other Courtiers? Whereto the Jew readily answered; It is strange Jehannot, that God should give them so much as he doth. For I will truely tell thee, that if I had beene able to consider all those things, which there I have both heard and seene: I could then have resolved my selfe, never to have found in any Priest, either sanctity, devotion, good worke, example of honest life, or any good thing else beside. But if a man desire to see luxury, avarice, gluttony, and such wicked things, yea, worse, if worse may be, and held in generall estimation of all men; let him but goe to Rome, which I thinke rather to be the forge of damnable actions, then any way leaning to grace or goodnesse. And, for ought I could perceive, me thinkes your chiefe Pastour, and (consequently) all the rest of his dependants, doe strive so much as they may (with all their engine arte and endevour) to bring to nothing, or else to banish quite out of the world, Christian Religion, whereof they should be the support and foundation.
But because I perceive, that their wicked intent will never come to passe, but contrariwise, that your faith enlargeth it selfe, shining every day much more cleare and splendant: I gather thereby evidently, that the blessed Spirit is the true ground and defence thereof, as being more true and holy then any other. In which respect, whereas I stood stiffe and obstinate against the good admonitions, and never minded to become a Christian: now I freely open my heart unto thee, that nothing in the world can or shall hinder me, but I will be a Christian, as thou art. Let us therefore presently goe to the Church, and there (according to the true custome of your holy faiths) helpe me to be baptized.

Now some might find this a harsh attack on the Church, but I have always found it comforting, especially at times when the imperfection of the ordinary seems much more apparent than the spiritual reality and, like Ignatius, I feel a bit lost.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Don't Forget & New on the Blogroll

You have until Tuesday morning to vote for this and many other deserving blogs in the Catholic Blog Awards.

May I also mention some blogs that are new to the blogroll:

There's hope for those in recovery at Abiding.

Bad Alice is learning humility caring for her 4 and 6 year old daughters.

Julie is a Happy Catholic.

Kevin Muniz, who's shot up dramatically in The Best Blog by a Seminarian polls, has The Heart of a Seminarian.

Danny Garland is becoming a Catholic while already being Irish and Dangerous.

Letters From A Young Catholic is not as new, but needs recommending.

Jeff Geerling reflect on seminary life in St. Louis at Matthew 12:37.

Mere Catholics Kalanna & Mecandes have one of the best looking blogs around.

Cynthia's Mormon2Catholic is pretty much self-explanatory.

Jeffery BeBeau offers more insights on seminary life at Orate Fratres.

Jennifer is patiently doing Perfect Work, and a diss on Shakespeare (and his possible Jesuit connections).

Semina Verbi is looking for God in the postmodern world.

Barb is a Mom and a secular Franciscan, thus SFO Mom.

TS is looking for the right way at Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor.

Deep in contemplation is Lawrence Lew, OP at Contemplata allis Tradere.

Jack Shall Have Jill, or is it Leonora?

And Lisa, my editor at SAMP, offers her Second Thoughts.

Out of Control?

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 24

At the beginning of winter (1522), he came down with a severe illness, and the town placed him in the house of the father of a certain Ferrera, who was later in the service of Baltasar de Faria. Here he was very attentively cared for, and many prominent ladies of the town came to watch over him at night out of the devotion they felt for him. But even after his recovery from this illness, he remained quite weak with frequent stomach pains. For this reason, and also because the winter was very severe, they insisted that he dress properly, wear shoes and a hat, two dark gray jackets of a rough sort of cloth, with a headpiece that was half bonnet and half cap. At this time there were many days when he was eager to hold forth on spiritual things, and to find those who were likewise interested in them. But the time was drawing near that he had set for his departure for Jerusalem.

Therefore, at the beginning of the year 1523 he left for Barcelona to take ship, and although several offered to accompany him, he preferred to travel by himself, since his whole purpose was to have God alone for refuge. One day he was beset by many who argued with him to take some companions on the grounds that he did not know Italian or Latin, and a companion would be of great help to him. He answered that even if the companion were the son or the brother of the Duke of Cardona he would not travel in his company. He desired, he said, three virtues—faith, hope and charity. If he had a companion he would expect help from him when he was hungry, and he would thus trust in him, and be drawn to place his affection in him, when he wanted to place all this confidence and affection and hope in God alone. He spoke thus out of the fullness of his heart. In this state of mind he wished to embark, not merely alone, but without any provisions for the voyage. When they discussed the cost of passage, he obtained free passage from the shipmaster, since he was without money. But he was expected to bring aboard enough ship’s biscuit to keep him, and would not be taken aboard on any other condition.

I can’t help but think when I read this that Saint Ignatius is being something of a stubborn, single-minded control freak. I’m glad I’m never like that! He says his intention is to put all his trust in God, but what if God meant for that to include putting his trust in other people? As he admits he was sick, clearly these people had nothing but his best interest in mind. It reminds me of the story of the man who is caught in a flood. As the waters begin to rise, a rescue vehicle arrives and suggests he get in. “No, that’s alright,” he says, “God will save me.” He climbs the stairs of his three story home until he gets to a second floor window. The waters have now risen beyond the first floor. As he looks out the window, a boat passes by and, seeing him at the window, the passengers are quite insistent that he join them. “No, thanks,” he says, “God will save me.” The water rises beyond the level of the window, and he makes his way to the roof of the house, where he is met by a rescue helicopter, lowering a rope ladder so that he can climb to safety. He waves the helicopter on, screaming, “Don’t worry about me, God will save me.” The helicopter moves on, and eventually he drowns in the rising water. He is taken into heaven and finds himself face to face with God. He is puzzled, and a bit perturbed, and says to God, “I’m sorry if I seem impertinent, but I put all my trust in you. Why didn’t you save me?” God says, “I sent you a rescue truck, a boat and a helicopter. What else did you want me to do?”

I expect this is a point in his narrative when Saint Ignatius might have stopped and suggested that people not choose to imitate him. Already we see evidence of serious damage caused by all his “trusting in God,” in the form of the frequent stomach pains which he is suffering. Like the man in the flood, we are beginning to see here that this “trusting in God alone” is becoming a serious detriment to his health. We have to wonder if this less mature Ignatius isn’t stubbornly trying to control how much he will let God do for him. This may not be trusting in God alone at all, but instead a confused egoism. It seems Ignatius might have realized this himself, for later we see a more nuanced point of view in his First Principle and Foundation of The Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.
Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as afar as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.
Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.

Now it’s possible to see this as a justification for what he is doing in the above passage. However, though that is possible, I think The First Principle and Foundation calls for a level of discernment which the younger Ignatius has not achieved in this instance. Is this choice, we should ask, really “more conducive to the end for which he was created.” I think Ignatius himself later concludes that the risk to his life and health which these decisions involved were not. After all, if God is calling us to do great things for him in the service of others, doesn't that mean we have to safeguard our health, insofar as we're able?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Near Death Experiences

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 23

Once in Manresa he was ill with a high fever which brought him to death’s door, and he felt sure that his soul was about to leave his body. At this moment the thought occurred to him that he was a just man. It annoyed him to such an extent that he did nothing but resist it and place his sin before his eyes. He had more trouble with this thought than with the fever itself, but he could not overcome it no matter how he tried to get the better of it. However, as the fever abated a little and he was no longer in immediate danger of death, he began to cry out to certain ladies who had come to visit him that for the love of God if ever they saw him at the point of death again, they should cry out and remind him that he was a sinner and should remember the offenses he had committed against God.

On another occasion, when he was on his way from Valencia to Italy by sea, the rudder of the ship was broken by a mighty storm, and matters came to such a pass that in his own judgment and that of many other passengers they could not in the ordinary course of events escape death. He examined himself carefully and prepared for death, but could not have any fear because of his sins, or of being condemned. He had rather great confusion and sorrow for not having made a proper use of the gifts and graces that God our Lord had bestowed upon him.

Again in the year 1550 he was very ill, and he and many others thought that his last hour had come. This time, thinking about death, he found so much joy and so much spiritual consolation in the thought of dying that he melted into tears. This became so common with him that he often turned his thoughts away from death to avoid having so much of this consolation.

There is a note added after the suggested meditation on Hell in the first week of The Spiritual Exercises. It reads as follows: “If the one giving the Exercises judges that it would be profitable for the exercitant, other exercises may be added here, for example, on death and other punishments of sin, on judgment, etc. Let him not think this is forbidden, though they are not given here.” The “First Week” of The Spiritual Exercises is devoted to putting the one making them in touch with his or her own sin, and the sin of the world. It is clear from the excerpt from Ignatius’ autobiography above, and this notation in The Exercises, that Saint Ignatius believed that the contemplation of one’s own death, and/or the punishments of Hell, could be a very effective aid in helping one come to a greater awareness of his or her own sin.

Now I’ll be the first to say that Saint Ignatius seems to go a bit overboard with his concern about what he is thinking or feeling as he contemplates the possibility of death, but we should be careful not to dismiss his concern altogether. Instead, we should take the opportunity to ask why Ignatius’ concerns strike us as so extreme. Is it because, trusting in God’s forgiveness, we can’t imagine the possibility of Hell and eternal punishment? If this be the case—as it so often is in the mind of many today—how, then, do we account for the fact that Jesus himself warned us of the dangers of Hell and eternal punishment? Or is it because, having entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we already believe our salvation to be assured? Some might be surprised to know that as Catholics we do not believe we can have assurance of salvation in this life. Or, it may be that we just would rather not talk about such indelicate possibilities. But, I believe, that Saint Ignatius’ suggestion that we should indeed contemplate such possibilities points to a vitally important reason for doing so: Faced with the reality of our own sin, we realize we cannot become complacent in our attempts to more perfectly follow Christ and achieve his will for our lives. The Spiritual Exercises are not an experience which takes place merely in the matter of 5, 8 or 30 days. If entered into properly, they invite us into a process of lifetime growth in the spiritual life, a life of constant conversion, in which we must continually, as we do in the Mass each time we worship, call to mind our sins even as we also contemplate the extraordinary life which Jesus calls us to. We are called to live in constant wonder at the fact that though we are sinners, we are invited by Christ to walk with Him, and share in the work of God’s Kingdom.

Matthew Lickona, in his book Swimming With Scapulars, gives us an example of what a more contemporary mediation on one’s own death might look like:

Christmas Eve of 1992 found me just off the coast of Florida, getting pounded silly by the early morning waves. I was nineteen, and I enjoyed throwing myself against the six-footers as they broke. I enjoyed the roaring violence of it: the way my body’s motion was suddenly halted and reversed; the way I was thrown down by the surrounding water, spun around, and held under so that I lost my sense of direction; the way I had to fight my way back above water, sometimes against a sucking riptide. But after one particularly disorienting collision, and a riptide that gripped me long enough to engender that moment of thrilling terror—will I make it up?—I gained the surface and found I had lost my scapular.
“Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” Tradition holds this to be the promise given by the Blessed Virgin Mary upon the garment’s presentation to the Carmelite Prior St. Simon Stock in 1251. Though I had been enrolled in the scapular—two small squares of brown wool connected by strings and worn around the neck—for the better part of a year, I didn’t understand how it “worked.” Surely an article of clothing could not guarantee salvation? The promise sounded almost dangerous, a temptation to presume on God’s mercy.
But then, I supposed, if you were not one of the elect, then God would see to it that you were not wearing your scapular at the time of your death . . . God is not mocked.
As I felt the bare patch of skin on my chest where the wool square used to be, I thought of my own soul, itself weighed with sin. Was God finished being merciful with me? Was he preparing to take my life and subject me to judgment, now that I was out from under Our Lady’s promise? I panicked, and thrashed my way to shore.
What was I thinking, fighting riptides with serious sin—and the consequent threat of hell—on my soul? I once heard it said that if Christians really believed that Christ was in the tabernacle, they would never leave the church. Similarly, if I really believed my eternal fate was in jeopardy, why wasn’t I curled up on a priest’s doorstep, begging him to hear my confession?
I don’t really have an answer, except to say that growing up with God and the devil, heaven and hell, Jesus and Mary, sin and salvation, and all the rest of it had made them familiar to me, perhaps too familiar. It was easy to overlook their significance, easy to ignore the urgency and import of their existence. At nineteen, death and what cane after felt very far away. That last riptide, combined with my lost scapular, brought them a little bit nearer.

Now you may not wear a scapular, or even know what one is. But that, I think, is really beside the point. The point is that Matthew’s reflection is just the kind of thing Saint Ignatius encourages. We don’t need a scapular, a riptide, or even severe turbulence (that always works for me!) to prompt us to contemplate our mortality. We might just ask the question: If death were near, what haven’t I accomplished in my life in and relationship with Christ that I would like to have accomplished by the time of my death, and how can I be better ready to meet my Savior in the next life? None of us are finished products.

Book Announcement

is pleased to announce
What Christian Traditions Can Teach Us
edited by
John Kleiderer, Paula Minaert, Mark Mossa, S.J.
General Editor, Dolores Leckey

(Book will be available in about a month)

How does just-war theory apply to the situation in Iraq? How can religion, which has been at the root of so many wars, illuminate a new path to peace?

More than 50 theologians, public policy analysts, miliary experts, peace activists, and media commentators gathered at Georgetown University to address these questions. Just War, Lasting Peace is the result of their explorations. It offers clarity and hope to all those who ask these same questions today.

Participants included Jim Wallis, Joan Chittister, Drew Christiansen, Robert Royal, Michael Baxter, Gregory Reichberg, Mary Cusimano Love, Peter and Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, and many others.

John Kleiderer is a policy analyst for the Office of Social and International Ministires, Jesuit Conference, Washington, DC.
Paula Mineart is a freelance writer and editor in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Mark Mossa, S.J., is a student at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Links: Orbis Books, Amazon.

Surviving the Flood

Newspaper reports have already highlighted the efforts of Loyola University's students in helping with recovery efforts in New Orleans, but somebody there also deserves an 'A' for creativity. The coordination of recovery efforts by students, faculty and staff at Loyola is now known as the Loyola NOAH project, i.e. the Loyola New Orleans Alliance for Hope.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Evil Distractions


After this had lasted for some time he went to kneel at a nearby cross to give thanks to God, where again appeared that vision which he had often seen and which he had never understood, that is, the object described above, which he thought very beautiful and which seemed to have many eyes. But he noticed as it stood before the cross it did not have the beautiful color as heretofore, and he understood very clearly, with a strong assent of his will, that it was the evil one. Later it often appeared to him for a long time, but he drove it away with the pilgrim’s staff he held in his hand and a gesture of contempt.

We might wonder what Saint Ignatius is going on about here. How can what he is seeing be “the evil one”? After all, it hasn’t harmed him, has it? Ignatius doesn’t give us a lot of indication as to what caused him to come to the conclusion that this was the work of the evil one, except that it was not as attractive and beautifully colored as it was before. If, indeed, this evil spirit even exists, why would he waste his time conjuring up beautifully-colored visions? We might explain it away, considering that Saint Ignatius lived in medieval times and therefore was much more apt to see evil spirits lurking around every corner. But this might say less about Ignatius and more about our modern tendency not to believe in the evil one at all. We would do well to remember the insight oft-repeated in modern times. It appears in the French writer Baudelaire’s short story, The Generous Gambler in 1864: “Mes chers frères, n'oubliez jamais, quand vous entendrez vanter le progrès des lumières, que la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas!,” which translates: "My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!" A similar sentiment can be found in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, and in the 1995 film, The Usual Suspects, in which the character Verbal, in speaking of the existence of the legendary but unseen criminal Keyser Soze, echoes Baudelaire: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.” One of the presuppositions of Saint Ignatius’ vision of the spiritual life is that the devil does indeed exist, and that we must be careful to distinguish the work of God from the work of the devil in that life. This brief excerpt challenges us to recognize that the evil one is it at work in our lives, not so that we can become obsessed with seeking out the work of evil spirits, but so that we can better recognize the authentic work of God in our lives.

It also shows us how subtly the evil spirit can work against us. For it seems that where Ignatius sees the evil spirit is in a spirit of distraction. Ignatius told us previously that this vision he saw was quite beautiful and he liked to look at it. As such was the case, one could imagine that he could spend hours just gazing at this beauty, rather than going about the business of his life and ministry. We all know the power of distraction, whether it be the distractions of excessive partying, playing video games, the internet! Before we know it, we’ve wasted hours on less than admirable pursuits like getting the high score on minesweeper, or trying to finally win a game of solitaire! I’m not saying that this is necessarily the work of the evil spirit, but it can be, especially when such things lead to the more life-draining pursuit of addictions. Think Gollum’s obsession with his “Precious” in The Lord of the Rings, or the more subtle enticement of The Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, in which one is shown his or her heart’s desire. Pointing out that some have withered away spending all their time staring at a vision of their greatest desires, Dumbledore warns, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

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