Friday, March 31, 2006

Making Time for The Exercises

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 57

From Rome the pilgrim went to Monte Cassino to give the Exercises to Doctor Ortiz, and was there for forty days, during which he one day saw the Bachelor Hocez entering heaven. He had many tears and deep spiritual consolation at this, and he saw this so clearly that if he said that he did not he would feel that he was lying. From Monte Cassino he brought Francis de Strada back to Rome with him.

Back at Rome, he worked helping souls, and still living at the vineyard he gave the Spiritual Exercises to different people at one and the same time, one of whom lived near St. Mary Major, and the other near the Ponte Sesto.

Persecutions now began, and Michael started to be annoying and to speak ill of the pilgrim, who had him summoned to the governor’s court, first showing the governor a letter of Michael’s which praised the pilgrim highly. The governor examined Michael, and put an end to the proceedings by banishing him from Rome.

Mudarra and Barreda opened their campaign of persecution. They alleged that the pilgrim and his companions were fugitives from Spain, Paris and Venice. In the end, both confessed in the presence of the governor and the legate who at the time was in Rome, that they had nothing wrong to say against them, either in their conduct or their teaching. The legate imposed silence in the case, but the pilgrim was not satisfied with that, declaring that he wanted a definitive sentence. This was pleasing neither to the legate nor the governor nor those who at first favored the pilgrim. But after a few months, the Pope finally returned to Rome, and the pilgrim went to Frascati to speak with him, and gave him a number of reasons. The Pope, being thus informed, commanded that sentence be pronounced, which was done in favor of the pilgrim and his associates.

With the help of the pilgrim and his companions some works of piety were founded in Rome, such as the house of catechumens, the house of Santa Maria, and the orphanage. Master Nadal will be able to tell you all the rest.

After this recital, about October 20th, I asked the pilgrim about the Exercises, the Constitutions, wishing to learn how he drew them up. He answered that the Exercises were not composed all at one time, but things that he had observed in his own soul and found useful and which he thought would be useful to others, he put into writing—the examination of conscience, for example, with the idea of lines of different lengths, and so on. The forms of the election in particular, he told me, came from that variety of movement of spirits and thoughts which he experienced at Loyola, while he was still convalescing from his shattered leg. He said he would speak to me about the Constitutions that evening.

My first year of the regency period of my Jesuit formation was spent working at one of our Jesuit high schools. Things had gone somewhat amiss in the process of making my assignment, so instead of teaching as I had expected (and had been looking forward to), I was sent to be the director of campus ministry and community service which, frankly, wasn’t a very good fit for me. I expressed my reluctance to my superiors, but assured them that I would give my best to whatever was asked of me. It was a difficult year filled with many frustrations and even persecutions not unlike what Ignatius describes. Initial plans were frustrated and people who were supposed to be on my side—even a fellow Jesuit—became my persecutors. A day of frustration at work was not helped by possibly coming home to an unfriendly and perhaps even hostile reception. Yet, the amazing thing was that in spite of all this, I didn’t experience significant doubt about my vocation, even though some people observing me at the time did.

I think one of the things that saved me from despair was that I found an unexpected refuge. Early in that year a request had come for somebody to direct two women in the “19th Annotation” version of The Spiritual Exercises, basically doing the retreat in the course of everyday life. I decided to do it, without realizing what a commitment it would be. Every week, I had to set aside three to four hours of my time to meet with these women, talk to them about their prayer for that week, and give them some direction as to what to pray about next. Given how much time and energy my job took up (high school work can consume your life), this often seemed like an unwanted additional burden. It took about 30 weeks to work through the entirety of The Exercises, in the end, pretty much the whole school year. Yet, after that year of frustration and failure was over, and I had time to reflect, I realized that these few hours each week, journeying through these women’s spiritual lives, were what had helped me to stay sane in the midst of it all. As difficult as it was to see in my day to day work sometimes, this was one place where I could always see God working.

I think I can see a similar dynamic at work here at this point in Ignatius’ journey. With all the frustrations and persecutions he is suffering at this point, it seems impossible that he would continue to direct people in The Exercises as he describes. Yet, I suspect that like me in that high school year, he needed to do that, he needed that reassurance that God was working even amidst the chaos that he found himself in the middle of. Sometimes when we find ourselves in difficulty, our greatest consolation can be to recognize how God is working in the life of another. And in that we are likely to be reminded--though perhaps not right away--how God is working in our lives too.

Book Update

Thanks to those of you that have placed orders for our book!

As you may or may not be aware, often the person that's the least in the know about the publication of a book seems to be the author. I have not heard anything from the publisher, or seen an actual copy of the book yet. Orbis' web site, which initially listed the book as available after March 31, is now saying May 3!

So you may have wait longer than I thought for your copy. I hope you can manage to be more patient than I'm able to be these days!

I will post an update if I learn anything further.

Update: I'm told that the new release date for the book is April 28, so it looks like it will be another month before it's available.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cow Abduction Suspects Discovered

Thanks to Omis we may have a line on the case of the missing cows:

The Da Iry Cow Cam spotted two strange figures lurking in the barn. Their blue suits suggest they may be from the recently discovered planet of Brittlelactica.

What their sinister purpose might be is, as of yet unknown.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Headline from today's New York Times:

Bush Was Set on Path to War, British Memo Says

Who is this "news" to? Hasn't this been pretty obvious for a long time?

Where Have All the Cows Gone?

Find out how you can help at

Those Darn Jesuits . . . Roamin' Around Italy

In a previous post, I introduced you to Fr. Joseph Carola of the New Orleans province of the Jesuits (my province). He teaches at the Gregorian University in Rome. But he also has been getting around quite a bit with students studying there, as you can see in his numerous appearances on the blog The Roamin'Roman. Here' some of his latest exploits:

Whether it's hiking, playing piano, waiting tables or offering Mass--he does it all!

Contradictions, Crossroads and Plan B

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 56

Arriving at Rome, he observed to his companions that he noticed that all the windows were closed, meaning by that that they would have to suffer many contradictions. He also said: “We must walk very carefully and hold no conversations with women, unless they are well known.” What happened to Master Francis is very pertinent here. At Rome he heard a woman’s confession and visited her occasionally to talk about the spiritual life. She was later found to be pregnant. But it pleased God that the responsible party was caught. The same thing happened to John Codure whose spiritual daughter was caught with a man.

A few years ago, after spending two weeks with ten college students serving the poor in Calcutta, I was pretty moved and inspired. At the time, I had been considering spending my summer working at America magazine, but I was so inspired by my trip to Calcutta that I felt sure that what I should do instead was spend my summer working with the poor. So, I relayed my regrets and my reasons to the magazine, and chose another ministry option which promised me a summer of work in a poor area in great need. The opportunity came highly recommended by a Jesuit I knew that had done it two years before. It involved assisting a charismatic Jesuit who basically did the work himself with the help of people from the community. Like many charismatic people, he was not very organized. This might have worked out OK if I was staying for several months or a year, but I was only there for six weeks, and it soon became clear that he didn’t have a plan for my work there, nor were some of the promised opportunities in the offing. I tried my best to make the most of the situation. I represented my frustration numerous times, each time receiving a promise that we would talk and figure out some kind of schedule. But, then things would continue on just as disjointed as before, and the meetings never happened. I felt more a burden than a help. In the meantime, I had heard that some Jesuits that I knew were doing some work just a couple of hours away, and could probably use my help. I consulted with my Jesuit superior, and he agreed that I probably had done everything I could do to try to make the situation work and he agreed to let me look into the other possibility. After four weeks, I went to the man I was working with, expressed my continued frustration, and asked if he would allow me to go. I spent those last two weeks doing organized, scheduled and satisfying work at a summer camp for inner-city Hispanic children, wishing I had done that from the very beginning. A couple of years later, I spent my summer at America, not letting any sudden enthusiasms get in the way this time.

The point of all that is to say that sometimes we are sure we are going in precisely the direction that God wants only to suddenly find, as Ignatius describes above, “that all the windows [are] closed.” In my case, it was just six weeks. But in the case of Ignatius and his first companions, this was the rest of their life! Realizing that their original plan of going to the Holy Land had been frustrated, they had to turn to “plan B.” Having already made vows and been ordained, they had to decide whether they were each individually going to ask the Pope to mission them, or whether they wanted to stay together. Wanting to maintain their friendship, they decided that they would all take an additional vow of obedience to one of their number, resulting in the community that would become the Society of Jesus. They voted, and decided that person would be Ignatius. He made them vote again, with the same result. They adopted “plan B,” and thus the Jesuits were born. It wasn’t the first time plan B would be invoked. For example, you know all those schools that the Jesuits became famous for? Not part of the original plan. What would become one of the defining ministries of the Society of Jesus was also plan B.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Companions of Jesus

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 55

As the year went by and they found no passage to Jerusalem, they decided to go to Rome, even the pilgrim, because the two persons about whom he doubted showed themselves very kindly disposed on the other occasion when his companions had gone there.

They went to Rome in three or four groups, the pilgrim with Faber and Laynez, and in this journey he received many special favors from God.

He hade made up his mind after taking orders to wait a year before saying Mass, preparing himself and praying our Lady to place him with her Son. One day, a few miles before they reached Rome, while he was praying in a church, he felt such a change in his soul, and saw so clearly that God the Father placed him with Christ His Son, that he would not dare to doubt that the Father had placed him with His Son.

(I who am writing these things told the pilgrim when he narrated this, that Laynez had recounted this occurrence with some added details. He told me that whatever Laynez said was true, because he did not recall all the particulars in such detail. But he added: “When I told him that, I knew for certain that all I told him was true.” He made the same statement to me about other things.)

In my second year of novitiate much of my prayer and reflection was taken up with the question of whether or not I should take vows and commit myself to life as a Jesuit. Life in the novitiate wasn’t always perfect and sometimes the amount of time I spent with my fellow novices could be stifling. Do I really want to do this for the rest of my life? I found myself asking. And, besides, already several of my friends had left the novitiate. Why should I be the one to stay if they’d left? Then, during my eight-day retreat just a few months before the end of my novitiate I arrived at a key moment. Making use of my imagination in prayer, I envisioned a conversation between Jesus and myself. “What do you want from me?” I asked him. His answer was simple, and reassuring: “I want you to be with me.” As I shared this with my spiritual director, he pointed out to me that this experience had something in common with the experience Ignatius describes above. Now this wasn’t exactly a mystical experience on par with Ignatius, but I did have a sense of being invited to be what all Jesuits strive passionately to be—a companion of Jesus. No matter what the challenges of this life, Jesus had issued an invitation that I could hardly refuse. I felt I knew something of what the first Jesuit felt at this time in his life. And this was no small thing for Ignatius. This is why he would call his community the “companions,” or in English the “society,” of Jesus. Though many would criticize this name as presumptuous, Ignatius insisted on it, because he knew in the depths of his being that God had placed him with his son; that he was in a most intimate way a companion of Jesus.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Vocations Videos

The USCCB, as part of their new initiative "Fishers of Men" have commissioned a video. You can see a trailer and buy it here.

(thanks to Karen for the link, and don't tell Apostrophe Catastrophe that the window header says "Fisher's of Men")

And, while you're watching videos, check out this one by the Wisconsin province of the Jesuits (if I weren't a New Orleans province Jesuit, I'd definitely want to be a member of the Wisconsin province!).

Letters From a Young Catholic also recommends this one from Christ the King Seminary in Vancouver.

Look Into My . . . iPod

I first noticed this at Sister Christer, but since then it's made the rounds:

Instructions: Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you?

Nobody (Without You)—Five For Fighting

Will I have a happy life?
Disneyland—Five for Fighting

What do my friends really think of me?
Wrapped Around Your Finger—The Police

What do people secretly think of me?

The Other Side—David Gray

How can I make myself happy?
Do What You Have To Do—Sarah McLachlan

What should I do with my life?
Sky is Falling (I Have No Fear)—Beth Hart

Will I ever have children?

Square One—Tom Petty (I guess that means only if I went back to square one!)

What is some good advice for me?
Daredevil Theme (Blind Justice)—Graeme Revell

How will I be remembered?
Free—Paula Cole

What is my signature dancing song?
Here I Am—Josh Joplin Group

What do I think my current theme song is?
Something Beautiful—Tracy Bonham

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?

Sweet Sweet—The Smashing Pumpkins

What song will play at my funeral?
Ice Cream—Sarah McLachlan (I kind of like this idea)

What type of men/women do you like?
Cannonball—Damien Rice (Must have something to do with St. Ignatius)

What is my day going to be like?
Come What May—Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor

And, considering what the next song was, I added another:

Where Am I?


Poverty and Accepting Generosity

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 54

After the forty days, Master John Codure arrived, and the four of them decided to preach. They went to four different piazzas on the same day and at the same hour, and began to preach, first by shouting out to the people and waving their hats at them. This style of preaching started a great deal of talk in the city; many were moved to devotion and supplied their physical needs with greater abundance.

While he was in Vicenza he had many supernatural visions and much ordinary consolation, just the opposite of what he experienced in Paris. These consolations were specially given while he was preparing for ordination in Venice and getting ready to say his first Mass. In all his journeys he had great supernatural visitations of the kind he used to have when he was at Manresa. While he was in Vicenza, he learned that one of his companions who was staying at Bassano was sick and at death’s door. He himself at the time was ill with a fever. Nevertheless, he started off and walked so fast that Faber, his companion, could not keep up with him. In that journey he was given the certainty by God, and so told Faber, that the companion would not die of that illness. When the pilgrim arrived at Bassano, the sick man was much consoled and soon got well.

All then returned to Vicenza, where all ten remained some days. Some went to seek alms in the towns adjacent to Vicenza.

These days Jesuits don’t take to the streets preaching and begging as a means of supporting ourselves as the early Jesuits and these “proto-Jesuits” might have. Indeed our vow of poverty, while it means that we don’t live a life of luxury and must take care to live more simply, isn’t such that we really want for any necessities. Nevertheless, knowing that we do have a vow of poverty, people are often very generous to us both as a community and individually. Often, when I’m out with friends or family, they insist on paying for me. It always makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable, as if I’m not really carrying my weight in this relationship. Yet, as strange as it might seem, I’ve learned that allowing others to be generous to me (within limits, of course!) is part of my vocation. That discomfort I feel is my pride, yet it is also very important. It reminds me to humbly accept others’ generosity, but it also act as a reminder not to come to expect it. Further, it is also a reminder to me to be generous to others, financially to those who need it, but especially with my time. My poverty means that I don’t have a huge salary, but because of it I am more free to be available to others.

My most humbling and moving experiences in this regard have been in my visits to the poor of the Third World. Invariably, they insist on sharing what little food they have with you when you visit, and don’t you dare say “no!” In these situations, it’s not always just a matter of risking my pride either, the hygiene conditions are not top rate and so I take the risk of getting sick as well. Yet the risk is worth it. As I had the pleasure of teaching some of my students who were reluctant to accept food from a poor family on our trip to Mexico, sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is allowing them to share what little they have with you. John Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian in El Salvador whose Jesuit housemates, housekeeper and her daughter were killed in November 1989 while he was away, calls this an experience of forgiveness. It never occurs to the poor themselves that they are offering forgiveness, but it is there in the fact that rather than confront us with our complicity in their suffering, they offer themselves to us in the breaking of the bread (or tortillas).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hospital Corners

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 53

The nine companions arrived at Venice in the beginning of 1537. There they separated to serve the sick in different hospitals. After two or three months they all went to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing before setting out on their journey to Jerusalem. The pilgrim did not go with them, because of Doctor Ortiz and the Theatine Cardinal who had just been created. The companions returned from Rome with drafts for two or three thousand scudi which they were given as alms to help them on their way to Jerusalem. They did not wish to receive the money, except in checks, and since they did not go to Jerusalem later, they returned the checks to those who had given them.

The companions returned to Venice just as they had left it, that is, on foot and begging, but divided into three parties, which were always made up of different nationalities. Those who were not priests were ordained in Venice, and received faculties from the Nuncio, who was in Venice at the time, and who was later called Cardinal Verallo. They were ordained under the title of poverty, all taking the vows of poverty and chastity.

During that year they could not find a ship for the Near East, because Venice had broken with the Turks. When they saw their hopes diminishing, they dispersed throughout the domain of Venice, with the intention of waiting out the year they had decided upon, and then if there was no chance of getting passage, they would return to Rome.

It fell to the pilgrim to go with Faber and Laynez to Vicenza. There they found a house outside the city limits, which had neither door nor window, where they slept on a little straw they brought with them. Two of the three went twice daily to ask alms, and brought back so little they could hardly subsist. Usually they ate a little toasted bread when they had it, prepared by the one whose lot it was to remain at home. In this way they spent forty days intent on nothing but their prayers.

In his instructions on Jesuit training, Ignatius recommends that all Jesuits spend time working in some kind of hospital setting. As a result most novices spend some time doing such work during the 2-year novitiate. For me, this took several forms. Almost immediately, I started visiting patients at a local hospital. This is something that I hadn’t done much of before, so in many ways it was frightening. Some days it took all the energy and courage I could muster not to find some excuse to just wander around rather than make my way into people’s rooms. Some days I had a few conversations which I felt had done some good for people. Other days, I felt like I’d done nothing to make anyone feel better, and probably made a few people feel worse! These few months of trial and error, however, turned out to be good preparation for what was to come. For soon I would spend two months working in hospice care. After the rigors of the 30-day Spiritual Exercises, this was really the first great test of my fledgling vocation. Could I get past my fear, pride and discomfort to enter, however briefly, into the lives of these people who were suffering and dying? The answer to that question proved crucial, as I wrote about in my article, “I Was Dying and You Rubbed My Feet.”

My official “hospital experiment” would come two months later. I deliberately chose the one that scared me the most, perhaps because I’d learned so much from overcoming my fear of accompanying the terminally ill in their final days. This would be a new kind of challenge—The Father Purcell Memorial Center for Exceptional Children in Montgomery, AL. For two months I would work with severely handicapped children, only two of whom could speak, and only a few of whom could walk. I worked mainly in physical therapy. Each day groups of children would come down, we would lift them out of their wheelchairs and exercises their limbs, something that they could not do for themselves. They ranged in age from babies to teenagers. It didn’t take long to see what a gift these children were, as surprising as that might seem. Despite their limitations, they had a capacity to love and to be loved that brought out the best in people, even if at times they could be inexplicably difficult. Still, it was hard work, sometimes made harder by the harsh reality of the fact that some of these children were born handicapped because of a parents’ drug abuse or rendered handicapped because of physical abuse. And several had been left at the hospital by family members who never returned. There I learned the importance of allowing your heart to be broken by another’s suffering, and also the importance of loving, even if the person loved cannot acknowledge or return that love in a familiar way. Some time after, having returned to the novitiate, I was surprised by tears on receiving the news of the death of one of the children I’d come to know there.

I can see the attraction in hospital work for Ignatius. He no doubt realized, as I did, that working with the sick, the handicapped or the dying requires that one put aside pride, be selfless and find consolation in helplessness. And, perhaps the only way to do that is to be, as Ignatius, Faber and Laynez find themselves in Vincenza, intent on nothing but prayer.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Since comic strips have never been quite the same since Calvin & Hobbes retired (i just don't get Dilbert, sorry!), I couldn't resist this one:

A Bit Of Both

You are 50% Calvin and 50% Hobbes

Calvin & Hobbes, like a scruffy yin and yang, are in perfect
balance within you. Like Calvin, you're weird, a bit insecure, and can
be a trouble-maker. But like Hobbes, you're down to earth and
sensitive. It's a risk to say it here, after just a ten question test,
but I'll bet you're smarter than most. Both Calvin and Hobbes are
crafty, clever characters, and any one made from equal parts of each is
a force to be reckoned with.
Link: The Calvin Or Hobbes Test written by gwendolynbooks


Book publishers, faced with lagging booksales, and figuring a remaindered book might just make a good hat, have turned to the fashion world for help.

(but, seriously(?), this is just the latest look from Ukrainian designer Andre Tan)

Amazon Connect

I recently added a profile to "Amazon Connect," a service by Amazon to connect writers and their readers. You can find my profile here.

While I was there, I found profiles for a few other bloggers as well:

Karen Hall

Amy Welborn

Michael Dubruiel

Thanks to Jim Manney at People of the Book for the heads up on this!

Far From the "Panzer Cardinal"

Jesuit Father General Peter Hans Kolvenbach on Benedict XVI:

You worked closely with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prior to his election as Benedict XVI. What did that experience teach you about the man?

I think all those who received the grace -- truly, a grace -- to meet Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger always felt welcome. The problems I had to speak about with him were most of the time sad, with solutions that were painful for both of us. Still, I never left a meeting with feelings of bitterness or anger, because the cardinal made a clear distinction between the dogmatic error involved, and the effort of a theologian who felt challenged to provide an answer to the concerns of our days. … We are here far from the "panzer cardinal" that certain press accounts have described.

Read the rest of John Allen's interview.


On the Third Anniversary of the Iraq mess:

Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi: "If this is not civil war," he said, "then God knows what civil war is."

President Bush: "I'm encouraged by the progress."

read the article.

Jesuit Brainwashing, Silence or Fear of Change?

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 52

During those days in Venice he spent some time giving the Exercises and in other spiritual associations. The more important people to whom he gave them were Masters Peter Contarini and Gaspar De Doctis, and a Spaniard called Rojas. There was also another Spaniard who was called the Bachelor Hocez, who had a good deal to do with the pilgrim and also with the bishop of Ceuta. Although he had some desire to make the Exercises he never carried it into execution. Finally, however, he made up his mind to make them, and after the third or fourth day, opened his mind to the pilgrim to tell him that he had been afraid that some wicked doctrine was taught in the Exercises. Someone in fact had told him as much. It was this reason that he had brought with him certain books which he could use as protection, if he happened to want to impose these doctrines on him. He found great help in the Exercises, and when they were over he resolved to follow the pilgrim’s way of life. He was also the first to die.

In Venice also another persecution was begun against the pilgrim. There were many who said that his likeness had been burned in Spain and in Paris. Matters came to such a pass that a trial was held and sentenced rendered in favor of the pilgrim.

When I read this, I can’t help thinking: Things haven’t changed much in 470 years! The Jesuits haven’t even been founded yet, and already the conspiracy theories have begun. I really do wonder what makes people so afraid sometimes that they would rather put their trust in the “warnings” people give them, instead of finding out for themselves.

I am convinced that people need to know about and experience Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises now more than ever. Yet, my fear is that many people, like Hocez, avoid the Exercises out of some fear of Jesuit “brainwashing” or something (though often for many people I talk to, it’s often rather a fear of silence!). Though it’s fair to say that I am biased, I know of no more powerful way to encounter Christ than to spend 5, 8 or 30 days (if you’re lucky) in prayer, conversation and companionship with him in the Exercises. But we Jesuits are fortunate also in that though the Exercises were “ours” first, so many other religious communities and even lay Catholic movements have adopted Ignatian spirituality and the Exercises as their own. A few years ago I directed two women in the “19th annotation” version of the Exercises as part of their training as spiritual directors at the House of Prayer in Clearwater, FL. What a privilege it was to journey with these women through the course of almost a year! As in my own experience of The Exercises, their lives were transformed.

Though fears of “Jesuit brainwashing,” and silence are things that do indeed keep people from the Exercises, I expect that what such excuses often mask is the fear of being significantly changed by the experience. Let’s face it, the thing that many of us fear the most is change. I suspect that despite his confession to Ignatius, that this may very well have been operative in Hocez’s reluctance to carry his desire to do the Exercises “to execution.” The course of his life was indeed changed, and he adopted Ignatius’ way of life. But he also took a great risk. So, we might find it a bit sobering when Ignatius tells us “He was also the first to die.” But I also can’t help but be inspired by his example of trust in Christ’s power to work in him and through him, even risking death.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Mud and Filth: The Messy Road to Sainthood

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 51

In Valencia he spoke with Castro, who had become a Carthusian monk. He wanted to take ship for Genoa, but his well-wishers in Valencia begged him not to do so, because they said that Barbarossa was at sea with his large fleet of galleys. Although they told him enough to frighten him, nothing they said caused him any hesitation.

He boarded a large ship, and survived the storm spoken of earlier when he related the three times he was about to breathe his last.

On his arrival at Genoa, he took the road to Bologna, along which he had much to suffer, especially once when he lost his way and began to walk along a river bank. The river was deep and the road high, getting narrower the higher it went. Finally, it got so narrow that he could neither go forward nor turn back. So, he began to crawl on hands and knees and went on thus for some time with great fear, because every time he moved he thought that he would fall into the river. This indeed was the greatest of all physical efforts he had ever made. But he reached the end at last. Just as he was about to enter Bologna he slipped from a little wooden bridge and found himself as he rose covered with mud and filth. The bystanders, of whom there were many, had a good laugh at him.

From his entrance into Bologna he began to ask alms, but did not get even a single quatrino, although he covered the whole city. He stayed in Bologna some of the time ill, but afterwards went on to Venice using always the same method of travel.

This brief excerpt is so rich because it gives us a glimpse of so many facets of Ignatius’ character. Sometimes we can get these one-dimensional pictures of saints which can cause us to think that they are nothing like us. This can either make us feel bad about ourselves, or make it such that the saint’s witness doesn’t really speak to us. Here we see in Ignatius many things we can relate to:

He is foolish and prideful: “Although they told him enough to frighten him, nothing they said caused him any hesitation.”

He has control issues: He doesn’t ask for directions or for help getting where he’s going, so he gets lost.

He is desperate and afraid: “So, he began to crawl on hands and knees and went on thus for some time with great fear, because every time he moved he thought that he would fall into the river.”

He can laugh at himself: Ignatius recognizes how ridiculous he has made himself and is not afraid to give us the image of himself covered in mud and being laughed at.

He’s a failure: “From his entrance into Bologna he began to ask alms, but did not get even a single quatrino, although he covered the whole city.” Maybe it was the smell!

Ignatius’ honesty makes us feel a little better about our own foolishness, and encourages us to work on our “control issues.” If this foolish, prideful, ridiculous and sickly man was able to do such great things for God, Ignatius seems to be saying, maybe we can too!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Teenage Wasteland: Mindless Trivia

The problem with listening to the car radio is that often the teasers don't get answered by the time you've arrived where you're going. Such was the case yesterday. The question was about popular songs in which the words of the title do not appear in the lyrics. I immediately thought of "Baba O'Riley" (sometimes known as "Teenage Wasteland") by The Who, and I just thought of another, "Iris" by The Goo Goo Dolls.

Can you think of any others?


Don't Fret! The Doctor will be back again next Friday!

In the perfect combination of camp and cool, and with the return of some nostalgic sound effects, the new Doctor Who premiered last night and it was, as the Doctor would say, Fantastic!

The Blog Network: Dinner With a dotCommonweal Blogger

Despite the indult, it was fish and chips last night as I enjoyed dinner with Fr. John Connelly and Fr. Robert Imbelli at Sacred Heart parish in Newton Center, MA. Fr. Connelly is taking an interest in the Catholic blogosphere, latching on to Fr. Imbelli's enthusiasm. You'll find Imbelli blogging over at dotCommonweal. He teaches Theology at Boston College and has a fine piece on Deus Caritas Est in a recent issue of America (the one with the Pope on the cover). The conversation ran the gamut from blogging to the Weston-BC reaffiliation to even a bit about movies (of course!). We also spoke some of Fr. Imbelli's good work as a participant in the Catholic Common Ground project. Fr. Imbelli and I first got in touch when I caught a few people's attention with a little piece I wrote in response to Father Neuhaus a couple of months ago. Father Imbelli's latest contribution to the blogosphere appears today at dotCommonweal. In honor of Saint Patrick, we had a little bit of blueberry pie for dessert. I'm hoping to host Fr. Imbelli for dinner here in Cambridge some time soon. Anyone else want to come?

From Imbelli's America article, "The Pope and the Poet":

"The vision to which the pope refers is the one at the culmination of the entire journey of the Divine Comedy. Dante achieves the full satisfaction of his spiritual quest in an ecstatic contemplation of the triune God in the form of three radiant circles of diversely colored light. But this achievement is not Dante’s doing. It is the gift of God’s condescension. Dante’s loving desire, eros, is subsumed and transformed in God’s self-giving love, agape. And what enables and undergirds this consummated union is the appearance of a human form within one of the circles of the Trinitarian mystery. Jesus Christ himself is the union of the two: God and humanity, agape and eros, eternity and time."

Saint Patrick the Baptist

Omis points us to an interesting piece of revisionist history: Saint Patrick wasn't a Catholic, he was a Baptist! Now, consider that the Baptist denomination, as I understand it, only first emerges in 19th century America, one has to question the argument. It seems to rank up there with the arguments that Jesus never drank wine with alcohol in it. Among the evidence:

St. Patrick Baptized By Immersion Only
This has been a leading principle among the Baptists since the days of the Apostles and still is today. Again, in all of his writings there is not one shred of evidence that the Irish preacher knew anything of sprinkling. All of the records of his baptisms tell of immersion.

The author, I expect, would be surprised to learn that immersion is alive and well in the Catholic Church. From The Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate's head" (1239).

Ignatius the Reformer

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 50

Besides the catechism, he also preached on Sundays and feast days with much fruit, some coming many miles to hear him. He also made an effort to remove some abuses, and with God’s help he put order into some. For example, regarding gambling, he saw to it that regulations were made and enforced by those who were responsible for the administration of justice. There was also another abuse. In that country young girls went bareheaded and never wore anything on their heads until after they were married. But there were many who became concubines of priests and other men, and remained faithful to them as though they were their wives. This became so common that these mistresses had not the least shame in saying that they had covered their heads for so and so, and they were commonly acknowledged as such.

This custom gave rise to many evils. The pilgrim persuaded the governor to make a law that all those who had covered their heads for anyone but their lawful husbands, should be publicly punished. Thus a beginning was made in the removal of this abuse. He saw to it that some provision was officially and regularly made for the poor, and that the bells were rung thrice in the day, at the time of the angelus, morning, noon and evening, and that people should pray as they do in Rome. At first he enjoyed good health, but soon fell seriously ill. He decided that when he recovered from this illness it was time for him to be on his way to accomplish the tasks laid upon him by his companions, and to set out without a penny. His brother took this very ill, as he was ashamed to see him thus traveling on foot and at evening. The pilgrim was willing to yield to him on this point, and ride a horse to the confines of the province accompanied by his brother and his relatives.

But when they reached the limits of the province, he got off the horse, and refusing all gifts, turned towards Pamplona, and from there went to Almazanum, the home of Laynez. From here he went to Siguenza and Toledo, and from Toledo to Valencia. In all these homes of his companions he refused all gifts, although they were offered in great abundance and with great insistence.

You get the impression that the people of Ignatius’ hometown have become a bit reticent and let things deteriorate. Yet, since things often happen slowly over time, they may not even have been aware of how bad things had gotten. Or, they’d gotten accustomed to looking the other way. Things were in need of reform (Indeed, if you consider the time, we get a little glimpse here into some of the problems addressed by the Council of Trent around this time, and which some of the Protestant reformers were reacting to).

If you think about it, Ignatius was the perfect person to help bring about this reform: Being a native, he knew the place. Yet, having been away a while he had a fresh pair of eyes and could more easily recognize how things had changed. He himself was also changed by his new life of serving God, and thus he saw what was happening from that perspective. He had the courage (some might say arrogance) to name and challenge the abuses that he saw. And, finally, he wasn’t planning on sticking around too long. It was the perfect combination, and Ignatius was aware enough to recognize it.

Like me, you may have seen this very kind of thing happen in some organization you’ve been involved in, or even your parish church. When I arrived at grad school many years ago, this drama was already playing itself out in the Catholic campus ministry. Something had gone wrong under the previous administration, and they’d been invited by the Bishop to leave. There were still a camp of embittered supporters of that group in the congregation. A new priest had been sent in to run the place. He was not exactly the type of priest you’d generally find in a Catholic campus ministry, and soon it became clear what was going on. He had been sent there to turn the place around. He was brought in to be the “bad guy.” It wasn’t important for people to like him. In some ways it wasn’t even important if he offered good ministry to the students (though he tried his best). He was the transition man. He was to be there one, two years tops, and then they’d bring somebody else in who would more fit the type. That’s exactly what happened.

We’d all prefer to be that latter guy who fits the type, and who everyone will love after the last guy. But sometimes God calls us to be the reformer, the transition person, the one who comes in not to be liked, but to bring needed reform. That’s when, like Ignatius, we have to trust in God’s plan for our lives and be aware of the talents that God has given us to face what is sure to be a difficult situation, but that will be of great benefit in the long run. Those who are recognized as saints are not always remembered fondly by the communities to which they were called, but the more astute—often in hindsight—recognize their hard witness of faithfulness.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Princess Leia meet . . . Princess Leia

Sci-fi Geeks and botanists unite! One way to immortalize your favorite sci-fi character: name a flower after her!

Yes, it's the Princess Leia Iris. Read all about it here.

Hat tip to Mere Catholics.

And, don't forget, Doctor Who premieres tonight!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Familiar Stranger

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 49

This done, he mounted a small horse which his companions had provided, and started off alone for his native land, finding himself greatly improved along the way. Arriving at his own province, Guipuzcoa, he forsook the highway and took a more lonely mountain road. He had covered only a short distance when he came upon two armed men advancing toward him (the road had an ill name for cut-throats) who, after having passed him, returned and followed swiftly after. He felt a moment’s fear. But accosting them, he learned that they were servants of his brother who had sent them out to look for him. It would seem that news about his arrival had come from Bayonne in France, where he was known. The two men set out, therefore, and he took the same road, coming upon them a bit before he entered his own country. They did all they could, but without success, to induce him to come to the home of his brother. He went, therefore, to the hospital, and then at a convenient hour sought alms throughout the town.

In this hospital he began to talk on divine things with many who came there to visit him, and by God’s grace gathered no little fruit. As soon as he arrived, he made up his mind to teach the catechism daily to the children. But his brother made strenuous objection to this, declaring that nobody would come. The pilgrim answered that one would be enough. But after he began, many came faithfully to hear him, even his brother.

Despite the fact that you would think that your family knows you best and would understand your motivations in following God, often it seems quite the opposite. Time after time we see examples of how in the lives of Saints, the members of their families often are among the last to “get it.” Certainly, Ignatius’ brother is an example of this. Even after all this time, we still can sense a certain amount of resistance on his part to the life Ignatius has chosen. Perhaps when he heard the news that Ignatius was returning home, he took that to mean that Ignatius had given up his crazy new life?

Sometimes I think that people in our families have a difficult time understanding our religious vocations precisely because they know us so well. How could the child that got into so much mischief, how can the boy that had so many girlfriends, how can the girl that so wanted to have a child, choose so different a life? Our families might think that we are kidding ourselves, trying to be something more than what we are capable of being. Perhaps they want to save us from our own foolishness. Yet, like Ignatius’ brother, who though he discouraged Ignatius, eventually came to see the good in what he was doing, our families come to see how at peace we are with our decision—and even happy—that, even if they still don’t completely understand it, they come to appreciate it in ways they may have never imagined.

Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said a prophet isn’t accepted in his hometown. He knew, because if what the Gospel tells us is correct, his family (who, of all families, you would think would know better) also thought him a little crazy. But they, too, came around.

Hoop Dreams: Saint-versus-Saint Hoop Action

So, as I am watching tonight's game, I find myself wondering: Who would win in some one-on-one hoop action, Aloysius Gonzaga or Francis Xavier?

Another Good Reflection

R.C. Mommy adds to this week's string of great reflections. Must be something in the air!

"Finally, I got it. All morning I failed to respond to grace. How many of those moments passed me by yesterday morning: Keeping my mouth shut when I wanted to complain; stepping up for my friend cheerfully; being more patient with my sons; sparing my husband my stress on top of trying to get out the door to work on time."

Now Taking Orders

Orbis Books' Hottest New Release hits stores next week!

An indispensable resource for understanding what a just war really is.

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

More than 50 theologians, peace activists, military experts, public policy analysts, and media commentators gathered together to answer these questions. This book is the result of their exploration. It offers clarity and hope.

The 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 policy analyst for the Office of Social and International Ministries, U.S. Jesuit Conference, Washington, D.C.
Paula Minaert is a freelance writer and editor in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Mark Mossa, S.J., is a student at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Amazon is now taking pre-orders.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Light At the End of a Foggy Tunnel

Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 48

During this part of his stay in Paris he suffered a great deal from his stomach. Every two weeks he had stomach pains which lasted a good hour and brought on a fever. Once the pains lasted some sixteen or seventeen hours. By this time, however, he had finished the course in philosophy, and had studied theology for several years and gathered about him a number of companions. From then on the ailment continued to increase, and all the remedies they tried proved unavailing.

The doctors finally said that there was no help for him than his native air. His companions gave him the same advice, and very earnestly urged him to follow it. By this time they had come to some decision as to what they were going to do. Their plan was to go to Venice and from there to Jerusalem, where they were to spend the rest of their lives for the good of souls. If they were refused permission to remain in Jerusalem they would return to Rome, offer themselves to the Vicar of Christ, asking him to make use of them wherever he thought it would be more to God’s glory and the good of souls. They proposed to wait a year in Venice before sailing, and if during that year there was no chance of taking passage for the East, they would be released from their vow to go to Jerusalem and could go to the Pope.

Finally, the pilgrim yielded to the persuasion of his companions. Those of them who were Spaniards had matters to settle at home which he would be able to manage. They agreed, therefore, that when he fully recovered, he would go to negotiate their business, and then make his way to Venice, there to await his companions.

This was the year 1535, and according to their agreement the companions were to leave Paris in 1537, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25th). Bur because of the war, they were forced to anticipate that date, and left in November of 1536. But just as he was about to leave, the pilgrim heard that an accusation had been lodged against him with the Inquisitor, and a process begun. Knowing this, and seeing that he had not been summoned, he went in person to the Inquisitor and told him what he had learned, that he was about to leave for Spain, and that he had associates. For this reason he asked him to pass sentence. The Inquisitor said it was true that there had been an accusation, but that he did not see that there was anything of importance in it. He only wanted to see what he had written in the Exercises. When he saw them, he praised them highly, and asked the pilgrim to leave him a copy. This he did. Nevertheless, the pilgrim insisted that his case be brought to trial and that sentence be passed. But, as the Inquisitor seemed unwilling to do this, the pilgrim brought a public notary and witnesses to the Inquisitor’s house and received formal testimony of the whole affair.

Despite his stomach ailments, this must have been an exciting time for Ignatius. After many years of finding his way, making plans, rethinking things and now, having completed several years of study, things are really starting to come together. He’s gotten the education the Inquisition demanded of him, his current companions look like ones that are going to stick around for a while, he’s got a plan and they look like they’re prepared to help him see it through. You might expect he’d be eager to surmount any obstacles. He agrees to do what he needs to do to get healthy. But, again, there’s a matter with the inquisition. We can see his eagerness to clear the path in how he deals with the Inquisitor. He’s not willing to settle for an assurance that it’s no big deal. He insists that a sentence be passed on his case. And, if the Inquisitor is unwilling to make a judgment, as he seems to be, then Ignatius is going to make sure that someone keep a record of that. It seems clear that Ignatius has a sense that something important is about to happen, though it may not be clear yet precisely what shape it’s going to take.

I feel now something like what I imagine Ignatius felt then. Ordination, the goal I’ve been striving toward for 8+ years now is less than 3 years away. I, too, want to make sure my path is clear. Though I now I don’t have to arrive at that day perfect, there are some things I’d like to smooth out and settle between now and then. As I delve deeply into my theology studies these days, I’m trying my best to go at it prayerfully, even while I’m also concerned with my academic success. I also want to, like Ignatius, give more careful attention to my health. I find myself more confident in my vocation and more comfortable with myself and I take those to be good signs. Yet this vocation which I’m striving toward is in many ways under siege from both sides, both by those who are offended by it for various reasons and by those in authority, desperately trying to regain some credibility and, unfortunately, sometimes knocking down instead of lifting up their priests in the process. Nowhere are these tensions more apparent than here in Boston. And should this rumored document come out—right or wrong—it cannot but cause even greater turmoil. Despite my confidence in God’s call, I’d be lying if I didn’t say these things give me some pause.

Nevertheless, constant communication with God in prayer, I know, will help make this path more clear. And, like Ignatius, I’m lucky to have some fine companions, brothers and friends in the Lord, to see it through with me.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot

Jean-Luc Picard. You command your ship with an

iron fist and the children love you. Bah!!!

Humbug!! KIDS!!! >_<

Which Star Trek Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


Susan Rose, inspired by Penni and Kalanna's anger is "feeling sinister":

"Sometimes it seemed like it would be easier if there was no God, because then I wouldn’t be looking for explanations, and so in the end it was as if I was even madder at God just because God existed!"

Go, read the rest!

Ides-Not Just for March Anymore

Today is the Ides of March, which Caesar was told to be wary of.

But I learned today, this Ides of March, that Ides come not only in March but year round. According to

Ides: the fifteenth day of March, May, July, and October, and the thirteenth day of the other months.

So, only 29 days until the Ides of April!

That's the fun fact for today!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Love in the Time of AIDS, Sexual Abuse, TB

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 47

In the meantime, while they were talking, a friar approached Doctor Fragus to ask him to be good enough to help him find a house, because in that in which he lodged there had been many deaths which it was thought had been caused by the plague, because at that time the plague had begun to spread to Paris. Doctor Fragus and the pilgrim wanted to visit that house under the guidance of a woman who was very skilled in diagnosing the disease. She went into the house and said that it was plague-stricken. The pilgrim also entered, found a sick man there, comforted him, laying his hand on the man’s sore. After a few words of comfort and encouragement, he left by himself. His hand began to pain, and he thought he had caught the plague. So strong did this fancy become that he could not control it, and he ended by thrusting his hand into his mouth, moving his fingers about, and telling himself: “If you have the plague in your hand, you’ll also have it in your mouth.” This done his imagination quieted down and the pain in his hand left him.

But when he returned to the College of Sainte-Barbe where he had lodgings and where he attended lectures, the inmates would not allow him to enter when they learned that he had gone into the plague-ridden house, and fled from him. He was thus obliged to spend several days outside.

They have a custom at Paris for those who are studying philosophy in the third year for a baccalaureate. It involves the expenditure of a gold crown, and consequently many poor students are not able to meet the expense. The pilgrim began to doubt whether it would be proper for him to take it. As he could come to no conclusion about his doubt, he decided to put the matter into the hands of his teacher. He advised him to take it, and so he did. Even so there were not lacking critics, in particular a Spaniard who made some remark about it.

I am struck in this passage at how little Ignatius thinks of himself, at least initially. When entering the house, he goes to comfort the man, apparently without a thought to the fact that he might catch the plague. It’s only later, when he’s had time to think about it, that he starts to worry that he might have the plague. Fear takes over, and he’s convinced that since having touched the man he now has a pain in his hand. But I love his response. He refuses to let fear about himself rob him of the grace of his selfless act of charity. It’s almost comical to think of him sticking his hand in his mouth as if to say to himself “If I have the plague, so be it, it must be God’s will, so quit being so foolish!”

Now we are not living in a time of plague, yet Ignatius’ experience is not just one of the past. In my years of ministry, I have many times been faced with the question of whether to think first of my health and safety, or to consider the need of the other. In the early years of our awareness of AIDS there was the question of whether you should touch or even get near someone with the disease. I remember on a couple of occasions just taking my chances. These days there’s a lot of emphasis on protecting yourself from the possibility of accusations. We are advised not to be alone with children or adolescents. Most times, I find, I’m able to be prudent in such ways. However, every once and a while I’m faced with a young person whose in immediate need, and there’s no time or opportunity to take such precautions. That’s when I have to put my self and my fears aside and trust in God, and do what I can to help. And trust also that should I be falsely accused of something as a result, that God will be with me through that as well.

This “danger” of ministry to God’s people was brought home to me most strikingly a few years ago when I tested positive for Tuberculosis. Some people give false positives, but I’d never tested positive before. I was sent for a chest x-ray which discover a tubercular “granuloma” on one of my lungs. Evidently, somewhere in the course of my visits to people in hospitals or perhaps in my encounters with the poor in Latin America, I’d been exposed to the disease. I did so without fear, because I’d never even considered the possibility was there. If only I could always offer myself in charity to others without worrying about such dangers. If only I could trust God that much (without being reckless, of course)! Luckily, the prognosis was not serious. My chances of contracting the disease were slim, and I was put on a brief regimen of medication that made the chances even slimmer. But every once in a while, like Ignatius, I remember that there’s this tiny bit of the disease that was there, and what if I did get it? It can cause some momentary anxiety. But it’s also a good reminder to trust in God and try to keep a clear focus on the needs of others. Putting my own fears before the needs of others would be the worst contagion.

Side-note: Saint Ignatius’ story also reminds me of some of the experiences of the subject of my master’s thesis, Harold Frederic. Frederic was a novelist and London correspondent for the New York Times in the late nineteenth-century. As London correspondent, he covered the Cholera epidemic in France. One of the things he was most moved by in his coverage of the epidemic was the dedication of the priests and religious who risked their lives to minister to the victims of the epidemic. He wrote a short story called “Brother Angelan” which reflected his experience. It’s a little known gem, and worth a look.

Angry at Others, Angry at God, Angry at Yourself

Some think it wrong to be angry, especially at God! But as I often tell directees, if you're angry at God, at least God knows you're paying attention to your relationship! There's a lot to be learned from our anger. In the last two days, I've read two wonderful reflections on the good and bad sides of anger, please have a look:

From Kalanna at Mere Catholics: "It's sort of a new feeling for me. Have you ever admitted to being angry with God? Six months ago, I would have never even thought it possible, much less admitted it . . ."

and Penni at Martha, Martha: "you know i will be the first to admit when i have acted like, for lack of a better term, an asshole. i am here to tell you i behaved thusly today."

Thanks to both ladies for some nice, honest Lenten reflections!

Monday, March 13, 2006

O Lord, Teach Me to Be a Slacker (Sort of)

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 46

A short time after this, on the feast of St. Remy, October 1st, he began the course in philosophy under John Pena. He began it with the purpose of keeping with him those who had resolved on serving our Lord, but would not try to add to their number, as he wanted to give himself with greater ease to his studies.

Just as he began the lectures of his course, so also began once more the same temptations that beset him when he studied grammar in Barcelona. Whenever he attended lectures he could not, for the multitude of spiritual ideas that came upon him, fix his attention upon the lecture. Seeing that he was thus making little headway in his studies, he went to his teacher and gave his word that he would not fail to attend the whole course, if only he could find enough bread and water to keep himself alive. After making this promise, all these devotions which were so untimely ceased and he went on with his studies in peace. At this time he was associating with Master Peter Faber and Master Francis Xavier, whom he had won over to God’s service through the Exercises. This interval of his course was free from the persecutions of other times. On this point Doctor Fragus once told him that he was surprised at the peace in which he lived, there being no one to annoy him. His answer was: “It is because I do not speak to anyone of the things of God, but once the course is finished the old life will return.”

This passage reminds of the strange reality which I have discovered in the spiritual life and in ministry that sometimes by doing less we can actually accomplish more. When we don’t place so much of the responsibility on ourselves, God seems to pick up the slack. Now, I’m not talking about license to be a slacker. Most of us don’t have to worry about that, because I find that most people in ministry usually err on the side of doing too much rather than too little. And too often doing too much ministry interferes with our other worthwhile pursuits, as we see that once again Ignatius’ spiritual life is threatening to interfere with his classes.

One of the people that helped me to learn this was a high school senior. It was my first week of a six week stay at our high school in Dallas during my second year of novitiate. I was asked to accompany the seniors on their retreat, and was feeling a bit awkward because I didn’t really know anybody. I had been asked to work as a group leader along with a student who the principal assured me was one of the school’s finest. He was a decent kid, but seemed a bit standoffish. During a sharing session during the end of the retreat, each of us was asked to go tell each member of our group something we noticed about them. This was easier for the others because they’d known each other for four years, not forty-eight hours, as in my case. When the student leader got to me, he admitted that he didn’t really know me that well, that I seemed like a nice guy, but that he thought I was trying too hard.

My first thought, of course, was, who’s this snotty kid to tell me that I’m trying too hard! I’m afraid I didn’t receive his observation with the greatest humility. But after a while I had an opportunity to seriously consider his words and I realized that in some ways he was right. Maybe if I made a less obvious effort to be SuperJesuit I might actually accomplish more. Over time I began to adjust my approach in such situations to being less “out there” and a little more laid back. It took me a while to adjust to not doing so much and to my surprise I found myself connecting with students and retreatants in ways I hadn’t before. I accomplished more of what I was trying to accomplish by doing less and trusting God to do more.

Though it’s not explicitly mentioned in this passage from The Autobiography, something similar might be implied here. For up until now, the companions that Ignatius has mentioned did not persevere in becoming one of his “first companions” in the founding of the Society of Jesus. But in this passage, in spite of the fact that he is not speaking of the things of God with the frequency he had before, he does mention that among his companions are Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, both of whom will be, along with Ignatius, among the first Jesuits.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Losing Companions on the Journey

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 45

Not to have to refer again to these companions, they turned out as follows: While he was at Paris, he frequently wrote to them as he had agreed, but it was to tell them of the slight hope he had of their coming to Paris to study. He wrote, however, to Dona Leonora de Mascarenhas, asking her to help Calixto with a letter to the Portuguese Court to obtain one of the scholarships which the King of Portugal had established at Paris. Dona Leonora gave the letter to Calixto, and provided him with a mule and some money for the journey. He set out for the Portuguese Court, but never reached Paris. Rather, he returned to Spain, and then went on to India with some spiritual woman. Later he was back in Spain, and went a second time to India. He came back to Spain a rich man, which at Salamanca caused no little surprise to those who had known him earlier.

Cacerese returned to Segovia, which was his native city, and there began a life which seemed to indicate that he had quite forgotten his earlier resolutions.

Arteaga became a dignitary, and then after the Society was established in Rome, he was offered a bishopric in India. He wrote to the pilgrim asking that it be given to one of the Society. As this was declined, he went to Portuguese India, was consecrated bishop, and met with a very strange death. Having fallen ill, he happened to have two glasses of water for his refreshment in his room. One of the glasses contained water which the doctor had ordered, the other a corrosive sublimate, very poisonous, which being given him by mistake ended his life.

The pilgrim returned from Rouen to Paris, and found that he was the subject of much talk, because of Castro and Peralta, and that the Inquisitor had made enquiries about him. He went to the Inquisitor without waiting to be summoned, and told him that he had heard he was enquiring about him. “I am ready for whatever you wish,” he said. The name of the Inquisitor was Master Ory, a Dominican friar, and the pilgrim urged him to get through with his enquiry as soon as possible, as he wished to begin his course in Arts on the feast of St. Remy, and if this business were finished first he would be better able to get on with his studies. But all the Inquisitor had to say was that people had told him some things about him. He did not ask to see him again.

One of the harder parts of religious life is when people leave. There is a great sense of fraternity that comes from shared experience, a shared sense of mission, as well as a few fights and frustrations along the way. We come to depend on each other and, to a certain extent, take each other’s presence for granted. And, as with Saint Ignatius in this passage, often our conversation turns to how thing have turned out for those “of happy memory” or who no longer “walk with us.” Some people jokingly refer to those who have left as “dead to us now,” but that is never how we feel. Yes, sometimes it’s a relief when certain people leave, but more often than not they leave a hole that cannot be filled.

My Jesuit life started with a disproportionate share of such departures. My entering class of nine men had dwindled two years later to just three when it came time to take vows. The first departure came only six weeks in to my novitiate and it was someone with whom I’d already become quite close. His reasons were not very clear and later he would admit that it was probably a result of panic more than anything else. It hurt to see him go, especially when it just didn’t seem he’d thought it out enough. Most of the departures that followed seemed to be the right choice, the result of good discernment, but that didn’t make it much easier to lose that companion in Christ. Sure, you can stay in touch, but still it’s not the same. The hardest in those two years came after a year together. By then, those of us who remained had become pretty tight. And this particular novice was liked by all. However, he needed a certainty about his choice that he could not find, no matter how much we reassured him. He was, and still is I think, the victim of overthinking things too much and not being content with a certain amount of ambiguity. Since then he’s bounced from place to place trying to find the vocation that continues to elude him and perhaps was there back 7 years ago with us. His leaving was like breaking a link in a chain, and each of us felt disconnected for a time afterward.

After eight years as a Jesuit, I’ve seen many more people leave. Some departures come as no surprise. But others, like a particularly difficult one last year, still smart. Because it’s not always the ones that don’t quite measure up that leave. Sometimes it’s someone who stands among the best Jesuits you know—indeed, better than yourself—and you wonder how that person could be anything but a Jesuit. It’s someone who is not only a friend, but someone you deeply admire, who you want to be like, and suddenly that bright star is removed from your sky, to shine, one hopes, in another.

But I always take consolation that this is not a unique experience. It’s one that happens to all who allow companions into their religious journey, taking the risk of letting those people into your heart. Saint Ignatius surely felt some sadness about being separated from these, his earliest companions, especially as it is clear that some didn’t turn out as he might have hoped. And I know that Jesus, as we learn in John 6, must have felt similar pain when some of his disciples came to him and said, “This teaching is too hard, we cannot accept it,” and they chose to walk with him no longer.

Weekend Reading

I'm off for a few days where I will have limited internet access. So, I've posted the next few installments of Saint Ignatius' Autobiography for you to read at your leisure.

Have a great weekend!

See you on Sunday.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Three Days For A Louse?!

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 44

In Paris loud complaints were raised against the pilgrim, especially by the Spaniards, and our Master de Gouvea claimed that he had turned Amador’s head. Amador was a student in his college. He made up his mind, so he said, that the first time the pilgrim appeared at Sainte-Barbe he would give him a drubbing as a seducer of the students.

The Spaniard whom he had as one of his first companions, who had squandered his money without recompensing him, left for Spain by way of Rouen. While awaiting passage at Rouen, he fell sick. From a letter, the pilgrim heard of his falling sick, and conceived the desire of going to visit and help him, thinking also that in this union of souls, he might induce him to leave the world and give himself entirely to the service of God.

In order to obtain this he wanted to make the twenty-eight leagues between Paris and Rouen barefoot and fasting from food and drink. While he was recommending this adventure in prayer, he was seized with a great fear, until he went to the Church of St. Dominic and there determined to go as was said, when all the fear of tempting God passed away.

But on the next day, the morning of his departure, as he was getting up early, he was seized with so great a fear that he could hardly get his clothes on. In this conflict of emotion he left the house and indeed the city before daybreak. It continued with him as far as Argenteuil, which is a walled town a few miles from Paris on the way to Rouen, where the vesture of our Lord is said to be preserved. He passed by this town in the grip of that spiritual struggle, and as he began to climb a hill the dread began to slip from him and in its place came so great a joy and spiritual consolation, that he began to cry out through the fields and talk with God. That night he spent with a poor beggar in a hospital, after having covered fourteen leagues. The next night he spent in a straw hut, and the third day he reached Rouen. All this time he had taken nothing in the way of food or drink and had walked barefoot, as he had planned. At Rouen he comforted the sick man, helped him board a ship bound for Spain, and gave him letters of introduction to his companions at Salamanca, viz., Calixto, Caceres and Arteaga.

Up to this point, Ignatius has done a lot of crazy, over the top things, but this might be the craziest! We wouldn’t blame him if he had just written of this guy who had taken all his money and squandered it. In fact, if we’re honest, we probably even expect it! Because we know if someone did that to us, we would probably write them off and, frankly, we could care less what happens to them after that! This is easy to understand. Harder to understand is what Ignatius is doing here. He hears that this guy who had taken him was sick and instead of saying, “Good, he deserves it,” he is seized with a desire to go visit and help him. And not only that, but he is going to walk for three days in order to see him! This is truly above and beyond the call of duty. Or is it? Isn’t this the Christian way? Doesn’t Jesus tell us in stories like that of the prodigal son that this is his way. The prodigal son squanders away his inheritance and in doing so shames his father. His father had every right at that point just to write him off. Even his son says when he returns, “I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But his father will not accept that. He runs to him, embraces him, and calls for a celebration. But just as the son is taking a great risk in returning home, so the father is taking a great risk in welcoming him back so openly and compassionately.

This is the other part of Ignatius’ story, and ours. Often we too are seized with holy desires to choose the radical path; to not only forgive but to offer ourselves to the person who has offended us. The Gospel seems to demonstrate that this is how we should act, and sometimes we surprise even ourselves by desiring to act this way. But still it’s not easy. Ignatius speaks of being seized by great almost paralyzing fears, and we might wonder why. Given his mystical experiences perhaps we could attribute this to some spiritual force, but I think the answer is a bit more simple, one we can relate to. The fear he experiences is the same fear that we all experience when we risk our selves in charity. We go through the efforts of reconciling with another, of reaching out to one who has hurt us, because this is what the Christian life demands. Yet at the same time there is this sense of dread that can come over us, a fear that the other person will reject our charity, resent it, take advantage of it, or perhaps hurt us even further. Or we might find ourselves angry and resentful if the person accepts our charity, but never really recognizes his or her fault. Is it really all worth it to risk ourselves in this way? No one would be the wiser if we just forgot about this fleeting desire we had. I could just go on with what I’m doing and not make that journey of three days, or whatever effort it takes. No one would blame me. No one would know. Except me. Except God.

Battlestar Galactica Finale

Am I the only one that has this terrible feeling that Battlestar Galactica may have jumped the shark last night?

Well, we've got 7 months to mull that one over apparently!

Until then, there's Doctor Who, and more Stargate, which may have jumped the shark as well.

Friday, March 10, 2006

How Practical Must We Be When God Calls?

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 43

Finally, as he found no solution to his difficulty, a Spanish friar told him one day that it would be better to go each year to Flanders and lose two months, or even less, to bring back enough to enable him to study for the whole year. This suggestion he thought good, after commending it to God. Following this advice, he brought back enough each year from Flanders to get along on for the year. Once he went over to England and brought back a larger sum in alms than he had been accustomed to do in former years.

On his first return from Flanders, he began to give himself more intensely than usual to spiritual conversation, and at almost the same time he gave the Exercises to three, namely, Peralta, the Bachelor Castro, who was at the Sorbonne, and to a Basque at St. Barbara, named Amador. Great changes were effected in these men, and they at once gave all they had to the poor, even their books; they began to beg alms through Paris and took up lodgings at the Hospital of St. James, where the pilgrim had stayed earlier and which he left for reasons already given. This caused something of an uproar in the University, for the first two were persons of some standing and very well known. Soon the Spaniards began to take up arms against the two teachers, but not being able to get the better of them with reason and pleading to return to the University, marched on them one day in crowds with weapons in their hands and dragged them away from the hospital.

They brought them to the University, and came to an agreement on this point, namely, that after they had finished their courses they might carry out their purposes. The Bachelor Castro later went to Spain, preached in Burgos for a time, and became a Carthusian in Valencia. Peralta left for Jerusalem on foot as a pilgrim. In these circumstances he was taken in hand in Italy by a captain, a relative who had means of bringing him to the Pope and had a command laid on him to return to Spain. These events did not take place immediately, but a few years later.

Might we accuse Ignatius of being a little responsible here? In my experience of offering people spiritual direction I have found that it is very important to take into account their place in life. As noble as one’s intentions might be, someone who is married and has a family cannot just change his or her life radically and insist that his or her family go along with it. People who have made commitments to do certain things can’t just say, “Sorry, I’ve had a religious conversion, I hope it’s not an inconvenience if I just quit on you now.” There’s a practical side to such discussions which Saint Ignatius takes into account in later writings, but here he just gives us the facts and offers no indication if he advised these men otherwise, as he insisted he did in the case of the two ladies in the similar incident which he related earlier. The compromise they come to seems reasonable. Finish your studies, then if you want to go off and give everything to God, then so be it. Though we don’t know all the details, in this case perhaps, and certainly in the other cases I described, it may be that to make such a rash decision would cause one to commit a sin. Perhaps learning from the type of situation he describes above, in The Exercises and The Constitutions Ignatius makes a point to say that one, for example, could not make a commitment to religious life if one has already made a commitment like marriage which must be kept and precludes the other choice. He also says about obedience that one cannot be compelled to do anything in obedience that would be sinful. So, even if the motivation be a holy reason or desire, one cannot commit a sinful act to achieve such an end.

Of course, our response to our holy desires need not be so practical. It may be that these men were committing no sin by doing what they did. They sold what they had, gave their money to the poor and chose to follow Christ just like he asked. Perhaps the reaction to their action shows not so much that they did something wrong, but that their status got in the way. Perhaps it demonstrates what Jesus said in the Gospel after the rich young man balked at the same invitation: How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!


Commonweal has stepped into the blogosphere, with a great line-up of contributors, some of whom are kind enough to stop by this blog occasionally. So, I would certainly be remiss if I weren't to point you in their direction. Besides, you could hardly get a better line-up of thoughtful Catholics like:

Grant Gallicho
Robert P. Imbelli
Cathleen Kaveny
Joseph A. Komonchak
John McGreevy
J. Peter Nixon
Anna Nussbaum
Tim Reidy
Mark Sargent
Peter Steinfels
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

So, go, check it out.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sometimes When God Slams a Door In Your Face . . .

Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, part 42

So he left Spain, alone and on foot, and reached Paris some time in February. According to my reckoning, this would be 1528 or 1527. He put up at a house with a few Spaniards and went to Montagu to study Humanities. He did this because they had made him pass on so swiftly in his studies that he found his foundations very shaky. He studied with young boys, going through the order and methods of Paris. On his arrival at Paris he was given twenty-five scudi by a merchant on a draft from Barcelona. This he gave for safekeeping to one of the Spaniards at that inn, who went through it in a short time, and had nothing with which to pay him back. Thus when Lent was over and the pilgrim had no money left, he himself having met his expenses and the other having spent it as already narrated, he was reduced to begging, and had to leave the house in which he had been living.

He was taken in at the hospital of St. James, just beyond the church of the Innocents. This caused great inconvenience with his studies, because the hospital was a long distance from Montagu, and it was necessary to be home at the stroke of the Ave Maria to find the doors open, and not to leave in the morning before daylight. This made it difficult for him to be present at lectures. There was another handicap: he had to beg alms to support himself. It was now some five years since he had any stomach pains, and he began to undertake greater penances and abstinences. Spending some time in this hospital and beggar’s life, and seeing that he was making little advance in his studies, he began to think about what he ought to do. Noticing that there were some who served other regents in the colleges, and still had time for study, he decided to look for an employer.

He thought the matter over by himself and came to this conclusion, which was not without its consolation: “I will imagine that the teacher is Christ, and I will give to one of his students the name of St. Peter and to another the name of St. John, and so on through all the Apostles. If the teacher tells me to do something, I will fancy that it is Christ who tells me, and when one of the other commands me, I will think that it is St. Peter.” He went to great pains to find an employer. One the one hand, he spoke to the Bachelor Castro, and on the other, to a monk of the Carthusians, who had wide acquaintance among the teachers and others. But they never found it possible to get an employer for him.

In my college undergraduate career I was not exactly what you would call a “traditional student.” I was on the six-year, three college plan. This wasn’t by design but rather necessitated by financial difficulties. So, I can really relate to Ignatius here.

Like Ignatius, I tried all sorts of plans and schemes to do what I felt I was meant to do. But it wasn’t easy. I had to leave college after only a year and go to work full-time. And even thought this was necessary, people weren’t always so supportive of this course of action. People would doubtfully respond to my stated intention to return to college with less than encouraging words like “Once you leave, you’ll never go back.” Given all the studies I’ve done since then, it’s funny to think that someone ever thought that about me! Today, they’d be more inclined to ask, “Are you ever going to stop going to school?”

But back then, I wasn’t so sure how things were going to work out either. I imagine that Ignatius felt similarly at this point, when the money ran out, and the prospects for employment weren’t promising. “God, if this is what you want, why are you making it so difficult?” I can imagine him asking. I didn’t have so strong a sense as Ignatius back then that that was what God wanted for me, but still I wondered why it had to be so difficult.

I was forced to swallow my pride and spend a year at a less prestigious—but much cheaper—state college, but I was determined, as Ignatius was to study at Paris, to finish my studies at a Catholic liberal arts college. I’d applied and been accepted at several, but none of them could offer me the financial aid that I needed. I was frustrated.

That’s when I happened upon an interesting opportunity. One of those schools, Assumption College, was looking for someone to work in their Media Center, a job which I seemed to have the qualifications for (or at least close enough). One of the benefits of the job was that each semester you could take two courses for free. It would take longer than I’d planned, but at least I could be at the kind of school I wanted to be at. I applied for the job and though it looked promising, I didn’t get it. I decided that it was probably not meant to be, and decided that I would just go on and finish my degree at another state college. But before I could send in my deposit I got a call asking me if I would please take the job at the college. I couldn’t believe it! The person they had chosen ahead of me for the position had decided to take another position instead. It seemed God was looking out for me after all.

Six months later I was fired. I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. It still puzzles me today. I think it had more to do with personality differences between me and the director than it had to do with my job performance. And maybe God had something to do with it too. Because, now, I had my foot in the door at the college. I knew people there and they knew me. I got a higher paying job, reapplied for financial aid, and saved enough money to be able to go back to school full-time that next Fall. It took some doing. I had to get permission not to be on the meal plan in order to afford it. This meant that sometimes food was hard to come by. At times, I would go to meeting rooms after events and snag the left over finger food. There was a woman at the cafeteria who would let me in from time to time, but I tried not to abuse that privilege. And, since I was editor of the school newspaper, sometimes I would provide meals for editorial meetings out of the newspaper budget. I worked two jobs, one on campus and one outside of school, to try to keep up financially also. In my final semester, finding I was a little short on money still, I even had to go beg the financial office for a little more aid.

Though I wasn’t attending classes with children, like Ignatius found he had to for some remedial education, it was still a little awkward that I was older than just about everybody else in my classes. But I really can’t complain. I thought I had a year and a half of full-time study left, but then discovered that thanks to Advanced Placement credits, I could take one extra course and finish that year! That also made me eligible to apply for a fellowship that was being offered for the first time that year. I graduated, got the fellowship, and still could hardly believe it when that next August I landed in Sydney for the start of my year long fellowship abroad in Australia and England.

That’s when I learned what Saint Ignatius had learned 450 years before me: Sometimes when it seems like God is making things difficult for you, God’s actually looking out for you. I suspect Saint Ignatius had a better sense of this when he was going through it then I did. But I suspect he realized, like many of us do, that this isn’t a lesson we learn once and for all. There have been many time since this one where I’ve had to learn this lesson all over again, and I’m sure there will be many times to come. It’s that slow learner thing again.

The content of this site is the responsibility of its author and administrator, Mark Mossa, SJ, and does not necessarily represent the Society of Jesus