Contradictions, Crossroads and Plan B
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.