Thursday, March 02, 2006

God's Will: Beyond the Basics

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 34

He finished two years of study, during which time they told him that he had made great progress. He was then assured by his teacher that he could go on to the arts course, and told by him to go to Alcala, although I think he had already gathered some companions. When he arrived at Alcala, he began to beg and live on alms. One day, after he had been living this way for some ten or twelve days, a cleric and some others who were in his company, seeing him thus begging, began to laugh at him and insult him, as they usually do to those who being hale and hearty take to begging. At this moment the superintendent of the new hospital of “Antezana,” passed by, and feeling sorry for him, called him and took him to the hospital, where he gave him a room and all that he needed.

He studied at Alcala about a year and a half. And because he arrived in Barcelona in lent of the year 1524, where he studied two years, he arrived in Alcala in 1526 and studied the logic of De Soto, the natural philosophy of Albert the Great and the Master of the Sentences (Peter Lombard). While he was at Alcala, he worked at giving the Spiritual Exercises and in teaching Christian Doctrine, and by this means brought forth fruit to God’s glory, for there were many persons who acquired a deep knowledge and taste for spiritual things. There were others who were variously tempted, like the man who wanted to scourge himself but could not, just as if someone were holding his hand.

There were other similar occurrences that caused much talk among the people, especially because of the crowds that came whenever he taught the catechism. As soon as he arrived in Alcala, he made the acquaintance of Don Diego de Guia, who was living with his brother, and in the printing business and comfortably well off. They helped him with their alms to support the poor, and maintained three companions of the pilgrim in their house. Once when he came to ask alms, Don Diego told him he had no money, but he opened a chest in which were various things, bedspreads of various colors, some candelabra, and such things, all of which he wrapped in a sheet, and gave to the pilgrim, who lifted them to his shoulders and went of to bring succor to the poor.

Though Ignatius eventually went on, as we know, to be the principal founder of a worldwide religious order, and to serve as Superior of that order to his death, I suspect that if asked what he would consider to be the ideal way to live his life (presuming that was what God willed for him), it would be something like what he describes above. You can see that he was good at it, by the crowds he attracted. And it also satisfied many of his basic desires—to serve the poor, to teach Christian Doctrine, to help people “acquire a deep knowledge and taste for spiritual things,” and to suffer for it. I can imagine there was many a day as he sat in his office in Rome toward the end of his life, that he wished he could just leave that all and return to these simpler days.

Many of us feel the attraction of such a life, but as much as we’d like to give up everything and go do it, there are things that stand in our way. If you’re single, there may be debt to consider. If you’re married, there’s debt and the fact that you have a commitment to provide for your family. And even if you are free of these burdens, there’s that little bugbear of God’s will. This may not be what God wants for you. That was the problem for Ignatius. We’ve seen over and over again in these pages the various talents he has which God intends to make use of. We see it a couple of times just in this passage. Ignatius had a talent for getting people from all walks of life—and often influential people—to help and support him and his work. This would be of great help in getting the Jesuits going both for attracting new members and providing for the training of those men. The rapid growth of the Jesuits just in the few decades he was alive after their founding is a testament to his considerable talents, and those of the people whom he attracted. It’s likely that Ignatius at times found his job as Superior an unpleasant burden which kept him from doing some of the things he loved most, but he found peace in doing God’s will rather than his own.

In eight years of Jesuit life, I have had a variety of different ministry experiences, many of which I have enjoyed very much. And there is a strong attraction to living a life devoted just to “the basics” like Ignatius describes above. I, for example, feel I could be quite happy working as a foreign missionary, living among the poor and engaging in basic works of mercy and offering the Sacraments. There would be a certain anonymity in that. I could spend my life in the service of God and the poor and few outside the immediate area of my work would take any notice. This is how many of the most holy and saintly of Jesuits have lived and died. Few know their names, but they were as important in God’s plan as the most famous of Saints. I used to think people that thought such a life to be attractive were a bit crazy. Maybe I am, a bit. But, as attractive as such a life might be to me, it seems like God desires me to use the talents he’s given me in other ways. And, as with Ignatius, in some ways less satisfying ways. As much as I like to write, I have to be honest. I get a lot more joy out of several hours spent teaching, or offering spiritual direction, or visiting the sick than I do out of several hours alone in front of my computer trying to figure out how to express something in just the right way. Now, there is a joy that comes with that too, but the gratification is not immediate, and there’s not always someone around to share it with. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in religious life. God doesn’t call us to do what will always make us the most happy, but to do what God desires for us in order to achieve God’s purposes. That doesn’t make life always “Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!,” but it does bring peace.


Blogger angelmeg said...

I have found that the happiness I get from doing what I want is fleeting. The peace that comes from doing God's will is what truly sustains me in the long run.


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