Monday, March 06, 2006

Holy Blindspots, Batman!

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 39

“Father, I will not say more than what I have said, unless it be before my superiors who can oblige me to.” Before this the friar had asked why Calixto had dressed as he did. He wore a short cloak, a broad hat on his head and carried a pilgrim’s staff in his hand, and shoes that reached halfway up his leg. As he was very tall it made him appear deformed. The pilgrim related that they had been jailed in Alcala, and had been commanded to dress as students. The hat he wore because of the excessive heat had been given to him by a poor priest. Here the friar said as though through clenched teeth, “Charitas incipit a se ipsa” [sic]—Charity begins at home.

But coming back to our story, the subprior being able to get no further word from the pilgrim, said: “Well, remain here; we can easily see to it that you tell us all.” The friars themselves departed with considerable haste. The pilgrim first asked whether they should remain there in the chapel, or whether they would prefer some other place. The superior told them to remain in the chapel. Straightway the friars saw to the locking of all the doors, and they opened negotiations, it seemed, with the judges. The two of them were meanwhile three days in the monastery without a word being said to them of justice. They took their meals with the friars in their refectory. There room was nearly always full of friars who came to see them, and the pilgrims talked to them about the things they usually talked about. The result was that there was something of a difference of opinion among them, many showing themselves well disposed toward them.

At the end of three days a notary came and took them off to jail. They were not confined below with evildoers, but in a higher room, which because it was old and unoccupied was very dirty. They put them both in chains, attached to the foot of each of them, the chain then being fastened to a post in the middle of the building. The chain was from ten to thirteen palms long, so that when one wished to move anywhere the other had to go along with him. All that night they lay awake. The next day when news of their imprisonment got abroad in the city, people sent to the prison what they both needed for proper sleeping and supplied all their needs abundantly. Many kept coming to see them, and the pilgrim continued his practice of speaking of God and so forth.

The Bachelor Frias came to examine them separately, and the pilgrim turned over to him all his papers, which were the Exercises, for examination. He asked them whether they had any companions, and he told him yes, and where they were, and they went after them at once, at the bidding of the Bachelor, and brought in Caceres and Artega, but left Juanico, who later became a friar. But they did not place them above with the two, but below with the common criminals. Here too he preferred not to have a lawyer or attorney.

One of the humbling realities which we would do well to remember is that among those recognized as saints by the Church, there has probably never been a single one that was universally recognized as such during his or her lifetime. For each, there have always been holy people of good will that for one reason or another were critics rather than supporters of their work. We can see this same dynamic taking place in the encounter here between Ignatius and the friars. I think we sometimes imagine that if a person is holy and saintly enough that this will be clearly apparent to all other holy men and women. Surely, there were good men among those friars “showing themselves well disposed toward them,” and there were most certainly good men among those who were suspicious enough of Ignatius and his companions to have them imprisoned. As much as God blesses us with insights and grace, we all have a limited vision clouded by our sinfulness and prejudice. That’s why it is important not to hold so staunchly to our opinions that we refuse to listen to anybody else. Others can help us to see things in a way that our own prejudices might not allow if we insist on going it alone. This is probably why Jesus gathered a community of friends around him rather than choosing just one follower to carry on his message. We need look only at the early history of the Church to see that two of its major figures—Peter and Paul—needed each other in order to see the whole picture.

The same is true of life in a religious community of priests or sisters. I am thankful that the Jesuits are not the homogenous group that many make us out to be. I depend on my brother Jesuits to help me see perspectives that I might be otherwise blind to. This variety of perspectives sometimes causes tensions with in our family, but nevertheless we are better for it.

This came home to me pretty strongly in the months following September 11. As someone who is a strong supporter of nonviolent solutions to conflict, I found myself very uncomfortable with a lot of the militaristic rhetoric which abounded in response to those attacks (as I am these days with the casual way in which many today speak of “destroying our enemies” or “destroying the terrorists”). While many of my Jesuit brothers shared my discomfort at that time, many, I realized, did not. The variety of opinions with regard to military action and war in the Church these days is also reflected in the Jesuit community. So, while I found myself much opposed to more killing in response to the September 11 attacks, I realized that some of my brothers believed that the U.S. would be justified in doing so. I also realized that it was possible that perhaps we might all be right in thinking what we did, depending upon one’s perspective. The Church’s teaching itself recognize as legitimate both a nonviolent and “just war” approach to such moral questions (as I discuss in the article I wrote during this time, which you can find a link to in the sidebar). I also discovered in the wisdom of Saint Ignatius (contained in one of his letters) his belief that two people guided by the same Spirit of God could still come to seemingly contradictory conclusions. This insight brought me great consolation. This insight, it seems to me, can bring consolation to all of us who live in a religious community, indeed, in a Church where sometimes many of us, in that same Spirit, seem to be working at cross-purposes. God knows better than we do how all these things can work together for the glory of God.


Blogger angelmeg said...

This is wise counsel for marriage preparation as well. One can love another completely and totally disagree on a subject that runs as deeply as political conviction.

My devoted husband and I don't talk politics very often for this very reason. Or sports, or . . . hmm what do we have in common. Oh I remember, faith hope and love.


9:28 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


Good point! Family is our primary religious community, even if we don't always see it that way!

11:14 AM  
Blogger mamagiglio said...

Mark, Great Post! Speaks a lot to the conflicts in the Church which we read so much about in the blogs.

Um, in something totally unrelated, this gentleman posted this in my comments box. Did you really send him my way? I'll be happy to help him however I can if you know him...

Dear Amy,
Mark Mossa from You Duped Me Lord told me I should ask you to submit to a book I'm editing...I'd love your help! Let me know what e-mail address I should send the chapter list to....
Jeff Guhin | 08.12.05 - 9:45 pm | #

10:05 AM  

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