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