Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Stuck," for the Love of God

Saint Ignatius’ Autobiography, part 40

A few days later, they were summoned before four judges, the three doctors Sanctisidiro, Paravinhas and Frias, and the fourth the Bachelor Frias. By this time they had all seen the Exercises. They put many questions to him, not only about the Exercises, but on theology; for example, on the Trinity and the Blessed Sacrament, asking in what sense he understood these articles. First he made a short introduction, but being commanded by the judges to go on, he spoke in such a way that they had no fault to find. The Bachelor Frias, who in similar circumstances had always shone himself to be more severe than the others, proposed something that had to do with canon law. He was required to give an answer to all questions, and did so by always saying that he did not know what the doctors said about such things. Then they bade him explain the first commandment as he usually explained it. He began to do so and continued at such length and said so much about the first commandment that they had no desire to ask him more. Before this, however, when they were talking of the Exercises, they insisted much on one point alone which is at the beginning of the Exercises, and concerns when a thought may be a venial sin and when it may be mortal. Their difficulty was that he, being without training, should determine a point like that. He answered that they should determine whether the answer were correct or not. If it were not correct, condemn it. The end of it all was that they went off without having condemned anything.

Among the many who came to the prison to talk to him, there was a certain Don Fancisco de Mendoza, who is now Cardinal of Burgos. He came with the Bachelor Frias, and to his question as to how he felt in prison and whether he found the time heavy on his hands, he answered: “I will answer you as I answered a woman today who spoke words of compassion at seeing me prisoner. I told her: ‘In this you show that you do not desire to be a prisoner for the love of God. Why does prison seem so great an evil to you? I will tell you that there are not bars enough or chains enough in Salamanca but I would desire more for God’s love.’”

It happened at this time that the prisoners of the jail all made their escape; but not the two companions who were there confined. When they were found there in the morning with the doors wide open, and the jail empty of prisoners, the fact gave great edification to all and caused a good deal of talk in the city. As a result, they were given for prison an entire palace which stood nearby.

At some point, most who take their relationship with God seriously will find themselves making a commitment for the love of God and one other, or others. The most obvious examples of this are the commitment to marriage or some sort of religious vocation (religious life, priesthood, consecrated life, etc.). But these aren’t the only ones. Sometimes, as in the case of Ignatius, it is more a matter of that we have committed ourselves to heading in a certain direction in response to God’s initiative in our lives. Now, most of us are unlikely to find ourselves like Ignatius “a prisoner for the love of God” (at least not literally), but many of us might find ourselves “stuck” for the love of God.

What I mean is that many of us will find that in the course of following God’s will for us that we end up, at least for a time, in a difficult or undesirable situation. In other circumstances, faced with a similar situation, we might just have chosen to quit; but this time, because of our commitment to God and to the other person or persons, we feel as if we must stay the course. This means, for example, that if you’ve committed yourself to marriage or religious life, you don’t just give up on it at the first sign of trouble, or the second, or the third . . .

My first year as a Jesuit regent (the time of active apostolic work after novitiate and the first three years of studies), I was sent to one of our high schools to do a job I didn’t think I was particularly suited for—the director of campus ministry and community service. This was more of an administrative position, and I just don’t have the talents (organizational and time management skills, etc.) that I feel one in such a position requires. I am much more comfortable and confident in the classroom teaching. Nevertheless, in the spirit of obedience, I promised to give it my best shot. It was a tough year. I worked my butt off, and only barely managed to keep my head above water. Despite my hard work, things went far from perfectly, and though I received many compliments on my work from my faculty colleagues, I received little affirmation or support from the school’s administration, who could sense that I just wasn’t “one of them.” About halfway through the year I found myself miserable, hating my job and wanting the school year to just be over with. I realized that in the days before I became a Jesuit (noting also that I wouldn’t have taken the job in the first place) at this point I probably would have just quit. But because of my Jesuit commitment, this was not an option. I was stuck, for the love of God. I’d like to say that this resulted in great waves of consolation, but it didn’t. But what I did notice that year was that in spite of my difficulties, I never questioned my vocation. I knew this was the life that God wanted for me, even if right now it sucked. And the year did end. And in retrospect I learned a lot from that experience. I even would have stayed there another year, if that’s what God wanted (But, thank God, he didn’t).

We are often faced with such challenges. And, too often in our society people just choose to quit instead of staying the course. I think this is shown in our huge divorce rate. And I’m always sad to see fellow Jesuits, priests and other religious give up on our life just because things got a little hard or because they weren’t able to do exactly what they wanted to do. Like in the case of the two companions of Ignatius, sometimes a jailbreak opens up for us a route of escape, but in spite of this opportunity God may be telling us to stay where we are and be stuck, for the love of God.


Blogger angelmeg said...

I know that sometimes in our marriage knowing that it is a vocation and a sacrament has helped in the hard times. Also remembering the words of the prayer of that great theologian Huey Lewis: "I'm so happy to be stuck with you."

A sense of humor is a gift from God.


2:26 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I remember when following the Church's teachings on infertility and miscarriage treatments seemed horribly unfair and desolate. I followed, not so much in blind obedience (Augustine warns against this) but in a DOGGED obedience.

Now I see what a mercy that was. Praise God when all of us receive the grace to be dogged.

It pays off in dividends.

8:53 AM  

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