At the beginning of the Second Week of the Exercises Ignatius presents us with the Contemplation on the Incarnation. This has two main elements, he asks to us imagine the Trinity looking down on the world, seeing and hearing all that is happening, births, deaths, wars, peace etc… The decision to intervene by seconding the second person of the Trinity (the Son) is made. Then in the contemplation, we zoom in, Google Earth style, to Mary’s house in Nazareth and the Angel visiting her. Mary’s ‘Fiat’ – her Yes – is one word that history turns on. We know how courageous this ‘yes’ is for young women in a culture that has brutal punishments for those unmarried women who bring shame no their families.
Mary’s fiat - ‘ Let it be done unto me’ - is central in the Catholic understanding of the Incarnation – she gives her assent to cooperate with Divine Grace. I remember being invited to watch a preview of the BBC produced ‘Nativity‘ in Soho in 2010 – it is an excellent production that was shown in four parts. After the preview some of the producers bounded up to me – seeing that I had been visibly moved and wanted to know my reaction. I said I thought it had been brilliant but that they had made one mistake. The wide grins started to fade and with furrowed brows they asked me what mistake – I replied ‘ Well in this version Mary said no to the angel’ …. the brows became more furrowed and the smiles vanished, moving on to the next person, they said indignantly ‘there’s no right or wrong’.
A wonderful poem on Mary’s fiat is by Bishop Robert F Morneau ….. and yes I know this doesn’t take into account the Immaculate Conception (before you write in) …. but even if theologically not quite correct it opens a new vista onto Mary’s fiat…
Were others asked?
A lassie from an isle in a distant sea?
A maiden in North Africa
or a slave girl from the Congo?
How many times were angels sent
and returned, unheard, unheeded?
Was Mary tenth on salvation’s list.
Or the hundredth?
And you, my soul.
was fiat spoken
when the angel came?
Today is the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, where Catholics believe Mary was taken body & soul into heaven. It is also the day that St. Ignatius chose as a historic day for the Jesuits. Ignatius and his first six companions, Faber, Xavier, Laynez, Rodriguez, Salmeron, Bobadilla took first simple vows at Mass celebrated by Faber. As James Brodrick wrote in his excellent book, – The companions repaired together at dawn to a little unused chapel half-way up the slopes of Montmarte, and there, unobserved except by God, burned their boats behind them during a Mass celebrated by Favre. It was the quietest ceremony, that laying of the foundation stone of the society of Jesus, so quiet that even the seven themselves had no inkling of what they had started.
Traditionally it became the day when many Jesuits took their vows – Why did these founding Jesuits choose to take their vows on this feast day? It is day I and many other Jesuits privately renew our vows…. Why did Ignatius choose the feast of the Assumption?
It is clear that his devotion to Our Lady was intense even in an age when Marian devotion was becoming increasingly polemical due to the newly established Protestant sects. In Ignatius life as in the life of the Church it had acquired considerable popular force. At Key moments in Ignatius’s mystical life Mary was very close, his vigils at Aranzazu and Monsteratt, his petition at La Storta that he may be placed ‘with the son’ . William Meissner, a Jesuit Psychologist, describes this as a balance to an image of God that was being progressively masculinised. Mary could bring a mothers love and understanding to the inadequacies and anxieties of her children and plead their case before divine judgement. She has become for many Catholics the idealised image of maternal concern. So for Ignatius, this feast which emphasises Marys special place in heaven in the church is supplemented by their offering and making these simple and perpetual vows. As Broderick says – they really have burnt their boats here – and they do so confidently under the mantle of the Assumption.
When Pope declared the doctrine of the Assumption as infallible in 1950, Protestants were angry because it wasn’t in Scripture. The recently deceased John Edwards SJ pointed out with delicious irony that the (Anglican) Archbishop of York, standing beneath his cathedral’s 600 year old Assumption roof-boss, deplored it as an innovation. The position of the Orthodox was more nuanced: they believed it, of course, but were furious that the Pope had defined it. Whatever the controversy – devotion to Our Lady is as strong as ever in world-wide Catholicism, and this day is celebrated with great joy as it was in the ancient church before we all started feuding. It is in the spirit of this joy and wonder that some of us Jesuits renew our vows, that we can offer our own ‘little-lives’ in imitation of Mary’s incredible openness and generosity with God.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997); at a pro-life meeting in 1986 in Bonn, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am helping the Missionaries of Charity, popular known as Mother Teresa‘s nuns, with a triduum at the moment. A triduum is three days of prayer or retreat, often before a particular feast or special day. Here in Edinburgh, as with many of their communities, the Sisters do very important work with homeless and the poor. Their life is also very impressive, in its simplicity and its commitment. They don’t even have the privacy of their own room – I’m sure if you asked Jesuits to share rooms they would have a heart attack! The Superior identified three themes for the triduum – a) Loving Trust, b) Total Surrender and c) Cheerfulness. She has also loaned me a copy of their constitutions to look at the passages on these themes. Part III of the Constitutions, begins with a section called ‘Our Spirit’ which covers these three themes. So some of the things we have been sharing and praying about -
Trust - Is a key ‘disposition’ for those who aspire to hear the voice of God in the world. Erik Erikson developed a theory of Psychological Development where he claims that all humans confront a set of ‘crises’ in their life. Our personalities are formed depending on how we resolve these crises. The earliest crisis is one of basic trust or basic mistrust in the world. According to Erikson’s model (it’s just a model!) – this crisis often takes place at the first year of our life. Trust opens us out to the world – mistrust makes us suspicious and cynical. Radical Trust in God is embodied in people like Abraham, which is why he is so important to Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the ‘Abrahamic Faith‘. And trust is two-way – the forgiving trust that Jesus shows Peter, who is reinstated as the leader of the apostles, even after his multiple denial of Jesus, is an important touchstone for all of us who are honestly struggling with our weaknesses.
Surrender – The paradox of surrender is that the total surrender to infinite love is one of the most empowering things that we can do with our life. Crises and tragedies in our life can become moments of transforming grace because God speaks clearly to the broken-hearted. For Catholics the unconditional ‘fiat’ of Mary at the Annunciation is one of the turning points of human history. The emptying of self involved, on reflection, is awe-inspiring. In our culture which prizes the individual and a celebrity subculture that inflates the ego – to empty one self in loving service is truly counter-cultural and hugely difficult in a time of unparalleled self-promotion. It is interesting how the desert becomes a place of encounter for God in the Bible – because in the desert we are stripped of luxuries and distractions. The desert becomes a special place of purification and preparation – and in Jesus’ case temptation. His 40 days in the desert are portrayed in a fascinating way in Jim Crace‘s novel Quarantine.
Joy … tomorrow!
A couple of weeks ago I read about the worlds luckiest / or unluckiest man – I couldn’t believe it. St Ignatius teaches that when you are in ‘desolation’ to sit tight, not to make a decision, it may seem as though the whole world is against you – but it won’t last . Here is a true story that puts that sage advice into perspective (via Neatorama)……… On a cold January day in 1962, a Croatian music teacher named Frane Selak was traveling from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik by train. Well, that’s where he thought he was going. Little did he know what he was actually about to embark upon a strange 40-year odyssey marked by freak accidents and near-death experiences. The train carrying Selak in 1962 inexplicably jumped the tracks and plunged into an icy river, killing 17 passengers. Selak managed to swim back to shore, suffering hypothermia, shock, bruises, and a broken arm, but very happy to be alive. One year later, Selak was on a plane traveling from Zagreb to Rijeka when a door blew off the plane and he was sucked out of the aircraft. A few minutes later the plane crashed; 19 people were killed. But Selak woke up in a hospital – he’d been found in a haystack and had only minor injuries.
In 1966 he was riding on a bus that went off the road and into a river. Four people were killed – but not Selak. He suffered only cuts and bruises. In 1970 he was driving along when his car suddenly caught fire. He managed to stop and get out just before the fuel tank exploded and engulfed the car in flames. In 1973 a faulty fuel pump sprayed gas all over the engine of another of Selak’s car while he was driving it, blowing flames through the air vents. His only injury: he lost most of his hair. His friends started calling him “Lucky.” In 1995 he was hit by a city bus in Zagreb but received only minor injuries. In 1996 he was driving on a mountain road when he turned a corner and saw a truck coming straight at him. He drove the car through a guardrail, jumped out, landed in a tree – and watched his car explode 300 feet below. By this time he was starting to get an international reputation for his amazing knack for survival. “You could look at it two ways,” Selak said. “I am either the world’s unluckiest man or the luckiest. I prefer to believe the latter.”How does the story of Frane Selak end? Luckily, of course. In June 2003, at the age of 74, Selak bought his first lottery ticket in 40 years … and won more than $1 million. “I am going to enjoy my life now,” he said. “I feel like I have been reborn. I know God was watching over me all these years.” He told reporters that he planned to buy a house, a car, and a speedboat, and to marry his girlfriend. …… In 2004 Selak was hired to star in an Australian TV commercial for Doritos. At first he accepted the job, but then changed his mind and refused to fly to Sydney for the filming. Reason: He said he didn’t want to test his luck!
Following up on the story there is a very thought-provoking ending …… Now the pensioner has decided that “money cannot buy happiness” and has decided to live a frugal life.He has sold his luxury home on a private island, given away his fortune to family and friends and moved back to his modest home in Petrinja, which is south of Zagreb, in the centre of the country.He kept the last bit of his winnings for a hip replacement operation so he could enjoy life with his wife and also so he could build a shrine to the Virgin Mary to give thanks for his luck.
Image via Wikipedia
I was woken up by the sound of plainchant this morning at 6am! I have to confess I was still in bed…. so I missed the striking sight of the theologians processing into chapel, in their white soutanes, carrying Candles to celebrate the feast of the Presentation. Today’s feast is popularly known as ‘Our Lady of the Candles’ here in the Philippines or otherwise known as Candlemas. As quite a few of my ex-students are reading this blog - maybe a small reminder of today’s feast would be helpful. The presentation of Our Lord in the Temple (40 days after Christmas Day) – is when we recall Mary presenting the Child Jesus to God in the temple. 40 days was what the Mosaic law prescribed as a period of purification for women after childbirth.
It is a feast that is underplayed in the Church – at least in my experience. I would like to see a mini-revival. Why? Because it is about gratitude . For me this is a key to being happy in life. The happiest people I meet are the most grateful, the most thankful. 2000 years ago in Judea, women showed their gratitude to God by presenting their new-born children at the Temple. Often when I celebrate baptisms I think that part of the celebration is in offering the life (child or adult) back to God. When we see things as gifts we are grateful. Conversely the most miserable people you meet, and often the most angry are those who feel life ‘owes’ them something, or they have been cheated some way. This sense of entitlement may have been behind the recent credit crash.
So today at mass – I prayed in gratitude for my Mum, who gave birth to two of us! and also my nieces and nephews. Maybe I’ll never be a dad – but there is still some joy and privilege in baptising, in celebrating new life. I hope next week to be celebrating more baptisms in the remote Palawan islands…. but more of that later. So what are you grateful for? and how are you going to show that gratitude today?
The following video from Igniter – gives fantastic food for thought on that. The background of volunteers and a soup kitchen remind us that gratitude often leads to generosity. This time of year we need more grateful people! Good luck to all those working in the night-shelters back where Winter is hitting hard.
We had a powerful celebration of Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary today. This is a big feast here in the Phillipines where Marian devotion is incredibly strong. In spite of tropincal storms many turned out for a procession to honour the Immaculate Conception last Sunday in central Manila. As you can see from the photo they made sure that the statues were kept dry – unlike most of the faithful. This is a feast celebrating the sinlessness of the Mother of God who, we anticipate in this second week of Advent, will give birth to the King of Kings. Today the presider was a famous Jesuit called Fr Manoling Francisco. What is most notable about Manoling, as well as his writing, his teaching as a theologian, setting up a foundation to support education for youngsters from the Mountain Region (were we depart for tommorrow) is his musical compositions. His songs seems to be sung everywhere. Most of them are in Tagalog – I can’t get his Our Father of my head at the moment….
Anyway it is clear he has a wonderful romantic spirit and it was a pleasure to hear him speaking so passionately about Our Lady today. That her ‘fiat’ her ‘yes’ to God was an act of incredible generosity and purity of heart – considering the punishment off stoning that was given to Women who become mysteriously pregnant out of wedlock. I was musing about this whilst wandering through the campus here at the Ateneo de Manila when I stumbled upon this. Addressed to Lila with the Golden Eyes…..
Courage certainly! Purity of heart? – I’d like to think so!
I bet you didn’t realise that Adele was so popular over here (not bad for a Tottenham girl!)
There is a phrase I learnt from a US Podcast on the series Lost – ‘it got a little bit dusty in the living room’ – when you are trying to blink back the tears watching a movie. I am a real softy when it comes to that – but when my eyes get a bit moist I pretend I have hay fever or something and am trying to get the pollen out! Well in The Passion of the Christ there is always a moment that gets a bit dusty for me – when Mary is trying to follow the Via Dolorosa of Jesus – as he carries his cross to Golgotha. Mary is pressing herself against the wall – in horror at how her son is being treated – not being able to watch but also not being able to tear her eyes away. The director, a certain Mr Gibson, masterfully intertwines this with a flashback of Jesus as a little boy. He falls and grazes his knee – and crying in pain – Mary does what all mothers would do, she drops her washing and runs over to him. Of course cut back to the present and Jesus – the man – falls under the weight of the cross, at which point Mary appears at his side. “See mother – I make all things new” he croaks as he strains to get up….
The grace of the Third Week that Ignatius instructs us to pray for is to ask for grief with Christ in grief, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and interior pain at such great pain which Christ suffered for me. It is tough and very difficult to recieve the graces – withouth being voyeuristic in some way. Of course we understand the throry - focus on the humanity of Jesus by pointing out how his divinity hides itself. Greater love has no one than the person who lays down one’s life for one’s friend…. Jesus does this for us individually to help us overcome our complicity with evil…. This is all fine – but how can we really share in that grief?
For me a key to this week is to witness the passion third hand…. i.e. watching Mary watching her son. Please keep us all in your prayers – the darkest hour is just before dawn.
Please leave comments – but don’t expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December. This post was written and automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence!