Thanks for all the messages on this feast of St Ignatius….. I have fond memories of celebrating this feast in Tanzania in recent years with our pupils, and in India with the Dalits, and in Manchester with some of the students. This year seems special, here at St. Beunos, in North Wales, directing the 30 days – in the silence of the Exercises, at the beginning of the Second Week. Now our retreatants are praying for a growing interior knowledge of Christ. Having meditated on the Call of the King they are now contemplating, step by step, the life of Jesus. After the intensity of the First Week it is a rich and vivid journey they are making, using imaginative contemplation. If we are to remember Ignatius for anything – it is not necessarily for the Jesuits, for our works, for the apostolates – Ignatius knew that we are founded to serve the church, to help souls. Famously Ignatius said if we were to be disbanded it would take 15 mins in the chapel for him to reconcile himself to that.
The heart of St Ignatius is found most clearly in making the Exercises. That is a legacy of his that we can never lose. This uniquely transformative tool that has changed so many lives. And in the privilege of giving the exercises, I feel very close to him. One of the things we are encouraged to do is review our own notes of the Exercises we made in Tertianship. I was in Manila – three years ago – and during the second week I read a biography of St Ignatius by the Basque Historian José Tellechea Idígoras. It is the best biography I have read. I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about how Ignatius would ‘give’ the Exercises. There were no retreat houses in his day, no en-suite facilities! He would invite someone he had got know, for whom he thought it would be profitable. They would often stay in a spare room in his house and he would meet them after dinner to listen, to help and then set them points for the next day. Maybe we need to renew that practice ourselves….. and then there is beautiful description Idigoras leaves us with of Ignatius…. you can imagine him towards the end of his life…. perhaps leaving the house after having met his exercitant….
He wore a simple austere cassock and fought off the cold with a large cloak. When he left the house he wore a voluminous cape and a broad brimmed hat with attached chords that he tied to his chin. It was impressive to see him walking in the street. He was always going, because of some business, to some specific place or to see some particular person. At this period in his life his fair hair had disappeared, he was bald and wore a short beard from which loomed an aquiline nose and high cheekbones. His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on. When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart.
Just sharing a small reflection I gave at mass yesterday to the group doing a 30 day silent retreat. Giving a homily to a group in silence – you have to tread carefully. These guys have been in silence for 10 days and you become very sensitive when you have been immersed in silence. As a homilist you have to avoid disturbing the silence too much, or creating too much dissonance – talking about anything that’s happening ‘in the world’, making statements that might be divisive… etc….
In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed he would never speak to them except in parables…….
Why did Jesus only speak to the crowds in parables ?
We remember, later on, at one point the disciples, slightly exasperated, ask Jesus – Why do you speak in parables? And at times we may share this exasperation….. Jesus’ answer – touches on the revealing of mystery …. God is a mystery – the Kingdom of God is a mystery – greater than we can ever imagine – it doesn’t fit easily into our ideas… when we make the mistake of thinking we have grasped the mystery we are further away than ever before ….. So parables allow us to touch on that mystery …. parables honour the mystery …. and allow the truth of the mystery to grow in us … never exhausted ….. never finished…. The structure of the exercises and the silence can help us to become extraordinarily available to that mystery – so we can be changed by the mystery of God, we can be healed, we can be taught, we can be challenged…… if we have the courage to be open
There is a Yiddish story that maybe, just maybe, Jesus was aware of an earlier version of …..
|Once upon a time Truth went about the streets as naked as the day he was born. As a result, no one would let him into their homes. Whenever people caught sight of him, they turned away and fled.
One day when Truth was sadly wandering about, he came upon Parable. Now, Parable was dressed
in splendid clothes of beautiful colors. And Parable, seeing Truth, said, “Tell me, neighbour, what
makes you look so sad?” Truth replied bitterly, “Ah brother, things are bad. Very bad. I’m old, very
old, and no one wants to acknowledge me. No one wants anything to do with me.” Hearing that,
Parable said,“People don’t run away from you because you’re old, I too am old. Very old. But the
older I get, the better people like me. I’ll tell you a secret: Everyone likes things disguised and
prettied up a bit. Let me lend you some splendid clothes like mine, and you’ll see that the very
people who pushed you aside will invite you into their homes and be glad of your company.”Truth
took Parable’s advice and put on the borrowed clothes. And from that time on, Truth and Parable
have gone hand in hand.
Enjoying the experience of directing a long retreat, 30-days of silence, following the Spiritual Exercises, in North Wales. I am with 6 other ‘youngish’ Jesuits of my generation, so as well as accompanying people through the 4 weeks it is great to discuss the dynamics with them (whilst respecting the confidentiality). We are have just spent a few days with the ‘Principle and Foundation’ a consideration that Ignatius gives us before we enter the retreat. Below is a contemporary translation by David Fleming –
The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.
It is this ‘holding ourselves in balance’ – sometimes referred to as the principle of indifference, which is the true meaning of freedom. It is wonderful to see how this ‘inner freedom’ grows when someone is on retreat, and has an open heart and seeking God. That process of a growing inner freedom, sometimes involves the healing of memories, and also an honest look at what our ‘disordered attachments’ are. Often these attachments are not just to things, but more much deeply our attitude to things….. our desire for power, our desire for influence, our desire for wealth. That is why it is so striking that when we meet people who have this inner freedom, that they truly are the infleuntial. The difference between a Buddhist notion of detachment and the practice of mindfulness and the freedom of the Exercises is that it is God who does the work in the Exercises…. and God is gentle.