Category: Ignatius


Conflict

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When we were Jesuit novices we read the autobiography of St Ignatius together. It was explained to us that Ignatius had been badgered for years to write down about his life.  It was only when he life was coming to an end that he agreed to do so and dictated his memoirs to Luis Gonsalves de Camara, a young Portuguese Jesuit.  In an age of hagiographical writing, were saints lives were often written with an undue reverence, and sometimes it was difficult to get to the history underneath the exaggerations, Ignatius was keen that his autobiography would show young Jesuits how he had learned from his mistakes and how God had patiently accompanied him through times of excessive zeal and superficial outward displays of ‘holiness’ and ‘penance’.

It seems that the first Jesuit Pope wishes to follow in his footsteps.  Whether he is talking about his time of painful ‘inner purification‘ in Cordoba in 1991, or his period of ‘therapy’ after stepping down as Provincial in the 70’s.  In 2013 he sent a letter to a Brazilian priest, Fr Alexandre Awi, who had acted as his interpreter on his first foreign visit as pope, to Rio de Janeiro. Discussing the ‘culture of encounter’ which as Pope he is so eager to promote, he talks about the traumatic experience of his mother’s side of his family where there was a lot of conflicts,  “In my family there was a long history of disagreements: uncles, cousins, fought and separated. As a child, I cried a great deal in secret when these fights were talked about or when we could see a new one coming. Sometimes I offered a sacrifice or a penance to try to prevent them occurring. It hurt me a lot. Thank God that at home Dad, Mom and my five brothers lived in peace…. I think that this marked me a lot as a kid and created in my heart the desire that people stopped fighting, that they stay together. And at least if they fight they are friends…. I am bit embarrassed after rereading what I wrote, but I think that in this story there is a germ of what over the years and in a conceptual way I called “Culture of the encounter”. It’s a craving that I’ve been since I was a boy” You can read excerpts of the letter here on the website Portaluz (in Spanish) – Link.

Understanding conflict and turning it into a creative experience has been a life-long concern of Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis.  His unpublished PHD is on the Italian- German priest philosopher Romano Guardini and his 1925 work, ‘Der Gegensatz’ (Contrast).  For Guardini contrast did not necessarily mean contradiction. He was interested in the whole range of human life: art, politics, ethics, religion,  science, in particular, the emerging field of psychology. Guardini’s thinking lead him to a deeper type of wisdom about the mystery of Life. He had a vision that gives things space, where opposites are brought together, the same space from where they emanate and where they return – which he called God.  The younger Bergoglio was particularly interested in how individuals related to groups, especially after his difficult experience as provincial and was attracted to Guardini’s thinking.  Understanding conflict, not being threatened by it, wanting to engage creatively with it but also realising how destructive it could be – as he recently said in his meeting with the Schoenstatt movement.

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I came across something recently that has been fascinating me ever since – ‘Cardiognosis’ – which means knowledge of the heart.  It seems to have its roots in the Desert Fathers and describes the ability that certain holy people have of taking in the whole person who is in front of them, of understanding in a compassionate non-judgemental way what someone is trying to communicate.  It is more than an intuitive, sapiential way of knowing, it also appears to have a mystical element.  The ability to hear what is not being said, an unnerving ability to see right into you, a disconcerting knowledge of the secrets that can weigh heavily on one’s heart.

William James describes one of the marks of an authentic mystical experience as being ‘noetic’, giving access to some sort of state of knowledge.  In 1901 and 1902 he was invited to give the famous Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh University.  This lead to the publication of his classic book, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’.  In lecture 17 he talked about the insights that authentical mystical experiences gave,   “This is an insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule, they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time”.   He would later go on to talk about the transient nature of mystical experience whilst also being ‘timeless’.

Cardiognosis – seems less like a mystical experience and more like a mystical state. Its deeper than just the ability to read ‘between the lines’.    This level of sensitivity perhaps comes from years of formation and learning about your own heart.  Robin Daniels has written a little-known book called ‘Listening-Hearing the Heart’    which gives a taste of this.  If you haven’t got time to read his book, his widow Katherine hosted a fascinating webinar recently, and there is a beautiful section where she talks about what made him such an incredible listener – link– it lasts about 10mins  .  However ‘cardiognosis’ seems to be something beyond even the highest level of listening, At the end of his brilliant autobiography on St Ignatius – the Basque historian, Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras,  creates a picture of Ignatius just before his death which includes this section….  

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.

If we were to fast-forward 350 years Padre Pio had an awe-inspiring reputation in the confessional. It is claimed that he heard over 5 million confessions in his lifetime,  often displaying an uncanny knowledge of the penitents.  The famous sculptor Francesco Messina in 1949 went to visit Padre Pio. Padre Pio asked if he wanted to confess. He said maybe but I’m not prepared.  Padre Pio: “Don’t say anything to me. Just answer.” ‘Than he began to list my sins with incredible precision. This type of ‘knowledge’ that Pio had was repeated in many different accounts, and became public knowledge when  his life was investigated during the process of declaring him a Saint.  Then coming right up to the present day, a friend recounted a story that inspired this blog post. He spoke about having a conversation with a very famous Jesuit, who afterwards looked at him in silence for about a minute, and then gave him some pastoral advice – when recounting this story he said to me, ‘He even said things to me that I hadn’t told him about’.

AMDG    Feast of  St Ignatius

“ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God! ” Luke 12:21

This is the challWhosAtYourCenter-1rfhglh0klcn41e93wwg46ro4wpl9mezyp0u8kp9qsisenge at the heart of our faith – Who is at the center of your life?  Is it Me or God ?  If I am an honest is God an insurance policy that I have just in case my other plans don’t work out?  Is my career the most important thing and I am happy to come to church as long as God doesn’t get in the way – or ask me to do anything that will disturb my plans?   As long as I keep God in a box that is labelled ‘Sunday’ or ‘Church’ he won’t bother for the rest of the week…..

So many of us who call ourselves Christians – live like this…. Spending some much time and energy storing up treasure for ourselves – that we don’t really want God to trouble us…..  where do you put your trust?  Do you place your trust totally in God ?

51vxcbXaBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_According to the American Franciscan, Richard Rohr, it is the job of the first half of life – to establish ourselves, to leave home, to build an identity, to get a qualification (might be a university degree) and to start a career.  We all need to pass through this stage and therefore we develop a spirituality for the first half of our life – which is more concerned with outer things than inner things,  so my Catholicism is   and it is often only when a crisis comes along that we are jolted off our path.   Often it is when someone we love dies, maybe we go through an illness, and suddenly we start asking ourself – what is life all about?  All the stuff that was important about establishing our identity now becomes less important  and we start ‘Falling Upwards’ as Richard Rohr calls it – we start to put God in the center.

This happened to a young Spanish Nobleman, Inigo Lopez de Loyola – who found himself as a soldier defending the town of Pamplona – in 1521 – when a French Canonball ripped through his legs and shattered his knee.  Forced to recover in bed he started to ask himself these deeper questions – and realised it wasn’t just his knee that was shattered but also his self-image, his understanding of himself.  Bed ridden for 9 months he dreams about the future – about returning to his chivalrous ways ….  But as time dragged on and boredom forced him to read the only books that were at hand – religious books about the saints …. He noticed that he started to have a second type of daydream – instead of returning to be a solider for the King – he would become a pilgrim – a soldier for God.Thus 495 years ago began an journey that leads us to here to this beautiful church today –the Holy Name was founded in 1871 by men who have followed in the footsteps of Inigo.

Ignatius at Pamplona Back recovering in his bed in Loyola, Inigo the swashbuckling soldier (now crippled) notices that he starts to have a second type of dream which is obviously fed by his reading  – doing great things for God – outdoing the saints in holiness.  He noticed this left him feeling a deep joy and peace that lasted longer the other dreams of future worldly glories ahead….  He had discovered already the fruits of making yourself ‘rich in the sight of God’ … Inigo was becoming Ignatius.  He realised that up till then he had wasted too much time chasing  ‘vainglories’  – it all seemed worthless now when compared to things of God.

The genius of St Ignatius – a great gift for me in my life which I will always be grateful for – is that he allowed God to teach him – and then showed others how to search for God’s will in their lives.  He taught us to recognised Spiritual Consolation – the joy and the peace and the love that comes from moving closer to God….  We call this Ignatian Spirituality ….  And it is an incredible legacy that has led to countless men and women changing their lives – abandoning our obsession with material wealth and storing treasures that make us rich in the eyes of God.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIpAAAAJGI0YzQzZDMyLTc5MzQtNGY1Ni1hMTc0LTRjMmZkMjVjNWI4MQAfter the fall of the Berlin Wall – the end of Communism – we all hoped for an new age of peace, of stability but in fact what happened was the world became more complicated …..  this new multi-polar world has been marked by Four things – that military planners called VUCA.   Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.  The world seems to have become less predictable, more scary – Volatile in the nature and speed of change,  Uncertain in the lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise.  Complex in the different forces and issues, and Ambiguous in that reality is difficult to read now, Confusion seems to abound.

This is a confusing and at times scary world….  Where an 80 year old priest is brutally executed during mass, with unprecedented people on the move, with an acceleration of technological change that has never been seen before.

St Ignatius gives us a fantastic map to navigate our way through this world.  As God so patiently taught him – he wishes us to learn in a similar way – to be taught by God – who longs to be our teacher. It is a map – that helps us to navigate through a hurting and crazy world….  His way of praying helps us to listen to our teacher – even though there is so much to distract us away from these heavenly treasures.

And one his sons, Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope – is currently in Poland – celebrating mass as we speak with 3 million young people – Francis will be delighted to share such a special day for him ( and all Jesuits) with such a wonderful crowd – including our group of 20 from here.  The Pope’s  desire will be to share with all those youngsters the Joy of putting God in the center of your life – the Joy of being truly free – knowing that you are loved sinner – the peace that comes from falling Upward and knowing that in the end everything will be all alright.

Homily given at the Holy Name Church, Manchester  –   July 31st 2016