Since Pope Francis’s election, we’ve heard a lot about the Jesuit aversion to assuming positions of honor and power in the church. Every Jesuit makes this promise when he makes final vows: “I also promise that I will never strive for or ambition any prelacy or dignity outside the Society; and I will to the best of my ability never consent to my election unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin.”
Nevertheless, Jesuit prelates aren’t that uncommon. By Jesuit historian Peter Schineller’s count, there are currently five Jesuit cardinals, 18 archbishops, and 51 bishops. There may be more on the way. The pope recently appointed Michael Barber, SJ, to be bishop of Oakland, California. See Fr. Schineller’s recent article in America for the details.
In March, my wife and I missed a connection because of congestion at O’Hare airport. We vowed never to fly through O’Hare again if we could avoid it. But after reading the poem “Transportation” by Kristen Lindquist, I might reconsider.
Everyone in O’Hare is happy today.
Sun shines benevolently
onto glorious packaged snack foods
and racks of Bulls t-shirts.
My plane was twenty minutes early.
Even before I descend into the trippy light show
of the walkway between terminals,
I am ecstatic. I can’t stop smiling.
On my flight we saw Niagara Falls
and Middle America green and gold below.
Passengers thanked the pilot for his smooth landing
with such gratitude that I too
thanked him, with sudden and wholehearted sincerity.
Read the rest of the poem here. HT to Dennis Dillon, SJ.
The singer-songwriter Patty Griffin sang a Best Ignatian Song a couple of years ago. Here’s another wonderful Griffin tune, sent along by my friend and colleague Maria Mondragon.
Jesus said Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place
Lyrics here. (Click here to watch the video on YouTube.)
I like the way Lisa Kelly writes about the special qualities of Ignatian prayer. She says that we often let our minds wander in wonder in prayer, but not in Ignatian prayer:
Ignatian spirituality is about the exact opposite of letting your mind wonder carelessly in prayer. It is about being fully present to the moment, every moment, including those during prayer and those throughout the day. The depth of Ignatian prayer comes not from saying any particular words or incantation, but from being fully in a moment of relationship with Christ.
A few weeks ago, Beth Knobbe shared about her mission trip to Haiti. Today we share the video reflections of two Northwestern University students who accompanied Beth on the trip in a ministry of presence.
As one of the students says, “Service is messy…[but] I found God present in the fact that he’s with us there, working through these challenges.”
MOOCs–massive, open, online courses–are all the rage in higher education. Hundreds of thousands of students all over the world are enrolled in the best-known MOOCs, which are offered by Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and other prestigious institutions. Some think that online courses will soon eclipse the familiar residential college campus as the model for higher education.
The shift is underway in an unlikely place–refugee camps in East Africa. Several hundred students in three camps are currently enrolled in online courses leading to a degree from Regis University in Colorado. Hundreds of others have participated in service learning projects online. The effort is spearheaded by the Jesuit Commons, a consortium of Jesuit educators and institutions bringing Jesuit education to those on the margins of society. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, there’s talk of eventually creating an online-only Jesuit university.
The invaluable website The Jesuit Post celebrated its first anniversary a couple of weeks ago. “Celebrated” is putting it too strongly. As Brenden Bosse, SJ, wrote, the staff marked the occasion by “basically just keeping on with the work.” He said they did this “in the typical Jesuit style of not actually celebrating.”
Bosse is right; not making a big fuss does seem to be part of the Jesuit “style.” Jesuits are pretty low-key (at least most of them are). They’re not big on anniversaries, honors, pomp and circumstance. Ignatius disliked grandiosity. The Spiritual Exercises enjoin humility, simplicity, and restraint. Pope Francis has brought these qualities to the papacy, an institution not previously known for them, and I think they can be traced to his Jesuit formation.
Bosse praises amateurism. He quotes Dorothy Day, “there is nothing we can do but love.” He writes, “I think it is only in love, only in embracing our fundamental amateurism, that we might do as she suggests.”
When I was a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize the best advice I received was to adopt the motto: “Capable, but not qualified.” As in, “Hurricane relief? Sure I’m capable but not qualified.” Or, “Teaching music? Hey, why not… I’m capable… but I’m, ahem, most definitely not qualified.” Obviously there are people whom we need to be well qualified – heart surgeons, engineers, the pilots of my most recent flight – but there is a way in which even these at one point answered to their vocational calls by embracing their amateur passions. Even the most professional of professionals began by acknowledging not their qualifications, but their capabilities. When we do the same, we are freed to attempt an act of love.
There was an old Jesuit vocation poster that showed a cartoon of a Jesuit with his nose in a book while he was sawing a piece of wood with the teeth of a crocodile. The copy said, “Contemplatives in Action.” This is a bit of a caricatured understanding of what it means to be a contemplative in action, where your intellect is engaged as you go about doing the nitty-gritty work of the world. Being a contemplative in action is more than that, and it’s certainly not just for intellectuals.
In the Gospels we hear about Jesus and his disciples retreating every so often to pray. Their ministry didn’t seem to allow much time for it, but if they hadn’t stopped every so often they might have become mindless in their activity. This is the first step in being a contemplative in action: stopping.
Stopping gives you a chance to pause and acknowledge what you’ve been doing, whether in your work or personal life. It not only offers needed rest but also helps you move into the next stage: reflection.
“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:30)
Jesus and the apostles spoke to each other about all they did, they prayed and pondered, and examined their feelings and experiences. Reflecting on our daily experiences and our major ones helps us delve into their deeper meaning. This can be done alone using the Examen prayer, or it can be done as a group in intentional faith sharing. What did you learn from your experiences? What might God be telling you through them?
Next the disciples went back to their busy work, as we must do. The key here is letting your reflection and prayer time inform how you approach your work when you return to it. Perhaps you discover the need for more rest time or that you need to focus more on a particular relationship. Or maybe you find that the activity you’ve been up to has become dissatisfying. Or perhaps you discover a desire to reinvigorate your job.
Contemplation allows us to renew our active lives (work, play, relationships) so that all we do does not become mindless action but rather glorifies God. Then the cycle repeats. Your activity leads you again into a time of stopping, resting, reflecting, and then returning to activity with greater zeal and purpose. Being a contemplative in action means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life informs your active life. That is what contemplation in action means, and the cycle never ends.
Today’s Best Ignatian Song takes us back to the 70s, to the Jesus movement and to the hippie counterculture that put songs like “Jesus Is Just Alright” at the top of the charts. The Doobie Brothers made it a hit. Just saying the name of the band makes me smile. Go here to see the video on YouTube. H/T to Jennon Bell. Lyrics here.