An Augustinian, a Franciscan, and a Jesuit all die and go to heaven. Jesus asks each one: “If you could go back, what would you change about your life?”
The Augustinian pondered and then said, “There’s so much sin in the world. If I went back, I’d try and stop people from committing so much sin.”
The Franciscan thought a bit before saying, “There’s so much poverty in the world. If I went back, I’d try and get people to share more of their wealth with the poor.”
The Jesuit looked at Jesus and said, “If I went back, I’d change my doctor.”
In his autobiography, Ignatius explains how, toward the end of his life, the thought of his own death filled him with intense joy. The prospect of soon being reunited with his Creator and Lord made him “melt into tears.”
At the same time, Ignatius was in love with life. He could find God in all things and serve him in every activity and event, just as his spirituality teaches us. There was no need to wait until after death to taste the joy of God’s presence. In practice, finding God in all things gives us the opportunity to consider our lives here and now as the precise place where we can already experience the fullness of God’s love.
Ignatius, with his genuine insight into human nature, warned against two possible pitfalls in the spiritual life: nostalgia for the past and needless dreaming about the future. It makes sense to look back on past experiences, for in doing so we can trace specific moments of God’s presence. We recognize his presence in experiences of peace and joy, vitality and trust. Our past can provide a rich source of learning, especially since we can use times of reflection to inspire our choices. Such ongoing reflection gives us the opportunity to adapt our lives now so that they’re more closely linked to the ways God is drawing us. But we can also get stuck in our own past and end up watching the same film over and over. Whether that is a consequence of regret or anger, the result is the same: we allow ourselves to withdraw from the only time that really exists—the present.