On a cold February night, about 15 people stood outside in a parking lot of a burger joint, singing with guitar accompaniment. The people in the restaurant must have wondered why. There was no audience to be seen. They weren’t trying to proselytize or sell anything. They were there to be the visible presence of Love—to me. Seven stories up, in the hospital a block away, I sat in an isolation unit. This would be my home for the next 30 days. I flashed my room light on and off so they would know which one was mine and that I saw them and heard them over the phone. I was isolated but never alone.
This is what it means to have an Ignatian community.
Community is one of the legs of this three-legged stool of Ignatian spirituality, the others being individual practice and ministry. Individually we pray daily, reliving the Spiritual Exercises, guided by a spiritual director to discern our life choices and challenges. We go out into the community to minister through activism. But having a practicing community of companions inspires, encourages, and assures us as we live the tenets of faith. No one of us alone in any pursuit can thrive. The dark forces are way too tempting. We need others who share our Principle and Foundation.
Community is showing up on a dark winter night in the freezing cold to let one friend know she is not alone.
Ignatius shared his Exercises with his friends in Paris for their sake, but they discerned to create a vowed community together. They knew they needed and wanted to journey with each other. They believed the Spirit brought them together, and they believed in each other. They were lay people—students when they met—but their hearts had been so transformed by the Exercises and their understanding of God that there was no going back to their individual pursuits. And yet, each did pursue his unique talents in service to others, the community, and God. They held each other accountable. They discerned together. They disagreed and got frustrated with each other. But their bond held together across oceans, because it was a bond forged in their spiritual practice. Often isolated but never alone, they were contemplatives in action, not a single contemplative. They were the Company of Jesus with a shared mission.
Jesus was clear on the need for spirituality to be lived through community as well. We pray the Our Father, not the My Father. Give us this day, not give me this day. And we remember clearly, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Community isn’t just going to Mass each week and checking a box. Community is walking this pilgrimage together, sharing our burdens and challenges and being vulnerable, humble, and intimate with others. Community is showing up on a dark winter night in the freezing cold to let one friend know she is not alone.
By Easter I was out of isolation and home. It was an intimate experience of Resurrection. Doctors, nurses, and a whole lot of treatment brought me back from the edge of this life. And yet it was my community that brought back my experience of Infinite Love and being carried by Something Greater than just science. The Resurrection brings the community together.
Sometimes you just have to flash your light so others who speak Ignatian can find you.
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.