Today the Church, and especially Jesuits around the globe, celebrates the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
As I went for a run this morning - a 6.2-mile run from Villa Marquette to Barb's Bakery in Northport - I reflected for most of the 47:08 minutes on my life and the Society of Jesus. On October 19th this year, I will celebrate my 30th birthday (on this date, too, the Church in the United States celebrates the Feast of the North American Martyrs). Looking back on the three decades of my life, I'm struck with how each decade bears basically two particular graces that have shaped and influenced my life tremendously.
As a child, I would locate the two primary graces in faith and music. I grew up in something of a Catholic ghetto; with the exception of my Lutheran father and his family, I think that nearly everyone I knew was Catholic. Indeed, the great childhood distinction between kids on our block fell between those who went to the parish school and those who were designated simply as "publics," so dubbed because they went to the local public school.
I cannot claim that I loved going to Mass. I didn't. I found it boring. Nevertheless, it became a practice, a discipline, that gave me the space and time to grow up spiritually. One priest in particular, Father Stephen Moran, really captivated my imagination...I still remember a homily whose tagline was "Think Mink" and involved a contest his mother participated in to win a mink stole. Serving Mass for Father Moran and for Monsignor Corrigan - who always referred to me as his 'Number One Server' - helped to cultivate a healthy respect for the priesthood and inspired in me, from an early age, a desire to serve the Church.
I'm grateful that my parents decided that a tin whistle and an accordion were better ways to express my Irish heritage than Irish dancing would have been. I have played Irish music for nearly twenty-two years. I will readily admit that I'm not as polished as I used to be, or could be, but I still love the musical tradition that I have been graced to be a part of. Music, as I look back on it, became my second language, another way of expressing myself. For a time, I reckon, I was most fully myself when I was playing and performing. After over two decades of music, of playing with other musicians, by myself, and for Irish dancers, I cannot begin to describe how important music has been to my life. Some of my closest friendships have been forged in and through Irish music and dancing. It has been, truly, a privilege to be an active participant in my Irish culture.
As a teenager, the great graces were a love of learning and a deepening of faith. I struggled terribly during my first two years of high school. I guess I was a late-bloomer. But with a six-month go at Weight-Watchers (I lost over 60 pounds) and some personal maturing, I found the last part of my high school experience to be overwhelmingly positive. I fell in love with learning and especially with writing. It was stamped on my heart that, in the future, no matter what it was that I studied it would have to be something that I loved enough to teach. It may be a shock for people to learn that I began my college studies as a science major (Biology and then Chemistry) but abandoned that to study Theology.
With a growth in my love for learning came a profound deepening of my faith. I was so blessed to have encountered numerous Jesuits in high school and college and these men were formative in my development as a Catholic. They were, to a man, smart and faithful, funny and sincere, intellectually adroit and yet humble. One once told me that the four pillars of a functional Jesuit were "Intelligence, Independence, Cynicism, and Sarcasm." He may have overstated the case just a bit, but the love and passion of these men helped to give a sense of how I, too, might live my own life in service to the Church as a companion of Jesus.
Finally, in the last ten years, there has been no grace greater in my life than the Society of Jesus. I pray with gratitude each day that I continue to live out my discipleship as a Companion of Jesus. I am humbled to think that I stand in a line of Jesuits such as Ignatius and Xavier, Matteo Ricci and Friedrich Spee, Alfred Delp and Karl Rahner, Henri De Lubac and Teilhard de Chardin, Pedro Arrupe and John Hardon. I look more immediately and consider that the men I consider to be the greats - Howard Gray, Walt Farrell, Bill Verbryke, Frank Canfield, Ben Fiore, Mark Massa, Jim Keenan, Paul Crowley, Tom Schubek, John O'Malley, Robert Welsh - are all men I call proudly "brother." Men of such wide and varying talents who have dedicated themselves wholly and unabashedly to serving Christ and his Church.
There are certain corners of the Church who seem to revel in calling attention to every fault and failing of any member of the Jesuits. As I have said in the past, I think this trend is itself satanic and a profound mark of the evil spirit. This is not to say that neither individuals nor the corporate Society is without blemish; far from it. But we are, all of us, sinners who struggle day in, day out, to discern how Christ is calling us to love more deeply and to "help souls" and, in so doing, help to bring about God's Kingdom on earth.
I include the aforementioned comments simply because I think it can be forgotten that part of our lives as disciples involves a continual discernment of God's Spirit. This is one of the great graces of Ignatius, one that he offers to the entire Church through the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius teaches us that God deals directly with the human person and that we must pay attention to our affective responses, the innermost stirring of our hearts, as we attempt to know more clearly how we are being called. Discernment of God's Spirit makes us vulnerable: very often, what we want immediately is not what we sincerely desire. It is this, in the deepest and most vibrant desires of our heart, that God speaks to us. And, at times, in order to live fully this desire, we have to sacrifice some of our wants. (Case in point: if I desire to lose weight in order to be healthy, I will sacrifice eating dessert each night even though I want the decadent slice of cake. So, too, if I desire to be available to be missioned even though my immediate want is to stay in my current location.)
One of the things I treasure mostly about Ignatian Spirituality is that it is passionate. It calls forth the entirety of the person, demanding a commitment of mind, body, and soul to cause of God's Kingdom. It is an exciting, vibrant spirituality that asks us to give ourselves fully. It wrings out from us all that we think we can give, and then uncovers within us resources we never dreamed we possessed. When I look back upon my time in the Jesuits, I am struck by this most of all: I walk with men who are passionately committed to Jesus Christ and who offer themselves unabashedly to the service of God's Kingdom.
Today, at Villa Marquette, we will celebrate the Feast with a feast! Bishop Cooney will join us for Eucharist and then we will have social and dinner (tonight, discernment of spirits will be necessary to decide between Gin and Vodka). As Companions of Jesus, we will bring ourselves to the Lord's Table in order to be nourished at the true source of our strength; and then we will head to another table where we will continue our celebration as brothers gathered together, a disparate group of disciples, drawn together as Friends in the Lord.
I ask today that you remember in pray all of those who claim Ignatian spirituality as their way of coming to know God's desires more deeply. In a special way, I ask for prayers for Jesuits throughout the world. Pray that we grow closer to the Lord through the Eucharist and, as men called to eat from the same plate and drink from the same cup, that we can unite our hearts with a passionate zeal for proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, thereby dedicating ourselves wholly and completely to God's Kingdom.