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Friday, March 15, 2013

Forward with the Cross and Ignatian Spirituality

Waiting for the new pope in St. Peter's Square. 
All photos from Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)

On the day after his election, the pope retrieved his luggage at the hostel that he had checked into as a cardinal. This gave us an image of an ordinary man in pontifical garb going about ordinary tasks.

His morning began in prayer at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, which holds an iconic statue of the Blessed Mother, one known for protecting Rome in the past. This provided another image—the pleadings of the Bishop of Rome to the Mother of God for Christ's divine assistance.

This mingling of the worldly (the pope chatting with hostel staff) and the prayerful (the pope on his knees) is, I think, a pairing of events that tells us much about this man and what he will bring to the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. In particular, this duet of the spiritual and the ordinary is the formula provided to us in the gospel. It is the necessary pairing of the liturgies of worship and the liturgies of the baptized living in the everyday world.

As taught in particular by Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a proper appreciation of both the invisible and visible is precisely what’s needed to adequately engage our modern ills, including the crises of ecology.

We know that Pope Francis spent much of his life as a priest in the world. He eschewed diocesan mansions and rode mass transit. He cooked his own meals and personally served the poor in his care.

But his heart is not of the world. As a Jesuit he takes seriously the spirituality of the founder of the Society of Jesus. This is important for Catholic ecologists to ponder.

A priest friend has spoken often over the years about the Ignatian spiritual exercises. While I was drawn to them, being the sinner that I am I never followed through. But many people do and these Jesuit gifts to Catholic spirituality deserve reflection.

From (from Loyola Press) comes this brief explanation: 
The Ignatian approach to good choices rests on several presuppositions. First it assumes that the alternatives being considered are all positive, constructive, and morally correct. The person making the decision is someone who is spiritually maturing and who wants to make the choice that will lead to a deeper relationship with God.
The Ignatian approach to good choices emphasizes freedom. Making a free decision means that we set aside our own preferences and preconceptions and strive to be free of social pressures and psychological strains. We carefully examine our motives and desires. This isn’t easy. Much of the prayer and reflection in Ignatian decision making has to do with achieving the detachment necessary to choose freely.
The Ignatian approach requires work. It asks that we make every reasonable effort to find God’s will. This involves a sincere commitment to pray and to achieve self-knowledge. We need to gather all the relevant information about our alternatives and carefully weigh all the circumstances and likely outcomes. Decision making in the Ignatian mode involves both the heart and the mind. 
St. Ignatius of Loyola
In particular, we learn this about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: 
The Spiritual Exercises grew out of Ignatius Loyola’s personal experience as a man seeking to grow in union with God and to discern God’s will. He kept a journal as he gained spiritual insight and deepened his spiritual experience. He added to these notes as he directed other people and discovered what “worked.” Eventually Ignatius gathered these prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully designed framework of a retreat, which he called “spiritual exercises.”
Ignatius wrote that the Exercises: “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”
Visit the website for more—much more. For now let us wonder what it means to have a pontiff reared in this particular spiritual environment.

Of course, none of this is to say that Pope Francis’s predecessors were not spiritual—hardly! I mean only to consider one aspect about our new pontiff. And indeed, in learning more about what Ignatius of Loyola has given us, I am not surprised how all this resonates with Benedict XVI’s call for a change in our “interior attitudes.”

For the purpose of this blog, one reason that Benedict XVI so often challenged our inner selves (and thus our desires) was for the protection of local and global ecosystems—to say nothing of cultures, nations, and families.

And certainly, all ecologists—whether secular, atheistic, Catholic, or what have you—offer the same warning. They challenge us to seek this Ignatian “conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”

It would seem that what the Holy Spirit has offered the Church is a pontiff with particular charisms that can stand atop the glorious philosophical, theological, and spiritual foundations of his predecessors. Pope Francis can take their thoughts, their direction, their teachings, and their spirituality and in a special and important way prompt us all to achieve “the detachment necessary to choose freely.”

In doing so—with our hearts finding rest in God and not in worldly gluttony—we can (at the very least) consume less of the planet's resources.

But none of this will be easy and the triumph is a ways off.

In his book Faith and the Future (Ignatius Press)—written between 1969 and 1970—Joseph Ratzinger wrote this: 
It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek [. . .] The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret. 
Here, Ratzinger echoes another Jesuit, the grand theologian Karl Rahner, who famously noted that “[t]he Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” And indeed, there are many theologians who have spoken of such practical spirituality and the future of the Church. It was this ecclesial current that surged in the pontificates of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who themselves were able to build on the substantial social teachings that came before them.

Now, by the grace of God, comes Pope Francis to teach his universal flock about a meekness rooted in a spiritual growth that must become incarnate in our very troubled, polluted world.

As Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have taught over and over again, the path that will heal the social, spiritual, personal, and global effects of sin is the way of the Cross—and this is exactly what we hear—quite emphatically—in the first homily of Pope Francis
This Gospel [from Matthew 16] continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord. 
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage—the courage—to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. 
And so we go forward. We do so shepherded by a pontiff elected in a Lenten conclave, a Bishop of Rome to be inaugurated at a Mass on Tuesday, March 19th—the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal church who was himself a humble man, one who toiled and prayed and believed the word of God, and thus loved and protected the Word of God made flesh.

For us today, we—the Body of Christ—find ourselves in a special time within the ongoing journey of the Church. And certainly, these days, months, and years will bring special demands on the faithful. They will bring many crosses and many opportunities to share and live the gospel.

But in this going forward, we must not fear.

We can find much comfort in the continuity of teachings and practice—of worldly engagement and deep spiritual rigor—offered to us by God and made known uniquely through the gifts of the current Servant of the Servants of God and those that came before him.

May God bless and protect Pope Francis.

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