The following reflection is part of our “Jesuit 101” series, celebrating the Ignatian Year. This piece helps us to dive deeper into Ignatian Discernment. To learn more about this discernment, check out our explainer article: “Jesuit 101: Finding Our Way Through Ignatian Discernment.”
Sometimes I think about pants pockets when I pray. The image shows up when I ask God to help me go over my day. I dig down into my front pockets, grabbing a handful of the day’s experiences. I stretch out my arms, closed fists pointing up, and slowly open my grip to look at the contents with God.
One prayer in particular reminds me that everything I have in those pockets has been given to me by God. It is called the Suscipe, and St. Ignatius gives it to us at the end of the Spiritual Exercises. When I pray with the Suscipe, instead of imagining regular pants I find myself rummaging through the cargo pants I used to wear in middle school. Those cargo pants had an absurd amount of extra pockets that I really never needed nor used, though I do think I put a hammer in that little loop a few times.
We tend to hold on to a lot of stuff. The Suscipe is a way to empty out our cargo pockets, item by item, onto a big table. The more pockets full of stuff you find, the bigger the table needs to be. What do we find in these pockets? Some things are what you might expect – nice clothes, shoes, assorted electronics, maybe a car, a fancy chair. Then, greater attachments – prized memories, intellectual accomplishments, hard-fought social status, a respectable salary, and all types of other things with big fat labels saying: MINE.
Entering religious life forced me to dig deep into all my pockets, removing all that I had and placing them openly before the Lord. It helped me discern the things I would be able to keep, and the things I needed to let go. Two of the items I dug out of my pockets were a fishing pole and a bow and arrow. They were very dear parts of my life. Surrendering them over to the Lord, knowing there would be much less time for them, was a humbling and difficult discernment process.
For three years in high school I had a subscription to Bassmaster Magazine, the magazine dedicated to pursuing and catching largemouth bass. I played a lot of sports growing up, was decent at music and school, but my dream career for those years was to be a professional fisherman. When I tell people this, some of them joke that I’m on track to be a “Fisher of Men.” They aren’t wrong, but I also just really want to be a fisher of fish.
There are many things about fishing that draw me in: the mystery of what lies below the water and the serenity and peace of drifting on a lake. I’m drawn into the excitement of hooking into a fish and the anticipation of finding out what species is at the end of the line. When I entered religious life I placed this passion into God’s hands for the foreseeable future, committing to the reality that I would fish much less, if at all.
Then, during the first COVID summer of 2020 I unexpectedly found myself at a Jesuit property on the shore of Lake Michigan, caring for the land and offering hospitality for Jesuits passing through. We are fortunate to have a boat, and I began dreaming about taking it out on a fishing trip. I met a few locals who taught me how to fish the area, and then I began taking Jesuits out on fishing trips. It was a dream come true. God had returned fishing to my life in a way I wouldn’t have expected. I was now able to share myself with my brother Jesuits by drawing them into the beauty of being out on the water.
Another possession I found in my cargo pockets was my bow. I grew up surrounded by Iowa cornfields. While the majority of this corn ends up in gasoline and animal feed, some corn made it onto my plate. I am, literally, a “corn-fed” Iowa boy. Some corn also becomes food for wildlife, including deer. The corn-fed deer in Iowa are no joke and the whitetail hunting community is strong. The fall before I entered the Jesuits, God blessed me with a new passion. I learned about land, wind, biology, and ecology. It was my first season bowhunting and I spent more than 100 hours 20 feet up in a deer stand. I fell in love with bowhunting and the quality time I spent out in the woods.
I never shot a deer, and I was just fine with that. Hunting was more about being immersed in nature – watching a squirrel be a squirrel for 30 minutes. One special evening as the sun was setting, a huge group of turkeys caused an explosion in the silent woods as they flew 30 feet straight up into the trees surrounding me. Hunting allowed God to speak to my heart, through a crisp breeze, a sunset, the deep silence of the forest. I knew joining the Jesuits would mean giving up this new passion for the foreseeable future, possibly forever. It was an odd invitation from God. Just as I discovered my love of bowhunting, God asked me to return it.
When the next bowhunting season came around, I was a Jesuit. For the next three falls, I saw the trees change color, the air turn crisp, and lived vicariously through a few friends who were able to get out in the woods.
Then, in my fourth year as a Jesuit, I was surprised to learn my Jesuit community would be spending two weeks at a property in Michigan with plenty of deer. The timing lined up perfectly with the deer season and a wonderful idea welled up in me. What if I could bowhunt this year, and even better, with one of my best Jesuit friends? The appropriately named Hunter D’Armond said yes and began our preparations. 1 We were like joyous kids.
And then we did it. We went bowhunting together. Two brothers in Christ, sharing something we loved and thought we had given up forever.
Discernment is often like this for me – God helps me empty my pockets of possessions and then gently invites me to surrender them. Sometimes I am asked to surrender them entirely. But sometimes, God smiles at me, transforms my offerings, and returns them more complete and Holy. This is what happened to me with fishing and bowhunting. Taking my Jesuit brothers out fishing was more fulfilling than any other fishing I had previously done. Bowhunting with Hunter allowed God to show me how much more deeply I could fall in love with hunting by sharing it. Take Lord and receive, do with them what You will. What do you find in your pockets? As you open your palms and share what you find, is God’s response?