Another year is drawing to an end, but before we welcome 2022, we should spend some time reflecting on 2021. The Examen teaches us the importance of reviewing time so that we can learn to recognize where God has been present and active in our lives and acknowledge the ways that we have responded…or not. At The Jesuit Post, we write and reflect on events going on in the world, things that inspire and frustrate us, and the various places that we see God active or challenging us to be active. Perhaps some of our most-read pieces represent a convergence of the things that are important to all of us. Because of that, I’d like to present the most-read articles of 2021 as a way to review some of the important moments and themes of the year.
This excerpt from Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ’s new book, The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditations with Ignatius of Loyola, reviews some of the history of racism within Christianity in the United States. In particular, Saint-Jean discusses the evolution of “White Jesus” and how this image has been used to justify racist attitudes and actions. As much as we would love to think of this as a thing of the past, we are all too aware of the persistence of racism in America and the ways in which it may continue to persist among Christians.
After realizing the destructive path that he was on and where it might lead, this young Jesuit opened up about his struggle with alcoholism and sought help. In this piece, he shares openly and honestly about the shame that he felt, the compassion he received, and the community of support that he found in Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe that this piece connected with so many people because many of us carry some sort of burden and we don’t know how to get help or what people will think of us when they know about our struggles. I hope that the story of this Jesuit will encourage us all to find help when we need us and support those around us seeking to improve themselves in any way.
One of the most shocking events of the year was the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. David Inczauskis, SJ, discusses the various elements that converged that led to many Christians participating in such an event. He also reflects on the liberation theology of Raphael Warnock and how it can offer a path forward. As we quickly approach the year anniversary of this event, we must continue to reflect on the dangerous attitudes that led to it and how the gospel calls us to drive out sources of division and oppression.
The Pixar movie Soul provides a creative way to think about the topics of vocation and discernment. Tim Breen, SJ, reflects on the concept of a “spark” brought up in the movie, which is interpreted by the main character as the thing that we are meant to do with our lives. The movie challenges this notion and helps those of us who might wrestle with the question, “what if I choose the wrong thing?” In a time that seems so uncertain, I think the popularity of this movie and the connections that Breen makes reflects the importance of finding purpose and meaning in our lives.
Pope Francis declared 2021 to be the “Year of St. Joseph” through his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde. Mike Martinez, SJ, reflects on this silent Saint and how he can often go overlooked. Martinez reflects on the life and example of St. Joseph and provides five important lessons that we can all learn from the adoptive father of Jesus. Even though the Year of St. Joseph has come to an end, the lessons and example of St. Joseph would continue to serve us well in the new year and every year.
A certain memory of Peter Claver is often used by Catholics to distance themselves from actually engaging in ministry or relationships with Black Americans. Christopher Smith reflects on the legacy of Claver and how a false image of the Saint is often used as a method of deflection, but could instead be used to challenge Catholics. We are often quick to point out the ways in which the Church and groups within the Church have ministered to people of color, but too often these only result in doing the minimum and holding them at arm’s length. As we move into a new year, we work to be a Church that is unafraid to welcome Black people.
The Netflix documentary Seaspiracy attracted a great deal of attention when it was released. Unfortunately, the documentary is littered with factual errors, consistently misrepresents important ocean conservation issues, and draws conclusions that are not supported by the evidence. Bryan Galligan, SJ, a Jesuit marine biologist, does some fact-checking on the series and helps us to understand some of the issues facing marine conservation. The popularity of Seaspiracy speaks to our ongoing environmental concerns. Galligan points out these concerns are very real and the best thing that we can do is be well-informed so that we can take proper action.
This year, Fr. James Martin, SJ, released his latest book, Learning to Pray. Ian Peoples, SJ, reviews the book, which helps him to reflect on his own journey of prayer and vocation. Learning to Pray provides helpful insights for those that are looking to develop a regular practice of prayer and can also help those more experienced in prayer to return to their roots. Father Martin provides great advice and straightforward answers to questions that so many of us have regarding prayer. The popularity of this book is a reminder that we all continue to search for meaning and connection to God in prayer can help us to learn who we are.
On the occasion of our updated website reveal, Fr. James Martin reflected about the importance of renewal. We are all in need of growth and renewal from time to time. Without this growth, we risk becoming stagnant and stuck in our ways. The Catholic Church itself requires renewal, which it has experienced at various moments in its history. As we continue through the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be easy for us to feel stuck in our ways or routine. Fr. Martin offers helpful tips so that we can let God renew us. This renewal will continue to be important as we face the new year.
This year we started the “Jesuit 101” series as part of the Ignatian Year. The focus of the series is to focus on different elements of Ignatian Spirituality and prominent Jesuit themes. Ian Peoples, SJ, wrote the first piece in the series, which explains the history and major components of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Spiritual Exercises are the heart of Ignatian Spirituality as well as the heart and soul of the Jesuit Order. It is fitting that this is the most read TJP article of 2021.
As we look back on 2021 through these articles, we can see a combination of some of our greatest concerns and the ways in which we find hope. Racism continues to plague our society and the fact that multiple pieces this year reflected on this reality shows that it is something that remains on our minds and hearts. As we look toward a new year we need to continue to fight for a much more just, equitable, and welcoming society through the prophetic witness of the gospel. As we continue to face racism, environmental issues, and the ongoing pandemic, we also continue to hope as we search for greater depth and meaning in our lives.
I believe that the 3 most-read articles of the year reveal where we find hope and meaning. Prayer is essential for us because it is how we connect with God and only God can help us to connect with our true selves. It is through this connection to God in prayer that we are both called to renewal and growth and actually find what we need to be renewed. For all influenced by Ignatian Spirituality, the Spiritual Exercises provides an experience of encounter with God that helps us to develop a deeper relationship with God in prayer, who ultimately calls us to a renewal of life. Let us now look forward to the coming of the new year, aware of the challenges that we continue to face, but also filled with hope that God will continue to help us to draw us into friendship and show us the path to a better world.