In Spain, where I live, the Jesuits sell both calendars and board games. The calendar includes a daily quote, usually a small reflection on something about Church history or teaching. The board game is meant to spark group conversations about faith, vocation, and concepts of God.
Both stood out to me when I first saw them because of their creativity, but also humility. Clearly, the Jesuits who created them were intending to go through the other’s door, creating something as simple as a calendar, or fun as a board game.
Something similar happens while reading Jim Manney’s newest book, What Matters Most and Why: Living the Spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I thought after eight years of Jesuit high school and college, and a decade of Jesuit formation, I might not find much new. I was wrong.
For each day of the year, Manney quotes the early Jesuits, modern Jesuits, and Ignatian Spirituality authors. There is something for everyone. Manney divides the year into three groups or movements: experience, reflection, and action. For each, I’ll share the quotes and reflections that stood out to me. While I hope my personal selection stirs something in you, too, I think you’ll be surprised as I was if you read the book yourself.
I appreciated the quotes I had never read, or at least had not pondered much. For example, Ignatius wrote, “Our Lord so preferred the poor to the rich that he chose the entire college of his apostles from among the poor.” Clearly, Christ had the mindset that the poor had something to teach the world.
Manney brings God to geometry. “Every part of our experience touches God in some way, but it remains our experience.” Our lives are circles. God is the tangent. He may very well open us to something new. For Karl Rahner, these moments are examples of “everyday mysticism.”
On the role of prayer, a dose of William Barry, SJ is in order. “But if prayer is a relationship, the issue is not information, but whether I believe he cares how I feel, and whether I am willing to let him know what I feel and desire, that is, to reveal myself.”
In thinking of life as a pilgrimage, I thought of the distinction between a pilgrim and a tourist. A tourist demands, while a pilgrim gratefully accepts whatever is offered to him or her.
David Fleming, SJ reminds us what it is to truly love. “But if God is Love loving, our life is a time of growing and maturing. Lovers don’t test each other. Lovers don’t constantly demand that the other measure up. Lovers give to those they love.” Dorthy Day reminds us that “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
Of course, the role of imagination in Ignatian Contemplation does not go untreated. As Graham Greene writes in The Power and the Glory, “When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always feel pity – that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.” This served as a reminder to use my imagination not just to insert myself into the Gospel stories, but to help imagine the humanity of people I am tempted to disregard, deject, or even demonize.
Perhaps I ought to imagine the Society’s founder as the popular guy at the party. Manney writes, “Ignatius, their leader, was the kind of guy who could connect with you immediately, remember your name, and win your trust.” Far from being drinking buddies, “Francis Xavier missed his friends so much in faraway Asia that he cut their names out of their letters and carried them close to his heart.”
I was struck by the x-ray analysis of John Kavanaugh, SJ when he writes, “I know of no other force so pervasive, so strong, and so seductive as the consumer ideology of capitalism and its fascination for endless accumulation, extended working hours, the drumming up of novel need fulfillments, the theologizing of the mall, the touting of economic comparison, the craving for legitimacy through money and possessions, and unrelieved competition at every level of life.” What I might decide to give up for Lent seems small with an analysis like this.
On disordered desires, Manney reminds us that “We make money so we can do something other than make money. A desire is disordered when it turns inward and narrows our lives. It becomes something that feeds our ego and crowds out relationships.” Note that if prayer is a relationship, it is part of what gets crowded out, too.
I appreciated the invitation to reflect on Jesus at the workplace. Manney writes, “Jesus was a worker, a tekton, usually translated as “carpenter,” but also “craftsman” and “stonemason.” He ran a small business: He estimated jobs, negotiated deals, figured out how to make a profit, paid his suppliers, and went after customers who owed him money. He went to sleep exhausted at night and got up before dawn to do it all over again. Jesus knows work intimately.” What might it be like to imagine Jesus driving to work in the car ahead of you on the freeway, in the seat behind you on the metro, or even working in the office down the hall?
Regarding humility, Manney notes that, for Ignatius, “All his life he avoided the trappings of wealth and comfort. No work was too menial. In fact, humble work and lowly people were to be preferred.” I know I would not complain about working at a high school or college in a coastal, cosmopolitan city, but would I be as excited to work further from home and in a country and culture not my own?
Far from the comforts of home, Francis Xavier wrote that “Authority should be gained by washing one’s rags and cooking one’s food without having need of anyone.” How do I react when someone does not show up for work, with anger and resentment or understanding and patience?
Regarding the actual origins of the Jesuits, Jerome Nadal, SJ wrote, “The Society cares for people who are being neglected or being cared for badly. This is why the Society exists. This is its strength.” Attending to plague victims, people locked up in prison, prostitutes, and the poor is how the Jesuits started. This was the chief work of the early Jesuits. Am I guilty of celebrating Jesuit March Madness success more than the good being done in the humblest of ministries?
For Ignatius, “We should never delay doing something good now because we might do something better later, even if the good we can do now seems small.” Small things are sometimes all we can do, like visiting a friend or family member in the hospital. In fact, it is what compassion means, the Latin combination of com, meaning “with,” and passio, meaning “suffer.” The gift of our loving presence may well be the most precious gift we have to offer.
I had never connected finding God in all things with humility, but Manney does. “All things’ is a lot of things – more than we can ever know. Our knowledge will always be partial.” Do I see this as an inhibition or an invitation?
In a final inviting question, Manney, after sharing an ancient Jewish midrash, asks us to ponder, “Who are the ‘Egyptians’ today – those who supposedly we consider outside God’s love?”
Perhaps this question can provide for us the three movements of Manney’s book and of Ignatian Spirituality itself, using our experiences, and those of others, to adequately reflect and ultimately drive us all to action.
Photo by Debby Hudson