St. Ignatius of Loyola

I describe myself as having an Ignatian spirituality (combined with a deep commitment to the Vincentian charism) and so today is a special one for me – the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

Ignatius was a gambler, a ladies man, a soldier. He found God in an interesting way. Ignatius was injured in battle, struck by a cannon ball that wounded one leg and broke the other. When the injury healed, one of his legs was shorter than the other, with a visible lump where a bone protruded. This was completely unacceptable to the ladies’ man: Ignatius “considered it a fate worse than death not to be able to wear the long-tight-fitting boots and hose of the courtier.” So he told doctors to saw off the knob of bone and lengthen the leg.

During his long recuperation, when he asked for something to read (hoping for some romance novels), he was told that all that was available were two books, one on the life of Christ and one on the lives of the saints. Probably on little more than the idea that anything was better than nothing, he started to read. The more he read, the more he came to see that the lives of the saints were worthy of imitating. But at the same time, he continued to daydream of fame and glory, fantasizing about winning the love of beautiful women.

Then Ignatius started to notice something. Reading and thinking about the lives of the saints and daydreaming about his expoits in war and love both brought him enjoyment while he was engaged in the activity. But he noticed that after reading and thinking of saints and Christ, he experienced feelings of peace and satisfaction. After his daydreams, he felt restless and unsatisfied. This was the beginning of Ignatius’ conversion and the beginning of his spiritual discernment or discernment of spirits, which is so central to Ignatian spirituality.

Ultimately, Ignatius came to understand how God is involved with the world he created and with each one of us. His vision of God working with creation and inviting each of us to labor with Jesus changed his life. Central to that was a spirituality based on deepening a personal relationship with God and coming to see ever more deeply how God loves and works in our lives. What Ignatius realized was that not only the intellect, but also the emotions and feelings help us to come to a knowledge of the action of God in our lives.

Here is the prayer Ignatius wrote that I pray every morning:

Take Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will —
all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours;
do with it what you will.
Give me only your love
and your grace.
That is enough for me.

Reclaiming Who I Am: The Myths We Live With As Humans Podcast

This podcast is the first in a series entitled, Reclaiming Who I Am, drawn from a three-day retreat I gave in February 2008. The title refers to the fact that over the course of our lives things happen that cause us to lose sight of who we really our. Our expierences creat certain baggage in us; we deevelop certain myths. In this first podcast, I identify some of the myths we live with that block us from seeing ourselves as God sees us, and that therefore block our ability to receive God’s love fully. The podcast length is 16:57. You can stream it from the icon below or can download it here.

Martha’s Faith

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus. We all know Martha, of “Martha and Mary,” sisters of Lazarus. Usually when we think of Martha, we think of the exchange between her and Jesus when Martha is bustling around working while her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus feet. Martha complains, and Jesus admonishes her that “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” That scene seems to diminish Martha (notwithstanding the fact that Martha took care of necessary tasks and the world could not survive without its Marthas).

Martha gets her moment, however. It occurs when Jesus arrives after the death of Lazarus. Martha chides Jesus for not showing up earlier, telling him that he could have prevented the death of her brother if he had arrived in time. Then she adds that “even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus tells her he is the resurrection and the life and asks if she believes that whoever believes in him will live even if he dies. And Martha, without hesitation, professes her faith: “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

This is Martha’s shining moment. She demonstrates enormous faith, even as she is mourning her brother’s death. We don’t know what significance Martha’s affirmation had for Jesus at that moment, but in his humanness, her affirmation surely meant something to Him. It is an affirmation that reveals the glory of God.

In terms of our own lives, the Women’s Bible Commentary frames the question Martha faced this way: “Can I let go of the limits that one places on what is possible in order to embrace the limitless possibilities offered by Jesus?” Can we?

The Mustard Seed and the Kingdom of God

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed “that a person took and sowed in a field.  It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants….[where] the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.”

I saw an video on the Work of the People website that put an interesting spin on this comparison. The narrator noted that neither is the mustard seed the smallest seed nor does it grow to be a particularly large tree or shrub. So what would Jesus’ audience have made of this story?

What is true about the mustard seed – something that would have been known to Jesus’ listeners – is that the mustard seed, once planted, grows out of control. It spreads like weeds, reseeding itself and growing everywhere.

That gives a different interpretation to the comparison than the one we tend to draw when we hear it. It is not about small and big, but about the Kingdom spreading wildly, and not through our control, but through God’s.

Two Kinds of Conversion

At the recommentation of my friend Tim, I’m reading The Contagion of Jesus, by Sebastian Moore. In it, Moore describes two kinds of conversion. “There is the conversion of the godless to God, and there is the conversion of the godly to the realisation that he has been radically wrong about God, and about what God is asking of us.”

Of the two, it seems to me that the second can often be the far more difficult conversion. Although it is we who are created in the image of God, we have a tendency to create God in our image. And the images we have of God, particularly those that were impressed upon us when we are young, can be very difficult to break.

A necessary starting point is humility. We have to be able to recognize we can be “godly” and still be wrong. Moore gives the example of Saul – he was a godly man, a “Pharisee, trained in the God of law and rigour.” Yet he was dead wrong about what God wanted of him.

Our mistakes may not be as drastic as Saul’s, but we need to be open to the possibility that we can sometimes be wrong about what God wants of us and wrong about our image of God. So we need to be open to the idea that there may be another image, another possibility, and that it may be more right than the one we currently have.

The Wheat and the Weeds

Jesus tells the parable of the sower of good seed in today’s Gospel. The man sows good seed and then discovers that his enemy has sowed weeds all through the wheat so that when the crop grew and bore fruit, weeds grew along with the wheat. When his servants ask if they should cut down the weeds, he says no…that doing so might uproot the good wheat. Thus they should wait for the harvest and collect it all, burning the weeds and gathering the wheat in his barn.

The simplistic interpretation is: don’t worry, at the end of the day the bad guys will get their due. They will get pulled out and burned as they ought.

But perhaps what Jesus was trying to convey is that while they are growing, we don’t always do a good job identifying the wheat from the weeds. We often draw conclusions about people based on our observations, which are partial at best and which don’t afford us the opportunity to see into another’s mind and soul. What appears as weeds may very well be wheat. So perhaps we ought let God take care of sorting things out at the end of the day…especially since unlike a weed, which will always be a weed, people grow and change and can be pruned by God (directly and through others) to bear beautiful fruit.

Being with God and not just Talking about God

John Eudes Bamberger once said of Thomas Merton, “He was a theologian in the patristic manner, that is to say, one who could speak of God because he has experienced Him.  Evagrius had put it very succinctly: ‘A theologian is a person who truly prays; the one who truly prays is a theologian.’”

We talk about a lot of things.  One of the things we talk about is God.  Talking about God is not a bad thing.  But if we only talk about God, if we don’t the time to be with God, our talk is just dry words.  We need to experience God and we need to make sure all the words we so love to use don’t get in the way of that.

Equally, we need to be sure that the people whose words we are listening to are “theologians in the patristic manner.”  People who truly pray.  People who experience God and who speak out of that experience, and not merely out of their own heads.


Julian’s Hazelnut

Julian of Norwich was one of the great mystical writers of the 14th Century. She understood that all that exists was created and is sustained by God’s love. For Julian, the hazelnut was an important image of this and it is an image I love. She describes God’s revelation to her in a book called Revelation of Love (sometimes called A Book of Showings) like this:

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has been through the love of God.

“In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Creator and the protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.”

For Julian, the hazelnut was a sign of hope, a sign of the power of God that sustains us. What are the signs of hope in your life?


The July issue of Listen, a newsletter for spiritual direction, talks about the importance of receptivity.   “A receptive person tunes in, opens up, and becomes vulnerable to reality – risking growth and transformation.” 

Too often, however, “we turn off our receptivity and openness, chooing instead to busy ourselves with tasks.  We become distracted and miss the gift of the hummingbird, the temple bell, the teapot, the incarnate world.”  Receptivity does make us vulnerable by opening us up to mystery.  And so we sometimes fear it.

However, when we choose receptivity, “we allow Holiness room to rest and grow within our inner landscape.”  The piece has particular resonance with me now, having just finished my retreat and still wallowing in the joy of that time with God.  It is amazing what God can do when we put aside our busyness and open ourselves to growing our relationship with God.