Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stirring the spark into flame

July 31 is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.

I have been blest to have studied in two Jesuit universities (the University of Scranton for my undergraduate degree and Boston College for my doctorate). 

I have also been privileged to have met some good Jesuits, one of my favorites was Father Dean Brackley, S.J. After the 1989 martyrdom of the six Jesuits at the San Salvador University of Central America (UCA), he joined their faculty. He died in October 2011 of pancreatic cancer.

One of Dean’s books, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times, has been extremely significant for my life, particularly helpful as I discerned whether God was rally calling me to Honduras. (I heartily recommend the book, now available in Spanish translation from the UCA.)

In this book Dean wrote:

“The spirituality we associate with [St. Ignatius] is all about tending the flame in us, as it is purified, flourishes, or even flags, and stirring the fire in others.”

In 2003 I went to Peru with a group sponsored by Maryknoll and the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. In Cusco we met with some university students and I sad a few words to them. After the meeting ended, I approached a group of students and one asked me, “You have such chispa. How do you keep it up?” (Chispa  is Spanish for “spark.”)

My immediate answer – without even thinking – was: My contact with students and my direct contact with the poor, especially in El Salvador. As I reflected later, I would have to add that I also need daily time for quiet prayer in the morning

About a year later I was experiencing some conflicts in my ministry. I had sought out a spiritual director and told her that I felt that the spark in me was growing faint. In many ways I was asking the Lord to breathe on it and make it burn more strongly.

This brought to mind for me a passage from Isaiah 42: 3:

“A bruised reed he will not crush, nor will he snuff out a smoldering wick.”

My spiritual director and a counselor helped God restore the spark in me.

Now in Honduras I feel that God is keeping this spark alive, stirring it into flame, as I work with the poor.

I also see that God is working through me to help stir the fire in others. The last few weeks I have seen some marvelous advances in the lives and ministries of so many people in the Dulce Nombre parish. God is truly stirring the sparks into flame and I’ve been privileged to be part of this process.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Here's a link to a short biography of St. Ignatius Loyola: http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=5267

Charles said...

Brackley's book is extremely good. I can also recommend "Ignatius of Loyola. Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works" (G. E. Ganss, ed., 1991, Paulist Press) for those interested in Ignatius' life and methods. Ignatius' contemplation was more kataphatic, while Brackley was more apophatic. But the two agreed that we learn from both pleasant and unpleasant spiritual experiences and should not seek one or the other.

This idea traces back perhaps to the desert father Evagrius, who saw all beings, whether angels, devils, or humans as progressions on a ladder toward God. If one keeps on bumping into devils, it's a hint one is traveling the wrong direction, whereas the more angels one finds, the more apt one is to be on the right track. But even pleasant spiritual experiences can mislead one.

But this is doubtless familiar material for Dr. Brother John anything. :-)