Human life is enveloped by mystery. The common definition of ‘mystery’ is something that is puzzling, difficult to understand, inexplicable. Detective investigations and for me the operation of computers fit this meaning but there is a larger sense of ‘mystery’, too. I am amazed and fascinated by the mystery of the human brain, so complex that there seems to be no end to what we can discover about it. And I feel the same awe towards our vast universe and towards the evolving ecology of nature on our planet. Scientists, both professional and amateur, can spend lifetimes exploring these mysteries. Then there is the mystery of my existence and my place on earth – Who am I really? What gifts lie hidden within me? What is my purpose? At times this mystery can be painful to confront.
The evil, hurt and stupidity that some humans inflict on others is also a mystery. We can understand some of that with reference to a person’s or a people’s history, but when the outcome of such actions is yet further hurt to all concerned, its madness is obvious: and yet we still succumb to it.
Love is another mystery. There have been countless poems and songs about how it grasps us and confuses us. Why would someone really love me when I am not perfectly good or beautiful?
It seems to me that Love somehow provides an answer to the other mysteries. When I know I am loved I feel secure in my being then I can see more clearly what it is that I want to do that brings me deep satisfaction. Love draws me into relation with another, and with any created thing, so that I delight in its being. Love endures pain and loss. Love forgives and heals.
Love is the wonderful mystery of God (Karl Rahner called God, the Mystery). And at the heart of this mystery is that this God, a being beyond our full comprehension – but not so strange to us that we cannot talk about God rationally – wants to be known to us creatures, to become our friend, and intends for us to share in God’s own Loving nature.
When I explore mystery/Love/God I find myself stimulated intellectually, I become engaged affectively and artistically. I am consoled that no matter how long I live I will never have all the answers. With God, as with Love, there is always more within me and ahead of me to explore and discover.
We at Campion CIS can offer you our companionship as you follow your desires to explore more of the mysteries of life.
Towards the end of the Spiritual Exercises, when the Exercitant is praying on the Resurrection stories in the Gospels, Ignatius tells him or her to ask for the grace to rejoice and be glad at the victory and joy of Christ the Lord. We would be mistaken if we thought that Resurrection joy was mainly about us – hurrah, we are saved from sin and death, we will enter heaven because of Jesus’ resurrection! No, there is a lot more to it than that. Ignatius asks us to focus on Jesus’ joy – the joy that he would have experienced having accomplished his Father’s will, having endured the passion, and suffered death, and now being restored to full union with the Father, to his friends and to the land he had lived in. It is this joy of Jesus that we are invited to connect with. This is a bit like the joy we might feel at the wedding or graduation of a good friend or close relative. We are delighted for them and we resonate with their joy.
Jesus’ resurrection joy is not ended. Father and Spirit continue to delight in the work of Jesus. But we don’t feel God’s joy every day. So how do we open ourselves to this ever-present gift?
Last month, by chance, the theme for sharing in my CLC group (Christian Life Community – an Ignatian prayer community) was joy. We shared some experiences of the joy we had as members of CLC, and in our lives more broadly, and we found that joy was present in us sometimes when there was no special reason. So we wondered what the ground of that joy was. We came to see that it was indeed a gift – we could not manufacture the feelings of joy – but we also discovered that this gift came to us more readily when we had prepared ourselves for it. I don’t mean we anticipated it at any given moment, but certainly we had hope that this gift was available to us, and we had faith that God wanted to give it to us.
The other factor in finding joy was living a good life. Living true to who we are called to be – married or single or religious, being true to the spiritual goals we set ourselves – to the habits of prayer and good will to others. And this prepared ground also includes living healthily – getting the right amount of exercise and rest, and social and intellectual stimulation.
We concluded that good and right living, with faith and hope, don’t guarantee joy but they make it much easier for God to draw us into God’s ever-present joy.
So this Easter season let us enter into the joy of Jesus and the Father and the Spirit for Jesus’ Resurrection. Let us ask for the grace to rejoice and be glad at the victory and joy of Christ the Lord that the Spirit always breathes in us.
In the movie ‘Inside Out’ (2015), the character within 11 year old Riley who seems the least likeable is Sadness. Sadness just gets in the way and spoils things and it is Joy’s job to make sure that she is contained. Sadness is a type of grief that comes with feelings of heaviness, a dimming of light, depleted energy, soft tears, an inner ache, a slight sense of being hard done by. It is triggered when we realise that we can no longer have something that meant a lot to us, when a dream we had for our future is displaced by hard reality, or when we count our losses in a difficult relationship. The makers of ‘Inside Out’ were well aware that our Western culture has difficulty accepting the place of sadness in our emotional world. The symptoms are similar to those of depression, but generally less intense and less debilitating.
What do you do when sadness shows up in your day? Is it unwelcome and displaced with cheery music? Or do you recognise its message and allow it some space in you? By the end of ‘Inside Out’ the viewer may perceive that Sadness does have a positive value in Riley’s life. When Riley is in danger of losing touch with all her feelings, becoming numb to everyday life, it is the action of Sadness in comforting Bing Bong (Riley’s imaginary childhood friend) which is the catalyst for Riley’s recovery. Sadness is able to sit with Bing Bong’s loss and acknowledge his pain. Even Joy realises that for Riley’s whole well-being Sadness should be allowed her space.
Sadness is discomforting, endless joy is stressful and fragile; but when we allow sadness within ourselves, and accompany other people in their sadness, we actually open a way into intimacy. We share with them our common vulnerability to human loss and limitation. This can take a relationship into greater depth and strength.
Perhaps there is a sadness or grief you have hidden in your life that is seeking to be expressed. Perhaps you are feeling the need for a quiet space of gentle accompaniment. Our retreat house offers just that. You may enter into one of our programed retreats or simply spend a few days in private reflection here. Either way you are most welcome.
Living in a Violent World
Those of us with ready access to various media are aware that we are being bombarded from every side with reports of violence: domestic violence, murders, robberies, suicide bombers, diplomatic spats, war, street protests, sexual abuse and even in Nature. Violence (among humans) has its roots in fear, in hurt, in feelings of being undervalued, in frustration and powerlessness. Violence comes out of hearts that, for many reasons, are deprived of love. You and I are blessed with a large amount of freedom from violence, but what we see and hear of it daily does encroach on our minds and hearts threatening to undermine our confidence in goodness. You may be aware of the effects on you of this deluge – anxiety, poor sleep, a diminished capacity to concentrate, increased pessimistic thinking about our world, even a paralysis about how to respond in a positive way. What can we do to protect ourselves from the unhealthy impact of reported violence?
We need to stay in touch with God’s love for us. There are passages from Scripture to pray with that remind us of God’s loving faithfulness and compassion (e.g. Lamentations 3: 22-23; Psalms 103, 107; Romans 8:38-9). We need to reduce the amount of exposure we suffer – there is no need to watch the news every day or click on every phone app news item! As St Paul says, let’s give our thoughts over to things life giving and beautiful (Phil 4:8). When we are really touched and hurt by a particular violent event, we need to bring ourselves to Jesus – perhaps return to a time when we have experienced Jesus’ consolation before, or to the Cross where he hangs. When we recognise our stress and inner disharmony we can also give ourselves a physical soothing treat, something that will release the energy trapped in our muscles. When we go to bed, we can keep our mind on the sweetest moment of the day, however small.
God is as dismayed by the violence in our world as we are. God experiences it more keenly than any one of us does. Yet God’s promise is to be faithful and to continue to respond with love and life. Let us not forget that. Let us choose to walk with God in Jesus in company with our suffering brothers and sisters. And let us pray for each other.
Discernment in poverty?
Happy Feast of St Ignatius! Ignatius’ greatest gift of the Church could arguably be his process of discernment – attuning ourselves to God’s desires within us. This has been a practice well exercised at several levels in the Society of Jesus over the last few months. First there was the General Congregation held in Rome last October at which was elected our new General, Fr. Arturo Sosa. More recently almost all the Jesuits of Australia gathered in Sydney to continue a process of discernment about the future of the Society and what its ministries in Australia will look like in the coming decades given an ever changing context and reduced resources.
In our own ministry at Campion, too, since the Jesuit College of Spirituality (ex-‘Sentir’) moved out to Parkville, all the members of our team have been praying and reflecting on whom we serve and how we serve with our gifts of Ignatian spirituality. Our ‘Dreaming Campion Anew’ process has invited us to let go of any baggage from the past and to be open with audacity and creativity to whatever the Spirit may call us to.
One image that has emerged from all these discernment events has been that of Ignatius and his first companions working and praying in Venice in 1537. Ignatius’ autobiography describes how he and his companions would work during the day (preaching and collecting food and alms) and then on some evenings would gather to discern what they would do for the church as companions and priests if they were unable to live and serve in Jerusalem (a dream Ignatius had had since his conversion years before). They pondered a specific aspect of the question during the day, offered it during Mass, and deliberated in the evenings. This practice laid the foundation for a model of discerning God’s will that Jesuits and their lay companions (and other Ignatian groups) still follow today.
But there is one element missing from how we discern as Ignatian communities these days. In Ignatius’ time the companions chose to live among the poor, being poor (begging) themselves. In this way they placed themselves physically and socially into the hands of God as much as they intended to do spiritually. Ignatius believed strongly in the connection between how we live ‘in the world’ and our openness to God’s grace. Some of us do live and work with the poor (the marginalised and undervalued) but many of us (including myself) do not. We gather in faith, we express our deepest desires, we try to make ourselves ‘indifferent’, we listen to each other – all of which is good for discerning God’s will – but we do so with the benefits of good food, air conditioning, and comfortable beds.
And so I address some questions to myself as well as to you readers: what am I missing out on in my discernment when I am removed from the challenges of poverty? How am I unwittingly still ensnared by my lifestyle? And if I have not the courage or opportunity to connect with the poor (during the process of discernment) what small step could I make at least to face in that direction? Ignatius loved poverty as much as St Francis did and it certainly coloured his experience of God. I don’t want to neglect that lesson in my life.
These are rather sombre questions to pose on this day of celebration. I hope they don’t detract from the joy that the Spirit gives as we remember our Founder and our Friend in the Lord. Happy Feast Day!
In God you are enriched in every way (2 Cor 9:11)
The other day I had the privilege of facilitating a one day retreat for the National Executive Committee of the Christian Life Community. The theme chosen was the ‘Contemplation on God’s Love’ that is part of the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises. This prayer exercise focuses on all the gifts that God has given to us – this planet with all its natural beauty and life giving bounty; our faith, our believing community, and the sacraments and Scripture; my own being; and God Godself both in every existing thing and in the person of Jesus. This generous and loving giving is certainly a reason to celebrate and rejoice and to give thanks to God every day.
We are still in the season of Easter when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and with it the ‘breaking in’ of the end to which the universe is directed. We experience now a foretaste of the union with God to which all things are drawn by the Spirit. One way of sustaining our Easter thanksgiving is to use the Examen to look back on the day and count the blessings in it. Are there some things that I take for granted or have overlooked? Even on a ‘bad’ day it is possible to give thanks for something small, like food on the table, a good news story in a magazine, the sight of an animal enjoying its life.
We are approaching the 30 Day retreat with 11 seminarians and one lay woman. Please pray for them and for those directing them that they will all be attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Before that we have one three day retreat (‘Called into Life’) with spaces still available and immediately afterwards there is a weekend retreat (‘Who Stole the Joy’). You are also welcome to join us on Friday June 2nd at 2pm for a talk by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Divinity who will talk to us about St Ignatius and Martin Luther in the context of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Please contact our Reception to book these events.
A new Creation
During this season of Lent, when Christians put into place some practices that strengthen their relationship with God, the lectionary reading from Isaiah points us to what God is doing to strengthen our relationship with God. “I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead there shall be happiness and rejoicing in what I create.” (Is 65: 17-18). Sometimes we forget that God is working as hard – surely even harder – to bring each of us, and the whole of creation, into right relationship with God. It is in our times of prayer, of reflection, of spiritual direction and of retreats that we are most open to hearing this message: the past does not determine the future, God is working in us to bring to birth something new and wonderful which will bring us joy and delight. Who we have been, what has shaped us up to now, is not what will determine our future. We are called to be open to God’s spirit and to co-operate with God’s dream for us. What we offer to God in Lent, then, may be a kind of reaching out to take God’s hand and go where God is taking us.
After Easter Campion is offering one weekend retreat on the life of St Ignatius himself in which you can find God at work in your life, and another weekend retreat, ‘Still Waters’, in which you can experience God as our loving Shepherd. We still have spaces for those who have been considering entering into the 30 Days Full Spiritual Exercises in June – July when we will have a number of seminarians making these Exercises.
Allow me to remind you, too, that a visiting Ignatian scholar, Sr Elizabeth Liebert, will be presenting at Campion in May – see below for details.
We at Campion pray that you will experience a blessed Holy Week and the consolation of the Risen Christ.
The year is underway. Lent is one week away. Do you get anxious about this season? I do – I want to do something meaningful for my Lord but I always worry over what is the right thing (even if I end up doing the same as the year before). In conversation with my own spiritual director this year I came to understand that Lent does not have to be about ‘doing it tough’ for God. If Lent is about drawing closer to God it may be through even enjoyable activities in God’s company (artistic, creative, in Nature, etc.). That feels good! If you haven’t already determined your Lenten focus, perhaps you could select one of our prayer afternoons or a short retreat and enjoy it with God.
When you do choose a retreat, please book yourself in two weeks before the date. If we have fewer than 5 booked in at the time we have to cancel it, regrettably, because it is not financially viable.
If you have had thoughts of doing the Full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius (either 30 days (June – July) or 33 weeks during the year, do make an arrangement to speak to Sister Jennifer or myself about it. We can help answer your queries about the practicalities, and help you to discern with God if it is the right time for you.
The Impact of the Exercises
Campion Centre of Ignatian Spirituality is back in action for 2017. The directors and staff here hope that you are refreshed and ready for what the year brings you. I believe that God is ready to do all God can in you!
Did you get to see any significant films during the break? Out now is the film ‘Silence’ based on a novel about a Jesuit missionary and martyr in Japan in the 17th century. Andrew Garfield plays the role of Father Sebastião Rodrigues sj, and, to understand his character better, Andrew undertook the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius (guided by James Martin sj). Of his experience, he said: “There were so many things in the Exercises that changed me and transformed me, that showed me who I was…and where I believe God wants me to be.” And more significantly, “What was really easy was falling in love with this person, was falling in love with Jesus Christ. That was the most surprising thing.” (http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/grace-enough)
The Spiritual Exercises are at the hear of our ministry at Campion. Every spiritual director here has experienced them, and we offer them, in different modes, to everyone who seeks God in Jesus. Regular spiritual direction and short retreats do help people to find God in their lives, but there is nothing like the Spiritual Exercises, over 30-5 weeks or 30-5 days, to free us, transform us, and fill us with God’s love. The 30-5 week program of Exercises can be conducted in daily life – some have even managed it with children and work! If this appeals to you, just ask at reception or talk to one of our directors.
In May this year, we have a special visiting lecturer from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Sister Elizabeth Liebert is a well-known scholar of the Spiritual Exercises who will give a talk and workshop here at Campion. You are all most welcome to hear her. Click here for more details.
Our program of retreats came our late last year. Here below are the most recent upcoming events. We hope you will find something by which God may call you into a new relationship.