Dear Sisters and Brothers –
I will confess to less reflection on the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6 and its aftermath than to consumption of the news about and other people’s reflections on them, so don’t expect anything too profound here. The shock of the images and the growing fear as we learn more about what happened (and what may be happening) leave me feeling at sea about what to do. I have, of course, been praying for peace in our nation, holding up to God our country and its people and imploring God for economic and racial justice, requisites to any real healing. But St. Teresa of Avila (yes, here she comes again) reminds me that Christ has no hands on earth but mine, and keeps the question before me: “And what are you going to do?”
Answering that question is an obligation before all of us, as citizens of this great county. The democracy we have been privileged to enjoy was stewarded and protected by our forebears, and we have the responsibility to pass on to our descendants intact the world’s oldest democracy, for which many made the ultimate sacrifice. Of course, the answer will be different for each of us, but I think that our Catholic faith has much to offer each of us as we discern our individual responses.
For now, I would like to highlight one tenet. When asked in Mark’s Gospel which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replies, “The most important one is this: … Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second one is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Saint Ignatius Loyola begins his Spiritual Exercises by asking the retreatant to consider this very thing, using different words: “Human beings are created to love God with their whole heart and soul, essentially by loving and serving their neighbors. In this way, they participate in God’s plan to bring all creation to completion and so arrive at their own ultimate fulfillment (eternal life).”
As we all understand too well, this is far easier said than done. While loving God and loving others are choices we will have to make throughout our lives, we do develop habits and ways of being in the world so that we can love more naturally, more automatically. And this requires a conversion of heart, preached by John the Baptist at the Jordan River and to which Jesus invited all throughout his ministry.
St. Ignatius Parish is offering an opportunity for this kind of conversion of heart through the Discernment Series, a way of making the Spiritual Exercises in a time of pandemic. While the retreat is designed with the issue of racial justice as its focus, even if you don’t find yourself invited to this particular conversion of heart at this time, there might be something in the retreat for you. The Exercises are a codified framework through which the Holy Spirit moves uniquely in the hearts of every individual. Saint Ignatius himself recognized this and always encourage his followers to take what is helpful and leave the rest. The fancy Latin shorthand is tantum quantum. So, even if the topic of racial justice does not speak to you, I strongly encourage you to sign up to receive the emails and engage the materials that relate specifically to the Spiritual Exercises. And see what the Holy Spirit might do.
The answer to the question that Saint Teresa puts before me is long and complex. But a start is to continue to invite Jesus into my heart so that he can continue to transform it, to make it single-hearted and wise, tender and compassionate, courageous and resolute. The Spiritual Exercises is one avenue to allow that to happen. I invite you to join us. If you’ve not yet signed up, here is a link to do so.
On another note, cities and towns throughout the country have been invited to join in the memorial and nationwide tribute to remember and honor the lives lost to COVID-19. On Tuesday, January 19, at 5:30 p.m. ET, there will be a lighting ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. Municipalities across the country will be illuminating buildings and ringing church bells in a national moment of unity and remembrance. St. Ignatius Church will join in this tribute to our fellow citizens and toll our bell once for every 1000 deaths. Tragically, we will toll our bell for nearly 35 minutes. I ask you to set your calendars and join us on Facebook, where we’ll be livestreaming, for a moment of prayer sometime between 2:30 and 3:05 p.m. on Tuesday.
Let us pray for our country during this fraught time, for those who have died as a result of the pandemic and their loved ones, for those who continue to fight against this disease, and, as always,
oremus pro invicem.