Finding God in All Things
After 500 years, St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises continue to transform lives
BH: I think a lot of people often think that the religious experience looks the same for everyone — that we all become these pious people that separate themselves from the world. One of the things I like about the Exercises is it doesn’t seem to create an artificial divide between the world and God.
JC: Absolutely. Let’s take music for example, the absolute beauty and truth of music is the poetry of the soul. Well that’s an enormous gift. So, a gift like music that is given to us to not only develop skills and talents, but to appreciate, and connect us to, that which is beyond — if one just plays music and thinks “my God, I’m really good,” you’re missing the whole damn point. But if one enters into music and into the relationship that is there — of creativity, of imagination, of what it does for other people — well, there’s a dialogue that begins to take place. And you become open to being transformed. And the gifts that you have in that area grow beyond what you can imagine. It’s not what you can do; it’s to imagine what can be done with this gift in a broader way. So creativity, imagination, the use of your talents and skills, not driven solely by your own energy and ability but open to receive from a culture in which your dialogue was based in truth — to see where that will lead. You necessarily lose control and it becomes larger and takes on a dynamic on its own that in God is a beautiful thing.
It’s about being who you are. It’s about being rooted in your primary relationship with God. And that’s the truth. It’s the truth of a simple person. It’s the truth of a homeless person who looks at you and says, “I need a dollar. Can you help me?” And they may be addicted; they may be problematic; there may be a hundred issues. But they are loved by God and they are touched with their need and the dignity of what it is to be a human being. When they speak out of that truth, you have to listen.
BH: What is the essential job or the mission of the Jesuit Collaborative?
JC: Jesuit Collaborative’s mission is to promote, support and enhance the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian spirituality. We work with men and women who are practitioners in the Spiritual Exercises and engaged in spirituality, to help to support them, to continue to update them in their skill level, to network with other people who are involved in the Spiritual Exercises, to provide training and workshops for all kinds of people to work with some Jesuit institutions to support their ministry in the Spiritual Exercises. With the number of Jesuits shrinking, there are many more people — and in fact now the majority of people — who are directing the Spiritual Exercises and involved with Ignatian spirituality who are lay men and women. The Society of Jesus has a particular interest in making sure that the practice of the Spiritual Exercises is really up to the expectations and the traditions of Ignatius and the 500 years of practice. So we look at how to help support people and to train people as effectively as we can in the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises.
It seems to me that the 21st century is really the century of the laity. And if the Spiritual Exercises can enhance the ministry of lay men and women, it’s all to the greater glory of God. And if I can add this piece to it, it does seem to me that with Ignatian spirituality, once it takes hold and begins to have that multiplier effect, it gives to men and women who have that experience of God the ability to speak out of that truth of their experience. It’s not what Father said or what Sister said; it’s what I know from my own relationship with God. Now that’s all informed by our theology and by our faith, but to have legitimate experience with prayer and relationship with God — it gives you a confidence and even the words to speak the truth that you know.
BH: How has your experience of the Exercises transformed your life?
JC: I have found that every truth in my life that’s worth knowing has come in my relationship with God. And that’s based on the Exercises. I have had the privilege to direct many people in the exercises, and I call it “the best show in town” and I have the front row seat to it — that is, to listen to that conversation between a person and God. And you literally see happening before your very eyes things that the person making retreat could never have imagined taking place. You see just enormous grace unfolding in front of you through one’s prayer experience and their relationship with God.
BH: Do you find that to be true among young people as well?
JC: Absolutely. I would say with young people it’s so often a matter of “Where do I fit in?” “Who do I relate to?” “What am I a part of?” So often young people who are immersed in a professional world — some are in business or a law firm or in the academic field — become aware of a lot of their vulnerabilities, their struggle for success and meaning, and they’re really asking, “Do I fit here? Do I belong? Is this what defines me?” And if they can stay attentive to that question, they’re going to look for something that is deeper. And that’s their relationship with God. There are some young people who are in the professional world, the academic world for example, who know that they’re in competition with their peers for a tenure spot. Or in a law firm, only a half dozen out of twenty hires are going to be at that firm in five years. And they’ll describe a ripping or a clawing, taking credit for everything and anything that they’ve done, and find themselves, as they’re going through that experience, hating who they are. And, if they can come honest with that and begin to find God in that experience, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to work any less hard, but it does mean that what they’re involved in is not just about themselves, but it’s about relationship with God. There are questions of love, of justice, of truth. Those are the kinds of questions that I think young people have. And often enough, in terms of young Catholics, they’re kind of looking at the Sunday church, and Mass, and the faith communities, and they’re saying, “There’s not a lot there for me” or “I don’t feel drawn to that; I don’t feel connected to that.” So these are people who are looking to fit in, to belong. “Is it imaginable that I belong to God? And if so, how do I get in touch with that, and what truth comes to me as I let that relationship develop?”
What I see Busted Halo doing, and this excites me, is that you are willing to be both culturally and fringe Catholic. So you’re able to kind of speak to the mainline the truth that we have been given. But you’re broad enough to include people who are wrestling with some of those mainline issues. And the Catholic Church needs media outlets like Busted Halo, precisely because you keep alive possibility for people who are not exactly sure where they are. Busted Halo has to stay culturally alert and engaged with what’s going on right now so that you can speak to the younger generation. I can speak about the Exercises to younger people, but I don’t understand their culture. You guys do. And you’ve got to stay really sharp on that.
BH: Tell me about the leadership program you recently launched for young adults…
JC: It’s called the Contemplative Leaders in Action and it started last year in New York with seventeen people. This year it will be in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and there will be a total of 60 people who are involved. The program takes young people — 25, 35 — who really want to find meaning and to fit in to their life. But they need a lens to help them understand their work, their studies, and their important relationships. So the Contemplative Leaders in Action is designed to help people think about, reflect, and pray about their work, their professional experiences, and how do you find God in that? We raise issues of faith, of justice, of ethics. We teach people how to pray more deeply, and eventually lead them to the opportunity of the Spiritual Exercises.
BH: What was the inspiration behind the program?
JC: People look for appropriate mentoring relationships as they go to graduate school or enter into a career — who are the people that you turn to to give you good advice, to speak truth to you, to help you understand the culture and to work effectively. Well, imagine a person who wants a similar relationship in a religious sense? The support structures are gone for most of these young people. What are the touchstones for them to understand and experience God as a young man or woman who is involved in a very new and a very different world? It’s a program that helps people to think ethically and with Catholic sensibilities.
Chris Lowney, who wrote the book Heroic Leadership, is really the guy that helped launch this. He’s on the Jesuit Collaborative board. But it was really his insight that he shared, and that others agreed to, that this group of people, this age group of people — these are leaders. These are leaders for the future. And if they’re going to be formed in a business culture or a professional culture, shouldn’t they also be formed in a Catholic culture that informs everything else that they’re doing?
They meet once a month for an extended period of time – three or four hours. There are three or four retreats during the year. There are mentors, spiritual directors, that they can see. There are books to read, articles, online material to kind of work with. So it’s really a formation program.
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