I want to follow on from yesterday’s post with one that reflects on a similar question, but this time in the review of a wonderful, yet sadly out-of-print book titled: Call and Response: Jesuit Journey’s in Faith edited by Frances Makower (who also contributes the opening chapter which sets the scene: Jesuits – Who Are They?) It has an introduction by Gerald O’Collins SJ.
The book was my chosen reading for a “retreat in daily life”. Each chapter is an autobiographical response to the question, “People Who Leave Religious Life Capture the Headlines, But What About Those Who Stay? Indeed, “Why do they stay in the Church, continuing to serve as Priests?” The retreat was on the ‘edge’ of a group of Anglican’s preparing for ordination with a weeklong silent retreat.
Ignatian spirituality has long been a vital and important part of my journey; of my formation as a human person. My introduction to Ignatius of Loyola came at a critical juncture; some would say “crisis” in my life around eight-years ago. Ignatius and the contemporary Jesuit community became important and needful guides as I began a journey into depth; as I began the work of working with what Frederick Buechner call’s “the hungering dark”, or Parker Palmer would describe as “riding our monsters downward” (“The way to God is down…”). I was working (and still am) my way toward a “hidden wholeness” (cf. Parker Palmer in his Let Your Life Speak & A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life). I was learning to listen deeply to my life; learning to live into the questions. Ignatian spirituality accompanied me, along with other important voices from outside the tradition.
Call and Response gives a chapter to eight Jesuit priests, all born, as far as I can tell, in the 1920’s and 30’s. All from very different locations, including countries (for example, John English is Canadian, Peter Steele is Australian) I had already encountered 4 of them through their writing, but didn’t know much about them as persons. All were priests pre-Vatican II and all, it would seem to me, embraced and worked out the reforms of Vatican II in their own unique ways.
The eight priests are:
Nicholas King – Yes to the Future.
William Barry – Toward Integration.
Cecil McGarry – Seduced.
A. Patrick Purnell – Late Developer.
Peter Knott – Where I Belong.
John English – Spiritual Testament.
Michael Hurley – Triple Vocation.
Peter Steele – Unambiguous Commitment.
As I look back through the book I see lots of underlining by me. From such an unexpected source, so much spoke, so much resonated and named something of my own journey and insights.
As already noted, each chapter is both autobiographical and a gentle polemic for the importance to each of the call to priesthood within the Roman Catholic Church. Each, to a greater a lesser degree articulates a depth of wisdom, insight and humanity, that only comes from those who’s lives, experiences of life, and experiences of self have been characterized by both openness and a courageous willingness to face into all the experiences of life. These are men whose evident commitment has been to following the Spirit, their own longing, and their own desires within the framework provided by Ignatian spirituality.
Each exemplify a depth of simplicity and wisdom that comes as one continues a life-long journey into ones own humanity and into God, and does so with deep humility and honesty. They’ve discovered, as Patrick Purnell affirms, “that it’s alright to be myself… The fruit of the initial stages of ‘The Spiritual Exercises’ is the gift that a person comes to know with absolute conviction that s/he is the loved and forgiven sinner… It is only within this understanding of God’s absolute, unconditional and gratuitous love that the sinner can cope with her/himself… The ‘Spiritual Exercises’ offer me a spirituality which has enabled me to cope with myself, uncomfortably at times, and has taught me the importance of journeying – of being a pilgrim…” (p.85).
Purnell (a “late developer”), being a good example of the tone of the individual reflections, continues, “…’Love’ is not a static concept but something changing, volatile, many faceted; it is a ‘doing word’ [as I was reminded again during a recent viewing of the 2012 film The Deep Blue Sea] rather than one expressing a state or a situation. Love is a journeying with all the qualities of a journey: excitement, exploration, unknowing, trusting, joy, sadness, tears and difficulty. It engenders its own impatience, pains and struggles; its highways and byways…It was a love that accepted me as I was with clear, compassionate eyes; accepting me as a man with my distortions and my bouts of depression stemming from my bizarre imaginative life, and as a Jesuit and priest. It was this love that slowly taught me what it is to be a human being; what it is to love, honor and value myself – in a word, to be human!... ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive’…”
He concludes his chapter by noting that the questions that emerge out of his life are “not nice speculations but arise out of need, out of my own poverty and out of my own journeying ‘to find God in all things’ and my struggle to make sense of myself and the world in which I live.”
Overall, the standout chapters for me were those by: William Barry (which affirmed the importance of the integration of modern psychology, spirituality, and theology); Cecil McGarry, born in 1929 in the West of Ireland (which affirmed, amongst other things, the importance of self-knowledge, but more importantly of self-acceptance). I wondered too about the rich terrain a conversation between him and John O’Donohue might cover; Patrick Purnell; and Peter Steele.
If you see a copy of this book in a second-hand shop (as I did) or online, grab it and reflectively read it; work it into our own questions and needs and see where it takes you. I highly recommend Call and Response.