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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Nurturing Holy Desires…

A couple of days ago, one of my close relatives who has long been suffering from various ailments told me after getting out of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a hospital that she wished to die.  Further she said, “Why God did not take me to himself as I almost reached the other end”.  In a word of comfort, I tried to convince her that God takes his time and we should be ready that moment when he calls unexpectedly.  Just as Jesus said, the owner of the house would come when we do not know exactly when that day and time would come (Mk 13:35).  Unfortunately, long illnesses and on and off hospitalizations, makes a person suffer ceaselessly and loose interest to live.  The best solution then one thinks of immediately is of death, when sorrows, anxieties and bodily pain will be laid to rest forever.  However, I sympathize with her feelings and a holy desire because more than once I too have prayed for death when things got terribly out my control and doctors could not help to reduce the pains and my body suffered so much causing mental agony and torture.
Praying for a good death is considered a holy desire in Christian spirituality.  When we pray “Hail Mary full of grace” the Angel’s greeting to Blessed Mother Mary the prayer concludes with “Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen”.  A prayer which, constantly reminds us of the moment of death when the strength has to come from above. 

The constant bodily tormentation with mental suffering caused by painful episodes of illness and effects of chronic disease, certainly leads one to pray for holy desires. When a person is very low in his mental attitudes negativism aggravates already dull moments. Thus praying for holy desires or having an attitude of positive feelings helps to lift up the spirits. It is better to be more joyful and happier than depressed and dejected. A beautiful Russian expression Держать в руках (derzat v rukax) hold tightly in your hands reminds that when we suspect that things are getting out of our control on things which we hold, we should never let it be loosened. A lot of times pessimism, discouragement, apathy, weakness, might over take us but should never loose hope and loose our hands from holding on.

Saint Peter Faber (1506-1546) a cofounder of the Society of Jesus and friend of Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote extensively on holy desires in his spiritual testament “Memoriale”. His feast day is celebrated on 2nd of August by the Catholic Church. He lived just for 40 years and known to have called for his insistence on dialogue in resolving any sort of conflicts including with Protestants of his time in Europe. Here is a small paragraph from his spiritual diary. 

“On the day of Saint Francis, I was reflecting on how to pray well and on different ways of doing good, I wondered how holy desires in prayer are, as it were, ways of disposing us to perform good works and, on the other hand, how good works lead us to good desires. I then noted, indeed clearly perceived, that, by seeking God in good works through the spirit, one will more readily find him afterwards in prayer than if one had sought him first in prayer so as to find him subsequently in good works, as is often done. For he who seeks and finds the spirit of Christ in good works makes much more solid progress than the person whose activity is limited to prayer alone.” (St Peter Faber, in  Memoriale, 126)

- Olvin Veigas

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

In Everything to Love and Serve - Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Perhaps Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) is the best known figure in the world today in spite of him having lived during the reformation and counter-reformation of European history of 16th century.  His little Catholic organisation which he founded the “Society of Jesus” in 1540 which, he often called the minima compagnia/societa (little society) has stood the test of time and history.  St Ignatius is a towering figure today because he continues to inspire thousands of people to follow him and in the methods set by him.  Every year more than 400 young men join his ideals to follow the Christ Crucified under the banner the Cross with a sole purpose to love God and serve His humanity leaving behind family and wealth of the secular world. In other words, in everything to love and serve for the greater glory of God - Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (AMDG).  The Catholic Church and the Society of Jesuits/Jesuits celebrate his feast day on 31st of July every year, the day he left this world to be with his Master forever. 

Three quick takeaways from his life.
Firstly, St Ignatius showed us that we could have direct and immediate experience of God. Thus grow in familiarity with God. St Ignatius' powerful but a thin book the “Spiritual Exercises” continues to play miracles in the lives of people especially in transforming them to be the citizens of God [15]!  During Ignatius’ time people thought that we cannot go to God or experience God without some sort of agency or assistance from someone else.  Moreover the so called the theology of the indulgences strengthened this conviction that God is unattainable individually or by one's sincere efforts.  St Ignatius solved this mystery through his experiences which he would call in his “Autobiography” that God taught him as a schoolmaster teaches a child [27].  Jesuit Karl Rahner, the theologian of the 20th century drew heavily from St Ignatius in articulating his theological insights and coined a very fascinating phrase “Self-communication of God" in German Selbstmitteilung Gottes [cf. The Foundations of Christian Faith] to say that God continues to communicate himself freely and openly to each person.

Secondly, St Ignatius taught us that we could know the Will of God in our lives through a process of discernment which is also found in the “Spiritual Exercises” [169-189, 313-336].  God is ever present in our lives and His creation.  Just like St Augustine who said that our hearts are made only for God and they rest solely in Him, so too, St Ignatius wrote very well in the "Principle and Foundation" [Sp Ex 23] that we are made for God and whole creation is a help in order to reach that God who created us to praise, reverence, and serve God and by means of doing this to save one's soul.  In the Contemplation to Attain Love [Sp Ex 230-237] St Ignatius taught us to find God in all things and all things in Him.  A truly inclusive idea he put forward much before the modern man could think of.  All his attention was on humanity’s salvation and is possible if we know God’s will and see God present and active in the world and in our lives.

Thirdly, St Ignatius contributed a thought that is still applicable today, that is God/Christ centeredness and other centeredness which, should be the hallmark of our lives.  St Ignatius is very clear that we are not permanent and eternal stakeholders of this world.  As finite and unfinished realities, we will have to make sure that we are not the masters of this world but stewards of this universe.  This means, we should have a heart for everyone and our hands should reach out to each person including the least and the lost in the world.  St Ignatius himself started a house for destitute women of Rome - Casa Santa Martha and founded an orphanage in the Eternal City.  He also set a few rules in the Spiritual Exercises on Almsgiving [337-344].  He sent his first compañero Francis Xavier to Asia in order to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, Simon Rodrigues to Portugal, Peter Faber to the European countries where Catholic Church was disintegrating because of Martin Luther’s reformation stunt.  St Ignatius wanted put Christ at the center of the Church and the world and not personal or national interests.

St Ignatius is still relevant to us to experience God directly in the world, to know God’s will in our lives and put God in the center of our lives.  In other words, in everything to love and serve, en todo amar y servir.

Olvin Veigas