Friday, June 6, 2008

It's a Free for All: Questions from Readers

Julianne writes:
I love your chapter on Pedro Arrupe. You know that saying that is attributed to him - fall in love & that will determine everything... Do you happen to know the context for that? has his cause been introduced for sainthood?
I loved that chapter too, which is why I picked it! Pedro Arrupe seemed to have a good sense of humor on top of everything else and I always treasure that.

Father Martin says:
Thanks! So glad that you like my chapter on Pedro Arrupe, S.J., probably the least known of all the saints in the book. (And yes, his cause for canonization is on track, and he is now "Servant of God Pedro Arrupe, S.J.")

There's a funny story about that prayer. Father Vincent O'Keefe, S.J., one of his closest advisers, told me during the course of my research for the book, that no one could find that prayer in his letters or papers, though it had circulated around for many years. Most likely, he explained, it was copied down by someone during a retreat or a talk that Father Arrupe was giving. It's a marvelous meditation on vocation. Among the Jesuits and their colleagues it's usually called "Falling in Love." Here it is:

"Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.”
Of course, y'all know that went straight into my quote journal after I read My Life with the Saints, right?

Ironic Catholic
writes:
OK, here's a LONG question, more like a rant, and sorry it isn't specific to Arrupe and Ignatius. I loved both the chapters, but my question is more general.

As you know, the laity are called to holiness through Vatican II, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, and heck, the Sermon on the Mount. And yet there is this constant spiritual infantilization of the people in the pew. I'm not one of these folks who says cram in the doctrinal minutiae until it leaks out of their ears (although I am a theology professor, sorry). But I do find appalling that we still live with a two tier system of 1. vowed religious--on track to holiness, 2. laity--well, at least you're baptized.

To make it concrete, I am training to be a spiritual director, and have to do a week long directed retreat as part of the program. OK, great! And I'd prefer to do an Ignatian one. But finding a place (in the Midwest) which is willing to do it has been nearly impossible, and at least two places say they give first preference to Jesuits. Well, OK, I get that, but there's this swath of people hungry for a deeper life in Christ and too few people willing to do the hard work of fostering that growth...when I get surprised responses that a married mom of three would make time for an 8 day retreat. (I'll admit with small kids the 30 day retreat is beyond me now!)

I hope this isn't read as bashing priests and religious. It isn't, at all. But I'm so frustrated right now with a Church that says we want you to grow in holiness and then seems to say have fun figuring out how to do that.

The question: what is it going to take to foster holiness in laypeople in the United States?

p.s. if there is a sequel, could you manage to "pray with" Francis de Sales? Thanks

Another possibility, much shorter: At one point in my life I was asking people, with some desperation, if there was a support group for mystics. Is there?
Father Martin answers:
Dear Ironic Catholic,

I completely and wholeheartedly agree that the church needs to do more to foster Vatican II's understanding of the "universal call to holiness," though I do think that we've made some real strides in the past forty years. These days, for example, I think you would be hard pressed to find any sensible priest, brother, or sister, who says that their vocations are in any way "holier" than that of anyone else's. (To my mind, much more arduous a life than the priesthood is parenthood.) But still, as you say, we've got a ways to go.

One way that the hierarchical church could help people understand this is by working hard to canonize lay, single and married saints, rather than just saints from the priesthood and religious orders. John Paul was, and Benedict is, it seems, behind this movement to canonize more lay men and women. Think of Pier Giorgio Frassati. And lay movements, like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, and Focolare, are encouraging people to think in a new way about the lay vocations. In the Jesuit world, we sponsor what are called the "Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life," as a way of offering Ignatian spirituality to lay people who are parents, or in the working world. All this goes to the goal of helping people understand their own call to holiness.

Also, with declining vocations to the priesthood and religious life, this question may be answered in part as more and more lay people move into leadership roles in the church--as spiritual directors, pastoral associates, hospital pastoral workers, directors of religious education, and so on. Overall, there is a deepening appreciation on all levels for the sanctity of all forms of Catholic vocations--which is actually an underlying theme of my book My Life with the Saints.

Finally, a smaller, but perhaps no less significant, development: if you read The Duty of Delight, the newly published of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker program, and now on track for canonization, you'll see how much time she spent worrying about her child and, then, her grandchildren. Perhaps in a few years she'll be seen not just as an apostle of the poor, but of the family, too.

As an aside, I'm somewhat surprised (and disappointed) you couldn't get into that retreat house program, since when I was in a training program at a Jesuit retreat house in the midwest a few years, they were actively seeking people to join their program! I'll say a prayer to St. Ignatius Loyola that you eventually get in. But in the meantime, there are plenty of good spiritual-direction training programs in Jesuit colleges around the country. And if all else fails, try reading William A. Barry, S.J. and Robert Doherty, S.J.'s book The Practice of Spiritual Direction.

Don't despair: God will surely help you in your desire to do this!
Patti adds:
Thank you Ironic Catholic! I'm interested in what Fr. Martin has to say to that. He is so down to earth but I agree with you - it seems there are 2 tiers within the Catholic Church. I have some friends who are nuns & their vow ceremonies talk about them "Choosing the better part." Sometimes I feel a little left out but then I think of my call to marriage & I'm at peace with that. Why wouldn't marriage be the better part for some? Insight please Fr Martin!
Father Martin answers:
Dear Patti,

You might take a look at what I wrote to Ironic Catholic about the “universal call to holiness,” but to your question, specifically: It’s odd, at least to me, that people at those vow ceremonies would talk about “choosing the better part,” an obvious allusion to the Gospel story of Martha and Mary.

When thinking about Martha and Mary (who are often used as examples of the active and contemplative lives), it’s good to remember that Jesus--at least it seems this way to me--was not telling Martha to stop working but, rather, that sometimes it’s important to be contemplative at a particular time. Another way of understanding this is that there is both a time for action and a time for contemplation. To me, he's not favoring one over the other, but rather reminding Martha that this was a time for her to relax at that moment, while Jesus was with them. We are all meant to be both active and contemplative--sometimes like Mary, sometimes like Martha. The "better part" has more to do with your particular circumstances. Jesus was inviting Martha to stop working at that moment, not to stop working forever. Because otherwise no one would have had anything eat! But this passage is often used in the wrong way, to tell people that the married life, or the active life, is "worse." And, you know, Jesus, for all his contemplation, was a pretty active guy!

Really, the “universal call to holiness” shows us that all vocations are equally as holy, no one "better" than the other.

And if anyone tells you that married life is not as holy as religious life or the priesthood, you might want to refer them to Mary and Joseph.
Joe asks:
Father Martin, when my wife and I were preparing to be married, my pastor gave us a piece of sage advice. In order to remain connected as a couple, we should make sure we went on at least two dates every month. The did not have to be fancy or expensive. The first was to be romantic. Make it fun, make it exciting. Make it something that would remind us why we fell in love in the first place.

The second date was what he called the Ed Koch date. It was where we were to honestly ask (and answer) the question, "How am I doing?" It was in that environment that we should address all the little pesky things that inevitably come up.

I have to admit, that we have not always found the time to do that, but I have always held that nugget of advice close to heart. And, since we are about to celebrate ten years of married life, we must be doing something right!

Do you have any thoughts on how one could integrate that process into his or her spiritual life?
I have to mention here that my husband and I have struggled with this as well. Certainly most couples I know do so and, in our parish, that is why we are very active with the Beyond Cana retreat. But I know that many parishes don't have that option available for couples. Can't wait to see the answer on this one.

Father Martin answers:
Dear Joe,

Those two methods that your priest suggested are wonderful ways of helping to nurture a good marriage. Essentially, the first is spending time one-on-one with your spouse; and the second is talking honestly about the state of your relationship.

Those two things are directly applicable to the spiritual life. Now, it's pretty obvious that we would also want to do similar thing with our close friends--though not romantically of course! We would want some intentional time, and time to talk honestly about what's going on in our lives, and even in our relationship with one another. But if you think about it, our friendship with God could use the same methods as well. In essence, prayer is intentional, one-on-one time with God. (The first method you mentioned). And speaking with God about your life (in whatever way you want--imagining God before you, journaling, simply expressing yourself silently before the Blessed Sacrament) is another important way to be open with God. (That's the second method.)

In general, one's relationship to God can be fruitfully compared to a relationship with a close friend. The very things that you need for a good friendship--time, honesty, openness to change, the ability to express difficult emotions, some silence at times--are needed for a good relationship with God. And, as you've shown us, in a marriage, too!
To keep the scrolling from getting too arduous, I'm continuing questions here.

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