It was a hectic week ahead – parish visitation reports and check ins, retreat ministries’ board of directors meetings, advancing research projects, finalizing details for a Zoom-based prayer experience for staff instead of our usual mass and office celebration, nevermind making time to connect with family and friends, prayer, and writing. I was already looking forward to a good Sabbath rest! Contemplating the calendar helped me see how discipleship, flowing from the graces of my baptismal identity, is unfolding these days through my role and the variety of responsibilities I have as a Pastoral Assistant to the Midwest Jesuits’ Provincial, extending his care for Jesuits and Jesuit-sponsored ministries spread across a 12-state region.
The Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus, after describing the diversity of ways the one mission of the Society of Jesus is embodied, concludes:
…let any such person [who desires to serve under the banner of Christ] take care, as long as he lives, first of all to keep before his eyes God and then the nature of this Institute which is, so to speak, a pathway to God; and then let him strive with all his effort to achieve this end set before him by God each one, however, according to the grace which the Holy Spirit has given to him and according to the particular grade of his own vocation.
When my pathway to God took a turn from the corporate world to full time Jesuit ministry in the early 2000’s, I realized an important aspect of our work was being a bridge, holding on to the People of God with one hand, and the Catholic Church with the other. This is still an apt description of what I do, working with those who meet individuals where they are, sometimes struggling with the institutional church and religious practice, walking with those just setting out on a spiritual journey, and with those wanting to go deeper. To be a bridge is to live in a place of uncomfortable tension, but also a source of potential energy for change.
As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Christians live this tension as priestly sacrifice, always discerning how we are being invited to change and what we might let go in order to follow Jesus more closely.
Much of my ministry involves discernment, especially discerning with groups who desire to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit when making important decisions, and characterizes how I’m coming to understand this as a “royal” aspect of my baptism and discipleship. Bishop Barron offers that “In the theological sense, a king is someone who orders the charisms within a community so as to direct that community toward God.” A Provincial Assistant holds a governance role within the Society of Jesus involving both cura apostolica (care for the ministries) and cura personalis (care for Jesuit and lay colleagues). My work involves deep listening with others for movements of the Spirit to help inform leadership decisions, directing resources for the sake of our shared mission.
St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church” in the Spiritual Exercises reflect his 16th Century sensibilities, but nonetheless clearly situates the Society in the Catholic Church. I’ve come to understand that thinking with the Church sometimes also means helping the Church to think. For parishes entrusted to the Jesuits, I enjoy being a liaison to chancellors and other diocesan staff, striving to maintain good communications with the local Churches we serve, offering collaboration and support, especially with many dioceses discerning renewed structures for parish governance to better serve the Kingdom.
Discernment also leads to exercising my prophetic identity. In 2003, New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority launched a security campaign, “If you see something, say something.” For Chrisitians, our challenge is how we see and speak. 2020 challenged me to see with new eyes. Cities shutting down revealed chronic issues of inequity and access to technology. Inadequate health care, insecure food, and at-risk housing were hard to miss. I had to reexamine racism, confronting my own white privilege. The election and its aftermath have highlighted stark differences in how people of goodwill find vastly different meaning in the same events.
I’ll be taking time during my annual 8-day retreat (concluding January 25th) to reflect on my pathway and the direction God wants to travel with me in 2021. Going into retreat I’m praying for the grace to see with God’s eyes, to allow my heart to be moved with God’s heart, and to be able to respond with loving service. I will continue to examine my own life so that it “says something” about the good news that is following Jesus.
- January 25th is the day the Catholic Church marks the Conversion of St. Paul. How might you pray for the scales to drop from your eyes? Pray for the grace to see and bear witness to the Risen Christ, building bridges to bring about the kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
- In Christifideles Laici,an apotolic exhortation directed to the lay members of Christ’s faithful people, St. Pope John Paul II wrote, to be prophetic is “to allow the newness and the power of the gospel to shine out everyday in [our] family and social life, as well as to express patiently and courageously in the contradictions of the present age [our] hope of future glory even ‘through the framework of [our] secular life’.” How is the newness and power of the gospel shining through your life?
- Take a look at your own calendar. Consider Bishop Robert Barron’s reflection on our priestly, royal, and prophetic baptismal identity in light of your own pathway to God.
Photo by Kyler Trautner on Unsplash