My heart seemed to stop when I considered the reality of the thought that had just crossed my mind.
Five years. That’s how long it has been since I completed the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I almost couldn’t believe it when the thought occurred to me. Here I was sitting in the midst of a workshop on Ignatian Spirituality- our discussion having already covered the life of Ignatius, the basics of Ignatian Spirituality, and the first three weeks of the Exercises- and then there was the simple eye-opening question: What was your experience of the fourth week?
I paused for a moment. Thinking back, I returned myself to the space in Egan Chapel at Fairfield University where I spent the majority of my time in prayer as I underwent the Exercises. I could feel the soft flicker of candlelight, the crunched position I sat in each night, and the mysterious transformation that took place as I entered deeper and deeper into prayer over the course of the four movements of the Exercises. It wasn’t that this was the first time that I had recalled my experience; I had been sharing my experience of the 19th Annotation all along during our time with the Sister of Saint Joseph who was presenting to our Novitiate community. It was more that this was the first time that I had considered that this experience, which is so readily available within me, was more than five years old. The images and experiences of union with the Divine from the 19th Annotation still course through my veins, returning to me with freshness and a depth of feeling un-faded as I consider/remember them. And so, it came as a bit of a shock when I realized how long it had been since those images, relationships, and experiences had actually entered my mind, heart, and soul.
In a way, it feels like they have always been there. (And trusting in my call to be a Sister of Saint Joseph, I guess you could say that they always have.) But in another way, it feels as if each time I recall them, they are freshly pressed, waiting right below the surface of my being to be discovered anew just like the first time I prayed them. This is the mystery and the blessing that the Exercises and, in a grander sense, Ignatian Spirituality has been for me. Despite four years of Jesuit education, countless service immersion trips, books upon books, Ignatian-based young adult groups, and formation within our Ignatian charism, learning about Ignatian spirituality still sparks something deep within me. Truly, it is who I am; it calls me to deeper relationship with my God and the world and it is part and parcel to why I am a Sister of Saint Joseph.
As I sat (and continue to sit) with all that our presenter shared with us during her two day presentation, I can sense the truth of this deep connection within myself and within the charism and life we live as Sisters of Saint Joseph. Yet, as I reflect upon the wealth of input that we received, what strikes me beyond all else is a line our speaker spoke following our opening morning prayer (focused on surrender), before her presentation had really even begun. Sitting together, considering all that we were being called to be open to in our time together, she simply said of surrender, “This is what we are called to. It is what brought me to the sisters… it has been a part of me since a very early age… In essence, it is what I have pursued my whole life- longing to belong to Christ.”
I could write pages about all that was shared with us during the two day workshop or about the role Ignatian spirituality plays in our lives as Sisters of Saint Joseph, but as I consider all of these things, it is the longing to belong to Christ that makes me pause once again. This is what Ignatius lived, shared, and sought to guide others in. It is what Jean PierreMedaille, SJ, in the spirit of Ignatius, enshrined in our foundation. And so, ultimately, it is the aim and goal of our lives: to live with such longing and to seek such union.
Commitment to living and loving in such a way, though, is not without a heavy cost. It requires a wholehearted response to and engagement in the Gospel. This means subscribing to utter detachment and with it, complete freedom. By love we are called and in love we respond. Only from a space such as this can we allow God to do what God does- the profound work of transformation both internally and externally.
Longing for Christ, we seek the interior freedom that will allow us to habitually choose what will allow the deepest love of God to flourish within us. As we make this choice and relinquish our control to the One we most love and desire, we gain a perspective that draws us ever more deeply into the vision and life of Christ. Here, we better come to know ourselves and, in authentic humility, can revel not only in who we are and who God created us to be, but also in to whom we belong.
For this belonging, we give thanks. It grounds us and the work that we do and yet, it continually calls us to more. As we belong more genuinely to Christ, we plunge into an intimacy, the depth of which we know not. Within this intimate relationship with God is deep awareness, gratitude, and integration of our desires. And, at the core of such desires lies our longing to belong to Christ. Thus, we come to understand that belonging and longing counterbalance one another. As we freely let our desires for God run free, we face the risky and rewarding prospect of what our desires can bear- fear, discernment, opportunity for growth, and a multitude of spiritual gifts. Allowing our most authentic desire (to belong to Christ) to take hold of us, we are able to cut to the heart of the matter, surpassing superficial desires and plunging into the depth of our soul… to the very heart of God.
It is there/here that I long to belong. The question of the fourth week that suddenly made me consider where the past five years had gone also calls me to consider where I have be led in the last five years. The fourth week is all about union- uniting our desires with God’s, sharing peace and joy, and discovering grace as it comes in an unexpected manner. It is the week we live into. Moving beyond it, you do not forget the weeks/movements that have been; instead you actively choose to fall deeper into love with God. That is our call as Sisters of Saint Joseph (and as Christians)- to belong, to believe, and to be beloved. It is undeniably true, even when the prospect of such a call stops us in our tracks. This is what we are called to. It is what brought me to the sisters… it has been a part of me since an early age… In essence, it is what I have pursued my whole life- longing to belong to Christ. And as I reflect from where I am today, that call certainly rings true. I long to belong, to be free, and to be love(d). Hearing that call makes me pause, not out of fear, but rather, in gratitude… for all that has been, all that is, and all that will surely be. God is present in all of this, drawing me deeper, to depths unknown. Here, I pause again and remember the words I (and many Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia) pray daily:
We are called
as Sisters of Saint Joseph
to stand open and powerless before you,
completely dependent upon Jesus,
whose spirit liberates us
to a radical sense of mission,
through the rhythm
of contemplation and courageous action,
to be a healing presence
in any and all situations,
and to this we say,
(The Federation Prayer i.e. “the Father Prayer”, a statement developed by the U.S. Federation and adopted by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia at the General Chapter of 1974.This prayer is traditionally prayed daily by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Philadelphia.)
And to this, I say Amen.