Monday, June 16, 2014

Be a Pilgrim, Not a Tourist

The Jesuits of the Australian Province put out a fortnightly update on all their comings and goings.  One of the recent editions had a wonderful little article on transitions and travel that seemed all too appropriate for the journeys we begin or complete in summer.

The link to the article can be found here. I've also pasted it below. It's by Father Chris Gleeson, SJ.

In transition
In early December last year, when returning from Auckland, I stopped at the Tullamarine airport’s duty-free shop to purchase some spiritual sustenance for my Xavier Jesuit community. After discerning what spirit was most appropriate for my abstemious brethren, I went to the counter to pay for it. The young lady in attendance there greeted me with the question: Are you in transition, sir?’ ‘Yes', was my reply. ‘Aren’t we all?’ 

The young woman seemed stunned. So full of surprise was her countenance that I was reminded of the story of the American tourist in the late 19th century who went to visit the famous Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the Rabbi’s dwelling was just a simple room with a desk and a chair. ‘Rabbi’, asked the tourist, ‘where is your furniture?’ ‘Where is yours?’ replied the rabbi. ‘Mine?’ asked the puzzled American. ‘But I am only a visitor here. I’m only passing through.’ To which the rabbi responded, ‘Aren’t we all?’

In March last year we were given a new pope in Francis, a leader who has captured the hearts of the world. ‘Person of the Year’, as voted by Time magazine, Francis in his leadership has modelled for us the importance of simplicity, of doing away with the superfluities and excesses of life, of engaging with people’s hearts before trying to win defensive battles over dogma and doctrine. He is simply a breath of fresh air, as Pope John XXIII was, blowing through our church and our world.

Transition comes with both gain and loss. In gaining the courageous leadership of Francis, we lost the inspiration of Nelson Mandela late last year. Our world is much poorer for this loss. Some fifteen years ago I devised a course on leadership for aspiring Year 11 student leaders, comparing the influence of two quite different men who had spent some time in prison— Pedro Arrupe and Nelson Mandela.

Prior to his becoming the General of the Jesuits in 1965, the charismatic Pedro Arrupe spent many years as a missionary in Japan, a month of which in 1942 he experienced as a prisoner in Yamaguchi for suspected espionage. He reflected later on this period in captivity: ‘Many were the things I learned during this time: the science of silence, of solitude, of severe and austere poverty, of inner dialogue with the "guest of my soul". I believe this was the most instructive month of my entire life.’

On his release, he comforted the prison governor with the words: ‘I am not resentful to you. You are someone who has done me good … You have taught me to suffer.’

It is well documented that Nelson Mandela spent 27 years or 10,000 days in the most brutal of prisons on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town. While the prison bars might have constrained him physically, nothing could impinge on Mandela’s spiritual freedom. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he wrote:

As a leader one must sometimes take actions that are unpopular, or whose results will not be known for years to come. There are victories whose glory lies only in the fact that they are known to those who win them. This is particularly true of prison, where you must find consolation in being true to your ideals, even if no one else knows of it.

That Nelson Mandela could walk out of gaol 27 years later, without a tinge of resentment or bitterness in his heart, is testament to his freedom of soul and the legacy of spiritual leadership he has bequeathed to the whole world.

I have often quoted from an article written by a parent at a French Jesuit school in 1975. The importance of his words remains with me today. In seeking to elucidate his expectations of a Jesuit school, he wrote:

One arrives at a fresh stage of life only by freeing oneself from the last; by a renunciation. The process of growth is a series of renunciations: renunciation of womb-life, of breast-feeding, of exclusive love of the mother; renunciation of the cushioned atmosphere of home in favour of the brisker one of school; renunciation of the self-satisfied comfort of intellectual sufficiency in favour of the adventurous one of the spirit. There can be no checks, no resting-places. Stop at any stage of the journey and you will find that you settle down, you make yourself a refuge.

Our personal transitions might not have the media focus of a Nelson Mandela or even a Pedro Arrupe, but they are significant times for us. Each time we come to the Eucharist at the Penitential Rite we declare our need for change and growth, for the Lord’s mercy and healing. If we don’t commit to this transition in ourselves, we will stultify and die.

The metaphor of the pilgrim, so much loved by St Ignatius Loyola himself, is a very helpful one for us journeymen and women in life. Somewhere in his prodigious writings, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Jonathan Sacks, distinguishes between the pilgrim and the tourist. Pilgrims are those people who want to engage with the world and not be mere spectators, people whose goal is less to reach a particular destination than to be transformed in the journey itself. A tourist goes somewhere to see something new, while a pilgrim goes somewhere to become someone new. Indeed, tourism protects tourists from becoming someone new by insulating them from the unfamiliar or the uncomfortable.

For one of the pithiest comments on the need for personal transition in our lives, we can return to the 19th century and the memorable words of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: ‘To grow is to change, and to become perfect is to have changed many times.’ May 2014 be a year of constructive transition for all of us!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fumbling in the Dark

My province's vocation director recently asked me to write a piece about how I came to be doing what I'm doing. If you're at all interested in how a guy with an SJ after his name ends up sitting at a desk writing all day (best job in the world!) -- you might find this entertaining.

(Also -- that shot is courtesy of Tatyana Borodina, who is an amazing photographer and a great person. Find her work here.)