The best kind of detachment and indifference | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Last week I gave a seminar to employees of one of the country’s most admired companies.


The activity focused on the importance of mission—the major task of discovering or re-discovering this mission and the choice to live it out.


My talk emphasized that there are many good things we can do, but there is only one right thing we need to do—our discerned mission.


After the session, one of the participants noted the timeliness of the inputs and processes to what he and some colleagues were going through.


He is grateful and could not ask for anything more, but added that there are times when he and his colleagues feel that something is lacking in their lives.


Search for meaning


This may be a classic case of midlife crisis—a period in which there is a more intense search for meaning and a reassessment of the journey one has taken in life. It is a crisis of choice—coming to terms with one’s mission, and committing to live out this mission.


Christ calls his 12 apostles to a mission in our Gospel this Sunday.


The virtue of being poor missionaries is often highlighted in the process. The apostles are to keep their material possessions to a minimum.


But there is a more important element that needs more attention. Christ says, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.”


The first instruction is an exhortation to stay focused on the task at hand, while the second refers to the detachment one should have toward results or success.


Detachment from results or success—perhaps this is the greatest challenge and grace one needs to pray for in desiring and committing to live a life of mission.


St. Ignatius says that in following God’s will, living a life of mission and following Christ ever more nearly requires that one must not have any inordinate attachments. This is also considered the right kind of detachment—since there could be a detachment that is bordering on apathy, as well as an attachment that is ordinate, for example, love for God.


I purposely used the term “apathy” and avoided “indifference” because there is what is called an Ignatian indifference.


This can be best described as being in a state or disposition of balance or equanimity, in which one can be tipped to where God’s will can be better served.


Need for change


One of the most inspiring examples of this is Ignatius himself. There is a description of the leadership of Ignatius of Loyola in the book “The First Jesuits,” given by one of his closest collaborators in the Society of Jesus, Fr. Polanco, SJ.


Polanco said that Ignatius had tremendous leadership gifts—one of which was his clarity of vision coupled with openness to change and ability to convince others of the need for change, rather than staying the course to achieve the vision.


This was the case in the entry of the Jesuits into education. Years after the founding of the Society, Ignatius changed course after discerning that God’s mission for the Society would best be served if the Jesuits took on the education of children of the nobility as future leaders of society, influencing their character and moral formation.


Thus, in so short a time, barely more than a decade later, the Jesuits opened 30 schools worldwide. It was quite a feat considering the means of transportation and communications then. This is detachment and indifference at its best.


The other example that comes to mind is Christ himself. In the Gospel of Mark, we see Christ’s detachment and indifference when, after curing Peter’s mother-in-law and many others, he slips out early the next morning to be in the solitude of prayer.


When the disciples find him, they ask why he disappeared since more people were looking for him. Then Christ proclaims: “To other towns I must go to proclaim the good news. It is for this that I came for.”


The crisis of choice, especially at midlife, is eloquently articulated by Robert Johnson in his book, “The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden,” in which he writes: “The meaning of life is not in the quest for one’s own power or enhancement but lies in the service of that which is greater than one’s self… the wounded part of ourselves can be left behind when it has served its function in the development of the mature person.”