In his second book, “Heroic Living,” Chris Lowney bridges the gap between our lofty vision and mission and the practical day-to-day steps we must take to make the vision and mission a reality in our daily lives.
This is the wisdom we need to make a difference in the lives of others or in the life of even just one person. This is what service is all about—making a difference in the lives of others.
This is the wisdom we gain as we go through the process of formation, as we “… purify our hearts… control our desires and so to serve you in freedom.” This is the wisdom of the movement of grace in the second week of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola: “Lord, that I may see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.”
The musical “Godspell” drives home the point as it puts into song this movement. “Dearest Lord, three things I pray. To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more dearly, day by day.” Day by day, may I serve you in the day-to-day.
Serving God in freedom is following Jesus more nearly in the day-to-day, living out the grace and pattern of the Cross and Resurrection in the day-to-day. Surely no one will argue with this. Surely many will agree when we say “easier said than done.” Amen.
Last week we focused on the second part of awareness—purifying our hearts, which means we are aware of our inordinate attachments; controlling our desires, which means we are aware also of the need to reorient our desires or passions. I refer to this as the second part of awareness; it focuses on our weaknesses and shortcomings.
There is a first part in the Ignatian dynamics of awareness. It is an awareness of our blessings, our goodness and strengths. This is a deliberate order in the process. Ignatius says that a person must be aware of these positives first so that he/she may feel secure and confident. This way the person becomes more pre-disposed to facing the negatives in his/her life; more open to enter this second part of the process.
Try this out with the people you work and/or live with. See what wonders it can work. Let me share an example.
One of the most important jobs of a principal is to give feedback and the annual evaluation and rating of the faculty of the Ateneo de Manila High School. This was a very contentious issue and a source of strife.
The first year I did this, I relied on the wisdom of Ignatius. The feedback session was an hour of one-on-one meeting with each faculty. I would review the files of each faculty for that school year, read through all the evaluations and make notes, which I would use in my session. In the first 15-20 minutes I would give all the positive feedback, where the teacher did well, citing concrete examples of how these positive points were observed.
After 15-20 minutes of this, the teacher, on his or her own, would begin to talk about what needed improvement in his or her teaching. Then a very open and constructive conversation would ensue. What even made it more amazing was that the areas of improvement the teacher volunteered were exactly the same points indicated in his/her yearend evaluation.
This wisdom of Ignatius reminds me of Zachhaeus, whom the Lord deemed worthy to befriend and defend. Because of this, Zachhaeus confesses his shortcomings. Not only does he confess, but he also completes the reconciliation through restitution.
Zachhaeus is now free to follow Jesus. He is now free to serve God and others.
Awareness and acceptance—“Lord, that I may see thee more clearly”—this first step in the formation is the starting point. One can neither bypass it nor get stuck in it. It is the necessary means to an end, which is freedom: freedom from and freedom to.
When one becomes aware of and accepts one’s person and life, see everything and the whole again, one cannot but see that in all things God is present, and in all moments he is providential. God is always present and lovingly guiding all moments in our life. This is the greatest freedom—knowing that He is in charge.
The response to this, as Ignatius wisely points out, is to love Jesus more dearly. And for Ignatius, “Love is best expressed in deeds.” To love Jesus more dearly is to follow Him more nearly; living a life of service, a service lived with greater freedom as it is lived with greater love.
As the scripture stories of the call of the first disciples illustrate, “… They left behind everything and followed him”; this is the grace “dramatized”: a freedom from—“they left behind everything”—and a freedom to—“and followed him.”
In our annual retreat on our second year in the seminary in Novaliches, the late Fr. Joe Cruz, SJ, narrated a story about a Jesuit cardinal in Rome. He was one of the world-renowned theologians of the Church and on his 80th birthday he had a small dinner with close friends.
After dinner, the cardinal played a piano concerto with the skill and passion of a concert pianist. It was the first time his friends listened to him play. It was only then that most of them found out that he had left behind a potentially brilliant career as concert pianist in Europe to be a Jesuit priest.
“You give us strength to purify our hearts, to control our desires and so to serve you in freedom.” It all comes together in our serving God and others with the greatest freedom. It all comes together in our serving God and others with the greatest love we can give—in all things to serve, in all things to love.
St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, a Jesuit brother, worked as a porter in a Jesuit house in Europe. As doorman, he had to run to the door every time someone rang the bell. Doing this, he always believed that in every guest he welcomed into the Jesuit house, no matter his/her station in life, he welcomed Jesus Himself.
This is the greatest service with the greatest love—as Ignatius puts it in the “climax” to his Spiritual Exercises, “to find God in all things” in our day-to-day life or, as my late beloved spiritual director put it, “to find God’s extraordinary love and grace in the ordinary things of our life.”