Thursday, July 31, 2008

Notes on the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Every year on St. Ignatius' Day, I take some time to reflect on how I've spent this day in years past. The annual celebration of our founder's feast day gives me an opportunity to remember some touchstone experiences in the development of my Jesuit vocation and to consider the varied encounters I've had with the Society of Jesus in different times and places.

The first time I really celebrated St. Ignatius' Day was in July of 2002. At the time, I was a Notre Dame law student studying abroad in London. Already considering the possibility of a vocation to the Society, I often attended daily Mass at the Farm Street Church, a central London parish staffed by the Jesuits of the British Province. In late July, I learned that the parish would be celebrating the Feast of St. Ignatius with a special Mass to which all Jesuit alumni in London were invited. As a Georgetown alumnus, I made a point of attending the Mass. At a reception held afterward in the parish hall, I met people from the around the world and from all walks of life who had all been shaped by the common experience of a Jesuit education. This microcosmic encounter with the global dimension of the Society of Jesus strengthened my growing desire to become a Jesuit, and the recollection of that day still gives me a great sense of consolation.

In July of 2003, I found myself in Washington, D.C. In between my second and third year of law school, I had a summer fellowship with an international human rights organization and was living in a Georgetown residence hall that the university let out to visiting students during the summer. Being back on the Hilltop gave me the opportunity to once again attend the 11.15 pm daily Mass that had been an important part of my life as an undergraduate at Georgetown. Though the Mass was officially suspended for the summer, Father Tom King still offered it most weeknights for the benefit of 11.15 pm regulars who happened to be around. Advertised mainly by word of mouth, this summer edition of the 11.15 managed to draw a respectable crowd made up of the usual suspects as well as new faces who providentially appeared from time to time. As happened during the academic year, at least once a week over the course of the summer the 11.15 would be followed by a soirée at which attendees would chat over beverages and baked goods brought by loyal volunteers. Naturally, just such a soirée followed the 11.15 pm Mass on St. Ignatius' Day of 2003. Thus my reflection on the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola brings me back, as reflection on my vocation often does, to the pivotal experience of the 11.15 pm Mass at Georgetown.

Two out of the four years that I've been in the Society, I have spent St. Ignatius' Day at Villa Marquette in Omena, Michigan. (In 2004, I should note, I spent St. Ignatius' Day at home with my family and marked the feast only by attending Mass in a local diocesan parish.) My memories of St. Ignatius' Day at Omena tend to blend together with my memories of villa in general. At Omena, St. Ignatius' Day is typically celebrated with a festive meal featuring surf n' turf and assorted fancy desserts. Beyond a special menu, though, St. Ignatius' Day at Omena does not mark much of a departure from the customary villa routine - or at least it hasn't marked much of a departure in the times that I've celebrated St. Ignatius' Day at Omena.

Last year, I spent St. Ignatius' Day in California, where I worked for most of the summer at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. Living at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, I celebrated St. Ignatius' Day by attending Mass with the ten or so Jesuits who were present in the community that day and later had dinner at Santa Clara University with other Jesuits in the San Jose area. I wrote something about these experiences on this date last year, and those reflections still ring true. For me, the quiet, low-key celebration of St. Ignatius' Day that I enjoyed in 2007 seemed a perfect way to end a summer of rich but subtle graces, a summer in which I had what remains one of the very best experiences of community that I've enjoyed in the Society of Jesus.

This year, I'll be celebrating St. Ignatius' Day by joining other Jesuits in Santiago for Mass and dinner at one of the Jesuit communities here in the Chilean capital. It remains to be seen what role this particular experience of St. Ignatius' Day will play in the unfolding story of my Jesuit vocation. At the very least, though, I hope and pray that this day gives me another opportunity to explicitly give thanks to God for the great gift of belonging to this least Society. AMDG.


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