Saturday, July 31, 2010

The beginning and the end of things.

Today is St. Ignatius' Day, an occasion which always (and unsurprisingly) leads me to reflect on how my Jesuit vocation has developed over time. One of the major themes of my eight-day retreat this year was what I like to describe as "the inscrutability of the call" - each vocation is in some sense a great mystery, shaped by factors that seem contingent or random but are nonetheless crucial. For me, it made all the difference that I met particular Jesuits (Tom King, Ron Murphy, Jim Schall, Joe Fitzmyer, and some others) in a particular place (Georgetown) at a particular time in my life (my undergraduate years). If any of these factors had been varied, I don't think my life would have moved in the direction that it has. One could easily chalk it all up to chance, but one could also say that it all unfolded according to God's inscrutable plan. Digitus Dei est hic.

The festal observances that I'm taking part in today in Innsbruck include a special lunch at the Jesuitenkolleg (in Austria, the main meal is generally taken at midday rather than in the evening) and a solemn liturgy at the Jesuitenkirche next door. The diverse group of Jesuits gathered here for St. Ignatius' Day present something like a micocosm of much of the international Society of Jesus - we have men from five continents, ranging in age from their late-twenties to mid-nineties, employed in various apostolates and representing a variety of theological opinions. Each one of the Jesuits gathered here today is different and unique, and the call to follow Christ came to each of us in a unique and wholly inscrutable way. God has called each of us in a different way, yet He has also called us together - and so we gather today, united in adoration of the same mystery.

For me, Innsbruck has been a particular good place to reflect on the mystery of this vocation. In a special way, I think, the Jesuitenkirche invites reflection on the beginning and the end of a Jesuit vocation. The splendid Baroque architecture and characteristically Jesuit iconography of the Jesuitenkirche call to mind the high ideals and spiritual chivalry that inspired St. Ignatius of Loyola and, in some sense, continue to inspire men to enter the Society of Jesus. The church also offers a poignant reminder of the cost of discipleship: a marble plaque beside one of the side altars remembers three Jesuits who were martyred for their outspoken opposition to National Socialism: Father Alois Grimm, Father Johann Steinmayr, and Father Johann Schwingshackl. These three men were far from the only Jesuit victims of the Nazis, but they are remembered in a special way here because they all had connections to Innsbruck; one of them, Johann Schwingshackl, now rests in the crypt of the Jesuitenkirche.

Father Schwingshackl is one of many Jesuits whose mortal remains lie in the crypt of the Jesuitenkirche. Some other well-known Jesuits are also buried here - Karl Rahner and the liturgical theologian Josef Andreas Jungmann are perhaps the most famous - but the vast majority are priests and brothers who worked quietly in Innsbruck and the surrounding area without ever receiving much attention or making much of a fuss about themselves. Regardless of their personal renown or lack thereof, all of the Jesuits buried here rest behind identical wooden gravemarkers listing their names and the dates of their birth and death. The simplicity and uniformity of the gravemarkers reminds us that, whatever led us to the Society of Jesus and whatever we may accomplish individually as Jesuits, we all end up in the same place.

On this Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I pray in gratitude for the gift of my vocation. I pray also for all my brother Jesuits - past, present, and future - that the Society of Jesus may be for all of us a help to salvation and a means of doing God's will. Finally, I pray for the readers of this blog and for all who find inspiration in Ignatian spirituality - as I pray for you, I ask also that you pray for me and for the members of the Society as we remember our founder. AMDG.


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