Ignatius Day North Bay 2017

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Mane must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” 23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?  (Luke9, 18-25)

The French Canadian Jesuit vocation prayer for the month of July reads :

Seigneur, tu nous appelles à être pèlerins de ce temps à la suite de notre père Ignace.  Nous te rendons grâce de nous avoir rassemblés pour être serviteurs de ta mission.  Aide-nous à bien entendre la voix de l’Esprit.  Donne-nous la soif de la partager au monde et de la faire découvrir aux jeunes.

(Lord, you call us to be pilgrims for our time in the footsteps of father Ignatius.  We give you thanks for having gathered us together to be servants of your mission.  Help us to be attentive to the voice of the Spirit.  Give us the thirst to share what we have heard with the world, especially with the younger generations).

‘Pilgrims for our age’ and ‘servants of your mission’; ‘attentive to the voice of the Spirit.’   I couldn’t help reflecting on this prayer in preparation for our celebration today, in the midst of our canoe pilgrimage that carries with it so many rich themes…. People from all walks and traditions, trekking and paddling across this vast land, experiencing the age old challenges of being at the mercy Creation with all its power and majesty, in the midst of which we find time for “dialogue, reconciliation and friendship.”   Do I have it right?

And what a time to speak about Ignatius as pilgrim, following in his footsteps; evoking the theme of ‘servants of his mission’!  And even more broadly to evoke the voice of the Spirit as our guide.   Something for everyone, I hope.

When I think of pilgrimage I think of ‘back to basics’;  that is, we have our journey in front of us each day, we need to have the sustenance to give us strength for the long hours of exertion, so we need to feed ourselves and quench our thirst  (a few other basics…. You know what I mean) AND, because we’re social creatures, we need a good balance of conversation and quiet – group activity and down time.

In addition, if we take Ignatius as our guide for today especially, we add the most ardent desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the first disciples and to contemplate his words:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

The pilgrim life in all its dimensions was obvious for Ignatius and his first companions in their understanding of having left everything in order to follow the path laid out for them by Jesus, including the human and spiritual challenges that many here have been experiencing these past days.

I recently read that this particular Gospel text was proposed by Ignatius to Francis Xavier, who at the time had been bent on a career of material success; all of which changed after Xavier’s ‘pilgrimage’ through the Exercises, his vows at Montmartre with the first companions, and his commitment with them to stay together…. Not to mention his ultimate pilgrimage to India and the Far East.

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

To bring our conversation to the present, of course, much that is wrong with our world comes as the result of too many people turning Jesus’ phrase on its head and trying to ‘gain the whole world’.  What does this mean?  I justify my actions because I need to take care of myself no matter the cost.  This extends from individuals to various segments of society and to entire nations; a kind of survival of the fittest mentality without considering the consequences.

What is the legacy this has given us?   What has this led us to?  Colonialism? Xenophobia? Genocide?  Rampant capitalism?  Mineral extraction/environmental degradation?  Commodification of the human person?  The destruction of the very land and resources that we need for our own survival.  I’m not saying forget the past but this is our contemporary reality.

The tragedy is not only the effect that ‘survival of the fittest’ has on the rest of the world but also the so called ‘winners’ ‘forfeit their very self.’  Some might say, ‘they had it coming.’  Sure.  But that is not Jesus’ way!  His world is one where the lion lays down with the lamb and where the child plays over den of the viper.

Erik Oland, SJ

The real question – and this is why I am in wonder of this pilgrimage – is how to get many distinct groups, sometimes with murky past relations, to reconcile with one another and to come together with common desires and dreams of making the world a better place.

Finally, it’s about being attentive to the voice of the Spirit’ for it is here where we can really come together in our desire to be attentive to that Voice that is greater than all of us.  The voice of the Great Spirit is found at the deepest part of each individual as well as in the breeze coursing across the water or in the gentle rustle of the leaves.

It has a language that is understandable only when one is able to get beyond those attachments/wounds that keep us stuck in one place (attitude, judgement, bias etc.).  Let us continue to move with the Spirit!  Gchi-miigwechwigoo  Zhemnidoo  noogom giizhgak (‘We thank you Creator for today’)

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All photos are courtesy of Jesuit sources.

Erik Oland, SJ, is the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in French Canada.

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