Working in a comfortable retreat house in leafy Kew, Vic., close to the Yarra River (as I do), you might not think spiritual directors would be much in contact with the poor, the violated and the outcast.
But you would be mistaken, for those who come seeking spiritual guidance and a renewed contact with a loving God, whatever their economic circumstance, are indeed needy, and have suffered, and can be outcasts.
As they listen, spiritual directors learn from those who come to the retreat house (men and women, mostly older, not all affiliated with a Christian church) of their poverty of spirit and their need for healing.
The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius remind us, when we turn our minds to it and allow the Spirit of truth to open our hearts and minds, that we are all ‘trapped lovers’ (as Monty Williams puts it); none of us is invulnerable to the sin of others. We live in a world that can be as painful and crushing as it can be heart-warming and life-affirming.
Jesus, who had his Father’s love for the poor and outcast, felt at ease among the lepers, the crippled, the fisherfolk, tax collectors and prostitutes. Perhaps this was because he was well aware of his own vulnerability, physical and social. He chose not to take on the protection from distress that wealth or status can provide.
Like Father like Son: God desires to have an intimate personal friendship with every human and is constantly calling us into this, but is ignored or rebuffed by so many.
God’s beautiful gifts of our natural environment are undervalued or taken for granted. In the flesh of Jesus we see the Father — his divinity hidden, as Ignatius points out — who allows himself to be misunderstood, subjected to injustice and even put to death.
In the Exercises we are invited to become a companion of Jesus, at home among the poor and in touch with nature (Pope Francis has identified Mother Earth as being the poorest of the poorest of the poor!).
In the meditations on the Two Standards and the Three Degrees of Humility (and elsewhere) Ignatius challenges us to recognise and let go of those things we would cling to as we squirm to avoid being vulnerable.
Wondrously, just about everyone who experiences the Exercises emerges with a desire and an energy to reach out to the poor and marginalised around them. This is the gift of grace.
All of us who have heard God’s call to work with Jesus in the tradition of St Ignatius are invited into a ministry of friendship with the needy and of reconciliation with nature. Through the Exercises, Ignatius draws us into the vulnerable, wounded heart of Christ and there we are animated/enspirited by God’s passionate love for every creature.
Fr Iain Radvan SJ is the Director of Campion Centre of Spirituality in Kew, Vic.
‘Heal humanity and our world’ is the Second Priority of the five-year Apostolic Plan for the Society of Jesus in Australia.