Chaplain's Corner: Ignatius and Me

July ends on a special day – the last day of the month (July 31) is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola.  And I admit to all:  I am unabashedly and unapologetically a staunch fan and follower of Ignatius.  He is a hero and a mentor to me. 

How did a man who lived 461 years ago become my mentor?  This is simply not because I am a Jesuit (but we Jesuits do have a special allegiance to our founder).  Nor is it because of the books, letters and courses I have taken about him, or the Ignatian retreats I have experienced over the years.  Rater, I have gotten to know Ignatius through people – from the lives and friendship of his followers with whom I have shared my life.

The first Jesuit I ever met was in Korea, Fr. Jerry Breunig, S.J., was introduced to me in the Peace Corps, which I entered right after graduation from Michigan State.   He was running the Intensive Language Program at Sogang University in Seoul – the Jesuit university there -- and I was teaching English.  I didn’t know him well and we did not sit around talking about Ignatius – far from it.   I was never a pious young man as a youth growing up in Chicago nor as a recent college graduate.  Ignatius appeared in my consciousness by accident – my accident – because I was young and reckless.  I was introduced to the saint while lying in bed with a broken leg – a bone shattered by a foolhardy ride on a fast motorcycle.  Father Jerry handed me the autobiography of Ignatius in the hospital and suggested I read it.  After running out of reading material, I did.  And I was hooked.  It started me on a spiritual reading journey through Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Merton, and Dorothy Day.  My own pilgrimage began.  I thank Father Breunig for the introduction to Ignatius.  Three years later, I entered the Jesuits. 

Ignatius and Loyola: Through the eyes of Father Jerry Fagin, S.J.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90When I arrived at Loyola University New Orleans, some twelve years ago, I had just finished a sabbatical at a Jesuit retreat house in Wales, where I had spent some months studying Ignatian spirituality.  After being hired to become the new Director of the Jesuit Center at LoyNO, I was anxious to share my new enthusiasm for Ignatian spirituality with the greater Loyola community.  Within a short time, I met Father Jerry Fagin, S.J., who all said was the Loyola expert in Ignatian spirituality.   Seeing my interest in Ignatius, Father Jerry asked me to consider teaching a section of an Ignatian course he had been teaching literally for decades.  I was curious but undecided and decided to sit in his class lectures. 

I had sort of prided myself on being an Ignatian expert of sorts, yet as I sat in Father Jerry’s class, there was something about his teaching style that made Ignatius come alive.  It was almost as though I had never really known the saint, even though I was a member of his Society for over 30 years.  Maybe I had studied that Basque Saint too academically.  Father Jerry had a gift of relating Ignatius’ search for meaning to every student in that class – from the lost millennial to the aging Jesuit.  The way he shared Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment helped us in all of our decision-making.  The way he talked of developing a personal relationship with God from our own life experiences helped each of us find new meaning in our faith.  We are created from a loving God, and life is ‘one long love story’, he would say.

As I listened to Father Jerry talk of the Principle and Foundation, found in the Spiritual Exercises, I truly felt renewed and inspired.  He taught me something – that our faith and our spirituality are infused with a living spirit that changes and evolves as we do.  No matter how old we are or how many years we have studied spirituality or theology, we can always find new inspiration.   Even that simple Jesuit phrase I had been using for decades – ‘Finding God in all things’ had become trite and almost meaningless to me.  Father Jerry shared his simple yet profound Ignatian insights – that we can find the presence of God manifest in every corner of creation.  All we have to do is open the eyes of our heart.  I thank Fr. Jerry Fagin for inspiring me to deepen my relationship with Ignatius, and through him, with my God.

Earlier this year was Father Jerry Fagin’s fifth anniversary of his passing and I imagine Jerry is sharing great stories with Ignatius, both laughing profusely.

Loyola New Orleans at Loyola, Spain

This summer I traveled to Spain with a group of Loyola alumni, faculty & staff and friends, all who had some Jesuit connection.   It was the third time I had led such an Ignatian pilgrimage and each time I am amazed at the depth of spirituality and the strength of the community that forms among the twenty or so strangers who walk the Ignatian path.  I think it is that spirit of Ignatius that continues to inspire these communities. 

At the Ignatian sites and at various other places, you meet other groups of pilgrims – some walking the new ‘Ignatian Camino’ and others following the footsteps of Ignatius – one day ahead or one behind our group.  Each person walks that Ignatian pilgrimage as a searcher – alone or with others – following and deepening their search for God.  Even some 400 years later, Ignatius is still ‘saving souls’ as he himself called it.

Saints are not people who lived years ago, but are individuals who continue to inspire us.   Ignatius of Loyola shared his own search for God with the world, which has evolved into a spirituality that continues to live through those who open their hearts to it.   It is a spirituality for people trying to find God in their life experiences in the world around them.  It is not a spirituality for fleeing the world, but for people like us – active in the world.   Practical, not theoretical.  And we learn about this spirituality from those people who live it and share it with us and inspire us.

As we celebrate the spirit of Ignatius on the last day of July each year, we pray that his Spirit continues to inspire our world.   And if God is working in our world, this means everything we do is for the greater glory of God. 

Ad Majorem dei Glorium.                           
Father Ted Dziak, S.J.

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