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July 2017 Vol 56 No 3
Learning Life's Lessons

Lost For Words: An Ignatian Encounter with Divine Love in Aggressive Brain Cancer

During a holiday in France in 2016, Paul Younger fell ill and was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour. Inevitably, his life has been radically changed by this, and his subsequent treatment. As a man schooled in the Spiritual Exercises, he found himself drawing deeply on the resources of Ignatian spirituality to discover God at work even here.

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The Good Thief

The gospel of Luke describes how a thief, crucified beside Christ, offers him a few kind words, and in turn receives a promise that he will enter Paradise alongside Jesus. The unexpected death of a much-loved uncle led Ruth Evans to reflect upon this story, seeing in it a dialogue of great significance for those struggling to make sense of life or facing their own death or of a loved one.

A Different World is Possible: Vision of Ignacio Ellacuría

Ignacio Ellacuría was one of a group of Jesuit victims of government death squads during the El Salvador civil war of the 1980s. As rector of the University of Central America, he analyzed the political situation of his country from the viewpoint of the poor. Ambrose Mong shows how his work has inspired later theologians to argue that presenting visions of alternative ways of living is an essential part of the Christian mission.

Juan Alfonso de Polanco: Memory, Identity and Mission

Juan Alfonso de Polanco was, for a crucial decade in the early years of the Society of Jesus, the secretary and confidante of St Ignatius. His writings played an important role in setting the future direction for Jesuit life and ministry. José García de Castro offers the example of his life as an indication of the importance of a lived sense of history within an institution.

Mary Ward: To Be or Not to Be … a Saint

Early in the seventeenth century Mary Ward tried to establish a religious order for women modelled on the Jesuits. She faced implacable opposition and persecution from within the church. It would take another two centuries before something like her vision was realised. Christine Burke argues that securing her canonisation would send an important message to those putting forward new ideas in today’s Church.

The Dialectics of Prayer and Sleep

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before he died, Jesus invited his closest disciples to ‘Stay awake and pray’. Sleep can be regarded as an enemy by those trying to pray. Yet, as Paul Dominic suggests here, the relationship between prayer and wakefulness is more complicated than this might suppose, and indeed God may sometimes be best encountered within sleep itself.

Exodus: A Journey Through Sickness

According to the gospel accounts, Jesus spent much of his public ministry confronting sickness and its causes. Present-day society often avoids and isolates illness, regarding it as a defeat for medical science. Here Oonagh Walker reflects on her own experience of sickness, and what, by embracing it, she found herself able to learn.

The Science of Affections: The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises through Thomas Aquinas

In the Jesuit Constitutions St Ignatius advised that all Jesuits training for the priesthood be instructed in the works of St Thomas Aquinas, a theologian whose work had greatly influenced his own studies in Paris. One place where this influence can be traced is in text of the Spiritual Exercises. Jade Marie Lasiste here shows how Ignatius’ use of the term ‘affections’ can be illuminated by comparison with Aquinas.

‘What Do You Want From Her?’ Women in the Gospel of John

The Roman Catholic church is beginning to look at the possibility of new roles for women within its organization. The scripture scholar Raymond Brown suggested in 1975 that the gospel of John provides a good resource for this investigation, in its portrayal of the women who were close to Jesus. Daniel Kearney considers what we might learn from their witness.

From the Foreword

‘FOR BETTER FOR WORSE, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health ….’ These familiar words, taken from the marriage vows in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, point to the need for commitment in bad times as well as good if we are to learn all that life has to teach us—lessons go on being offered until, as the next phrase puts it, ‘death us do part’. These lessons are not, obviously, restricted to married people. You will find in this issue of The Way much evidence of the kind of wisdom that can perhaps only be gained by reflecting on the experiences of sickness and suffering.

In 2015 Paul Younger wrote an article for The Way describing the Ignatian roots of the ecological vision underpinning Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’. A year later, while on holiday in France, he fell ill, and was diagnosed with a hitherto unsuspected brain tumour. Here he writes a deeply personal article describing how Ignatian spirituality has helped him to face all that has happened since. Oonagh Walker, another regular contributor to our journal, has also found that a recent experience of sickness took her back to the foundations of her own faith.

It was not sickness but violent, government-sponsored oppression that led to the deaths of six Jesuits, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, at El Salvador’s University of Central America in 1989. The rector of that university, Ignacio Ellacuría, who was among those killed, was a liberation theologian dedicated to tracing the work of God among the poorest of his fellow citizens. Ambrose Mong here describes the influence that his ideas continue to have among the many who would argue that it is essential to the Christian message to proclaim the possibility and necessity of alternatives to present social injustices—alternatives towards which we need actively to work. The ‘good thief’, crucified alongside Jesus, was also a victim of state violence. The few recorded words of his dialogue with Jesus speak profoundly to Ruth Evans of what it means to struggle to make sense of life, and death.

Mary Ward was a seventeenth-century Englishwoman who tried to found an apostolic order of women modelled on the Jesuits. Her suffering came at the hands of the Church, which rigorously persecuted her over several decades for her effrontery. Christine Burke believes that, in these changed times, she deserves rather to be recognised as a saint. Daniel Kearney is hopeful that the contemporary Church will soon be ready to broaden the roles open to women within it, and offers the example of the women in John’s Gospel as role models.

Battles for equality and justice seem a long way from the daily toil of a humble secretary. Yet without the work of one of Ignatius’ closest collaborators, Juan de Polanco, in writing letters and collating reports, José García de Castro demonstrates that little of the barnstorming missionary endeavour of the first, and later, generations of Jesuits would have been possible. Paul Dominic persuasively argues that God can be at work even in sleep, planting visions that can, if attention is paid, transform the lives of the visionaries themselves and those with whom they work. God influences those who are open to God in many other ways than in dreams, notably through what Ignatius called ‘the affections’, and the article by Jade Lasiste shows how the work of Thomas Aquinas can help us reach a fuller appreciation of what he meant.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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