Mimi is a senior at Holy Cross High School. Several of her friends seem so sure about their college choice. Mimi is having a hard time choosing between her top three schools. How come her friends seem so sure when she’s so uncertain?
Bruce is really struggling his senior year at the University of Scranton. After graduation, two of his friends are going to spend a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Bruce feels some pull to a year of service, but he’s not sure if he should get a job or maybe go to grad school.
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Mimi and Bruce could benefit by becoming acquainted with St. Ignatius of Loyola, the little guy who started the Jesuits. His methods of discernment help people prayerfully figure out: Who am I? What do I really want? What might God be inviting me to do? Ignatian spirituality is, among other things, a way of learning how to make choices rooted in our deepest, truest, self in relation to God.
St. Ignatius teaches us to trace our inner experiences. What brings me joy? What do I daydream about doing with this one wonderful life? Are the choices I’m making in tune with what I love?
God communicates what we are to do by working desires in our heart. We know what God wants when we know what we really, really want. And what is possible and good. God wants me to be a Jesuit priest, but God wouldn’t want any organization to make me their accountant.
St. Ignatius suggests that when faced with a choice we weigh pros and cons. Maybe imagine what choice we would make if we were on our deathbed, looking back at our life. Or imagine what advice we would give to a friend if she or he were faced with the same choice.
Most important, ask God to get involved. Jesuit Father David Lonsdale teaches: Good discernment “has to do with allowing our deepest attitudes, aspirations, values and relationships to come to the surface, so that it is they which give shape and direction to our choices.”
Prayerful dialogue with Jesus helps things come to clarity and opens us up to making choices with God.
That’s basically what prayer is: reaching out to communicate with God and paying attention to God’s response. Comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “Why is it that when we speak to God we are said to be praying, but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?”
Actually, the way it works is that we talk to God, and the word God speaks back to us is our life.
How did I make the choice to become a Jesuit?
I was definitely the least likely guy in the history of St. Joe’s Prep in Philly to become a Jesuit. In college, my fraternity had a wild party at which I got uproariously drunk, fell down the steps and split my head open. The way my friends looked at me in the hospital made me realize maybe my wild man act was a little out of control.
A few nights later, I looked up at a full moon and said, “OK, God. If you’re there, do something.” Nothing happened. I went back to my room, randomly opened a little New Testament, looking for a response. My finger landed in Hebrews. Again, no sense of God doing anything.
But a few weeks later, I got a summer job as an orderly in a nursing home. Serving those old people changed my life. The joy I felt helping people get in and out of bed, cleaned, fed, dressed, etc., surprised me. I began to daydream about how I could spend my life in service of others.
In a few months the idea of priesthood entered my head, but I figured the way I’d been living my life disqualified me. But God doesn’t want perfect people. God works with people who are on the way.
Eventually I applied to the Society of Jesus and miraculously was accepted (the letter was dated April 1st!). I had to choose. Would I do this? I was hesitant for a number of reasons (after all, Julia Roberts might need a husband someday …). I decided to give the novitiate a try. I entered.
Early on as a novice, a realization of God’s deep love for me rooted in my heart. St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises grasped and formed me. For years, I’ve kept choosing to be a Jesuit.
The point is this: You make a choice and you look for confirmation. You choose something, and you keep choosing it. But if you find yourself deeply unable, or unwilling, to continue with the choice, you do discernment all over again.
St. Ignatius is known as the “Saint of Plan B.” Many of his plans didn’t work out. He thought God wanted him to serve in Jerusalem. Didn’t work out. And he never envisioned Jesuits being so involved in education.
Finally, remember the wisdom of Albus Dumbledore in the “Harry Potter” book series. He told Harry, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Know too you don’t have to do all this alone. Spiritual directors and guides can help.
Jesuit Father Rick Malloy has written three books and is university chaplain at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. He works for St. Anthony’s parish in Cody, Wyoming, and says weekend Masses in Yellowstone National Park for six weeks in the summer.
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