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Tilling the soil

Recently a 40-something alumna described her life and activities for me. I got tired just listening. She launched her children off and into college but still finds herself involved in scouts and teaching religious education in her parish, as she has for years. A women’s Habitat for Humanity project captured her imagination a few years ago, and she spends many Saturdays joining other women who have learned carpentry, electrical skills and basic construction. They are rehabbing a house alongside the new homeowner  a single mother of three.

The alumna manages all of this activity while maintaining her marriage of 25 years, staying connected with her young adult children and balancing her professional work in health care. She probably would not describe her choices as anything special. She is doing what she believes she is called to do.   

Underlying her activity is an incredible calm, a sense of meaning and purpose. Her life is a balanced mix of action and reflection and faith. Her “way of being” mirrors the hope of St. Ignatius as he guided people through the Spiritual Exercises, firmly believing that contemplation and reflection lead to action. Followers of Ignatius are often called contemplatives in action.

Ignatius brought something unique to the spiritual life, a legacy that has stood the test of time. Rather than spending his life in a monastery steeped in prayer, he urged his Jesuit companions to embrace the world, to go out into the streets and the hillsides to look and see, hear and feel, taste and smell. For Ignatius, the world became the source of contemplation that called him to action. If we follow his example, our awareness of and connection to events and the plight of people worldwide will be as important to us as what happens inside our own homes.

The contemplative in action is aware of the struggling single mother slogging it out; the veteran returned from the war and now facing PTSD; the fears of parents who don’t have enough money to feed and clothe their children; the global unrest in many parts of the world; the hate crimes, street violence and realities that people live with every day.

In a few days, our university community will begin Mission Week, a celebration that reminds us of these elements of our Ignatian heritage. This year’s theme, “The World is our Home,” touches on the insights of St. Ignatius in inviting us to be intellectually and morally engaged in the welfare and progress of people throughout the world and more fully attuned to and aware of deep blessings and moments of grace. The moments and places in which we are active and aware, paying attention to both the light and the dark, become the source of prayer, reflection and contemplation.

Dr. Susan Mountin, Jour ’71, Grad ’94, director of Manresa for Faculty, helps us till the soil of faith in a quarterly column on Ignatian values.


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