By Brian Flagg,
The summer before last I went to the 8 day silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, CA and somewhat arrogantly proclaimed to my young Jesuit seminarian spiritual director that “I’m here to gather spiritual power to unleash on a corrupt political and economic system that persecutes my people, the poor and working people”.
Something to that effect.
After 2 eight day silent retreats there and especially after last summer’s 30 day silent retreat, I can still totally relate to that proclamation, but hopefully with a much more contrite and humble heart, one that is much warmer, less judgmental and much more in tune with the heart of Jesus.
It was there that my relationship with Jesus was re-kindled and heavily nurtured. It was like a return to my spiritual roots.
This ongoing encounter with Jesus, which hopefully flows into a countercultural lifestyle, informed totally by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is everything. It totally stands on its own, without any quid pro quos such as “I will be with Jesus in exchange for spiritual power for the Revolution”.
Who the hell am I to advance crap like that?
At the same time believers really do need to develop what Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel refers to as a more mature Catholic faith.
To be authentic, the faith has to have content and context. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatious and The Conscious Examen Prayer and everything else the Jesuits can teach you is great. But it’s little more than an exercise in self-help if it doesn’t challenge one to bear fruit in the context of the oppressive and massively unjust capitalist system in which we live.
We are citizens of a global Empire that pimps the faith of most Christians. The Empire uses our mostly co-opted Christian Catholic faith to uphold the status quo. It tells believers to do a little charity along the way and everything will be fine. Jesus’ mission to do justice and liberate the oppressed is conveniently not stressed or omitted entirely.
I am blessed because I live and work at the Catholic Worker house, where poverty and oppression are not abstract theories. Here it’s all about faces and names and stories and barrios, every day.
I just finished reading ‘The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today’ by Tim Gallagher, O.M.V. It has been a huge help to me, but at the same time he gives virtually no societal or cultural context in which to practice this great spiritual gift.
Near the end of the book he does say that The Examen Prayer is indeed the prayer of continuing spiritual growth, which can channel ones energies towards the holiness we are called to, which leads to the POWER of God’s grace that can work on humanity!
It reminds me of Gandhi’s ‘experiments in truth’ and his notion that she or he who can reduce their ego to zero is capable of tapping untold spiritual power.
That young spiritual director told me that when you pray it’s good to ‘name your desire.’
So that’s what I’m going to do. Think and pray and act big, be as humble as is humanly possible and continually revel in The Joy of the Gospel!