Opening the mind and heart
Beginning today offering up the day to the Lord with the help of today's Saint.
The priests who changed my life.. happened to be Jesuits!
Learning about Ignatian Spirituality was an important breath of fresh air in the midst of an academically-demanding first year at Oxford University. I had grown up in a partly Catholic household and was bringing with me to this new life experience a few crutches - the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and two prayers that my Spanish grandmother wrote herself and that I had memorised. So I was ready to go to mass on Sundays and pray before bed...but that was as creative as I was getting with my spirituality.
I met a group of priests at the Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy who changed my life...they happened to be Jesuits! They were lively and always fun to be around, yet at the same time deeply prayerful and sincere. One initial way in which they helped me adjust to my new environment was by explaining to me the history of the Reformation and English Catholicism. Having grown up in Spain and North America, this history was quite unfamiliar to me, but its influence was evident all around Oxford. Who better to explain than a Jesuit!
I was also eager to do everything at once! I enrolled in the RCIA program and was confirmed in May of my first year. That summer, I joined a group of students on a trip to Mwanza, Tanzania. There we taught English at a local school. Our group became close and began a journey of faith with our accompanying Jesuit, Fr Simon Bishop. Part of the journey was to discover how much mass really meant to each of us - were you willing to join the community of Mwanza sisters and wake up at 5 am in order to attend?!
I started sobbing around the circle of teas
Every evening we would talk after dinner - over a cup of tea, of course. We began our first sessions by asking: "Who was St. Ignatius?" We then reflected on what St Ignatius thought of Jesus and how he changed his life. At first it all seemed like just an interesting story, good to know for future reference. But after a while, something started to bother me as I was asked to reflect over and over again. Something inside me was being pulled in all sorts of different directions. A few weeks into the trip, after an exercise in discernment, I started sobbing around the circle of teas after dinner. I was surprised by how powerful this daily time of learning about Ignatius and of reflection was for me. I realised that I was gradually learning to think about my own life in terms of God's plan for me. At that particular moment, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all those who, throughout my life, had helped me to understand God's love for me. I thought especially of my grandmother back home, whom I missed terribly. I understood that that the spirituality which she had so lovingly taught me earlier in my life had sown the seed for my own unique relationship with God which was now beginning to flourish.
It was at this same chaplaincy that I went on to meet my now husband. He had also gravitated towards the chaplaincy. We had both been shaped by some common experiences there, such as participation in the annual "retreat in daily life." This involved the commitment to a daily half an hour of prayer - and a chat with a spiritual guide - for one week, all in the midst of busy everyday life as a student.
Finding God in the football team
Taking the Jesuit understanding of "God in all things" to heart, however, we also both found God - and each other - in the Chaplaincy football team! Every year we played against the Cambridge Chaplaincy. The Fisher-More Cup, named in reference to our respective Chaplaincy chapels and their saints, was contested multiple times during my years there. It was never without serious enthusiasm for possession of the cup! In my second year, I was so keen to win back the cup (which was sadly residing in Cambridge at that point) that I was asked to captain the team. One especially passionate game pitted our team of book-worms against a Cambridge side including a few highly competitive Dominican brothers and American exchange students. In a hard-fought battle, we eventually won the cup back! Notwithstanding the passion of the game, it was great to have this connection between chaplaincies and start conversations which helped me to recognise the richness of other forms of spirituality within the Catholic church as a whole.
We were married last summer
Upon hearing of my exploits on the football field, my then-admirer wasted no time in signing up for the team the following term. From then on, we got to know each other well as we shared many long conversations about both spirituality and football. The rest is history! We were married last summer in my grandmother's hometown in Spain. Our chaplain from our Oxford days, Fr Dushan Croos SJ, presided at our nuptial Mass.
I continue to reflect that Ignatian Spirituality fits naturally with the rest of life. It affirms the good and true feelings and thoughts within you. It is a channel for God to work through both passion and reason, and it is ultimately a path to discover your place in God’s plan. I am grateful to have experienced it in a way that has opened my mind and my heart.
Listen to these reflections on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ a man who truly found God in all things.