Am I connected?
If someone hasn’t written yet on the subject of email and spirituality, I am sure they will soon. Much is said about the social media of Facebook and twitter, while the old fashioned email hardly gets a mention. Yet for many people email can dominate, define and direct their day. When I get up in the morning, do I switch on my computer immediately (assuming I have switched it off!), anxious to see if anyone has communicated with me while I have been asleep? Depressed to find that no-one has answered any of my emails, am I further cast down by looking at the mass of emails I haven’t yet answered.? Do I feel the insistent demand from the other end for an answer which I don’t quite know how to give? Am I connected or disconnected? Maybe I should have started the day in the old fashioned way of finding a place where I can let God have a chance to speak to me.
However an interesting email connected me in a different way this week. If you remember the film, The Mission, you probably got a sense of the power politics involved. Spain and Portugal were putting pressure on the Vatican to suppress the Jesuits in South America because of the way they were working with the Amerindian peoples. This was part of a larger movement which ended with the suppression of the whole Jesuit order in 1773 by Pope Clement XI. Next year 2014 sees the two hundredth anniversary of the restoration of the Jesuits by Pope Pius VII.
The email carried the news that a commemorative calendar has been produced to celebrate the restoration. The way the calendar does this is to pick twelve Jesuits who have been active in different ways during the last two hundred years.
Remembering people who have gone before us is a large part of being a human being. The Eucharist is built around Jesus’ command Do this in memory of me, and remembering Jesus in Word and Sacrament is central to our sense of being connected with him, the Father and one another. The Spirit activates that memory for us and brings us together as a community of believers.
Among the twelve Jesuits in the calendar, there is one who worked in Scotland, in the parish of St Joseph’s North Woodside Road in Glasgow. Gerald Manley Hopkins was a poet whose work only really became known after his death. He had a heightened sense of Saint Ignatius’ dynamic of finding God in all things. Hopkins’ sensitivity to God’s presence in the creation is remarkable. He is a difficult poet, but these lines are clear enough taken from his poem Inversnaid which can be read on the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let these be left,
O let them be left, wilderness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Another visionary among the twelve is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French palaeontologist, a remarkable combination of a scientist and a mystic, committed to showing the connectedness between science and religion.
Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.
Other Jesuits included in the calendar are Miguel Pro, martyred in Mexico in the 1920s, Rupert Meyer, a German Jesuit , who lost a leg as a chaplain in the first world war and became an outspoken critic of the Nazis and spent most of the war under house arrest. Another Jesuit imprisoned in Russia was Walter Ciszek. He spent 23 years with torture and hard labour in the gulags.
There are also two great figures from Vatican 2 who both subsequently became cardinals, the German Scripture Scholar, Augustin Bea and the French theologian Henri de Lubac.
From the Americas, there is Eugene de Smet who was a missionary among the native American Indians in the United States in the nineteenth century and is said to have travelled 180,000 miles during his ministry. There is also Albert Hurtado, a Chilean priest who founded the Hearth of Christ movement to give shelter to abandoned children. As part of his commitment to the social teaching of the Church, he was instrumental in founding trade unions in Chile. A happy man who always said to God in the evening , Contento Señor (I’m happy, Lord).
There is also the former superior general of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe at whose tomb Pope Francis prayed when he visited the Jesuit Church of the Gesù in July. Father Arrupe was novice master in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. Living among the Japanese also gave him a sense of God in the lives of non-Christians. The Indian Jesuit Tony de Mello also drew on the insights of Buddhism and Hinduism in the development of his helping people to pray. There is an immediacy and attractiveness about his stories which connect with people’s experience and help them connect with God.
The last Jesuit in the calendar is a Jesuit brother whose name I hardly knew. Brother Vincente Cañas who has found murdered in 1987 in the little hut in the Mato Grosso where he lived among the Amerindians threatened by exploiters of various kinds. Someone who knew him wrote:
He became Amerindian in the deepest sense of the word...He didn’t seem, he was Amerindian. He had taken on himself the most complete and utter respect for everything that was Amerinidian.
There is something here about being connected. From this testimony, we can see that Vincente was connected to the point of identification with the people whom he loved and among whom he lived and died. The connection that God has made with us in Christ is also to be seen in his loving, living and dying among us. And we connect by remembering that living and dying among us which we continue to experience as God loving us.
Jim Crampsey SJ