Jesuits and Spiritual Quests

June 29, 2014 at 11:53 am

You sometimes hear of people that come to India on a spiritual quest of sorts.   Herman Hesse, author of Siddhartha, and other early 20th century intellectuals between the Great Wars made such journeys popular and romantic.   Such quests are clearly one of the offshoots of globalization as East meets West and reflect the yearning of the human heart for God and peace.    As Augustine says “Our hearts find no rest until they rest in You.”

On some kind of a quest ourselves,  Kathleen and I have enjoyed watching the spiritual devotions and practices of the other faith communities as we visited the Ganga in some “holy” cities such as Rishikesh and Kolkata.  Of course, all cities are holy, but you cannot fault the entrepreneurial spirit.  Similarly,  Rishikesh has dubbed itself the world’s capital of yoga and so many westerners are going there that  the ashrams now have hot water and western style toilets. In another example of maximizing tourism,  Hindus are told if they die in Varanasi, they will be liberated from the cycle of death and rebirth and become like salt in the ocean!  Varanasi has a particularly brilliant Chamber of Commerce.   In a desire to understand and respect other spiritual journeys despite my sarcasm, we have also visited the object of Sikh pilgrimages, the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  Not to mention that we have also accompanied a few Buddhist monks to some of  the sites where their former  monasteries were  carved out of mountains  near Aurangabad.   Despite these various experiences, the spiritual highlights for me in India are 2.  The visit to Mother Teresa’s Mother House with Kathleen, Patrick and Martin  and getting to know the Jesuits at Loyola College in Secunderabad.  I have never spent a lot of time around Jesuits previously.  Their contemplative exercises bear fruit in their lives.

A recent example of how the Jesuits continue to minister to me can be found in the Loyola  Pastoral Bulletin for June.  It mentions a recent Jesuit martyr in Syria and the kidnapping of another Jesuit in Afghanistan.  Their stories reinforce the Church calendar’s marking the Solemnity  of Peter and Paul today who are also  both martyrs for Christ.  Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the killing of James by the sword and  the imprisonment of Peter during the same persecution.  It is followed by Paul’s farewell letter prior to his martyrdom.    It is understandable that I grew up viewing those who have died for Christ as an early Church phenomenon.    However,  more people are dying for Christ and their faith today than at any other time in the Church’s history.   Many of our contemporaries can say with Paul:

“ I am already being poured out like a libation and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have competed well.  I have finished the race.  I have kept the faith.  The Lord stood by me and gave me strength…and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.”

We really do not hear much about our contemporary  martyrs in the media.  Quiet, ordinary, everyday kind of people…

Fr Frans van der Lugt, SJ ( 4/10/38- 4/7/2014) was brutally slayed some three months ago by a masked gunman in a Syrian monastery.   He had been quoted as saying “ I don’t see Muslims or Christians.  I see, above all, human beings.”  ( See also the terrific film that won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010,   “ Des homes et des dieux” .  This film powerfully shares the story of a group of Trappist monks  recently living in Algeria who also see God’s children in all people.)

The bulletin goes on “A few days ago, we received confirmation from the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS)..that father Kumar SJ was kidnapped by a group of unidentified men in western Afghanistan.  Fr. Prem,  an Indian national, Jesuit , had accompanied teachers on a visit to a  JRS- supported school for returnee refugees near Herat.  He was kidnapped from the school….Fr Prem believed very strongly that it is God’s Will that he was sent to Afghanistan. “  Fr Prem looks like a handsome Indian male in his 40s.  Could have been a Bollywood star.

The JRS is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of forcibly displaced person.  With teams in 50 countries around the world, JRS provides education, health, social and other services to approximately 950,000 refugees and internally displaced persons, more than half of whom are women.  JRS services are provided to refugees REGARDLESS of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.  The ministry to women and the last statement of helping all people regardless is particularly powerful these days when one reads daily  about the oppression of women in Asia and  people being killed or simply shunned  because they do not share the same faith.  We should be so proud of our Catholic identity and the great work being done globally by committed Catholics for all God’s children.

Fr Heng, SJ,  speaking from Singapore continued  as he reflected  on the Jesuit mission:   “My brothers and sisters in Christ, the evils in the world that destroy precious human lives and the beauty of God’s creation in the world is a reality that you and I and all of us cannot ignore.  This is because regardless of who is being tortured or killed, they are still human beings.  And as we are all created as children of God, every single soul that exists and is born into this world is your brother and sister and my brother and sister.  This is precisely why Fr Francis died, Fr Prem is kidnapped and why thousands of JRS team members are reaching out to refugees in the world.”

“Your heart and my heart must be moved and affected personally, beginning with the aged, the sick, the depressed in our homes and in our country, and indeed to all suffering peoples of the world.”  Mother Teresa also emphasizes that we do not have to move to Calcutta to minister to the poor, sick and dying.  There are people everywhere who are lonely and need a friend.  They thirst for love.

Fr. Heng continued, “And as we are inspired by Jesus’ disciples and Fr Francis van der Lugt, who died for their faith, and as we pray for the safety of Fr Prem, let us be reminded that the degree to which we love Jesus is the degree to which we dare to say to Jesus, ‘Lord I am willing to love all the people you place in my life, regardless of how difficult it is to love them or how remote they are to me…as refugees, or other poor, needy and marginalized in the world…they are all your children…we are all your children…give us the wisdom to love them as Jesus has shown us.”

There are quests and there are quests.  Somehow, spending time in an ashram doing yoga pales in comparison to Fr Prem’s journey.  Yet, I am sure God is pleased by all who yearn and seek in sincerity and truth.  I am fortunate that God is merciful and loving as I look at my puny little quest.