Today’s readings confront us with the disturbing reality of the presence of evil in our hearts and its effects in our lives and in our world. As the psalmist writes, we can beg God to deliver us from evil, but is that sufficient?
It is easy to see the consequences of greed in the joblessness of our economy, and abject poverty and hunger worldwide; the results of arrogance and self righteousness in war and the destruction of lives, cultures, and nations. “We wait for peace, to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead.” How do you respond to this: Profound sadness? Apathy? Hopelessness? Guilt? Inspiration to act?
It is often difficult to feel a personal connection to these overwhelming tragedies. What about the effects of evil, of turning away from God, in our own lives, and those of family and friends? The broken relationships, addictions, and life-style related illness? The other day I happened to meet up with someone that I hadn’t seen in 25 years, back when I was in my twenties. Although it was enjoyable to reminisce for a few moments, later in the day I found myself thinking about all the missed opportunities, wrong turns and mistakes of those years – and relationships that still needed – what exactly? Forgiveness? Closure? Compassion? Healing? I found myself with a mix of emotions – anger, guilt, gratitude – and wondering what God’s call was in the midst of this.
Today we celebrate the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Thankfully he has something to offer us as we wrestle with these questions of recognizing evil, or sin, and understanding how we contribute to it or resist it.
One of the most significant gifts of his legacy for the church is the “Rules for Discernment of Spirits”. Don’t be put off by the terminology. These guidelines can become, with practice and God’s grace, a very reliable “interior GPS” which alert us to roadblocks, potential wrong turns and dangers as we travel the road of life, seeking God’s dream for us and our world. They help us to recognize and reflect upon our thoughts and emotions – normal reactions to everything in our life – help us to identify the movements in our hearts directing us towards God and those that lead us away from God, and assist us in determining a course of action with some degree of confidence. Ignatius developed these “rules” out of his own experience – during years of reflecting on his thoughts, emotions and behavior, all the while struggling to grow in his relationship with God, desiring to give himself more and more over to God and God’s purposes. Eventually, with these tools, a wise confessor and God’s grace, Ignatius was able to be freed from one of his most debilitating habits of mind and heart – “scruples” – a paralyzing inability to accept oneself as forgiven.
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