A Stained Cookbook Means Somebody Used It Often

Sometimes the liturgical calendar delivers punches in such succession that we find it difficult to keep up.  Today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus.  And what could be said about the Jesuits that has not already been said? There’s no time to rest, though. Tomorrow is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists, an order with its own proud history of apostolic work.  It is, after all, a good thing that the Church thinks in centuries, not minutes, days, weeks, and certainly not tweets!  (Pope Francis is, though, an accomplished Twitter user.)  We need the liturgical cycle to bring before us this unceasing stream of saintly exemplars.  We do our best to emulate them, knowing that next year we hope to glean a little more insight from the saints as they become familiar friends.  For me, it’s St. Ignatius Loyola (and St. Alphonsus), but my colleague Carmina Chapp attends instead to Dorothy Day. Somebody else might appreciate  St. Charles Lwanga or a saint known only to a few people and God.

St. Ignatius of Loyola Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius of Loyola
Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius ranks among those Catholic greats—St. Augustine of Hippo, Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton—who generate such interest that simple internet searches threaten to melt down servers.  Still, Ignatius’ life seems almost operatic, even movie-worthy.  Born to a wealthy family, Ignatius’ military career broke amid cannon fire at Pamplona, Spain.  His wounded leg had to be broken twice in order to set properly.  Bedridden, Ignatius began reading the lives of the saints. St. Ignatius thus understood fully St. Luke’s depiction of Christ’s injunction to treasure God, not earthly things.

But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Providentially, that Gospel reading appears today, St. Ignatius’ feast day. Having endured what he had, earthly possession surely seemed frail indeed.  As one blogger, working with Dom Gueranger, puts it: “It dawned on him that the Church also has her army which, under the orders of the representative of Christ, fights to defend here below the sacred interests of the God of hosts.”  An army for God—in the days of the Reformation, that stirred Ignatius to action.  Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—in 1534, headquartered in Rome.  From there Ignatius sent missionaries all over the work:  China, Japan, India, and both North and South America.  As he did, he charged them: “Go, my brothers, Inflame the world and spread everywhere the fire which Jesus Christ came to kindle on the earth.”

There’s an image: setting the world afire for God!  Yet St. Ignatius’ best-known venue to recognizing that same fire in ourselves came through a most prosaic book:  The Spiritual Exercises. Like much of the Catholic tradition I first met St. Ignatius Loyola while studying at Wabash College, led by a host of devout Presbyterian scholars.  They loved the Church and thus they taught its history, even the Catholics who opposed their beloved reformers Calvin and Luther.  William Placher’s description (p. 176) of the Spiritual Exercises always stuck with me:  “Much of it has all the literary eloquence of a cook-book, and a similarly practical intent, designed as it is for spiritual directors to use in guiding people through a religious retreat.”  Bill liked to cite St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church,” the thirteenth of which requires: “To keep ourselves right in all things, we ought to hold fast to this principle: What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it.”  For Protestants suspicious of Rome, that’s a great line, but it paints a paltry picture of the saint himself.  E.g., Bill rarely mentioned the other rules which extoll a medieval piety of saint veneration or the preceding “Rules for Distributing Alms” (or, more fundamentally, the thoroughly Scriptural foundation for the entire Exercises).  Loyalty to Rome came as part of that inflaming fire the first Jesuits found God had given them through St. Ignatius.  Jesuit identity certainly involves ecclesiastical fidelity, but not only that.

At one level, of course, Placher is right;  cookbooks are meant to be used.  Which is the better cookbook:  the slick production with recipes requiring several odd, rarely used ingredients or the one that bears clear signs of frequent, sustained use?  After all, if stained with sauces and flour, that cookbook has been used.  The recipes work—cooks can follow and make them and, this is important, those consuming like the offerings.  St. Ignatius’ spiritual direction certainly fits this.    It works and has done so over the centuries.  St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises describe a retreat to be taken over thirty-one days.  Jesuits take the entire retreat at least twice during their lives, and today the laity often seeks St. Ignatius’ retreat-director advice episodically—whether seeking insight on prayerful examination of the day or extra encouragement to lose self in order to gain Christ. The Exercises still generate widespread consideration far beyond the Jesuits’ own members.  The Jesuit cookbook still contains much that satisfies.

Like some diets, though, that draw criticism, not everybody likes it.  In Victorian England both Jesuits and Redemptorists—there’s tomorrow’s saint again—particularly stirred up anti-Catholic sentiment among Protestant elites.  Not content with merely advancing popery, the legacies of both St. Ignatius and St. Alphonsus celebrated suspiciously loose spiritualities.  Both seemed willing to contort the Gospel to fit the apostolic situation.  This adaptability, though, should be seen in the context of St. Ignatius’ charge:  ignite the world.   Sometimes, as any camper knows, you need more than one match to start that fire.  St. Ignatius, having lived quite a life before he came to God, developed a reformed Catholic spirituality that provided that ignition.  Through the Exercises’ simple prose have come a plentitude of paths, all through the Church, back to God.

Jeffrey Marlett teaches theology and Catholic social teaching for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Programs. He blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

 

A Saint for My Times

© Copyright 2010 CorbisCorporationHaving never met Dorothy Day in person (I only learned of her almost a decade after her death), I may have no business offering an opinion about whether or not she should be canonized a saint in the Catholic Church. Yet, I will attempt to do so, as she has had an immeasurable influence on my life, particularly as model of a Catholic woman in the United States of America in the twentieth century.

I came alive in my faith as a college student at the University of Notre Dame in the late eighties. A study abroad program in Rome caused my experience of “church” to explode – I came to realize that my suburban New Jersey parish and Catholic school were not exactly representative of this Body of Christ to which I belonged.  My post-Vatican II American Catholicism seemed superficial in light of the global reach of the Church, not to mention its ancient Tradition. I returned home wanting a deeper relationship with Jesus, wanting to live His Gospel more radically than I had before.

Upon my return to campus, I took a course in Catholic Social Teaching. It was there that I was assigned The Long Loneliness. And there she was. A lay woman living the Gospel radically. In the United States. In the turbulent 20th century. A saint for MY times.

There are two reasons why I would like to see Dorothy Day canonized so she can become a role model for American Catholics. The first addresses the polarization of the Catholic “right” and the Catholic “left”. In the past twenty-five years, I have watched the gap between traditional Catholics and liberal Catholics grow ever wider. I believe Dorothy represents what is right and good about both. She transcends the polarity, encourages the good of each side, and challenges the not-so-good. In her quintessential Catholic way, she embraces the both-and, as opposed to the dualistic either-or.  Thus, a woman who attended a Latin Mass everyday (prior to Vatican II, of course) was an ardent promoter of social justice (the influence of Fr. Virgil Michel, O.S.B. is evident).

We cannot build up the idea of the apostolate of the laity without the foundation of the liturgy.

-Dorothy Day, “Liturgy and Sociology”, The Catholic Worker, January 1936

Dorothy understood that meeting Christ in the liturgy is essential for performing the works of mercy. Her ardent prayer life, including her devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist as a daily communicant, her love of the saints, and her fidelity to the Liturgy of the Hours as an Oblate of St. Benedict, fueled her work with the poor and her desire for justice.  When she challenged the hierarchical church, she was challenging it to be more faithful to the liturgy by being more radically faithful to its implications. When one worships and receives the Body of Christ, one has an obligation to care for all God’s children (and creation). She did not challenge the Church to change her teachings, but rather to live up to them. She saw the potential of an organized Church to truly change the world in a way that not even organized labor could. I will not presume what Dorothy would say about the liturgical reform of Vatican II. My point is simply that in order to sustain her work at the Catholic Worker, she needed to worship well. Likewise, because she worshipped well, she was moved to do the work she did. Liturgy was the source and summit of her Christian life.

The second reason addresses the inculturation of the American church. Founded by Protestants with a deistic worldview contrary to the biblical-sacramental worldview of the Church (and of Dorothy), the American project poses a challenge to Catholics of how to be a “good Catholic” and a “good American”. Dorothy taught me that it is OK to put my Catholic faith before my American citizenship. The fact that she never voted, even though she had marched and gone to jail for the privilege, tells me that the only true authority in her life was God, and that her work would be the same no matter who was in the White House. In this way she was an anarchist – not so that she could do whatever she wanted, but so she would do whatever God wanted her to do, regardless of the consequences. She did not depend on the state to do for her brothers and sisters what she knew was her responsibility as a Christian. And she was willing to be a martyr for it. In this way, she was truly free.

Though I never met the woman and may have no place at the table of her cause for canonization, I hope and pray that Dorothy Day is made an official saint of the Catholic Church. I pray for it everyday. Dorothy was a faithful daughter of the Church, and an inspiration to this Catholic woman in the United States of America in the twentieth (and twenty-first) century, as I strive to be a faithful daughter myself.

Prayer for the Canonization of Dorothy Day

God our Creator,
Your servant Dorothy Day exemplified the
Catholic faith by her conversion,
life of prayer and voluntary poverty,
works of mercy, and
witness to the justice and peace
of the Gospel.
May her life
inspire people
to turn to Christ as their savior and guide,
to see his face in the world’s poor and
to raise their voices for the justice
of God’s kingdom.
We pray that you grant the favors we ask
through her intercession so that her goodness
and holiness may be more widely recognized
and one day the Church may
proclaim her Saint.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College. She lives on the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania.