Archives For July 2015

“What is it, my soul, that I seek in the world? How long shall I pursue and grasp at shadows?”

–St. Francis Borgia, S.J.

borja 2

(Moreno Carbonero, José; The Conversion of the Duke of Gandia)

During my second semester of university while studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain, one of my professors asked me a penetrating question, “David, what do you think about death?”

Little did I know that one of the most famous Jesuits, St. Francis Borgia, had considered the same question in the same country more than 400 years ago. Whereas my professor brought the question to my attention in conversation, the question came to St. Francis Borgia through a shocking experience, which the painting above demonstrates in vivid detail.

Francis was a member of the high nobility: one of his close relatives was the Pope and his great grandfather was the King Ferdinand who sent Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean. Francis’ personal title was the Duke of Gandia.

In 1539 Empress Isabella of the Holy Roman Empire passed away very prematurely. All of Europe knew her to be a stunningly gorgeous young lady, but death unexpectedly snatched away her riches, her fame, and her beauty. As Francis Borgia was close to the Emperor’s family, the authorities chose him to be the one who would confirm that the body inside the casket was in fact the body of Isabella before she would be interred. When the lid on the casket was lifted, all who looked upon the corpse inside were taken aback by the decay that had already occurred. Some report that Francis stared at the face of the former empress for several minutes while every one else turned away. Others say that Francis, as portrayed in the painting above, was so disgusted that he grabbed the shoulders of one of his knights to avoid falling to the floor in faint.

Either way, the event had a powerful effect on Francis’ life. He allegedly acclaimed to those who were gathered, “This death which has thus treated the imperial diadem, has already leveled his bow to strike me. Is it not prudent to prevent its stroke, by dying now to the world, that at my death I may live to God?” Francis made plans to give up his wealth, which was substantial, and to enter religious life in the Catholic Church. As soon as his wife passed away, he set aside some money for his children, and he entered the Society of Jesus, the order to which I belong. Eventually, he became the third superior general of the Jesuits.

When my professor had asked me the question about death, my response was very different. In a moment of pure arrogance, I said, “I do not think that I will die.” I responded this way because I was afraid of death and because I figured that it was a moment far away. However, little by little, I came to see, as St. Francis Borgia did, that there is no reason to fear death if we prepare ourselves to meet Christ. A life that pursues fame, riches, and beauty will ultimately lead to ruin, as it had for the Empress, yet a life that seeks humility in Christ will find that hardship and death are only the first half of the story. And who, after all, likes a story that does not contain a struggle between hope and fear?

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

“All believers in Christ can…be led to acquire a better knowledge and appreciation of one another, and so pave the way to Christian unity” (Vatican II, “Decree on Ecumenism”).

christus-jesus-christ-mormon

In a recent post I highlighted the ways that Protestants have led me to deepen my faith in Christ despite the numerous theological differences that have existed since the Reformation (https://daveinchow.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/protestants-have-made-me-a-better-catholic/). Now, I would like to make a similar reflection about my interactions with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

Just last week we novices of the Society of Jesus in America and Canada received an interesting prompt from our superiors for reflection: “Pray about one of your experiences from the past year and share it with others in a small group setting.” As far as apostolic activity, the experience that has had the most impact on me was the “pilgrimage,” when our directors sent us out into the world with a one-way bus ticket and $35 for thirty days. My bus ticket got me to Rexburg, Idaho, the home of the Mormon University BYU-Idaho. My goal for the 30 days was to engage in spiritual conversation and inter-religious dialogue with Mormons, and that goal certainly came to fruition. I would estimate that I, on average, had one spiritual conversation every other hour during those thirty days.

Mormon families were extremely generous to me, opening up their homes and providing for my physical necessities along the way. However, aside from their outward kindness, I was very impressed by their life of prayer in the context of the family. Elderly couples would spend thirty minutes together each morning going over their scriptures and praying. Families, with as many as ten children, would meet at 6 AM to do the same. Despite the fact that many of these families were extremely busy–who wouldn’t be with so many children!–they found time for the most important things. Pope Saint John Paul II has said, “How to pray? This is a simple matter. I would say: Pray any way you like, so long as you do pray.” In general, based on several conversations, I would say that Mormons do not make use of the great arsenal of prayer types that have existed throughout Christian history, but that fact is besides the point because Mormons, again, in general, pray more consistently than do most Christians today!

Another aspect of their prayer that struck me was the position in which they prayed. Families would get on their knees to speak to God about the scriptures they had just finished reading. Husband and wife would kneel to offer grace before meals. Before bed children would drop to the floor in prayers of thanksgiving for the graces of the day. Compared to my typical prayer (lying in bed or sitting in a comfortable chair), Mormon prayer felt authentic and cognizant of the greatness of God.

By the end of the pilgrimage, I felt inspired to communicate with God in a more real, aware, and heartfelt way. Mormons had reminded me how to do so. I encourage everyone to reflect on the beauty of prayer that unites the heart and the body repetitively in divine praise.

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

AMDG

A Dialectical Approach to the Purpose of Evangelical Missions

(Photo taken from wfu.edu)

          Even a cursory perusal of St. Francis Xavier’s letters is enough to offend modern sensitivities. It is almost unbearable for us to read our model missionary’s comments about the lack of “any remedy” for those who die without an explicit recognition of the Holy Trinity at the Sacrament of Baptism. We, for our part, now find solace in the idea of the anonymous Christian, a concept largely foreign to the theological worldview of Xavier. We currently enjoy hearing, “The missionary is only a facilitator. Membership in the Church is not an easier or surer means of salvation” (“1. Introduction,” Handout on Prayer and Meditation). These two models of missionary activity—on one hand the idea of the missionary as the bearer of salvation and on the other the missionary as a personal opportunity for interreligious dialogue—seem to be at odds with each other. It nearly goes without saying that Jesuit theologians have taken different positions on this topic.

I aim to offer a way out of the predicament by giving an existential, dialogical critique. It is a truth phenomenological that the “other” is impossible to know with completeness. We might even venture to say that we cannot know ourselves fully, for God is always closer to our hearts than we are to ourselves (at least on this side of the beatific vision). As quoted in America Magazine, Pope St. John Paul II stated in a letter to Henri de Lubac, “I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical significance and the mystery of the PERSON” (Feb. 2, 2004 Issue; my emphasis added). The human person is mysterious; God is even more mysterious; and the relationship between the human person and God must be yet more mysterious. Salvation is at the heart of this mysterious relationship between God and humankind, and yet we pretend to penetrate through the mystery via soteriological gymnastics.

Missionary activity, as Xavier conceived it, is mystical, and yet he dares to promote a stark confessionalism. In a similar vein, missionary activity, as some more contemporary voices have suggested, does not carry with it an assurance that baptized Catholics are saved, and yet they dare to make naught of the Great Commission of Christ. Some may critique this measured approach and claim that such sophistry does not move the discussion forward. Others might assert that this point of view does not do justice to the uniqueness of the Catholic Church’s possession of Christ’s authority. To the former group, I will not fail to affirm alongside Kierkegaard that our God is a God of possibilities, and, thus, “maybe” is the most adequate response to questions concerning His will. To the latter, I say the same.

Cardinal Ratzinger, with great appropriateness, has written about the “maybe” character of our age in his Introduction to Christianity: the Christian cannot help but wonder whether the Rock of Christ is actually a row boat upon stormy waters that might capsize at any moment, and the atheist cannot avoid the tantalizing flicker of the “what if” of Jesus’ resurrection. Likewise, we can develop a methodology of missionary work and salvation. We can be humble enough to admit that the one who professes either the strictness of Xavier or the liberality of the contemporary sensibility inevitably comes across the “what if” of the other. Therefore, to missionary evangelization for the sake of salvation, I say, “Yes.” And to the missionary work at the roundtables of interreligious discourse, I equally say, “Yes.”