Finding Contentment in Faith
“Be like giraffes”. That is what Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Jesuits asked three thousand international pilgrims in Loyola last August to be. As well as having proportionally the largest heart of any mammal, they have the longest neck and so can see things above the heads of all the other animals. In short, they have a different perspective on life, which is what Fr. Nicolás was suggesting we should try to have.
When you concentrate only on what is to hand, obstacles facing us can seem impossible to overcome. If we could only remember to see the bigger picture more often and see the greater possibilities that exist around us, the impossible challenges facing us may just seem that little bit more achievable.
Just over a month ago I departed for Loyola in the Basque country of northern Spain. I was attending the Magis pre-World Youth Day experience and I was one of about fifty young Irish people travelling out there with Magis Ireland (formally known as Slí Eile). Loyola was a serene and beautiful place filled with a tremendous sense of community and togetherness. We all had something in common. We could talk openly about our faith and where we were at with it. It was a place of fun with music and dancing on concert stages and at the same time it was possible to find deep reflective peace and solitude.
After three days in Loyola, the Jesuits organised 120 week-long group experiments taking place throughout Spain, Portugal and Morocco, each challenging us to find God in the different experiences, be it Inter-Faith dialogue with Muslims and Evangelicals as my group was or working on a farm, volunteering in a hospital, expressing your faith through movement of the body or a good old fashioned pilgrimage hike. World Youth Day- really a six day event in Madrid would take place afterwards.
Magis/WYD was a timely reminder for me that you can find contentment in faith and that it is possible to find this within our church. Hearing stories of how the Catholic Church is thriving elsewhere in the world from other pilgrims was an amazing discovery for me and a source of hope.
At the same time I was still very conscious that this event was taking place just a month after what was revealed in yet another damning report detailing the chronic failings in Church leadership, the betrayal of the innocent and despicable cover-ups. Despite all this there was still something amazing and inspiring that World Youth Day 2011 still managed to attract 2 million enthusiastic young people from across the globe to hear the Pope say Mass in Madrid.
What I found in Spain opened my eyes to the existence of a wider, greater church than that which exists in Ireland. It was a reminder that I was part of a universal church and that there are fantastic things going on elsewhere.
While the gospel today calls for forgiveness, it also calls for humility. The severely indebted servant’s great sin was to fail, as it says in The Our Father, to forgive those who trespass against us. Despite having great mercy shown to him, the servant failed to grant the same forgiveness to those to whom he equally owed a duty of care. The outrageous double standard of his actions prompted his fellow servants to rightly report his behaviour to the merciful king.
When I departed for Spain in early August I harboured some anger towards the church for its well publicized failings. I am conscious many have decided that the Irish Catholic Church is not worthy of forgiveness and beyond redemption. Following my time in Spain, I believe there is more to be gained by remaining because I’ve witnessed that there is more to the church than the human failings of its leaders. For me maybe it was time I let go of some of the anger I felt towards the Church and instead seek to assist in the rebuilding of a humbler and more Christ centred Church.
I believe it is impossible to be a Christian in isolation. Creating the sense of solidarity and community that I experienced at Magis/World Youth Day in Spain is essential for the Catholic Church to survive here in Ireland. The problems blighting the Catholic Church in Ireland are very real and very present but there has to be more it to have survived here for fifteen hundred years. And I think that is the kind of ‘giraffe-like’ perspective that Adolfo Nicolás was trying to get us to think about in Loyola.