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Catherine Kelly, J.D., M.Div.

The Ignatian family is composed of diverse persons  – religious and lay – with each their own vocation. Indeed, ‘’GC 36 recognizes the decisive role of our partners in the vitality of the Society’s mission today and expresses its gratitude to all those who contribute to and play significant roles in Jesuit ministry. That mission is deepened, and ministry is extended by collaboration among all with whom we work, especially those inspired by the Ignatian call.’’ (GC36 decree 2, 6). And Pilgrim Together explains that “We are lay women and men. We are partners with Jesus in service to the Church and to society”.

To honour this diversity in our province, in this new series, we highlight what it means to be Ignatian from different perspectives. We start with Catherine Kelly, J.D., M.Div, Director of Spiritual Formation, Retreats and Christian Life Community (CLC) at St. Mark’s Parish in Vancouver.

“The gift of Ignatian spirituality changed my life […]. I wish to share the incredible treasure of Ignatian spirituality with the world.” Fully embracing Ignatian spirituality, Ms. Kelly here highlights not only the uniqueness of this spirituality, but also how it is highly relevant in the secularized and polarized world in which we work.

Why do you engage with Ignatian spirituality and work?

The gift of Ignatian spirituality changed my life, teaching me how to discern God’s invitation in my life, how to be truly authentic, knowing myself and how God loves me.  Accompanying others in their spiritual journeys has revealed the myriad of ways God acts in people’s lives, gracing me immensely and humbling me incredibly.  Learning how to listen with my heart and not just my ears and my mind has helped me attune to the whispers of the Spirit in my life and in the lives of others.

I wish to share the incredible treasure of Ignatian spirituality with the world.  Witnessing people fall in love with God in their own unique way energizes me.  My passion is to catch people where they are most alive like a kingfisher of souls (Matthew 4:19).  My ministry in Ignatian spiritual formation helps people identify that place within themselves where God has planted their deepest desires.  I encourage people to invite God to animate their lives so their good and holy desires come to fruition and they flourish in fullness of life (John 10:10).

How is your work informed by Ignatian spirituality?

Totally. Not just the content of my work – I lead Ignatian retreats and co-guide and support four Christian Life Community groups.  I provide spiritual formation opportunities for individuals and for group guides.  I also direct the Spiritual Exercises and offer spiritual accompaniment for individuals.  But also my approach – Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation is something we can mine for years – recognizing that everything is given to us to help us know, love and serve God and others. But if something does not help us, we are free not to use it. I engage this freedom when I offer resources to people – if it helps you, use it. If not, let it go.

Our starting place is God’s unconditional love for us – God’s incredibly gracious desire to be in relationship with us and to bless us with untold gifts.  When we recognize the source of our being is Love, as Ignatius says, our one and only natural response is to love in return. And our destination is union with God, loving divinely and seeing the world through the gaze of Jesus Christ.

What are, according to you, the more unique Ignatian values (comparatively to other spirituality) and how do you live them?

Some of the more unique Ignatian values are the presupposition of positive intent on behalf of the other. In Annotation 22, Ignatius invites us to presuppose a favorable interpretation of another’s statement rather than rejecting it out of hand.  This presupposition is so important in our modern world of electronic communications when one cannot see the facial expressions or hear the tone of voice of the other.  We can often mistakenly read into someone’s message a negative intent or tone of voice that was not actually there.

Some of the more unique Ignatian values are the presupposition of positive intent on behalf of the other.

Another unique Ignatian value is the ability to adapt – even Ignatius recognized the Spiritual Exercises could be offered in different formats depending on the ability and availability of the retreatant [Annotations 18 and 19].  So we can adapt the retreat material for the individual retreatant, adapt how we engage in ministry, discern what is most appropriate for your given context, recognizing that one size does not fit all.  This ability to be flexible and aware of the signs of the times and respond accordingly with various creative ministries to meet the needs in a particular situation has helped Ignatian spirituality flourish around the world for five centuries.

Ignatian spirituality is a very practical spirituality, one that is meant to be lived by individuals in the world not cloistered in a monastery but by people – lay and religious – who engage the world and who are attuned to finding God in all things.  This seeking of God in our daily lives – chasing the graces – helps promote a positive attitude and a profound sense of faith.  Learning how God communicates uniquely with each one of us, and reflecting back on our day through the Examen or reflecting back on our lives through our Graced History, helps us see how God is faithful to us, how God’s love, presence, gifts and invitations have carried us to where we are today.

Ignatian spirituality through the Exercises in particular promotes a very personal relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.  We come to know Jesus through entering into his life, through contemplating the Gospel stories, through entering these stories and embracing them as our own.  And soon, we see Jesus entering into our own stories, our own lives just like he entered the lives of the first disciples.  The words of the scripture have a personal meaning and resonance for us, that deepens and changes as we ponder it at different points in our lives. We believe the Word of God is alive so it speaks to us in our own unique realities.

Another aspect of Ignatian spirituality is that this way of life is easily lived in community.  I live with my family but my CLC group is in a very real sense my spiritual family.  We are able to share our lives and speak into each other’s lives with such love, clarity and depth that no other friendship or family relationship can even compare.

One of my CLC group members and co-guide, Lynore McLean, states that “Ignatian spirituality enables us to identify and call out dark spirits and not be influenced by them in decision-making.”

According to your experience, do you think Ignatian spirituality is still important in a secular world? Why?

Yes, definitely. Ignatian spirituality is a gift to the church and to the world. Some of the key aspects of Ignatian spirituality that translate readily into a secular world are the starting place of gratitude – many people write gratitude journals. The second step of the Examen, after placing oneself in the presence of God and asking the Holy Spirit to guide your reflection, is to thank God for the small and big blessings of the day.

Some of the key aspects of Ignatian spirituality that translate readily into a secular world are the starting place of gratitude – many people write gratitude journals. The second step of the Examen.

Another readily transferable gift is discernment – learning what factors are motivating our decisions, paying attention to our feelings and what they are telling us, and learning to hold all things in balance and not be unduly swayed by one desire or another. I often speak to people who are not engaged in a spiritual practice about looking at what is life-giving and what is draining when they are making a decision. This is very secular language but also very Ignatian and people can relate to it. It gives them clarity.

Another gift, especially in a more and more polarized world, is the gift of spiritual conversation in three rounds which Christian Life Community engages in.  […] This process creates a safe place to share and to be heard and to hear others. I think this model could be very helpful in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process.

Another gift, especially in a more and more polarized world, is the gift of spiritual conversation in three rounds which Christian Life Community engages in.  The ground rules for this process are essential: we engage in sacred listening, sacred receiving, without comment or judgment on what another says.  Not only does this enable the speaker to share truly without fear but it also enables to listener to listen deeply without having to think of something clever or consoling to say in response. This process also respects the experience and perspective of each person who shares. This process creates a safe place to share and to be heard and to hear others. I think this model could be very helpful in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process.

photo: St. Mark’s Parish Vancouver

Other aspects that are readily transferable are how we do evaluations at the end of each CLC meeting: what went well and what could go better? I know people in our CLC group who use this process in their secular workplaces.

Lynore McLean, noted “Striving to see the good – God – in all people and all situations changes how you interact and promotes positivity.”

What consoles you as an Ignatian person working in the Ignatian family? Are there desolations?

Knowing others who share this spirituality. I am able to connect very deeply with others who share this spirituality for example at World CLC events.  We are united as One Body in Christ around the world. In addition, seeing how when people learn to pray this way and engage the world this way, they become more alive, more at peace, and have more clarity and more direction.  Like the experienced fisher Peter, we use the gifts God has given us – we do what we are good at – but we do it for Jesus. Our orientation is always the magis – what will give greater glory to God?

Desolation in the Ignatian sense is any movement away from God. I believe Ignatian spirituality draws us towards God so in itself, it is consolation. Of course, I have experienced times of desolation in my life and in my ministry. But Ignatian spirituality is not the source of those desolations.  Ignatian spirituality helps me recognize desolation and gives me the tools to endure them.

Of course, I have experienced times of desolation in my life and in my ministry. But Ignatian spirituality is not the source of those desolations.  Ignatian spirituality helps me recognize desolation and gives me the tools to endure them.

I think for me, since I share Ignatius’ perception of an all-loving, creator/creating God who wishes to bless with us abundant graces and draw us deeper into relationship with the Divine, it is hard for me to hear people who have negative images of God as an unjust judge or punisher and who talk about their efforts in their spiritual life as “failures”. I believe God blesses whatever time we dedicate to our spiritual life. It is hard for me to see people who are so focused on their sins that they neglect to see the graces in their lives and that those sins may even be carriers of grace – if they look at the underlying needs that are not being met and ask Jesus to help them meet those needs in healthy ways.

Has anyone come back later to say how you help them by your accompaniment?

Yes, one young woman came on a student retreat where we were praying about being God’s beloved children, how God desired to create us even before we were in our mother’s womb. At the end of each retreat, I ask people to appropriate one grace – what is one grace that they received during the retreat? Or what is one thing they are grateful for? Or what is one thing that they will take with them into their daily life?  At the end of this student retreat, one young man had a profound sense of gratitude for his life, knowing how much his parents had desired to have children and how many years they had tried to conceive before finally conceiving him.  One young woman was crying so hard that she could not speak.  I give people permission to pass because sometimes God acts so deeply within us that we cannot capture it in words.

A few weeks later I saw this young woman. I asked her if she would like to share with me the grace she had received on the retreat.  She told me that when she came to the retreat, she was planning to commit suicide.  But learning about how much God loved her, how God had created her out of love and had a plan for her life, she realized how valuable her life was and she decided not to kill herself.  This grace is probably the most profound grace someone has shared with me.

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