By David Kiblinger, SJ
The Ignatian family has been given a mission to show the way to God. But how is one supposed to “show the way”? There are several methods for indicating a path to someone else. One is giving spoken or written instructions about how to move from one place to another. Another is to use gestures, such as pointing or waving, to communicate the path. Still another is to refer the person to a guide who can direct him or her. All of these can be effective methods for aiding someone in his or her journey. The most effective method, however, is to accompany that person shoulder-to-shoulder along the way yourself. You may still use words or gestures to describe the path ahead, but your presence adds new dimensions as you travel together. You can instill confidence where the path is perilous. You can offer encouragement when fatigue threatens.
Notice that the mission is to “show the way.” It is not to find the way or search for the way. It is not to form a team of explorers with other interested parties. The mission presumes that we in the Ignatian family know the way. Even more, if we are to show the way through the personal accompaniment described above, the mission presumes that we have traversed the path ourselves. Only if we are already intimately familiar with the terrain can we walk next to someone as a trusted guide.
To show the way to God demands much from us. We may doubt our own knowledge or experience of the path, and we certainly have not reached the end of it ourselves. Yet together we form a network of persons along the path. Some may be experts in the first segments of the journey; others in the middle segments. The saints and blessed of the Ignatian family who have gone before us are experts in the last segments. We are both guided by those who know territory unfamiliar to us and guide others over areas we know. Most of all, our encounters with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius give us confidence that, by progressing ever deeper in them, we will in fact arrive at our final destination of life with God.
This Lent, we might ask ourselves how to become more effective at showing the way to God. Is it by reading about the Exercises? Is it by seeking out a spiritual guide, a saint from earlier times or a trusted friend today? Is it through traditional Lenten practices of fasting and almsgiving?
Whatever we take on as a Lenten practice, it must be rooted in prayer. Pope Francis insists that without a “prayerful attitude,” no other work taken on by the Ignatian family will bear fruit. It is good to rededicate ourselves to cultivating this prayerful attitude, for we have little hope of completing the mission entrusted to us without it.
— David Kiblinger, SJ, studies theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He looks forward to his priestly ordination this summer. Watch his video on the first Universal Apostolic Preference on YouTube.