This blog post from Fr. William Barry, SJ, is a reflection on David Fleming’s Book, “What is Ignatian Spirituality”, which Ignatian Volunteers are using for spiritual reflection in many regions this service year.
Fleming notes that Ignatius often wrote of ministry as “helping souls” Helping souls means helping others, I believe, and is a lovely way to speak of ministry. There are no airs about these words; you don’t think of the need for advanced professional degrees when you hear them, do you? Nor are they limited to a professional class, like priest or pastor or spiritual director, etc. Everyone is called to this ministry. Being created a human being is the only credential required. This is what I want to reflect on with you for this my final blog for this year when we have been reading David Fleming’s What Is Ignatian Spirituality?
The very first chapter of the Bible portrays God as calling the whole world, and by implication, the whole universe, into existence just by desiring to do so. The universe and everything in it exist only because God wants them. Absent God’s desire there is nothing but God. Implicit in this story is that God has a purpose or intention in creating, an intention that will be finally attained only over a very long period of time. So the universe is on a journey. There is a beginning and there will be an end. The story depicts God as creating human beings last in the progression of creatures, and human beings, it is stressed, are created in God’s own image and likeness and are asked to be stewards of the rest of creation. Human beings, thus, are created for a personal relationship with God that includes cooperating with God’s intention for the whole world. Human beings are created for friendship with God and to help God in the great work of creation that God has begun. With the definition of ministry as helping others, we could say, the first one we are asked to help is God.
When I started the last paragraph, I had no idea that it would end with that last sentence. Another instance of the mysterious ways of God? If what I wrote is true, and I hope that it is, God seems even more loveable and generous and humble than I ever imagined. God has made us in such a way that whenever we act as images of God we are ministering to God. In other words God has generously so made us that when we do act humanely we both help others and creation, but also help God. That’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Now let’s spell out some of the implications. Helping a blind person safely cross a busy intersection, teaching an immigrant English as a second language, washing the feet of a homeless person, visiting the sick or those in prison, working as a volunteer in a hospice, tutoring poor children algebra as a volunteer in a middle school, handing out food at a shelter for the homeless and poor, all of these activities and many, many more are ministries because they help people in need, but they also help God’s great work of creation, of moving this creation toward what God intends, a world where all human beings live in harmony with God, with one another and with the whole of creation. That also sounds like what Ignatian Volunteers do. It’s a wonderful ministry.
Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Bill is the author or co-author of 20 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, Contemplatives in Action, and A Friendship like No Other. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.