Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference


by | Oct 8, 2013

This piece, by National Board Member Jim Haggerty, is a reflection on the spiritual readings and guide being used by IVC volunteers across the country.


In Chapter One of Greg Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart, pp 26-27, a fifteen-year old boy, Rigo, at a county detention center tells his story.  It is a story that could have come from the gospels.  He starts by recounting how his father would abuse and beat him, but then he shares his memory of the seven buses:  he was in a detention center for year and a half.  His mother visited him every Sunday.  To get there, she had to take seven buses.  Seven buses.


That story could fit in the gospels right next to the “Lost Sheep.”  His mother could see her son in a way that he could not see himself and that could ultimately change him.  We can all identify with that story and remember times when we felt unlovable, and then someone came into our lives who could see us better than we could see ourselves.  And that is the basis for Boyle’s book, namely “to aspire to broaden the parameters of our kinship…” (Preface, p xiv).  This sense of kinship is fundamental.  It has to precede thoughts and discussions about issues of poverty, justice, and activities in solidarity with the poor.


Recently, I have been reading a book called Journey of the Universe by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker.  It is another beautiful story.  This story is about the evolution of the universe using all the modern findings of current science. Yet the spirit in the book is fundamentally different from most other scientific works exploring the history of the universe.  Why?  Because in this book we are part of the story, connected intimately to this history, so that the story of the universe becomes also our story.  At its heart we experience our kinship with all creation.  In this sense, I see an intimate connection with Tattoos on the Heart.  Concern for the environment is a burning issue in our time.  Often it is as divisive as issues of social justice are.  It is fundamental that together we discover our intimate kinship with all created reality.  Only then will our activities for environmental justice bear fruit.


In both of these stories, what stops us from seeing our kinship with all others and with all related creation?  Ignatius can be our guide.  Ignatius’s extended meditation on the two standards in his Spiritual Exercises helps orient us.  Ignatius contrasts the kingdom of God with the forces of evil in the world.  Specifically, he talks about riches, honors, and pride as leading us away from kingdom values.


A modern commentator (in Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: Translation and Commentary by Pierre Wolff, p. 147) describes this worldly standard in another way, as “wanting to possess, to be the center, to be almighty even though others may pay the price and we may forfeit love in relationships.”  This commentator asks: “Do we demonize specific things or people and put all the blame on them in order to escape our responsibilities for and participation in the destruction around us?” (Wolff, p.148).  Or do we rather see our kinship with all?  If this kinship were our fundamental identity, then attraction for power, prestige, and riches would fade in attractiveness.  Perhaps this is a clue to the overwhelming response to Pope Francis and his desire for a simple lifestyle.  In Argentina, the future Pope was often seen traveling to visit the poor—in a bus.

Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired. Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC.