By Jim Haggerty
It is well known that, for over a decade, three elves frequented the home of our two great nephews and great niece in northern New Jersey. The elves’ presence was focused on an old trunk in the attic. They communicated with written rhymed messages and, on occasion, a child would see the shadow of an elf near the chest. Neighborhood children said how lucky the family was to have these elves as visitors. One evening, our great nephew Matt found a treasure map in the chest, a gift from the elves, and was so excited, he grabbed a flashlight, ran through the house, burst through the back screen door, followed the map directions, and began digging in the backyard dirt with his bare fingers to find the treasure.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field. The treasure is of such worth that one would give everything for it. It would make the heart sing. Such a person would dig passionately, yes, with bare fingers, to find this treasure. The Gospel, of course, is our guide to finding this treasure. I feel lucky, however, to have an additional map to light the way, namely, the Exercises of St. Ignatius. These Exercises are a summary of his journey in exploring both the inward and outward paths to seek this Gospel treasure.
My novice master, Father Tom Gavigan, helped us read this map. This was not just a “thinking” or “intellectual” journey. No. “The text of the exercises treats formal conceptual content as secondary and affective experience as primary” (John Staudenmaier, “To Fall in Love with the World,” Jesuit Studies 26/3: May 1994, p. 16.) Most of us have a lot to learn from children in this regard. We just had a family visit introducing my wife and me to our one and a half year old great nephew, Arthur. He loves exploring the world around him until his fears pull him back to his parents, and then he starts his exploration again. We need to explore the world with this same passion, yet also feel that when the world gets too much for us, our community will comfort and support us.
I think of the story of Ignatius and how after his conversion, he pursued a liberal arts education, but had to begin with basic Latin studies with small children. How humbling that must have been! But his desire was so great that he jumped right in. I felt that way this summer while studying traditional Irish music. I took a class that included children. They could learn “by ear” very quickly, while the adults moved at a much slower pace. The reward at the end of the class was the thrill of playing beautiful music together as a group, adults and children, with no safety net of written music.
The kingdom calls us in many ways to leave the safety net, to fall in love with the world. I think of the recently published memoir, Ruined for Life by Jack Morris, S.J., (with Barbara Underwood Scharff). Jack died about two years ago. Among other notable activities, he cofounded the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, led the Bethlehem Peace Pilgrimage from the U.S. west coast to Bethlehem, and inspired many of us to follow the Spirit in our earthly journeys. I also remember my father’s letters to me marveling at God’s presence in his ordinary and yet extraordinary life.
Ignatius said, “It is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth.” The grace of the second week of the Exercises is for “intimate knowledge of our Lord, that I may love him more and follow him more closely.” May we all find guides to unearth the treasure that will make our hearts sing and leave beautiful patterns to follow.
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. He served on the IVC National Board of Directors for two terms.