Stop, Look, Listen

July 31, 2018

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Tom Lucas, S.J., rector of Arrupe Jesuit Community (right), delivered the following homily at Mass today in SU's chapel on the Feast of St. Ignatius.

I learned what has proven to be the most valuable lesson of my life immediately after my mom got done spanking me. The spanking was the earned result of my first bona fide sin, the first transgression I can ever remember having committed. 

We lived on a country road outside our small town of Placerville, “Old Hangtown,” in northern California. The rules were clear. I could go anywhere in the yard that surrounded the house, but I had to stay within the confines of the split rail fence. It was April, and big lush weeds had sprouted around the telephone pole, on the side of the road, just outside the fence. They deserved a look, as beautiful and alluring as Eve’s apple. So over the split rail fence I went in my little red cowboy boots, cap pistol on my hip. This was, still, the Wild West. 

After the spanking, which was minor, my mom took me by the shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and asked me what was the rule. “Stay inside the fence,” I said. “And what you do if you have to cross the road?” she asked. I hated this part. I had to repeat, not once but twice, the Golden Rule of Rural Life. “Stop. Look. Listen.”  Stop, Look, Listen. Then, and only then, act. Act, then Stop, Look, Listen. Then Act. Then stop, look, listen again. 

On a hot April morning in Placerville in 1956, the hermeneutical circle of discernment was laid out perfectly for me. 

In the summer of 1522, another adventurer—clad in shattered armor, not little red cowboy boots—was carried home to die in a strong house in northern Spain. Iñigo Lopez de Loyola was a soldier of fortune, a gallant, a courtier, a man who was popular, successful, aimless. His leg was shattered by a cannonball in an inconsequential battle. He didn’t die, though he suffered gravely, physically and emotionally. His life was as shattered as his leg was shattered. 

You’ve probably heard this story before. No trashy novels to read during his painful convalescence, only the story of Christ and the lives of the saints. He found calm and lasting consolation when he considered focusing his life as the saints had; a momentary pleasure, then nothing but emptiness when he dreamed of returning to his old life. He stopped, looked and listened. For a long time. Then he acted. 

He left home, he gave away his rich clothes, left his sword before Our Lady of Montserrat. He stopped, looked listened again. He found God and what he thought was God’s will for him. He embarked on crazy travels, an abortive trip to the Holy Land influenced by his chivalric mindset. When that didn’t work out, he stopped, looked, listened again. He put his experience up against the horizon of meaning he was leaning towards, changed his path, went back to grammar school. He calmed down and started helping others to find their own way. Stop, look, listen. After he was twice hauled in by the Spanish Inquisition, he stopped, looked, listened again. Then, only then, he moved on, to Paris; he found companions. Together, they stopped, looked, listened. Eventually they joined together in Venice and then Rome, and then made the world their cloister. 

We’re here today in this university chapel (that bears Ignatius' name) because the good citizens of Messina came to Ignatius in the mid 1540s, begging him to send some of his men to start a school for their sons. He stopped, looked and listened. He examined their context. He looked at the possibilities. He listened to their appeal for help. The first Jesuits had no intention to start schools. But they stopped, looked, listened, then acted; And here we are today, in the middle of an important, burgeoning city, sitting in a chapel dedicated to Ignatius, doing the same thing. 

Our paradigm of Ignatian education follows the same pattern that Ignatius laid out in all the adventures of his life. He stopped. He studied the signs of the times, engaging the world he knew and learned what he needed to learn, exploring his context. He reflected on what he needed to do, what the world needed of him and his friends, reflected on those imperatives against the horizon of meaning they found in the life of Jesus of Nazareth and then they acted in a bewildering variety of ways. 

Over and again, they stopped. Studied. Reflected. Acted. Evaluated. Stopped. Studied. Reflected. Acted. Evaluated. Even in the last years of his life that ended on July 31, 1556, when Ignatius was confined to limping around four small rooms in Rome in his worn bedroom slippers, he applied discerning freedom and transformed it into action for the glory of God and the good of his sisters and brothers. 

As we face our world with all its ambiguities, conflicts and broken promises, and as we look to a future full of uncertainties and hope, we strive to follow same paradigm, that same pattern of learning, discernment, action and evaluation that Ignatius and his friends described years ago. Following that design, we know, will send us on strange adventures, to places we never expected to know and to people who will be challenges and graces to us. 

We may wear Birkenstocks, flip flops or Nikes instead of worn bedroom slippers or red cowboy boots. Yet we still need to remember my mom’s admonition, and Ignatius’ fundamental instruction. Stop. Look. Listen. Then Act. And then begin the process again and again. For the glory of God and the salvation of our world.

Read more here on the Feast of St. Ignatius.