January 24, 2012

MISSION MATTERS: The Trip is Part of the Journey

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By Fr. Paul Stark, S.J.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry

A week into the new academic semester, and we students, staff and faculty can begin to settle back into our comfortable schedules and routines. Now is a good time, though, before we get too settled in the familiar parts of our lives, to think, pray and reflect about what we experienced this past month.

Many of us may have traveled, some short, some long distances, to visit family and friends. Most of us, in these often difficult times, experienced the travel as a necessary, but not necessarily enjoyable, part of our return home, because our expectations were centered on our destinations. If we were really lucky, we could sleep through the "planes, trains, Megabus and automobiles" experiences, until we reached the places and people we really wanted to reach. We were then--and maybe still are now--in the midst of others like ourselves, with faraway looks and expectations for people, places and things, just over the horizon, just a short time away, just not here.

Really, though, we are in this now, this present, this moment, this place, with these people. Do we miss an important part of our lives, our experiences, by looking or living beyond our time and place, away from here and now? Do we live our lives with our eyes faintly fixed on a not-yet future and miss the right-now opportunities and gifts God offers us?

Ignatius Loyola, early in his work, and shortly after forming his group of friends in the Lord, passionately wanted to go to Jerusalem to save souls. He journeyed--much less comfortably than we--to Rome. He sought approval, and probably support of his plan, from Pope Paul III, who also approved forming this new "company," the new Society of Jesus in the first place. The Pope, though, wisely helped Ignatius understand and discern the location of the greatest need for the service of the new companions, to serve the greater good. This lesson lived and lasted throughout the saint's life, into the present day.

The Pope, asked Ignatius, Why would you want to go to Jerusalem? Rome can easily be your true and good Jerusalem. There's plenty to do here. Indeed, Ignatius found plenty to do in Rome.

Ignatius had set his eyes on his future, his travel and time in Jerusalem, as his one focus, his main goal, and had not seen that time, that place, Rome, where he was offered many opportunities, to serve many real and pressing needs. For many of us, we set our goals and expectations for something not-here and we miss realizing that here is precisely where we can now meet and serve God in and through the people around us, with us.

Let's change the Pope's question a bit, fill in the blanks. Why would you want to go to ___________? St. Louis can easily be your true and good ___________. There's plenty to do here.

We have the resources and the opportunities to reflect on our own attitudes, where we are here and now, and we can see that St. Louis--here and now--just might be where God calls us today, where God offers us many rich opportunities to experience His love for us and others. In fact, isn't it a possibility that because we're in St. Louis right now, that this is, in fact, where God is calling us? Let us pray that we may not be just travelers, but pilgrims, as Ignatius called himself, aware of each moment of our days and not just searching the horizon for our expectations.

Ignatius the pilgrim sought God where he was, in all things, in all places, in all people. That was his journey, and that can certainly be our journey.

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