Saint Ignatius of Loyola introduced the world to spiritual exercises nearly five hundred years ago. Many people who adhere to his path of formation periodically engage in a review of life task to strengthen their awareness of self and God. Some even carve out an annual time near New Year’s Eve or their birthday to undertake such a review. It’s a good thing to do. As G. K. Chesterton once noted, “We are sometimes a bit like the traveler who has forgotten the name of his destination so he needs to return from where he came to find out where he is going.” By way of example, I offer this brief review of my own earthly existence.
In my first decade I lived on a farm with my parents and ten siblings. I inherited some of my father’s gregarious energy and some of my mother’s passion for solace and peace. My siblings and I picked up a decent work ethic, respect for nature, and religious sense of mystery. In retrospect, immediate family, cousins, church, and creation played significant roles in my formation.
My second decade, like for most of us, was absorbed with formal education beyond elementary learning to high school and college. I lived in a small town, a city, in dormitories, and rental housing; I learned as much outside of classrooms as inside them and, through experimentation and failure, discovered how I can best relate to other people. During that time, I was influenced far more by peers than by elders, more by friends than by family. Most of my long-lasting attitudes, tastes, and preferences were formed during that decade.
My twenties were devoted mostly to post-graduate seminary training and early years of priesthood. Assigned to Visitation Parish where many newly ordained prelates get a start, I realized how blessed I was to be supported by such a tremendous community. The early years of priesthood, like the early years of life, are the most formative ones. I often wonder if I was appropriately grateful for that time and the people who shaped my understanding of priestly service and if those young priests who followed me realize how lucky we were.
I spent the majority of my thirties in inner city ministry. There my mind was broadened and my heart was softened in some ways, hardened in others. During those years more than others, I was assured of the closeness of God who promised to never abandon us. They were great years for me to value our diocese and tremendous Bishops that led it (Sullivan and Boland); they wanted the church’s strength to benefit its poorest members. A lasting impact on me was the realization that Jesus, not the church, is the guiding touchstone upon which I need to make decisions; most priests see it the other way.
My forties, and well into my fifties, were spent in large parishes with lots of activity, growth, and energy. I began shifting my spirituality from accumulating knowledge and piety to sharing wisdom and faith—maybe even listening less to others and more to God while more readily recognizing God in others. I gained greater respect for the struggles of ordinary people and admired many older and younger people who seemed to master the challenges of their age with joyfulness. Those were my best years for feeling priestly though my worst years for feeling connected to the larger Catholic Church, which seemed concerned for itself, not its people.
Now in my late fifties, I entered a new venture with a diminishing parish that desires revitalization. It’s not a challenge I wanted but one that I receive with hope. The last three decades have flown by quickly for me with rushed introspection. Like a parent whose youngest child has gone off to college, I arrive at a time to consider and reconsider where I’ve been and where I’m headed, who I was and who I’m becoming.
The purpose of review is to better plan. From my ruminations, you see that my ministry could benefit from reconciling the message of the church with that of Jesus, that I may want to extract best practices from various environments in which I have served, and that I should examine my own aging process in relation to the aging parish I now serve… Though a valid review of life exercise goes significantly deeper than this, my skeletal offering presents the sort of overview you might wish to consider. Through this or other spiritual formulas, you can assess your own spiritual journey and negotiate a course for important relationships and upcoming ventures. If you’re interested in making a review of life mini-retreat, contact me at our Saint Charles Retreat House: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-436-0880.