Clongowes Staff Ethos Day
“How is God calling me to grow and develop? Personally, spiritually and professionally?” That was the theme of the staff ethos day, Wednesday 31 August 2022 in Clongowes College SJ. Brendan McManus SJ and Pat Coyle were the guest speakers, invited by Elizabeth Clarke, Director of Ethos in the school (see photo).
The day began with Mass celebrated by Michael Sheil SJ in the college chapel. After a light breakfast, all gathered in the P.E. classroom and Elizabeth led people in a prayer to St Aloysius Gonzaga, written by the late Danny McNeils, who taught in Gonzaga College SJ. (See prayer below.)
She then shared briefly the story of her own calling to come to work in Ireland saying, “I am here in front of you today, because in February 2008 I had a dream so vivid, calling me to teach in Ireland. At the time I was living in Munich and working as a Public Relations Officer. The dream was followed by a ski accident in April 2008, which kept me still for eight weeks and gave me plenty of time to reflect (my ‘cannonball moment’). By October 2008 I was standing in a classroom in Ireland teaching, and a year later I studied theology.”
She also spoke about her understanding of the Ignatian term ‘Magis’ and how it resonates for her, suggesting the need for stillness and reflection. “Magis is strictly personal,” she said. “It is not about competition, comparison or outdoing others. It is about meeting everybody, including yourself, where you are.” She said that each human being is called to give shape to their unique humanity in their own personal way.
“Magis is linked to the deeper personal desire in us, the fire in us!” she went on; “But to keep the passion alive and the fire burning, we have to allow for stillness at times; for rest; and listen to the voice of God, the intuition, the call within us.”
Elizabeth then introduced Brendan McManus SJ, author of Redemption and Road: Grieving On the Camino, and also of several books on Ignatian spirituality.
Brendan gave a PowerPoint presentation on ‘Reflective Practice and our Reflective Practices’. Following on from the recently concluded Ignatian year ‘Ignatius 500”, Brendan began by sharing some slides illustrating aspects of Ignatius’ early life, the decisive moments and the spiritual experience of Ignatius post-conversion.
Based on his recent book with Jim Deeds, Discover God Daily, he outlined the Ignatius story as a series of conversion moments, not just one moment at Loyola, that was driven by his awareness and reflection practices. Ignatius was able to pick up on the movements of spirits in his interior, consolation and desolation, and use those to be guided by God.
Then Brendan asked participants to reflect in silence on their own lives in terms of their ‘cannonball moments’ and what they had learned from the experience. Then they were asked to share in small groups, which generated a lot of discussion and a number of questions for Brendan. Finally, Brendan outlined the fundamental reflection technique of the Examen and invited teachers to apply it to their personal and professional lives.
After a stretch break Pat Coyle, spiritual director and Director of Irish Jesuit Communications, gave her input on ‘Making Good Decisions: Drawing on the Wisdom of St Ignatius for Discernment’. She said she was relying on a number of sources for her ‘step guide’ on the topic, including Brian Grogan SJ’s book on Making Good Decisions, Richard Leonard SJ’s work, and the 8-step guide to making good decisions compiled by the Irish Jesuit Vocations team.
She spoke about how most of us would love a ‘letter from God’ when faced with challenging or complex decisions. That never happens, she said, at least not literally, but God’s guidance is always there for us if we are able to trust and let go.
Decision-making involves taking time, she remarked, speaking to wise, trustworthy people who might have worthwhile insights to offer. Whilst we are all ultimately responsible for our own decisions, making a decsison in complete isolation is not a good idea. Gathering relevant information from various reliable sources can also help to inform an important decision. But not making a decision that needs to be made is also a decision, Pat noted, and it can drain a person’s energy. Ignatius would counsel that that type of lethargy, or ‘desolation’, is not the place from which to make a significant decision..
She also spoke about the importance of self-knowledge, being aware of healthy and unhealthy patterns that could have a bearing on the choices we make. She gave the example from her own life about a time when she decided to start fasting. She began doing it one day a week. After a while she upped it to a day and a half. Proudly, after a month, she announced to a Jesuit friend that she was almost up to two days fasting in a row. “Yeah,” he replied, shaking his head, “St Ignatius wouldn’t have allowed you to fast!”
She got the message, she said, “One of my most unhelpful patterns is the desire to compete, not just to be good, but to be the tops! In this instance, the decision to fast, a good in itself, turned into a unhelathy competition for me.”
Pat also went on to note that St Ignatius asks us to be aware not just of what’s going on in our heads but also in our hearts and to take the our deep heart feelings seriously. In particular, Ignatius suggests that we pay attention to the feelings that draw us towards God, on the one hand, and those that draw us away from God, on the other.
After outlining a few more steps she asked those gathered to reflect on a good decision and a not-so-good decsion they had made in terms of what they had learned from it. One person from the floor shared that even when he had made a decsion that he intitally thought was wrong it all worked out well in the end. To which she concluded, “That’s the great good news. When we hand a decision over in trust to God, and do our part in good faith it all seems to work out in the end. As St Paul (himself no stranger to making ‘bad’ decisions) tells us, ‘All things work to good for those who love God.”
Prayer to St Aloysius Gonzaga
You Aloysius were born to wealth and privilege
Yet you remained untouched by both.
You could have enjoyed a life of comfort, ease and power,
But those were not for you.
You sought instead Magis, something greater, more meaningful and more enduring.
You sought to make something of yourself, not for yourself, but for others.
As young people do, you dreamed dreams;
In study and prayer you sought to find God
Yet He found you and revealed Himself to you.
St Aloysius Gonzaga help me to discover my own unique dreams,
Help me to seek and find my true self.
And if that leads me to find God,
Help me to grow rich in friendship with Him
Through serving Him in others
And finding Him in all things.
For His greater Glory and my happiness and fulfilment.
— Daniel McNelis