The courage to turn inward
Newly appointed delegate of spirituality, Brendan McManus SJ, has returned to Belfast after a few months in Dublin where he worked on his latest book on the Camino Ignaciano pilgrimage in Spain and the search for meaning in suffering. The Fermanagh Jesuit also recently published Finding God in the Mess: Meditations for Mindful Living in collaboration with Jim Deeds and the Messenger Publications, and the promotion of the book continues throughout bookshops and parishes nationwide. Fr McManus looks forward to continuing his work in Belfast as a spiritual director, a ministry that occupies most of his time. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, he speaks of his work serving directees throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Fr McManus refers to spiritual direction as one of the key Jesuit ministries. He says it is about listening to people: being an ear where people can come and talk about their lives, their struggles, their issues, and especially their decisions, and to relate to God in it all. “I have this insight sometimes,” says Brendan, “myself included, that we make a deal with God: ‘I’ll do this job for this money and I’ll cruise along here if you stay out of my life, God’ – that sort of deal. It’s not fair on God.” He considers it best to let God into all those parts of ourselves, even those parts that are not that attractive, so that we may be open to the light.
Fr McManus believes it takes great courage for directees to make big decisions in their lives: “To step out of a safe place and to step out on the water, if you like, a sense of stepping out there with Christ and taking a risk and to see what Christ is inviting you to. It might not be as well paid. It might not be as secure, but maybe it’s going to be enormously fulfilling”. As a Jesuit, Brendan looks to how St Ignatius in the sixteenth century made the shift away from the authority of outer experience, which many believers associated with the Church, toward the authority of inner experience. St Ignatius realised how important that was for saving souls.
Regarding the power of listening, Fr McManus states: “The experience of being listened to, I think, is a novel one for a lot of people, and the fact that your experience will be valued; it will be cherished and respected. That is the key thing… and that life suddenly has meaning, that things are significant. What I do is significant; how I choose to spend my life is important; and that’s what God wants me to do”.
Brendan and Jim Deeds will present their insights and knowledge from their book Finding God in the Mess: Meditations for Mindful Living at the Novena of Grace in honour of St Francis Xavier at St Brendan’s Church, Coolock, Dublin, on Sunday, 11 March, at 6.30pm.