We need to understand grace as an event – something that describes the quality of our relationship with God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost
Where is the knowledge we have lost
in information? – T.S.Eliot – ‘The Rock’
As someone well entrenched in the ‘ageing’ category, my body constantly reminds me that I certainly belong among those good people described as elderly.
Despite the fact that excellent surgery has given me three new parts and relieved a good deal of pre-operative pain, the joints now no longer feel supple and well oiled. Indeed, the ground continues to evade my once easy reach and touching my toes is a long-lost art. Worse still, my driver on the golf course does not smite the ball as far as I could manage several years ago.
Physical ailments aside, I recently came across an excellent book titled Moments to Remember – Ignatian Wisdom for Aging by Sister Carol Ann Smith SHCJ and Eugene F Merz SJ. It is a sequel to another splendid tome of theirs – Moment by Moment: A Retreat in Everyday Life – which I have used with much gratitude in directing people through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
Moments to Remember is divided into four parts. Part 1, titled ‘As Years Unfold: A glance at the journey’ provides a brief overview of the interior journey which many experience as we encounter the changes of the ageing process – whether it be change to us individually or to our loved ones. Threaded through every section of the book are some carefully chosen scripture pieces and excellent reflection questions which help us to capture or recapture the meaning of our various life experiences.
Listen to the young and the elderly
In addition, there are a good number of brief quotations and colloquies that focus our attention and stimulate further thought. Indeed, Pope Francis’ opening words in the Preface set the scene for us: ‘Whenever we attempt to read the signs of the times it is helpful to listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every person. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes . . .’
Part 2 is aptly titled ‘Ignatian Wisdom for Living’ and, unsurprisingly, shines a light on the importance of our reflection on experience at the heart of Ignatian spirituality. A focus on the roles of memory, imagination, prayer and discernment is excellent scaffolding for the remainder of the book.
Spend time with the parables
Part 3 ‘The Seasons – the Parables of Our Lives’, as the title suggests, provides ways of praying about the seasons of our life. It has been suggested that Jesus preferred to speak in parables to keep his truth from being immediately being set in stone, memorised or owned. He expected his disciples to ‘chew’ on parables for a while to unlock their real flavour. In other words, Jesus used parables to teach us about ourselves, our relationships and our world.
Finally, Part 4 ‘Sharing your story’ contains encouragement to share our life experiences with others. Why not? After all, our individual stories are rich and should be shared; they are sacred territory, as Caroline Jones wrote in her book The Search for Meaning. Famous Jewish author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, has reflected on God’s companionship in life’s journey, affirming that he created us because he loves stories! Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest and fine author goes even further in his book, Bread for the Journey: ‘This is what life is about. It is being sent on a trip by a loving God, who is waiting at home for our return and is eager to watch the slides we took and hear about the friends we made.’
These days I would think that the Good Lord would be delighted to see the photos on our iPads.
In recommending this book Moments to Remember to people of all ages – not just those of us in the elderly bracket – I am sure Madonna readers are up for the challenge of learning to age graciously. In my much younger days before the wonders of Vatican II, I used to think that ‘grace’ was some type of substance which was injected into us through receiving the various sacraments. Further on in life, when I had the opportunity to read and think more deeply during theology studies, I realised that grace describes the quality of our relationship with God.
New York priest, Timothy Klein, elaborates this point in his book Vanity Faith: ‘It is helpful to jettison the picture of grace as an object and try to think of grace as an event. It’s that moment when we recognise the presence of God in our lives, when finally we realise that God has always been there working on our behalf.’
I am sure we have all met ‘gracious’ people in our lives – quite simply people who, by the quality of their relationships, remind us of the goodness of God and His abiding love. Grace reveals itself in the feeling of belonging that love brings.
Fr Chris Gleeson SJ is the editor of Madonna magazine, and author of a number of spirituality publications, including A Canopy of Stars – Some reflections for the journey (2003) and Releasing the Angel – Saluting all those who try to teach (2007). He is also the Australian Jesuit Province’s delegate for Ignatian Formation.