Continuing Confirmation

 

Continuing Confirmation

            I was once a little Catholic boy who had been baptized in Paris, Illinois St. Mary’s Church and confirmed at St. Mary’s Church in Marshall, Illinois where my family attended.  As I look back on this second year class of spiritual direction from September, 2018 to May, 2019, the first thing that I distinctly recall may have been from the first class meeting.  I recall being annointed by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan with Holy Oil, anointing my forehead in the shape of a cross.  I view this as my second confirmation in the Catholic tradition.  I highly value and respect this gesture of faith as I value my first confirmation.

            In the past year I am aware of the continuing need for discernment regarding my call to be a spiritual director.  I shared some of my original  ideasexcitedly about what I thought I was going to “do” about my desire to act as a spiritual director with Bob Fitzgerald, my supervisor, quite a while back. What I shared was my own thinking and reasoning after my first consolation without cause to use to use the rest of my life to dedicate myself promoting Ignatian Spirituality. As a consolation that came after the first one without cause, I now know these ideas need to be subjected to discernment. Bob patiently listened to my ideas and did not say much, but merely pointed me to Tielhard de Chardin’s prayer, Patient Trust.  I must use only one quote in this reflection. I offer this poem from Tielhard de Chardin:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.[1]

            In view of the preceding prayer/poem, let me continue to speak from my heart about my continual calling to become a spiritual director.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

            This patient trusting and finding God’s desires for me and where my own deepest desires meet in my inner man is different from the ways in which I have previously operated.  In the past I have been very quick to decide and take action, without taking appropriate time concerning business decisions, thinking that the opportunity might not be there if I did not act in time.  I have found that with God’s work there is always time to act, time to decide, and if a less than better decision is reached, there is time to slowly discern another path.  Discernment is not so much about making decisions as it is reaching interior freedom to be or become who God wants us to be and in any case to do the most loving thing in any situation in which we find ourselves.

            For instance, I wrote a book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, before I began my Spring Hill College studies, as a response to a call to promote Ignatian Spirituality while taking the 19th Annotation.[2] I thought I would publish it right away, but it did not work out that way.  It is now in the process of being published and the past class year has helped me as the book has slowly been edited and I have used some of what I am learning to refine this work.  I have discerned that some of my original ideas about how to promote Ignatian Spirituality are not the right things to do at this time.  I have discovered the interior freedom to let go of these ideas.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

            These classes are an intermediate stage of my calling to be a spiritual director, or my calling to use this training in another method, if not spiritual direction, to bring greater glory to God.  For instance, if my book takes off and I am invited to promote the book and Ignatian Spirituality in other ways, I have the interior freedom to perhaps not do as much spiritual direction as originally planned.  Taking too many commitments might result in overload and being ineffective.

            I am pleased that two directee’s came to me and that one is female, the other male, that one is more of a “conservative” Catholic, and the other more a “progressive” Catholic, one is younger, the other is older.  One has already asked me to continue the spiritual direction relationship after the six month SHC class period is over.  The differences in personality types has been very helpful.  It has been very fulfilling to be a spiritual director to each of these individuals.  One lives in an assisted living facility and it is possible that giving the 19th Annotation in a group setting there may eventually be appropriate.  I pray for proper discernment.  I am also pleased that although not many know about my being a spiritual director, others have sought advice from me about spiritual matters.  I will wait until these classes are over to take on any more directee’s.

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

            I feel the slow and patient work of Bob Fitzgerald and Sr. Susan and Sr. Barbara have been very helpful regarding the progress I am making in formation.  These classes have provided needed time for reflection, careful consideration, and thoughtfulness.  I have had time to read additional books, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy, and Ignatian Journey, by Kevin O’Brien, S.J.  I particularly advise Ignatian Journey and suggest it for future classes as one of the final readings because it gives a helpful synopsis of the Spiritual Exercises and one can use it as groundwork for giving the 19th Annotation.

            Ignatian discernment is primarily choosing between two or more good things.  If it happens, as in St. Ignatius’ case, that one of the good things proves not to be exactly what God has in mind for, one can always look back and choose another good thing because of the interior freedom we have to be unattached to any one thing.  This is how I view my calling regarding a choice of giving spiritual direction one to one, giving it in a group setting, or giving less of directee based spiritual direction and promoting my book more, or a combination of all the above.  Whatever brings greater glory to God is always the best choice. Whatever is the most loving thing to do is always the best choice.  I must be careful not to run too fast, but, on the other hand, “Here I am, Lord. Choose me.”

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.

I withdraw judgement on exactly what is supposed to happen, or what is happening, or what will happen to me, or to you, whomever is reading this reflection.  God is not finished with us yet.  I think back again to when I was a little Catholic boy, baptized, and later confirmed…

Confirmation


I left the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age for matters of conscience, becoming a conscientious objector to war, and joined an historic peace church.  This was before the new Catechism.  I did not know of Vatican II allowances for my beliefs.  In the process of returning to my Catholic roots I have been baptized again, ordained a deacon, commissioned a pastor, and ordained an elder, but God is not finished with me yet. My anointing, by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan is another highlight of my life and the continual and gradual formation of whom God wants me to become.  Every class session has been a new and deeper confirmation as I recognized the Holy Spirit at work in the world and in my life.

              I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at Confirmation.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at other junctures in our lives, ordination, marriage, commissioning, etc.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at baptism, even if baptized as an infant, as I was, or baptized again in my second conversion experience, or coming again when I experienced the 19th Annotation in a third conversion experience. I think the Holy Spirit is always coming to us, always confirming us when we discern and choose wisely.  Eternity is left for us and has always existed for God who is always purifying something or someone, always making new or renewing His plans for us to bless us and not curse us.  It is not so much about making immediate choices but about experiencing inner freedom to act according to the most loving option in every situation God brings to us.   Only God knows His plans.  Only God knows our future and the hope He has for us.  Until then, let us patiently trust.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

[1] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin

[2] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/24517/what-is-19th-annotation-what-can-you-expect

About jcooperforpeace
Spiritual Director, Peacemaker in Ignatian Spirituality, Active Nonviolence and Social Justice

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