What's In A Name?

Posted by Greg Kennedy, SJ in Our Spirituality

Loyola, Cardoner, Manresa, these names are your every Tom, Dick and Harry of the Jesuit  world.  Be it in Colombia, Canada or Cambodia, wherever you find Jesuit works or communities you'll more than likely meet a Loyola, or a Cardoner, or a Manresa.Loyola today. Source: newsholycross.com

What gets lost in this grand universality is the geographical uniqueness behind each of these names.  St. Ignatius was born and raised in the quiet hamlet called Loyola tucked away in the hills of the Basque country.  He, not unlike the Buddha, received spiritual enlightenment on the banks of a river.  And not just any old river, but the the river of Cardoner that skips and sings through about one hundred kilometers of Cataluña. Manresa, a small town not far from the Cardoner, provided Ignatius with a nice, comfy cave where he spent eleven months diligently doing his spiritual homework.  

St. Xavier's College, Kolcata. Source: en.wikipedia.comWith the Jesuit penchant for christening nearly everything with geographical names, you'd think that we were tied to places. If so, you'd be mistaken. Contrary to our monastic brothers and sisters, who take a vow of stability to stay put and true to the abbey they entered, we Jesuits pride ourselves on our "flightiness".  Yes, we tend to be jet-setters, flying here, there and everywhere.  We're rolling stones.  We gather Airmiles, not moss. The road is our cloister.  One minute you see us, the next we've be missioned to the other end of the province, if not the globe.

This rootlessness has historically served us well.  Thanks to it, we've breezed wherever the Spirit blows, into almost every country on the map. But these days, when mobility has become the norm, and practically everyone is on the run to some place they're not, it might be time to rethink our tumbleweed tendencies. It might be time to stabilize.Creighton University, Omaha. Source: omaha.com

The same missionary zeal that for centuries sent us out to the frontiers, a zeal for the propagation of the faith and the salvation of God's people, might today be telling us to settle down.  Because the danger in the great ebb and flow, the incessant come and go, the frenetic to and fro is that we lose touch with where we happen to be.  And where we happen to be is sacred.  It is a particular place. A particular ecosystem. A particular biome.  A particular watershed. And a particular complex of gastromic, artistic, political, religious, and other cultural traditions that have grown up from the specific, local soil.

Cardoner River. Source: trip-suggest,comIt turns out that place matters. Divine wisdom came to Ignatius in the current of the Cardoner River, not in that of the Nile nor of the Klondike.  The bucolic hills and fields of Loyola formed and educated the future saint along with his parents, relatives and tutors.  The cave at Manresa played a crucial role in the development of Ignatian spirituality.  Had Ignatius whiled away his eleven fervent months in a posh Barcelona penthouse, the Exercices would have come out quite differently.

All along we've half intuited the importance of particular places in our collective and personal histories.  For this reason we've been so careful in naming our houses, schools and projects after places of supreme significance.  But in our perpetual pick up and go, we've forgotten that these same houses, schools and projects also have their roots in their own particular, unique place, which needs our attention and affection.

Loyola House, Guelph. Source: hsabbatical.blogspot.comIf we're going to care for the earth, our common home, we have to begin, well, at home, where we are.  The same love, devotion and hope for the land that lead the Israelites to live and die for the place God promised them has to reside in our own hearts.  This is not so that we become parrochial, tribalistic, and turned-inwards on our sweet, little, local selves.  We're called to be global citizens, but with our feet firmly planted on the ground under our very feet.  It's beyond our measure to care for the whole wide world, but we can care for this specific, sacred part of it, without ignoring that my here is intimately connected to your there.  Remember what Jesus taught so long ago: those who are trustworthy in the small things are also trustworthy in the large.

Loyola House, a retreat center in Guelph, Ontario, Canada has taken this lesson to heart. Here we talk of the place not as the property, our the terrain, our the lot, but rather as the "land". We are ever more conscious of how this land collaborates in the mission of propagating faith and saving souls thoroughly housed in bodies. The retreatants who come to pray here realize that somehow they are praying with the land, that is, the land itself is sharing in their prayer.  Comprised of six hundred acres of certified organic fields, community gardens and forests, this part of our common home feeds us from her bosom, and educates us with her patient wisdom.  She is our domestic church.Loyola House Chapel. Guelph. Source: flickriver.com

We've learned that this land is not a sum of square meters substitutible by an equal area somewhere else.  It is lovely and unique, just like every single person on the planet.  For this reason, we've worked to protect her personality, removing, for example, the small dam that controled Marden Creek, which meanders through the place.  We did this not out of some nagging nostalgia for the past, instead out of the understanding that the original imposition of the dam smothered, like an overbearing sibling, the personality of the land. It also did away with the native trout population and opened the door wide open to the invasive, foriegn carp, which makes a mess of aquatic ecosystems not its own.

Jim Profit, SJ, former director of Loyola House, so valued the "placeness" of the land that he began planting an old growth forest there. At first glance this would look impossible, in that old growth forests are precisely those which have not been planted, but have grown up by themselves over hundreds, if not thousands of years.  What Jim acheived was to put the land in trust, so that no one, be it a future director or provincial, could redesignate the usage and sell the wood or the acres.  So long as the rule of law holds in Canada, this place will be treed and cared for into perpetuity. 

Loyola House, which bears the name of the homeland of our great father of faith, continues to teach us to be missionaries of the here, right here, and now, to be mystics of the land.  It sends us out to settle down where we are and love the earth where we stand.  In this it takes its name seriously.

About The Author

Greg Kennedy, SJ is assigned to the spiritual exercises ministry at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario.

(Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)

Eric Jensen on February 12, 2017 - 11:06 AM

Wonderfully enlightened, Greg! Now, read Javier Melloni, The Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Western Tradition.

DOROTHEA BARRETT on February 12, 2017 - 2:22 PM

Dear Fr. Greg;
thank you so very much for telling us about the Jesuits' "flightiness". Yes, your monastery, cloister is the WORLD. Having been at the Loyola Retreat House (Guelph) a few times, this place is my 2ND HOME. The Jesuits have always been my 'special' people since my early years. In my birth-country (Germany) we call a Jesuit SCHLAUER JUNGE [clever boy] - standing for SJ, and this is so true. God bless you all.

Peter Bisson on February 12, 2017 - 6:09 PM

Thank you Greg!

Sheila Grover on February 13, 2017 - 7:06 PM

The explanation of the land, and human's relationship to it in a spiritual sense, was joyful and enlightening. Thank you!