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"There's the sense of the body of Christ mystically united. I think that's really a powerful idea right now."
Fr. James Martin, SJ: Ignatian Spirituality Can Guide Us in the Storm

March 20, 2020 — Fr. Jim Martin, SJ, reflects on how we can draw on the tradition of Ignatian spirituality to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with faith, hope and love.

Below is an edited transcript of the AMDG podcast, which was first uploaded on March 18.

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Things are rapidly unfolding here. It was just Wednesday of last week, and we're talking on Monday afternoon, when things started rapidly evolving here in the states. Where have your mind and heart been these days since this has really started kicking in here in a local way?

Fr. Jim:

I was in the Holy Land on a pilgrimage from February 28 to March 8. We had a person on our trip who had been in touch with a patient who had subsequently developed Coronavirus. And she was fine, the pilgrim. And then we quarantined ourselves when we got back and then it seems to have spiraled downward.

My thoughts are about trying to help people not panic and to help people see their way through this crisis, but at the same time being realistic about the suffering that's going to happen. I think particularly in the United States, maybe even in our families, among our friends and our religious communities. I live with three guys over 80, so I'm very worried about them. It's a very confusing time for people, including me, but I'm trying to remain centered on God and know that Christ is with us in all this.


So, it's holding a lot of things, right? It's trying to assure people to be calm and not to panic or worry but also acknowledging that there is some loss for all of us in some way right on the horizon.

Fr. Jim:

Yeah. I think that panic is never a good idea. St. Ignatius Loyola talked about two movements that we find warring within us. One is the movement toward, as Ignatius says, gnawing anxiety. I just think that's a great term. Things that sadden us, that set up false obstacles, anything that draws us down, draws us into despair, and that he calls the evil spirit. That pulls us away from God.

And, he says, the good spirit is the spirit that moves us toward God, which is basically the spirit of hope and calm and trust. And, so we all feel that inside. We get panicky. We get worried. We get angry that things aren't going our way or that someone's not taking our advice. But, it's the spirit of calm and hope and trust that is really coming from God. So, you can be concerned, of course, and you take precautions. People can be frightened, but the panic, I think, is clearly not coming from God because it prevents us from really thinking clearly about these things.


We're just being bombarded with news all the time, social media, TV, in conversations with people. Within all of that, what roles do you think the faith community and faith leaders have to play, what do we offer?

Fr. Jim:

I think we offer the ability to help people make meaning of all of this. I mean, to get blunt, when people are thinking about getting sick and dying, it is the faith community that offers them perspective on that and offers them, in a sense, hope. And, particularly in the Christian worldview, offers them the sense of eternal life and resurrection. And, I think we need to be blunt about that. You know, people are going to deal with illness and death.

There's also the invitation in the Christian worldview to remember that Christ is with us, that Jesus Christ, who has risen and is present to us through the Spirit, experienced these things. I mean half of his ministry was healing sick people. And so, the question is, why is this happening? Why is God not healing us? Those are unanswerable questions. But the fact is that Jesus is accompanying us and is with us and understands us and knows what we're going through.


One of the ways in the Christian community that we walk with Jesus is through our faith communities, through gathering. And, now we're in a time in which a lot of us are not able to do that. How do we find community when we can't meet in person? Which is such a central part for Catholics especially.

Fr. Jim:

What I've been trying to do in the last few days is doing Facebook Live and bringing people in for faith sharing, those kinds of things.

In the Jesuits, there's the tradition of the union of hearts and minds. You think of Saint Ignatius and the early Jesuits, Francis Xavier, chief among them, who went all over the world and never saw Ignatius again, but was united with him in prayer. There's the sense of the body of Christ mystically united. I think that's really a powerful idea right now.


Are there things from the Ignatian tradition that are worthwhile to spend some time with in these days?

Fr. Jim:

Someone just pointed it out to me. I was frustrated about something, and I imputed bad motive. I said, "Oh, that's so selfish," the way that the person is dealing with the Coronavirus. And, my friend said, "I don't know. You know, assuming that that person's motivation is selfish doesn't sound like it's coming from the good spirit." So, that's called the presupposition. You assume the best of people.

In terms of prayer, a lot of people are on their own right now. They're going to be frightened. I think the Ignatian tradition of guided meditations and contemplative prayer, Ignatian contemplation as it's often called, where you imagine yourself speaking with Jesus, is really powerful.


Your ministry has been online for a long time and, as you mentioned, you did a faith sharing around the Gospel on Sunday. How did that go?

Fr. Jim:

It was a lot of fun. We had 38,000 people viewing, which is a good size congregation. I wanted to offer it to people because they weren't going to Mass and where are they going to talk about the Gospel? I see social media as a way of meeting people where they are. And that's what Jesus did.

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