January 26, 2014
Each year, we take a week to celebrate the animating Spirit of this university community. We celebrated our 225th year since our founding this past Thursday. For all of those years we have shared in a tradition of learning that has its origins in the very first Jesuit school—in Sicily, in 1548, and continues today in more than 190 schools around the world.
On this Hilltop, Father John Carroll, the son of one of the most prominent families in the Colonies, interpreted for a new nation, what this tradition of learning could contribute. For these 225 years, this tradition has been sustained through the presence of a community of men like Father Lingan and Father Steck and Father O’Brien. This is the Heritage we celebrate this week.
This Heritage is characterized by a particular approach, what Ignatius called modo de preceder or “our way of proceeding.” I know sometimes it can be difficult to make sense and connect the elements of our Heritage.
We can use the words—we can share a vocabulary, and we have a sense of what we mean: words and phrases like the Magis, or Contemplatives in Action, the Faith that Does Justice, Women and Men for Others. We can experience moments when these words, these concepts come alive in our lived realities—we have moments of grace when we experience God’s love for us, our love for one another, we experience Justice, we know the Magis. It can be in our interactions with one another, in our grasp of a complex text, in service here in the city.
These are all elements of our Way of Proceeding. But even that phrase can be difficult to grasp sometimes. How do we understand this idea of a “way of proceeding?”
Another extraordinary member of our community is Father John O’Malley and in many talks and in his writing has provided insight into this idea of a Way of Proceeding. For Father O’Malley, the word that best captures what is meant by a way of proceeding is Style.
This can be a treacherous word given its use in popular culture. When I hear the word I often think about fashion, or as an approach for presenting one’s self in public. I think of terms like “life style” and “stylish” and it can be hard to connect to the core insight of Ignatius.
Fortunately we have Father O’Malley to guide us to an appropriate understanding of this term. Style answers the question: How do we live our lives? Father O’Malley:
The "what" of John O’Malley—priest, historian, and so forth—is important, but style is the expression of my deepest personality…Style makes me who I am. “What kind of person is John O’Malley?” Kind and considerate, or cunning and contrived? That is a question about style. If I am loved, [he wrote] I’m loved for my how; and if I get to heaven, I will get there because of my how. (O’Malley)
This week, we celebrate style—the how of our lives. Style—as a way of engaging and living in the world—a way of encountering the world. How we live our lives.
For the past ten months we have watched in awe our new Holy Father live his how. He is a man formed in this Jesuit way of proceeding, in this heritage we celebrate this week. And whether it is:
- in how he celebrated the ritual of washing the feet, including two women on Maundy Thursday;
- in how he embraced a man in St. Peter’s Square afflicted with what we call the Elephant Man’s Disease;
- in how he made his first trip outside of Rome as Pope to Lampedusa to commemorate the lives of those migrants from North Africa who have lost their lives seeking asylum;
- in how he has asked us to focus our attention on those left behind by our systems for organizing our economies;
- in how he has honored his Jesuit vow of poverty;
- and in the countless ways in which he has demonstrated the authenticity of his own personal style.
Style is the how—it is a way of living in the world, of engaging in the world, of encountering the world, of being in the world, a way of proceeding.
Each of us, through our membership in this community is asked to embrace this question of how, this question of style. This heritage, which has been given to us – a gift – is a resource. Our living these questions, and our answers – our engagement with this resource – are what make our community come alive.
This is the Heritage we honor and celebrate this week. We can express our gratitude that at this moment in our lives, we have the opportunity to live in a community shaped by such a Heritage.
O’Malley, John. “The Style of Vatican II,” America, 24 Feb. 2003. Web. 25 Jan. 2014.