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A Calling Heeded

professor gregory kalscheur, s.j.

In many ways, the conviction that may be most distinctive about Jesuit life and Ignatian spirituality is rooted in a story. Both the story and the conviction come from the life of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Many of you may be familiar with the story.

As a soldier for the king of Spain, Ignatius suffered a horrible wound fighting against the French at the battle of Pamplona. During his lengthy convalescence from that wound, Ignatius began to pay attention to the different ways in which his heart was moved as he read different kinds of books and as he imagined different ways of living his life. Up to that point Ignatius had lived his life in the world of the Spanish court. But he found that reading courtly romances and imagining a return to his former life left his heart dry and lifeless. At the same time, when he would read about Jesus or the lives of the saints, or when he would imagine himself doing the things that St. Francis or St. Dominic did, he found his heart on fire with energy; he felt his heart filled with excitement and life. As he reflected over time on those contrasting experiences of what he came to call desolation and consolation, and as he considered the way the story of his life had unfolded, Ignatius gradually began to ground his life in the following central conviction of Jesuit spirituality: We can discern how God is calling us to lives of freedom and wholeness and integrity if we pay attention to the feelings moving in our hearts as we reflect on our own life experiences. Ignatius’ own experience convinced him that all of us can grow in freedom and wholeness and integrity if we make choices that are faithful to the times when we have experienced joy and freedom and fullness of life in the ongoing stories of our own everyday lives.

Having said a little bit about the story of the life of Ignatius, I want to share a bit of the story of my own life, which I hope might help to illustrate how I’ve come to understand the process of Ignatian discernment at work in my own experience. I’ll share some of the story of how this lawyer came to be a Jesuit, and then a bit of the story of how this Jesuit came to understand that his Jesuit priestly ministry ought to be lived out, for the moment at least, primarily as a law professor.

I was a lawyer for several years before I entered the Jesuits. I finished college at Georgetown in 1985, and went immediately to law school at the University of Michigan. Up to that point in my life, I had never given any thought that I can remember to entering the Jesuits. Instead, I had what I thought was a pretty straightforward course worked out: After law school, I would do a judicial clerkship, then I would practice for a few years in Washington,
and then I would look for a teaching position in a law school. That had actually been my plan from some point fairly early in my undergraduate studies.

But during my third year in law school, I had an experience that began the process of altering the sequence of that plan pretty dramatically. I had a great friend at Michigan who had also been a classmate of mine at Georgetown. We eventually both ended up together on the editorial board of the law review. My friend had grown restless with the Christian tradition in which he had been raised, but he had been exposed to and developed a bit of an interest in Catholicism while at Georgetown. Eventually, during law school, he and I began to have some fairly significant conversations about how I understood my faith as a Catholic and why it was so important in my life. A few years later, when we were both practicing law, my friend decided to enter the Catholic Church, and I was able to be his confirmation sponsor.

Back during our third year in law school, in the midst of these conversations about my experience of my faith, my friend asked me a question that eventually put my life on a somewhat different course from the one I had planned. As I remember things, he asked me, somewhat out of the blue, if I had ever thought about becoming a Jesuit. I don’t ever remember having consciously considered becoming a Jesuit before that moment, but as a I began to think about the possibility, something seemed to click in my heart; what he was suggesting seemed to fit and make sense; it felt right.

But there was a problem. At that point in my life, I was set to clerk for a year on the Seventh Circuit, and I had an understanding with a firm in Washington that I would come to practice with them once I finished my clerkship. Everything was sort of going along according to my earlier plan, and entering the Jesuits at that point would have been a huge and unanticipated change of course. Although I didn’t have any language for the idea of discernment at that time in my life, I can remember praying with real desire for God to help me to see what I should do. As I imagined the different possibilities during the rest of my third year, I began to notice things about how my heart was moved. Some part of my heart that I really hadn’t been aware of had come alive in me through my friend’s question and our conversations. I felt a deep conviction that at some point I would be a Jesuit, but at the same time I felt a lot of peace and a real sense of rightness in thinking that I ought to stay on the course I was on: I should clerk and go on to practice, and somehow the Jesuit piece would come back into my life later if that was what God really wanted me to do.

I ended up having a tremendous experience clerking for Judge Kenneth F. Ripple on the Seventh Circuit. He became a great mentor and friend for me, and he taught me a great deal about how to think about the human implications of every legal decision. And as a litigator at Hogan & Hartson in Washington for three years, I worked with great lawyers and learned a lot of practical lawyering skills that have enabled me to have at least some credibility in teaching Civil Procedure today. But after a couple of years of practice, even though my work was really interesting and rewarding in many respects, I began to be more and more aware that a part of my heart was not fully engaged in what I was doing. A part of me was not being fully utilized where I was. I wasn’t as full of life and energy and joy as God desires for us. And at that point I began to think seriously again about entering the Jesuits. As I learned more about prayer and discernment, and as I spent more time, with the help of a good spiritual director, imagining what life as a Jesuit and a priest might be like, there was an excitement and a freedom and sense of wholeness and rightness that eventually led me to enter the Society of Jesus in August of 1992, after four years of practicing law. As I look back on this time in my life, I can see now that I was paying attention to my experience, I was trying to reflect on what my experience might mean and where it might be pointing, and I was trying to respond to all that with love and fidelity to the truth of who I knew myself to be.

That’s a bit of the story of how I came to leave legal practice to enter the Jesuits. Once I entered the Jesuits there was, of course, no guarantee that I would ever end up as a teacher at a Jesuit law school, and that was fine with me. I had lots of questions about whether life in Jesuit higher education, in general, and in a law school, more particularly, would allow me to be the kind of Jesuit that I wanted to be. For example, in the highly secularized environment of higher education, especially in the world of legal education, would I be able to speak to people about friendship with Jesus with the kind of explicitness and directness that I wanted to be part of my Jesuit ministry? Would the pastoral part of my heart stay alive in the face of the professional academic demands and secularized environment of contemporary legal education?

As I got closer to my own ordination, and as I reflected on various experiences that I had during my years of Jesuit formation, I became increasingly convinced that the story of my own life was leading me in the direction of ministering as a legal academic. For example, I began to see new significance in an experience that I had as second-year novice, when I was teaching a constitutional law seminar to undergrads at Georgetown. I found that I was good at it, that I had a lot of fun doing it, and that other people noticed that I was energized by it. When I would return home to the community where I was living, one Jesuit in particular would often ask me about what I had been teaching that day, and he noticed that there was lot of life and energy in me as I told him
about the cases we had been talking about in class. On another front, both during my philosophy studies at Loyola Chicago and during my theology studies in Boston, I had the opportunity to do some pastoral work with law students. I found that law students did have the sorts of questions about their lives and their faith that I hoped I could help people with as a Jesuit priest, and it also became clear to me that I, as Jesuit lawyer, might be able to talk about their questions with a credibility that a pastoral minister without a legal background might not have.

I also began to think more about how I understood Jesuit priesthood and how I thought my ministry could contribute to the larger mission of the Society of Jesus at this point in the world’s history. I came to understand Jesuit priesthood as a way of serving God that tries to give flesh to God’s word in all the different areas of human life that engage reflective human beings, especially areas of human endeavor where God’s word might otherwise not be heard, where God’s presence might not be noticed. It seemed to me that the law and the contemporary law school were the sorts of human endeavor that fit that description. Similarly, part of the mission of the Society of Jesus today is to bring the Gospel into dialogue with contemporary culture. Both the legal profession and the law school as an institution are clearly important components of contemporary American culture.

Since my education and experience would give me access to the legal culture in a way that not many other Jesuits have, it occurred
to me that teaching in a law school might be a particular way in which I could embody that full engagement with culture that is demanded by the mission of the Society of Jesus today. As I reflected on all this, I began to be excited by the prospect of ministering as a law professor; I had a sense that all my gifts and talents and desires could really be fully engaged by that work, and that my training and experience and background made me uniquely wellsuited to meet a particular need in the world in a particularly effective way. As I imagined myself moving down this path, I experienced a deepening sense of peace and rightness, a movement toward joy and hope, the sort of movement that Ignatius would describe as consolation and that he would attribute to an experience of God’s Spirit calling me forward in freedom. And as I described all of this to friends and superiors and people who knew me well, they all confirmed my sense that this was the right path for me to take at this point in my Jesuit life. This path seemed to fit with history and my desires, and this path really did seem to be the direction in which the story of my life was leading. All of that helped me to discern that choosing to follow the path revealed by the movements of my heart would be the way for me to best respond with freedom and integrity to God’s call in my life.

That’s a tiny bit of the story of the life of Ignatius, and a bit more of the story of my own life. The Ignatian idea of discernment invites each of us to listen to the stories of our own experience, our own hearts, our own desires, and our own lives so that we all can respond to God’s call with freedom and integrity. We all know that life as a law student and life as a lawyer can often become stressful, hectic, compartmentalized, and dis-integrated. And we all know lawyers who seem lifeless, joyless, directionless, and unfree, following paths they haven’t consciously chosen, that lead them to places they would never have chosen to go, seemingly locked in lives they haven’t freely chosen to live.

The spirituality that comes to us from St. Ignatius offers resources that can help us to avoid that trap. Ignatius tells us to pay attention to how God is calling us to freedom and integrity in the experiences of our daily lives. As we reflect on our daily lives, what are the events and experiences that give us joy? When have we felt most fully alive and fully engaged with the world? When have we felt our hearts on fire with love and energy and hope-filled desires? Ignatius would say that those are the times and places where God is at work calling us to freedom.

In what direction do those sorts of experiences lead? Do they fall into any sort of recognizable pattern? Do they reveal to me things that I am good at, do they help me to recognize gifts and talents that I can put at the service of the world? And what does the world, the community around me, really need me to do? Paying attention every day to those sorts of questions and those kinds of experiences, reflecting on what those experiences mean and where they might lead, and responding with love and generosity when you have a sense of how God is calling—this is what it means to have a continually discerning heart. Developing a continually discerning heart is the key to living a life of freedom and integrity, especially when our lives are lived in the complex world of the law. Be attentive to the ways in which your heart is moving. Be reflective about where those movements seem to lead. Be loving and generous in putting your gifts at the service of the community. All of that will help you to be faithful to the ways in which God has been calling you to freedom and integrity in the story of your own life.

Father Kalscheur, an assistant professor at BC Law, first presented this paper in April at the University of San Francisco Law School as part of a panel entitled “Navigating Law School and Your Legal Career with Freedom and Integrity: How Ignatian/Jesuit Spirituality Can Help.”