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Daily Reflections


From June 19 to July 1, 2017, the Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies led its fourth cohort through Spain and Italy as part of the Certificate in Jesuit Studies program. The Institute welcomed 19 participants--Jesuit scholastics and laywomen and men--from Europe, Africa, and the Americas. 

Participants spent 12 days tracing the footsteps of the founders of the Society of Jesus, as they traveled through Madrid, Arévalo, Burgos, Loyola, Aranzazu, Pamplona, Xavier, Zaragoza, Verdú, Montserrat, Manresa, Barcelona, Castel Gandolfo, and Rome.

The experiential learning and pilgrimage intends to expose the Certificate participants to unique opportunities, thematic readings, and group discussions so that they might critically examine the foundations of the Society of Jesus. The short-term goal of the travels is for the participants to deepen their understanding of the spirituality, history, and leadership methods associated with the Society of Jesus. More long term, it is the hope that their time together will ultimately assist the participants' personal and professional vocations, paying dividends long after they have traveled in the footsteps of leaders.

You can follow their shared experiences here through their daily reflections and photographs. Each day had a theme and selected readings as the travels progress from the early Jesuits' Iberian roots through the Ignatian legacy. 

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Day 11: June 30  The Ignatian Legacy


How to end your travels with an exclamation mark.

Oh Lord my God

When I in awesome wonder

Consider all the works Thy hands have made…

Throughout this trip we’ve found ourselves looking up at things, whether it’s the majestic roof of the cathedral at Manresa, the trompe d’oeil of the Ignazio, or the stars above Montserrat as the fireworks of the Feast of St. John the Baptist explode in the Catalan night below. The fusion of Nature with man’s curiosity has long been a source for science, letters, and art, so it should come as no surprise that we spend our last full day in Rome still either looking up at things, looking deeply into things, looking down from the roofs of things, or just looking things up.

We had seen in the Segrada Da Familia the respect for the symbolic height of the power of God - a deliberate attempt to build the cathedral so this man made-made structure would be just slightly less than the height of the tallest formation in the natural surrounding world. This is science and art as devotion, reminding us of the inscription from the statue outside the church of Santa Maria supra Minerva in Roma: ‘only a robust mind can carry the weight of divine wisdom’. There were some pretty robust minds on show today, but they all lead us to the same conclusion.

We looked at the expansion from dealing with just the religious aspect of the society to those areas that are extensions or connections in the arts and sciences. This began with Castel Gandolfo, where we saw the Jesuit observatory and learned of how much the Order has contributed to the history of astronomy and astrophysics. Paul Mueller, SJ, Provincial of the community, noted that there are six Jesuits with at least a PhD in Physics working in the Observatory system, here and in Mount Graham Arizona, where the latest telescopes are located.

We found it amazingly heartening to see such commitment to science, and even more amazing that such support has been consistent across the many Popes who have ruled since the foundation of the observatory under Gregory XIII. Funny to think that Clavius was in regular correspondence with Kepler, or that the maps of the stars recorded over 140 years ago are still vital to the development of astronomy. This marriage of faith and reason, the embrace of science by the Society, inspires because it reflects how the Jesuits like to look beyond. It brought to mind Ronald Reagan’s eulogy at the funeral service for the Challenger astronauts, where he quoted John Gillespie McGee: we see how man “slipped the surly bounds of the earth… touched the face of God”.

The change from looking at just Ignatius to looking at how the Jesuits began to look out from themselves and connect with the world—not just during the formative years of the society but continuing and expanding as the years have gone on—has been a major thesis in this trip; here we see such undeniable evidence of curiosity and intellectual rigour as to make this point self-evident.

A quick stop to the stunning Bernini church of San Tommaso da Villanova in the town square, before heading back to the Jesuit Curia in Vatican city. We’d been there on Wednesday, finding out about operations and looking out from the roof garden, smelling the fresh rosemary and marvelling at the architecture laid out before us. But today we got to look deeply into the treasure trove of the Jesuit Archive. And treasure we saw, thanks to our friend Rev. Brian Mac Cuarta, who was generous with his time and as enthralled with the material he showed us as we were to see it for the first time. Here we could see more of this outward-looking Society, one which expanded and reported back, providing not just the General but posterity, with valuable documentation on a wide range of science, geography, botany, biology and anthropology.

It was amazing to think of the range of documentation here: an especial treat was seeing original documents from the early Jesuits, including material in the hand of Ignatius, Xavier and Claver. A particularly enlightening observation in the context of the relationship between the Vatican and the Jesuits can be made—with such an extensive network of correspondence between the missions and the General, the information provided was frequently much more up to date and pertinent than the information used when the Pope instructed on such priorities. Armed with more information, the Jesuits could act in perhaps more directed ways, which must have been difficult for relations with the Vatican at times. Nowadays, societies where documents and reports have been suppressed or destroyed can return to the archives in the Curia in much the same way as modern astronomers return to Castel Gandolfo to see material they can trust, to put the present in context of the past.

At the day’s end we snuck in a little art appreciation, with three Caravaggios in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi and a quick wonder at Michaelangeo’s Christ the Redeemer in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. We returned home, remarking on how some of the finest art is devotional, but also how devotion can be brought to bear in science and letters, too. All of this work points towards the majesty of God’s creation and can still seize the senses and haul our eyelids up, giving us utility, consolation or even just joy. It left us with a commonly held expression of devotion ourselves:

My God! How great Thou art!


Lar Duffy, Gonzaga College, SJ, Dublin                                         

Sheila Fisher, Boston College High School, Dorchester, MA.

Peter Baxter