Dave Gregory on Captivity and Freedom
March 7, 2013 § 2 Comments
Channeling both Fr. James V. Schall and St. Ignatius (how’s that for a Jesuit combination?), my colleague Dave Gregory, in his second post here at The Ignatian Educator, discusses what it means to educate for freedom.
Captivity, Freedom, and Education for Leisure
March 7, 2013
By Dave Gregory
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
– John Lennon
During the first week of school, I introduced the purpose of Jesuit education to my classes as a grand project in exploring — and perhaps even beginning to answer — three fundamental questions:
Who am I?
Whose am I?
Who am I called to be?
In understanding who I am, I come to understand what holds me captive and what sets me free. I reflect on my desires, my passions, my weaknesses and flaws, my talents and failures, my wounds and the wounds I have inflicted. In understanding whose I am, not only do I reflect on my image of God and my relationship with Him, I reflect on those I love, those to whom I belong and those who belong to me. Delving into the first two questions leads to the discernment of the third, the answer to which is not so much a career but a path to sainthood. But what does sainthood consist of? The answer lies in freedom.
When asked about the mission of Xavier College Preparatory, Chris Alling, our fearless leader and principal, responds that Xavier exists “to set kids free,” a curious statement indeed. Twenty-first century culture generally associates secondary education with collegiate education, which is directed toward some sort of labor. Aren’t we here to get students into the “best” — as defined by U.S. News and World Report — colleges, and isn’t this purpose written into the very name of our school? Yes, but if we really believe that the worth of a human life is not determined by college rankings, can top-ranked colleges really be Xavier’s raison d’être?
The legendary and recently retired Georgetown professor, Father James V. Schall of the Society of Jesus, loved reminding his students that the Greek word schole meant “leisure,” and for this reason it became the root for our word “school.” As odd as this might sound to our job-driven mindsets, the ultimate goal of education was never understood (until recently, at least) to be wealth. Education in the Ignatian tradition, especially in our culture, embraces the tension of preparing students to be “successful” in several regards. We want our students to understand that the experience of education should be one that frees, and that this experience will help them discover vocations (callings) that are separate from their jobs. Leisure is, after all, whatever one does apart from labor, and thus leisure is directed toward being with those we love and toward those activities which make us more fully alive.
What can the life of Saint Ignatius teach our students, who are considering what they want to study and become? When considering Mr. Alling’s advice to our freshman, it occurred to me that a gradual movement from captivity to freedom defined Ignatius’s life. Self-indulgent and self-destructive behavior marked his young adulthood. Partying, womanizing, and fisticuffs were part of the path to the Spanish court.
Even after recovering from his injury, Ignatius remained self-obsessed. Curiously, he still found that egomania drove his pursuit of piety; even the gilded road to perdition could be illusorily construed as the road to heaven. As I mentioned in my last post, it was only when Ignatius spent time in solitary prayer that God released him from unhealthy infatuations revolving around extreme, self-inflicted corporal mortification. Praying through his Spiritual Exercises revolutionized the way Ignatius understood everything, and while penance and self-denial remained integral to his spiritual identity, Ignatius began to seek God’s will as it really was, rather than his will as he mistakenly confused it for God’s own.
After years of study and service, Ignatius professed the three vows of religious life, all of which were negations of those things that previously held him captive: in chastity, the vow to love purely with a wild and reckless abandon, Ignatius redirected his objectification of women and others into care for the marginalized; in professing poverty, the vow to abandon material concerns and share finances, Ignatius rejected his former desires for wealth and worldly glory; and in living obedience, Ignatius vowed to seek the will of God rather than his own. In these vows, in other words, Ignatius arrived at true freedom.
While we generally associate freedom with radical action and new adventure, Ignatius’s freedom manifested itself in his writing thousands of pages (consisting of letters and The Constitutions) until his death in 1556. Attached to his desk, Ignatius, more than anyone else, conveyed the contours of the sixteenth century, an historical fact difficult to believe when we consider the prolific writings of Erasmus and Shakespeare. This freedom might at first glance appear dull, but God desired nothing more of Ignatius; this is how his love and life were to be spent in service of the greater glory — forming and then shaping the Society of Jesus and thereby indirectly those whom it served. By this means did Ignatius write his own life into our hearts.
Questions, though, remain. What does our own sainthood look like? How will we live out poverty, chastity, and obedience? How will we become free? As exemplified by the life of our warrior-turned-administrator, saintliness more often than not proves ordinary, and this might very well be Ignatius’s most valuable lesson. In all likelihood, our sainthoods will be quiet ones, unremarkable by the measures of our culture and invisible in the pages of hagiography. These quiet sainthoods are the fruition of God’s desire, and are thus beloved. They are remarkable in His eyes, and ultimately that’s all that really matters.
Dave Gregory graduated from Manhattan’s Regis High School in 2006 and from Georgetown University in 2010 with a double major in philosophy and theology. Prior to coming to Xavier, Gregory was in the Jesuit novitiate in the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus. Gregory’s interests include Ignatian spirituality and the practical implications of the Spiritual Exercises for secondary education. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.