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Grace: “What are you looking for?”

by Catherine Patten, RSHMCategory: Updates

During Lent, the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, NYC, invited speakers for a Novena of Grace of St. Francis Xavier. The following reflection is from a presentation by Catherine Patten, RSHM.

“What are you looking for?”

These are Jesus’ first words in the Gospel of John (Jn 1:37). Staying or abiding is very important in the fourth Gospel. I imagine that the disciples whom Jesus addressed really want to ask, “Who are you?” or to say, “We want to get to know you.” “Where do you live?” Jesus hears their deep desire and invites them. “Come and see.” And we learn they went, they saw, and they stayed with him.

Jesus poses that question to each of us again and again. “What do you want?” “What are you looking for?” It’s a very important question. And Jesus certainly asks it when we choose to make a novena such as this one.

The word "Grace" in a script font over a blue and purple watercolor background.

St. Ignatius clearly understood the importance of focusing our desires when we come to prayer. In fact, in the Spiritual Exercises he directs the retreatant to pray for specific graces in each of the weeks. Further, Ignatius instructs the retreatant to begin each time of prayer by asking for the grace. Many years ago, a spiritual director told me that asking for the grace is the most important part of Ignatian prayer. Asking for what we desire. And if we don’t really want the grace Ignatius suggests, we are instructed to pray for the desire to desire it. Asking for what we want. That focus is the important thing.

The whole of our Christian tradition, especially the mystical tradition, tells us that God works with us through our desires. Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic, says that when God wants to give us a gift, God makes us desire it. She says that the Lord told her,

“First, it is my will that you should have it,
and then I make you to wish it,
and then I make you beseech it.
And if you beseech,
how could it be that you would not have what you beseech?”

(p. 157).

I believe that’s true. That’s how it works.

Karl Rahner, a Jesuit and one of the most renowned theologians of the 20th century, says that to be human is to have within us a capacity for the divine, a drive for transcendence. St. Augustine in the fourth century is talking about that same urge, that inner disquiet, when he says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Augustine tells us in his Confessions that he went down many false paths before he came to that understanding. Before he understood what really his deepest desire was. We know that not all our desires are equal, or equally helpful. And they can lead us astray. The genius of Ignatius was his ability to describe, in a systematic way, how to sort out our desires through discernment of spirits. Often our deepest desires are not clear, even to ourselves. Like the disciples, we stumble in answering Jesus’ question, “What do you want?” “What are you looking for?” I once spent an entire 8-day retreat wrestling with that question.

The whole Christian tradition tells us that God wants to help us to become who we truly are. To enter into God’s own life. To grow in our capacity to be loved and to love. To enter into union with our triune God and to be freed to give ourselves to God’s desire for us and for the World. Our mission. We certainly see that fruit, that freedom to give oneself wholly to God’s desires, in Ignatius and in St. Francis Xavier, who became such a great missionary to the East.

And so, Jesus asks each of us, “What do you want? What are you looking for?”

In great confidence, we pray for one another during this Novena, and with Ignatius and Francis Xavier, we listen to Jesus asking us, “What are you looking for?”

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