With everything being cancelled, people seem to have more time on their hands than they’re accustomed to. I think a lot of people are looking for ways to distract themselves from the stress that comes with the daily reports about the pandemic on cable news. Web streaming services like Netflix are probably seeing their traffic increase significantly, with people “binging” on their favorite shows and movies. But how much cable news and how many episodes of “Better Call Saul,” “Madmen,” and “Parks and Recreation” can you watch before you start sensing that creeping feeling of shame that tells you that you’re wasting the day?
This made me think of the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was a young soldier from the Basque region of modern-day Spain who dreamed of attaining glory in battle. He was, by all accounts, vain and quick to respond with violence to any perceived insult. During the Battle of Pamplona in 1521, Ignatius was seriously injured when a cannonball ricocheted off a nearby wall and shattered his right leg. His injury required surgical intervention, but because the first operation left his leg unsightly, he insisted on a second surgery. As this was an age without anesthetics, it was either madness or extreme vanity to demand such elective surgery!
While healing from his surgery, Ignatius resided in a hospital run by a religious community. Spending all day in bed bored him, so he asked for things to read. At the hospital there were none of the books that Ignatius was accustomed to – stories about knights and battles and chivalry. Instead, there were pamphlets on the lives of the saints and, in particular, a book about the life of Christ. As he read these things he would ask himself: “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?” As time went on, Ignatius began to reflect on his experiences reading these books about Christ and the saints and how they were different from his experiences reading books about knighthood and battlefield glory.
A contemporary biographer describes Ignatius’ resulting insight: “When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercises, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.”
How are we spending our time these days? With what are we filling our hearts and our minds? May I suggest that we take advantage of this disruption in our daily lives to learn more about our faith? To facilitate this, please make use of the FORMED subscription that parishioners can access through our parish website. There are movies, children’s programming, and lectures that are intellectually and spiritually edifying, unlike much of what popular culture offers. The website Word on Fire, hosted by Bishop Robert Barron, also provides great content for those interested in learning more and going deeper.
We can fight boredom with things that are ultimately boring – or we can fight it by filling our minds and hearts with the stories and truths that help us to live great and holy lives.