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FOR THE JOURNEY | Appreciate the larger picture that is God

Mom was recuperating years ago in front of the television in her hospital room following surgery.

On one particular day, when the nurse came in, Mom looked away from the TV and told her that St. John Paul II had died. This was big news and unexpected. It was also not true. The pope was very much alive, but Mom sounded lucid and concerned. Word traveled swiftly around the hospital floor, and someone even told a relative several states away that the pope was dead.

Later, we laughed about how fast Mom innocently and convincingly spread that rumor, and how gullible those who believed it felt. But even then, before smartphones were in every pocket, we had grown accustomed to hearing news from around the world within minutes.

St. Francis Xavier died Dec. 3, 1552, trying to reach the mainland of China after three years of missionary work in the East. But news of the death of one of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s closest friends did not reach Rome for more than a year. In our world today, this is unimaginable. The news cycles spin so fast that last month’s news seems ancient.

St. Francis is one of the greatest Jesuit saints, and like many great saints, he had a storied past. It would be a boring world if the saints we love were born as the plaster images we make of them. Born into a noble family whose prospects had been diminished financially due to war, St. Francis was a self-indulgent student at the University of Paris when he met St. Ignatius, a fellow Basque.

Eventually, St. Ignatius would guide his friend through the Spiritual Exercises, and together with St. Peter Faber, they founded the Society of Jesus. When the pope asked St. Ignatius to send missionaries to Asia, St. Francis went. He served in Goa in India and later in Japan before dying from sickness trying to reach mainland China. He was only 46.

Sts. Francis and Ignatius would never meet again on this earth. But what amazes my modern, internet- and smartphone-addicted sensibilities is that through those long years, St. Ignatius would have so little communication regarding his friend and his friend’s death. No checking in, no texting. Seems strange to us.

One of the lessons of Ignatian spirituality is indifference. Indifference in the sense of freeing myself from attachments that take me away from God. St. Ignatius practiced being indifferent to everything except the will of God.

We are so attached to the morning news, to Twitter, to Facebook, to whatever makes us feel in touch. St. Ignatius, on the other hand, practiced a willingness to accept whatever God willed for his friend and for the Jesuits’ future and was indifferent to the fears and anxiety this could produce.

Perhaps intentionally turning away a bit this Advent from our technological dependence would help us appreciate the larger picture that is God in history and in our lives. Perhaps the indifference we could practice would include fasting occasionally from social media and devices and imagining a world where we can trust in God for a year or a lifetime.

Effie Caldarola is a columnist for Catholic News Service.

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