An Ignatian approach to studies


Jesuits a fun look at different points of view

My nine months in London have flown by quickly and have been a very positive experience. It took me a while to get accustomed to the length of time it takes to travel around and to the busy streets and tube stations, but in the end, I’ve become just another guy running to catch the train before the doors close. The centre is a very international one with Jesuit scholastics coming not only from Europe, but from across India, Africa and even South America (like me).  We are about 40 scholastics spread across seven communities and the majority of us study Philosophy and/or Theology at Heythrop College.

Most Jesuits, particularly scholastics, face many questions concerning the length of study. ‘Why do you guys have to study so long’... ‘You will be old and grey when they are finished with you’. In an age of speed, Jesuit formation is a lengthy process. The question that is always at the fore-front of my mind is ‘How relevant is all of this philosophy and theology to my life and ministry as a Jesuit?’  The relationship between study and the spiritual life has been a very important one for me. It is tempting to separate the two into tidy little compartments and just get on with the formation.

But, the two cannot be easily separated. If all that was required to be a Jesuit priest was to do philosophy and theology and get good grades, then serious elements would be missing in our ability to use these disciplines for the greater glory of God and for serving humanity. These elements are best fostered through prayer.

Pope Francis, in an address to students at the Pontifical Gregorian University emphasised that the relationship between study and prayer is a vital one by saying that ‘Philosophy and theology permit one to acquire the convictions that structure and strengthen the intelligence and illuminate the will ... but this is fruitful only if it is done with an open mind and on one’s knees’. An open mind is certainly an attitude which I have found useful in philosophy. Perhaps, the most useful skill which I have acquired in the past 9 months is how to view the arguments on both sides of a debate equally and assess them analytically without any preconceived judgements. Taking time to listen and understand both sides of any discourse I think is a useful skill in many disciplines.

It hasn’t been easy to see the relevance of everything that I study. However, I’ve found that taking a bit of time at the end of the day to reflect on any knowledge gained and its applicability to daily life has been a worthwhile spiritual exercise. It’s humbling to experience that the more you learn, the more you to come to the realisation there is a lot you don’t know about the world and probably never will. In this way, studying as a Jesuit has been a humbling experience for me.

I felt a great sense of pride during the last few days, as Heythrop College celebrated 400 years of its foundation by the English Jesuits in Louvain in 1614.  After listening to the outstanding contribution of the Jesuits in the arts and sciences by numerous speakers, I am motivated to strive to continue the tradition of using intellectual gifts for the greater glory of God. Another memorable quote by Pope Francis in his address to students was that ‘the theologian who does not pray and who does not worship God ends up sunk in the most disgusting narcissism.’  

Now that the exam season has finished and the end of my first year has swiftly come to an end, I feel a bit like an oven that is gradually warming up. It is only now that everything is finished, that I feel on fire and ready to begin.  My hope from studies is not that I will be able to provide instant Google-esque answers to the many questions which people have, but to be able to at least understand what prompts the questions we all ask, and the range of answers possible. The knowledge gained from studies will hopefully be used for the greater glory of God and I trust that one day they may bear fruit in working for the kingdom.

Joel Thompson SJ