By Dennis McCann
By the end of our day of reflection before the NACC conference, most of us agreed that if nothing else of value came from the rest of the conference, this day was worth the entire price of admission. Monica Meagher, a spiritual director and teacher of Ignatian spirituality at Marquette University, arranged the day in themes, each more profound than the next. She arranged 10 tables of six participants each to form what she referred to as “wisdom circles.” Each presentation began with a contemplative reflection followed by a reading and then a group sharing of our thoughts and insights.
The overall intent was to introduce us to a new way of looking at the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. This new way required us to reflect on the work of Ignatius and view it through the insights and cosmology of Teilhard de Chardin. Thus, we considered the spirituality popular at the time of Ignatius, which focused on the individual, sin, and personal salvation, and envisioned it through the eyes of Teilhard, who, with the benefit of science, expanded this view into what he called the “Divine Milieu” — a world evolving collectively toward the “Omega Point” or Divinization into Christ.
The themes we reflected on included imaginative play; the divine milieu; constant creation: the divine unfolding; radical receptivity: finding God in all things; the mysticism of service; and the divine indwelling. Monica Meagher invited us to explore this way of seeing as inspired by The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary. She told us that in this work we would find 17 basic principles that give a new and deeper understanding of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. We began to reflect on our own work as chaplains through these themes. We spoke about many themes, including human suffering, physician-assisted suicide, addiction and the presence of God in our work.
Monica Meagher took us through many profound theological concepts. Her passion for both Ignatian spirituality and the work of Teilhard de Chardin is contagious. She led the group from a view of God as transcendent to a God who is immanent to a God who is omnipresent, in the Teilhardian sense of the One who creates and participates in this atmosphere of divine love or divine milieu. We learned that all of us knowingly or unknowingly are part of this milieu, and that we as chaplains can be especially sensitive to helping to bring this divine milieu into our own awareness and into the awareness of those we serve.
Back at my hospital I intend to share this with my department of 17 volunteers and perhaps create a few “wisdom circles” of our own. I may even try to entice a few of them to journey the 30-day New Exercises with me. What a wonderful and rich gift this was to take away from a one-day retreat. Thank you, Monica Meagher, wherever you are!
Dennis McCann, BCC, is head of pastoral services at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown, CT.