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April 2015 Vol 54 No 2
Patterns of Christian Living

Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Journey

Thomas Merton, monk, writer and peace activist, was born one hundred years ago this year. As he followed his own sense of God’s call, he became, paradoxically, a ‘spokesman for silence’. Here Jane Kopas traces the spiritual journey of one who, as she writes, ‘embraces his contradictions as well as strengths’, thereby encouraging others to do the same for themselves.

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Theology and the Family

Later this year the Roman Catholic Church will conclude a unique, two-part synod dedicated to the study of family life in the opening decades of the twenty-first century. The Vatican has made it clear that in the preparation for this meeting it is important that the experience of those living within Christian families is heard. Jacqueline Stewart takes up this challenge here.

Around the Family Table: What the Laity Really Want

Many would argue that the mission of the Church has been hampered in recent centuries by too great a division between its lay and clerical members. Oonagh Walker’s account of the ways in which an initiative originating in the middle of the Second World War has grown, demonstrates one way in which such divisions might be effectively overcome.

Thoughts on Hell

Free-will would seem to make it necessary that human beings have the power definitively to reject God’s love; the traditional name for this state is hell. Yet God is omnipotent and, as scripture tells us, wants all people to be saved. Joseph Munitiz here ponders on some of the ways in which modern theologians have tried to resolve this seeming contradiction.

Does God have a particular will for each of us?

A positive answer to the question that forms the starting-point of this essay may summon up a warm image of an infinitely caring God, or a sinister one of a divine puppet-master. Michel Rondet believes that it is by understanding ourselves as gifted with creativity by God, who invites us to respond freely, that we can best find a way beyond this seeming impasse.

Hermits and the Roman Catholic Church: Recovering an Ancient Vocation

In the second of two linked articles Carol McDonough explores how the hermit vocation, which had been all but lost in the Church after the European Enlightenment, re-appeared in the twentieth century and was given official recognition in the Second Vatican Council and the revised Code of Canon Law which followed it.

Reigniting the Fire of Priesthood: The Spiritual Exercises at the Heart of Tertianship

Jesuits, members of the religious order founded by Ignatius Loyola, have a notoriously long formation. Ignatius himself recognised that it would be easily possible, during the decade or more that this demands, to lose touch with a man’s original inspiration. Here Norlan Julia offers a personal account of the remedy prescribed in the Jesuit Constitutions, the programme known as tertianship.

Spirituality in the City: Encountering the Other

The word ‘spirituality’ often conjures up images of quiet landscapes, peaceful retreat-houses and silent chapels. These are all a far cry from the regular day-to-day experience of most contemporary city-dwellers. Yet, Chad Thralls argues, city life offers us unique opportunities for conversion of heart by recognising and responding to our connections with other people.

Ignatian Spirituality and Christian Feminism: A Dynamic Duo for Unioning Love

Studies in recent years have highlighted the ways in which the spirituality Ignatius Loyola developed was shaped by his experience of listening to, and working with, women. Maria McCoy here describes retreats that she has recently directed which draw particularly on feminine images of God, and the impact these have had on men and women alike.

From the Foreword

T HE YEARS AROUND 1900 were marked by an international aesthetic movement known as ‘Arts and Crafts’. Turning their backs on cheap and often shoddy mass-produced goods, its proponents argued for individually constructed furniture, clothing, tableware and even buildings, often employing simple patterns and local materials. As a formula for an urban lifestyle suitable for tens of millions, the movement failed. But as an image of the spiritual life, it retains its potency.

For the truth is that God does not mass-produce human lives. There are at least as many ways of living out faithful discipleship as there are those willing to try it. Certainly, these patterns of life fall into broad categories: lay and clerical, communal and solitary, conservative and radical. But no two individuals will combine these elements in identical patterns. This issue of The Way reflects upon a variety of shapes that the Christian life can assume.

Michel Rondet’s article sets the scene by analyzing the idea of God’s will for each of us, and how this needs to be expressed creatively, rather than by looking to follow a preordained blueprint. Chad Thralls argues that contemporary urban existence offers unique opportunities to encounter life choices different from our own and to grow spiritually as a result of these encounters. Joseph Munitiz perhaps takes the extreme case, by presenting some ways in which modern theologians have tried to make sense of how God might respond to those who choose definitively to reject God.

For most people throughout history, family life in one form or another has provided the context in which their broader choices are made. Jacqueline Stewart’s interest is in developing a theology of marriage and the family that can do justice to, as well as challenge, contemporary experience. Oonagh Walker employs the word ‘family’ differently, to capture a dream of people from very different parts of the Church coming together to form strong communities. Here, as in the article by Maria McCoy, it is through listening to the voices of women, voices that have not always been heard at the level where decision-making occurs in the Christian Churches, that transformation begins.

Christian living can sometimes seem to be synonymous with life in community, whether that community be a family or a monastery. Yet there have always been those whose response to God leads them along more solitary paths. In the last issue of this journal Carol McDonough offered a historical account of the eremitic life. Here she brings us up to date, showing how, at least within the Roman Catholic Church, the twentieth century saw a rebirth of this pattern of living in its institutional forms. One of the most famous of those who considered, at least at times, serving God as a hermit was the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. The centenary of his birth is 2015, and Jane Kopas traces the thread of his life-long vocational discernment. Finally Norlan Julia describes a programme instituted by St Ignatius of Loyola that is designed to reconnect Jesuits in formation with the inspirational wellspring of the choices they made at an earlier stage of the journey.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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