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Jesuit Father Michael Kelly is a media professional with 40 years of experience in writing and reporting, editing and publishing, TV and broadcast radio production in Asia and Australia. For 10 years he led Asia’s leading Church media organization - UCA News. Currently, he is the English language publisher of the respected Jesuit periodical La Civilta Cattolica.
Jesuit Father Michael Kelly


Memories and prayers ease pandemic desolations

One of the constants in the type of prayer St. Ignatius encourages is the use of memory and the imagination

Published: February 14, 2022 10:40 AM GMT

Updated: February 14, 2022 10:44 AM GMT

Memories and prayers ease pandemic desolations

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. (Photo: Wikidata)

One of the key features of the Covid lockdown for me has been the time I spend alone. I haven’t been able to visit family and friends because I might carry or catch the virus. And if I don’t carry or catch the virus, there is the next challenge — the fear on the faces of people as I enter their space as they fear I may compromise their health. And then, of course, there’s the lack of mobility that has come with an amputation as well.

Managing the isolation, the silence and parrying the fears that become projected onto me by people who are full of fear is an exhausting business. But it’s all part of life in the pandemic. And while the intensity of restrictions may vary over the course of a year, managing the tensions and restrictions isn’t going to end any time soon. The most balanced predictions see some form of these restrictions or the threat of them remaining for another year at least.

To manage and cope in these unusual circumstances, I have had to resort to something I learned when “doing” the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. One of the constants in the type of prayer St. Ignatius encourages is the use of memory and the imagination.

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A surprising feature of life in the unusual circumstances of the Covid crisis (for me anyway) is the way my memory has brought back to me some people, places and events of my past. There has been an avalanche to manage.

And what I have noticed as these memories have occurred is what spiritual guides and St. Ignatius would call consolations or their opposite — desolations. There have been experiences of joy, peace, comfort and security as I recall people and events that have been encouraging and affirming from my past.

But there have also been desolations — the experiences of fear, confusion, distraction and isolation that have come when I focus on myself and my sense of desperation. They lead to feelings of frustration and then of depression as I become overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness because I can’t change those feelings just by willing myself to change them.

Giving an account of how well God has dealt with us and visited us at different times in our lives does not have predictive force

These recollections and remembrances, unsurprisingly, have led me to contemplation, particularly a prayer of thanks for what all these people in my memory have meant to and did for me. And to a prayer seeking delivery from desolation.

These recollections and remembrances do their best work when they dispose me or anyone exercising their memory to recall the gifts and blessings that have come our way. They take us to the consolations which we can reactivate for our prayer and the constant state we wish to enjoy. Because that is what the gifts and graces we receive in contemplation allow us to do — go back to the experience to quarry more each time we do.

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius is most insistent that we use our memory of God’s blessings all the time, not just to give thanks for them but also and especially when desolation assails us. It is the memory of joy, peace and deliverance that can come to our aid in times of despondency — desolation — and transform us to the redeemed condition Jesus saved us to enjoy.

The state of consolation is what God would wish us to enjoy all the time. That is what St. Ignatius teaches and as one of the greatest teachers of prayer, his is a recommendation and suggestion we should take very seriously: go back to the gifts and consolations you can recall and move into them more deeply and abandon ourselves to the love god wants us to embrace.

But the question that should occur to us now is how to sustain that experience of God and live through love in God’s presence. That is the central challenge and invitation of the Christian faith journey. Observing this process from the outside and recognizing the features that recur as a way of predicting how they can and should go does not mean that is how they will go.

Giving an account of how well God has dealt with us and visited us at different times in our lives does not have predictive force. Just because God met us at a particular point of need and blessed us with particular gifts at one time doesn’t mean that will happen again in the same way.

If it did, our faith journey becomes little more than an exercise in autosuggestion that we are organizing for the outcome we seek. And if that is the way we see our faith journey, we are deluding ourselves. What we think of how it may appear externally is not how it is experienced subjectively.

The journey of faith is a risky exercise in surrender to God’s Spirit to where God is inviting us to go at a pace that God sets. We will inevitably feel we are out of control and have no confidence about where our destination is or how we will get to it.

But we need to reassure ourselves that God has redeemed us and we have nothing to do but let God’s redeeming grace continue to transform us even more.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia