Mom was recuperating, years ago, in front of the television set in her hospital room following surgery.
As she grew older, surgery was hard on Mom, physically and mentally. It took her down and she was never quite able to climb back to pre-operation levels.
On this 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. And Mom was sitting right in front of the television.
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.
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, Francis was a self-indulgent student at the University of Paris when he met Ignatius, a fellow Basque who had grown from his own wild younger days.
Eventually, Ignatius would guide his friend through the Spiritual Exercises, and together with St. Peter Faber, the trio would work to found the Society of Jesus.
When the pope asked Ignatius to send missionaries to Asia, 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.
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, Ignatius would have so little communication regarding his friend and his friend’s death. No checking in, no texting.
I’m barely out of Mass before I check my phone, and if I leave my phone at home when I run errands, I feel a bit adrift. What if someone needs me? Or I need them?
One of the great lessons of Ignatian spirituality is indifference. Indifference in the sense of freeing myself from attachments that take me away from God. 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 at a moment’s notice. 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 imagine a world where we can trust in God for a year or a lifetime.