A fundamental argument


29 Aug 2021

How we see the world, our inclinations and orientations in life, our approach to and standpoint on important matters, all form our basic attitude to life.

There is always a danger in the Church, or one of its religious organisations such as the Jesuits, proclaiming focus on celebrating a certain ‘year’ such as the current Ignatian Year. 

We can easily run out of puff trying to imagine new ways of celebrating it, and this one commemorating Ignatius of Loyola’s famous cannonball experience at Pamplona in May 1521 extends until the end of July 2022!

I can remember one of my Year 8 religious education students once writing an essay for me with the inspirational line: “St Ignatius is my hero because he was canonised in the leg.” Such an insight deserved high marks, of course, and the essayist duly earned himself a chocolate bar for his creative thinking.

Just recently, however, I have been drawn to reading and re-reading Pope Francis’ Ignatian Year message in which he shines a light on the year as an experience of conversion. He reminds us that “conversion is a daily matter; it is never once and for all. Ignatius’ conversion started at Pamplona, but it didn’t end there. All through his life he converted, every day again. And what does this mean? That all through his life he put Christ in the centre. And he did so through discernment. Discernment is not about always getting it right from the start, but it’s rather about navigating, about having a compass to be able to set out on the road which has many twists and turns and letting oneself be guided always by the Holy Spirit who is leading us to an encounter with the Lord.”


What a helpful call there is in the Pope’s words here that “conversion is a daily matter”! Each time we come to the Penitential Rite at the beginning of the Eucharist and pray for mercy and healing, we are seeking conversion. Similarly, to speak of discernment as an ongoing process of navigation and using a compass for the journey is an excellent corrective to those impoverished vogue ideas of discernment as simple decision-making.

More than a decade ago, in the ‘noughties’ as they now say, I had the privilege of working in the Jesuit parish of Toowong in Brisbane. Most mornings during the week I would rise early for a swim in the nearby University of Queensland pool, and on one particular morning I returned to the car park to find a sparkling blue four-wheel drive parked alongside my humble Corolla. It was emblazoned with the words: ‘Change the colour of your undies – Change your life today.’ What a wonderfully novel way to talk about conversion, I thought to myself at the time! A good deal of our church language still needs rehabilitation and resuscitation, and as we head towards a Plenary Council this year, such a new approach might be helpful!

The word ‘undies’ is a splendidly useful word in itself. Young children giggle coyly at the mention of it, older people prefer to use the term ‘intimate apparel’, or ‘underworks’, but there is no real substitute for it. Undies are undies, and that is that. One of my early Jesuit contemporaries, a loveable Jesuit Brother right out of Ireland, used to refer to them as ‘smalls’. Indeed, as Minister for the Jesuit Theological College Community in Melbourne, he was for ever kindly admonishing us young students to keep moving our ‘smalls’ from the clothes line. He believed that they should not be on such public display for passers-by in the local suburb to admire or criticise. Undies tell stories.


I remember looking up the website of Chris Brazel, the clever person behind the ‘change the colour of your undies’ movement, and discovering all sorts of interesting information about this motivational speaker and consultant. Coloured undies are about attitude, and attitude is about spirit and energy and power. Undies, their quality and colour, can be a key factor in our spiritual life. Colourful undies and conversion underworks should be constant companions. After all, what could be more fundamental than the way we see the world, our inclinations and orientations in life, our approach to and standpoint on important matters, what gets us out of bed in the morning and drives us to do what we do? All of these elements are part of our basic attitude to life.

Let me conclude with a wonderful reflection on attitude by Pedro Arrupe, General of the Society of Jesus 1965–1983, and soon, we hope, to be canonised without a cannonball experience in the leg:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
what you know that breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

May the Ignatian Year see ongoing underworks for you all!

This article first appeared in Madonna magazine spring 2021 edition.

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