Following Ignatius to the heart of the matter

Following Ignatius to the heart of the matter St Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatian Spirituality and Interreligious Dialogue: Reading Love’s Mystery

by Michael Barnes SJ (Messenger Publications, €24.95/£22.95)

In medieval times there was a curious contrast between pilgrims to Jerusalem – whose minds were fixed on the Christian experience – and travellers such as Marco Polo, who went beyond Jerusalem and encountered on their explorations a great range of cultures.

What Marco Polo writes of religion in India and China is composed with tolerance and an interest in understanding the nature of other beliefs. In the present day the encounters with ‘the other’ are not always so peaceful.

In this most interesting book Michael Barnes SJ uses that Jerusalem experience to explore the nature of ‘the other’ in a multicultural society. Here in Ireland in the last 20 years or so the number of faiths and beliefs has broadened out in a way that I suspect few really experience or appreciate. This book is for those who would like to begin that exploration.

Fr Barnes thinks that the “Christian faith comes truly alive when it is communicated, brought into dialogue with what is ‘other’, different, even strange”. He relates his thoughts largely through his own life experiences.

However, it is worth Christians recalling that the roots of Christianity in Judaism cover only a fraction of human history: there was a time when Christianity was ‘the other’.

But theologians once spoke of ‘natural revelation’ – that through experience of the nature of the world and the movements of the divine through the material, humanity could come to a knowledge of the divine, albeit an imperfect one. God’s dialogue with humanity did not begin in Israel. To fully understand Christianity one has to consider not just modern religions, but historic and prehistoric ones too.

This is an endless, but enriching exploration. This book might well provide for many an opening into this area. We are not dealing just with our day at all, but with a totality of human existence as Teilhard de Chardin attempted to suggest prematurely from his Polo-like experiences in the vast spaces of Asia.

Those spaces, in a spiritual sense, still remain largely unexplored.