BY ANNA FERGUSON | May 4, 2015
“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola
When you go to school at a Jesuit university, you can count on hearing a few things:
When you announce your college decision to family members during your senior year of high school: “Be wary of those Jesuits!”
When you decide to get involved in any kind of activity on campus: “We really value service here.”
When every banner on campus holds a different Ignatian value: “Men and Women for and with Others,” “Magis,” “Unity of Mind and Heart,” “Agents of Change,” “Cura Personalis,” “Finding God in All Things,” “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.”
When you sit down to have meaningful conversations with people and they’re filled with talk of “social justice,” “praxis,” “advocacy” and “social analysis.”
Of all the Ignatian, Jesuit-y things I’ve heard during my time at Creighton University, one phrase that I’ve often taken for granted is the one that is surprisingly taking up the most room in my heart and mind currently.
“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
It is rumored that Ignatius sent his friend and fellow Jesuit, Francis Xavier, and Xavier’s companions, off to India with those very words. They are words I’ve seen on stickers and magnets, on t-shirts and flyers. I’ve heard them at motivational talks and even been told by my own parents that one day I’m going to “set the world on fire.”
But it’s the going forth that is challenging.
After four years of pouring my heart and soul, time and energy into my Creighton experience, saying goodbye is going to be rough. Countless sleepless nights and full thermoses of coffee, tears of frustration, whoops of joy and belly-aching laughter, midnight fast-food runs, 22-hour bus rides and papers that I thought would surely kill me, color my time here.
So, too, do the hundreds of hours spent at weekly service sites, the weeks of Service & Justice Trips in various cities, the long pilgrimages to the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, the powerful advocacy visits and the many, many days spent working in the John P. Schlegel, S.J. Creighton Center for Service and Justice.
To think of leaving these things and places, work and relationships that I’ve invested myself in for years feels like plunging deep into the earth, pulling up my roots and not quite knowing where to re-plant them yet. Hard as it is, it’s this knowing that I will have to say goodbye that makes the last of my time here so much more meaningful.
With graduation getting closer each day, I decided to spend as much time as a I could over my last semester speaking to people—mentors and friends—who might know how to go forth in the spirit of Ignatius. The following advice comes from a mixture of people ranging in expertise, interests and even vocations on campus. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it’s a taste of the incredible people who have touched my life at Creighton.
On making a difference in the world: “Do what you can, where you are.”~ Dr. Carol Zuegner, Journalism professor.
On discerning your vocation: “Pay attention to your deepest promptings, your deepest desires. If you can get to that truth about yourself then that’s ninety percent of the battle. Ask yourself who you are in the world and who you want to be.”~ Dr. Roger Bergman, Justice and Peace Studies professor
On following the call of that vocation: “Don’t rush, don’t over plan, don’t feel like you have to know today what you’re supposed to do in the future. Don’t be afraid to take the next step when you can’t see the tenth step.” ~ Fr. Paddy, Gilger, S.J.
On enduring in that vocation for a lifetime and responding to a world of brokenness: “Our responding needs to be as a totality. We need to first center ourselves, then, from that centering, live an intentional life. We need to remember the importance of community and relationships built on principles, and we need to not be afraid to enter into the struggles of the world, remembering that a commitment to justice requires time and understanding, that it will take a lifetime, but it will be meaningful.” ~Dr. Jeanne Schuler, Philosophy professor
On the importance of having mentors to guide you: “I had really formative mentors. I didn’t seek them out, they came into my life in their own ways and I kept seeking companionship and wisdom from them. I never felt like I was a burden to them, and they’re the reason today why I want to stay in higher education, because of the time and support they gave to me. I want to do and be that for students.” ~ Beth Samson, Graduate Assistant in Creighton Campus Ministry
On being present to others, to the present, to things that interrupt our plans: “ Whatever is the present moment, that is the present sacrament. You have to be present to the present, be open to it, be present to the present of the present. And it’s great to let yourself be surprised, not just interrupted. All interruptions are invitations.” ~Fr. Larry GIllick, S.J.
On knowing that we are loved and valuable: “We come from abundant love, so all we can do well is try to show it, play with it, and foster new life with it. May that glorious mission come with each precious breath.” ~Fr. Pat Malone, S.J. (1959-2014)
When I leave Creighton, I know I can’t take the physical campus with me, nor can the people who have loved, supported, encouraged and taught me here necessarily come with me. But their words, prayers, advice and inspiration—words that have watered my soul—are the things that will transcend time and space and remain with me as sustenance on the journey. Their examples of compassion, commitment to the Ignatian values and deep love will remind me of where I come from and what I am called to do as I go forth.
As graduation nears, I feel the same combination of excitement, trepidation and nostalgia that perhaps Ignatius’ friends felt as they set off for India. While none of us could take the people and places we love with us, it’s the words that echo forth from them that make the going and grieving purposeful, that charge it with meaning: “Go forth and set the world on the fire.”
It’s what we go forth to do that makes it possible to leave, knowing that the flame we carry within us, the flame we hope to share with the world, is a product of all who have touched our lives and sustained us.
Anna Ferguson is a junior studying theology and journalism at Creighton University. She is originally from Wheaton, IL, which is a suburb just West of Chicago, and, yes, a PROUD Cubs fan! The oldest of six girls, she comes from a lively family who instilled in her a desire to serve the less fortunate and learn as much as she can about the world around her. She came into Creighton with the dream of becoming a big reporter one day, but the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, the service trip she attended, the volunteering she participated in, and her theology class convinced her otherwise throughout her freshman year. She couldn’t ignore her passion for service and love for the Catholic faith, so she tacked on a theology major, and dove deeper into service, social justice, and advocacy through her job in the Creighton Center for Service and Justice. Throughout these experiences, she realized that she wanted to use her writing skills for so much more than a big newspaper job. Today, her dream is to be a kind of missionary-journalist, engaging the world in the “gritty reality” around them (to borrow from Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach). (Follow Anna on Twitter @AnnaFeguson832).