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Re-igniting the Ignatian heart: a Jesuit comes to Notre Dame

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Fr Chris Collins, second from left, gathers with UNDA and Perth Archdiocesan staff on the Fremantle campus including, far left, Bronia Karniewicz from the Archdiocese of Perth Respect Life Office, lecturer Anna Krohn, Sydney Philosophy Dean Dr Rene Kohler-Ryan and Fremantle Campus Chaplaincy coordinator Tom Gourlay. Photo: Anthony Coyte

“God always speaks to us in the present tense, with direct truth and indicative mood”… while Satan “the enemy of our true human nature” plagues us with “what ifs” which sabotage the humble reception of an unconditional fact: that I am a beloved child and creature of God.

With these almost startling thoughts, Fr Christopher Collins concluded one of his conversational and yet profound talks about the spirituality of the Baptised.

Australian tour

During late July, Notre Dame University Australia, hosted Fr Collins, who is Assistant to the President of Mission and Identity at St Louis University in the US to a busy 18-day tour across both its Sydney and Fremantle campuses and elsewhere.

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UNDA was captivated by Fr Collins’ winning manner and frank experiential insights, shared with diverse audiences ranging from senior university administrators, to chaplains, to theologians and philosophers, to young adults and school students.

Popular speaker

His versatility, his generosity of spirit and his unflagging freshness have made Fr Collins a true hit with a wide range of people wherever he has been during these weeks. In the US he is a popular speaker and retreat giver.

With talks covering: “Spirituality When Things Get Tough”, to the basics of spiritual discernment, to sharing lessons and problems from the American Jesuit University experience, Fr Collins wears his learning and accomplishments lightly and with a ready grin.

Fr Collins lectures: Ignatian spirituality

He was born in 1971 into what he calls a “solid Catholic family” in Phoenix, Arizona. He grew up in a time of great social change and in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, at a time when many of the traditional forms of the faith and devotional practices had been dramatically “stripped back” or lost.

Fr Collins was broadly familiar with his own Jesuit education at school but not with the sources of its Christian humanism nor the spiritual depths of its founder, St Ignatius of Loyola, and his followers.

The first Jesuits: St Francis Xavier, St Ignatius of Loyola and St Peter Faber are shown in an icon. Jesuit spirituality proved decisive in Fr Collins’ life. Photo: CNS, courtesy of Jesuit General Curia.

As a young man, Chris Collins was intrigued by Catholics who attended daily Mass and then his priestly and Jesuit vocation he says, “kinda snuck up” on him. He joined the Jesuits in 1995. During 12 years of intense formation in mission work, teaching and academic study in different US States he was ordained in 2006.

He completed a Masters’ Degree in Modern European History, post-graduate degrees in theology and philosophy and obtained a Ph.D from Boston College in a dissertation now published as: The Word Made Love: The Dialogical Theology of Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict XVI attends a 2013 meeting with cardinals at the Vatican where he announced he would resign. Joseph Ratzinger’s ‘dialogic’ theological insights and approach inspired Fr Collins. Photo: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

It was very real and “dialogical” Christology of Pope Benedict XVI, which Fr Collins found so apt for breathing life into a lived relationship with Jesus Christ and for re-awakening the missionary foundations of the Society of Jesus. In Benedict XVI the love and the Heart of Christ, he says, shine with such “clarity, simplicity and depth that it is rejuvenating.”

Along with Benedict’s influence, other tributaries fed his rediscovery and revamping of a pithy and concrete devotion to the Sacred Heart and other aspects of Ignatian life which he shared with his Australian audiences.

One flowed from his raw exposure as a high school teacher and pastor on a Native American reservation to the Lakota people in South Dakota. The Lakota still live with great deprivation and with many unhealed memories from the notorious Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890 in which nearly 300 men, women and children died in clashes with the US Calvary.

Then, the struggling priest saw afresh a little statue of the Sacred Heart outside the chapel: “it was my first real encounter with the Sacred Heart of Jesus… and I noticed his hands; one pointed to his heart, the other beckoned to me..”

He saw that the Heart was pierced by suffering, pain and rejection but it was also on fire with God’s own love. Fr Chris realised he had to allow his heart to be revived by Christ’s own pierced, open and vulnerable and fiery Heart not once but every day.

Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ was (1907 – 1991) was a Spanish Basque Jesuit priest who served as the 28th General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 to 83. Stationed as novice master outside Hiroshima in 1945, he used his medical background as a first responder to the atomic bombing of the city. His missionary outlook – especially on issues such as restoring devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus among Jesuits – influenced Fr Collins significantly.

His third source was the mystical insights of Pedro Arrupe, the Jesuit Superior General who died in 1991 and who wrote that the only true revival of the Order would come through its loving restoration of devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Together these influences have inspired Fr Collins to jolt back into faithful immediacy the heart of the Society of Jesus, which is to pray and work with the heart and imagination of Jesus.

The Word made Love: Fr Collins on Benedict XVI’s theology

Chris Collins’ fresh, straight-shooting, invitational and practical guides to such practices as the Morning Offering, Spiritual Discernment, the Examen and the Discernment of Spirits, and also the participation at Mass as THE “Pattern for Christian Life” and mission are brought together in his 3 Moments of the Day: praying with the heart of Jesus (Ave Maria Press, 2014).

This deceptively simple looking book should be a mainstay in everyone’s survival pack for life and faith- too often in these times denuded and over-complicated by confusion and dismay.

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