A new dimension of Ignatian formation: laypeople training laypeople

Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, SJ via Flickr  

Jim Caccamo, a retired educator and trained Ignatian prayer guide, serves as outgoing executive director of the Ignatian Spirituality Center (I.S.C.) in Kansas City. A former head of the Independent Review Board of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph dealing with sex abuse cases, Mr. Caccamo continues to serve on the Coordinating Board for Early Childhood for the State of Missouri and is a community adviser to the Junior League of Kansas City.

James Blumeyer, S.J., founded the I.S.C. at St. Francis Xavier parish in 2001. In 2018, the I.S.C. began a partnership at Rockhurst High School, establishing a retreat house space for lay faculty and staff in the old Jesuit residence. It will be starting a similar partnership with Rockhurst University in the fall. On April 9, I sat down with Dr. Caccamo in his office at Rockhurst High School to discuss these new trends toward lay formation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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In Catholic institutions, we find ourselves transitioning from a model where clergy formed laypeople spiritually to one in which laypeople train to form other laypeople. In your work, how have you been implementing the new apostolic priorities of the Society of Jesus to promote discernment and the Spiritual Exercises among laypeople now running Jesuit institutions?

Well, I’ve been doing it for a number of years. I made the Spiritual Exercises about 12 years ago and in the process continued my training to support laypeople moving closer to Jesus through Ignatian spirituality. I think it’s a great way the church is moving, frankly. It’s moving that way because there are fewer priests and, if you believe that we are working and moving toward the will of God, maybe this is the will of God: that laypeople are trained to work with other laypeople moving closer to Jesus and going more in-depth with their faith. I’m glad the priorities were set with a time limit of a decade, because it will take a decade for us to get where I think we ought to be.

Jim Caccamo (photo: Sean Salai, S.J.)
Jim Caccamo (photo: Sean Salai, S.J.)

In our Catholic communities, we often find ourselves embracing new roles through the invitation of others who recognize gifts we didn’t see in ourselves. What role has invitation played in your own spiritual development to become an Ignatian lay leader?

We all have opportunities to hear invitation. The problem is sometimes we don’t listen or we don’t see invitation. When I did the Spiritual Exercises, I did it because I was invited to do it: “Have you thought about making the Exercises? Have you ever thought about learning more about supporting others?” I’d be willing to bet that I had that invitation many times prior to me hearing it. And I heard it because God wanted me to hear it at that time, and I was in a time of my life when I was trying to discern the direction God wanted me to move in.

‘When I did the Spiritual Exercises, I did it because I was invited to do it.’.

I think invitation has continued to play a marvelous role in my life. I was invited to be on the board of the Spirituality Center. Because I did that, I became known to other board members. When the previous executive director left, I was invited to consider applying to be the executive director.

In what specific ways do you see the Spiritual Exercises forming lay people for leadership in our Catholic communities?

I think becoming a friend of Jesus, a friend of God, actually changes people’s outlook about who we are and what God is calling us to do. Some end up with a strong preferential option for the poor, some end up discerning and living a different lifestyle within the modern world.

As perhaps many people do, I had a life-changing incident when I was in college at a Jesuit university. I was walking with a friend of mine, we got jumped, I got beat up, and he got killed. I had a very good priest friend who happened to be there with me as I was recovering and he said: “Think about St. Ignatius, what did he say and stand for? Befriending Jesus in service to others.” When you have an incident like that, you always wonder: Why God? Why me? Why did I live and he die? Why did this happen? I came to the conclusion for me—with help—that I was more strongly invited to listen, to live in service to others. And I decided, through lots of discernment, that it meant for me to be more life-giving.

‘I think becoming a friend of Jesus, a friend of God, actually changes people’s outlook about who we are and what God is calling us to do.’ 

What do you find most important about Ignatian Spirituality for laypeople?

I think it’s “who God is,” in this sense: that God is forgiving, merciful, always there, in everybody, in everything. And to be able to work to see that. Just think of the time and energy we spend with a close friend. I look at my spouse, for example, and I realize: God loves me more, is more merciful, is more forgiving and so on.

In your new partnership at Rockhurst High School, faculty and staff faith formation has diversified this year into a menu of small group and individual options, including the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life. How would you describe this collaboration so far between your prayer guides and adult leaders in the high school?

It’s a beginning and it’s making a difference in the sense that faculty are making the Spiritual Exercises. As they complete the Exercises, I think they will change the way they live. Maybe not big changes, but they’ll become different in the way they teach. Parents who are going through some of the programs we offer will understand more what Ignatius wanted and may even become interested in making the Exercises. So I think it’s moving in the right direction.

‘As they complete the Exercises, I think they will change the way they live. They’ll become different in the way they teach.’

In our Catholic Church, priests and nuns once ran our institutions for very little pay, but laypeople now expect some remuneration for ministry unless they are semi-retired. What financial obstacles do you face in expanding this ministry?

I want to say money shouldn’t matter, but it does. There should be a sufficient amount of money that compensates guides and teachers for their work. I think it’s a matter of justice that perhaps the Catholic Church hasn’t paid as much attention to. But I work with an all-volunteer organization. I am half-time and paid church pay; there’s one other person, a program coordinator who is half-time and paid church pay. Neither of us actually works half-time; we work a lot more than that. Everything else is done by 55 trained guides, who lead the Spiritual Exercises, and by a whole cadre of other lay volunteers, who don’t get any pay at all.

As you leave your position at the I.S.C. to spend more time with your family, what joys and challenges have you found in being the executive director of the I.S.C. in Kansas City?

I firmly believe I’m doing what I was called to do. And when I leave this, I’ll be doing what I’m called to do. I spend time in discernment and I think that when you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, it’s joyful. So I’m deeply grateful for what I’ve gotten over the last four years because it has been joyful. It hasn’t always been peaceful, we haven’t always agreed and volunteers are an interesting group to herd. But it’s all worked; it’s worked because this is what’s supposed to happen.

Many people feel too busy to pray, but find themselves transformed by making the Exercises as they redirect attention from their problems to God. What’s one powerful story of prayer you can share from your experiences of making and directing the Exercises?

When you guide a person in the Exercises and see the person growing closer to Jesus, when they are with Jesus through the passion and death, and when you see the joy in them at watching their very good friend come back in three days at the resurrection, it’s very rewarding and grace-filled. I’ve been fortunate to see all of that. For me, I’ve learned it isn’t sufficient to talk to God. However, it is sufficient to talk and listen to God. It may sound silly to say, but every now and again I hear him, and that makes daily prayer important.

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Crystal Watson
3 months 3 weeks ago

This has been going on for years, given the diminishing number of Jesuits. And not just lay Catholics have been learning how to give the Exercises but priests and lay people from other denominations. I think it's kind of sad that the order won't let married men and women be Jesuit priests - the order could then continue.

Sean Salai, S.J.
3 months 3 weeks ago

Ms. Watson, thanks for reading, and for your comment. Actually the Jesuits could not function with married priests because religious orders, by definition since earliest monasticism, practice the three evangelical counsels (vows) of poverty/chastity/obedience in imitation of Jesus. So even if Roman Catholic diocesan priests were to marry one day, as in the Eastern Christian churches, religious order priests like Jesuits would still remain unmarried to continue as an order at all -- not because of dogmas, but because the very structure of the vowed life as designed by everyone from the Desert writers to St. Ignatius would not work. (In his "Confessions," St. Augustine mentions early in his conversion that he and several friends had planned on a sort of monastic community, but "then the wives, which some of us had and some of us proposed having," complicated things with practical considerations that made it impossible.)

Please note this is true not just for Catholics, but for Anglican/Episcopalian religious communities of celibate men and women (i.e. "Anglican nuns") founded in the Benedictine and Franciscan traditions among others. However, we Jesuits do not claim a copyright on the Spiritual Exercises or Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, as several apostolic women's religious orders in particular (Cenacle sisters and Congregation of St. Joseph come to mind) formally use our documents/spirituality while various non-Jesuit authors (Margaret Silf, Timothy Gallagher, Jim Manney, Michael Gaitley, Chris Lowney, etc.) including both married people and non-Catholics practice the Exercises. We see them truly as the gift of St. Ignatius to the whole Church, not just the Society, and so we try not to hoard them. We likewise encourage all people of good will to engage them because, as you point out here, one needn't be a Jesuit to practice or teach them. As for broader forms of religious community, there do exist some Catholic religious communities mixing celibate and married people like the one that Catholic musician John Michael Talbot founded 1980 in Arkansas after coming out of the Jesus movement, but he notes in this interview that such communities haven't really succeeded outside certain parts of Europe: https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/come-worship-lord-interview-john-michael-talbot

Let's continue to pray for one another and for our world.

Crystal Watson
3 months 3 weeks ago

Hi Fr. Salai. I think I understand why Ignatius didn't believe Jesuits should be married (or women) but people with jobs/callings from the military to foreign missionary service are able to go anywhere at any time and maintain unit cohesion/loyalty while still being married with children. Even the disciples, the first "companions of Jesus", were married with kids. Your vows could be changed at a General Congregation? Living things change or die - it's like you guys have decided dying is better.

Sean Salai, S.J.
3 months 3 weeks ago

Ms. Watson, I agree that married people can do all of that in the Society. And they already do. That's why we have Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Jesuit Volunteers International, Christian Life Community (formerly called sodalities), Jesuit Refugee Service, Ignatian Volunteer Corps (for older folks), the Apostleship of Prayer, and many other groups open to married people formally incorporated into the order under the Jesuit general, in addition to the talented married people who already work in and run many of our institutions. Several of these groups have started in the post-conciliar era that's been so dominated by lay eccleisal movements; some of them involve living in community together, some do not, but their lack of vows (some like the JVs merely make one-year commitments) generally works better in our contemporary culture since almost no married couple in today's world can or does make a lifelong commitment to apostolic community living. The issue is not that we don't have Jesuit structures for married people to live and minister together; the issue is that most married couples, given the chance, simply cannot and/or do not make more than a temporary or limited commitment to a life of radical missionary instability.

So I'm not sure what you're asking for that we Jesuits don't already have? If you're saying that we need all of that plus "Jesuit vows" for married people, then we must agree to disagree, as such vows are a canonical and logistical mess given the difficulty of many lay and consecrated people to stay in a lifelong commitment in our digital age. We already have enough vows in the Catholic Church; more vows, much like the exaggerated ideas many of us get during Lent of fixing our whole lives by giving up chocolate for 40 days, just set people up for the guilt and disappointment of relapsing after Easter Sunday. More significantly, creating new "Jesuit vows" for laypeople or married people from the above groups to incorporate them canonically in the order -- with the simple reality that many of them wouldn't stay -- would add all kinds of paperwork to the Society without adding a single hour of service to the poor. And St. Ignatius always cared more about helping the poor than about binding people to canonical formulas which later trap their consciences.

The General Congregation in fact cannot change the vows that Jesuits take; only a pope can authorize a direct change to the Formula of the Institute (the brief "rule" written by Ignatius and approved under Pope Paul III) and no Jesuit from Jim Martin to Pope Francis will ever advocate changing our vows to either abolish celibacy or create non-celibate Jesuit priests.

But let me ask you: In the Protestant communities where there are already married men and women clergy, where do you see them living together in religious missionary community? What model do you propose here for the Society that already exists in denominations long free to implement it? Other than seminary and perhaps the Salvation Army, neither of which involve vows, I'm unaware of any Protestant married clergy living together in lifelong apostolic commitment as you suggest. The reasons they do not have nothing to do with a decision to die rather than change; they have everything to do with the logistical and practical realities of contemporary society (i.e. the needs of children, increased family mobility, etc.) that make it difficult if not impossible in today's world to do what you suggest. There's no market for it and it's not sustainable; if there was, the Protestants would have done it already. Looking at the interview I linked above, John Michael Talbot mentions that his community of mixed married and celibate people (very much a post-Vatican II experiment) hasn't had much success in getting people to come live with them, and so they've turned to creating digital community by adding a layer of membership for people in the comfort of their own homes.

Crystal Watson
3 months 3 weeks ago

Thanks, Fr. Salai.I wasn't aware of all the work ancillary groups do with the Jesuits. I agree, Pope Francis will never open the order to married people and especially not to women.

But though there are a lot of people, including married men and women, now doing the work of the Jesuits, they will never be allowed to actually *be* Jesuits, and the Jesuits are disappearing ... http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2011/02/changing-jesuit-geography.html

Sean Salai, S.J.
3 months 3 weeks ago

Lots of groups in the Church come and go, but their influence usually survives in some form. For St. Ignatius, the work of helping souls trumps the survival of institutions, and the labels we put on things matter less than the doing of the things themselves. That's the idea of the First Principle and Foundation, the idea that all created things are relative to the goal of praising and loving and serving God. Personally, I don't believe the Jesuits are disappearing, because we have no intention of going anywhere. But even if we did disappear, as already occurred during the universal Suppression of the Society (1773-1816) during which a remnant of 200 survived in Russia, St. Ignatius would encourage us to accept it as God's will. He once said that if the pope suppressed the Society in his lifetime through the machinations of its enemies, he'd need only 15 minutes of prayer in the chapel to move on with his life. But until then, he had no intention of quitting.

Crystal Watson
3 months 3 weeks ago

Yes, the contributions of Ignatius will live on no matter what :)

John Chuchman
3 months 3 weeks ago

Who better than the laity?!
They should be training priests too.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
3 months 3 weeks ago

Lay people training lay people is a step forward. May their tribe increase.

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