A great Jesuit spiritual master died yesterday morning. Fr. David L. Fleming, S.J., was the longtime editor of the journal “Review for Religious,” the author of a contemporary translation of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, called Draw Me Into Your Friendship (of inestimable help to English-speaking followers of Ignatius), and more recently the author of a concise book called What is Ignatian Spirituality? (That recent book is free online here on Loyola Press’s website.)
Dave was a beloved Jesuit in the Missouri Province and beyond, and a generous man. The obituary published by the Missouri Province noted, “When Dave was first diagnosed with cancer, doctors told him that there was no cure they could offer him yet asked if he would take experimental drugs that might provide helpful information for the treatment of cancer victims in the future. Dave agreed to these experimental treatments despite the discomfort and pain that often accompanying them. Even in his dying he gave of himself to others.”
His book Draw Me Into Your Friendship is a marvel: a translation into modern terms of the Spiritual Exercises, which stands side-by-side on the page with St. Ignatius’s original text. In this way one can appropriate, deepen or explain some concepts that might prove difficult for the modern retreatant without sacrificing any of Ignatius’s original intent. As a director, it is an invaluable resource. Dave was also incredibly generous to me in my writing, and helped to deepen my understanding of Ignatian. One quick example, among many...
When I was working on my book The Jesuit Guide, I sent him a copy of an early manuscript for his review. At one point, I was discussing of the elusive concept of the “magis,” an important Ignatian idea. I had written that the magis meant the best, the highest, the most that we can do for God. This is what I had thought since my novitiate. Not so, wrote Dave in a wonderful aside that I included in the book. The magis is comparative, he explained. The more, not the most. The greater not the greatest.
“Ignatius never works with superlatives,” wrote Dave. “When we want to do the best, we may get frozen. If we want to do what might be better, we might be able to choose.”
David Fleming, who lived the magis for God is now, we pray, united with the One to whom he worked so hard to bring others. R.I.P.
James Martin, SJ