One of my favorite lines is from the famous and beloved Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: “Hope is the bird that sings to the dawn in the darkness of the night.”
The line is lovely, but what about that bird that chooses to keep singing in the dark? What is he or she like?
I got my answer recently, in reading an article about St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits but also author of the famous Spiritual Exercises that have transformed our Church. I took interest in the article because of my own two years spent as a Jesuit novice, which included the privilege of experiencing the Exercises. It turns out that Ignatius was, it seems, one of these birds that Tagore wrote about.
Ignatius composed the foundation of the Exercises during his time at Manresa, a small town in Spain. We know that he spent much of his time during his days at Manresa in the darkness of a cave, which is visited in our present day as the Cave of St. Ignatius.
What many do not know, and I sure didn’t until I read the article, is that at precisely this time when he was composing the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius was beset with some of the lowest days of his life, filled with self-doubt, guilt, fear, and deep depression. It is said he even considered ending his own life.
Yet at exactly the time when he felt most useless but managed to continue composing the Exercises, God was making the greatest use of him for all the world!
How does this apply to us missionaries, trying and failing to obtain help for those we care about?
At the very least, it means we cannot give up hope in our uselessness. Like Ignatius, our own limitations and feelings of failure have the paradoxical effect of wiping the slate clean for God to come in and do what cannot do ourselves.
Writing grant proposals can feel like singing to the dawn in the darkness of the night. But even if we cannot see, it does not mean that God is not at work, perhaps in the grants we don’t receive just as much as the ones we do!