Jim Was a Jesuit

Jim Borbley


Jim was a Jesuit.

It’s how we met: he a new, puzzle of a priest; I, a pip-squeaking wince of a novice. It was August 1978, and I declare with utter gratitude that from then on, ours experienced none of the lapses long-lived relationships often do.

Jim was a Jesuit, which is to say, a member of that community formed in the 16th century by the wild Basque genius, Ignatius Loyola, a name not as familiar as Augustine or Aquinas, perhaps, but an influence arguably as large.

Jim was a Jesuit – “the nimble one,” a fond moniker bestowed because of how he was in this world: a presence of agency — subtle and subversive, intentionally invisible — not unlike pure oil which, in the heat of the pan, draws out the best from deep-down things, raising them to harmonic savour. A presence very much like the oil used to heal and bless.

Jim was a Jesuit, part of a trio that contributed, beyond measure, to the faith of the person writing this — indeed, any who’ve glimpsed this writer’s capacity for wretchedness should thank them for helping prevent something worse.

Joining Jim are Thomas King and Raymond Gawronski – three very different Jesuits, who diverged, at times sharply, on issues of secular and ecclesial politics, yet remained remarkably close to each other, and more more remarkably, to me. At the core their bond was humility, with its profound awareness that life is less about changing the world than helping the Kingdom come. With Jim’s death on August 1st, these three are in a stunning sense now, “lost” – cannot be reached by phone, or email, not by text, or touch.

Despite the obvious, I ask myself, why these tears? If what we profess in the Creed is true, and Jim has entered life beyond space and time, few could be expected to do so less burdened by conscience or regret. Jesus wept, we read in John’s gospel, yet at least one prominent scholar suggests it was largely in response to the despair he found in the grief of those around him. I suppose, in the end, if anyone is now lost, it is I, and these tears, like the bell-tolls in Donne’s poem, are for me.

Jim was a Jesuit, and like every one that’s ever lived, experienced The Spiritual Exercises, the greatest single gift of Ignatius to the world, and without which all the legendary figures and institutions to come out of the Jesuit tradition are unthinkable. It was to the Exercises, and their principles for discerning the genuine presence of God in one’s life, that Jim dedicated his being. Those fortunate to have seen him in action will attest to how helpful and unobtrusive a master he truly was.

Jim was a Jesuit, who heard my most difficult confessions, endured a near endless flapping, and led me to see when fear would pass itself off as piety. With his degree of discernment came keen awareness of that boundary between faith as a loving relationship, and the false religion of superstition in service of self-insistence. Truth be told, he was never done helping track where that line lay in me.

Jim was a Jesuit, the least clerical, most priestly I’ve met. I remember a conversation with Gawronski where he raised an eyebrow as I described something Jim had done, and on his behalf I offered, “Well you know, Jim’s pretty ‘low church’…” Without a beat Ray laughed, ” Low church? Jim’s low sweat lodge!”

His rich baritone was the kind of voice a lot of actors would trade time in Hades to have, yet he spoke in a low, measured cadence, and when he did, people listened. Because, as a fellow Jesuit put it, to be in Jim’s presence was to encounter someone who had encountered Christ.

Jim was a Jesuit. He was also a Borbely – brother, uncle, and a son whose mother’s heart, like Mary’s, has been pierced by a sword of unique sorrow.

The prayer for which Ignatius is most remembered is the Suscipe. It’s sung at every major Jesuit feast, and was at Jim’s funeral liturgy. It’s closing stanza has now been realized by our dearest friend,

Take, Lord, receive, all is yours now. You have given all to me, now I return it. Give me only your love and your grace, they are enough for me.

            May his joy be complete, and his Memory Eternal!


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