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By Eric A. Clayton

I can’t remember if it was an email or a phone call, but Fr. Jim Bowler, SJ, was trying to get in touch with me. He was trying hard — there was something frantic about his tone.

“Get in touch as soon as you can. There’s something I need to tell you.”

Despite our many years of friendship — I met Jim in 2009 during my sophomore year at Fairfield University; he became my spiritual director soon thereafter and presided at my wedding sometime after that — it would be more than ten years before I formally asked him to accompany me through the Spiritual Exercises. In his typical, good-humored way, he poked fun at me for waiting so long.

“The idea has come up in my prayer,” he’d say, “but I was always going to wait for you to take the lead.” At that, I’d roll my eyes, and he’d laugh.

We lived in different cities and during a time of global pandemic, so we met weekly during Zoom. In fact, when I received that frantic message, it had only been a day or so since last we spoke. I wondered what could have happened in the intervening thirty-six hours.

“Jim, what’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“Eric — I missed something.”


“Something in your prayer,” he said. “I had to get in contact. God is working in your prayer in a way I didn’t realize until after we’d hung up.”

To be quite honest, I don’t remember the point Jim was ultimately trying to make. But I do remember his insistence, his dogged determination to get me on the line to remind me once more that God was at work directly, intimately in my life. He was so enthusiastic, so concerned that the news simply could not wait another few days.

I had to know that God was still with me, delighting. I had to know as soon as possible.

“Do you think God delights in you?” It was a startling question the first time Jim asked me, but he’s asked it so many times since that I hear the words resonating in his voice. There was only one answer he’d accept, no matter how long I took to say it. Jim Bowler was determined that every person know God delights in them, in who they are and are becoming.

For a so-called retired Jesuit, Jim Bowler kept a busy schedule giving workshops, forming spiritual directors and guiding any number of folks through the Spiritual Exercises. So, when his schedule abruptly came to a halt, I knew the sickness was serious.

I had the great privilege of visiting Jim in late January. He had asked me to give a presentation to his Jesuit community, and I was more than happy to oblige. I think we both knew it would be our last time together.

“What do you want to be remembered for?” I’d asked — or, something like that.

He’d paused then, clutching the book on the mystics in his hand. “I think my Jesuit life has been one of planting seeds and helping them grow.” He noted the statue of St. Kevin of Glendalough that had been erected in his name on Fairfield University’s campus. The story goes that the saint holds his hand in utter stillness throughout the season of Lent while a blackbird makes its nest, lays eggs, raises its family and eventually moves on. And all the while the saint supports that life and growth. “I hope I’ve done what that statue suggests,” Jim said.

Jim died last week. It was only a few days before Palm Sunday, and so I can’t help but see Jim’s passing in light of Holy Week, in light of Jesus’ own death and resurrection. Why was Jesus killed? Because he invited everyone to encounter ever more deeply a God who delighted in them, a God who didn’t waste time wagging fingers but instead rushed with open arms to embrace us while we were still far away down the road.

Jesus, too, frantically wanted to get in contact with us to tell us that God loves us, that God dwells within us. And now Jim Bowler dwells within God.

From active ministry, seeking people out to point them to the God already within, to more passive ministry, simply holding out a hand in trust and gratitude that those he’d accompanied might do the same for others — whether you knew Fr. Bowler or not, his legacy is one for all of us.

Quite simply, God delights in you, in me. God’s Spirit dwells here, desiring to lead us deeper into Godself — a journey that necessarily muddles through Good Friday, sits in the shadow of Holy Saturday and then slowly, slowly pushes aside the stone to shed light on the empty tomb of Easter.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith and My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality (Loyola Press). He is the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine, Air and Nothingness Press and more.  Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat.