Ite inflammate omnia. Go forth, and set the world on fire. These words are commonly associated with St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesuits. Despite not affiliating myself to a specific religion (I consider myself to be a social Hindu), I attended Santa Clara University (SCU), a Jesuit institution where I found myself immersed in the Jesuit teachings.
Often confronted with the phrase above, I never understood its intention. At first, I thought it was similar to those phrases one would use to rouse a crowd at a basketball game. But, as I learned more about Ignatius, I realized he was not a cheerleader but instead a serious leader who used words carefully.
During the AIF Clinton Fellowship’s Midpoint conference in January, I began to deepen my understanding of the phrase. We did an activity to find suitable metaphors from nature to describe our experience so far. A Fellow yelled “fire.” Noticing all of our confused faces, he described that fire has the power to destroy and serve us.
Throughout my time at SCU, I practiced reflecting, taking the time to remove myself from the hassles of life to silently think about anything and everything. Every night at the Fellowship Midpoint conference, I found myself reflecting in front of the bonfire. As I thought more about the power of fire, this phrase popped into my head.
To tell me to set the world on fire as I was preparing to graduate from college baffled me because the world is already on fire. Hateful rhetoric, global warming, immense poverty, and other social ills are destroying individuals and societies. But in front of the fire, I recognized that fire also helps us to live. We need fire to cook, to keep us warm from the cold nights, to clear land for farming, etc. Fire also serves us spiritually as it plays an important role in many rituals for a variety of religions. For example, in Hinduism, fire is used to open up a channel of communication between humans and the Divine.
Throughout this Fellowship, reflection became a must. My typical working day would end around 8 pm regardless of whether I was in the office or on the field. As soon as I would enter my studio apartment, I would immediately change into more comfortable clothes, respond to a few emails, and grab my chair and a cold beverage from my fridge. Then I would throw my chair on top of my roof and climb the ladder, trying hard to not drop my beverage and my phone. I would set my chair to face the sky to see the sun setting. The sky always became a blended assortment of pink, orange, yellow, and sometimes purple if the fog allowed for it.
These times of reflecting on the day, sitting on my creaky plastic chair witnessing the sunset, is when I learned about myself. I began to understand myself, more specifically my values, my unhealthy habits that prevent me from achieving my goals, and what matters to me.
It has been over a month since I have returned back to the United States. Though I have more questions about the world than when I started this Fellowship, I understand what Ignatius’ expression meant to convey.
As I continue to witness the world becoming noisier and busier, I am trying hard not to lose myself in the distractions of it. One night on my roof, I realized that what matters to me is having a passion that allows me to go beyond my own selfish needs and to think beyond myself. Before this Fellowship, setting the world on fire put images of destruction and chaos in my mind. But now, I see it as a way for me to continue to serve others. To me, set the world on fire means finding relief for myself and the fuel to continue on this journey for myself, even if I have no idea where the end is.