Reflections on Ignatian Spirituality: A Life of Contemplation in Action

October 25th, 2011 | Posted by admin in Shared Journey
  • All “spiritualities” in the Catholic tradition are an “interpretation” of how to live the gospel message more deeply, more profoundly. They are all grounded, or should be, in the gospels. The core message is to love God with all our heart, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as our self. Love of God; love of neighbor and love of self (I add: a “healthy” sense of respect for myself). All spiritualities develop in an historical and cultural context (St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic), so some of the “externals” are different. The “Core” message, the gospel message, however, remains the same. It is a “constant.”
  • One of the hallmarks of Ignatian spirituality is the belief that God can be found in all things. Ignatius believes that we encounter God at every moment of our existence. Fr. Howard Gray, SJ: “Ultimately, Ignatian spirituality trusts the world as a place where God dwells and labors and gathers all to himself in an act of forgiveness where that is need and in an act of blessing where that is prayed for.”
  • According to Ignatius Loyola, our goal in life is to praise, reverence and serve God. God, who is love, gave us life and wants us to live it fully in love. We have this earth and everything upon it to help us achieve our goal. (Sp. Ex., Principle and Foundation).
  • We use our minds, hearts and imagination to find God’s message of salvation and holiness. By living Ignatian spirituality we become “aware” of who we really are and what we really want, which is to be part of the Divine.
  • We live life with awareness. We live in the “sacrament of the present moment.” We do what the present moment requires (“age quod agis”). We do not live in the past (or re-shuffling it) and we don’t live the future (though, of course as good family stewards we plan for the future). By living in the present moment, we grow in our awareness of the Divine; we find the “divine” in ourselves. We find the “Kingdom” and it is within us…
  • Like Ignatius, the pilgrim, we are invited to be on a pilgrimage in our lives. The Exercises are a kind of “spiritual journey.” Like Ignatius, we are on a journey, we wish to find God, we keep moving and try not to get “stuck.” We are willing and open to be transformed by the journey.
  • Through a discernment process involving personal and Eucharistic prayer (as well as the Consciousness Examen). More on discernment in a few minutes…
  • However, “stuff happens.” It’s called “Life!” For Ignatius it was a shattered leg; for Olympians it may be not winning the gold; for the rest of us it may be an unexpected death of a loved one; losing one’s job; finding that your child is using drugs; divorce, you name it. Stuff happens. We can “blame” God, be angry with God for allowing these terrible things to happen; and “fight” God or, we can see the hand of God in these events and take it as an invitation to grow. This too is “to find God in ALL THINGS!” As pilgrims, we allow the pain to transform us. We do not become bitter and angry, rather, we recognized our vulnerability and grow more sensitive, more caring and more compassionate, more understanding and kind… Remember Jesus’ message (paradoxical to the non-believer): You must die in order to live. Our ego dies, our true self emerges. This is the mystery of the resurrection, the paschal mystery. We die in order to live.
  • Thus, we look for God in the good time and the not so good times. Sometimes we don’t experience God, only darkness. True to seeking God in all things, we find God here as well… GC 35 says:

“Commitment to ‘the service of faith and the promotion of justice,” to dialogue with cultures and religions, takes [us] to limit-situations where they encounter energy and new life, but also anguish and death — where ‘the Divinity is hidden.’ The experience of a hidden God cannot always be avoided, but even in the depths of darkness when God seems concealed, the transforming light of God is able to shine. God labors intensely in this hiddenness. Rising from the tombs of personal life and history, the Lord appears when we least expect, with his personal consolation as a friend and as the center of a fraternal and servant community. From this experience of God labouring in the heart of life, our identity as ‘servants of Christ’s mission’ rises up ever anew…” GC 35 decree 2

  • Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy. Our ego-patterns and comfortable ways of doing things hold us back. Ignatius calls these obstacles “inordinate” attachment – the whole point of the Spiritual Exercises is to lead a more ordered life, because an ordered life will place us in harmony with the divine. Current theologians talk about “sin” as “disorder.”
  • In today’s terminology “inordinate attachments” are called “addictions” or “compulsions” we want to “buy, spend, seek pleasure and stimulation.” As noted in the Principle and Foundation, all things are good. The question is: are we using things in “freedom” or are we using things because we are addicted to them. Are our lives “ordered” or are the “disordered?” That is are we “slaves” to things, people’s opinions, our thoughts, fears, and so forth? How much do we “hold on” to these? As the Principle and Foundation states, “We must hold ourselves in balance…”
  • Ignatius, consistent with the Gospel message, wants us to be free. As we become more “free” we can better see God’s will for us. The foundational human experience was freedom. The freedom he talks about is a freedom from these attachments, but he also talks about a freedom for God’s having a hold on me, a freedom for building the Kingdom, and, ultimately a freedom to act with others in this enterprise… As I will note later, it is about being in relationship with God, with each other and with creation…
  • This freedom from and freedom for is what St. Ignatius calls “indifference.” For Ignatius, indifference doesn’t mean an absence of feeling or affection, pleasure or care. What it means is that nothing ultimately owns
    me except God. I am God’s and God’s alone.
  • Through this “letting go” we find that we are re-energized and discover a new vitality that springs from within. As we “let go” – this is the “emptying” or “kenosis” in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we are filled with the spirit. In dying (sometimes many little deaths), we live. This is the mystery of the resurrection. Our call is to participate in God’s paschal “mystery.” This is a very relevant reflection for the Lenten season…
  • Discernment: As we grow in freedom, i.e., as we “let go of baggage,” we are better able to discern God’s will for us in our lives. The word discernment has been misused, I have taken a definition of discernment from David Lonsdale Eyes to See, Ears to Hear: An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, 2000.

“Very briefly, discernment is the art of appreciating the fits that God has given us and discovering how we might best respond to that love in daily life. It is a process of finding one’s own way of discipleship in a particular set of circumstances; a means of responding to the call of Christian love and truth in a situation where there are often conflicting interests and values and choices have to be made. It is the gift by which we are able to observe and assess the different factor in a particular situation, and to choose that course of action which most authentically answers our desire to live by the gospel.

God’s will for us is that we should learn to respond in freedom to God’s lover for us, and to give shape to our individual and common lives in freedom by the choices that we make…There is not a blueprint in God’s mind with which we have to
comply. Discernment of spirits within a living relationship with God, is one of the gifts that we have been given to help us to exercise our freedom in the choices that we make and so come to “find the will of God” for us.

  • By discerning God’s will for us and our acting upon it, we “transform” our lives and begin to live in freedom. Thus, our daily routine into a “life’s calling” or “vocation.” We are transformed as we help transform the world in which we live.
  • In Fr. McDermott’s words: “Discernment of spirits is a growing skill AND gift of the Holy Spirit that (1) allows me to notice the interior movements within for what they are and (2) allows me to distinguish those interior movements which positively reinforce my deepest desires and my orientation to God and Jesus and the values of the Kingdom from those which tend to lead me away from connection with deepest desire and my trust in the lords’ love for me.”
  • It is not always easy to gain that insight, but through ongoing discernment, which is grounded in prayer, we begin to have the “insight” (integral, something that resonates at the very core of who we are, not just in our heads: for Ignatius in the mind, heart and imagination) and we progress in the life of Christ.
  • Once we have had this basic insight, Ignatius asks us to “push the envelope.” He calls this the “more” the magis. As we pursue the magis, we find that we are able to leave behind a lot of baggage that has kept us tied to old ways of seeing things and of doing things.
  • “Love consists in sharing what one has and what one is; it shows itself in deeds more than in words.” This Ignatian approach, being “a contemplative in action,” is what some refer to as Ignatius’ “mysticism of service.”
  • We don’t ask “Can we bring God to you?” but rather, “Where in your culture, in your profession, in your occupation, in your religious experience, in your life, does God already exists and act. Followers of an Ignatian spirituality, members of a Jesuit parish, are call to help find others find God, find the “Divine” in their daily lives. We can help others find God in their lives by living lives that show that we have found God in ours.
  • For Jesuits and their colleagues, the service of faith and the promotion of justice remain at the heart of mission.
  • So what does this mean? As noted earlier, all Christian spirituality has as its goal to love God with all our hearts, minds and strength and to love our neighbor as self. Concretely, it’s ultimately about “relationships.” According to the last General Congregation (35, concluded March 6, 2008). Decree 3, Jesuits and their colleagues are called to a Mission of reconciliation by establish “right relationships.”

“We are sent on mission by the Father, as [was] Ignatius… so that together with Christ, risen and glorified, but still carrying the cross, as he labours in a world yet to experience the fullness of his reconciliation. In a world torn by violence, strife and division, we then are called with other to be come instruments of God, who “in Christ reconciled the world to himself not counting their trespasses.” This reconciliation calls us to build a new world of right relationships a new Jubilee reaching across all divisions so that God might restore his justice for all.” Dec 3, 16. We are “bridge builders.”

  • Reconciliation / right relationship with God; reconciliation with one another; reconciliation with creation:

– Reconciliation / right relationship with God: approach God with freedom; as a loving, forgiving God, not use God as a club to beat people over the head with…

– Reconciliation / right relationship with one another; see the world from the perspective of the poor and the marginalized (starting with those closest to us, family, friends, colleagues at the workplace, parishioners, etc.; learning from them, acting with and for them.

– Reconciliation / right relationship with creation: This hearkens back to the Principle and Foundation: We seek “communion” between God and God’s creatures and creation. It extends to the environment: consciousness of an ecological solidarity; water issues in India and other parts of the world, etc.

  • Fr. Brian McDermott: Talks of an “Apostolic Spirituality” a spirituality of service. He says that the basis of this is forgiveness, hospitality, and freedom. As he says, “The dynamic of acceptance and forgiveness makes possible the next phase, that of friendship and intimacy and community. It’s about the relationships…
  • We gradually achieve a true realization of living in the Divine presence continuously — non-stop. We have not discovered God, but come to a realization that we are immersed in God and share in this Divine reality at all times. While we are, and expect to be, knocked off stride regularly, it becomes easier to maintain the “balance” that Ignatius refers to in the Principle and Foundation. The more we do it, the less difficult, and “easier” it becomes. That’s what Spiritual “Exercising” is all about…
  • To recap: Ignatian spirituality is the Christian experience, faithful to its foundation in the gospel and through the times we live.
  • Brian McDermott’s 12 Practices of a Contemplative in Action. I have included these 12 practices (verbatim) from Fr. McDermott’s article. They may be helpful in your Lenten reflections. If we have time we can run through them…
  • How do we know we are living a life consistent with this Ignatian ideal: “My brothers and sisters, remember that you have been called to live in freedom – but not a freedom that give free reign to the flesh [ego]. Out of love, place yourselves at one another’s service. The whole law has found its fulfillment in this one saying: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’…My point is that you should live in accord with the spirit… The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity. Since we live by the spirit, let us follow the sprit’s lead. Since we live by the spirit, let us follow the sprit’s lead…” Galatians 5, 13 ff.
  • Our deep love of God and our passion for his world should set us on fire – a fire that starts other fires!

Edward Plocha
February 24, 2010

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