What is spirituality?
Spirituality is hard to define. It has to do with the way we live out our
faith. To be spiritual is not to act other-worldly, but precisely to know
and live with the knowledge that God is present in the world at every
moment. This knowledge propels us to seek God’s presence, and opens us to a
way of life that conforms to God’s will. In other words, spirituality is
the way we express ourselves in conformity with the plan of God.
What is Christian
spirituality? It is a spirituality that is based on, or modeled after, the
life and person of Jesus Christ. It focuses on the priorities, values and
loves that Jesus spoke of, and acted upon. Jesus preached of forgiveness
and love. He healed the sick. He welcomed the poor and outcast. He called
man and woman from all walks of life to follow his way to God. Christian
spirituality is our extension commitment to Christ’s vision: to bring
humanity into a life of wholeness.
There is but one Christian
spirituality, that of Christ. Any authentic Christian spirituality is, at
base, a single spirituality that derives its meaning from the Trinitarian
love. If we speak of an “Ignatian spirituality”, it is the understanding
of Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) on the apostolic meaning of Christian
life. To look at Ignatian spirituality as something different from other
Christian spiritual traditions (e.g. Benedictine, Franciscan, etc…) is to
create unnecessary confusion and rivalry. Let us look rather at the way
that Ignatian insights contribute to the richness of Christian living.
How would one characterize
Ignatian spirituality? There are many ways to look at Ignatius’ spiritual
legacy. In a nutshell, one can categorize” the Ignatian way at least in six
areas: incarnational, apostolic, balanced, generous, discerning, and
integrated. This spirituality is versatile. It can lead a person at any
level of spiritual development into a deeper relationship with God. There
is no one way of communicating with God. In fact, in the Spiritual
Exercises, Ignatius suggested about a dozen ways of prayers. The
essential is not how we pray, but what binds us to Christ and leads us to
the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual Exercises: The Heart of Ignatian Spirituality
Ignatius’ experience of God
is crystallized in a manual called the “Exertitia Spiritualia” – Spiritual
Exercises. As the body needs the physically exercises to keep it in shape,
the soul needs to be trained in different exercises that are designed to
help the soul to be healthy. The purpose of the Spiritual Exercises is to
assist a person to seek and attain God’s will in order to put it in
practice. By helping a person to rid him or herself of disordered
attach-ments, to reorder his or her life, the spiritual director guides
that person to seek God’s will with clarity. Ignatius believed that God
could communicate directly with a particular individual concerning God’s
personal will for that particular person (Exx #15.) This will of God for an
individual is not meant only to be known but to put into practice in daily
living. The goal of the Spiritual Exercises, therefore, is not to help an
individual to seek personal sanctification for him or herself; rather to be
a participant of Christ in sanctifying the world where one lives. Ignatian
spirituality is living the Spiritual Exercises in daily life.
An Incarnational spirituality: God-at-work in the world
Ignatius was a pilgrim of
faith. His encounter with God, discovered through a series of events
throughout his life, gave birth to a deep-ening understanding of how God
interacts in the world. The God of Ignatius is an incarnational God – a God
busies himself with the affairs of the world, a God whose presence can be
felt and disco-vered through various events and people.
therefore, is incarnational. It seeks to embra-ce the world as Christ did.
It views the world as a place where God meets people, a place of grace, and
a place to live as authen-tic human before a loving God. In Ignatian
spirituality, there is an emphasis on looking for God-at-work in the world.
One does not bring God to the people, but witnesses to the God that is
already present to people and situations.
The Spiritual Exercises is
a repeated story of salvation -- a love affair between God and his creatures
(esp. human beings.) The God portrayed in the Exercises is a triune God who
gets involved with the world because of loving it. In one of the exercises,
Igna-tius asked the exercitant to contemplate the Trinitarian love for the
world, and see how the Second Person volunteered himself to be-come human to
save the human race from self-destruction (Exx # 101ff.) In another
exercise, Ignatius envisioned Jesus as a su-preme leader (eternal king) who
invites people of us to participate in the mission of saving the world (Exx
Apostolic Spirituality: Companions of Christ
We are called to be
companions of Christ in service. As compa-nions of Christ, we learn to know
Christ more clearly in order to love him more dearly and to follow him more
faithfully. What Christ is, is what we are called to become. The fruit of
the Spiritual Exer-cises is not for us to keep. The zeal of being a
companion of Christ sets our heart on fire to go out and transform the
effective love to affective love. For him, love has to manifest itself in
deeds (Exx # 230). In other words, real love does not express itself only
in words, but in action, and in service. Here, service is not for our own
sake, to build our own kingdom of charity. Service is gratitude in action.
We are able to love and serve others because God has first loved and served
us. As a response to this initiative from God, we transform our own
aware-ness of God’s gifts into love and service in total dedication to God’s
Ignatian Spirituality is
also apostolic in a sense of collaboration with others to bring the mission
of Christ into fulfillment. Although Christ is a central figure of one’s
life and one is called to be his companion in service, this is not a
Jesus-and-me spirituality. No apostle is sent to the world alone. We are
called to be lights of Christ for and with others. The work of God is
communal. Ignatian spirituality does not turn its practitioners into an
elite group. The fruits of the spiritual life are meant to be shared with
others. We are working together toward the spreading of the Gospel
message. Often, this requires some challenges to the existing social and
political conventions of the surrounding world. This is an enormous task,
and we cannot do it alone without the help of others. We need one another,
and together we can bring the reign of God to a closer reality.
D) A Balanced Spirituality: Contemplation in Action
Jerome Nadal, one of the
disciples of Ignatius, coined the phrase: "Contemplitivus in actione".
Contemplation in action is often mis-understood. It is not our action that
we contemplate about; rather it is God’s action that we look at.
Contemplation in action means we look at the world as a place to pray. We
pray in and through the actions. Yet, this is not a work-oriented
spirituality. It is a God-in-action spirituality.
The focus here is to
discover that prayer and service are comple-mentary. Prayer is the thrust
for service, and service is the mate-rial for prayer. In Ignatian
spirituality, prayer is not for its own sake but only as a means to seek, to
find, and to accomplish God’s will in the actions (i.e. daily events.)
Contemplation in action links prayer to life and service of God as well as
of his people. Like-wise, we bring real life situations into our prayer.
In prayer we look at how God is present and acting in the world, so that we
can be-come more effective collaborators of God’s grace.
There is always a risk of
excessive activities that are mistaken for prayer. It is true that we pray
through and in our work, but our work itself is not our prayer. Service is
a means to prayer, not prayer itself. It is important to recognize that
there is a need for a balance between prayer and service, between solitude
and action. Ignatian spirituality is not a Martha versus Mary, or vice
versa. To contrast between the effectiveness of our prayer life and of our
apostolic life is to engage in a false dichotomy. Both are measu-red by the
same standard: our union with Christ. Rather, we recognize that both prayer
and service, which are essences of Christian life, flow out from the love of
God and of our neighbor. The love that underlies our prayer and activity is
a response to the love of a triune God. Without this love our prayer
becomes empty and our service becomes meaningless.
Generous Spirituality: Living for the greater glory of God.
God’s glory is not to be
compared with our human glory. Our glory only touches the surface and has
no effect on what it touches. On the other hands, the glory of God
transforms us from within and brings out the best in us: loving, generous,
patient, etc God is glorified when our lives reflect the true image of who
we are – the image of God. What does one mean by living for the greater
glory of God? Majorem – greater means God’s glory always become more, not
because of our achievement but because of who God is. The glory of God is
reflected in his creatures, especially in human beings. When we response
totally to God’s will with a generous and open heart, God is glorified.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is
the motto of Ignatius. He understood it to be a response to the love and
generosity of a triune God who created, redeemed, and continues to draw
humankind closer to him. This response from our part is to return to God
more than the minimum. Do what is better – do the magis. When Ignatius
used the word magis, he did not mean a self-inflated idea of
competitiveness. What he meant is a more generous response to the divine
plan from our part. Living for the greater glory of God de-mands a total
response of our heart, our mind, and our will. It is a constant process of
listening and dialoguing with self, God, and the world. It usually involves
a choice. One has to be careful here: not a choice between good and evil,
but a choice between the good and the better. How do we choose? By a
process of dis-cernment, we can root out the hidden agenda in a course of
ac-tion. We could deceive ourselves by claiming to act in God’s name, but
the reality is for our own glory and benefit.
Discerning Spirituality: Listening to the heart.
What is discernment? It is
to listen to the inner voices and sort out what is of God and what is not of
God. The goal of discern-ment is to attune oneself to the will of God. The
process of dis-cernment – I talk of a “process” rather than a single moment
– involves a gradual recognition of different movements of the spirit in our
heart. These movements of spirit bring to us senses of conso-lation and/or
desolation. It is not about feeling O.K./ not O.K. or good/bad; rather it
reflects our state of being with God. Consola-tion is the deep felt sense
of God that has a confirmation of inner peace regardless of the external
circumstances. One could expe-rience sorrow in a tragic situation and yet
feel a calmness inside. On the other hand, desolation is the felt absence
of God, an emp-tiness, a void of meaning. It speaks of a yearning for God
in the struggling heart.
Could all of these be
emotional? The movements of the spirits cannot be reduced to a level of
pure emotional responses. Sure it is important to know how one feels, but
that is only the first step. One has to be able to pinpoint the source of
feelings and going beyond them to a deeper level of consciousness.
Discernment is concerned about the state of being with regard especially to
the inner freedom. To be able to discern one has to be aware / cons-cious
of one’s spiritual freedom. Ignatius spoke of the “indifferen-ce” as a
necessary component for spiritual freedom. Indifference is understood not
in the negative sense of “don’t care”, but in the sense of balance. To
indifferent means to have a balance attitude toward all created things. To
be indifferent means not to love one particular choice over another (not
good versus bad, good versus better.)
In the Principle and
Foundation, Ignatius spoke of a spirituality of detachment. Detachment is an
awareness of priority and the pro-per usage of created things. This
awareness can free us from anything that might destroy our relationship with
God. Attach-ments in themselves are not problems; they become problematic
when they take the place of God in our lives. All things are gifts from God
to help us toward living in union with God. They are not to replace God.
Therefore, we should and ought to use whatever that brings us closer to God,
and rid of whatever that separate us from God. There often is a
misunderstanding about this aspect of Ignatian spirituality: “the end
justifies the means.” No, we use created things as God meant them to be
used in order to lead us in fulfillment of God’s individual plan for us.
Conclusion: An Integrated Spirituality: Finding God in all things.
Finding God in all things
is the heart and the summit of Ignatian spirituality. To speak of
God-in-all-things is not the same like all things are divine as the
pantheist or monist asserts. Thing here is not an object, but an event.
God-in-all-things is a sense of the divi-ne at work in all situations:
misery and fortune, good and bad, death and life, happiness and sorrow. The
God of Ignatius is a God who likes to get involved with the world, a God who
labors and toils for the good of the universe.
Finding God in all thing
points one to see the “finger of God” in the daily life. Finding God in all
things enables one to listen to the music of life, both in the upbeat and
downbeat, in the joyful as well as sorrowful notes. Finding God in all
things leads one to smell, taste and touch all spectrums of life and cherish
the moment no matter what the circumstance is. Finding God in all things
gives one an opportunity to encounter the divine right in the daily living.
In the Spiritual Exercises,
Ignatius spoke of a contemplation of love (Exx # 236). The Contemplatio ad
amorem is the synthesis of the Spiritual Exercises, which engages one with
the dynamics of a loving and laboring God whose presence and action are
integrated in life. The Contemplation of Love is then, a contemplation of
life in its fullness. This contemplation requires involvement with the
world. (i.e. world-embracing.) One never separates the love of God with the
love of neighbor and the world. All is seen in God. This is a spirituality
of joy in the world. Joy because God has created, redeemed and continues to
sanctify the world.
In practical terms, how are
we to recognize God’s presence in the midst of the world? Ignatius
suggested a process called Examen of Consciousness. This is not to be
understood as a way to im-prove one’s behavior by finding “good” and “bad”
deeds. The Examen is designed to reflect on how God is acting in one’s life
through the various events and people that one encounters. The primal
question is not: what is good, what is bad? But, where is God and where am
I? The focus is not on the actions themselves (though through them I can
learn much about myself); rather it is on my relationship with God. Where
is God in my life? Do I re-cognize his love in the creatures? The Examen
is a prayer of love. It helps to purify our intentions and foster an
awareness of God’s movement. The ultimate goal of this exercise is to help
us grow in love – love of God, of our neighbor, and of the world.
(Chicago, Sept. 1997)
Prayerful thoughts from St
Ignatius of Loyola
"There are very few people who realise
what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves
into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his
grace. A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never
believe that it could become a statue, admired as a
miracle of sculpture, and would never submit itself to
the chisel of the sculptor, who sees by its genius, what
he can make of it. Many people who we see now scarcely
live as Christians, do not understand that they could
become saints, if they would let themselves be formed by
the grace of God, and if they did not ruin his plans by
resisting the work he wants to do."
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