As our North American culture evolves, it becomes more
pluralistic, complex and practically atheistic. It is also a rapidly
changing culture, fueled by the computer revolution and other technologies.
Some of our cultures is clearly good, some clearly bad, and most of it is
ambiguous at best.
Among the people of God we find various responses to the reality of this
For many serious Christians, to venture off to work or to carry on daily
tasks beyond the home and Church is like walking into a confusing, Godless
world. And it is lonely.
Among these Christians, some find hope in rejecting the present culture
by working for its total transformation into a future world of peace and
justice. Others find their hope not in the present world either, but in the
final Kingdom when the Lord comes again. Still others regard the present
world as relatively unimportant and find hope in their personal conversion
to Jesus and a renewed interior life.
But there is yet another stance which Christians take. It is a stance of
affirmation of the basic goodness of the world and of hearing the Lord
calling from deep within it to join Him in fashioning its History. For these
Christians the challenge is to penetrate the culture and to join the Trinity
there, creating and redeeming from within. I believe that it is for this
last group that Ignatian spirituality is most meaningful.
There are at least six characteristics of the Ignatian charism which
speak to the needs of the present-day culture and to the needs of those
called to become leaven from within. Ignatian spirituality contains a
positive, incarnational world view, it calls for a life attitude of
reverence; it leads to interior freedom; it is action oriented; it is rooted
in reality, i.e. humility; it is communal.
The spirituality of Ignatius contains a world view which is essentially
positive and which is rooted in the twin realities of the utter graciousness
of God and the indwelling of the Trinity in all creation. For Ignatius, the
chief characteristic of the Godhead is its sovereign graciousness. The
Trinity is and outpouring of love. All through the Spiritual Exercises we
are confronted with this image of God. But nowhere is it more evident than
in the final meditation. The Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. So
convinced was he from his experience that God is pure graciousness that
Ignatius could write these astounding words to Fr Simon Rodrigues in 1542:
... it seems to me in the light of the Divine Goodness that ingratitude is
the most abominable of sins... For it is a forgetting of the graces and
blessing received. As such it is the cause, beginning, and origin of all
sins and misfortune. It is for good reason that Ignatius instructs his
disciples to begin every consciousness examen with an awareness of benefits
received and expressions of gratitude.
Not only is God transcendent and sovereign goodness, but God is also
immanent indwelling in all created reality. The Ignatian ideal in finding
God in all things makes sense only if God can be found in all things. In the
third and fourth points of the above mentioned Contemplations to Attain
Divine Love, Ignatius has pursued the mystery of the Incarnation to its
profundities level. The Godhead dwells in all creatures upon the face of the
earth and through them works and labors for us. The indwelling of the
Trinity in the universe is a huge conspiracy of love, as it were, for our
In this light of the utter graciousness of God and the indwelling of God
around us, our spirituality encourages us to draw religious energy from and
in the midst of the culture, in all its complexity, ambiguity, and dynamic
change. Because our God can be found in all things we are mobile... free to
leave the safety of specialized sub-cultures and to penetrate this world,
finding God's self-revelation in the historical (and secular) events of our
personal biographies as well as the broader events of history.
In the second place, our spirituality orients us to a life-attitude of
reverence for all created reality because of its Incarnational nature, The
indwelling of the Godhead achieved by the Word made Flesh draws from us a
respect for the earth and the fruit of human labor. This attitudes stands in
contrast to the attitude of arrogant ownership of the earth and its fruits
which is at the root of the environmental crises and the malfunctioning of
the international economic order. It encourages us to express this reverence
in a simple life-style and in cooperation with social movements which alter
our relationship to the earth and which aim for international economic
Anyone who has tried has discovered that one cannot live at the heart of
any culture without a certain interior liberty. This is the third
characteristic of our spirituality.
The aim of the Spiritual Exercises is to free us from all that is not
God, that we might recognize what is of God and attach ourselves to that.
Freedom from inordinate psychological, spiritual and cultural attachments
allows us to be sensitive to the work of the Trinity in our personal lives
and in the events of history.
Interior freedom is that quality of being which finds its identity and
sense of worth in God alone. Much in our North American way of life would
have us find that sense of self and identity in what we do, or what we own,
or how we look. Ultimately spiritual freedom is worshipful because it
delivers us from the subtle idolatries of daily life. It dethrones the tin
gods in our lives in order that we may enthrone the one true God. It
delivers us from the absolutes of the cultures in favor of the one and only
absolute. It is the root of hope and trust in Life.
If we want to get a hold of our unfreedoms, we have only to ask, In what
or whom do I put my trust? Every answer which is not the living God is a
source of unfreedom and idolatry. I invite the reader to reconsider the
Meditation on the Two Standards in the light of this question.
The call of God to us from the heart of the world is the call to be
responsible, with the Trinity, for the world in which we live. Hence, the
fourth quality of the Ignatian charism relevant to our discussion is its
action orientation. Once again, in the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love,
Ignatius reminds us that love expresses itself in deeds and sharing. It is
nothing less than the Christ-life we make real in time and space by what we
do ant the consequences of what we do. Our decisions and human actions have
religious meaning and value for the building up of the world of Christ.
Because action is the central image of our spirituality, we live our
Christian lives in a rhythm of discernment, choice, and wholehearted
response to God's invitations to be united to the divine love energy
permeating all creation.
We seek union with God through our free choice to be united with God's
action in the world. Because God's action permeates all dimensions of
reality, no sector of life is meaningless or devoid of religious energy.
This is what we mean by integration of life.
Ignatian spirituality is rooted in lived experience, consciously
confronted. It invites us to live squarely in the reality of things.
Throughout the Exercises is the insistence that the retreatant face the
reality of life, whether that be personal and social sin, suffering and
hardship, or the reality of joy, gratitude and compassion. It has often
struck me that the Rules for Discernment are rules for staying rooted in the
reality of the ups and downs of life. They help us to avoid the escapes of
illusion and addiction.
There are many aspects of our culture which assist us to face what is
real in life. There are also many aspects of the culture which thrive on our
being disconnected from what is real: if it hurts, medicate it away, buy it
away, lie it away, pray it away. Just don't face it.
To face the truth of life is to live in humility. For Ignatius, the
lightness to be needy and vulnerable produces humility, from which all other
virtues flow. Humility takes the beam from my own eye before it takes it
away from my sister's eye. Humility makes me accountable for my own actions.
Humility produces a down to earth person capable of compassionate living.
Finally, the Ignatian charism is communal, in the best sense of the word.
It takes its energy and direction from the mystical communion which is the
Church, visible and invisible. It speaks of love and commitment to the Body
of Christ which is the sign and sacrament of love and commitment to the
human family. This communion is expressed in bonds of caring and sharing
which begin with our local CLC group and ultimately embrace the universal
Church and all of creation.
I believe that our world today is yearning for persons who will believe
in it and invest in it, who will live in it reverently and with free hearts,
who will take responsibility for its development, who will not let it get
lost in destructive illusion, and who will commune intimately with the
mystery which it is. To the degree that the Ignatian charism can develop and
sustain such persons, it is a precious gift for our time.
John P. Milan
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