Despite the distress and unrest in the world, nothing can dispel the truth that we live in a universe of God’s grace. The human and the holy need each other. The Judeo-Christian ethos believes in Divine Providence, and God is at work prompting us to press on toward the good. We’re on the wrong side of faith if we thwart God’s Providence by doing nothing. It is not Judeo-Christian, it is not Catholic, and it is not Ignatian to do nothing. The armed conflicts in the Mideast and Ukraine need our prayers.
Three more themes of the Spiritual Exercises are proposed by Avery Cardinal Dulles: immediacy to God, the Christological theme, and the ecclesial aspect.
Immediacy to God
Even a cursory glance at the Psalms, reveals how familiar the Jews were in speaking to God; and God communicated with them. In these 150 poems, they voiced their fears, anger, sorrows, joys, gratitude, and finally praise to the God who had guided them out of the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. Through it all, they knew deep in their hearts, they were God’s Chosen People.
St. Ignatius holds that God communicates directly with every creature, and that creature can deal directly with its Creator and Lord” (No 15). St. Paul’s conversion is one of the more dramatic examples of God’s communication with his creatures.
How does God communicate with us? Some years ago, when I asked this of a lay woman, she responded by saying that she ‘heard’ God in the nudges she felt within her. When we think of the word nudge, we think of being prodded or poked. This was what she meant—that God moved her by prodding her to do or not to do some action. The saints followed these promptings but discerned beforehand if they came from the Spirit or from unholy sources.
Second, Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Today, when people are racing from one activity to another, a Catholic may use the excuse: ‘My work is my prayer.’ Work will be prayer only if there is also prayer which is not work. We cannot expect our whole life to become a continuous act of worship unless there are regular times when we lay aside our worldly occupations and raise our hearts/minds to God in prayer.” If we do not find God in prayer, most assuredly we will not find God in others or in our work.
What was Jesus’ teaching on prayer?
– pray in secret (Mt 6:5-6);
– not many words the Lord’s prayer (Mt 6:7-13);
– the Father deals with us a his children (Mt 7:7-11, Lk 11:9-13);
When did Jesus pray?
– he prayed in solitude to his Father (Jn 14, 15);
– before making a decision (Lk 6;12);
– after apostolic work (Lk 5:15-16);
– before the Lord Prayer (Lk 11:1);
– in suffering at Gethsemane and on the cross (Lk 22:41; Lk 23:34,46).
In the ordinary course of the day however, how does God speak to us? First, he communicates his will through the events that happen each day. This is an important notion to grasp. Fr. Walter Ciszek asked this question, of God’s will, when he was imprisoned in Russia as a Vatican spy. God communicates with us in the way things happen, a statement that needs clarification. God communicates with each of us through a combination of two corresponding realities: my initiative—what I choose to do or not do, and what happens to me—how those persons and events affect me. The ordinary way God speaks to me is through what happens to me; whatever happens is God’s will. If I place myself in harm’s way and then become incapacitated, the blame cannot be placed on God.
The Christological Theme and the Magis, the More
In the Exercises following the Gospels, the individual is called to become a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus, who is presented as the most attractive leader of all, to imitate and follow. It is true that Catholics fulfill their obligations by doing the minimum required of them. They may believe and observe the tenets of the faith but nothing more. In this category, there are many.
In the meditation, “The Call of the King” however, something more asked of the disciple intensely desirous of coming closer to Christ and of imitating him in all things, including his passion and death. Here Ignatius deepens the meaning of the word more, known in Latin as the Magis. For those want to be more devoted to the service of Christ, there is always more to do. Doing more however is not limited to the Ignatian spirit. We must distinguish further.
If two goods are presented to the individual, which will he or she choose? He or she will choose the good that will give more pleasure to the other. Ignatius offers the example of the saint who was offered a crown of gold or a crown of thorns and was told that either one would please Christ. She took the crown of thorns because it was more in imitation of the Lord. Or, take the example of a wife on her way for medical tests. She tells her husband that she’s fine whether or not he accompanies her. To go or not to go—both are good in her eyes. But, because he wishes to please her more, he chooses to accompany her. He chooses the more, the Magis. Here the numbers of disciples dwindle.
The Ecclesial Theme and Ecclesial Families
In the Exercises, Ignatius speaks of serving Christ in the hierarchical Church, which he sees as the church militant, the Body of Christ. It is composed of two groups: the Ordained (Orders) and the Non-Ordained of laity and consecrated religious. These are known as ecclesial families. The Spirit of God breathes in each of one as the Body of Christ, and both groups must respect this fact. St. Peter symbolizes the Church’s structure of Orders, permanence, stability and law, while St. Paul represents the paradigm of the Non-Ordained in which membership is creative, dynamic, and idiosyncratic.
Within the universal communion, the Body of Christ functions in smaller ecclesial bodies: unity among the ordained persons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and unity among the bishops themselves. The Ordained, the bishop with his presbyters and deacons, resemble the string section of the orchestra. Like the violins, violas, cellos, and basses, they too are hierarchically constituted. They speak and act in unison.
The Non-Ordained ecclesial groups are represented by the laity, Christian families, as well as consecrated religious men and women. The Non-Ordained, like the individual and colorful sounds of the other orchestral sections like the woodwinds, brass, and percussion, which correspond to the various charisms in the Church. Such charisms function within the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit, and every age has endowed men and women with graces given for the apostolic unity and holiness of the entire Body of Christ. In our own day, the Church is blessed with new life and vision such as the Focolare and Sant’ Egidio Movements, the Sisters of Life, the Daughters of St. Paul, the many secular institutes, and those institutes of consecrated women who have rediscovered their original spirit.
Third, “Office holders in the Church are obliged not to stifle the Holy Spirit but to recognize and foster the free movements of the Spirit in the Church” (Avery Dulles, America Magazine, February 4, 2013). This fact prompts Karl Rahner to plead for doctrinal diversity in the church favoring a pluriform Church with structures that are adaptable to local and transitory needs” (Dulles). This fact places before the Church what is known as charism and structure.
In the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries, the Jesuit-priest, Matteo Ricci (d 1610) spent his entire adult life as a missionary in China. At first, he brought the Catholic Church to China, but later he adapted the Catholic faith to the Chinese culture instead of the other way round. Later, he served the Chinese Catholic Church in China. Similarly, Mother Angelica responded to the inspiration of the Spirit to promote and advance the Catholic faith through modern social media.
The Church fosters the sense of Catholic solidarity by accepting the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. All of us are affected by the Magisterium which guides our creed, our code of morals, and cult, our worship. We all must obey the Magisterium; it’s not easy. Often, this has meant the obedience of faith on the part of theologians who were silenced for their avant-garde views. It was only years later, that their views were vindicated. Nevertheless, there is no Catholic faith without the Church’s hierarchical structure. The other alternative is hold that ‘to everyone his/her own pope,’ essentially the Protestant position: private and subjective interpretation of the Bible and of faith itself.
Summing Up the Ignatian Charism
In the Ignatian charism, the mission is the focus, the all-important goal. It is a practical, disciplined, and structured charism that embraces the world. Nothing is finally secular. Ignatian spirituality forms disciples who seek always the Magis, the more. It is a restless spirituality, never at home except on the mission, even if that mission is done at one’s desk or at home.
The Ignatian charism forms affective and effective disciples of the Lord, trained in spiritual detachment and discernment. The Daily Examen is that essential prayer which daily helps to realize the goal—to find God in all things. The times in which we live are testing this resolve.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.