The Two Standards

medieval knight

By Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ
From Making Choices in Christ

Jesus contrasted his way to the way of the world quite emphatically: “He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23). Master Ignatius helps us apply this to ourselves in a key meditation in the Spiritual Exercises called “A Meditation on the Two Standards”—a “standard” meaning a flag.

Stand with Jesus or with the Way of the World

All disciples have to choose where we are going to stand—with Jesus or with the world. No matter what life the Spirit has drawn us to, once we are baptized and confirmed we are called to stand in Jesus’ company under his flag.

We begin to move under Jesus’ standard when we join him in the living conviction that everything we have and are is God’s gift. However much or little we have, we say gratefully, “Look at all God has given me.” Then the way opens through the smoke of self-satisfaction and approval of others. “How can I help?” becomes a daily preoccupation. And through a life of love and service, the Spirit leads us to live as meekly and humbly as the Lord lived—whether we are a famous ballerina or an anonymous computer programmer.

The way of the world differs entirely. The starting point is getting as much wealth as you can. You say, “Look at all this stuff I have.” When the world’s way opens before you, you shift your focus, saying, “Look at me with all this stuff.” As those around you grow more deferential, you start saying, “Look at me.” You become convinced that you are the center of your world. You may not have sinned yet, but it is only a matter of time.

Three Forms of Collusion with the World’s Standard

Even without subscribing to theories of the subconscious, we can see that the world’s standard is as inviting to Christ’s disciples as it is to anyone else. In a way, even after we have made a solemn, lifelong choice to follow Christ’s standard, we have to purify our daily life of collusion with the world’s standard. The collusion comes in three forms.

First, there is benign secularism. Certainly, there are people who do not know Jesus Christ who lead deeply good lives. But even the baptized can live in a benignly secular way. We join civic movements and help the needy because that’s what our neighbors do. We are good to our families and honest in the workplace. There is no immediate harm in this way, but neither is there anything more than a secular spirit, even though people today call it spirituality.

The second form of collusion, seen particularly in the affluent first world, is the search for pleasure. We are surrounded by people who live what St. Paul describes as the way of the flesh. Those who follow this way are the target of advertising; they need to have whatever everyone else has right now. Their less lovely side manifests self-indulgence, lust, envy—all seen as acceptable social mores. The flesh has its own laws, and those who follow this way will readily obey those laws into sin.

Finally, there is the collusion of succumbing to darkness. Think of the report of an adult who forced a twelve-year-old to kill another and then drink some of his blood. It is evil manifest. But most of the works of the dark are not manifest. Hatred, vengeance, violence, self-destructive habits—these flourish in the dark corners of the sinful human self.

In your heart of hearts, you may loathe the dark and leap to the light. But in everyday life, you will find yourself in the twilight of benign secularism or the flesh over and over again. You will find safety in Christ’s standard only if you resolutely begin everything with thanks to God and keep watching what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Excerpt from Making Choices in Christ by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ.

Related Links

About Joseph Tetlow, SJ
Discernment in a Nutshell by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ
A Spirituality of the Heart by David L. Fleming, SJ
The Kingdom and the Two Standards video with Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ