A Spirituality of Action

One characteristic of Ignatian spirituality is its focus and commitment to action.

By Monika K. Hellwig
From An Ignatian Spirituality Reader, edited by George W. Traub, SJ.

[Action] appears as a theme with many variations. Loyalty is expressed in service. Love is appropriately manifested in actions rather than in words. Repentance means action for change. Serious conversion to Christ means commitment of all one’s resources—material and personal—expenditure of all one’s energies, steady focus of one’s attention.

One very important consequence of this is the gradual elimination of the profane margins of one’s life. But in Ignatian spirituality this does not mean that one no longer engages in worldly responsibilities or in social, economic, and political affairs. What it does mean is that engagement in such affairs ceases to be profane, which means outside the range of the religious commitment. All the secular activities of life are brought into the faith commitment and are therefore brought under scrutiny and evaluation in the light of what is revealed in Christ about the meaning and purpose and true orientation of all creation.

Social Implications

This approach applies not only to the immediate contacts of one’s life, but also to social structures and policies at all levels of human society. This commitment to the integration of all aspects of life, therefore, does not allow a separation of politics and economics from religious values and judgments.

Redemptive action for justice and peace in the public affairs of the human race threatens the disproportionate privilege of many who call themselves Christians, probably in good faith, but think that this pertains only to their individual private lives. While the vigorous opposition to social justice and peace activities in the public realm may be in good faith, it is not disinterested.

Action vs. Contemplation?

The commitment to action and to public responsibilities often meets an objection of another kind. This is the view that contemplation is at the heart of religious faith, and that contemplation and action are incompatible with one another. Contemplation is certainly at the heart of faith, because contemplation means an attitude of receptivity, attention, and awareness of divine presence and guidance. This is beyond question.

However, Ignatian spirituality refuses to see contemplation as being in opposition to action or incompatible with it. It was said of Ignatius himself in his mature years that he seemed to be contemplative in action. What is seen as incompatible with contemplation is greed, possessiveness, acquisitiveness, cruelty, indifference to the needs of others, pride, self-assertiveness, and preoccupation with oneself and one’s public image. But hard work, preoccupation with serving the needs of others, and so forth, are seen as opportunities to be contemplative in action.

Excerpt from An Ignatian Spirituality Reader, edited by George W. Traub, SJ.


Related Links

Ten Elements of Ignatian Spirituality
Contemplative in Action (blog post)