Ignatian Optimism

yellow flower petals suggesting optimism - photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

I’ve always been a bit put off by people who exude positivity non-stop, the ones who only see the “bright side” or who think that the quality of life relies mainly on a person maintaining the “right attitude.” I wonder if such a person sees the same world I see: teeming with hurt, sin, suffering, and so many forms of evil. In the First Week of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, the retreatant is guided through repeated meditations on sin, with the goal of experiencing true sorrow and repentance and recognizing how the whole world is damaged by sin, whether individual or communal.

So, it’s safe to say that Ignatius would have raised an eyebrow in the presence of continuous positivity that glosses over our world’s grim realities.

But he would have raised an eyebrow around me, too, during the many times I have focused on the sin and suffering without the counterweights of gratitude and joy. He was known to weep over sin and to weep over joy of God’s love. Ignatius was capable of seeing the fuller picture of this life.

He instructs spiritual directors to interpret people’s words first of all in a positive way, even before exploring their full meaning and intent—in other words, give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they mean well. Even during that penitent First Week, he emphasizes God’s love as overwhelming our sinfulness with mercy and compassion. And the Fourth Week spills us out of Jesus’ Passion and into the eternal life of Resurrection. The ultimate, ending meditation asks the retreatant to linger and pray until he or she begins, truly, to contemplate God’s love.

Ignatian optimism grows naturally out of the ever-present and ever-active love of God in this world—in the lives of individuals and in the larger body of humanity and creation. This healing energy is ceaseless and persistent, inviting us at every step to turn from falsehood to truth, from apathy to empathy, from hatred to full-fledged love. We are called to participate in this movement toward the world as God dreams it to become, to make the realm of God as real here on earth as it is in the farthest reaches of heaven.

Thus, we can see the world plainly and truthfully and acknowledge what is wrong—and still rally with faith, hope, and love. This optimism does not rely on temporary outcomes but on God’s—and our—eternal, bright desire.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash.

Vinita Hampton Wright
Vinita Hampton Wrighthttp://www.loyolapress.com/authors/vinita-hampton-wright
Vinita Hampton Wright edited books for 32 years, retiring in 2021. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places and spirituality books Days of Deepening Friendship, The Art of Spiritual Writing, Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living, and, most recently, Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church. Vinita is a spiritual director and continues to facilitate retreats and write fiction and nonfiction. She lives with her husband, two dogs, and a cat in Springdale, Arkansas.

7 COMMENTS

  1. This is what happens to me during my spiritual direction and silent retreats. I am still learning to apply it in my life; my relationships with others.

  2. Thanks Vinita. You have explained Magis and ad majorem Dei gloriam very nicely. Saint Ignatius of Loyola – Pray for us.

  3. Dear Vinita, I found this reflection very interesting; as in my later years , due to an extremely changed mode of living (Which is mostly indoors and with disabilities) I have been thought to be too negative. I have always , in my former life had to carry on , be strong and keep going. Stay happy , Happy, Funny <Funny !!! I was a very different person. Now I am more of a realist! See things as they really are and as far as "Always look on the Bright Side of Life" as the song goes. It gets harder and harder. I pray for god's help and I know he is there helping me to keep going but The things are NOT WONDERFUL and not just for me and the people who think everything is wonderful, really give me a pain! One needs to face facts, sure try to be optimistic! Take a look at the REAL WORLD and pray like crazy!!!

  4. May all suffering cease and may I seek, find, and fully realize the love and compassion that already lives within me and allow them to inspire and permeate my every action. –Rev. angel Kyodo williams in Warrior-Spirit Prayer of Awakening

  5. Vinita, I apologize in advance if you tire of hearing this… Extraordinary! Thank you.

  6. i think the last paragraph might have been a better beginning to your article which i found ‘off putting’ to begin with….viewing the world through an optimistic lenses is not an indication one is unaware of the horrors in the world, but perhaps exhuding positive energy is a better way of healing than joining the darkness….

  7. Don’t you think the whole world would be better if each person assumed a positive motive from the other?
    Thanks, Vinita!

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