David L. Fleming, SJ, a renowned spiritual director and commentator on the Spiritual Exercises, describes Ignatius Loyola’s vision of life, work, and love.
It’s often said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” But Ignatius Loyola reverses the saying: “When I believe it, I’ll see it.” He observed that our vision largely controls our perception. If we think the world is a bleak place, full of evil, greedy, selfish people who have no love for God or each other, that’s what we will see when we look around. If we think that our world is full of goodness and opportunity, a place that God created and sustains and loves, that is what we’ll find. Ignatius thought that the right vision lies at the heart of our relationship with God.
Ignatian spirituality offers us a vision. It is a vision of life, of work, and of love—a three-part vision that helps us see what is really true about God and about the world he created.
The Ignatian vision is contained in the Spiritual Exercises, the book that Ignatius Loyola assembled to help people come into a more intimate relationship with God. Ignatian spirituality flows from the Spiritual Exercises. The essence of the Ignatian vision is contained in a reflection at the beginning of the Exercises called the Principle and Foundation.
God who loves us creates us and wants to share life with us forever. Our love response takes shape in our praise and honor and service of the God of our life.
All the things in this world are also created because of God’s love and they become a context of gifts, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we show reverence for all the gifts of creation and collaborate with God in using them so that by being good stewards we develop as loving persons in our care of God’s world and its development. But if we abuse any of these gifts of creation or, on the contrary, take them as the center of our lives, we break our relationship with God and hinder our growth as loving persons.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some responsibility. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.
Ignatius’s first principle is that all creation is a gift, coming from God and leading toward God. Furthermore, “all the things in this world are . . . presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” This means that God is in this creation. The choices we make in our daily life in this world push us away from God or draw us closer to him. Ignatius sees God as present, not remote or detached. He is involved in the details of our life. Our daily lives in this world matter.
The Principle and Foundation is a life vision. It asks, “what is life all about?” It is a vision that directs us to the source of life. We will return to this life vision repeatedly in this book, because it truly is the foundation of the Ignatian outlook.
Ignatian spirituality also offers a work vision. What is our work in this world all about? Why do we do what we do? What values should govern our choices? In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius asks these questions in the context of a reflection he calls the Call of the King. He proposes that we think about Jesus after the model of a king to whom we owe reverence and obedience. He is a leader with ambitious plans: “I want to overcome all diseases, all poverty, all ignorance, all oppression and slavery—in short all the evils which beset humankind,” he says. He poses a challenge: “Whoever wishes to join me in this undertaking must be content with the same food, drink, clothing, and so on, that comes with following me.”
Note two particular features of this work vision. Christ our king calls us to be with him. The essence of the call is not to do some specific work, but, above all, to be with the One who calls, imaged in the everyday details of living like our king lives. We are to share Christ’s life, to think like him, to do what he does.
The second feature is a call to work with Christ our king. Christ is not a remote ruler commanding his forces through a hierarchy of princes, earls, dukes, lords, and knights. He is “in the trenches.” He is doing the work of evangelizing and healing himself. His call goes out to every person. He wants every one to join with him, and each one receives a personal invitation. The initiative is Christ’s; he asks us to work with him.
The third part of the Ignatian vision is a vision of love. Above all, God loves, and he invites us to love him in return. Later we will look carefully at Ignatius’s Contemplation on the Love of God, which concludes the Exercises. Here we will note two statements Ignatius makes to introduce it.
The first is that “love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words.” The second is that love consists in sharing: “In love, one always wants to give to the other what one has.” The Spanish word that Ignatius uses here is comunicar—“to share or to communicate.” Lovers love each other by sharing what they have, and this sharing is a form of communication. God is not just a giver of gifts, but a lover who speaks to us through his giving. God holds nothing back.
The ultimate expression of his self-giving is Jesus’ death. He shares his very life with us. He also shares with us the work he is doing in the world. Thus, the work we do is a way of loving God. It is not just work. By inviting us to share in his works, God is showing his love for us. In our response of trying to work with God, we show our love.
Ignatius raises the questions: What does it mean for us to love? How do we go about expressing our love? How do we show our love for God, for ourselves, for others, and for our world? He invites us to answer these questions by looking at how God loves. He is a God who sets no limits on what he shares with us.
Excerpt from What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Fleming, SJ.