By David L. Fleming, SJ
From What Is Ignatian Spirituality?
Ignatius understood early on that God was calling him to a life of service, but it took him many years to figure out how he was supposed to do this. His first notion was to set off by himself. Solitary individual accomplishment was the knightly ideal of the time, and Ignatius applied this to his new life as a Christian. He conceived of himself as a Christian knight in service of his Lord. This did not work out very well. As a solitary pilgrim, he went to the Holy Land, but was forced to return home. He began to teach others about the spiritual life, but ran afoul of mistrustful inquisitors, who were deeply suspicious of lone itinerant preachers sharing their spiritual insights with others.
The real change in Ignatius’s style of ministry came when he went to the University of Paris to get the education he needed to teach about the faith. He notes what happened in a brief comment in his autobiography. He studied philosophy and theology, he writes, “and gathered about him a number of companions.” These companions were the men who became the first members of the Society of Jesus. From this point on Ignatius always worked in concert with others. The Jesuit order has included many outstanding individuals with exceptional skills and talents, but Jesuit ministry, and the ministry of others formed in Ignatian spirituality, has always been formulated in a spirit of collaboration.
Collaboration is built into the very structure of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius intended that the Exercises be undertaken not alone but with the help of a spiritual director. The term director is actually something of a misnomer. “The director’s role is that of being a helper to us in retreat,” Ignatius writes at the beginning of the Exercises. This person does not “direct” but rather guides and helps. The relationship between God and the retreatant is always the focus of the Exercises, but we do not examine this relationship alone. We are to do it collaboratively, with the assistance of a wise and trusted guide who can help us be sensitive to the Spirit’s movements and arrive at a discerning interpretation of these movements for our spiritual growth.
Much of the spiritual director’s work involves careful listening to the retreatant’s account of what happens in prayer and during the retreat. The director helps us filter out what is extraneous and focus on the essential. With help, we are able to see how apparently scattered things come together in a meaningful pattern. The director helps us learn the “language of God” spoken through the various media that flood our lives. With the help of our spiritual director we come to understand that our relationship with God is a real relationship with ups and downs, a give and take.
It is a relationship in which the parties collaborate on a mission of service to others. We have seen how the meditation the Call of the King presents Jesus’ call to work with him. Jesus’ call to join him in his work in the world means that we are to serve with others as well as with Christ. Paul uses the striking metaphor of the body to express the interrelatedness of those who respond to Jesus’ call to join him in his mission. We are all parts of the body of Christ, he writes. He continues:
God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” . . . God has so constructed the body . . . that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Corinthians 12:18-21, 24, 25-26)
Christian ministry and mission can never be seen as an individualistic enterprise. We always interact as members of the body of Christ. We always serve in the context of a relationship with Christ and with others. One of the great gifts we share with others is the fruit of these life-giving relationships. Ministry is a sharing of life and love. Jesus gives us the gift of divine life, and invites us to join him in giving this life to others. Ministry in the Ignatian mode is based on Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Excerpt from What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Fleming, SJ.