The launching point of Ignatian spirituality is that God loves us fiercely, passionately, and unconditionally. Because of this love, God’s desires and hopes for us are based on who we are: our gifts, talents, preferences, and joys. What God wants for us is the same as our deepest desires.
What, then, should our response to God be? In Ignatian spirituality, this response is known as the Principle and Foundation. Let’s unpack this, using a contemporary interpretation of the First Principle and Foundation by David Fleming, SJ.
First, “The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.” Read that next to the Scripture that says: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8) If God is love, then the goal of our life is to love and be in love. A line from the closing song of the musical Les Misérables says it best: “to love another person is to see the face of God.”
The First Principle and Foundation continues: “All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” Everything in this world—my tablet computer, the slice of pizza that I am about to have, my bank account, my job, my friends and family—is a gift from God, a manifestation of God’s love.
It continues: “As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.” Remember, love is our goal. God is love.
Then it goes on to say:
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. 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 deeper response to our life in God.
I’ve spoken with a few people who have found this part disturbing. Why should I not desire to be healthy? Why would I desire failure?
The last part holds the key: “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.” The “deepening of God’s life” referred to here goes back to our goal to love and be in love. God is love.
So, we should focus on how we are called to love in our lives and allow ourselves to be open to whatever comes in order to attain that love—whether it be health or sickness, poverty or riches, success or failure. Think here of what a person vows to his or her beloved in the Sacrament of Matrimony: “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” If we have found true love, then we love no matter what happens and always choose the better option for our love to thrive. That’s what the Principle and Foundation calls us to.