Commentary arranged according to the structure of the Exercises
On one level, the Principle and Foundation can be seen as diagnostic. It explores whether a person has truly grasped at an interior level the experience of God’s creative and sustaining love. . . . Even those advanced in the spiritual life need to experience anew that foundational experience of God’s love before progressing further in the Exercises. Until people can claim that gift of God’s love on a personal level, they cannot hear God’s words of forgiveness or the call in freedom in the rest of the Exercises. To enter into the meditations on sin in the first week of the Exercises without a genuine experience of God’s love can be a destructive experience. A person cannot come to honest self-knowledge without first knowing they are loved.
Put another way, the Principle and Foundation explores a person’s operative image of God.Putting on the Heart of Christ: How the Spiritual Exercises Invite Us to a Virtuous Life by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ
Just by being of the earth, then, each of us has a unique original purpose. But God is also creating each of us directly, so it is God who puts into each of us a unique original purpose. We each have a personal vocation from God. No one else can do what God calls each one of us to do, for evolution careens on through time and space.
You are unique and unrepeatable—well, what are you for? Who are you to become? These are questions of more than personal importance, for God’s hope for the world depends on your realizing God’s hopes in you.Making Choices in Christ: The Foundations of Ignatian Spirituality by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ
After the named things one “ought not to seek,” (health, wealth, honor) comes a fascinating phrase, “and so on in other matters.” What might the “and so ons” be for women in contemporary society? Cultural myths, certainly, including beauty, body shape, youthful appearance, dependence on external validation—especially from men—stylish dress, security and doing it “right.” Having the one making the Exercises list her own “and so ons” could prove helpful.
Desires also intimately relate to the Principle and Foundation because desires flow from a worldview and reveal how one wishes to be in relationship. Those guiding the Exercises do important work when they assist those making them to discover what they really want—their functional Principle and Foundation. Some women have little sense of the choices or options existing even within impossible situations. The difficulty might stem from a lack of imagination, but also, perhaps, from fear. “It’s risky to discover my own needs and desires because it leads me on a path away from the crowd and into the unknown” said one woman. “I will have to take responsibility for my actions, and I may fail.”
. . . Women generally put the needs and desires of families, parents, and coworkers first, leaving little room for self. In not a few cases, they face enormous conflict from spouses or partners when seeking to fulfill their God-given desires. Internalizing the core of the Principle and Foundation will give a sense of their dignity and uniqueness and elicit authentic desires and genuine indifference. One woman imaged the movement into healthy autonomy as “coming out of a coma.”The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert
One might, as many who make the Exercises do, choose a situation of poverty and low esteem as being in itself a more literal imitation of Christ. Sickness would not ordinarily be chosen in this way; but one might choose a course of action or way of life in the recognition that sickness or early death would be the likely or inevitable consequence (such would be the case in the sixteenth century of the choice of a missionary life). But for some people the immediate implications of indifference may lie in other and more specific directions, and Ignatius’s reference to “everything else” should not be overlooked.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The First Principle and Foundation invites us to see the world as a product of love. We have to affirm the goodness of the world. The first grace is to know that each one of us is a product of God’s love.Discovering Your Dream: How Ignatian Spirituality Can Guide Your Life by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ
The Principle and Foundation is densely worded, but it is not meant to be an academic exercise. Consider it an invitation for you to experience more deeply how intimately related you are to God and to all of God’s creation (including persons, other creatures, and the natural world). In so doing, certain fundamental truths about our existence come alive: God creates me out of love, in a particular time and place, with particular talents and temperaments, strengths and limitations. God continues to create and to reveal who God is to me and who I am before God. God invites me to partner with God to build a more just and gentle world. I learn that the best way to praise God is to be who God made me to be and to honor the uniqueness of other creatures.The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien
In the Principle and Foundation, Ignatius presented his view of God, world and self. An emerging new cosmology shifts the perspective on theological questions pertaining to that opening consideration. At least seven implications flow from the new cosmology in reference to the Principle and Foundation:
Now the fruit of the Principle and Foundation (Exx 23) and of the First Week in general should be a certain self-esteem, the humble acknowledgment that one is loved, recognized, esteemed, created and nurtured. There should be an awareness of one’s own capacity, of the gift one is given to live upright with dignity.
As women we have a long road to travel from this point of view; we have to pay a high price for self-esteem. One need only glance into the many dark corners of our society to discover how women continue to be exploited, abused, and their rights violated. Many UNICEF reports establish that violence against women and girls is the most common breach of human rights.“Women Helping to Give the Spiritual Exercises” by Nerea Alzola
This first principle is a disarmingly simple statement about the meaning of life, but because of this, it demands a second look. The implication, I think, is that if we are to build our lives on prayer, then this must be the principle upon which we build them. It’s straightforward enough, but it forces us to ask some basic questions: Do I live this belief? What would my life—my day-to-day choices—look like if I honestly believed this principle? If my life were really founded on the belief that I was created by God for praise, reverence, and service, then it would seem that everything I do must somehow be related to these goals. Is this the case?The Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith by Tim Muldoon
These and similar terms—“honor,” “respect,” “obedience,” and above all “giving glory”—echo the “hallowed be thy name, thy will be done” of the Lord’s Prayer, and express an attitude of radical God-centeredness, a desire simply that God be God and that his purposes be realized. The meaning of the words is not exclusively cultic. God is praised not only by formal worship, but when we so live that in our heart and behavior God is acknowledged to be God and his will is done in all things. Again, we give praise, reverence and service in becoming involved in God’s “project,” which is simultaneously the ongoing conversion of our own lives and the establishment of his reign in the world.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The idea of creatures as “helps to an end” serves to pinpoint a basic principle of Ignatius’ “theology of the world.” In God’s creative project, there is a unity of purpose, and the key to that purpose is God’s project for humankind. In relation to the transcendent end of the human person, the world is not a neutral backdrop, still less in itself an obstacle or embarrassment. Immediate reality in a sense is the raw material of our relationship with God; it is for the most part precisely in and through our commerce with this reality that our praise, reverence and service of God come about. The idea of creatures as “helps to an end” can however convey a misleadingly utilitarian impression, and it must not be understood as denying the value of things in themselves.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
To be human is to make constant choices of use and avoidance in regard to reality (not to take such choices is to be a victim of circumstances). The potential of reality to help towards the praise, reverence and service of God is realized to the extent to which that “end” is the criterion of our particular choices to use or avoid. The word “use,” like the word “things,” does not refer only to physical use, but to the entire gamut of human responses to reality—interest, love, every kind of creativity, enjoyment, together with inner responses such as the acceptance or not of situations, and the meanings we are free to confer on these, etc.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Already in the “Principle and Foundation,” Ignatius presents key concepts which will function throughout the course of the Exercises and beyond: freedom and choice. The fundamental choice to be made, “to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord,” can only take place in a state of freedom.A Generous Openness: Praying the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Charlotte C. Prather
The phrase “and so embrace salvation” also suggests the need to distinguish between love of self and selfishness or self-centeredness. It is right to love ourselves. We are beings of love. Truly loving ourselves is a process; it happens as we accept ourselves, say yes to our destiny, and live out the purpose of life’s journey. When we accept the pull of the Spirit and say yes to our destiny, we find meaning, we love ourselves, and we reach fulfillment. We understand ourselves as meaningful beings when we experience God filling up our emptiness. Salvation is an experience of friendship and relationship with God. It is important, therefore, to realize that this phrase—“and so embrace salvation”—in the Exercises means to find fulfillment, to come to a sense of completeness and meaningfulness in the totality of our being.Spiritual Freedom: From an Experience of the Ignatian Exercises to the Art of Spiritual Guidance by John J. English
Many persons’ worldview remains largely unexamined, an unconscious frame of reference for living and relating to God, self and creation. Each person making the Spiritual Exercises needs to answer the implicit questions in the Principle and Foundation: How would you describe your world and how it influences you? How do you imagine God? What is your relationship to others and all of God’s creation? What is your part in creation? What are the dominant influences on your sense of God, humans, heaven and earth? What does it mean to exist in this vast unfolding universe?The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert
Humans have always struggled to find meaning, to locate their place in relation to others, the world and God in light of their understandings or perceptions of the world. The recognition that God creates humans moment by moment expands to include the sense that God creates everything moment by moment—suffuses the very evolutionary process—and that humans can and indeed must collaborate in that process.The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert
The Principle and Foundation is intended to evoke a present or remembered experience, an awareness of how God continues to create and to cherish each individual moment by moment throughout life. This realization must precede any consideration of sin, or else the First Week becomes painfully introspective. The Principle and Foundation “grounds” a person in graced self-awareness and God-awareness, which is food for the journey of life and ministry. The God of the Principle and Foundation loves women compassionately and asks them to trust themselves and act out of this deep, true sense of who they really are.The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert
Images of God as judge, tyrant, beyond caring, oppressive and domineering are common among women, particularly those who have experienced psychological, physical or sexual abuse. On the other hand, and equally unhelpful, God can also be experienced only as comforting, allowing a sort of pseudodependent, immature relationship that never challenges one to assume responsibility. Both of these unhelpful and incomplete or even destructive extremes need to be recognized and challenged. The heart of the matter is God-image.The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert
Ignatius is very straightforward and honest in his presentation of the necessity for indifference, although he can hardly have expected one who was beginning the Exercises for the first time to have already attained it. In a sense, one enters upon this path with the goal, the praise and service of God, already in view, precisely because the route one will travel is a matter of choice. At each point, a new dimension of freedom (indifference) is needed in order to be able to choose the end (love) which has been seen and embraced from the beginning (faith).A Generous Openness: Praying the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Charlotte C. Prather
We are not asked to be—and indeed we should not be—indifferent all the time or in regard to everything. The grace of indifference is a potential, to be activated when appropriate; and explicit indifference is appropriate in times when we are seeking the will of God. When we judge that we have found it, the appropriate attitude towards the course indicated is one of commitment, controlled by integrity of intention.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The convoluted issue around “making myself indifferent to all created things” cannot be dealt with as simply a question of will power. Indifference presumes passion. Women cannot act with indifference in any positive sense until they have identified their desires and passions. Indifference demands liberation. Detachment follows from attachment to Someone whose love empowers with blessed freedom.The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert
[W]hen we face a serious choice, we will try not to have made our minds up before we have to, even before the alternatives emerge. We will be alert to having deep-seated prejudices and to making implied or even overt demands on God that the Lord crown our own self-originated choice with grace and happiness. On the contrary, we set ourselves to live this way: We will wait when alternatives are emerging. We will try not to favor one over the other or the others until we are clear whether God is telling us something through our own desiring or through the desiring in the Church or of others.Choosing Christ in the World: Directing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola according to Annotations Eighteen and Nineteen by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ
St. Ignatius says that the “other things” that have an objective relationship to me and to God should be used or not used to the extent that they help me attain the end for which I was created. Surely, in the last analysis there is nothing that cannot be integrated into the service of God in some way, and one can say without hesitation: God grows in men to the degree that their relationship to things is a more positive one, and vice versa. This point must be emphasized because man is always tempted to consider earthly things meaningless and of little value. For our relationship to God, the “other things” are absolutely necessary—they are the place of our service and worship.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
First, a spirituality of our later years will be a spirituality of gratitude. Gratitude remains the foundation and source of our spiritual lives. The second half of life is an especially good time to grow in awareness of the gift of life itself, of health, friends, vocation and ministry. It is a time to remember and savour all the other gifts we have received—gifts that have sustained us on the road we have taken in life. As we look back on our lives, we recognize the many times when we have taken things for granted, and claimed things as our own that were clearly gifts. Our lack of gratitude may have led us to lose touch with the Giver of all gifts. Our later years are a time to acknowledge and cherish the gifts that have been given to us, and the wonder that god has worked in and through us during our lives. It is a great temptation to devalue what we have done in life, to compare our achievements with those of others whom we admire or with the great dreams of our youth. We begin to ask questions. What difference have I made? What have I done of lasting value? How have I responded to the graces given to me? We may fail to celebrate and treasure the everyday but extraordinary moments of friendship, ministry and prayer. The second half of life calls us to true humility, and to the recognition of our gifts as gifts from the hands of a loving God.“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ