Commentary arranged according to the structure of the Exercises
Ignatius presents two ways of imagining in the Spiritual Exercises. The first way is demonstrated in a meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation in the second week of the exercises. He asks us to “enter into the vision of God.” God is looking down on our turbulent world. We imagine God’s concern for the world. We see God intervening by sending Jesus into the maelstrom of life. This type of imagining helps us see things from God’s perspective and take on God’s qualities of love, compassion, and understanding.
The second method of imagining is to place ourselves fully within a story from the Gospels. We become onlooker-participants and give full rein to our imagination. Jesus is speaking to a blind man at the side of the road. We feel the hot Mediterranean sun beating down. We smell the dust kicked up by the passersby. We feel the itchy clothing we’re wearing, the sweat rolling down our brow, a rumble of hunger. We see the desperation in the blind man’s face and hear the wail of hope in his words. We note the irritation of the disciples. Above all we watch Jesus—the way he walks, his gestures, the look in his eyes, the expression on his face. We hear him speak the words that are recorded in the Gospel. We go on to imagine other words he might have spoken and other deeds he might have done.What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David A. Fleming, SJ
The Exercises do not merely confront the retreatant with the saving truths of the gospel. They light up and evoke and make explicit what the retreatant already in some dim way knows and lives, something repressed perhaps that underlies all ordinary experiences. Every human being is now Christ-oriented in the very depths of his or her being, whether this is realized or not. What the contemplations of the Spiritual Exercises do is to make the retreatant more and more aware of this Christ-orientation in life. If this Christ-orientation were not an already present reality in the life of the person, contemplating the mysteries of Christ’s life would have no power to affect, transform or bring about an identification with Christ. As it is, the retreatant begins to experience God, the world, other people, and the self in the way that Christ experienced all these.“The Dynamic of the Second Week” by William Broderick, SJ
The Infancy Contemplations introduce a number of basic themes.
First, the opening contemplation establishes the Trinitarian context crucial to understanding everything that follows. Christ’s mission is the work of the Trinity. It proceeds from and expresses the love of the Trinitarian God for the world and the unconditional commitment of the Divine Persons to the world’s redemption.
Second, within this Trinitarian context attention is centered on an implication of the Incarnation—childhood—which needs to become personally real for the exercitant if he or she is to appreciate the Incarnation for what it is. That the Word became human means that the Word became a child. The exercitant who does not encounter the human reality of Jesus’ childhood lacks something essential to their knowledge and love of “the Lord made human for me” . Thus in these first days of the Second Week, the Trinitarian prayer of the exercitant takes the form of contemplating, with the complete realism characteristic of the imaginative method, the historical childhood of Jesus.
Third, the contemplation of the child and his entourage is permeated by the idea of fidelity to God’s word and will. From the moment of his conception, Jesus exists wholly for the mission given by the Trinity ; in the Temple incident he responds consciously and explicitly to the Father’s overriding claims [134, 272]; at Nazareth he is subject to his parents [134, 27l]; Mary’s “Fiat” exemplifies supremely the grace of “prompt and diligent response to God’s call”[ 262 (cf. 91)]. The Flight into Egypt is an act of obedience, and obedience is a detectable note in the Presentation.
Fourth, Ignatius proposes the Infancy Contemplations in a way that accentuates the themes of poverty and humiliation introduced in the Kingdom Exercise and presented now not as abstractions, but as embodied in the persons of Jesus and his parents, and in their hard and precarious circumstances. In these circumstances the exercitant is invited to see the first steps of a descending journey of love which begins in the heart of the Trinity and will conclude on the Cross (cf. ).Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Let the exercitant take note: I belong to this world; it is my framework of existence; I am buried in its confusing multiplicity and in its apparently inescapable problematic. In my own constantly changing situation . . . I am experiencing just a small portion of the problem of existence of all mankind. By being involved in the ups and downs of international life, of my own country and culture, and by trying to take an active part in these things, I really become more interiorly aware of myself and acquire more control over myself. God wanted to enter into this world where apparently everything is mixed up, where each thing only seems to appear so that it can fall back again into black chaos, where there is so much pride and baseness, where the heroism that does occur is so surrounded with banality that it usually remains at best doubtful, where everything seems to be locked eternally within itself, where there are very few ears to listen to the transcendent God. God Himself wanted to participate in this world.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
With variants this expression will recur frequently in the Second and Third Weeks, and it also appears in the Contemplation to Attain Love. The words are to be understood in the context of contemplation. In this context reflection is the reflective process that opens the word of God to personal discovery. The word “profit” refers to the initiative of God in acting in the exercitant: giving light or insight or “the intimate feeling and relish of things” granting especially requested graces, and here the grace of a deepening knowledge and love of Christ . But profit may also be the perception of some particular life-response called forth by the Gospel; and in many cases, the profit sought in contemplation will take the form especially of clarification regarding the discernment of God’s will in the exercitant’s election. On the side of the exercitant drawing profit consists in appropriation of God’s action in oneself, letting oneself, through contemplation, be touched, enlightened, changed.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
In the contemplation on the Incarnation our concern is not simply with the fact in faith. Ignatius’s narration of the history reveals that his chief concern is with the how and why details which personalize the Trinity’s decision, in the face of our human blindness and sinfulness, to “work the redemption of the human race” (Exx 107). All the following contemplations in the Exercises spring from and reveal further this one, radical—this paschal decision in the heart of the Trinity.“Becoming Whom We Contemplate” by by George Aschenbrenner, SJ
A different kind of repetition—application of the five senses. In our contemplations thus far, we have been imagining the Gospel scenes, immersing ourselves in the details of Jesus’ life. Here, Ignatius invites us to deepen our prayer. We become less active: we are more about being than doing. We do less thinking than in our meditations and less imagining than in our contemplations. We become more still, savoring the graces and resting in the presence of God. You may quietly review with Jesus your prayer over several days, or rest in one particular scene or conversation that meant something to you in your prayer.
We let go. We let the story of Jesus become a part of us. In the same way that our bodily senses take in the data of daily life, we let the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of our contemplations wash over us, and we allow whatever insights, images, desires, or emotions that remain to take root in us.The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ
The exercise which culminates the contemplative day is characterized by a concentrated sense-presence with a minimum of discursive thinking. The sensing is bodily/imaginative and its immediate object is the physical realities of persons and things. But these are perceived not only as objects of the imaginative bodily senses, but as containing the mystery of the divine as touched by grace , as invested with faith-meanings already discovered in prayer (cf. ); and to this level one is present by an inner sensing of the mind and heart which comes about in and through the immediate imaginative sensing. It need hardly be added that the personal quality of the exercitant’s prayer at this stage will depend primarily not on following a prayer method, but on his or her overall dispositions and the action of the Holy Spirit.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The typical but not the only “election” an exercitant might have made in Ignatius’s time was concerned with the two classic “ways” of Christian life: the “way of perfection,” virtually corresponding to canonical religious life, and ordinary Christian life, known as the “way of the commandments.” With regard to this distinction, the point to be noticed here is Ignatius’s insistence that since each way is modeled by Christ himself, either might prove to be God’s will for the exercitant, and hence the way in which he or she is to seek personal perfection (or holiness).Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Although we tend to put humanity and divinity in separate categories, Jesus shows us that they are one. Remember one of the central insights of the Second Week: the path to divinity is through our humanity, not around it. In the Meditation on Two Standards, Ignatius refers to Satan as the “enemy of our human nature.” The enemy wants to dehumanize and devalue us. In contrast, Jesus empowers us to embrace our humanity in all of its beautiful complexity. The more we express our humanity in loving, healing, forgiving, serving, and rejoicing, the more our divinity or holiness is revealed.The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ
This image has a pre-historical origin. It is constantly used in Scripture and tradition (for example, Jerusalem-Babylon; the City of God and the City of Satan). But while tradition, at least since the time of St. Augustine, draws a clear line between the fronts of the two kingdoms—the Church here and the kingdom of Satan over there—Ignatius emphasizes the mutual penetration of both kingdoms. According to St. Ignatius, there are no static front lines between the two, but only swift emissaries who are sent to all parts of the globe. The meaning here is not that the Church is on one side and all those who are not visibly in the Church are on the other side. The kingdoms of Christ and Satan as described by St. Ignatius both embrace the whole world. Lucifer also expands his power inside the Church, for there we find pride, greed for wealth, and power. The Church is also the Church of sinners and not just the Church of saints! On the other hand, God seeks to win over men who do not yet belong to the community of the Church in a visible way, as it were officially, through the reception of baptism. . . . [T]he banner of Christ cannot be simply identified with the Church, nor can the banner of Satan be simply identified with the world outside of the Church.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
[T]he vision is dominated by a reality that profoundly affected Ignatius’ outlook: the reality of spiritual powers in radical opposition, yet present and at work throughout the world. However, here these are presented not in their obvious ways of working, but in their subtleties. Thus the power of evil is shown as operating plausibly yet destructively, through the appeal of objectively legitimate riches and honors. And life in Christ is not just a morally correct life, but one that values the paradoxes of spiritual and actual poverty. The horizon (again as in the Kingdom Exercise) is that of the world: the minions of evil and the missionaries of Christ build respectively the worlds of Babylon and Jerusalem. But the emphasis is on the negative and positive individual qualities that place a person in one camp or the other, and on the desire, that lead to these. These qualities are on the one side pride, to which the Evil One leads us through cupidity, and on the other humility, to which Christ leads us through the desire to follow in ways other than those of instinct and convention.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The goal of the exercise—the graced attraction of the exercitant to Christ and his way as being best—must be kept clearly in mind. Brilliant analyses of how the contemporary world, secular and ecclesiastical, is being duped by satanic illusions may simply lead the exercitant into “head-tripping.” The Exercises are all about desires: the desires of God to liberate us by drawing us to his Son, and the ambiguous desires in our hearts both for God and for what the world holds as important. The exercitant needs to acknowledge the deceptive attractiveness of the latter, and be encouraged to pray intensely that his/her graced desire for God be strengthened, so that the desires come more and more into harmony with God’s desires.“Presenting the Two Standards” by Brian Grogan, SJ
Behind this meditation is a practical theory of vice and virtue. Good and evil aren’t abstractions. They show themselves in concrete actions in the real world. Note a couple of significant details in the meditation. First, the contest between Christ and Satan takes place in this world, not in some spiritual realm. As far as we’re concerned, the power of evil is centered on earth, not in hell, and God’s kingdom is in this world, not in heaven. Note also that both Christ and Satan work through agents. Satan sends out demons; Christ works through apostles, disciples, and other emissaries. Another detail: no part of the earth is left out. “No province, no place, no state of life, no individual is overlooked.” You don’t get a pass if you’re a priest or nun, come from a religious family, or live in a nation with a strong Christian culture. Everybody’s in this battle and must choose a side.
Even more interesting is Ignatius’s idea of how virtue and vice develop. One thing leads to another. You slide down the slope to vice or you ascend the heights to virtue. . . . It’s a progression: “From these three steps the evil one leads to all the other vices.”
Christ also starts with riches, but he goes in the other direction . . . first poverty, then obscurity, finally humility. “From these three steps, let them lead men to all the other virtues,” Ignatius says.God Finds Us by Jim Manney
The problem with Lucifer’s program is that riches, honor, and pride subtly lead us away from the truth that everything is a gift from God. These values delude us about the true nature of things. They focus our attention on ourselves rather than God. We come to think that the wealth we have acquired—whatever we identify as our “riches”—is our accomplishment. The honor we receive is the well-deserved acknowledgment of our importance or our accomplishments. Ultimately, the governing value is pride. We come to believe that we are in charge, that the almighty self takes pride of place.What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David A. Fleming, SJ
The strategy is not concerned with the possession of wealth in itself, or even with every kind of desire to gain or keep a possession (such a desire can be given by God). The desire described here is covetous desire or “cupidity,” the craving for wealth when we lack it, and the possessive clinging to it when we have it; it is the attitude that regards whatever we want as ours by right, the attitude of persons who “put their trust in riches.”Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Taken literally the words refer to material possessions, and social and ecclesiastical status, but while this literal sense has relevance for every one in every age (and crucial implications for our own age), the terms also admit of wider application. In the wider sense, riches and honor can be anything at all that meets the inherent human need for identity, security, esteem, love. The particular significance we attach to the things, situations or relationships that for us meet these needs, the quality of our desire for these, our criteria for seeking or accepting them—all this raises the basic issue of the kind of persons we are and want to be in relation to God and others.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
A stance in relation to God, consisting in the refusal to give praise and reverence, and hence a tendency, in however subtle away, to try to establish oneself as absolute. When understood thus, pride is clearly linked with cupidity: pride needs the things that build and affirm the self, and needing them for self-absolutization has to detach them from the praise, reverence and service of God. Once so detached, they will be easily captured by the isolated (or “proud”) me.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The values of Jesus lead us back to the fundamental truth that everything is a gift from God. The value of poverty reminds us that we have nothing in ourselves but only as a gift from God. Embracing powerlessness acknowledges that God is our strength. Humility is the expression of the reality of the self before God. It recognizes that we are first and foremost sons and daughters of God, children who call him Father. The perfect embodiment of these values is Jesus himself. The Father exalted the Son because the Son emptied himself in perfect humility by becoming incarnate (a human being). That is why we, in our following of Christ, strive to live by the values of poverty, powerlessness, and humility.What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David A. Fleming, SJ
Poverty here means the ability to leave things—a certain abandonment to trust in God. First of all, naturally, Ignatius is speaking of actual poverty. Something like insults and contempt is the natural result of detachment from worldly possessions (we are not just speaking of material goods, but also of spiritual values such as a career, a reputation, and so forth), even if it is not always expressed in the form of open ridicule. The person whose whole life is truly centered in God and who does not give himself completely to the things of this world, is, in the eyes of the world, stupid, backward, cowardly, and useless. The man who stays his distance from worldly goods and does not attach himself perfectly to them in the battleground of this world is always at a disadvantage to those who identify themselves completely with the weapons of this world. Certainly good people and pious people are often more stupid than they should be; they are often less adroit and less competent than they should be. But a universally valid and necessary characteristic of the following of Christ is that those who take their Christianity seriously cannot be first in the race for worldly possessions.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
Like wealth and honor these terms are to be understood in an extended as well as in a literal sense. Here they should be taken as denoting the general characteristics of a way of life antithetical to the pursuit of wealth and status, the way of life lived out and commended by Jesus, and modeled in many different ways by his followers. Note however that actual poverty and humiliation are desired conditionally (should He deign to choose them for it).Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
[Ignatius writing to Isabel Roser, 1532] [Y]ou speak of the enmities, the intrigues, the untruths which have been circulated about you. I am not at all surprised at this, not even if it were worse than it is. For just as soon as you determined to bend every effort to secure the praise, honor and service of God our Lord, you declared war against the world, and raised your standard in its face, and got ready to reject what is lofty by embracing what is lowly, to accept indifferently honor and dishonor, riches and poverty, affection and hatred, welcome and repulse, in a word, the glory of the world or all the wrongs it could inflict on you.
If we wish absolutely to live in honor and to be held in esteem by our neighbors, we can never be solidly rooted in God our Lord, and it will be impossible for us to remain unscathed when we meet with affronts.Letters of St. Ignatius of Loyola by edited by William J. Young, SJ
The Three Classes meditation invites us to examine our desires and attachments. More than any other exercise so far, it gets at what Ignatius said was the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises: “making ourselves ready to get rid of disordered affections.” In the Three Classes exercise, we take a close look at what this really means.
The Three Classes exercise is a thought-experiment. It puts people in an extreme situation and looks at how they would respond. Ignatius isn’t moralizing, saying what we should do, or labeling some behaviors good and others bad. Everyone in the exercise is trying to do the right thing. Think of them as people who’ve read the meditation on the Two Standards and taken to heart the message that riches can lead to ruin.
. . . Let’s be clear: The problem isn’t the fortune; it’s your attraction to the fortune. The exercise doesn’t assume that God wants you to give the thing up. It may well be that God wants you to have it. The issue is your freedom to make a decision. The attitude we strive for is complete openness to whatever God wants. The attraction may not go away.
In fact, we should assume that it won’t. All our lives we will have many likes and dislikes, strong reactions to the things people do and don’t do, passionate attraction to some possibilities and sharp revulsion to others. The challenge is to find a way to stand aside from these passions when important decisions are at hand so that we can hear God tell us what he wants.God Finds Us by Jim Manney
Let us watch the response of the second class of men. They, too, are weighed down by their attachment to the sum of money; they would like to be rid of this feeling of attachment but they want to hold on to the money. They compromise; they try to manipulate God into fitting into their plans (which includes retaining the money); they are trying to “subject and fit the end to the means” rather than “the means to the end” (169). These people have a particular attachment which they are unwilling to release. Whatever is the object of this inordinate attachment has become for them an idol, a god of their own making. They have lost sight of the God who is beyond themselves and his purpose in creating them. They are unwilling to confront that most painful law of human existence, that every choice I make necessarily involves some exclusion. Man is a being of infinite desire who resents limitation inherent in every choice. Unlike the first group, these people do make decisions, they do things; but all the time they are trying to bend God’s will to fit their own designs. It is not surprising that they, too, fail to find God; instead they find only themselves and their own will.“To Find God in Peace” by by Laurence J. Murphy, SJ
Note where the third person begins: she is not sure whether or not God is asking her to give up the possession; she simply desires to be free to do what God wants her to do. So she begins by asking God what she should do. She is open to how God directs her through her prayer, her experience, her reasoning through different options, her discernment of consolations and desolations, and the wise counsel of others.
The truly free person checks her motivations, which are often mixed. She tries to choose from a desire to better serve God and others. The third person may feel some attachment to the possession and does not mind waiting to make a decision. But she does not procrastinate. She does make a timely decision (acknowledging that we rarely reach complete indifference).The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ
The third class seeks to love God in the way that He wants to be loved. The men of this class do not prefer to keep or to give up those things that are to be integrated into their lives. Certainly, this form of the love of God is most difficult, and it requires great effort to put it in practice. Those in this group want Him to have the complete disposition of themselves. Because this is what the man of the third class wants, he first of all struggles against his own inner attachment to things in the spirit of the Kingdom of Christ and the Two Standards. Then he begs God actually to take these things away from him so that he can be ruled by God alone and His love. From this angle, the possibility of giving something up does not seem so terrifying. God alone is the source of all movement; now the Kingdom of God is really close, is contained either in giving up or in keeping, in life and in death. Now a man has really become a child who does not die of fright when God approaches either in the one garment or the other.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
The note added to this exercise by St. Ignatius is central to his spirituality. He is teaching us how to cope with our feelings of attachment opposed to actual poverty, or what to do when we discover that we are not indifferent as we know we need to be. What he advises us to do here is the Ignatian pedagogical technique of agere contra—“acting against their sensuality and carnal and worldly love” (97). Correctly understood in the Ignatian schema of discernment, with the help of a spiritual director, the agere contra is intended to restore and maintain the necessary balance between sensuality, affectivity and reason.“To Find God in Peace” by Laurence J. Murphy, SJ
As the relevance of the three stories is borne in on them, the exercitant may become acutely aware of attachments to his or her own riches and to the fact that indifference in regard to these does not come easily. The present note is addressed to people in this situation. To avoid misunderstanding it must be stressed that the recommended response cannot be engineered by will power, but comes about through the Spirit (and in the Spirit’s time) and from a motivation of love and trust.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Ignatius gives a positive definition, “fidelity to the law of God,” backed up by a negative definition, “not for anything would I deliberately commit mortal sin.” The first is plainly wider than the second, but the negative definition, making explicit the concrete implications of fidelity to the law of God, is a criterion enabling us to judge our real sincerity. The first mode of humility, if sincere, is not something to be disparaged, but consisting as it does in fidelity to obligations, it is not by itself an adequate attitude in which to make an election, because election is the search for the “better for me” in a situation where obligations do not apply.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
St. Ignatius is concerned here with the three degrees of the love of God, but he uses the word “love” only sparingly, and generally speaks of “humility”—the generous service of God. He feels that the essence of love does not consist of words, but of service and deeds.
It should be mentioned right in the beginning that the kinds of humility under consideration are of a positive nature. They cannot be distinguished clearly from one another. They are rather three sides of the one Christian approach to the service of God. Therefore, it is better to speak of three degrees of humility rather than three kinds or types.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
Obviously we have more than three choices about how closely we want to identify with Jesus. There is a continuum of humility. Between the minimum and the maximum are many degrees of acceptance of a life being modeled on the life of the poor Jesus. We move along the spectrum in successive stages. Every day we are presented with new opportunities to grow closer to Jesus, or to draw away from him.
Ignatius wants us to know that we have a choice. The meditation on the three kinds of humility reminds us of what the choice is. Jesus had nothing of his own. He has no words except the words that the Father gives him to speak. He does no deeds on his own. He does only what his Father would have him do. He is the one who has been “sent.” As he says to Philip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Perfect humility would have us be able to say the same things about ourselves. We would be poor as Jesus is poor. We have nothing of our own, only what God gives us. We want to speak Jesus’ words and do Jesus’ deeds. Our whole identity would be summed up in the phrase “son or daughter of God.”
Paradoxically, then, we are truly rich, rich with an identity that only God can give and no one can take from us.What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David A. Fleming, SJ
The Three Kinds of Humility exercise asks, “What are your non-negotiables?” You say your deepest desire is to choose what brings you closer to God, but what limits do you place on how that will happen? Perhaps you see yourself as a leader, giving direction and setting the pace, or perhaps you see yourself as a follower, serving humbly on a team. Maybe you need to accomplish something noteworthy. Perhaps financial security comes first. Perhaps it’s a certain style of service—a desk job, hands-on work, the life of the mind. The exercise asks you to look honestly at these deeply-held ideas of the kind of person you are and what you need to have.by Jim Manney
The essential difference between this and the first kind of humility consists not in the rejection of venial as well as mortal sin, but in the total readiness to carry out the perceived desires of God even in matters where no (objective) obligation obtains.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
In this third way of loving, we pray for the desire to experience in our life what Jesus experienced in his. We do not seek poverty, contempt, or foolishness for its own sake but to become more united with Jesus Christ, whom we love. Out of love, we desire so much to be with Christ and to live according to his values (his “standard”) that we accept whatever comes with our commitment. We become indifferent to results as the world judges them. The third kind of humility reminds us how countercultural the gospel can be. Loving in any of these ways—but especially in the third, wholeheartedly—is a gift from God.The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ
The third kind of humility is distinguished from the second by positive preference: I want and choose. Moreover, preference is not only for poverty and contempt but for being reputed worthless and a fool, rather than wise and prudent in this world. The third kind of humility is the disposition of the person for whom it is more desirable to lack, rather than to possess, riches and worldly honor; and to be accounted by the world as foolish and of little worth rather than as wise and prudent.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The Third Kind does not imply the distorted belief that the harder thing is the better thing. Nor does it glorify self-victimization which encourages one to place on oneself, through many and varied justifications, the contempt and non-acceptance of others. Ignatius’ assumption behind the Third Kind is expressed in this desire of the heart: I experience such love that I want to be with my lover in all the aspects of my experience; if he/she is poor, then I want to be poor; if he/she is insulted, then I want to be insulted! It is the language of love and it flows from the rationale of the heart.“Three Key Exercises and the Decision-Making Dynamic” by John Veltri, SJ
We make choices throughout our lives that make us confront the divisions within ourselves. Needing money for very legitimate life purposes always means that we will experience tension, for it is always possible to want more money than we actually need. Do we choose to take a vacation or to help the starving poor in Sudan? Do we choose to buy new clothes or donate to the Red Cross? Do we buy a great cappuccino or give our spare change to a homeless person? The point is that money and power always face us with conflicts. There are two extremes: the first is to avoid them altogether by taking a radical approach to humility and never enjoying money or power. The second is to ignore the conflict and simply enjoy money and power all the time, like the first type of person, the postponer. Most of us are caught in the middle—we experience the tension. But experiencing this tension, wrestling with it constantly, is attending to God’s will. The tension itself is good; it is a sign that we care about what God is calling us to do.The Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith by Tim Muldoon
We can gather from the words of St. Ignatius that the third degree is dependent on certain conditions, and therefore cannot be put into practice at all times and in all places. All of us cannot indulge in the folly of Christianity in the way that many saints of the past have done. We may not deliberately make a fool out of ourselves in the eyes of the world for the sake of Christ. No one can act in this way without being called to it. Conduct of this kind always demands the corresponding interior growth and disposition—the necessary external circumstances are not enough. Obviously, we should not look down on such extreme forms of the following of Christ as we find in the lives of certain people, for example in a Matt Talbot. But we should never forget that these things can only be done discreetly—no matter how odd they may seem.Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ
Making an election, as with discernment of spirits, is more an art than a science. It takes practice. Choosing between two or more good options is difficult. Ignatius’s rules for discernment and the methods of election can help us make decisions that lead to greater faith, hope, and love. In a culture that often runs from commitment and puts off decisions, we pray for wisdom, prudence, and courage in making choices. Although it is wise to take time to make a good decision, we should not delay decisions so much that we miss opportunities for growth. God will be with us, whatever course we take.
In the end, we make a decision in hope. If we made a good discernment and receive confirmation, then we can trust that this is the way that God asks us to use our freedom here and now. Something may happen in the future that requires us to make another discernment, but such events should not undermine our confidence in the initial discernment.
Once a choice is made, there are no guarantees that we will be successful (as the cross teaches us) or actually be able to do what we want (Ignatius was convinced that he was to spend his life in the Holy Land, but on his first try he was ordered to leave, and later, with his companions, he was not able to find safe passage there). We do our best to follow God’s lead, and then we trust that God is with us in our decision making and will lead us where we need to go, even if by a circuitous route.The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ
There are two basic exaggerations in the way with which people make their decisions. Some people put closure on the decision-making process too quickly; others keep avoiding to place closure on the decision-making. The first group is made up of “closure artists” who appear to enjoy the making of decisions. They make decisions quickly. They easily come to closure on what-should-I-do or what-needs-to-be-done questions. However, they are inordinately eager to cut off the considerations of some variables. After all, too many variables would make their decision-making more difficult and their lives too ambiguous! The second group is made up of “avoiders” who appear to avoid conscious decision-making until the circumstances force them to act. They often fear the burden of responsibility for mistakes because they do not want to face the fact that, as humans, we are never cognizant of all the variables.
People who are affected by these exaggerations need to appreciate several truths in human decision-making:
1. Our decisions always rest on partial understanding. Only God is in touch with the whole of God’s self and all the possibilities of any situation. As humans, our knowledge is never complete because we live our lives through units of time.
2. Decision-making is always limited by time and space. Mistaken decisions are inevitable. It is better to take a risk of being mistaken than it is to give up our right to decide.
3. God adapts God’s saving and redeeming work to the vagaries of human choices.
4. Not to make a decision is a decision.
5. We live our lives between two unknowns, the unknown of self and the unknown of God. Yet we are invited to make responsible choices, all the variables behind which we can never know.“Decision-Making and the Five Steps” by John Veltri, SJ
Perhaps I was reasonably balanced emotionally and I freely chose—but I just chose badly. Marrying someone for money is a bad motive for marrying. Freely accepting ordination to please a parent is a bad reason for becoming a priest. Are the Ignatian Exercises a good context to review those decisions and decide whether to withdraw the original permanent commitment? Probably not, judging from experience. Those who begin the Exercises determined to decide whether to honor a permanent commitment that they made validly but badly seem almost without exception to withdraw the commitment.
Rather when I find I have made a permanent commitment for poor motives, I would do well to proceed this way. Going against my culture (which feels terror when faced with permanent commitments), I recommit myself, hoping to grow into better motives. I show my sorrow and repentance to the Lord for having made a permanent commitment for a poor reason. I plan ways to make amends to God and to others to whom I may owe them. And then I set myself to live out my permanent commitment. Since I am aware that I have chosen on my own when I was unbalanced and prejudiced, I know that I will have to live close to God.Finding Christ in the World by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ
In connection with this definition certain points should be noted. First, there is no explicit mention of consolation. Second, the fact that the genuine First Time experience leaves no room for doubt does not mean that every experience which does not contain doubt is inspired by God; and hence the third characteristic does not rule out the need for reflection on one’s experience, or for discernment on the part of the director. Nor does the fourth characteristic imply that the experience is necessarily of the dramatic quality of the Damascus road. But if the definition is vulnerable to interpretations beyond its strict content, and if the content itself leaves unanswered questions, the definition nevertheless makes clear the essential quality of the First Time and its distinctiveness in relation to the other times: it is a situation in which the evidence consists in being shown, decisively and unambiguously, the course to follow, and the response is one of simple assent.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Most of the time we are conflicted when faced with an important choice. One alternative seems attractive, but then we have doubts about it, and another alternative seems better. Misgivings creep in, and we decide that the first choice was better after all. But we’re not sure. We are pulled back and forth.
Ignatius thought that this movement back and forth between consolation and desolation was the usual condition in the heart of a person trying to make a significant decision. When the matter is an important one, it stands to reason that the struggle in our conflicted hearts would intensify. The good spirit and the evil spirit are active, and their work shows up in the unrest deep in our hearts. This is normal. In fact, Ignatius told spiritual directors to worry only when nothing seems to be going on in the heart of someone facing an important decision.
Usually something is going on. This is where the rules for discernment come into play.What’s Your Decision? by J. Michael Sparough, SJ, Jim Manney, and Tim Hipskind, SJ
The Second Time is a process not a single event. Ultimately the decision is made on the criterion of tested consolation, but the process can be a difficult and stressful one.
Ignatius’ concern at this point is to define the Second Time rather than give advice about it. But elsewhere he has plenty to offer the director in the way of principles and practical suggestions. The Autograph Directory suggests two procedures: to note in prayer the respective attractions which arise out of consolation and desolation; and to offer alternative possible decisions, “noting in which direction God our Lord gives a greater indication of his divine will.” In the Exercises themselves the director’s primary resource is of course the Rules for Discernment, but he or she should also keep in mind Annotation 16 and the cautionary advice contained in Annotation 14.
It must be noted however that the essence of the Second Time is discernment and that discernment can never be reduced to the application of guidelines or methods. And to guide another person in a Second-Time discernment requires on the part of directors themselves a discernment grounded in experience, empathy, and wisdom.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
In the Third Time the evidence consists not in feelings, but in the stronger rational case; and the movement and enlightenment, which in the Second Time enter consciousness, are now not conscious or hardly so. The process is not totally rational in the sense that every rational person would see the case in the same way; we are still concerned with finding the best way for an individual, and there is a personal intuitive element in one’s very assessment of the more reasonable case. Nevertheless the criterion is not movement of the spirit, but reason. The Third Time establishes a basic principle: our rational faculties, converted and graced, are capable by themselves of finding God’s will, and that to do this it is not absolutely necessary to experience movements of the Spirit.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Many factors may be taken into account at this time, including the very down-to-earth ones, and an honesty in looking at all relevant considerations is crucial to the process, especially when the decisionmaking methods of the Exercises are applied to the often complicated decisions of daily life. But whatever considerations come into play, the criterion by which to assess an advantage or disadvantage is solely for the praise of God our Lord and the good of my soul.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
We pray for confirmation in order to be as sure of doing God’s will as it is given us to be; and to counter the tendency in us to opt for hasty closure.
We are not told here what confirmation might mean. It is often taken to refer to an experience of consolation, and many commentators understand confirmation in this sense. Indeed such confirmation is probably frequent, and at all events it would always seem good to ask for it. Confirming consolation is not, however, necessary for the validity of the Third Time method. If misunderstood, Ignatius’ insistence on confirmation could play into a person’s need for security, or into tendencies to lay down terms to God. We must ask for confirmation, but we must be content with the confirmation given us, and this may in the end be simply the negative confirmation that nothing comes up to call our decision into question.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
The second way in the Third Time is not a method of obtaining evidence of God’s will, but rather a way of testing the quality of a felt inclination that moves us to a particular choice. . . . [T]he method envisages a situation in which either in the course of the deliberation or as a result of it, the exercitant has moved beyond indifference and feels himself drawn to one of the alternatives of choice, but without being sure whether the motive is the love of God or a rationalization of hidden “sensuality.” The Second Way (or method), if applied with strict honesty, enables the person either to sense that the love that moves one is indeed “from above,” or sensing that it is not, to regain the objectivity necessary for a consideration of advantages and disadvantages for the service of God.Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ