St. Ignatius: Administrator/Mystic – Part Two


What does it mean for us to be mystics, or at least contemplatives, as we engage in administrative responsibilities – some of us episodically and others on a full-time basis? The Spirit leads each of us in a unique way, and He is our ultimate guide in this. But I will offer a few comments, which I believe are grounded in and pertinent to Ignatius’ experience.

Jerome Nadal was Ignatius’ right hand man for the promulgation of the Constitutions, and he struggled to bring certain provinces on board with Ignatius’ approach to prayer.

In the course of this task he described Ignatius as a contemplative in action, not just bringing the fruits of his contemplation into subsequent action like a Dominican, but using the ministerial action itself, the graces which accompanied it, and the world situation which shaped it, as a spring-board for his contemplation.  Anything could set him off into deep mystical prayer.

One of the principles Nadal expressed, in response to those Jesuits who felt called to hours and hours of contemplative prayer each day, and resisted the moderation of Ignatius’ rule, is that mysticism and action feed off each other: mystical prayer drives us more intensely to loving action in whatever ministry to which we are missioned, and this ministry leads us into deeper contemplative union with God.

Far from detracting from one another, mission and ministry enhance each other.

Indeed because Ignatius as administrator had such a rich experience of how God is at work in other human beings, a privileged vantage point on the Church at a time of reformation and counter-reformation, with its blunders and its blessings, he had even more occasion to be drawn into contemplation of God, whose great love and compassion were abundantly evident in these events.

While he spent long hours working through difficult decisions relating to the Society, he could at any moment find God in deep contemplative prayer, and often such prayer was part of his discernment process, as when composing difficult parts of the Constitutions.

We have not received the extraordinary graces of Ignatius, but God’s purpose is to lead us to contemplation which builds on action, action which builds on contemplation.

A springboard for the contemplative prayer pattern of Ignatius is the Contemplation for Obtaining Love, which closes the Exercises and opens up our time beyond the Exercises.

For Franz Jalics, our prayer beyond the exercises is to be contemplative and open to mystical graces ( ).

When, satisfied with his love and his grace, we ask the Lord to take our memory, our understanding, our will, this means that we seek a prayer which is passive, in which we foster the silence of our memory, intellect, and will, a prayer in which God can move our hearts as He intends.

But – Jalics does not develop this point – beyond our prayer this passive stance extends to our action:  we allow God to act in us and through us, lending our own memory, understanding, and will to his purposes in the world. We may be active, full of effort in our ministry, but at the very core of our action God is at work and we are passive.

This basic passivity leads to prayer which is more contemplative, and to action which is more effective, because of the grace of God which we invite into them. Both our prayer and our action are unencumbered by our own plans, our own desires.

For each one of us the unfolding pattern is not ours but God’s and we happily enter into it. Ignatius both prayed and acted in close consonance with the Spirit. This was the secret of his fruitful career as an administrator and leader.

This is true of many other mystics who had fruitful ministerial careers: two outstanding examples from Canada are Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation and Blessed Catherine de Saint Augustin, pioneers respectively in education and hospital care in the founding decades of New France.

The twelfth century spiritual author Richard of St. Victor, novice director and prior of his monastery in Paris, offers a perspective on contemplation and action which enhances the one we develop here.

In a highly original work, The Four Degrees of Passionate Love, he leads us through the purgative and illuminative stages to the highest realms of contemplation in the unitive stage, but he then invites us to go beyond that.

In the contemplation characteristic of the third degree of love, we are athirst for God, but this contemplation is succeeded by the fourth degree, which is that of compassion: our thirsting for God leads us to thirst as God thirsts, as Christ thirsts on the cross, for the salvation of each human being and the healing of our broken world.

We leave our mystical experience, roll up our sleeves, and re-enter the messy world. Contemplation urges us into ministry.

One century later Aquinas agrees with this perspective. For him the highest degree of love is to turn away from the delights of contemplation to engage in the work of saving fellow human beings. (De Caritate 11 ad 6)

This is the perfection meant by St. Paul in Phil 1:23-24: “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ…but to remain in the flesh in more necessary for you.”(You will find a fuller development of this theme in my article: in the spiritual journey.pdf, especially in section 2 which deals with Richard of St. Victor.)

In Ignatius contemplation and action, mysticism and administration, shared the same roots. May those roots continue to bring us new life today.

Jean-Marc Laporte, SJ lives in Montreal where he is the socius to the novice director for the Canadian Jesuits.

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