Ignatius Day – Five Images for Discerned Living
This coming Tuesday is Ignatius Day, the anniversary of the death of Saint Ignatius of Loyola on July 31, 1556. Jesuits around the world celebrate Ignatius on this day. Here in Canada, this Ignatius Day will mark the creation of a new Jesuit Province. The Province of Canada will replace the separate French and English Canadian Provinces.
In honour of St. Ignatius, I thought I’d offer a few of my favourite images from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, all of which help us to be more discerning in daily life.
1: A balance at equilibrium: this image comes from Annotation 15 of the introductory observations of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius is offering advice on the relationship between the spiritual director and the person going through the Exercises. He says, “the director of the Exercises, as a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to one side or the other, should permit the Creator to deal directly with the creature, and the creature directly with the Creator and Lord.”
What he means is that the director should not sway the person praying with the Exercises. I should not interfere with their prayerful relationship with God. I can build it up by affirming what I am hearing, but I should not get in the way. That’s not a bad image to relate to other dimensions of life. It’s helpful to ask when our words or actions can interfere with the path that a person is on.
2: Presupposition of good intentions: immediately before Ignatius starts the actual Exercises, he offers an important presupposition to allow better cooperation between the spiritual director and the retreatant. “It is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement, than to condemn it as false.”
Can you imagine how much smoother ecumenical and inter religious dialogue would be if we came to the table with this spirit of trustful listening? Obviously Ignatius doesn’t imply that the parties wholeheartedly accept the others’ views, but he envisions a dialogue that leads to deeper understanding and it is marked by kindness.
3: The offering of dishes to a prince, and other ways of guided imagery: Ignatius is astute about the different ways we make decisions. Some decisions are no-brainers, and we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what we have to do. Others are gradually made because we discern different spiritual movements and come to a more certain sense of what we have to do.
There’s another situation, where the person really is stuck and just can’t decide. Ignatius offers several methods for loosening a person’s imagination: What advice would I offer to someone in my situation? Imagining myself on my deathbed, what choice would I have liked to make? Likewise, he suggests that I picture myself at the judgment day?
My favourite isn’t in the Exercises. It comes from a later document by Ignatius. He suggests that I imagine myself offering two dishes to a prince. The prince can’t take both. He has to choose. Which one is it? That’s a good image, because discernment is often about choosing between two or more good things. I can’t choose all of them. Which is the greater good?
4: The office of consoler: those who regularly read my posts know that I often return to this image. Ignatius includes it in the prayer on the Resurrected Lord. “Consider the office of consoler that Christ our Lord exercises, and compare it with the way in which friends are wont to console each other.” I think that this sums up in a few words our basic ministry to one another. The office of consoler is exercised through attentive listening, wise counsel, words of encouragement, and so on.
5: Love ought to manifest itself in deeds: A beautiful exercise closes the Spiritual Exercises. The Contemplation to Attain the Love of God often helps a person to review all that has been experienced in the Exercises. Ignatius prefaces it with two notes about love.
The first reminds us that, “love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than words.” We know that with absolute clarity. A friend can use all kinds of words to describe her care for me, but her actions will speak more powerfully.
His second note is a good image of how family, friendship or Christian community should work: “Love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, or something of that which he has or is able to give; and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover.”
Happy Feast of Saint Ignatius! Happy discerning!