Grace and Spiritual Exercises

Grace and the Exercises

I know a man in his 90’s who has lived a good life.  He fought in WWII on the Beach of Normandy.  He told me bodies of his fellow soldiers were falling all around him but he was not killed.  Wow! I said, you must have a purpose in your life!  He told me if he does he doesn’t know what it is…  Ignatius tells us we all have a purpose in the Spiritual Exercises Note 23 called The First Principle and Foundation. (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, by Louis J. Puhl, S.J., Loyola Press).  Ignatius states: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul” (SpEx, p. 12).

I began the 19th Annotation of the Exercises about five years ago under the direction of Sr. Madeleine Gregg, fcJ.  When I read the First Principle and Foundation, I looked at it thinking that this would be a work of our own doing to save our own souls by doing these things by our own works of praising, reverencing, and serving our Lord.  However, Sr. Madeleine’s instructions that we are all loved sinners satisfied me.

Considering the significance of the Principle and Foundation to Ignatian spiritual seekers today, I believe it is absolutely critical to properly understand the importance of Grace to the Spiritual Exercises and specifically to the First Principle and Foundation.  I intend to offer a modified grace based suggestion for reading the First Principle and Foundation more conducive to the both/and nature of Ignatian Spirituality and the unitive type of spirituality that calls us to Divine union with the One Mysterious God.  Grace and works will be discussed as a solution to the dilemma posit by the Principle and Foundation and St. Ignatius’ own words about grace will mollify the idea of saving souls by our own works.

Firstly, let us consider Ephesians 2: 8-10:

8.) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God – 9.) not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10.) For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible, Catholic Edition, NRSV, Harper Catholic Bibles, p. 1082).

We clearly see that the Apostle Paul tells us we are saved by Grace through Faith, not works and even the Faith is not of our own doing, but a gift of God’s grace.  In the same passage we are saved and created for good works which would include praising, reverencing, and serving God, our Lord, as Ignatius mentions.

We see St. Ignatius growing in grace and knowledge throughout the Spiritual Exercises.  Grace or a form of grace is mentioned about 40 times in the Exercises. Ignatius’ Rules for Thinking with the Church, his rule 366, 14 states:

Granted that it be very true that no one can be saved without being predestined and without having faith and grace, still we must be cautious about the way in which we speak of all these things and discuss them with others (SpEx p. 160).

The caution Ignatius urges is in view of Martin Luther’s reformation and the beliefs concerning predestination in his age, but Ignatius admits to the impossibility of salvation without grace but asked those in his care to be careful in discussing the matter.  He speaks of grace in rule 369, 17, arguing for free will, not predestination:

Likewise we ought not to speak of grace at such length and with such emphasis that the poison of doing away with liberty in engendered (SpEx p. 161).

            Throughout the Exercises the concept of God’s grace is promoted.  What could Ignatius do but admit to the primacy of Grace and Faith for one’s salvation even if he asks it be kept quiet so he can be obedient to the Church?  Some in high positions might have disagreed with St. Ignatius.  After all, Ignatius had faced the Inquisition several times and had spent time in jail for his radicality.  Perhaps this is why the First Principle and Foundation reads as it does.  One just cannot save himself.  Therefore, Ignatius gradually weaves in the doctrine of grace throughout the Exercises, here a little, and there a little.

For instance, let us look at Rules for the Discernment of Spirits 320, 7:

He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it. For though God has taken from him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation (SpEx p. 143).

Grace is foundational in St. Ignatius’ eyes for salvation. Ignatius and the Jesuits were instrumental in the Catholic Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent.  Perhaps Ignatius’ obedience to the Church caused him to carefully insert his beliefs about grace later in the Exercises and not in the Principle and Foundation.  Because God first calls us, and allows us to freely choose our response to His initial Grace, I believe the first Principle and Foundation could be rephrased in view of God’s grace to read:

[By Grace] Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, [by grace,] and by this means [,grace] to save his soul [,by grace, through faith, the work of God.]

Our response to God’s saving work in us and our thankfulness for God’s first calling us is a desire to do more for God, thus works are respones to grace in every case.  It is crucial for those who give the Spiritual Exercises to others to understand the grace filled meaning of the First Principle and Foundation right from the start and let everybody know right from the beginning that we are all loved sinners saved by God’s grace to do good works.  Grace works!

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

 

 

 

About jcooperforpeace
Peacemaker in Fellowship Engaged in Ignatian Spirituality, Active Nonviolence and Social Justice

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