We are Not Alone

We are Not Alone

I went to Mass today, Wednesday before Psalm Sunday, 2019 and experienced what I believe to be a consolation without prior cause.  As a little background, I pray with the daily readings each morning (See: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041019.cfm) and condense what I think is most important to me for this day into a short phrase to remember throughout the day and try to live out in daily life.  My condensations for the last three days are:

I am not alone!

Again, I AM, is in ME, I am not alone.

I am not alone in fiery trials!

            These phrases stem from parts of the readings from April 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2019,

“And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid,
because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.” [1]

“”When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,”[2]

“”Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”
“Assuredly, O king,” they answered.
“But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt,
walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.””[3]

 

We often feel alone, even in our own families which may be experiencing times of alienation and stress.  We often feel alone in our national identities when rampant unchristian injustices like racism, nationalism, prejudice against immigrants and asylum seekers and peoples of other faiths, such as the Muslims, which desolations rear their ugly heads against our deep desires for peace and harmony and our deepest desire for God.  We can feel all alone in our own church groups, even with hundreds of people surrounding us, some of whom we know by name but with whom we may have only a superficial spiritual relationship.  We can feel alone when vices of financial or health difficulties tighten around us.

I wanted to tell someone at church today about this matter, to go out to eat with someone and to just talk about spiritual matters, but the occasion did not arise so I thought I would come in and tell you, the reader, about this matter:

We are NOT all alone!

We may be facing religious Pharisees, who want to judge and condemn us, but God is with us, and in us. Even if we face our death, our little daily dying’s, or walk in fiery trials, we are not alone!  To begin with, God is in everything, we can find Him in all things, so we are never far from God in whom we live and breathe and have our being.[4]  If we are Roman Catholic we may believe God is in the Eucharist in a special way, so God is with us and is in us in that way also, as well as in all in the congregation and in the Communion of Saints with whom we are also joined in a special and mysterious way. We are NOT alone!

I am a Spiritual Director in the Jesuit tradition and it is my job to help others connect directly to the Creator, who will work directly with the Creature, you, that is.  A big part of being a Spiritual Director is to listen, not just to the directee, but to listen to God too.  Let us listen for God in each other, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds, in animals, in children, in those we have been told are our enemies, in those of other Faiths, and in refugees and asylum seekers, in the poor, and in those of other races besides our own.  There are plenty of places NOT to be alone if one can listen like this.  Listen and silence are spelled with the same letters.  Maybe a little silent reflection on the daily readings will help us to listen to God speaking to us, to hear His voice, His call and His cry from the Cross where even the human side of Jesus thought he was all alone and forsaken, but it turned out He was not all alone, at least not for long.  No man is an island.  No man is all alone.

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040819.cfm

[2] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040919.cfm

[3] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041019.cfm

[4] 1 Cor 8:6; Acts 17: 28-30

Continuing Confirmation

 

Continuing Confirmation

            I was once a little Catholic boy who had been baptized in Paris, Illinois St. Mary’s Church and confirmed at St. Mary’s Church in Marshall, Illinois where my family attended.  As I look back on this second year class of spiritual direction from September, 2018 to May, 2019, the first thing that I distinctly recall may have been from the first class meeting.  I recall being annointed by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan with Holy Oil, anointing my forehead in the shape of a cross.  I view this as my second confirmation in the Catholic tradition.  I highly value and respect this gesture of faith as I value my first confirmation.

            In the past year I am aware of the continuing need for discernment regarding my call to be a spiritual director.  I shared some of my original  ideasexcitedly about what I thought I was going to “do” about my desire to act as a spiritual director with Bob Fitzgerald, my supervisor, quite a while back. What I shared was my own thinking and reasoning after my first consolation without cause to use to use the rest of my life to dedicate myself promoting Ignatian Spirituality. As a consolation that came after the first one without cause, I now know these ideas need to be subjected to discernment. Bob patiently listened to my ideas and did not say much, but merely pointed me to Tielhard de Chardin’s prayer, Patient Trust.  I must use only one quote in this reflection. I offer this poem from Tielhard de Chardin:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.[1]

            In view of the preceding prayer/poem, let me continue to speak from my heart about my continual calling to become a spiritual director.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

            This patient trusting and finding God’s desires for me and where my own deepest desires meet in my inner man is different from the ways in which I have previously operated.  In the past I have been very quick to decide and take action, without taking appropriate time concerning business decisions, thinking that the opportunity might not be there if I did not act in time.  I have found that with God’s work there is always time to act, time to decide, and if a less than better decision is reached, there is time to slowly discern another path.  Discernment is not so much about making decisions as it is reaching interior freedom to be or become who God wants us to be and in any case to do the most loving thing in any situation in which we find ourselves.

            For instance, I wrote a book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, before I began my Spring Hill College studies, as a response to a call to promote Ignatian Spirituality while taking the 19th Annotation.[2] I thought I would publish it right away, but it did not work out that way.  It is now in the process of being published and the past class year has helped me as the book has slowly been edited and I have used some of what I am learning to refine this work.  I have discerned that some of my original ideas about how to promote Ignatian Spirituality are not the right things to do at this time.  I have discovered the interior freedom to let go of these ideas.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

            These classes are an intermediate stage of my calling to be a spiritual director, or my calling to use this training in another method, if not spiritual direction, to bring greater glory to God.  For instance, if my book takes off and I am invited to promote the book and Ignatian Spirituality in other ways, I have the interior freedom to perhaps not do as much spiritual direction as originally planned.  Taking too many commitments might result in overload and being ineffective.

            I am pleased that two directee’s came to me and that one is female, the other male, that one is more of a “conservative” Catholic, and the other more a “progressive” Catholic, one is younger, the other is older.  One has already asked me to continue the spiritual direction relationship after the six month SHC class period is over.  The differences in personality types has been very helpful.  It has been very fulfilling to be a spiritual director to each of these individuals.  One lives in an assisted living facility and it is possible that giving the 19th Annotation in a group setting there may eventually be appropriate.  I pray for proper discernment.  I am also pleased that although not many know about my being a spiritual director, others have sought advice from me about spiritual matters.  I will wait until these classes are over to take on any more directee’s.

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

            I feel the slow and patient work of Bob Fitzgerald and Sr. Susan and Sr. Barbara have been very helpful regarding the progress I am making in formation.  These classes have provided needed time for reflection, careful consideration, and thoughtfulness.  I have had time to read additional books, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy, and Ignatian Journey, by Kevin O’Brien, S.J.  I particularly advise Ignatian Journey and suggest it for future classes as one of the final readings because it gives a helpful synopsis of the Spiritual Exercises and one can use it as groundwork for giving the 19th Annotation.

            Ignatian discernment is primarily choosing between two or more good things.  If it happens, as in St. Ignatius’ case, that one of the good things proves not to be exactly what God has in mind for, one can always look back and choose another good thing because of the interior freedom we have to be unattached to any one thing.  This is how I view my calling regarding a choice of giving spiritual direction one to one, giving it in a group setting, or giving less of directee based spiritual direction and promoting my book more, or a combination of all the above.  Whatever brings greater glory to God is always the best choice. Whatever is the most loving thing to do is always the best choice.  I must be careful not to run too fast, but, on the other hand, “Here I am, Lord. Choose me.”

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.

I withdraw judgement on exactly what is supposed to happen, or what is happening, or what will happen to me, or to you, whomever is reading this reflection.  God is not finished with us yet.  I think back again to when I was a little Catholic boy, baptized, and later confirmed…

Confirmation


I left the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age for matters of conscience, becoming a conscientious objector to war, and joined an historic peace church.  This was before the new Catechism.  I did not know of Vatican II allowances for my beliefs.  In the process of returning to my Catholic roots I have been baptized again, ordained a deacon, commissioned a pastor, and ordained an elder, but God is not finished with me yet. My anointing, by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan is another highlight of my life and the continual and gradual formation of whom God wants me to become.  Every class session has been a new and deeper confirmation as I recognized the Holy Spirit at work in the world and in my life.

              I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at Confirmation.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at other junctures in our lives, ordination, marriage, commissioning, etc.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at baptism, even if baptized as an infant, as I was, or baptized again in my second conversion experience, or coming again when I experienced the 19th Annotation in a third conversion experience. I think the Holy Spirit is always coming to us, always confirming us when we discern and choose wisely.  Eternity is left for us and has always existed for God who is always purifying something or someone, always making new or renewing His plans for us to bless us and not curse us.  It is not so much about making immediate choices but about experiencing inner freedom to act according to the most loving option in every situation God brings to us.   Only God knows His plans.  Only God knows our future and the hope He has for us.  Until then, let us patiently trust.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

[1] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin

[2] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/24517/what-is-19th-annotation-what-can-you-expect

Grace and the Middle Voice of Spirituality

Grace and the Middle Voice of Spirituality

 

As a little cradle Catholic boy, I think the first prayer I learned was “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy guests, which we are about to receive, Amen.”  I thought I used to hear that around our farmhouse table.  I always wondered, for a long time, “When are the guests coming?”  We did not have any guests yet, but we were about to receive them.  They never seemed to come.  We called this saying Grace.  Those who know me know that I am very hard of hearing.  I began to wear hearing aids in my early 40’s.  I don’t think God disparaged my prayer of blessing the way I understood such a “simple” prayer.  Actually, the words are “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, Amen.”  Either way, the prayers we do, whether “simple” “verbal” payers in the Mass or at your worship service, or even deep contemplative prayer, should never be disparaged.  God receives us where we are, and loves us as sinners as he gazes upon us as a mother gazes upon her nursing child at her breast, or as an eagle takes its babies under its wings.

Whether we are “saying” grace before we eat or are receiving the “gift” of the Eucharist, we are all in God’s grip of grace.  Grace has a lot to do with Spirituality of any type, whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.  Even Atheists have to face Grace, although they may deny it or call their spirituality “mindfulness.”  Still, grace is involved.  My intention for linking the two, grace and the middle voice of spirituality, comes from my studies of Ignatian Spirituality during the Fall Semester of 2018 as I study for a certificate in Spiritual Direction via Spring Hill College.  One of the statements that got my juices flowing is from the book, Candlelight, by Susan K. Phillips.[1] Dr. Phillips states:

Linguistically, we have lost the middle voice that lies between the active and passive voices.  In using the active voice, one speaks of initiating an action.  In the passive, one receives the action that another initiates.  … In the middle voice, the person actively participates in the results of an action that another initiates.[2]

 

In Spirituality in the terms of the English language, one thinks of contemplation as “active” contemplation where we mentally think thoughts about God, Scripture, etc. actively in our minds.  We think this contemplation can slip into what is called “passive” contemplation whereby we are supernaturally given thoughts to think by God, or perhaps given no thoughts at all and slip off into a thoughtless state of unknowing, or a state of union with the Divine Presence.  What if we thought of spirituality and contemplation in terms of the middle voice, which we do not possess in the English language?  This spirituality would be a participation in a gift that God has already given to us, a gift of Grace.  Referring to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address at the looming of the Civil War where Lincoln urged Americans to heed the “better angels of our nature,” Phillips states:

 

It is, rather, siding with the “better angels” of a person’s nature, his or her middle-voice willingness to participate in God’s grace.[3]

 

I think back to the creation story, where God made mankind in His image and likeness, placing in mankind a Divine essence, a spirit in man that was the action of God, that gave mankind a receptor, a sixth sense, or a taste for God.  This image came from God and is set to autopilot back to God upon our death.  It is in fact, eternity set in our being.  It is an act of God’s grace with which we should long to participate, in a middle-voice way, the action that another, God in us, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, initiated.

Another book we have read in our studies, Moving in the Spirit, by Richard J. Houser, S.J.,[4] refers to this grace and essence of God within us from an Eastern point of view:

The Western or Pelagian model is clearly at odds with Scripture, misunderstanding the origin of our inner desires and movements toward good.  In this model all inner experiences moving toward the desire to love and serve God and others are seen to flow from ourselves apart from the grace of God within us.[5]

 

Below is a wonderful illustration that pictures what Hauser is speaking of:

 

Scriptural Model: Self in God:

Houser Divine Union cropped[6]

God initiates: Self Responds

Grace and the middle voice of our participation in the gift of the Spirit that God has initiated are absolutely critical to beginning to understand Ignatian Spirituality.  Let us keep the illustration above in mind as we proceed.

Hauser states:

Those of us living with this Western understanding of the self and God will never appreciate the all-pervasiveness of the presence of grace in our life. … they do not acknowledge that the initiative toward the good comes from the presence of grace.[7]

 

Ignatius was a product of the period in which he lived.  The Western Church as a whole may have understood grace in a proper manner but errored in some parts of the Church concerning Pelagianism.[8]  An attempt, at the Council of Trent, in the general period of Ignatius’ lifetime, tried to solve the problem of Pelagianism, or semi-Pelagianism.[9]  Ignatius himself speaks of the grace that is crucial in Ignatian Spirituality:

 

When one is in desolation, … He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it.  For though God has taken form him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation.[10]

 

Even from the very start of Ignatius’ Exercises, it is very clear that the crucial understanding is that it is God who first calls us and it is God’s grace that first initiates the acts of God in us, in which we participate.  The human Spiritual Director is to keep his or her “teaching” short and allow God’s grace to work directly with the directee.

The one who explains to another the method and order of meditating or contemplating should narrate accurately the facts of contemplation or meditation.  Let him adhere to the points, and add only a short or summary explanation.  The reason for this is that when one in meditating takes the solid foundation of facts, and goes over it and reflects on it for himself, he may find something that makes them a little clearer or better understood.  This may arise either from his own reasoning, or from the grace of God enlightening his mind.[11]

This may remind us of one of God’s first intentions for mankind, spoken of us in the Garden of Eden, that we are to be dressers and keepers of the earth, which by extension would include each other.  We are like a tree, planted in the garden, planted by the water.

 

7“But I will bless those

who put their trust in me.

8 They are like trees growing near a stream

and sending out roots to the water.

They are not afraid when hot weather comes,

because their leaves stay green;

they have no worries when there is no rain;

they keep on bearing fruit.[12]

 

We are to bear the fruit first nourished by the water of God’s image and Spirit, given us by God, not of our own doing, it is by grace.  We are created by God’s grace, we are sustained by His grace, and we are renewed by His grace, bear fruit by His grace, and are saved by His grace for good works.  We take of God’s grace, of his sustenance, and give back the fruits of His grace.

 

In the season of fruition, there may be the experience of enhanced night vision.  Suffering may render the world dark, and certain forms of suffering include losing the sense of God’s presence.  …  We are to bear fruit by loving our neighbor, setting the captive free, giving food to the hungry, sheltering the homeless, loosing bonds of injustice, clothing the naked.  By doing so, we will be light in the darkness, well-watered gardens, and pilgrims guided by the Lord.[13]

 

As we consider our years, what we have done, and what we have failed to do, we think back to the Sabbath, also initiated by God in the Garden, when God rested.  Are we not called to rest with God too, to rest our egos as he works by grace in us?

 

28 “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”[14]

 

Are we not called to give up our ego, to reject the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be a tree of life, to bear fruit for our fellow humans, for God, and all the angels and saints?  We are pilgrims on this earth.  We are just passing through. We are aliens to earthly kingdoms and citizens of a Kingdom to come.  This Kingdom lives in us, a Kingdom for and in which we participate by bearing fruit, by grace, the middle voice of spirituality.

So… Why should we be concerned about this matter?  See:

 

3I thank my God for you every time I think of you; 4and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy 5because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. 6And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.[15]

 

Try doing a computer search of an online Bible, using the words, “Christ in you,” and you will soon find that any spirituality we may claim to possess was because God began the work in which we participate.  In other words, I may serve my friend, or I may have been served by my friend, but I also take service in a middle-voice way as I share actively in the service that another, God, first initiated.  He placed His Image in us, and continues to sustain this image.

Even a little Catholic boy or girl can receive and participate in this grace.

 

John Cooper

[1] Candlelight: illuminating spiritual direction, by Susan Phillips, Morehouse Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8I92-2297-8 (pbk.)

[2] Ibid, p. 168

[3] Ibid, p. 169

[4] Moving in the Spirit, Becoming Contemplative in Action, by Richard J. Hauser, S.J., Paulist Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8091-2790-3 (pbk.)

[5] Ibid, p. 26

[6] Ibid, p. 27

[7] Ibid, pp. 26,27

[8] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pelagianism

[9] http://pauliscatholic.com/2009/07/canons-of-the-council-of-trent/

[10] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a New Translation Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph, Ludovico Puhl, S.J., Loyola Press, 1951, ISBN 978-0-8294-0065-6. P. 143, – 320. 7. (emphasis mine)

[11] Ibid, p. 1, 1. 2. (emphasis mine)

[12] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/JER.17.GNBDK

[13] Candlelight, p. 172

[14] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/MAT.11.GNBDK

[15] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/PHP.1.GNBDK

Moods

Moods

            A few years ago one of my nieces lost her little boy, Cole, to brain cancer.  It was a terrible time for all seeing little Cole suffer.  He was only 5 or 6 years old but he put up his bravest fight, and the best attitude he could, only to lose in the end as we all will one day.  At his funeral his mother, right before they closed his little casket, somewhat impulsively rescued one of Cole’s little teddy bears from the little casket to save in for her memory.  I can’t imagine the desolations and moods she was feeling.

In our lives we all live with streams of consolations and desolations like the birth of one’s child or the death of a loved one.  We also die our own little bitty deaths each day, offset by good moods and attitudes.  I transferred my business to someone else about a year and a half ago and this person has decided to move out of a smaller building my office has been in for over 40 years.  I am still a consultant, but my office will now be in another building. I am feeling a bit driven.  I quote Margaret Silf, “Did we say yes because we felt we really, deep down, wanted to do it, or did we go along with it to please someone else or to avoid conflict, but against our deeper inclinations?” … “If we are feeling driven, then the prompting that gives rise to it is not from God, but from the force fields of our own (or other people’s) kingdoms.” [1]

It is human that we face challenges and turmoil.  “We all know that we are subject to moods.”[2]  There are “good” moods and “bad” moods, “consolations” and “desolations.” It is likely that feelings of turmoil are “not of God but has to do with our own kingdoms.”[3]  Chapter 7, Tracking our Moods, of Inner Compass speaks to evaluating our moods in Examen prayer.  Desolations and Consolations, Examen Prayer and discernment in relationship to The Spiritual Exercises have been the focus of our classwork.  I will speak primarily to this chapter, yet keeping in mind some of Silf’s foundational thoughts in other chapters of Inner Compass.

How can we know which are consolations and which are desolations?  Silf recommends centering ourselves in stillness, (p. 79) reviewing our moods in prayer.  Turmoil, fear, and apprehension are indicators of desolations that draw us away from God.  Periods of peace, insight, and stillness of heart are indicators of consolations.  We Examen our moods daily, making a “review of consciousness” (p. 81) our prayer priority.  Silf lists indicators of consolation and desolation (pp. 84-85).  Moods that are inward driven, or downward driven, or selfish, are likely to be desolations and lead us away from God.  Visions and moods for greater good, uplifting and joyful thoughts, are likely indicators our moods are motivated in consolation to draw us closer to God.

However, we might just be tired and need a good night’s sleep.  We can’t be happy all the time.  “Consolation is not the same as happiness.”[4]  I spoke with a woman today whose mother had 7 children and a Doctorate degree, teaching at Loyola University.  She was also a Spiritual Director.  She discovered she had cancer and joyfully faced her death.  In her latter stages, when she would wake up, she would smile and be happy until she discovered she was still alive.  She was looking forward to death, but this is an exception…  Or is it?

We can choose how we react to pain (p. 89).  We can focus outward and Godward.  “When this begins to happen, we may experience a real breakthrough, leading to the discovery that God is actually drawing us closer to him through the very event that appears (at the Where level of ourselves) to be so destructive.”[5]  It is possible to joyfully face death, to have our bags packed and believe all is well, but it is not guaranteed that this is what is going to happen.  An indicator that we might die well may be how we die daily.  “Every day of our lives will bring its own share of little dyings, and in the sense we are called to rebirth every time we react by turning toward God instead of in upon ourselves.  To be born again is truly a continuous process.”[6]  Maybe we should consider how we face our daily dying, how we address all the little losses, how we age and if our moods are turning inward upon ourselves.  Even in daily death we can garner up a smile, opening our arms to the God of our consolations.  Maybe memories of all our past consolations and good moods where we felt we were in the arms of the God of unconditional love are stored up for the times of desolations.

If I were a mother or father who had lost a little boy to cancer, If I had clinged to his little teddy bear pulled from the casket, maybe I would know more about these things.  If I were God, and lost even one of my beloved children to eternal death, maybe I would know His moods and feelings.  If I were my little bitty great-niece looking down from heaven, maybe I could be glad and rejoice in the trials I have had, even death.  Maybe Cole, my great-nephew, could tell me more about facing death each day, which I need to know, and how it is to live in heaven.  An inner compass points us in the stillness of our hearts, centered in and pointed in prayer, to God who loves us to and awaits us. The compass is the Spirit in us, (p. 102) who knows how to connect us and lead us to the Divine Mystery, three-in-one.

John Cooper

[1] Inner Compass, by Margaret Silf, Loyola Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8294-1366-9, p. 86.

[2] Ibid. p. 79

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 86.

[5] Ibid. p. 89.

[6] Ibid.

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

 

 

 

 

Fork-in-the-Road

Fork-in-the Road

Ignatius’ spiritual growth relates in some ways to my own conversion experiences.  Let us reflect upon the book cover of A Pilgrim’s Journey – The Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola, by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J., Ignatius Press. 2001, ISBN: 978-0-89870-810-3…

Pilgrim's Journey

The cover shows Ignatius before a choice in his life as he rode his mule to Montserrat.  He faces a fork in the road and must make a decision.  The Autobiography tells of his argument with a Moor (Muslim) about Our Lady’s (Mother Mary’s) virginity.  The Moor realized Ignatius was getting upset and sped off ahead of Ignatius.  Ignatius knew where the Moor said he was going and he wanted to kill the Moor with his dagger in order to restore the Mother Mary’s honor.  Ignatius could not decide to do this “noble” thing or not and at the fork in the road let go of the reigns on the mule letting the mule decide. (Autobiography, pp. 56-58).

We all face choices in our lives which can radically alter the future.  I faced a decision in my life in about 1970 in the process of my first conversion experience.  God was working in my inner being to lead me to a non-violent lifestyle.  This was during the Vietnam War.  I chose to become a conscientious objector to war and was faced with a decision – jail, serving as an unarmed medic, or alternative service.  I ended up doing alternative service beginning at Spain Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham, AL. That decision has radically affected my life in many ways.  The difference it made to my future was something for which I am thankful.

We can be thankful for Ignatius’ choice to not run a dagger through the Moor (Muslim) -or maybe the Moor would have run a dagger through Ignatius and killed Ignatius.  Just think as we reflect upon the book cover and the story of Ignatius and the Moor how the future would have been radically altered if Ignatius had killed the Moor or the Moor had killed Ignatius.  Would there be a Society of Jesus? Would there be any Spiritual Exercises which have changed the lives of many for the better?  Would there be Jesuit colleges, etc.?  We can be thankful for the choice made on Ignatius’ journey even if his method of making choices was not the best at this point of his life.

John Cooper

 

I Can’t Breathe!

I Can’t Breathe!

            I can only imagine how a drowning person may feel.  My Uncle, Bill McCulley, taught me to swim on his farm in Illinois, in a pond on the Wilt Place.  He was a Navy veteran, and an excellent swimmer, and I trusted him to save me if anything happened to me.  The fish and snakes brushing up against my legs did not seem to matter.  One of Bill’s attributes, besides being very strong, was his ability to go under water, without breathing, of course, for a long, long time.  I know he loved me enough to save me if I went under water.  Jesus died because he could not breathe under water.  I can only imagine the suffering he felt.  I know Jesus loves me, and will save me, just like my Uncle, Bill would have.  We will get back to Jesus, and breathing under water later.

I am writing this reflection about Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr, a well know Franciscan teacher and priest.  We are discussing addiction and will also draw upon Addiction and Grace, by Dr. Gerald May as appropriate.  I am specifically selecting one concept, extant in both books, concerning our addiction to war.  Refusal to submit to Satan’s political ploy, to fall down and worship Satan, cost Jesus His life, as we will see as we go along.  Because of our addictions to “oil, war, and empire; the church’s addiction to its own absolute exceptionalism;” (Breathing Underwater, p. xxii), among other addictions, Jesus had to die.  Because He died trying to breathe under water, Jesus is able to save us from our own addictions, all of them.

When we cannot breathe, and are under water for a long time, we must eventually surrender, or give up our life.  As Ignatian students we are aware we should give up everything to live only in God’s love and grace. Step three of the twelve steps in Breathing Underwater is about our decision to give up to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand God (p.17).  We have not been taught this surrender by our nationalistic political systems, nor have our institutional religious systems as a whole taught us this surrender, but Jesus teaches us (Matt. 5: 39) (p. 19).  Bye, bye ego.  Addiction to the ego and to power must go (p. 21).  The devil wants to make us a great “deal”.  The art of Satan’s deal is to give us instantly the power without pain and without self-surrender (p. 21).  This was Satan’s third temptation which most institutional religions have accepted even to this day.  It is a myth, a myth of redemptive violence that we can personally save ourselves by violent means.  For thousands of years this myth has never worked.  Rohr calls it the “myth of heroic sacrifice” (p. 21).  It is the American “way”, and the way of most every nation.  We have learned well and are addicted to this myth of self and violence and our society, our nation, (p. 22) and in too many ways our churches are co-dependents to help us believe in this myth and be self-glorified as martyrs of the church (p.23).  True believers, we are giving up our body to supposed chastity, poverty, and obedience to look good, to fool many people, and to puff up the self (p.24).

To give up this puffed up, narcissistic self, as individuals, politicians, nations, and institutions including business and religious institutions is to realize we are sinners, yet loved sinners surrendered to the lover (God the Higher Power) who loves us (p. 24, 27).  As the Holy Spirit helps us, we are infected by the Spirit of Jesus (p.25).  Rohr says the Holy Spirit “sneaks in through the ducts and the air vents (p. 25).  In some ways we would rather just have someone tell us what to do, to manage our sins for us in the confessional booth or church sermons than surrender our will and accept God’s radical grace freely.  This grace is given to us by a higher power we understand to be God, as much as we understand Him, who loves us without expecting to be paid back.  He loves us because He is love (p. 27).  Only grace given in love can cure addictions.

Both Rohr and May speak of nonviolence and trust in a higher power for our salvation.  Jesus spoke Truth to Power when He refused Satan’s third temptation to fall down and worship Satan and did not accept the “deal” to be given earthly kingdoms before it was time.  As a result, Jesus had to suffer and die to save us, who are addicted, and complicit with this warmongering society.

Referencing May’s book, Dr. May echoes rule 98 of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises when he states “detachment does just the opposite.  It seems liberation of desire, an enhancement of passion, the freedom to love with all one’s being, and the willingness to bear the pain such love can bring.” (Addiction and Grace, p.15).  This can be freedom from political slavery too, and freedom to love even our enemy, one of Jesus’ primary commandments (Matt. 5: 43, 44).  The Spiritual Exercises, rule 98, promotes the willingness to bear all wrongs.  It is this suffering love that brings detachment and personal freedom as it is greased by the wheels of grace.

See:

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life (http://spex.ignatianspirituality.com/SpiritualExercises/Puhl#marker-p101)

True freedom is the freedom to love one another, including our enemy.  If we maintain our addictions to war and killing this is what May describes as a security addiction (p.31).  May states, “we can and should trust in God for our ultimate security” and he speaks of relaxing our grip about lessor sources of security.

It is Jesus, who is our ultimate source of security.  Rohr states “only people who have suffered in some way can save another” (p. 123).  Jesus died and suffered on the Cross.  He did not die of blood loss.  In excruciating pain, His feet nailed to the cross, and His hands too, Jesus couldn’t breathe unless He pushed up on His pierced feet, and said, “I thirst.”  He was given the fourth cup via the hyssop branch which should have been given at the Passover meal, and He surrendered just for you, and just for me, to save us from our addictions to sin.  His lungs had filed up with water and blood.  He could not breathe.  He had to die; He could not breathe, but now He saves us, we who think we can breathe, but are underwater with all our addictions.

John Cooper