Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
The sixteenth century was remarkable for its colorful parade of extraordinary personalities; personalities that were destined to influence, for good or evil, all succeeding generations. In that long, brilliant line of statesmen, scholars, reformers and revolutionaries, almost hidden from view, limped a short, bald-headed Spaniard. He had a small book tucked under his arm, and a spirituality buried deep in his heart. The man was Ignatius Loyola, the book was the Spiritual Exercises, and the spirituality was to be “contemplative in action” by “finding God in all things.”
The first twenty-five years of Ignatius’ life was given over entirely to the vanities of the world. He tells us that he took great delight in the use of military weapons, and had an almost insatiable craving for the praise and the glory of the world. The turning point of his life came at the age of thirty when he was wounded during a battle against the French. His right leg had been badly shattered and vanity forced him to undergo several very painful operations. Despite the cruel twisting and tugging of the doctors, his right leg remained shorter than his left to the end of his life.
During his long weeks of convalescence, Ignatius asked for some romantic novels to read. Instead he was given two other books that he had little taste for: the Life of Christ, and The Lives of the Saints. For the want of something else to do, he began to read these books. Gradually, he began to see the world in its true perspective. Realizing that he had found the pearl of great price he was willing to sell all to buy it. He resolved to do two things when he got up from his sick bed: he would do penance for his sins and transfer his allegiance from the King of Spain to the King of Kings.
He went to the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat, made a general confession and spent the night in vigil before the shrine of our Lady of Montserrat. Laying down his sword and putting on the garb of a pilgrim, he journeyed to the town of Manresa. Daily he retired to a cave along the Cardoner River, where he began to make notes of his spiritual experiences. These notes were to become the Spiritual Exercises which were destined to become the source and the dynamic of the Society of Jesus, and produce such saints as Francis Xavier, Peter Canisius, Robert Bellarmine, Peter Claver, John Francis Regis, Edmund Campion, Isaac Jogues, Aloysius Gonzaga, and John Berchmans. It has been said that only the New Testament and Thomas Kempis’ Imitation of Christ has had more influence in Western Christianity than the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
Ignatius Loyola has been dead for more than four hundred and fifty years but he lives on today in the lives of millions of priests, religious and laity who, formed by the same Spiritual Exercises are “contemplatives in action” who are “finding God in all things.” Ignatius is telling us that we don’t have to flee to the desert or to a monastery cell to be contemplative. To be contemplative in action is not a contradiction. It is a paradox. Our faith teaches us that God is TRANSCENDENT, God is IMMANENT and God is TRANSPARENT in His creation.
Ignatius is telling us that reality is more romantic and more mysterious than fiction. We live in a wonderful grace-filled world where everyone we meet and everything we see is a visible sign of invisible reality, the footprints of God, a sign of the love of God for us. “Every bush is burning.” “The hills are mute but how they speak of God. There are tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stone, and God in everything.” “I see his blood upon the rose and in the stars the glory of his eyes.” “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” “In Him we live and move and have our being.” “Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.”
God does not work in a vacuum. God works in the real world. God deals with us as human beings. God sanctifies us through our daily actions, our fears, failures and yes even our sins. He is the potter we are the clay. It is a false dichotomy to divide reality into the sacred and the secular; to departmentalize our lives so that we are Christians for a few hours a week and then live as pagans for the rest of the time.
is easily discernible. How? By joy; joy is the most infallible sign of
Ignatian spirituality. Why? Because joy is the most infallible sign of
the AWARENESS of the presence of God. What a tragedy to go through life
and never experience this joy!
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