Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ignatian Paradigm: Happy Feast


At Home in Two Worlds (The spirituality of being a contemplative in action) 
The Society of Jesus is an apostolic religious body. There is nothing new about it. We take it for granted. But it was not so for Saint Ignatius when he founded the Company of Jesus. An apostolic religious body then was an innovation, a breakthrough, nay, a revolution in the Church. From the time of the Fathers of the Church until well into the Middle Ages, the basic concept of spirituality was one that rejected the world and tried to discover the divine in the solitude of the desert. In the Western Church, from the time of Augustine until the renaissance, the external monastic structures controlled also the direction of the non-monastic Christian spirituality. In fact, the Christian life was divided into the contemplative and the active. The contemplatives were those who lived within the monastic structures. All other Christians were labeled as active. 
Historical Insights When we delve into the history of the Church what strikes us most is the fact that the ideal of Christian perfection does not change but the form or the manner in which Christians endeavour to put this ideal into practice varies considerably. Accordingly, the disposition to offer one’s life for the faith was considered the highest expression of Christian perfection during the apostolic age and the great persecutions. The martyrs, following the footsteps of Jesus, shed their blood thus giving a special immediacy and visibility to Christian life. Christianity, then, was identified with catacomb religion. But once the persecutions stopped, the Christians came above ground. With the edict of Constantine, Christianity became a state religion. Eventually Christianity became domesticated and settled. It was so settled that people began to embrace Christianity for pecuniary benefits and with political motivations. In protest against Constantine’s domesticated Christianity and against ‘the world in the Church’ some people voluntarily embraced lives of celibacy accompanied by excessive self-inflicted punishments, and others went into the desert to live the heroic life of a hermit. This ascetical ideal was accepted by many of the second century as a substitute for martyrdom and as the highest expression of the love of God. The flight into the desert represented a protest as well as an affirmation – “a protest against a decadent and overly institutionalized ecclesiastical body and a restatement of the Gospel teaching to fit the changed conditions of the times.”There is always the need for protest, renunciation and solitude not only in those who live the religious consecration as a way of life but in all serious disciples of Christ. The emergence of Mendicant Orders and the theory of Saint Tomas Aquinas on mixed life (a blend of the contemplative and the active) witnessed an earnest attempt at discovering the values of contemplation and action. Though the Mendicant Orders tried to break out of the monastic mould, they faced the crucial problem of showing how man’s supernatural union with God was to be effected outside the cloister by means of one’s apostolic engagement with the world. Saint Tomas Aquinas’ evaluation of the active apostolic life from its contemplative dimension did not sufficiently bring out the intrinsic worth of the apostolic work itself. His notions of action and contemplation remained indefinite and did not succeed in offering a meaningful synthesis of contemplation and action.
The Innovation 
The Ignatian vision of an active apostolic spirituality is a complementary synthesis of the age-old thesis of prayer and the antithesis of action. There will always be the temptation to resolve the dilemma by suppressing one of the poles of the tension. What we need to discover today is a meaningful axis of integration. It is in the area of integration that Ignatian spirituality makes an original and insightful contribution. Christian spirituality prior to Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw some opposition between contemplative life and active life. “In the traditional evaluation of contemplation and action… Christian perfection essentially consisted in contemplation. Accordingly, every action was more or less sharply evaluated as an approximation to or defection from this enterprise.” The innovation accomplished by Ignatius showed that what appeared to be an obstacle could become a means. He was sharp enough to discern the unhealthy separation of perfection of pure interiority of the spirit from the exteriority of action. He considered exterior activity as action produced by the total human person and not as self-estrangement. S, much activity could express the fullness of life which placed at God’s disposal its entire works for the integral well-being and growth of human persons. The fulfillment of the new commandment of love, according to Ignatius, consisted in the unity of the interior and the exterior (intention and activity). The sanctification of one’s own self, for him, consisted in this fulfillment and not in an isolated love of God alone. 
Contemplation in Action 
Jesuit apostolic spirituality can be summed up in one phrase: ‘Contemplation in action’. However, we do not come across this phrase in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus of the Society of Jesus written by Ignatius. Instead we find the word oración. For Ignatius, oración can be (a) formal prayer, (b) prayerful activity, i.e. saying yes to God who reveals Himself in and through the daily life-events, and (c) a mystical special sense of God which is a pure gift. But all these aspects of prayer (oración) are intimately connected. It is Jerome Nadal who coined the phrase ‘contemplation in action’. We can consider Nadal’s phrase as a faithful interpretation of Ignatius’ own phrase ‘finding God in all things’. In Ignatian spirituality the word ‘contemplation’ is not used in the sense of purely intellectual contemplation. Nor is this term equivalent to religious contemplation or formal interior prayer. In part IX of the Constitutions, Ignatius gives us a clear statement on the union and familiarity with God which must be present in action as well as in prayer. Regarding the qualities of the Superior General Ignatius writes that “he should be closely united with God our Lord and intimate with Him in prayer and all his actions.” ‘Contemplation’ in the Jesuit sense is the response and gift of this union. While this contemplation is surely actuated and realized in formal prayer, it is not restricted to it. ‘Contemplation’, then, is a sensitivity which enables a person to meet God present and active in the world, in history, and in the activities of men and women. It is this ongoing receptivity to God’s activity here and now that Nadal refers to as contemplation in the midst of action. Here, the word ‘contemplation’ refers to union and familiarity with God, and ‘in action’ refers to the active experience of being united with God’s will of love. 
Salient Features of Contemplation in ActionIn the dynamic movement of finding God in all things there is the spectrum of religious experiences. At one end of the spectrum is the experience of the basic union of one’s will with God’s will of love through prayer and self control accompanied by the strengthening conviction that one is doing what God wants through discernment and right intention. At the other end is the great mystical experience of the constantly felt awareness of the presence of God which is an infused gift, a perfection of the virtue of faith. The different levels at which this awareness can be found are as various as the degree of one’s union and familiarity with God. Union with God in Action: The Ignatian insight operates on the principle that to find God’s will is to be united with God even in total activity. And this union with God in action is prayer (oración). Accordingly, it is sufficient to seek to discover God’s will and carry it our faithfully with full attention on the work to be done. A Trinitarian Vision: Ignatius’ concept of God is profoundly Christian and therefore, Trinitarian. In fact there is only One Source Mystery: the Trinity. Fr Arrupe succinctly puts the Trinitarian inspiration of Ignatian spirituality thus: “Ignatian spirituality is a complex of motive forces that lead simultaneously to God and to men. It is participation in the mission of the One sent by the Father, in the Spirit, in an ever greater service, in love with al the variants of the cross, in an imitation and following of that Jesus who wants to lead all men and all of creation back to the glory of the Father.” It is this basic Trinitarian vision which prompted the Ignatian mysticism of joy in the world (K. Rahner), or the mysticism of service (De Guibert), or the mysticism of action (William Johnston).
Interior Law of Charity: ‘Finding God in all things’ means to follow what Ignatius calls, in the Constitutions, the interior law of charity and love which the Holy Spirit is accustomed to write and engrave upon hearts. The process of spiritual liberation in the Spiritual Exercises, too, is a process of freeing oneself from whatever is not ‘pure love, and freeing oneself for that ‘pure love’. In this operation there is active receptivity and personal involvement. A genuine search for the guidance of the Spirit and a readiness to discern what is going on within and without form the basis of the mysticism of finding God in all things and all things in Him.
A Spirituality of the Cross
The experience of contemplation in action (or to find God in all things) is based on the existential structure of the Cross. Thus is revealed its essential relationship with the universal stream of Christian holiness. Every Jesuit has to approach the world from God. Not the other way about. He is called to commit himself in the lowliness of his own self devoid of all devastating attachments to the God beyond the whole world. It is not easy. He has to be a courageous person since his daring flight into God takes him back to the world, which he has to, in a real sense, abandon in the foolishness of the Cross. In order to find God in all things one must train himself in the art of cultivating the right motivation (purity of intention). The discernment of spirits and the daily examen of consciousness help one discover the will of God and clarify one’s motivation. “The examen gives our daily contemplative experience of God a real bite into all our daily living: it is an important means of finding God in everything.” The ‘faith sensitivity’ acquired through the daily examen enables one to pass from an active life in which the individual is the centre to an active life in which Christ is the centre. This sets in the process of self-emptying, a real grace which comes from God and which conforms one to the interior law of charity and love.
Conclusion Saint Ignatius, in founding the Society of Jesus along with his companions, created history and in so doing he had to swim against the currents of spirituality which tended to give pride of place to prayer and overlook the significance and redemptive meaning of action. Ignatius insisted that we could find God outside of formal prayer, and in driving home this point he cast a new role of prayer, which bridged the gap between God, the human person and the world. The Ignatian vision of finding God in all things has paved the way for an active apostolic spirituality which transcends the boundaries of the Society of Jesus. It opens the way to an experience of feeling at home in two worlds: the world of contemplation and the world of action, the desert and the city. It appeals to any human person who yearns to find God in the very concreteness of daily life and action. Varghese Malpan, S.J. 
 This article was published in Ignis (1994), pp.66-71.
The foot notes of the original article have been deleted in this post.