Category Archives: Ignatian Spirituality

“But what can I do?” : Subversive Tactics for a Committed Christian

“But what can I do? I’m just one insignificant person.” When stacked up against “everybody does it,” “they can’t all be wrong,” “majority rules,” “you have to go along with the crowd,” “you can’t fight city hall,” “Corporations are people too!”, “this is an international problem,” etc., etc., etc., this flimsy excuse may seem to be a logical conclusion, a rational course of action. “It just makes common sense.”

Or does it? Just because bad guys carry guns and we can all carry guns, we should do so? Jesus said: Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.[1] [Mt 26:52] Just because abortion is possible, the Supreme Court of our land has declared it legal, and many, if not most women, line up behind the battle cry: “Freedom of Choice,” should I suck it up and follow them. What about the “Freedom of Choice” of the unborn child? He/she did not have any say in being conceived. Shouldn’t she/he have a say in whether to live or die? And where is God in this picture? Isn’t He the one who breathed life into the child? Don’t I think that He has a major stake in whether His daughter or son lives or dies?

But I digress. The point is that I have a judgment to make whether the crowd around me is right or wrong, whether I choose to adhere by the moral or immoral way.

But even if I condemn the evil in the world, I still am faced with the same question: “What can I do?” Little, insignificant, ineffectual me? These are monoliths against which I am pitted. This isn’t just David and Goliath, this is Frodo alone against Sauron, the Necromancer, the Dark Lord, the avatar of Evil, plus all his minions. The Enemy indeed controls all this power and…glory; for it has been handed over to…[him], and…[he] may give it to whomever he wishes. [Lk 4:6]

But if we all cop out, if we all buckle to peer pressure, we are doomed not only to hell in eternity, but to hell on earth.

I may not be able to do much. But God needs the little I can do. God needs my hands, my heart, my feet to carry Him to those places where people have shut Him out. I am a Trojan Horse carrying the salvation of the world inside me, the world which laughs, ridicules and derides even the belief in God. I am Frodo already in Mordor, pretending to be an Orc, carrying the ring to destroy it in the Mountain of Doom.

Jesus is poised, ready to make Himself known through me. In the most unlikely spots. At the most unlikely times. In the most unlikely company. That’s where He needs to be. That’s where He is needed most. That’s where He cannot come unless invited. And He definitely wasn’t invited…but I was. He slips in under their radar in me.

Be a double agent for God. He guarantees the Father will be with you every step of the way; I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. [Jn 17:15] Instead of a license to kill, I have a license to preach Life everlasting. Instead of a Walther PPK, I carry a much more effective weapon, one that ultimately brought down empires and conquers even death, the cross.

Subversive tactics. You bet: Instead of hating the enemy, I bewilder them, confuse them, frustrate them by loving them. This is totally unexpected. Guns blazing, that they can handle. Scorn and defiance, that they are use to. Anger and violence, no problem. But love, that doesn’t fit, that’s not fair, that isn’t in The Art of War, that throws them for a loop and stokes their ire. But, instead of revenge, I offer forgiveness. That’s really non-violent. That’s the ultimate peaceful protest.

The nice thing about these weapons of mass salvation is that they cannot be stopped. I can be stopped. My body can be killed, but that just makes God more effective. My witness, my martyrdom will sow the seeds of saints.

Another tactic in our Spiritual Manual is Pebble Pushing. Huge avalanches can be started by as little as a single dislodged pebble striking a couple of others on its way down the hill. Pretty soon the whole side of the mountain comes cascading down, huge boulders crashing into one another and carrying everything in their path with them.

I don’t have to do a lot. I don’t have to be Hercules fighting Alkyoneus and the Giants. I can start with one thought, one word, one smile, send one random act of kindness cascading down the hill of life. You never know what might become of that one gesture, who might be its recipient…the next Mother Teresa, the next Gandhi, the next Desmond Tutu. Or better, it might have been a lost soul who suddenly found hope, saw goodness, felt love. It may have started someone on the way back from alcoholism, addiction, despair. It may have challenged a tepid Christian to look at himself and wonder why he couldn’t be like you, like Jesus. These are the pebbles at the top of our mountain.   Push a pebble today. Start an avalanche for God.

So Ite, Missa est. Go, our Offering has been accepted, our Thanksgiving had been made, we have eaten Jesus and drunk His Blood, our strength has been restored to full power. Jesus marches forth in me, hidden, ready, always ready to spring forth and catch the other unawares. Have I practiced my Spiritual Tai-Chi today?

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. [1] [1Thes 5:16-18]: A Summary of Ignatian Spirituality

I have this as my mantra at the bottom of all the emails I send. This statement summarizes Ignatian Spirituality. The Principle and Foundation, indeed the whole Spiritual Exercises, could be considered a meditation on and elaboration of this verse.

Rejoice always.

“All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.[2]” Neither Paul nor Ignatius limit their exuberance but include everything, not only includes “things” but “life” itself. “Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one,…everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.”[3] Because these are given by God, they are designed by God to help me, are from the loving hand of God. For both Paul and Ignatius, everything, every happening, every moment, good or ill, everything is a cause for rejoicing.

Pray without ceasing.

This admonition of Paul finds its expression in the Exercises in multiple modes:

First, the conclusion of the Principle and Foundation is that that my only desire and choice should be that “I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening His life in me.” [4] Choosing, for Ignatius, involves discernment, “the interpretation of what St. Ignatius Loyola called the ‘motions of the soul.’ These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us.”[5] Constant monitoring of these movements requires my being in constant contact, aka prayer, with God and particularly the Holy Spirit. This ever present desire, a constant discernment, an ongoing choice, can only occur in a continual dialogue with God, aka prayer.

Second, the Ignatian Examen of Consciousness opens up our hearts and minds to God’s active presence in our world, to see messy details of our world transformed by the grandeur of God’s vision for creation in our lives. The triple Examen, a reminder in the morning and an Examen at noon and at night, is one of the first exercises that Ignatius recommends. This is not a complete Examination of Conscience but rather reviews our strengthening exercises done under the watchful eye of our Trainer, God, replacing a good habit for a bad one, how many repetitions we have made during the day, how many times we sloughed off and went back to our bad form. It ends with a renewed commitment to practice, practice, practice until, with God’s help, we get this right. It’s not so much a rag of ourselves as conditioning, as an update by our Trainer to keep ourselves in fit. As Paul says, Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. [1Cor 9:25] The Examen, therefore, is but one part of a whole fitness program monitored by a constant dialogue, aka “prayer”, with our Trainer, God.

Third, “Finding God in all things is at the core of Ignatian Spirituality and is rooted in our ever growing awareness that God can found in every person, in every place, in everything. When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent, and through this we become more devoted to God, more deeply in love with our Creator.[6]” Bringing to consciousness our awareness of God in all that we think, say and do, all that we encounter of people, places, things, events is praying always.

Fourth, “To live Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is a way of being that permeates every thought, every deed, every action and inaction—all is contemplated and weighed, all for the greater glory of God. To live Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam is to lay claim to…a completely integrated other-ness that seeks to make all things whole, that approaches the liminal without hesitation, finds God in all things, finds the Good in all things, and seeks to proclaim His glory in all that we do…To seek Him and to find Him in all things, people, circumstances, and places, Unafraid to speak Truth to injustice To embrace the contradiction of Love Clothed in the power of the One who died naked and penniless. To be…called together at one table, unity in diversity, One family, working together to realize heaven on earth. Answering the call to serve and to glorify, in all ways, The Love that always finds a way.[7]So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. [1Cor 10:31] Such constant dialogue with God as to which option is for His greater glory is nothing other than constant prayer.

Finally, The Suscipe is a culmination of the last Exercise, the “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love”, a total giving of God everything that one has, turning our will and our life over to Him: “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. I surrender it all to you to be disposed of wholly according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace. With these I will be rich enough and desire nothing more.”[8] By giving all I am to God, holding nothing back, and asking only for His Love and His Grace, which are sharings of Him Himself, we are asking to be continually united to Him in mind, body and soul, the ultimate everlasting prayer.

In all circumstances give thanks

This is the attitude accompanying active indifference, the posture Ignatius formulates in the Principle and Foundation from the beginning:

The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[9]

Having based this premise on the fact that man was created for a higher purpose: “to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul,”[10] Ignatius then classifies everything else as a given by God to man as means to that end. Everything, good or ill, is a gift for which we are to be thankful. And our thankfulness is not based on the categories of the world, i.e. good or “bad,” nice or not nice, windfall or disaster. Regardless of whether we have health or sickness, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short life, each of these can be “conducive to the end for which we are created.”

When we have a choice between one or other of these alternatives, we may strongly prefer one or the other. Ignatius urges us “to rid…[ourselves] of the attachment,…in such a way that [we]… seek only to will and not will as God our Lord inspires them, and as seems better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.”[11]

But whether we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition or not, Paul urges us in all circumstances give thanks. “In a society which is focused on the next goal, the next success, the next whatever, gratitude is countercultural. In truth, gratitude is the first step on the pathway to true freedom in God.” [12] Such an attitude is actually a help and support to the freedom from the tyranny of selfishness, of the need to control, of things, of the world’s definition of good and bad, success and failure. It is the mantra of active indifference. It enables us to see that God has control of our lives and, in His providence, is providing us with that which is best for me. Thus, if God gives me health or sickness, riches or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short life, it is time to rejoice, for it is precisely what I need to attain my greatest happiness. The Venerable John Henry Newman summarized this in a meditation:

God has created all things for Good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good….God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually, He calls me by my name, He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it me.

God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.

Let us put ourselves into His hands, and not be startled though He leads us by a strange way; a mirabilis via, as the Church speaks. Let us be sure He will lead us right; that He will bring us to that which is, not indeed what we may think best, not what is best for another, but what is best for us.[13]

Thomas Merton, in his prayer of unknowing, voices similar trust in Divine presence and providence: “…you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”[14]

Thus, as St. Paul writes elsewhere, my life is a continual hymn, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. [Eph 5:20]

for this is the will of God for you

As stated above, viewing the world with the eyes of one who resides in the Eternal Now, I can continually rejoice and thank God for what surprises, gifts, tokens of His unconditional Love, which He is unveiling before, above, and around me at this moving moment of my life. “The person who knows that there is far more to the spiritual journey than she currently experiences but is content to let God lead the way…she may experience the desire for more, but… focuses on what she has.”[15] The past is done and the future is not yet. God is the God of Now, of Love, and He reveals Himself in His providence and love to me in His ever changing display of my presentness.

While providence is history from God’s point of view, whether I (a) recognize, (b) acknowledge, (c) embrace, and (d) react with joy and thanksgiving are my perspectives. To be able to discern providence in the ongoing turmoil of my life, the ever evolving agony of the world in birth requires the gift of faith. Whether I acknowledge God as the creative genius, the loving Father, the sacrificing Son, the inspiring Spirit, behind providence or view in horror as incomprehensible karma or fate the chaos of life and death’s drama is my call. Whether I embrace that providential chaos as Christ did on the Cross and with Him redeem it and remold it into the Kingdom by taking up my Cross daily and following Him is my choice. Here I remember the Psalmist’s words: It was good for me to be afflicted, in order to learn your will. [Ps 199:71] And finally, whether I have the hope and trust in God’s abiding love to know that what is happening is for the greatest happiness of me and every other person, because what is the best for me is the best for all around me, as the 12 Step program says,…all this is an embrace of God’s love, is a gift of God’s vision, God’s eyes, of Jesus viewing the world through me. I am called to continual willing acceptance, to repeat and live the refrain: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. [Mt 6:10] God’s will is that His Eternal Now continually elicit my Everlasting Yes. 

in Christ Jesus

I am in Christ and Jesus is in me. I cannot rejoice, pray always, give thanks in all circumstances alone. I will be faced with trials, with sorrows, with crosses too great for me to even pretend to rejoice or give thanks in their midst. My only prayer will be for deliverance, for rescue. Humanly, I will be blind to the deep undying, unconditional love that surrounds me, that envelopes this tragedy, this meltdown, this death, without the abiding and sustaining presence and support of Jesus within, around, under and over me. Only by working through the denial, the anger, the frustration, the silence of God with Jesus at my side, joining my cry: My God, My God, why have You forsaken me, [Ps 22:1; Mt 27:46] only as He picks me up and carries me over the sand until I am ready to walk beside Him again,[16] will I leave my depression behind. Only with Jesus’ personal help will I again be able again to enter into God’s temple singing praise and thanksgiving with the joyful crowd. [see Ps 42:4]

But, in such times, I do not sit Shiva alone. Jesus arrives in the persons of family, friends, relatives neighbors, priests, pastors, children and adults. Sometimes sitting in silence with me is all I need or want, just being there is a comfort. I am not alone as I walk through my dark valleys, You are there in others. Your crook to bring me back when I stray to deep depression, Your staff wards off the evil that wishes to crowd in and take me even then.

Thus, it is in Jesus, through Jesus, with Jesus that I can fulfill the will of the Father whether in the sunshine of happiness or in the midst of misery, rejoicing that He is with me, praying for His will to be done, giving thanks that he “has vouchsafed me knowledge of his works; deep thanks that he has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to–a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”[17]

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. As I said, the whole statement exudes Ignatian spirituality. God, grant that I may live it out to the fullest, discerning You in all things, following You into the More, choosing the Way of Your greater glory, offering all that I am and have to You, knowing that You will care for me in all circumstances. And whatever I do, in word or in deed, may I do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Col 3:17] Amen. Alleluia!!!


[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] David Fleming, SJ, A Contemporary Reading – St. Ignatius Loyola – First Principle and Foundation, Spiritual Exercises [23], http://www.xavierhs.org/s/717/ images/editor_documents/petrielloj/fp_f_3ver_.pdf

[3] Fleming, Contemporary, Ibid.

[4] Fleming, Contemporary, Ibid.

[5] Discernment of Spirits, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com /making-good-decisions/discernment-of-spirits#sthash.CGi90JEL.dpuf

[6] Finding God in All Things, Our Catholic Faith, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.loyolapress.com/ignatian-spirituality-finding-god-in-all-things.htm

[7] Rebecca Ruiz, Living “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” July 22, 2015, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/22204/living-ad-majorem-dei-gloriam#sthash.jbIJIP8v.dpuf

[8] Amy Welborn. Suscipe, the Radical Prayer, adapted from The Words We Pray, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/prayers-by-st-ignatius-and-others/suscipe-the-radical-prayer

[9] Ignatius of Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Kindle Locations 179-183). Kindle Edition. Para. 23.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. Para 155.

[12] Mags Blackie, The Centrality of Gratitude, Ignatian Spirituality, Loyola Press, Nov. 20, 2014. http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/20010/the-centrality-of-gratitude#sthash.2fHO4qbM.dpuf Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian Spirituality

[13] Venerable John Henry Newman, Meditations on Christian Doctrine, I. Hope in God—Creator March 6,1848, http://www.newmanreader.org/works/meditations/meditations9.html

[14] The Merton Prayer, Reflections, Yale University, Spring, 2012, http://reflections.yale.edu/ article/seize-day-vocation-calling-work/merton-prayer#sthash.Oh2wm0Je.dpuf

[15] Blackie, Gratitude, Ibid.

[16] See Mary Stevenson’s “Footprints in the Sand,” http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

[17] Helen Keller, Quotable Quote, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3268-for-three-things-i-thank-god-every-day-of-my