St. Ignatius and His First Principle and Foundation

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the saint who has had the greatest influence on my spiritual growth – St. Ignatius of Loyola.  As I have shared before many times, doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius was one of my most life-changing experiences.

The first consideration Ignatius invites those doing the Spiritual Exercises to spent time with is titled the First Principle and Foundation.   Ignatius viewed the Principle and Foundation as the key to the spiritual life, a statement of human meaning and purpose that could be accepted by people of any faith.   I have come more and more to believe he is right.

I encourage both those who I have directed in the Exercises and anyone formed by Ignatian spirituality to go back to the Principle and Foundation from time to time.   And I would encourage you to make today’s feast of Ignatius by doing the same.

There are many translations and interpretations of the Exercises.  Let me share two here.  First, is  David Fleming’s rendition of the Principle and Foundation:

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.

Here is another, this one by Sister Marie Schwan, CSJ, who ministered for many years at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, a place I now call home.

Lord my God, when your love spilled over into creation You thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my heart, O God, always recognize, cherish, and enjoy Your goodness in all of creation.
Direct all that is me toward Your praise. Teach me reverence for every person, all things. Energize me in your service.
Lord God may nothing ever distract me from your love…neither health nor sickness, wealth nor poverty, honor nor dishonor, long life nor short life.
May I never seek nor choose to be other than You intend or wish. Amen.

As you sit with the Principle and Foundation, you might ask yourself:

What difference does it make in my day-to-day life when I remember that the goal of my life is the praise and service of God?

In what ways do I tend to control my life and treat it as my possession rather than to embrace it freely as God’s gift to me?

Who or what do I need to surrender in order to entrust my life freely and completely to God?

Happy Feast Day to all of my Jesuit friends and all of us formed by Ignatius’ vision.


How We Make Determinations About Each Other

I saw a headline yesterday that read “Republicans are Having A Meltdown Over Bradley Cooper’s Presence at the DNC.”

Cooper starred as US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in the movie American Sniper. Apparently many conservatives assumed Cooper was a Republican because the film reflects a conservative worldview.  Or so I am told; I did not see the film. (The only reason I know the little I know is that one of the students in my Heroes and Heroism seminar last year presented on Kyle.)

I have no idea whether Bradley Cooper is a Democrat or a Republican, and I don’t really care.  I don’t know if he was at the DNC because he wanted to be to be there or because he was accompanying someone else who really wanted to be there.  And that is precisely the point: I don’t know.  I don’t know Bradley Cooper.

But some no small number of people apparently thought they knew Cooper and his political leanings based on a role he played in a movie.  Think about that – they assumed they knew he shared their worldview because of a single movie role.

On its face, that sounds pretty absurd.  But don’t we do that sort of thing all the time?  We assume we know people based on the flimsiest of evidence.  We observe a single thing they say or do and form judgments about them based on it.  We claim to know exactly what someone is like because they did or did not do something we liked or didn’t like.  Or we know what their position on X must be because we saw them talking to someone else who has a position on X.

Maybe we need to develop a little more comfort staying in the “I don’t know” zone, and refrain from making judgments about each other that lack sufficient basis.  If we do, we just might be able to get to know each other a bit more.


Like a Net Thrown Into the Sea

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus gives another image of the Kingdom.  (Yesterday’s Gospel had two others.)

The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.

I spent some time praying with this parable at my retreat last summer.  Unlike some of the other parables of the kingdom, I had  a difficult time with this one for a long time. And I realized it was because I resisted the idea of anyone being thrown away from God. So I saw it in two possible ways:

First, we are the net of fish – and the bad fish represent our bad qualities or non-virtues that get tossed away or the temptations of the enemy spirit that are gone when the kingdom reigns.

Second I saw me as the fisherman and the good fish as people I can help and the bad ones as fish that need to be left to others.

I was comfortable with those as well as with the image of the net being thrown into the sea and catching fish of every kind – i.e. will reach everywhere and everything; the Kingdom of God will be omnipresent.

What I resist strongly, but what I believe is in this kingdom parable – and not in any of the earlier ones on Matthew – is a note of warning. The Kingdom of God will cover the face of the earth and if you are not part of it, you will be tossed.

I don’t see that as a judgment, but I do see it as a warning.

We Need to Take Ownership of Our Acts

One of the commonly used expressions that makes me cringe is “mistakes were made.”  The expression is commonly used as a way of acknowledging that some situation was handled badly, while avoiding any direct responsibility or admission of fault.  And the word “mistake” itself conveys a lack of intent.

There are plenty of variants of the non-apology.  What prompts me to write this morning is an item that came across my newsfeed about a model who posted a photo of a nude overweight woman in a gym on Snapchat, with the caption “If I can’t unsee this, you can’t either.”  She later posted a (non)apology video saying “that was not what I meant to do” and “that is not the type of person I am.”  (At least she didn’t use the passive voice.)  Maybe it is the case that this young woman is truly is inept at Snapchat, despite what seems to be her active social media presence.

But most often what people mean when they explain “this is not what I meant” was “I didn’t mean to get caught” or “I didn’t mean for people to be upset at me for this thing I did.”

Whatever form they take – “I didn’t mean…”, “mistakes were made”, “that’s not the kind of person I am” – these responses distance us from taking responsibility for our actions and words.  The problem is that if we don’t take ownership of what we do, how will we grow?  How will we transcend the nonloving, nongenerous, unskillful parts of ourselves?


Grateful to See You

The visiting priest at Our Lady of Lourdes made a simple suggestion at the end of his homily at Mass this morning.  He had been speaking of prayer (nor surprising given that in today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer).  He had shared that his prayer is often a prayer of gratitude: thanking God in the morning for another day of living, thanking God all day long for all of the gifts of the day.

He then suggested this: The next time someone says “How are you doing?,” instead of giving the automatic, given-without-any-thought “Fine,” or “OK,” why not say “I’m grateful.”  That just might, he suggested, prompt the other person to wonder and ask, “What are you grateful for?” What if your reply was, “Just grateful to see you” or “Grateful that you are part of my life.”

How different that would be from the meaningless, “Fine.”  Who knows what effect that might have!  Why not try it?

I Will Seek Him

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of one of the most unfairly maligned woman in history: Mary Magdalene.  For years she got a rap as a prostitute, and even today you hear some people speak of her that way despite the fact that the Vatican denounced that view in 1969.

What Mary Magdalene was, was a faithful disciple of Jesus.  She was one of the people who followed him wherever he went. One of the few who didn’t run away at the end, but who stayed at the foot the cross until he died. And she was the first person to whom Jesus appears after his resurrection.

There are two options for the first Mass reading for today, one of which is a passage from the Song of Songs which I love.

On my bed at night I sought him whom my heart loves – I sought him but I did not find him. I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek Him whom my heart loves. I sought him but I did not find him. The watchmen came upon me, as they made their rounds of the city: Have you seen him whom my heart loves? I had hardly left them when I found him whom my heart loves.

This passage is a fitting one for a celebration of Mary Magdalene, who loved and sought Jesus. The longing expressed in it presages the longing we see in St. John’s Gospel passage for today, in which we find Mary frantically searching for the body of Jesus.

And just as the passage in the Song of Songs ends with the triumphant expression of the one who finds “him whom my heart loves,” we see Mary’s joy when she realizes that the person she has taken for a gardener is the risen Jesus.

Today we celebrate a woman who Father Raymond-Leopold Bruckberger, O.P., describes as loving Christ “with all the force of her being.” May we all long for Jesus with the force with which she did.



Something Had to Give

As I alluded to in a post when I went on retreat at the end of May, I have taken a new position at the University of St. Thomas, as director of the University’s Office for Spirituality.  The Office, newly created as part of a restructuring of the Campus Ministry Office, is one of the three components of our Center for Ministry.  The Office for Spirituality is responsible for retreats and other programs of spiritual formation for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff; training and supervision of our peer ministers; our RCIA program and a few other things.

The combination of a busy time with the new job (including no small amount of time getting our new website up and operational – take a look here) and the fact that my summer schedule had been created before the new job arose (including, among other things, two directed retreats at OshKosh) and that I am teaching a new course at St. Kate’s this fall, has meant something had to give.  Hence my erratic and infrequent blogging over the summer.

I am hoping that now that a lot of the initial organizational tasks in connection with the new job are (kind of) settled, I can get back to more regular posts.  In the meantime, I am grateful for your patience.

Friends in the Twin Cities: While many of our programming is directed at specified audiences, some are free and open to the public.  You can find those on our website; our first open event is a talk on September 28 by Mark Osler on his new book, Prosecuting Jesus. (More information on that here.)

You Have Only To Carry It Out

Jesus invited his disciples to “Come away and rest awhile,” and I just spent eight days at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, part of the team directing 50 or so retreatants who accepted that invitation.

As important as “come away” is, the other significant word in Jesus’ invitation is “awhile.”  We go on retreat so that we may return to the world to help heal its wounds, to help make manifest the reign of God.

As though I needed any reminder of the wounds and needs of our world, during the time I was at the retreat house, there were several suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, at least two killings by police officers and several police officers killed, and a host of other bad tidings in our news.

How do we respond to all of this?  It can’t be with division, violence and hatred; that response only breeds more division, violence and hatred.  It must be with love.

In today’s first Mass reading, God tells his people I have told you what you need to do: love me and love each other.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say,’Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,’Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

The Gospel strikes the same chord, as Jesus teaches what we call the Great Commandment, accompanied by his parable of the Good Samaritan.

It is not complicated.  We know what we need to do.  We have only to carry it out.



Shake the Dust From Your Feet

At our Mass at the retreat house this afternoon, I offered the reflection on today’s readings.  In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples, as he sends them off to proclaim the Kingdom.

In my reflection, I spoke about two aspects of Jesus’ instruction: His telling the disciples to take nothing for the journey and his instruction that “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”  Since I’ve written here many times about the first aspect – take nothing for the journey – I thought I’d share here some thoughts on the language I just quoted.

I’ve sat with this line a couple of times, because it always strikes me as a bit harsh. It is an instruction that I think can be easy to get wrong. Clearly Jesus is not suggesting that we walk away every time we encounter someone who disagrees with our efforts to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel message is in many ways a counter-cultural one and people are not always going to “welcome” us immediately. (Jesus knew that; hence his ending the Beatitudes with “blessed are you when they insult you because of me.) So some fortitude, patience and endurance are necessary.

But I do read Jesus as saying here that sometimes we do just need to walk away. That we won’t always succeed in reaching people. I am not saying they are inherently unreachable by anyone, but they may be unreachable by me. (I am often reminded that Jesus let the rich young man walk away – he didn’t chase after him and force him to sell all he had.) Knowing when to stay in dialogue, and when to shake the dust from our feet is, I think, the challenge.

When we do walk away, we don’t do so in anger, seeking retribution, but with love. I was reminded when reading this instruction of the passage in Luke where Jesus’ disciples ask him if they should call down fire from heaven to consume a town that did not welcome them. Jesus rebuked them. And when the rich young man walked away, Jesus looked upon him with love. We ought to remember the final lines of today’s first Mass reading from Hosea, where God says he will not give vent to anger and will not destroy Ephraim. Instead, God’s heart was overwhelmed, his pity stirred.

How do we respond when we are rejected? With the same love?

Made to Give God Glory

From the time I was an undergraduate at Georgetown, I have loved the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Only in the last several years did I read any of his prose.

In 1881-82, Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, wrote some reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Last night, during the evening prayer that I led, I used as a reading an excerpt from Hopkins reflection on the opening exercise of the Spiritual Exercises – the First Principle and Foundation.

Homo creates est – Creation, the making out of nothing, bringing from nothing into being: once there was nothing, then lo, this huge world was there. How great a work of power!

The loaf is made with flour; the house with bricks; the plough, the cannon, the locomotive, the warship or iron – all of things that were before, of matter; but the world, with the flour, the grain, the wheatear, the seed, the ground, the sun, the rain; with the bricks, the clay, the earth; with the iron and the mine, the fuel and the furnace, was made from nothing. And they are made in time and with labour, the world in no time with a word. Man cannot create a single speck, God creates all that is besides himself….

Why did God create? – Not for sport, not for nothing. Every sensible man has a purpose in all he does, every workman has a use for every object he makes. Much more has God a purpose, an end, a meaning in his work. He meant the world to give him praise, reverence, and service; to give him glory. It is like a garden, a field he sows: what should it bear him? Praise, reverence and service; it should yield him glory…

The sun and the stars shining glorify God. They stand where he placed them, they move where he bid them. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” They glorify God, but they do not know it. The birds sing to him, the thunder speaks of his terror, the lion is like his strength, the sea is like his greatness, the honey like his sweetness; they are something like him, they make him known, they tell of him, they give him glory, but they do not know they do, they do not know him, they never can…

But amidst them all is man…Man was created. Like the rest then to praise, reverence, and serve God; to give him glory. He does so, even by his being, beyond all visible creatures: “What a piece of work is man!”…But man can know God, can mean to give him glory. This then was why he was made, to give God glory and to mean to give it; to praise God freely, willingly to reverence him, gladly to serve him. Man was made to give, and mean to give God glory.

I was made for this, each one of us was made for this.

For this we were made: to praise, reverence and serve God – freely, willingly and gladly.