The Ignatian Year III: Being Contemplatives in Action

Ignatian spirituality is an apostolic one, that is, a spirituality that in Brian McDermott’s words “gives pride of place to the experience of being sent forth by God to act and, at times, to suffer on behalf of the neighbor in witness to the Gospel and in imitation of the pattern of Jesus’ ministerial life.” In contrast to more monastic or contemplative spiritualties, an apostolic spirituality puts primacy on growing in intimacy with God in order to empower a dynamic service of God out in the world.

Ignatian spirituality, thus, not a “just me and God” enterprise. Those formed by Ignatian spirituality are thus often described with the phrase “contemplatives in action.”  Ignatius and his Exercises aim at an engagement with the world that is simultaneously active and contemplative.

Contemplatives in action unite themselves with God by joining God’s active labor to save and heal the world.  So time in retreat is important and it is important to spend time – lots of time – in prayerful reflection with God, but we do that so that we may be deeply involved with God’s work in the world.

This is important because this sense of an active Christianity means that Ignatian spirituality is suitable for people of any lifestyle.  Igntian Spirituality is about being “men and women for others,” a phrase used to denote a deep commitment to social justice and a radical giving of oneself to others.  Pedro Arrupe, S.J., once described this as being “men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce.”

The heart of this self-giving is the radical generosity expressed in this prayer of generosity that is often attributed to St. Ignatius:

Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are designed precisely to help individuals discern how they are being individually invited to labor with Christ for the building of the Kingdom.  We need to know that each of us is called to play a part.  So, God doesn’t sit back and leave us to do all of the heavy lifting.  But neither is Christianity a passive faith where we sit back and wait for God to put all things right.  We are participants, co-laborers with Christ for the building of God’s Kingdom.

Note that this is a the third in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20.