Why are we here in this world? All people have a philosophy of life, even though most are unaware of this truth! Too many today can be compared to a chicken with his head cut off. Still others like sailors tossed in the midst of the storms at sea with no port in view. Then there are those like a dog running madly after his tail, barking frantically and never able to catch his fleeing tail!
Individuals are like the archer, bracing his arm, aiming the arrow and shooting but with no target in view. Finally, there is the driver speeding along the Freeway, moving at an accelerated pace but totally oblivious as to his destination. He has no thought as to seeking out a map, a Thomas guide or a GPS. All of these individuals, so ubiquitous in the modern scheme of things, have one thing in common—confusion as to what their philosophy of life really is.
In the United States of America today, there are many reigning false philosophies embraced by huge numbers. The “Utilitarian” who measures importance by economic productivity; following him is the “Materialist” who measures happiness by what he acquires in material gain. Closely related is the “Consumerist” who wants to buy and consume with the money he has in his pocket. This easily paves the way to the “Hedonist” whose end all in life is pleasure, the more pleasure and the more intense the pleasure the better life is. If you like, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry; live it up; it is Miller time! One life to live, let us go all out!” All too often the net result of the above philosophies terminates in atheism—God simply does not exist. He is simply a figment of one’s weak imagination.
Having portrayed the erroneous philosophies of life circulating far and wide, now it is time to present a true philosophy of life, offered by the basic catechism as well as by the Founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola.
“Man is created to know God, love, God, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” As a child, this was one of the first catechetical truths that I learned, and it has stuck with me more than fifty years. It has influenced my thought process, decision making, actions as well as habits that I have formed in my life.
The thought is the father of the deed. Actions follow a thought process and a decision. Bad actions are preceded by bad thoughts; good actions are preceded by good thoughts. Jesus says that we can know the tree by the fruits that are produced.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, who has bequeathed to the world the spiritual masterpiece of the Spiritual Exercises, starts off with a basic foundational statement, termed “Principle and Foundation”. The word “Principle” means beginning. Foundation refers to the structure on which the rest of the Exercises will be solidly constructed. In other words the totality of the Spiritual edifice must be constructed on this first short but indispensable statement.
Following is only the first sentence of Principle and Foundation that sets the tone for all that follows! “Man is created to praise God, to reverence God, to serve God, and by means of this to save his soul…” (Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius # 23). From this short statement of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Principle and Foundation, all of the rest of the Spiritual Exercises flow as from a source!
In my life these two succinct and to the point spiritual gems have motivated me in my thoughts, decisions and actions and will be a motivational force for me until my dying breath! Indeed every person who God brought into this world as an act of His generous self-giving love should have this motivational philosophy.
God has given me life. He is the author and origin of life. God has sustained my life. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” God has protected me in ever circumstance, activity movement and moment. “The Lord is my Shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” (Psalm 23).
However, God waits patiently for me to correspond to His love. How is this done? Very simply by praising Him in word and deed. As St. Augustine reminds us: Be sure that our praising the Lord with our lips will not be contradicted by the way we live!
Reverence for God. Our God is a holy God, actually a three times holy God as portrayed in the vision of the Prophet Isaiah in the temple. Moses was beckoned to take off his sandals as he stood before the burning bush because he was standing on holy ground. These are mere symbols of the three times holy God that we encounter in the Blessed Sacrament, the “Real Presence” of Jesus— Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. This becomes a reality in the sublime moment of Mass that we call the “Consecration”. Man is called to reverence God like the prophet Isaiah and like the humble Moses. However, the climax of reverence is related to Jesus really and truly present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and waiting for us to visit Him in His earthly temple, the Blessed Sacrament. O come let us reverence and adore Him— Emmanuel, God is with us in the Eucharist.
Serve. Our adoration and reverence for Jesus cannot limit itself to our contemplative life, but it must overflow to our active life. Therefore, Ignatian spirituality must move us to action; we should be “Contemplatives in action”. The Thomistic concept also applies here: “What you have contemplated in the quiet of prayer share with others. Better to shine on others, then to be simply shone upon!” One of the key Ignatian contemplations that bridges contemplation leading to action is the “Call of the King”. The grace we beg for is not to be DEAF to the call of the King. We meditate the temporal king who wants to conquer the world to himself as a springboard to contemplate the Eternal King—Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—who has a very ambitious spiritual enterprise—to conquer the whole world to Himself. In concrete, this means to conquer and save immortal souls for heaven for all eternity. The essence of true prayer is praising God, but also loving what God loves most— the salvation of immortal souls.
Salvation of Souls. The conclusion of the first part of Principle and Foundation is “Salvation of souls”. Our praise and reverence of God must bear fruit in a hunger and thirst for the salvation of immortal souls. St. Thomas Aquinas states that one immortal soul has more value than the whole created universe. St. Ignatius’ last words as he sent St. Francis Xavier off to India and eventual Japan was ignited by the fire of Principle Foundation and apostolic zeal—-“Go set all on fire!!!!” The great Saint John Bosco, who manifested his praise and reverence for God by loving and saving the youth, summarized his apostolic thrust with these few but poignant words: “Give me souls and take all the rest away.” In sum if we love God then we should love what God loves most—the salvation of the immortal souls that He created to be with Him in heaven for all eternity.
Conclusion. According to Ignatian tradition, in the cave of Manresa, St. Ignatius was granted a keen mystical experience! While absorbed in profound prayer, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and communicated to him the blueprint of the Spiritual Exercises. Therefore, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Exercises that have radically transformed thousands of lives, transforming sinners into great saints, is permeated with the presence of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church and our Mother in the order of grace. She who is the “full of grace”, the model of contemplation translated into action, the model of a soul absorbed in adoration and reverence for God, can definitely lead us to deep sanctity in this life to the contemplation of the beatific vision of God for all eternity. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”