Yes, that’s right, it must be a cold day in you-know-where; Brother Dan is going to cite St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises on his blog! In all seriousness, while I like to tease the Jesuits I know and the legion of Jesuit High School and College alumni that can’t think about a retreat or spiritual direction without mentioning the Exercises as if it was a comma, there is indeed much in this famous text of the Jesuit founder and it is worth some reflection. Among several of the themes that can be found in the Exercises one that appeals to me as most striking comes from the Second Week and is primarily focused on vocation.
Vocation in this sense has little to do with religious vocation as such and is much broader in its meaning. Ignatius seems clear in his description of how one is to choose a way of living-in-the-world that God has created each of us in a unique and personal way. Although all creatures are ultimately called to give praise to God, how one does that might vary from person to person.
In this respect Ignatius reflects the deeply Franciscan conviction that all of creation is contingent and that human dignity rests in the unrepeatability and individuation of each person as loved into existence by God. This is perhaps best articulated by the medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher Bl. John Duns Scotus and his notion of haecceitas, something that might have influenced Ignatius, but something that definitely influenced Thomas Merton’s development of the so-called True Self.
Here is the text from the Exercises. May those discerning God’s invitation to live more fully who it is he or she was created to be benefit from this reflection. What should guide our discernment in life — job, marriage, etc. — shouldn’t be money or worldly things as much as that which will best allow us to be who we truly are, which ultimately means rendering praise back to God.
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Introduction to Making a Choice of a Way of Life
In every good choice, as far as depends on us, out intention must be simple. I must consider only the end for which I am created, that is, for the praise of God our Lord and for the salvation of my soul. Hence, whatever I choose must help me to this end for which I am created.
I must not subject and fit the end to the means, but the means to the end. Many first choose marriage, which is a means, and secondarily the service of God our Lord in marriage, though the service of God is the send. So also other first choose to have benefices, and afterwards to serve God in them. Such persons do not go directly to God, but want God to conform wholly to their inordinate attachments. Consequently, they make of the end a means, and of the means an end. As a result, what they ought to seek first, they seek last.
Therefore, my first aim should be to seek to serve God, which is the end, and only after that, if it is more profitable, to have a benefice or marry, for these are means to the end. Nothing must move me to use such means, or to deprive myself of them, save only the service and praise of God our Lord, and the salvation of my soul.