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Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

The Principle and the Foundation

Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

When the director of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is a Jesuit who has written a book on the Exercises has given many spiritual exercise retreats during his 47 years in the priesthood, is an outstanding author, scholar and catechist; practices what he preaches; there is no more to say.

All we can do is to congratulate those of you who are determined to make this retreat, to exercise your way into heaven. It is Eternal Life’s great honor and privilege to present Fr. John A. Hardon, the loyal spiritual son of the Society of Jesus and of his father in God, St. Ignatius. As soon as all conferences are complete, the retreat will be available in a twelve tape album for $35. Order now so you will have your set as soon as possible. There is no need to send a check. We will bill you. And now, Fr. Hardon.

Suppose we start with a prayer.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

First of all I want to express my gratitude to all of you, for participating in what for me is my first teleconference retreat. While I sincerely believe the future in using social communications would include what we’re calling a teleconference retreat. After all the Spirit is independent of space and time. Ideas can be communicated not just across space on earth but can even penetrate the heavens. I think it might be well to say a few words on what is a retreat, as understood by St. Ignatius, who is the heavenly patron of Spiritual Exercises in the Catholic Church. The name itself, retreat, may be somewhat misleading as though we retreat, move back. We retreat, in the sense we move back, only in order to move forward. We are to look back at our past service of God; ask ourselves, how faithful have I been? How responsive have I been to the grace of God? Where have I failed? In the light then of the self-knowledge that I gain with God’s grace of my serving God in the past, that’s the retreat side. Then, I make resolutions, and this is the forward, the positive side of a retreat. In other words, having reflected on my own past service, or we might even say disservice towards God. What does God expect of me in the future? My mind therefore is to look at myself first, to see what graces and gifts God has given me. To look at myself and see where I have failed. But especially, I am to make resolutions with my will, decisions with the mind in order to make resolutions with the will.

A retreat is only as effective as I resolved with God’s grace to be more generous in the future than I have been in the past. My recommendation is that the twelve conferences that we have in this retreat which will cover five months of time be spent in, I’d recommend, special, prayerful thinking of both God’s will toward me and my responsive generosity towards Him. Over the years, I’ve conducted too many spiritual exercises not to know that God gives, I don’t say merely extraordinary graces, oh no, He gives nothing less than miraculous graces. Graces of the mind to see, and graces for the will to choose. These five months, I am not exaggerating, with the grace of God, can shape your life not only for time but even into eternity. As St. Ignatius understood the spiritual exercises, the full complement covers, what he calls, four weeks. They need not be four weeks, of exactly seven days each, though the full complement is still asked thirty days. The first week is a concentration on the purpose of creation and on sin. You might say the first week concentrates on the natural law, on what we can know from reason alone, is God’s reason for making us and our corresponding responsibility in doing God’s will in order to obtain our destiny. The second week begins what Ignatius calls, ‘The Call of Christ the King’. Just one crucial meditation and that then precedes about ten days of meditating on the public ministry of Jesus, in other words, His teaching and His manner of life. But as I said the second week of the exercises begins with a call of Christ the King.

If there is one thing you should be clear about, the purpose of our growing in union with God, becoming more holy, is never, never just for ourselves, that we might, well, grow in sanctity. No, the purpose of the spiritual exercises whose focus immediately is indeed, that one grow in holiness; but the final purpose is that we becoming more holy and united with God might be more effective channels of His grace to others. This is the purpose of becoming holy. This is the fundamental motive for growing in sanctity. Why? So that being united with God ourselves, we might then be used by God. Watch it; in the measure of our union with Him, God will use us as communicators of His grace to others, only in the measure of our own union with God. Holy people will be used by God to sanctify others, humble people to bring humility to others, patient people to bring patience, chaste people to bring chastity, and so on. That then is the second week of the Spiritual Exercises.

Now the third week, the third week of the Spiritual Exercises concentrates on the passion of Christ. St. Ignatius realized that, having reflected on the purpose of our own existence, having meditated on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ; then we face a stone wall. How, how can I possibly do what God expects of me? And the only way that I can even hope to do it is by paying the price. And what’s the price? The price is carrying the cross. In other words, all the ambition of becoming holy, all the aspirations to sanctity are only as valuable as is our willingness to carry the cross. And that is why the third week of the spiritual exercises concentrates on Christ’s passion and His death. Because if we are going to follow in Christ’s footsteps, striving to become holy like Him, we’ve got no option. We then must be willing to carry our cross in union with Him carrying His cross. He had His via crucis; we must have ours. That’s the third week.

Finally the fourth week of the Spiritual Exercises: the fourth week concentrates on Christ’s resurrection and risen life. The actual amount of time the risen Savior spent in His risen humanity on Earth was, as we know, just forty days. Nevertheless those forty days are very, very important. Christ in many ways taught us some of the deepest mysteries of our faith during His short stay in His risen humanity on earth. He instituted the Sacrament of Penance, what a gift, on Easter Sunday night. He instituted the papal primacy conferring on Peter and his successors the primacy, the supreme authority in the Catholic Church without which there’d be no Christianity in the world today. All of this Christ gave us in His short forty-day stay as the risen Jesus on earth before His ascension. This then briefly synthesizes what I call the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises.

Now we go back to the beginning, we said, the first week of the Spiritual Exercises concentrates on the purpose of creation and sin. St. Ignatius’ wording for the opening meditation of the Spiritual Exercises on which all the other meditations in a full retreat of thirty days, all the other meditations depend on this one, called the Principle and Foundation. I made my first Spiritual Exercises as a member of the Society of Jesus as a novice. It lasted thirty days, and we had five meditations each day each lasting one hour. That meant thirty times five, 150 hours of meditation. Let me assure you, the depth to which the Spiritual Exercises can bring a sincere seeker after the truth are beyond human calculation. You have five months, twelve meditations, that we will have in what we’re calling teleconferences. I recommend that you all get a copy of the ‘The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius’ and use it. I would further recommend that you get yourselves a copy of what I call ‘Retreat with the Lord’, it covers thirty days, which is the standard length of the full complement of the Spiritual Exercises. But whether you do this concretely or not I would urge you during these five months between today January 11 and June 7 our last meditation, I would strongly recommend that you read in the Spiritual Exercises and keep yourself, if I may recommend, more than usually recollected. Talk to our Lord about the meditations as they follow in sequence in the Spiritual Exercises.

Now we begin with what Ignatius calls the Principle and Foundation. The name may sound strange, Principle and Foundation; the word principle refers rather to the mind providing the rational grounds based on faith for our lives here on earth with our destiny in eternity. The foundation stands for the motivation we need for our will and we need both. Our minds need to be enlightened by Divine revelation, on what is God’s will and our wills are to be motivated to conform to the Divine will and the two together than form what we call the Principle and Foundation. The principle and foundation has two basic truths of our faith, followed by four basic inclusions. I would first like to read, and they’re not long, either the truths or the conclusions. Quoting St. Ignatius, first revealed truth, “man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul”. First revealed truth for the mind. Second revealed truth, “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.” So far then the two basic truths of our faith on which everything and the word is everything, in our lives depends.

Now the conclusions, the first conclusion begins, in Ignatian language, with a hence. 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, first conclusion.

Second conclusion, therefore we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things as far as we’re allowed free choice, we are not under any prohibition.

Third conclusion, consequently, as far as in us lies we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life and the same holds for all other things. That’s the third conclusion.

Final conclusion, our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created, so far St. Ignatius.

Now our explanation and application to ourselves. The first truth, it reads, man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul. Implied in this first truth is the most fundamental, the most fundamental article of our faith. We are created from nothing. Except for the loving omnipotence of God, we would be what we were before God made us, and that is exactly nothing. God then created us out of selfless love. We dare not say there is any profit or benefit to God. That would be blasphemy. God keeps us in existence by the same almighty love that brought us out of nothing into being in the first place. And this let me tell you, is something we cannot too often reflect on, our nothingness. And the great Doctor of the Church, the great theologian of nothingness, as he’s been called is St. John of the Cross. Oh how deeply he realized, that except for the loving omnipotence of God, we would be what we were before we became what we are, and that is nothing. But, and behind that adversative, but, is everything else, but this all loving God gave us; you don’t explain this you believe it; God gave us a free will. He gave us a free will, and there’s only one reason He gave us a free will, to give it back to Him. That we might use this will according to His will. There’s only one war that has ever been fought in human history, only one battle, there’s only one conflict in human nature and that is, the war and the battle and the conflict between the Divine will and the human will. And consequently, parts still of that first truth, unlike the irrational creation which has neither a mind nor a free will, and by the way we have a mind because we got a free will, that’s why we’ve got a reason to think with. So we might know what God wants us to do.

Unlike the irrational creation we have a mind and a free will. God, therefore, having given us a mind and a free will, there must be and there can be only one purpose that God could have for giving us this mind and free will. He gave us a mind to enlighten the will. The will is a blind faculty; the will cannot see. The mind must enlighten the will, enlighten the will on what? Enlighten the will on what God wants the will to choose. And what does God want the will to choose, watch it, it cannot be what is beneficial to God, I repeat, that would be blasphemy. It cannot be what would be profitable to God. It cannot be what would help God make Him, well, more Godlike. It can only be what would make us happy. All that God wants, that’s all He wants, is our happiness. But, and this is where our will comes in, stupidly, oh how stupid we can be, we are liable and how liable we can be, in misunderstanding God’s will, call them God’s laws, as though somehow they are constrictive or compulsive or coercive. Oh no, oh no, God’s laws are manifestations of His love. He needs nothing that we could possibly give Him. But we need, and how we need, what He can give us, and the condition for His giving us what He has in store for us is that we do His will. Then in Ignatian language, it is to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord and by this means to save our souls.

Now, the praise, reverence and service technically or theologically speaking, to praise God with our minds. To know all we can about God. To reverence God with our wills and to serve Him with our whole being, mind, will, and body. That’s what God wants, and lets never in our wildest nightmare suspect that God is somehow imposing His will on us. I repeat, no. In His merciful love, He’s offering us the means for saving our souls. And let’s be clear, this saving our souls is not only, though of course, ultimately saving our souls by reaching our heavenly destiny, it’s saving our souls also here on earth. Forty-seven years in the priesthood have taught me many things, one thing I’ve learned, I’ve yet to meet a happy sinner. People are only as happy as they are doing not their will but God’s will. And just for the record with a graduate degree in psychology I can sit in judgment of Siegmund Freud and tell you he’s all wrong. Happiness comes from conforming our wills to the Divine will. If it’s a struggle for us, sorry my dear, that’s your problem but please don’t blame God. That’s truth number one.

Truth number two, Says St. Ignatius “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.” Just a word by the way regarding that he is created, God continues His creative work every time that a child is conceived. Each one of our human immortal souls was created from nothing the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb. What’s the second truth then, if our purpose for existence is to know God with our minds, to love Him with our wills and serve Him with our whole being including our bodies, and thus reach the happiness even here on earth and everlasting happiness in the life to come. What then is the purpose why God made everything and everyone else? To help us, in other words, in the vocabulary of God there is no such thing as chance. There’s no verb like ‘happens’, nothing ever happens with God. That’s a confession of our stupidity; everything is part of God’s mysterious providence. In other words, God has a purpose for everything in our lives.

And now we begin to reach some conclusions. Our first task therefore, our first task in life is to discern among these creatures, and there are four basic we said, four basic conclusions. Each one of which I give a name for and the first conclusion I call discernment. Our first task in life therefore is to discern, to distinguish, to discriminate. What are we saying? To discern or discriminate among the countless creatures in our lives, from the thoughts and desires inside of us, to the temperature outside, to the people we meet, to the condition of our body, everything is part of the providence of God. And you really are beginning to make a retreat when you start discerning, when you start classifying and there are four categories into which every intelligent believer should classify the creatures in his life.

First, some creatures God wants us to enjoy. But be sure this is what God wants you to do with these creatures. Does God want us to enjoy a good meal? Yes. Does God want us to enjoy, say, a friendship? Yes. Does God want us to enjoy prayer? Yes. So first, discrimination. Find out which creatures in your life God wants you to enjoy. Some of you have a longer list, others a shorter one, but find out.

Secondly, among the creatures in your life, we’re still on discernment number one; some God wants us to endure. Say that again. There are creatures in our life that God puts into our lives, honest, that we might endure them. Now look, you don’t go back and tell your husband, “Jim, I never realized this. I just learned there are some creatures in my life that God gave me to endure. Jim, I hate to say this, but you are one of those creatures”, please, don’t, don’t. The secret is to see God behind this. God does want, this is part of His will, that there be creatures in our lives that humanly speaking cause us pain. And they may be, I can’t prove this, they may be the creatures that you most love in life. Oh no, Oh Yes. But what a difference between being discriminating and knowing which of these creatures God wants me to endure. And then of course I’ve got the motivation. Its God’s will, whether I like it or not has nothing to do with it. God wants it, I may not like it but I want it. Question -- can we want what we don’t like? You better believe it. We want with our wills. We like with our emotions.

Third category of creatures; there are some that God wants us to be rid of, remove. What are these? Those are the creatures that we know from experience lead us into sin. And there’s no option there. Are you saying, you might ask me, are you saying, that creatures that are enjoyable, I miss this, I love this, I like it. I know from experience it leads me into sin, I’ve got to get rid of it? Sure. Notice what we’re saying, you’d better classify; you’d better categorize which creatures that God wants you to be rid of. And whether you enjoy them or not has nothing to do with it. Right? If they are occasions to sin, and a more proximate occasion to sin, these creatures are, the more sure you are, you must get rid of them. I’ve given too many retreats to too many people. Businessman comes in for a conference, “Oh wonderful secretary that I’ve got”, but he’s a married man. “She’s nice”, “Is she a temptation?” “Well, Father, if you put it that way I have to admit, yes.” I might not tell him, ‘get rid of her’; I use other, other words. Remove her. In other words, there are creatures no matter how pleasant they may be that God wants us to remove. And what a struggle this can be, between my will and the recognized will of God. And finally you think, Father, that’s plenty. Please, no more.

One more, one more category; there are creatures that God wants us to surrender. I distinct between surrender and remove; by remove, we mean, remove because they are occasions of sin, by surrender I mean sacrifice not because they lead me into sin but because God would be more pleased if I give this creature up. And this let me tell you is part, I mean this from the depths of my heart, this is in the formula of true happiness, in other words, this is being generous with God. Here is where we Catholics are very clear, unlike so many others who call themselves Christians but have no idea of what we’re talking about here. In other words, there is such a thing as going beyond the call of duty. There is such a thing as giving up, sacrificing what I would not have to. Remove from my life because it is not an occasion to sin but God would be more pleased. So that’s stage number one, discernment.

Secondly, self-knowledge: In other words, and remember, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in attaining his end, must rid himself in so far as they prove a hindrance to him. Well, the self-knowledge implies that I must know, I must know myself, what are my ordinate and especially my inordinate attachments. In other words, if I’m going to serve God as He wants me to, I then must know in my life what things God wants me to enjoy, endure, remove or sacrifice but, let’s be clear, I’ll be able to make that discernment only if I know myself. And this is where no two people are equally as well informed about their own character or personality. It is imperative therefore, that, we both learn from reflecting on ourselves, I recommend, I mean this, a daily examination of conscience. And in the Spiritual Exercises this is part of making a good retreat, cultivating the habit of making a daily examination of conscience. Again, if I am to make that wise choice of creatures that we talked about, I’ve got to know myself. How do I get to know myself? By asking for light, though that I may know myself, know my weaknesses. And I strongly recommend, and I mean this as I was telling the sisters today, frequent confession. The Church’s recommendation, by the way, to gain a plenary indulgence, is twice a month. Because the norm for gaining a plenary indulgence, as I’m sure you know is, whatever the good work that a person performs must include confession and Holy Communion within eight days to gain a plenary indulgence, and consequently this self-knowledge. I know of no better way than frequent confession. This may not seem as obvious on the surface but if I’m going to pass judgment on creatures I’d better know myself, know my weaknesses, know my tendencies. That’s number two, self-knowledge.

Number three detachment: Therefore says Ignatius, “we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition.” What are we being told, naturally speaking, none of us is indifferent. What is pleasant, we like, what is painful, we avoid. We must, and Ignatius’ rule is, we must pray, pray, beg God. Now the language is strange, indifferent, that does not mean becoming blasé. What is pleasant remains pleasant, what is painful remains painful, but I beg God that I become internally free from my desires and my fears, otherwise, how well I know, we can become slaves of our own passions. For this therefore, we must beg God’s grace and with God’s help we can become free internally by not preferring health to sickness or riches to poverty. Naturally everybody prefers health to sickness. Naturally everybody prefers wealth to poverty, be well thought of, honored and raised to being rejected or dishonored. Naturally everybody prefers a long life to a short life. Naturally there’s a lifetime task, but let me tell you, insofar as with God’s grace you make a good Spiritual Exercise which we are beginning this evening.

First, all the steps that preceded must be taken into account. Classify, categorize as far as you see yourself, what creatures as far as you can tell God wants you, I repeat, to enjoy, to endure, to remove, or to sacrifice. But as you look at yourself, oh will this ever be revealing, and you will realize, perhaps for the first time in your life, my God, my God, I’m a slave, deep down in my own heart. So that and this then is the conclusion, with God’s grace we are to aim at and beg for the grace, at least, before the Lord calls us into eternity. That our one towering desire will be, and our choice should be, watch the language of St. Ignatius, what is more conducive, what is more secure, what is more sure, of leading to a happiness in this life and especially to our eternal destiny in the life to come. There are therefore, in this Principle and Foundation two main tasks that we have: To study the creatures in our lives; but especially with deep humility look into our own souls and courageously ask God. “Lord let me see myself as You see me. So that with Your grace, I may overcome my blindness, see Your will which now I cannot see but especially, dear Lord, have the courage to choose Your will no matter what it may cost my will because my happiness, dear Jesus, resides in pleasing You and not myself. Amen

Thank you for listening.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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