Month: February 2017



“Our friends were too worldly and too clever at mixing the pleasure of the world with the service of God. They scarcely gave a thought to death…. And I knew that all is fleeting that we cherish here under the sun. The only good thing is to love God with all one’s heart and to stay poor in spirit” (Saint Therese of Lisieux)

 “[The Lenten wilderness] helps us to say ‘no’ to worldliness, to ‘idols’, it helps us to make courageous choices in line with the Gospel and to strengthen our solidarity with our brothers and sisters.” (Pope Francis)

Our spiritual warfare is against the world, the flesh and the devil. But of these three enemies, how much time do we spend battling the world? It is worth a moment’s reflection to consider to what extent our values and desires have been influenced by the world.

I bring this problem of worldliness to your attention because it is so often mentioned by the great spiritual writers (it is a constant theme of Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ). Our Lord, on Holy Thursday, prayed earnestly for his disciples to be protected from the world in John 17. Now, here are two quotes that underscore the importance of combating worldliness, one from the great Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the other from Father Faber:

 “The shortest and almost the only way to achieve sanctity is to have a horror for all which the world loves and embraces.”  (Saint Ignatius of Loyola)

“It is this world which we have to fight against throughout the whole of our Christian course. Our salvation depends upon our unforgiving enmity against it.” (F.W. Faber)

I think these two quotes are of incredible significance. Who can doubt that so many of the challenges the church faces come from worldliness. The world doesn’t mind if you go to mass on Sunday or mumble a prayer or two, just as long as you pledge your primary allegiance to it. It’s not like the world dislikes God: it just feels it can get along fine without Him. The world doesn’t like God to get in the way! I don’t mean to set up a dualism between God and the world. After all it is the same Ignatius who encourages us “to seek God in all things.” And Ignatius wants us to engage the world.

But there is a “strange attraction” in the world which makes us forget about God. We focus on the shopping mall, on endless hours of useless talk radio, on sports adinfinitum, on mindless TV shows, and on many other things that keep our senses so inflamed with superficial information that we simply don’t even understand what it means to be recollected in prayer.

This is why Saint Ignatius is so emphatic that we keep our eternal destiny foremost in mind as we lead our lives, and that we use all created things to further this end rather than to impede it. Created things should be used as God intended them, to give glory to God, rather than to drown us in a sea of fabricated wants and desires that force us to pig-out on things that are of very little value in the final analysis.

Our Lord was born in a cave and his first bed was a manger. He died nailed to a cross. His whole life seems to have been a gigantic testimony against worldliness. The antidote to worldliness is prayer, fasting, love of the poor, detachment from things and, perhaps most of all, constant meditation on our Lord’s Passion. Looking at our crucified Lord is a great protection against worldliness, which is why the cross has always been a scandal and foolishness to those in the world (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

Wishing you a blessed, holy and profitable Lent!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Inspiration: Thomas a Kempis, Saint Ignatius, F.W. Faber (see his chapter on worldliness in The Creator and the Creature, one of the greatest books I have ever read).

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Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matt. 7: 13-14)


Comment: Saint Pope John Paul II wrote, “[Although] the journey is totally sustained by grace, it nonetheless demands an intense spiritual commitment” (NMI 32). In other words, our effort is “indispensable.” Succinctly stated, the spiritual journey is going to require great effort on our part – really all that we have. “Strive for…the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).


Comment: The forms of this world are passing away. The great good is Heaven. How quickly our lives will come to an end. Do not try to make an absolute out of some fleeting pleasure or good of this world. The goal is eternal happiness and joy with God and the saints. Keep in mind that eternity will last quite a long time. Conversely, it would be quite a tragedy to “waste away the ages in hell” (F.W. Faber).


Comment: A key spiritual point made by the saints is to rise promptly after every fall. We often hear the proverb that the good man falls seven times a day, but the rest of that verse says, “BUT HE GETS BACK UP” (Proverbs 27:16). Judas betrayed Jesus and fell into despair. Peter betrayed Jesus and sought His forgiveness. God is not unsympathetic to the fact that we are weak. He wants us to keep trying and to never give up. In short, we should learn from our mistakes and use them as a foundation for growth, not diminishment, with joyful recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


Comment: The spiritual journey in general is a turning away from sin and a turning towards God. The goal is to grow closer and closer to God through a life of prayer, virtuous living, and good works. If we are not growing in the faith, we run the risk of backsliding. George MacDonald, the famous writer, puts it this way: “Do not be content not to grow. If you are not growing bigger you are growing less. If the light is not increasing the darkness is encroaching. If we are not growing upward we are growing downward.” The Christian model of faith is one of growth in relationship with God. “The Fathers of the Church tell us that he who does not go forward on the way to God goes back” (Father Garrigou-LaGrange).


Comment:  The essence of faith is trust in the Father’s care for our lives. This can be a source of great joy during times of spiritual sweetness and consolation, but far more difficult during times of tribulation and darkness. The great spiritual writers remind us that God will lead us through times of dryness, darkness and suffering, and that these trials will lead us to deeper union with God. The key is to patiently trust in God even when it appears He has abandoned us. It is in this sense that the victory comes by FAITH. The saints coach us to practice certitude of faith during times of darkness, and boundless confidence in God during trials and tribulations.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Primary Reference: I am relying for this post primarily on The Fulfillment of All Desire by Dr. Ralph Martin (an excellent, highly recommended book which maps out the spiritual journey).

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(St. Thomas Aquinas)

“To respond to this invitation [to receive Holy Communion] we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment…. ‘Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.’ Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1385)

“The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.” (Saint Pope John Paul II)

Well before Amoris Laetitia, in November of 2013, Pope Francis released The Joy of the Gospel, an Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization. In The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis makes a brief reference to the Eucharist, and it just happens to contain his now famous Eucharistic maxim: –

“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (The Joy of the Gospel, no.47)

The Pope footnotes Saint Ambrose for support of this quote and also Saint Cyril of Alexandria. When I first read this maxim of Pope Francis about the Eucharist in The Joy of the Gospel, I was a little stunned: I was thinking, wouldn’t it be prudent to clarify this somewhat unusual statement by mentioning what the Church infallibly teaches about receiving the Eucharist while in mortal sin (as in the quote from the Catechism at the very top of this note)? I can see now, in retrospect, the purpose Pope Francis apparently had in mind in selecting this maxim.

Now this identical Eucharistic maxim is also found in the Pope’s now infamous footnote 351 in Amoris Laetitia (“I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.”). As you most likely know, there is now a furious debate going on in the Church as to whether footnote 351 permits, at least in certain mitigating circumstances, divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist.

The purpose of this note is to simply demonstrate that Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly teaches that the Eucharist is not a spiritual medicine to heal those in mortal sin, but rather a medicine given to strengthen believers who are in a state of grace. In other words, the Eucharistic maxim of Pope Francis, to have validity, must be interpreted in light of the teaching of Saint Thomas, which is no doubt the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church (as seen, for example, in CCC 1385).

The clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas I am referring to occurs in Question 80, Article Four (Pt. III) of the Summa Theologica, which reads as follows as specifically pertaining to Objection 2 (which St. Thomas answers in Reply to Objection 2):

CONCLUSION: Pope Francis’ reference to the Eucharist as a “powerful medicine” for “the weak” must be understood in proper context. As Saint Thomas Aquinas clearly points out the Eucharist is not an appropriate medicine for those in mortal sin. Therefore, the appropriate way for a divorced and remarried Catholic to receive the Eucharist is by obtaining an anulment of his first marriage, or by living as brother and sister in the second marriage. Otherwise, a divorced and remarried Catholic should integrate into the Church in the manner allowed in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, wherein the Pope stated, without any ambiguity, that “the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion divorced persons who have remarried” (no. 84).

Thomas Mulcahy, M.A., J.D.

Image: “Detail from Valle Romita Polyptych by Gentile da Fabriano  (circa 1400)” at Wikipedia. Public Domain, U.S.A.

Note: For greater context, please refer to my previous post:


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“If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. (20) (Encyclical Humanae Vitae)

The decisions we make in life have consequences (sometimes very profound consequences); and this is true of the decision we make in marriage whether to follow Church teaching in the area of family planning. I do not hesitate to say that many Catholic couples have not fully appreciated the profound ramifications of this decision.

A common theme in great spiritual books is that obedience (that is, the virtue of obedience) is very dear to God, and for that reason blessings flow from God when we practice humble, trusting obedience. When we apply this principle to Church teaching on contraception and family planning, we can confidently conclude that the practice of Natural Family Planning draws down blessings from God upon the married couple. It is hard to overemphasize the tremendous value great spiritual writers place on the virtue and practice of obedience. With this in mind we should take into consideration that the teaching in Humanae Vitae is the very touchstone of Catholic sexual morality – yet many in the Church chose not to follow it.

Catholic psychologist Gregory Popcak states:

“I’ll say it again. NFP is a wonderful gift, and if you don’t practice it you are missing out, big time. In fact, you cannot experience the fullness of your sexuality without it.” (p.32)

Popcak adds that the “Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (1993) demonstrates that couples who live out their faith have more satisfying sex lives because they ‘pay more attention to the mystic and symbolic dimensions of…sexuality’ ” (p. 204). If this is true, how much more does NFP conform to the important symbolic dimension of sexuality –  as a reflection of God’s own creative power –  by not rendering the act of intercourse infertile by an external and artificial act, but by by taking recourse to the natural periods of infertility in a woman’s cycle as ordained by God’s Wisdom?

The decision to practice NFP involves the eminent use of the virtue of chastity. And as C.S. Lewis observed in his classic, Mere Christianity, “those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else.” The attempt to bypass chastity by using artificial contraception is dangerous: it tends more and more to a view of sexual pleasure as an end in itself, the beloved partner potentially becoming more and more an object of gratification. Stacey Holgate comments:

Chastity is a virtue closely linked with the cardinal virtue of temperance. Possession of this virtue enables and necessitates the integration of man’s sexuality with his entire being: intellectual and spiritual. Chaste behavior leads to the self-possession necessary for self-donation, not only physically within marriage but also spiritually to God. Chastity is not achieved quickly nor is it attained easily. The ongoing pursuit of the virtue through grace and effort is in portion what makes its fruits so sweet” ( reference below).

The decision of newly married couples to ignore Church teaching and use artificial contraception is not a good one. In fact, it is not a decision which is beneficial to their marriage (I do not judge their subjective culpability). Who knows how many special graces they would have received had they been obedient to the Wisdom of the Church which comes from the Holy Spirit. Humanae Vitae was a prophetic document, and human sexuality is more and more in disarray because its teachings were
not heeded.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: For Better …Forever! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage by Gregory Popcak. The quote by Stacey Holgate is from her article “Marital Chastity and Natural Family Planning” which can be accessed via Google.

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“Consequently, [Jesus our High Priest in Heaven] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25)

In addition to John 3:16, Hebrews 7:25 is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible. If John 3:16 pertains, in particular, to Jesus’ Incarnation and Passion, Hebrews 7:25 pertains to Jesus’ ongoing priestly ministry in Heaven. Hebrews 7:25 shows that Jesus “exercises an ongoing priestly ministry in Heaven, where he intercedes for the saints at the Father’s right hand” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (at 519):

All Christ’s riches “are for every individual and are everybody’s property.” Christ did not live his life for himself but for us, from his Incarnation “for us men and for our salvation” to his death “for our sins” and Resurrection “for our justification”. He is still “our advocate with the Father”, who “always lives to make intercession” for us (Hebrews 7:25). He remains ever “in the presence of God on our behalf, bringing before him all that he lived and suffered for us” (Hebrews 9:25).

Hebrews 7:25 tells us very clearly that Jesus, in Heaven, is mightily at work for our good – that, in fact, he always lives to make intercession for us.” Now if the realization that Jesus always lives to make intercession for you doesn’t fill your heart with great encouragement, I’m not sure what will! Moreover, the verse also states that Jesus is “able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him.” Not only does Jesus have the power to save you, but he has the power to save you to the uttermost if you draw near to him. Dearest God, these are powerful words from your Holy Spirit!

Now when you visualize Jesus in your heart during prayer, you can see him there in Heaven living his priestly life to constantly intercede for you. This realization will fill your heart with strength, gratitude and fortitude, increasing your confidence in the prayers you make, and increasing also your love for Jesus. And nothing is more important than drawing close to Jesus in love so that he may save you to the uttermost.

I encourage you to meditate on Hebrews 7:25. Dear friend, Jesus always lives to make intercession for you!

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: For a discussion on how Hebrews 7:25 pertains to Mass, see my previous post, The Mass is the Ever-Living Prayer of Jesus Ascended into Heaven, via this link:

The Mass and the Order of Melchizedek | Catholic Strength

Reference: See Catechism of An Interior Life by the great Father Olier, pertaining to the application of Hebrews 7:25 to interior prayer (Part II), a very valuable reflection.

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(Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes)

“For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast….” (1 Cor. 5:7-8)

In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Saint John Paul II penned the following words of incredible importance:

The Second Vatican Council rightly proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life”. “For the most holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men”. Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love (Section 1).

Given the magnitude of the Pope’s words, as cited above, we can see why Catholics are under a grave obligation to attend Sunday Mass and other holy days of obligation (although, ideally, it might be hoped that we had a burning desire to receive the Holy Eucharist!). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, at 2181, states:

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (emphasis added).

We simply cannot be lukewarm about the Eucharist because the Eucharist is the great sacramental sign of our covenantal relationship with Jesus. The phrase “new covenant” is mentioned by Jesus only in the context of the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, where Jesus said: “This chalice which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Now, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, with a Biblical covenant come blessings or curses: – blessings if we are faithful to the covenant, and curses if we are not. In Hebrews we see that it is a fearful thing to neglect attending the Eucharistic assembly.

In Hebrews at 10:19 it states that “by the blood of Jesus” we “have confidence to enter the sanctuary.” We have this great blessing then, merited by our Covenant Mediator, Jesus Christ (which those in the Old Covenant did not have), to participate in the Eucharistic liturgy whereby through the sacrificial offering of Jesus’ body and blood we can truly access  the “marriage supper of the Lamb” in Heaven (see Rev. 19:9 and commentary to Hebrews 10 in Ignatius Catholic Study Bible). Thus, given the magnitude of this blessing, the author of Hebrews admonishes his readers “not [to neglect] to meet together” for the Sunday assembly (Hebrews 10:25). He adds: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment….” (Hebrews 10:26). Dr Hahn comments on these verses:

“People who don’t meet together on the Lord’s day are repudiating the only sacrifice that will work for their sins. The sinning deliberately refers to deliberately sinning by not going to Mass. We don’t know anybody who has committed that sin, do we? All American Catholics go to Mass every week. It hasn’t become the habit of some Catholics not to go to the Eucharist, has it? God help us if we don’t attend weekly liturgy as has become the habit of some. We’re sinning against the most beautiful laws that God has delivered to humanity, that there is a once and for all powerful sacrifice, God be praised! And we renew that sacrifice every time we draw near to the Eucharistic banquet.”  (See link below and CCC 2178)

I close, then, with these words of our beloved Saint Pope John Paul II:

The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord’s body and blood are received in communion. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion; we receive the very One who offered himself for us, we receive his body which he gave up for us on the Cross and his blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). We are reminded of his words: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Jesus himself reassures us that this union, which he compares to that of the life of the Trinity, is truly realized. The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, his listeners were astonished and bewildered, which forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of his words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (Jn 6:53). This is no metaphorical food: “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55) (Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 16).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: A photograph of a Mass at Lourdes taken by Lima at English Wikipedia on July 28, 2006. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version.

References: I am relying heavily and primarily on Scott Hahn materials for this note including his book, The Lamb’s Supper (Doubleday). The quote from Dr. Hahn is from Eucharist, Holy Meal. See also Ignatius Catholic Study Bible on Hebrews, Chapter 10, commentary notes. It was Father Faber who cautioned that Catholics cannot be tepid about the Holy Eucharist.

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“The minutes that follow Communion are the most precious we have in our lives.” (Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi)

“There is no prayer more agreeable to God, or more profitable to the soul than that which is made during the thanksgiving after Communion.” (Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri)

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, Pope Benedict XVI mentions the crucial importance of making an adequate thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion. He states:

“Furthermore, the precious time of thanksgiving after communion should not be neglected: besides the singing of an appropriate hymn, it can also be most helpful to remain recollected in silence” (#50).

Further on in Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI urges Catholics to “rediscover the Eucharistic form which their lives are meant to have, thus “making our lives a constant self-offering to God….” (#72). The practice of making a proper and meaningful thanksgiving after receiving the Holy Eucharist is one way to rediscover our Eucharistic form. Spending a few minutes after Mass in thanksgiving (in addition to our thanksgiving directly after receiving Holy Communion) is one way to accomplish this goal.

How important is our thanksgiving after Holy Communion to our growth in holiness? In his masterful treatise on the spiritual life, the great Father Garrigou-LaGrange (professor of Saint Pope John Paul II) devotes nearly six full pages to discuss the critical importance of making an adequate and meaningful thanksgiving after Holy Communion (see Chapter 32 of The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. I). And Father Muller devotes an entire chapter to the subject in his book on the Eucharist (The Blessed Eucharist, Chapter Seven). Listen to Father Garrigou-LaGrange’s advice:

“A number of interior souls have told us of the sorrow they feel when they see, in certain places, almost the entire body of the faithful leave the church immediately after the end of the Mass during which they have received Holy Communion. Moreover, this custom is becoming general, even in many Catholic boarding schools and colleges where formerly the students who had received Communion remained in the chapel for about ten minutes after Mass, thus acquiring the habit of making a thanksgiving, a habit which the best among them kept all their lives.”

A few lines later Father Garrigou-LaGrange then says:

“In Communion we receive a gift far superior to the miraculous cure of a physical disease; we receive the Author of salvation and an increase of the life of grace, which is the seed of glory, or eternal life begun. We receive an increase of charity, the highest of the virtues, which vivifies, animates all the others, and is the very principle of merit.

Christ often gave thanks to His Father for all His benefits, in particular for that of the redemptive Incarnation; with all His soul He thanked His Father for having revealed its mystery to little ones. On the cross He thanked Him while uttering His Consummatum est. In the Sacrifice of the Mass, of which He is the principal Priest, He does not cease to thank Him. Thanksgiving is one of the four ends of the sacrifice, always united to adoration, petition, and reparation. Even after the end of the world, when the last Mass has been said and when there will no longer be any sacrifice, properly so called, but only its consummation, when supplication and reparation have ceased, the worship of adoration and thanksgiving will endure forever, expressed in the Sanctus, which will be the song of the elect for all eternity.

With these thoughts in mind, we can easily understand why for some time many interior souls have been having Masses offered in thanksgiving, particularly on the second Friday of the month, in order to make up for the ingratitude of men and of many Christians, who scarcely know any more how to give thanks, even after receiving the greatest benefits.”

These words of Father Garrigou-LaGrange may seem a bit harsh, but I am hoping that, as they have for me, they will encourage you  to spend a few minutes after Mass with our Lord thanking Him for having blessed you with the greatest of all possible gifts. Naturally, if you have small children, the duty of the present moment (as Mass ends) is to tend to their needs. However, I have seen families kneel together after Mass for a few minutes of thanksgiving. Moreover, you can attempt to stay recollected in a mode of thanksgiving even while leaving Mass and attending to external circumstances. Christian culture is rapidly disintegrating; it will be a special challenge for our children and grandchildren to maintain their Catholic faith without a deep appreciation for the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is our foretaste of Eternal Life.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Ref. The two quotes at the top of this note are from the Wikipedia article on “Thanksgiving after Communion,” which is quite beneficial. The great Father Lallemant adds in his The Spiritual Doctrine a crucial consideration, saying: do not “shorten the time allotted to the thanksgiving, which, well made, may repair much that is defective in our penances” (p.88).

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(“Manresa, Chapel in the Cave of St. Ignatius where Ignatius practiced asceticism and conceived his Spiritual Exercises in 1522″)

“There is nothing of which apostolic men have more need than interior recollection” (Saint Ignatius of Loyola)

The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, “composed between 1522–1524, are a set of Christian meditations, prayers and mental exercises, written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th-century Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of 28 to 30 days. They were composed with the intention of helping participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God in their lives, leading to a personal commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost” (from Wikipedia).

Father Hardon mentions that the “spiritual efficacy” of the Spiritual Exercises is “sometimes nearly miraculous” and that the “marvelous results they produce” has touched the lives of thousands of people. Saint Ignatius described his Spiritual Exercises as a “method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of vocal and mental prayer prayer, and of other spiritual activities.” He says “they are a way of preparing and disposing a soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the dispositions of our life for the salvation of our soul.” Clearly, there is great value in making an “Ignatian retreat” utilizing the Saint’s Spiritual Exercises.

St. Ignatius realized that our attachment to created things often is like a great weight around our necks which impedes our love of God and our progress in the spiritual life. Here in these three foundational principles of the Exercises he instructs us in the correct use of things so that they are used for the glory of God and to advance our salvation. The young rich man in the Gospel must have had a lot of possessions, for when the Lord Jesus bid to him, “Come follow me,” he looked back at all of his possessions and this mountain of things captivated his heart and he walked away – at least at that moment –  from the Lord of Life who was offering him infinite happiness.

The foundational principles of the Spiritual Exercises, comments Father Hardon, “is a compendium of Christian spirituality. It is the principle of faith from which everything in Christianity finally derives. It is the foundation of morality on which everything in our lives finally depends.” Here, then, in question form, are the three foundational principles of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises

 1. Why were we created?

“The human person is created to praise, reverence and serve God, and by so doing to save his or her soul.”  (#23 of The Spiritual Exercises)

 Comment: One of the main values of the Exercises is to get us to seriously contemplate what is of truly lasting value, and what is fleeting, transient and passing – and to order our lives accordingly. In this context, “he who has God (truly) has everything” (St. Teresa of Avila). Ultimately, our preference for God over things leads us to more strongly value things in relationship to God’s glory and the salvation of souls.

2. Why were other things created?

“The other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created. It follows from this that one must use other created things in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.”  ( #23 of The Spiritual Exercises)

Comment: This is one of the most important principles for our spiritual lives. To protect ourselves from the malignant threat of worldliness, we use created things to serve God and to reach Heaven – if not, they have little value and will have the tendency to draw our thoughts away from God. As an example, are we using our media devices to promote God’s glory? Do the shows or movies we watch tend to this end? God made things and other creatures to lead us to Heaven. Of course, appropriate and reasonable recreation is not opposed to this end.

3. How do we train our wills to use things and circumstances for God’s glory?

“We need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things…but we should desire and choose only what helps us more toward the end for which we are created.”  (#23 of The Spiritual Exercises)

Comment: This is the famous Ignatian principle of indifference (of being dispassionate about what happens to us as long as it is for the glory of God). It is a foundational principle of The Spiritual Exercises. Since the battle for our souls is won in the mind, Ignatius is training us to think with apostolic wisdom and fortitude, namely, to train our pattern of thinking to be “indifferent to all created things.” This principle is not always easy to grasp, but I will try to explain it in the following manner (relying heavily on Father Hardon’s book, Retreat With the Lord, and an essay by Karl Rahner, S.J.):

     1. Because of our fallen nature we have very strong attachments to persons and things that are not necessarily conducive to our salvation.

     2. The main purpose of our life is to know, love and serve God and thus to attain eternal life: next to this goal everything else amounts to practically nothing (unless it is used in service of this goal).

     3. People on earth tend to act in this manner: they are indifferent to God and very attentive to creatures and things. Ignatius advises that this situation should be exactly the opposite: we should be very attentive to God and indifferent to all created things except to the extent that these created things help us to serve and give glory to God. Thus, detachment from and mortification of our inordinate desire for earthly things is necessary. Therefore, we should make use of created things only insofar as they help us to attain our eternal destiny.

     4. Thus, the main purpose of created things is to help us reach heaven. To the extent created things hinder me from reaching my eternal destiny, they are to be discarded. Everything in our lives is to be brought under the Lordship of Christ.

     5. And yet this principle of indifference goes deeper. If we are to develop apostolic strength of mind, and thus avoid or minimize disabling anxiety, we need to become indifferent to what happens to us – provided we are trying to accomplish the will of God and lead a holy life. Thus, as an extreme example, if you were kidnapped tomorrow and forced to live in a small dungeon away from your loved ones, you would accept this unfortunate turn of events as God’s will and do your best under the circumstances. This state of mind trains us to understand that nothing happens to us except by God’s permission. He knows every hair on our heads. If misfortune comes, despite our good efforts, we are to accept it as God’s will and to make the best of the circumstances. This apostolic strength of mind makes us less hostile to the crosses that God will call us to carry –  as we will see them as part of His amazing plan for our salvation. Developing this state of mind leads to peace of soul under trying circumstances. Ignatius is basically teaching us to trust God no matter what happens because we are always under the Father’s providential care. Boldly ask the Holy Spirit for apostolic strength of mind. This is the type of strength St. Maximilian Kolbe demonstrated when he ministered the gospel at the Auschwitz extermination camp – he having achieved such a high degree of apostolic strength of mind that he even volunteered to take the place of a man who had been sentenced to death by starvation. Kolbe was placed in a small cell to endure the slow and painful death of starvation. We do not become dispassionate stoics, but rather we seek God’s will whether in pain or pleasure, health or sickness, success or failure, etc.,  knowing that whatever God allows to happen to us is ultimately, in His mysterious providence, for our ultimate welfare.

     6. This indifference does not make us “aloof to the world,” but reaffirms the fact that all of history is rooted in the “eschatological goal of salvation.”

I hope this may be of some help to you, since this principle of indifference is a foundational principle of Ignatian spirituality. It helps us to order our lives for the glory of God and is of immense value when strong winds or even hurricanes come into our lives.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Photo above of the Chapel in the Cave of St. Ignatius by PMRMaeyaert under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Spain license. This photo is indexed in the Spanish heritage register. Photo at Wikipedia.

References:  I am relying on Father Hardon’s book, Retreat With The Lord (Servant Publications) which is a self-guided way to make an Ignatian retreat, especially if you simply don’t have the time to make a formal one (although Fr. Hardon recommends you have a qualified spiritual director, if only by way of phone). Another similar book is A Do-It-At-Home-Retreat by Father Andre Ravier, S.J. (Ignatius Press). I found both book very valuable but you would certainly want a spiritual director if you are trying to discern a major change or decision in your life. I think it is clear that where Ignatius uses the word indifference other spiritual writers use the word detachment. The quotes in the second paragraph are taken from Father Hardon’s retreat book.

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