Europe in the 16th century was a world in turmoil. Social structures were unravelling; the Church was riven by controversy and division; new ideas, new ways to make money, and exposure to new cultures were upending the conventional wisdom about how to live. It was a time not unlike our own.
St. Ignatius was the man for that moment—and for our moment. He offered a new way of thinking about God. The old way held that God was mainly found in religious places and religious activities; Ignatius said that God was found in all things. The old thinking saw God as a stern lawgiver and judge; Ignatius saw him as an infinitely generous giver of gifts. The old idea saw God as elusive and remote; Ignatius said he was near at hand, energetically laboring in the world.
This attitude led to new ways of living a spiritual life. Before the Jesuits came along, the model of holy living was a quiet life of prayer in a monastery or convent. It was something that priests and nuns did, not ordinary people. The Jesuits changed all that. Ignatian spirituality was for ordinary people living busy lives. It saw God as present everywhere in the world. “Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,” as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote.
Ignatius said that Christ beckons us to join him in his work. That means our choices are crucial. To say that Ignatius thought good decisionswere important is an understatement. They are of transcendent importance, literally a matter of salvation. Ignatius believed that we come to know God and find the meaning of our lives in wise use of the things of the world—our work and relationships and the manifold opportunities for joy and growth we find in the world. The choices we make about these things are just about the most important thing we do.
Ignatius taught us to approach life with a reflective mindset. Since God is present in all things, including—especially—our daily experience, it’s vitally important that we notice him. The Ignatian mind is self-aware, alert to the ebb and flow of our inner life. It’s keenly alert to our spiritual and psychological blind spots—the ways we fool ourselves and find reasons to do what we want to do. It’s deeply suspicious of the conventional wisdom. It cherishes desires. In the Ignatian view, our deepest desires have been placed in our hearts by God. When we’re in touch with our most authentic selves, when we know what we really want, we know what God wants.
That’s a lot to celebrate. Let’s do so, and let’s do it with a spirit of gratitude. That’s another thing Ignatius taught us. God is showering us with gifts and graces. Our response begins with simple thanks.