The National Catholic Review

As the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola approaches, I am reminded of one of my favorite theologians, Karl Rahner, S.J., who credited Ignatius, the founder of his Order, for giving him…well, pretty much everything: his innermost and most authentic relationship with God, his theology, his pastoral vision, his mission in the church, his happiness. Rahner made his decision to join the Society of Jesus before he had actually encountered Ignatius’ mystical spirituality, an encounter that began as soon as he entered the Jesuit novitiate in his native Germany during the Spring of 1922. Making the Spiritual Exercises was life-changing for him, and would forever shape the way he lived, worked, prayed and wrote. Indeed, it was such a powerful transforming grace in his life that, from then on, Ignatius was Rahner’s muse, guiding him with his mysticism of joy in the world and the well-known Ignatian imperatives of  “finding God in all things,” “consciousness examen,” and being a “contemplative in action.” 

I find myself drawn again and again to the passage from Rahner’s “last will and testament,” as he called it (“Ignatius of Loyola Speaks to a Modern Jesuit,” from teh book Ignatius of Loyola) which almost gives voice to Ignatius himself: “All I Can Say is that I knew God, nameless and unfathomable, silent and yet near…” The experience was of such “nearness and grace as is impossible to confound or mistake.” What a gift! Surely this is the spiritual hope of each of us – to know God with deeply-assured intimacy. For Rahner, this knowing lies at the heart of his entire theological project, a knowing that has allowed him to become the guide to countless everyday Christians seeking God in everyday life.

By the time I studied Karl Rahner’s theology in a formal setting, I had already made a 30-day retreat in which I experienced Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises in a personal and profound way. Needless to say, my own spirituality was drawn to Karl Rahner’s, almost without fully realizing why. Rahner’s theology of grace drew me into a greater awareness of God’s presence, helping me to become more fully conscious of living in a “world of grace.” It stretched my understanding of the integral unity of faith and life, contemplation and action. 

For many of my freshman students, Ignatius’ exhortation to find God in all things and to find all things in God is a new concept, but one that keeps reverberating in many ways throughout my introductory course in theology. Students identify with Rahner’s insight highlighted in one of the texts I use in class, that to be a human person is to be a questioner and that the deepest question of all is the question we are to ourselves. As one privileged to work with young spiritual seekers, my deepest desire is to help them become more aware of the nearness of God and to lead them, as Ignatius and Rahner desired to do, into the Mystery of God. 

On the eve of the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I give thanks anew to these two great spiritual guides—Ignatius and Karl Rahner, S.J.—and to the many Jesuits who have passed on to me, in a variety of ways, the legacy and spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola. 

Peggy McDonald, I.H.M.

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6466379 | 7/30/2012 - 6:51pm
“ A World of Grace” about the great Jesuit priest Karl Rahner reminded me of one of his gems of Grace, “To be a human person is to be a questioner and the deepest question of all is the question we are to ourselves.” Yes, who, or what, am I? Do I really exist, or am I and everything around me simply nothing? That thought can be terrifying! It’s a question that used to bother me a lot, to which Faith gave an answer.

 But Faith is a dark light that often casts shadows of fright, on the jagged walls of the tunnel of life. But thank the Lord, it is nonetheless a light and that acceptance is usually enough for me. We do live by Faith. But once, quite unexpectedly I experienced something altogether “other,” an experience that momentarily moved me beyond the necessary nebulosity of Faith to certitude in the reality of reality! In other words to the reality that I truly existed and there is an Afterlife!

 No, it didn’t involve a near death experience. Rather, suddenly as I walked along leisurely, sort of prayerfully, I became absolutely aware of SELF, absolutely aware that I truly EXISTED and more marvelously that I would LIVE FOREVER! Where did that come from? Grace I think, (what else?) had moved me beyond simply BELIEVING, to absolutely KNOWING! I associate that experience to the above mentioned words of the great Jesuit priest, Karl Rahner ”the deepest question of all is the question we are to ourselves,” who, or what, am I? For me, two parts of those questions have been answered. I do exist and I will live forever! Quite reassuring in our beautiful, but often a “vale of tears” world. How true, "Everything is Grace!"
Jane Justin | 7/30/2012 - 6:02pm
6466379 | 7/31/2012 - 8:16am
#10 – Hi John, Grace is the embryonic fluid (water) sourced through Baptism, in the womb of Mother Church in which we daily splash. I say splash, not “swim” for like children, children of God whom we are, we do splash around as children do having fun. Praise God that you too, recognize the “splash” of KNOWING God, which you received through the Spiritual Exercises, a “similar Grace” you call it, to what I mentioned in my post. Let’s keep splashing! By the way I never did the Spiritual Exercises – well, sort of, for isn't my Jesus, my teacher, a Jesuit? I love the S.J.'s Ora pro me!
Crystal Watson | 7/30/2012 - 5:16pm
You can participate in the Exercises in their every day form by making the online retreat at Creighton University. I did so and it was amazing.
Jane Justin | 7/30/2012 - 3:53pm
I have wanted to do the Spirirtual Exercises myself but was never sure if they would relate to my "everyday" life. I see now that's what they're all about. Thank you! Is there a Rahner book for beginners like me?
John David | 7/30/2012 - 8:30pm
Bruce, your testimony is eloquent, and very similar moments of grace come upon me during the Spiritual Exercises... I think in the Exercises' Counter-Reformation origins they were a way of answering the Reformation's goal of ''personal experience'' but without depriving the seeker of the grace-filled sacramentality of the Church.  Just as we learn in the blog that Rahner ''knew'' God, you talk of that same ''knowing'' and it really is remarkable and a precious gift, toward which the whole journey of the Exercises seems to move.  To Maria's quest, I was blessed on several 10-day Ignatian retreats to have an IHM sister as my director; she was brilliant, deeply intuitive and insightful, a true ''master'' - she is no longer doing retreats, but my point is that the Jesuits share their retreat duties nowadays with a number of others to whom they have passed on the charism, so in case she can't find that ''faithful Jesuit'' in her area, there are other qualified directors out there .. keep looking!  It will change her life, as it did mine.
John David | 7/31/2012 - 6:34pm
Amen, Bruce!  Deus te benedicas!
Jane Justin | 7/30/2012 - 5:44pm
Wonderful tip, Crystal.  Can't believe your source and Maria's were there all along and I didn't know where to turn.  Thank you!
Jane Justin | 7/30/2012 - 6:01pm
Wonderful tip, Crystal.  Can't believe your source and Maria's were there all along and I didn't know where to turn.  Thank you!
Jane Justin | 7/30/2012 - 4:37pm
That's great. Thanks, Maria!

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