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John A. ColemanJuly 30, 2011

I finished, this past week, leading sixteen Jesuit tertians--from around the world and this country-- ( men making what Ignatius mandated as a kind of intense  'school of the heart' before taking, eventually, their final vows in the Society) in a week-long' sapiential' or prayerful reading of The Jesuit Constitutions. They had just finished their second thirty-day Ignatian retreat, based on The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. The first was made at the beginning of their journey in the novitiate when they first entered the Jesuits.

More and more, many non-Jesuits are quite familiar with and adept at leading The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius--to be sure, an inestimable treasure for spirituality. For most non-Jesuits, The Exercises are their only access to the font of Jesuit spirituality. Few, however, know much about The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. The latter is a longish and often sprawling ten part document detailing   'the way of proceeding' for Jesuits in their corporative life. It includes elements such as a vow to avoid Jesuit ambition for ecclesiastical office. It also entails a fourth vow for Jesuits ( beyond chastity, poverty and obedience) to the pope about missions. They vow to go wherever in the world the Pope might choose to send them. It also envisions a special vow Jesuits are asked to make not to change Jesuit poverty--as it is found in The Constitutions-- except to make it more demanding and stringent. It details elements of Jesuit governance. A section of the document limns the incipient contours for a Jesuit high school or university.

Some wags have come up with--what I take to be somewhat misleading--a dichotomy. They say The Exercises are for everyone who accepts them. Ignatius was a layman when he made his own long sojourn in the cave of Manresa, out of which came The Exercises.  So, they speak of The Exercises as ' Ignatian' ( but a spirituality open to anyone who enters their regimen and spirit) and of The Constitutions as ' Jesuit' ( as if the latter only and uniquely could apply to Jesuits).

This facile distinction can be somewhat mistaken. Many elements of The Constitutions could easily be adapted by lay persons or other religious congregations. I have in mind Ignatius' famous part seven of The Constitutions about mission and the taking up of apostolic ministries by Jesuits. Ignatius presents a set of criteria for choosing ministry. For example, a bias toward a good that is more universal; toward greater need ( " Because of lack of other workers and because of the wretchedness and infirmity of the people there and their dangers".) Ignatius also lifts up as a criterion for choice of ministry to privilege going to places " where greater fruit is likely to be reaped", as well as to places where there is a kind of indebtedness to those who have benefitted the Jesuits. Again, preference should go to " places where the enemy of Christ Our Lord is seen to have sown cockle ( Matthew 13:24-30) or stirred up ill will." Here we find translated into criteria of choice of ministry the famous Ignatian magis ( seeking always the greater good) also found in The Exercises. Clearly, such criteria for the choice of collective action and ministry could apply to choices and priorities set by dioceses, religiously affiliated schools, Catholic Charities or other religious orders or lay movements.

Part VII of The Constitutions builds on ' the election' to follow Christ the King in The Exercises. Once one has decided to become a disciple of Jesus and follow his way, then, patently, one needs to try to specify, concretely, what that choice entails for action and finding colleagues in ministry. It strikes me that this is not just some in-house Jesuit set of criteria. Indeed, would that our dioceses and other Catholic institutions deliberated with such conscientious criteria in their choice of future direction, expanding or contracting already existing ministries or choosing new ones ! If The Exercises brilliantly present a mode for personal discernment, The Constitutions complement them in giving us norms for collective discernment or choice.

In The Exercises, Ignatius, the quondam soldier with a shattered and foreshortened leg, still keeps a strong military image: The Call of Christ, the King. The Constitutions in so many ways presuppose The Exercises.They invoke The Third Degree of Humility; the choice to do greater things for God-- the magis. They press a constinuous emphasis on Ignatian discernment or prudential weighing of choices before God; They choose actual poverty. The Exercises, to be sure, form an indispensable backdrop to The Constitutions. Yet the central image for Christ and the disciple in The Constitutions is less the image of a soldier, following Christ, the King, as found in The Exercises, but as a laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. Because The Exercises follow, methodically, in their sequence of meditations, almost the whole swathe of scripture, from the nativity, through the public life, passion and resurrection of Jesus, it is difficult to find any one scripture passage which aptly captures their thrust. For The Constitutions the central scriptural motif is, clearly, taken from Matthew 10: The Commissioning and Mission of the Twelve to go out on mission in poverty, preaching the good news. Jesuits see themselves ( but this motif should be common to all disciples in an essentially missionary church) as ' ones who are sent'.

These two sources of Ignatian spirituality complement one another. The Exercises are intensely focused on a triad ( the exercitant, his or her' soul friend', companion or director and the interior movement of the soul under the guidance of The Holy Spirit). To be sure, this intense interiority ( almost individualism) is complemented by The Exercises' " Rules for Thinking With the Church". Yet, The Constitutions are much more communitarian than The Exercises. They deal not just with personal but communal discernment.

When Ignatius, the converted soldier, went down to the cave in Manresa he learned many things. But he also made many mistakes. He, who on his convalescent bed in Loyola read Ludolph of Saxony;s The Lives of the Saints, engaged, as some early Fathers of the Desert had, in excessive penances and austerities. These later compromised Ignatius' health. He also gave himself over to extraordinary but long prayer and meditation. He did all this without benefit of a spiritual guide who might have alerted him to some temptations he faced in that period of being a hermit ( despair; a temptation to suicide etc.). The older mature Ignatius of The Constitutions was deft in inculcating moderation, a concern for bodily health and well-being, and the need for a spiritual director who would help in the discernment process.

In his hermitage at Manresa, Ignatius learned, by trial and error, the delusions of self--how a seeming angel of light could disguise inordinate attachments or mislead. He called these the promptings of ' the evil spirit'. He also came to know that God could and would lead the devout pilgrim soul to consolation and deep desires coming from the profound human thirst for God. He also saw that ultimately God presupposes and calls for a profound human freedom. That same honoring of freedom is seen in The Constitutions. Throughout, as a kind of leitmotif, Ignatius says in The Constitutions  that this is our rule, our way of proceeding, the norm. But he was not a legalist. Almost always, after enunciating a rule of procedure, he tells Jesuit superiors or individual Jesuits to pay attention to ' times, places, circumstances, the person involved'. In a way, much like the great Eastern European mystic and rabbi, Rabbi Nachman, Ignatius seems to have sensed: " What kind of God would that be toward whome there is only one path?"

In the preamble to The Constitutions, Ignatius lifts up the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the love of God which is to move any disciple of Jesus. " God our Creator and Lord is the one who in his Supreme Wisdom and Goodness must preserve, direct, and carry forward in his divine service this least Society of Jesus, just as he deigned to begin it. On our part, what helps most toward this end must be, more than any exterior constitution, the interior law of charity ahd love which the Holy Spirit writes and imprints on our hearts." In a powerful and persistent phrase, Ignatius appeals to ' caritas discreta' -- a prudent, a discerned charity which animates us. It seems that The Exercises allowed some people to pursue them ( at least the first week of The Exercises) primarily out of the motive of trying to save their own souls. The Constitutions insist that the salvation of our souls must be linked to our desire also to help others, ' to help souls', in Ignatius' phrase. Love of God and love of neighbor are inexorably linked. Ignatius thought that formed Jesuits did not need any fixed rule about the amount of time they needed to spend in prayer. If they were truly mortified and cleaved to God, they would try to find God in all things. That famous Jesuit formula, a contemplative in action, to be sure, can be found ingredient in The Exercises. But it gets a much stronger emphasis in The Constitutions.

In the final section, Part X of The Constitutions, Ignatius sums up what he feels is most crucial in the foregoing parts. " The Society was not instituted by human means and it is not through them that it can be preserved and increased but through the grace of the omnipotent hand of Christ Our God and Lord. Therefore, in him alone must be placed the hope that he will carry forward what he deigned to begin for his service and praise and for the aid of souls". Ignatius stresses spiritual means for the preservation of the Society and its spirit. Jesuits, he says, should  "attach greater importance to these [ spiritual] means than to learning or to other natural and human gifts. For these interior gifts are necessary to make those exterior means efficacions for the end which is being sought."

To be sure, Jesuits--all disciples, the church--should diligently seek efficacious and shrewd means to witness to the good news. They need professional skills and deft and effective management. But, as always, the cardinal rule of thumb reads:  "Pray as if everything depends on you ( so also cultivate all the skills and means you need) but act ( because this is, in fact, true) as if everything depends on God ( because in the order of grace it decidedly does!)"

In The Constitutions' final section, Ignatius also warns against how ambition for power or position can undo spiritual freedom, as can, equally, desire for riches and to secure wealth. He notes that the supreme law must be " Charity and Christian freedom".  I find that continuous emphasis on freedom by Ignatius quite attracive. In his own way, Ignatius seems to have insisted, as Paul also did, that in Christ Jesus " for freedom we have been set free".

Ignatius in his early years was a pilgrim. He was an itinerate preacher and giver of The Exercises. Indeed he was imprisoned, for a time, by The Inquisition on suspicion of being one of the so-called illuminati. At one point, Ignatius wandered off to the Holy Land, then under Moslem rule, on his own and was ordered, in no uncertain terms, to go quickly back home by the Franciscan keeper of the holy places. Ignatius also came to feel he must go back to school and get a proper education. To do so, he first had to learn basics which his sporadic and un-ordered early education neglected. He sat, in his mid-thirties, with mere school boys, before going on to the University of Paris. Knowing that, I have always been most touched by Ignatius' remark as an old man that God took him by the hand, like a schoolboy, to instruct and lead him to life and truth.

Amazingly, long after he was elected by his early companions the first general superior of the Jesuits and through his long sixteen year term in that office, Ignatius continued to sign many of his letters with the sobriquet: ' The Pilgrim'. He came to see that all of us who have come forth from God are on a kind of pilgrimage to discover and cleave to the God who is always greater than our imaginations or any of our feeble formulas for him can capture. Ignatius received mystical gifts early on. While at Manresa, at the nearby River Cardonet, Ignatius had a profound vision of the Trinity. But one of the things which has always drawn me to the mature Ignatius' subtle spirituality contained in The Constittuions was the extraordinary mystical gifts given him as general superior of the Jesuits and during his long ( lasting almost fifteen years) sifting and editing of what eventually became The Constitutions. One can get some sense of these mystic gifts by reading Ignatius' Spiritual Diary which recounts gifts of tears, special words aimed at him from the Trinity etc. as he deliberated over sections of The Constitutuons, especially the section on poverty. The Ignatius I often love to conjure, too, is the saint, general superior at Rome, who sang and played the guitar and danced on his gimpy foot to cheer up sick Jesuits. It strikes me it is important not to hang all of Ignatian spirituality just on The Exercises and miss what makes them more acutely applied in the long, thoughtful deliberations about life in common in the church found in the Jesuit Constitutions.

John A. Coleman, S.J.


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Brendan McGrath
12 years 7 months ago
About "Pray as if everything depended on you, work/act as if everything depended on God" - I remember in his "Jesuit History and Spirituality" course, Fr. Brian McDermott at Georgetown told us that this is the real version of the saying, as you said, not the one which switches it to "pray as if everything depended on God, work as if everything depended on you."  (Or at least that that should be the correct version - is it in fact the one that St. Ignatius used or wrote?  Do we know what the original was?)

John Coleman
12 years 7 months ago
 Brendan  :The correct formula is the one I and Brian McDermott gave, although you will often hear its opposite: Pray as if everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on you. There is a problem with this alternate formula. It puts reliance on God only in prayer. It has a semi-Pelagian ring ( act as if everything depended on you) and neglects finding God in all things ( not just in contemplation but in action) not just finding God in prayer.
12 years 7 months ago
Happy Feast Day Jesuits all over the world!  
Thank you so much for sharing the story of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit Constitutions.  I used to wonder what made the Jesuits unique....made them tick or why they seem to be hated/criticized and loved/admired at the same time!!!! 

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