A Discussion of the Principle and Foundation and Its Relationship to Three Meditations

Introductory note: I wrote this paper last summer during my studies at Creighton University for the course Introduction to the Spiritual Exercises. I reproduce it with a few edits.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12, NRSV)

lamb of GodThese days I feel a great affinity with the Principle and Foundation. If the Spiritual Exercises are indeed “all about discipleship” (as described in class) then annotation number twenty-three is the gate through which women and men have the opportunity to be transformed from believers into disciples. It strikes me as a shift from childhood into maturity. Almost fifteen centuries before Ignatius, a Pharisee-turned-apostle wrote to the Corinth faith community, and seems to have nailed the meaning for me, and that maturity to which I aspire. Saint Paul concedes that even as an adult, it is still in process for him—the dim present-day view. I also realize I have some way to go. But that glimpse of God, his face to mine, and the yearning to be known … I presume God knows, and the Principle and Foundation is the gate, built by Ignatius, through which I walk.

Having served in campus ministry the past (seven) years, and having witnessed something of the frustration of wheels-spinning-stuck-in-the-mud in American suburban parishes in the many years before that, I’m convinced that more people could move from the stasis of “saved Christian.” There, many of us lament our missed opportunities. We nurture our sense of entitlement (as the One, True Church) and presume “God’s will” will land us the people we used to have, with the fervor people used to feel, with the rose-colored tint that naturally comes with our golden age of choice.

What’s the relevance of the Principle and Foundation? First, that God lovingly crafted all of creation, including human beings, and including the retreatant. The baptism acclamation based on Ephesians 2:10 comes to mind: “You are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus.” (RCIA 595) God’s agency in the world is not a “work” in the sense of labor as human beings might understand it. It is artistry, a gesture of love.

David Fleming’s contemporary reading moves beyond the modern slogan “Love people, use things,” by suggesting that created things should be held in reverence by the seeker (Fleming 1996, 27). Our choice not to use, utilize, or otherwise engage things of the world doesn’t imply a disrespect, a casual casting off. The serenity portrayed in Ignatian spirituality suggests a simple setting aside.

As for what some might call a tension between the “sacred” and “profane,” Fleming (ibid.) suggests a holding ourselves in balance. This seems more akin to Ignatius’ post-Manresa experience when he set aside his extreme approach to living a disciple’s life. As one author describes it (Aschenbrenner 2004, 69) the saint’s inner fire became “trimmed and focused much more precisely,” ready for “the discerned nuance of God’s greater glory or Ignatius’ uniquely greater service.” Sometimes it’s as much about our getting out of God’s way as it is clearing our path of clutter.

I also see the Principle and Foundation as a guide for fruitful ministry. “Praise and reverence” as the original reads, is easy enough for good Catholics. We go to liturgy. We bow, genuflect, and kneel in the right way and at the right moments. David Fleming’s contemporary rendition notes the balance of “success or failure” in a list of things about which we are urged to be indifferent. We pastoral ministers can benefit from a deeper consideration of that. We are employed for a paycheck in the service of an institution. But Christ employs us for loyalty and clarity in presenting and sharing faith and discipleship with others. Quite often there is a different standard from what our parish administrations hold as optimal. How many people show up for programs, committees, and ministry rosters? Did the Sunday collection match 1/52 of the annual budget?

I can acknowledge the Pelagian danger of Ignatius’ aim of “sav(ing) his soul.” But the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 seems like a better banner to hoist on our hilltop, the command to go and make disciples, and to recall Christ’s abiding presence with us. Would that more of our parishes utilized that as a “mission statement,” rather than some well-meaning, but concocted formula like we were just another non-profit occupying real estate.

The Principle and Foundation can serve as a gateway into a more meaningful experience of the Exercises. The Call of the King serves a similar purpose as the person moves into the Second Week. The Call presumes an ongoing process, that an individual has digested the nourishment of the previous week. But there may be problems for many modern retreatants. We discussed this in class, looking at John Veltri’s “call mode” and “healing mode.” I probed a bit deeper into some of Veltri’s thoughts on this. He raises three oft-cited objections: the near-absence of royalty in our imaginations, the male and/or battle imagery, and the post-modern loss of heroes and heroines.

If anything, the past decade-plus of covering up abuse scandals might heighten that last loss for many devoted Catholics. Add to this that more than ever, western culture seems to revel in the deconstruction of heroes political (e.g. Nixon, Clinton) or celebrity (e.g. Martha Stewart), cheering their downfall, but curiously, rooting for many of them on the upswing.

Veltri (“The Kingdom Exercise and the Use of Myth in Spiritual Direction,” ch 25, online edition) was unconvinced these challenges were insurmountable, but he acknowledged the need to create some kind of mythology for today’s retreatants. This rings true to me. Given the massive popularity of superhero movies as well as action films, I suspect these genres fill a great need in many people for someone to admire. Need I suggest that many of today’s young adults would willingly follow Harry Potter into the Chamber of Secrets? We may have lost the king. We may like to use public figures as punching bags. But we haven’t lost our taste for heroes.

My sense of The Two Standards is less that it presents a person with a choice of good or evil. The presumption for a believer is that we will choose good, or at least, we will want to choose the side of Jesus. This Second Week meditation is a reality check. Evil is subtle and we are not immune from seduction in this life. The contemporary reading of the Exercises alludes to the kenosis canticle of Philippians 2 (Fleming, ibid., 113). I was struck by Saint Paul’s preliminary comment not cited, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:4-5) Ignatius realizes it is not enough to gather under the banner of Christ, and that this meditation, as well as The Three Classes of Persons are intended to refine a willing disciple. Following Jesus is more than an external flag we wave for the benefit of others and likely ourselves.

Asking for the mind of Christ: this is an intimate and hidden grace we seek. It is not as obvious as a banner fluttering in the breeze, or a harsh and active flame in the night. It flies in the face of the narcissism of modern celebrity—and I believe there is as much a real danger to a disciple who may crave the regard of her or his small social circle.

It comes back to a very basic question that impacts not only the voyage through the Spiritual Exercises, or for me, my conduct in lay ministry. It is about a discipleship that always points, always gestures to One beyond my own self. Striving for that balance to honor self, but be willing and happy to subsume my liberty, memory, understanding, and will. I suspect that will be a lifelong project.

Aschenbrenner, S.J., George A.. Stretched for Greater Glory. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2004.

Fleming, S.J., David L.. Draw Me Into Your Friendship: The Spiritual Exercises, A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading. Saint Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996.

International Commission on English in the Liturgy, trans.. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. 1988.

Veltri, S.J., John. Orientations, volume 2. Guelph: Loyola House, 1981, accessed online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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