Today we’re pleased to bring you an article written by Father Greg Cleveland, who we’ve been introducing to you over the past few weeks.
People often ask how they can incorporate Ignatian spirituality into their lives, thinking it more fitting for the lifestyle of priests or religious. Actually, Ignatian spirituality is tailor-made for the active individual, with its goal of finding God in all things, whether in prayer, apostolic activity, or our ordinary daily routines! Prayer and work are two parts that make up the whole of anyone’s daily life, as typified by Martha, actively serving the Lord with her works of hospitality, and Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, contemplating his face and words. It is possible to encounter Christ in both states of active service and more passive contemplation.
St. Ignatius gave us the Spiritual Exercises, which have as their goal union with God in prayer and service of the Lord in apostolic life. We withdraw from the world for a retreat or a period of prayer in our home in order to concentrate our entire attention on Christ. We return to the world renewed in the Spirit to serve Christ in our work, play, study, family life and socializing with others. We can certainly be aware of Jesus’ presence in the midst of this activity since he and the Father are “always working.”
St. Ignatius, in his Contemplation to Attain Love, has us consider the gifts of nature and grace that God has given us both in our creation and redemption. The more aware we are of who we are as God’s precious children, “fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139),” the more we are able to give of ourselves to God and others. Aware of our natural talents, charisms of the Holy Spirit, and even our limitations, we bring them to bear upon the world in order to transform society according to the values of Christ. Ignatius then has us consider that God is already at work in the world, laboring for our good in all things, in the life we find all around us. We are called to be co-creators with God in establishing his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Consider Jim Johnson, a hotel manager who was asked to save a failing hotel. Other managers had tried but failed, and now the hotel was in a do-or-die situation. Because Jim was prayerfully in tune with God’s plan and activity, he decided to try a new approach. Instead of focusing all his energies on new budgets and protocols, Jim focused on prayer. Each night he drove to the top of the hill overlooking the hotel and the city, and he prayed for the hotel guests resting in their rooms, for his employees and their families, and for his business associates. Finally, he prayed for the city and its people. He did this night after night, and, not coincidentally, the hotel’s dire situation soon started to improve. Confidence began to radiate from its employees. Each guest was welcomed and greeted with new warmth. The hotel began to operate with a new spirit. These signs marked the hotel’s experience of a remarkable rebirth, a rebirth Jim rightly attributed to God’s action through his nightly prayer. Jim’s first recourse was to prayer, then to putting into practice the values of Christ in the operation of his business. The fruit was a true place of hospitality, which, though not overtly religious, reflected Christ in the temporal sphere.
We often think that our life and activities in the world distract us and take us away from God, sapping our divine energy. Far from that, our active life in the world is meant to be the very place of our encounter with God. Jean Pierre de Caussade writes of his very positive experience of divine grace in the world: “I should die of thirst rushing like this from one fountain to another, from one stream to another when there is a sea at hand, the waters of which encompass me on every side. All that happens to me therefore will be food for my nourishment, water for my cleansing, fire for my purification, and a channel of grace for all my needs. That which I might endeavor to find in other ways seeks me incessantly and gives itself to me through all creatures” (Abandonment to Divine Providence). God desires to communicate himself to me in every daily experience.
Following St. Ignatius, we too can seek to encounter God in all persons, places and events.
Fr. Greg Cleveland, O.M.V.
Executive Director of the Lanteri Center