For me this has always been one of the key moments in the Spiritual Exercises. Towards the start of the Second Week – we have a meditation presented to us by Ignatius of two armies being assembled on a battlefield. But this is a spiritual battle – in fact a battle that goes on within our hearts. We have to choose whose standard to line up behind – Christs or The Enemy of Human Nature….. Each of the leaders gives their speech : over to Ignatius.
To consider the discourse which the Enemy makes them, and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches — as he is accustomed to do in most cases — that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.
This is the strategy of the world – the cult of celebrity / conspicuous consumption / greed is good. But consider how seductive it is, how powerful it is – how many of us are caught in a cycle of unhappiness because we feel entitled, we feel rage because its ‘unfair’ – the bankers making money from money, the rich avoiding tax ….. then there is the counter-cultural strategy of Christ who realised that paradoxically if you want to really life, you have to lose your life first – your attachments, your enslavement…..
Consider the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and — if His Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them — no less to actual poverty; the second is to be of contumely and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contumely or contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them induce to all the other virtues.
There are many studies now on ‘wellbeing’ that are starting to echo this – maybe not as radically as Ignatius. Affluenza, by Oliver James talks of a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. Have you noticed that the most joyful people in life are also the most grateful, generous, openhearted? This is what lies behind the Logic of Christ the King – Brilliant! But not easy to put into practice! You can see why early on the temptation to escape the world – Desert Fathers – and then Monastic Life. But Jesuits are called to be Contemplatives in Action – in the world but not of the world.
Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December! This was scheduled before I entered my month of silence!