A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola [1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same. This essay features First Principle and Foundation, the preamble to the Exercises. Its acceptance is essential to a successful experience of the graces that flow from the Exercises.

People are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save their soul; the other things on the face of the earth are created for people to help them in attaining the end for which they are created. Consequently, people are to make use of them in so far as they help them in the attainment of their end, and they must rid themselves of them in so far as they prove a hindrance to them. Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds true for all other things. Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.[2]

The First Principle and Foundation offers several directives that ground our lives in an ordered vision of reality. Its intent is to help us reach our fulfillment as participators in God’s ongoing plan for the creation and salvation of this world, and by this means achieve the true end of our existence, “the salvation of our soul”[3].

First, we exist to offer praise, reverence and service to God, the very source of our being and all of creation. In doing so, we live subordinate to, but in relationship with God and a creation that extends from the depths of the oceans to the outer reaches of space. The latter relationship has obvious implications not just for how we treat other human beings, but also for the environment and all that exists within it.

Second, our God-given dominion over the things of creation is not without limits. We are to engage them in so far as they aid our commitment to God’s salvific plan for creation, and to avoid them when they do not.

Third, our choices in all matters concerning the salvation of this world ought to be governed by the principle of indifference within our chosen state of life, be it married, single or religious.[4] For it is from indifference that true discernment of God’s will arises.

“The attitude of Ignatian indifference is not simply self-renunciation. It is a preference, beyond all natural and interior attachments, for the divine order of creation which embraces all things in a movement of love and service. It is our opting for God, in all things, without giving in to the sensitive likes or dislikes which spring from our nature.”[5]

It is from indifference and the discernment of God’s will that the Exercises lead Christians to follow Jesus in his mission on behalf of the unfinished work of the kingdom of God, while guarding against any obstacles or temptations that undermine this commitment. Ironically, the First Principle and Foundation implicitly reveals two general ways, or disordered visions of reality, by which this can occur.

The first way displaces God from God’s sovereign role over creation by making ourselves lords of all that exists. This is a self-interested way of life that when taken to an extreme turns away from God’s presence in our lives, leaves us isolated from others, and insensitive to our obligations as stewards of God’s creation.

The second way displaces God’s sovereign role over creation by replacing the divine with specific objects of creation, so often money and material possessions. This is an idolatrous way of life that when taken to an extreme forfeits our relationship with God, denigrates the dignity and rights of others, and despoils creation in the pursuit of personal advancement and profit.

Finally, as important as indifference and discernment are to the First Principle and Foundation’s ordered vision of reality, so also is the grace of courage. It is the latter that leads us to live faith in action while accepting the suffering that arises from those whose lives are dominated by self-interest and the desire for self-gain, and whose behavior ultimately impedes God’s plan for a world where all people can participate in a fair share of the goods of God’s creation.

Let us pray for the grace of courage, trusting that in doing so the Spirit of God will transform us into people committed to God’s ongoing plan for the creation and salvation of this world. For it is through this commitment that we will realize the true end of our existence, the salvation of our soul.


[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following  Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] L.J. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Section 23.

[3] Ibid, Section 1.

[4] Ignatius alludes to chosen states of life when he says, “as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition.” Marriage and vowed religious life inherently place limitations upon future choices.

[5] G. Cusson, Biblical Theology and the Spiritual Exercises (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1994), 78.