A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[i] (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.

A Meditation on Two Standards asked us to choose for or against Jesus and his work on behalf of the kingdom of God. Presuming we have opted for Jesus, Ignatius offers two additional meditations during the Second Week, Three Kinds of People[ii] and Three Kinds of Humility.[iii] They are intended to help us recognize the depth of our commitment to active discipleship with Jesus. This article addresses the meditation on Three Kinds of People.

Three Kinds of People

Three Kinds of People makes clear that discipleship with Jesus is more than an intellectual ascent to faith. It also includes incarnating the values of the kingdom of God in this world. This meditation internalizes the experience of A Meditation on Two Standards, as we now discover that discipleship with Jesus requires the inner freedom to put aside self-interest and acquire the indifference to created things so necessary to discern and act upon God’s will.

The exercise unfolds as a story of unexpected wealth acquired through less than entirely appropriate means by three different groups of people. It demonstrates the incoherence of their actions considering their beliefs, and their subsequent attempts to make right their relationship with God.

Each of three kinds of people has acquired ten thousand ducats, but not entirely as they should have, for the love of God. They all wish to save their souls and find peace in God by ridding themselves of the burden arising from the attachment to the sum acquired, which impedes the attainment of this end.[iv]

Ignatius never says the new-found fortune of these people must be forfeited. He merely states the actions of all involved are disordered and asks us to observe their attempts to reestablish right relationship with God as a precursor for understanding our own disordered desires and their effects upon our relationship with God.

As we prepare to engage this meditation, Ignatius asks us to place ourselves before God and all the saints making known our intention to seek the grace to desire only that which is more pleasing to God.[v]

The First Kind of People[vi]

The first kind of people want to rid themselves of their disordered attachment to the money they have acquired and deepen their relationship with God. However, years pass by and at the hour of their death they have done nothing to resolve their dilemma. Even though they have recognized the primacy of God in their lives, they have made no effort to discern God’s will concerning the wealth they have acquired through disordered behavior. In effect, they have chosen self-interest at the expense of self-transcendence and a willingness to discern God’s will above all else.

The Second Kind of People[vii]

The second kind of people also want to rid themselves of their disordered attachment to the money they have acquired and deepen their relationship with God. However, they do so in a way that has God acquiesce to their desire to maintain possession of their new-found wealth. Through rationalization and self-deception, they have transformed God’s will into their own. They, like the first kind of people, have displaced God with money as the true absolute of their lives, even if they have done so in a more subtle way than the first kind of people.

It is the second kind of people that so often reflects Christianity throughout history. While claiming discipleship with Jesus, many profess an intellectual ascent to faith with minimal, if any, commitment to incarnating the values of the kingdom of God in this world. This manipulation of the radical call of the gospel brings to mind the challenging words of G. K. Chesterton, the English novelist who, in response to criticism that Christianity has not made the world a better place in the two thousand years of its existence, once stated, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”[viii]

Third Kind of People[ix]

The third kind of people overcome their disordered attachment to the money and seek deepening relationship with God by developing the inner freedom to put aside self-interest and live with indifference to their new-found wealth and open to discerning God’s will as to its use. That is, is their decision to hold onto or relinquish the money they have acquired will be made devoid of self-interest and completely in accord with God’s will.

Taken together the three kinds of people demonstrate where our hearts rest in relation to our commitment to discipleship with Jesus. There is no justification for claiming discipleship with Jesus while failing to discern God’s will (First Kind of People). There is also no justification for co-opting God’s will through rationalization and self-deception to suit one’s interests (Second Kind of People). Discernment of God’s will is the sine qua non of discipleship with Jesus, and indifference to created things is the fundamental behavior necessary to attain this end (Third Kind of People).

Ignatius asks us to reflect upon this meditation in order to gain insight into our relationship with God and the true depth of our commitment to discipleship with Jesus. Then, in light of what we have learned, we end this exercise with the same triple colloquy (conversation) of A Meditation on Two Standards. There, we ask in succession, Mary, Jesus, and the God of creation, for the grace to be received under the standard of Christ, first in the highest spiritual poverty, and even in actual poverty; secondly, in bearing insults and wrongs, thereby to imitate him better, provided only I can suffer these without sin on the part of another, and without offense of the Divine Majesty.[x]

Let us pray for the courage to discern God’s will and allow the Spirit to lead us to wherever God will have us go to act with Jesus on behalf of the unfinished work of the kingdom of God.

[i] 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.

[ii] Puhl, L. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Sections 149-56.

[iii] Ibid., Sections 165-67.

[iv] Ibid., Section 150. See also, Ivens, Understanding the Spiritual Exercises (Herefordshire: Gracewing and Surrey: Inigo Enterprises, 1998), 115. Ten thousand ducats represent a “fabulous fortune.” Ignatius estimated that during his student days in Paris, one could live for a year on fifty ducats.

[v] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 151.

[vi] Ibid., Section 153.

[vii] Ibid., Section 154.

[viii] G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World, (New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2013), Part 1, Chap 5: The Unfinished Temple.

[ix] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 155.

[x] Ibid., Section 147.