A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Exercises)[1] 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.

The Contemplation to Attain Love[2] focuses us on the mutual love between God and humanity that is expressed in union and joy. God’s love is pure gift and we ask for the grace of this love[3] as we pray after each of the four points of this exercise.[4] Ultimately, this final contemplation challenges us to historicize God’s love in this world by finding God in all things,[5] for it is God’s love that moves all of creation to its ultimate end of union with God.

The Contemplation to Attain Love is the final prayer of the Exercises. Michael Buckley describes it as a summary of the Spiritual Exercises.[6] For this reason, it can be returned to periodically as a way to recapture the dynamic of the Exercises. It is briefly presented here.

The First Week of the Exercises explores human sinfulness and God’s offer of salvation in the context of God’s infinite love. The First Point of the Contemplation explores God’s salvific plan for history through the gifts of God’s self and creation that are bestowed upon us to achieve that end. We are called to return God’s love to God as we move towards each other in mutual love.

The Second Week of the Exercises is an experience of the Incarnation, God’s presence in human history. We come to know, love and serve Jesus in his work on behalf of the kingdom of God. The Second Point of the Contemplation considers how God dwells within all creatures, causing them to be what they are through divine presence. It is divine indwelling that makes us temples of God and participants in the salvific plan of the Incarnation, the ultimate indwelling of the divine in history.

The Third Week of the Exercises asks us to accompany Jesus in his passion and death in self-offering for the salvation of this world. The Third Point of the Contemplation considers how God works and labors for us in all creatures upon the face of the earth. God is sacred history as God maintains an active and loving interest in the salvation of this world.

The Fourth Week of the Exercises moves us from the Jesus of history to the risen Christ of faith. The resurrection is an experience of the joy and glory of God’s victory over death and human sinfulness. The Fourth Point of the Contemplation moves from the acts of God to their very source. God’s goodness is not simply indicative of God’s love for us; it is the very essence of God’s nature. Everything in creation has its source from within God and everything flows out of and descends from God.

When the Contemplation is fully assimilated, we recognize our call to total self-surrender to God as we embrace God’s love for us, and then filled with gratitude we respond by seeking to love and serve God in all things.[7]

The Contemplation captures the essence of the Exercises. We depart from them as transformed people who have become contemplatives in action. We now engage the world around us by discerning God’s will and following Jesus in the unfinished work of the kingdom of God, trusting always in the promise of life lived forever in the fullness of God’s love.

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – house, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first (in the kingdom of God).” (Mk 10:29-31).

[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), Sections 230-37. See also, M. Buckley, “The Contemplation to Attain Love”, The Way, Supplement 24, (Spring, 1975), 92-104. I have relied on Buckley’s work in presenting the Contemplation to Attain Love. See, also, The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus and Their Complementary Norms (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996), 124, par. 288.

[3] Ibid., Section 233.

[4] Ibid., Sections 234-37.

[5] Ibid., Section 233

[6] Buckley, “The Contemplation to Attain Love”, 92-104.

[7] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 233.