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.

Following the Fourth Week, Ignatius ends the Exercises with the Contemplation to Attain Love, a prayerful reflection on the mutual love between God and humanity that is expressed in union and joy.[2] We ask for the grace of this love[3] as we pray after each of the four points of this exercise.[4] Ultimately, the 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.

Giles Cusson describes Ignatius’ experience of the Contemplation in the following way.

“Ignatius reached the point where he loved the world because he loved God, and because the world would not exist without God. He also loved the world in proportion to his contemplation of God in it; and he used it in order to ‘serve the divine Majesty in all things,’ and to praise and proclaim the grandeur of the Lord who condescends to live in it unceasingly, in a way that is multiple, diverse, and adapted…

This experience of the transcendence of God, of the ‘Divine Majesty,’ or the ‘Most Holy Trinity,’ a perception which comes through Christ as found in the truths of his mysteries of creation, Incarnation, and redemption – gave Ignatius a vivid perception of the divine immanence in the created world. It is not false to say that Ignatius lived in a ‘divine milieu.’ Any small creature could put him into contact with God, because he unceasingly and concretely perceived that nothing exists or subsists without the active and loving presence of God; and that in return every creature becomes, in its own way, a reflection and proclamation of the divine grandeur.”[6]

Two Preliminary Observations

First, “love ought to manifest itself more in deeds than in words.”[7] Second, “love consists in a mutual sharing of gifts, (where), the lover gives and shares with the beloved what she/he possess … and vice versa. Hence, if one has knowledge, she/he shares it with one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honors, or riches…. always (giving) to the other.”[8]

The love Ignatius describes in these observations is an active one that is incarnated in history. It results from an experience of being profoundly loved by God and it leads to a commitment to collaborate with Jesus and his work on behalf of the kingdom of God (1 Jn 4:11).

Four Points

The four points of the Contemplation move the four weeks of the Exercises into a single prayer period. Each point builds upon the previous one until, together, they coalesce in the recognition that God is to be loved not because of how good God has been to us, but because of how good God is in God’s self. Ultimately, the Contemplation reveals the mutuality that exists between God’s self-giving to us in love and our self-surrender to that love which is God. The four points lead us from an interior knowledge of God’s goodness in God’s self, to accepting God’s love for us, and finally to service to God and creation in gratitude for that love.[9]

The First Point:

“This is to recall to mind the blessings of creation and redemption, and the special favors we have received. We ponder with great affection how much God has done for us, and how much God has given us of what God possesses, and finally, how much, as far as God can, this same God desires to give God’s self to us according to God’s divine decrees. Then we reflect upon ourselves, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what we ought to offer the Divine majesty, that is, all we possess and ourselves with it. Thus, as one would do who is moved by great feeling, we make this offering of ourselves:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

My memory, my understanding, my entire will,

All that I have and possess,

You have given all to me.

To you, O God, I return it’

All is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace,

For this is enough for me.” [10]

The first point places us within God’s salvific plan for history. We are part of God’s creation and called to participate in its redemption. For this reason, we ought to appreciate God and all of creation as gift bestowed upon us for our salvation and that of all of creation. Through this giftedness we are called to return God’s love, which is the essence of this giftedness, to God and creation. Consequently, the mutual self-giving in this first point between God and humanity is not just personal, but universal. We and God move through all of creation and towards each other in the work of the kingdom of God.[11]

The Second Point:

“This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in people bestowing understanding. So God dwells in us and gives us being, life, sensation, intelligence; and makes a temple of us, since we are created in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty.”[12]

The second point considers how God is present within all creatures, causing them to be what they are through divine presence. Moreover, this presence is specifically ordered toward humanity’s salvation because we have been created in God’s image and likeness as temples of God that reach their apex in the Incarnation, the fullness of God’s dwelling within history in Jesus. Furthermore, in following Jesus and participating with him in the work of the kingdom of God, God’s presence continues to be revealed to creation. Consequently, the advance of the second point over the first one is God not only gives God’s self to humanity as gift, but God also lives within this gift. That is, God dwells in everything, making creation not only gift, but also holy because it contains God’s presence.[13]

The Third Point:

“This is to consider how God works and labors for us in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, God conducts God’s self as one who labors. Thus, in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc., God gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc.”[14]

The third point considers God’s presence in our world as being dynamic and continuous. God’s efforts consist not only in the many blessings we have received, but also in God’s presence to us in the everyday struggles of human existence as the kingdom of God continues to unfold in history. Consequently, there is a continued development in the third point over the previous two points. God is not only gift and holy; God is also sacred history as God maintains an active and loving presence in the unfolding of creation.[15]

The Fourth Point:

“This is to consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above. Thus, our limited power comes from the supreme and infinite power above, and so, too, justice, goodness, mercy, etc., descend from above as the rays of light descend from the sun, and as waters flow from their fountains, etc. Then we will reflect upon ourselves, as has been said.”[16]

The fourth point moves from the acts of God to their very source. We now recognize that what we have experienced as gift from God is not simply indicative of God’s love for us, but the very essence of God’s nature. This shift from the goodness of God’s actions to the reality of God’s goodness in God’s self reflects that created things are not only gifts, holy, and sacred history, but also a participation in God’s very being. Everything in creation has its source from within God and everything flows out of and descends from God. It is this God of infinite goodness who is in tension with the gods of evil as God’s love seeks to overcome human sinfulness until one-day God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).[17]

Ultimately, when the four points of the Contemplation are fully assimilated, they lead us to total surrender to God in knowledge, love, and service. Moreover, they produce an understanding of all things as gift, holy, sacred history, and a participation in divine reality. It is the assimilation of these two dynamics that is at the heart of the Contemplation.

As we ponder the Contemplation, let us pray for the grace to enter into the Divine Milieu of God’s love and goodness. May it lead us to gratitude for all that God had done for us and service to God and creation by doing our part to witness to the unfolding presence of the kingdom of God in our time.

[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 to a great extent on Buckley’s work in presenting the Contemplation to Attain Love. that will henceforth be referred to as “The Contemplation.” 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] G. Cusson, Biblical Theology and the Spiritual Exercises (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1994), 320-21.

[7] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 230.

[8] Ibid., Section 231.

[9] Buckley, “The Contemplation to Attain Love,” 92-104. Buckley stresses that the Contemplation is a developmental exercise from which emerges human love. It aims to elevate a growth in awareness of “interior knowledge,” which includes understanding, sensibility, and feeling. It is also “profoundly personal”, providing a “felt knowledge” of the goodness with which God has surrounded us. Finally, it offers a goodness that is received as “gift”, as from God and for me, that leads to openness to God and creation.

[10] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 234.

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

[12] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 235.

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

[14] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 236.

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

[16] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 237.

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