Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: finding God in all things

As the cover states, this book by Jesuit Father William Barry is meant to be a Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  The Spiritual Exercises are notes or directions for spiritual directors, who help people to examine their conscience, rid themselves of inordinate attachments, and to find the will of God for themselves, forming a personal relationship with God “and living in harmony with God’s creative purpose for (them).”  “Ignatius presupposes that at every moment of our existence God is communicating to us who God is, (and) who we are in God’s sight … but we are not always conscious of the presence of God” --- but we can be.
 The Spiritual Exercises are broken into four weeks (which, depending on the individual, can take months or even years to complete).  The weeks focus on sin and healing, understanding Jesus’ love for us, His death and resurrection, and finally, “The Contemplation to Obtain Divine Love” --- knowing who we are in God’s sight.
This book is a summary of the focus of an Ignatius-based spiritual discernment exercise, but it has many insightful comments which benefit anyone.  One of the first things the author notes is that many people seek spiritual direction, but cannot accept it because of preconceived bias.  “People who have been abused physically, psychically, or sexually may carry around gravely distorted images of themselves in relation to authority figures and especially God.  Many people have also been hurt badly by tragedies.”  The first chapter of this book is titled:  Can I Trust God?: Healing Life’s Hurts.  It provides great insights for a spiritual director to begin a difficult conversation.
The chapter on sin mentions how God “knows that we have not lived up to His hopes and dreams for us,” and our sorrows in realizing that He loves us tenderly anyway.  I especially liked Chapter 8: The Struggle Between Jesus and Evil.
In Chapter 8, Ignatius speaks of Satan’s worldly temptations:  “The first step will be riches, the second honor, and the third pride.  From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.”  Fr. Barry then gives an example of a university professor: first a student, then with a doctorate, and then one in a position of prestige and honor.  He works on a research project, but “the numbers do not add up,” but the data could be fudged.  “Has he succumbed to the pride that would say ‘I desire to be at this university; I’ve earned it’?  If he has, then the temptation to falsify the data will be almost overwhelming”.  From riches to honor to pride, this was a good example of the temptation that many of us face:  “the belief that one deserves what one has, and the honor and respect one receives.”
Countering the temptations of Satan, Ignatius presents the program of Jesus:  charity.  “To seek to help all, first by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty, and should it please the Divine Majesty, and should he deign to choose them for it, even to actual poverty.  Secondly, they should lead them to a desire for insults and contempt, for from these springs humility.  Hence, there will be three steps:  the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to the honor of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride.  From these three steps, let them lead people to all other virtues.”
Satan’s three steps:  riches, honors, pride, then falling to all other vices.  Jesus’ three steps:  spiritual poverty, insults or contempt, humility, then the advance to all other virtues.
Fr. Barry presents Ignatius’ words on how we choose to lead our lives:  it is our choice, yet he also presents a view that it really isn’t.  We choose the route of sin: our desires for ourselves.  But, as Fr. Barry explains, Ignatius’ definition of Spiritual Poverty does not define it as being a choice, but rather as an “indifference”.  “One so loves God that everything else is in proper perspective … We try to live in the real world in which all is a gift.”  Ignatius says we should live as grateful people.  “Notice once again that Ignatius does not believe that anyone should choose actual poverty on his or her own … but Ignatius suggests that I leave the choosing to God alone.  I can ask to be chosen for the life of actual poverty, but I leave the actual choosing to God.”  Like poverty, Ignatius suggests that we might desire insults or contempt, but we are not to bring them upon ourselves; we are to remain indifferent to their happening.  But why would we even desire insults and contempt? -- Because they are “opposite of the honors of this world, (which) are very dangerous.”
I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.
“Truth to tell, the wealthy and the powerful as well as the town whore and the village drunk are potentially good so long as they aspire after spiritual poverty.”
Ignatius proposed meditating on three classes of persons, all who have legitimately acquired a large sum of money.  “The first class would like to do something. They may talk a great deal about what they should do, but they do nothing. … The second class also wants to get rid of the attachment, but they decide how they will handle it.  They will regularly give to the poor.  The third class wishes to get rid of the attachment, “but they wish to do so in such a way that they desire neither to retain nor to relinquish the sum acquired.  They seek only to will and not will as God our Lord inspires them. … The third class wants to do their level best to find out what God wants them to do with the money.”
“Ignatius wants retreatants to open themselves to what God wants and then to beg for the grace to choose what God wants. … Only when we have discerned what God has chosen for us, do we have a choice of whether we will choose it or not.  We must beg God for the grace to do so.”
If only we each had a spiritual director who could help us see, believe, and live those words.
I greatly enjoyed this book; I trust it will be a great aid as I begin classes in a couple of weeks to help me become, if it is God’s will, a spiritual director.

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