Tilling the soil

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“If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom,

an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released
during a war in which 
the regime had no real incentive to free us.”
— James Foley, on his release from captivity in Libya,
Marquette Magazine spring 2011

Inner freedom is a personal reality we long for in our lives. We chase it like the receding horizon and it beckons us toward what God created us to be: free. As such, freedom is an eschatological reality that we reach only “in the fullness of time” when we become what we were created to be, images of God.

Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises are a school of prayer, a method of harnessing the energy of the scriptures for our growth in inner freedom. Putting on God’s word enables us to love what God loves, not only those closest to us but also and especially the world’s most needy. The Exercises are meant to be performed to enable us to imagine the mystery encapsulated in the scriptures, particularly the Gospels, which tell of the mystery of God incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth and bequeathed us through His spirit.

Roger Haight, in his recent Christian Spirituality for Seekers: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, argues that the sole requirement for those who make the Exercises is an openness to transcendence. The heart of prayer in the Exercises is contemplation of the mysteries of Jesus’ life. Even non-Christians and nonbelievers can enter into these contemplations because Jesus, regardless of one’s belief, can be grasped as one who embodies the fullness of transcendence. The Gospels are replete with encounters between Jesus and non-Christians — indeed, everyone in Jesus’ time was non-Christian, including his disciples; they became Christian only after Jesus’ death and resurrection. So that just as two human persons in love experience the transcendence of human interpersonal mystery, so those who enter imaginatively, through contemplation, into the mystery of Jesus’ life enter into the mystery He embodied.

All it takes is what Paul Tillich referred to as “the courage to be,” that is, the courage to be what we have been ordained to be, sacraments of the mystery of our Creator, who reach the fullness of time when we give ourselves away, preliminarily in human love, but fully and finally in the same death that Jesus died when He, as He put it in John’s Gospel, returned to the Father (Jn 20:10–18).

Rev. David Schultenover, S.J., is a professor of theology and 
editor-in-chief of the journal Theological Studies, located at Marquette.

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