Ash Wednesday is once again upon us. This year my Lent will be mostly taken up with doing, for the second time in my life, the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. So I’ll be off-line and in silence until Holy Week.
As a consideration for the beginning of Lent, then, I thought I’d offer the principle St. Ignatius places at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, what he calls the “First Principle and Foundation”. It’s his way of expressing the truth of the First Commandment: nothing else is as important as right relationship with God, and we should never allow anything else to take God’s place. The value of all the other goods we encounter in this life is entirely relative to whether they help us grow closer to God. In fact, if anything damages or gets in the way of our relationship with God, it is no longer good.
That’s all straightforward enough in theory, but Ignatius gives the consideration a specificity that bites. Giving concreteness to this principle is where the hard work of putting our lives in the right order begins. And that, I suppose, is what Lent is about–giving God his rightful place at the center of our lives.
Here is how Ignatius puts it, and the words I’ll leave you with until Easter… In the meantime, please pray for me as I make my retreat!
FIRST PRINCIPLE AND FOUNDATION
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.
Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.
Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.