"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

2/5 'REMEMBER': Saint Ignatius of Loyola Speaks About The Five Elements Of Ignatian Prayer

St Ignatius In A Prayer Under the Stars
Icon by Fr. William McNichols SJ

SECOND ELEMENT: TO SEEK FOR GOD IS TO REMEMBER HIM

In the Confessions, St Augustine describes in the first half of Book X the contents of his memory in his attempt to find God’s dwelling place. “Why do I ask in which area of my memory you dwell, as if there really are places there? Surely my memory is where you dwell, because I remember you since first I learnt of you, and I find you there when I think about you” (Book X, no. 36). Memory for St Augustine is not only a matter of recording past experiences, it powerfully holds in mind the present together with future realities both natural and supernatural. In Ignatian prayer a deep appreciation of this kind of memory is very important. “Great is the power of memory, an awe-inspiring mystery, my God, a power of profound and infinite multiplicity. And this is mind, this is I myself. What then am I, my God? What is my nature? It is characterized by diversity, by life of many forms, utterly immeasurable” (Book X, no 26). Because of this profound and infinite multiplicity, St Ignatius writes in the First Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises a sort of mnemonic to the retreatant, lest he or she gets lost in the multiplicity. “The human being is created to praise and serve God alone. All other created things on earth are to be used as means in pursuit of this end. We are to use them in so far as they lead us to our last end, and be rid of them in so far as they hinder us in the pursuit of the end for which we were created” (Spiritual Exercises 23).

WHEN I SEEK FOR YOU MY GOD, MY QUEST IS FOR THE HAPPY LIFE

What is within every human longing? Human beings long for more than the physical and natural realm. We also long for the spiritual and supernatural realm. Human beings did not develop the immense power of memory for no underlying reason. Throughout five thousand years of recorded human history, the world has been charged with innermost human longings and deepest needs which find their source and satisfaction only in a supernatural being, the God of truth, beauty, love, eternity and virtue. In a nutshell, St Augustine put all human longings as a longing for the happy life. “When I seek for you my God, my quest is for the happy life” (Book X, no 29). Happiness is everyone’s goal, although pursued in different ways within the vast realm of memory. For someone who has truly recognized from memory the joy he or she is looking for, there is great rejoicing when what has been lost or forgotten is found. This does not mean though that the happy life is simply the sum of our past, present and future experiences. It is not as simple as that. Happiness could come only from God who is beyond past, present and future. St Augustine says, “Let me not, Lord, in this my heartfelt testimony to you, accept as happiness every joy that I encounter.” In other words, as we seek happiness in this life, we may have joyful and good recollections; however, these are not the total fulfillment that we seek. “This is true happiness in life,” St Augustine says, “to take joy in Thee, for Thee, because of Thee—this, nothing else, is happiness. Those who do not know this pursue their joy elsewhere, and though it is no true one, yet they cannot wrench their desire entirely free from some representation of that joy.”

English mystic, Julian of Norwich, writes in the same vein, “God, of your goodness, give me yourself; for you are sufficient for me. I cannot properly ask for anything less, to be worthy of you. If I were to ask less, I should always be in want. In you alone do I have all.” We should exhaust all of our energies in desiring God alone, because this pursuit is really the only pursuit in life that is worthwhile. It is the only goal we can set for ourselves that will fulfill our infinite desires and never leave us empty or with that fleeting sense of joy. If this is not the case then every effort in pursuing something greater or deeper is a total waste of human energy and time. Not only that, we will also feel out of place in a vast universe that is so shallow or not really as deep as what human mind is capable of fathoming. But it may be difficult to argue along these lines of thought considering the mystery and richness of all human endeavors found in literature, the arts and sciences.

MEMORY AS THE MEANS TO AN END

People are held back on the road to finding and remembering God when they become so preoccupied with the means and lose clarity of the end in the process. St Ignatius, in his letter to Francis Borgia in 1548, talks about a way to seek God in prayer: “[T]hat level [of prayer] is best for each particular individual where God our Lord communicates himself more… He sees, he knows, what is best [for each one] and, as he knows all, he shows [each one] the road to take. What we can do to find that way with his divine grace is to seek and test [the way forward] in many different fashions, so that an individual goes ahead by that way which [for him or her] is the clearest and happiest and most blessed in this life.”

No wonder St Ignatius sees “all things new.” He appreciates native beauty and worth because, the God whom he loves, is both active and present there. He contemplates the world and every creature as God sees it with love and compassion and not with the eyes of condemnation. Joseph Veale, SJ in his article St Ignatius Speaks About “Ignatian Prayer” (Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, 28/2 March 1996) writes, “‘To have God always before one's eyes’ was to be given the grace to desire God in all things and in whatever situation. It was to desire God so much that there was no situation or circumstance or conversation or relationship in which he was not to be found; to have such a constant desire for him, for the end and purpose of the whole of created reality, that everything else fell under the heading of ‘means’. It followed that if one was to be free to be led interiorly by the Spirit in a great variety of situations, to be able to be flexible in occasions that were unplanned and unforeseen, then one had to sit lightly to the means and to be ready to use them or leave them unused in the light of this God who was always before one's eyes.”

Fr JM Manzano, SJ



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