22 July, 2015
SHEKHAR MANICKAM SJ
01. GOD IS A GENEROUS LOVER
St Ignatius of Loyola, a mystic and the founder of the Jesuits,
was born in Spain in the year 1491 and died in Rome on 31st July 1556.
We learn many inspiring spiritual insights from his personal experiences of God.
For St Ignatius, the mystic, his relationship with God is like that of a Lover and a Beloved. . On 20th May, 1521, at the age of thirty, Ignatius, a worldly but a brave soldier was wounded at Pamplona in a war against the French It was during his convalescence at home in Loyola he began his intense spiritual journey with God.
Ignatius had a profound personal experience of God’s boundless and everlasting love for him. He experienced God as his generous lover who loved him unconditionally and bestowed on him numerous gifts like the entire creation, his own creation as a dwelling place of God’s Temple, redemption and other gifts particular to himself. He pondered with deep affection how much God loved him and had done so much for him. Here he met his God as his faithful and generous lover and stood before Him as His beloved in utter bewilderment, joy and wonder.
Deeply touched, moved and drenched in God’s infinite and unconditional love for him regardless of his limitations and sinfulness, Ignatius, quite spontaneously decided to reciprocate his love for God. At that moment, Ignatius became the lover and God became his Beloved. This was how, his entire life was a dialectic process of God being first his lover and Ignatius his beloved and Ignatius being lover and God his beloved. He would write to describe this particular spiritual disposition of his soul as “a generous spirit, ablaze with God” wanting to perform greater things for God. Genuine experience of God’s generous love, in turn, makes us generous too like Ignatius, “a generous spirit, ablaze with God”.
02. GOD IS A FASCINATING LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
God is a fascinating lover. The way God loves us is truly astonishing. In the life and writings of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century, we meet God as a fascinating lover.
St Ignatius could easily listen to the secret divine pulsating in the heartbeat of creation. The glorious beauty and the subtle and unfathomable aspects attracted Ignatius to celebrate the liturgy of creation leading him to experience God indwelling in all that is on the face of the cosmos.
Ignatius, the mystic, could easily meet God in the whole of creation. He writes, “...consider how God dwells in creatures; in the elements, giving them existence; in the plants, giving them life; in the animals, giving them sensation; in human beings, giving them intelligence...” Thus, in the deep-seated silence of his being, he could hear the footsteps of God through the course-ways of creation. For Ignatius, every being is the face of God. Every being is a shrine of God. The entire cosmos with its spectacular forms, marvelous variety and indescribable beauty celebrates God’s presence. The splendid universe, therefore, is the Temple of God.
Besides the presence of God, Ignatius draws our attention to see how God is working like a labourer for the well-being of every member of his cosmic family. It is to ponder over both the work of the lover and the love of the worker. And at once, he is wonderstruck and is lost in the awesome depth of God’s love for humans as manifested through his creation. He writes, “…consider how God labours and works for me in all the creatures on the face of the earth; that is, he acts in the manner of one who is laboring.” This is how St Ignatius would invite us to look at the cosmic family as God’s gift for us. But what makes these gifts very unique, special and precious is God’s ceaseless presence and creative action in them. God, indeed, is a fascinating lover.
03. GOD IS A PASSIONATE LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
Humans are the beloved of God. God loves us with an exclusive love. He is a passionate lover. God loves each one of us with a personal and unique love. Like any genuine lover God desires that his beloved, the humans, reciprocate his love.
Loving God is to have right relationship with the created reality and fellow humans. The faith vision of St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century, is to look at the whole of creation as God’s gift for us. It is to experience the depth of God’s love for humans as manifested through his creation. Ignatius views the whole of creation as a means to love God.
However, here he offers a spiritual nuance in his own following words, “…we ought to use these things to the extent that they help us toward our end, and free ourselves from them to the extent they hinder us from it.” This is the genius of St Ignatius. He shares with us a spiritual insight as to how to use or relate with God’s creation. Putting it simply, we could say, “If anyone or anything that draws us closer to God we choose and we do not choose anyone or anything that takes us away from God.”
In fine, Ignatius offers a gracious principle - “Be free from all in order to be free for God”. This is precisely to love God above all else. Be free from all in order to be free for God is to love God passionately because He loves us passionately.
04. GOD IS A TRANSFORMING LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
Experience of God’s love brings out a personal transformation. There is a new orientation; a new way of life. St Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century. When he had a very deep, personal and unique experience of God’s love being outpoured on him, he simply surrendered to God in love. After having given up his worldly ways Ignatius turned towards God with gratitude and humility because he believed that it was God who transformed him. He experienced that fullness of God’s love divinized him. For Ignatius, therefore, God is a gentle and patient transforming lover.
Being a soldier, St Ignatius knew fully well that our desires determine how we act. He was a fighter with focused desires. He did experience that God loved him totally, with his whole being. He did not have an iota of doubt even for a moment about the fact that God loved him unreservedly and completely.
Fascinated by this matchless love-filled self-gift of God for him, this transformed Basque soldier, in turn, was determined to love God with his entire self. God, no doubt, is a gentle transforming lover. God became the focal point of his desires. Thus Ignatius would crystallize this groaning of his soul in his well-known book called “The Spiritual Exercises” which was approved by Pope Paul III in the year 1548.
For example, he would ask every retreatant to begin her or his meditation without exception with a preparatory prayer which goes thus: “The preparatory prayer is to ask God our Lord for the grace that all my intentions, actions, and operations may be ordered purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty”. In other words, he invites the retreatant or any seeker of God to pray for the grace that her or his entire being, thoughts, decisions and actions be oriented towards God. It is good to remember here that our desires determine how we act. Hence, our ultimate desire ought to be God. Through this short prayer, St Ignatius introduces and invites us to imbibe a way of life. It is a way of life to love God with our entire self. It is a way of life to love and share life with God.
05. GOD IS A NOBLE LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
We hear or read or speak about mystics. But, Who is a mystic? A mystic is the one who always lives in the loving presence of God. Why do the mystics choose to live always in the loving presence of God? The mystics choose to live always in the loving presence of God because God is a noble and intense lover. God ceaselessly draws us towards Him and we too are ceaselessly drawn towards him.
St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, was a mystic of the 16th century. It was Monday, may 20th, 1521. Ignatius was fighting against the French in Pamplona, Spain. In the midst of heavy bombardment, a cannon ball passed between both legs, shattering the right leg and badly injuring the left leg. It was during his convalescence at home in Loyola, in Spain, his moments of enlightenment began.
He masterfully perceived that there were two forces working within him. There was God who was ceaselessly drawing him towards Himself and there was also an evil force that was ceaselessly pulling him away from God. From this experience he would contribute to the world what is known as “the discernment of spirits”.
The discernment of spirits is a spiritual art of living. Every day, we are faced with CHOICES in life to choose between right and wrong. Quite often we struggle a lot to arrive at the right decision. It is here the discernment of spirits is of immense help.
The discernment of spirits is a type of sifting through our interior experiences or movements in order to trace their direction. If they are taking us in the direction of God we embrace them. we reject them if they are taking us away from God.
But how do we distinguish between what takes us to God and what takes us away from God? Ignatius writes, if we experience the loving presence of God, tranquility and peace; if there is any increase in hope, faith and love, then we are on the right direction. All of us, therefore, are invited to be mystics whose sincere effort is to take decisions that are aligned with that of God and live always in the loving presence of God.
06. GOD IS A COMPASSIONATE LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
In this world all of us are pilgrims. Our life is a pilgrimage. No one is born a saint. Our spiritual journey too is a pilgrimage. God knows we are all imperfect beings. The Maker of the universe knows that we are all made up of bones and flesh. All of us live and will die as fallible beings. Yet…Yet God chooses to live in us and loves us unconditionally. Therefore God is a compassionate lover.
St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century, preferred to address himself as a pilgrim in his autobiography because he understood that spiritual growth is an on-going purification of the self. It is a life-long journey from self-centredness to God-centredness. We are all the fragile developing faces of God. Day after day we are being converted; we are being moulded. God is ever there for us with His loving moulding hands.
Here I remember my Jesuit study guide, a holy and a noble person late Fr Maurice Dullard telling me one day, “Well, Shekhar, all of us will die as sinners!” How true it is! Nevertheless, what makes this journey so unique is that God journeys along with us as a loving, compassionate and true friend. What God desires in turn is the sincerity of our heart in seeking to be with God and attempting to do His will.
All along our life journey God never leaves us alone and particularly when we falter or lost or gone astray because He is our compassionate lover. God celebrates our growth. Recalling how God was dealing with him in the early days of his conversion during his spiritual sojourn at Manresa, in Spain, St Ignatius mentions in his autobiography, “God treated him at this time just as a schoolmaster treats a child whom he is teaching.” Ignatius describes God as an understanding and compassionate school master. Yes, God directly deals with each one of us. It is our firm faith that God, in spite of our weaknesses, leads every one of us individually and uniquely because He is a compassionate lover.
07. GOD IS A SELFLESS LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
The seekers of God need to be extremely aware of an impending danger in our spiritual journey. Our enthusiasm to reciprocate our love for God who loves us selflessly, may subtly lead us to indulge in self-glory if we are not aware of. Instead of worshipping God we may gradually land up in worshipping our ego. Quite often it can happen that what we want to do for God may not be necessarily what God wants us to do for him.
St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century writes in his book The Spiritual Exercises: “Everyone ought to reflect that in all spiritual matters, the more one divests oneself of self-love, self-will, and self-interests, the more progress one will make.”
Divesting of self-love and spiritual progress are interrelated. Our attempts to make ourselves holy or doing service for God on our own efforts may be a futile exercise. How hard we may try, we cannot make it happen. Spiritual growth necessarily demands shedding of our ego.
Ignatius, after his conversion, overindulged himself in performing so many the so-called spiritual activities like excessive fasting, penances, too many hours of prayer etc. The result was that he was ruining his health and was suffering from scruples that tormented him mercilessly. It was only when he, in his powerlessness, cried out in pain saying, “Help me, Lord” he felt the need of God. Till this moment Ignatius was in charge of himself but now he surrendered himself to God. It was only after this surrender his spiritual progress took an extraordinary turn because from then on God took charge of Ignatius.
Letting God take charge of myself implies discerning at every moment of my life as to what God wants me to do here and now. This is called discerning love.
God’s initiating, sustaining and perfecting Grace is always active in us. God is a selfless lover. True love is selfless like that of God. Discerning to do God’s will is nothing but loving God selflessly because what I want to do for God may not be necessarily what God wants me to do for Him. In the name of God we may do so many things. But does God really want those things?
08. GOD IS A DYNAMIC LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
God is a dynamic lover. God is not static. He is God of here and now. St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century, was praying earnestly to be accepted by God as His companion to serve Him in the world. Ignatius understood his life as a collaborative venture between God and humans. He views humans as instruments joined with God because being in union with God is also working for God.
St Ignatius writes, “Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words.” He looks at the universe as God’s gift in which He is continuously at work. God’s love is manifested by deeds than by words. He personally experienced how God had been showering blessings upon blessings upon him. Thus, in his personal life God’s love is manifested by deeds than by words. In utter gratitude, Ignatius turned to God to thank Him. We notice that his thanks-giving to God became thanks-living.
Ignatius prayed earnestly to be accepted by God as His companion to serve Him in the world in order to show his love for God in deeds than by words. His life became a prayer. Prayer is union with God. Union with God means living in the loving presence of God. God is concerned about the here and now situation in the world because he is dynamic and creative.
Therefore living in the loving presence of God also means working for God as instruments joined with God especially to alleviate forces that are opposed to divine values within ourselves and in the world. That is prayer even in action because union with God is also working for God. This is how our life becomes a constant offering to God. This is how our life is a collaborative venture between God and humans with a noble purpose of establishing God’s Family on earth.
09. GOD IS A UNIFYING LOVER
Fr Shekhar Manickam SJ
God, the universe and every human person are inseparable. They are inter-fused. They are inter-connected. All that is there is from God. God is present in everything and everything is in God. Oneness is what characterizes the divine sphere. Reality is one because God is a unifying lover. Genuine God experience leads to this oneness.
St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a mystic of the 16th century, writes about this oneness, “Consider how all good things and gifts descend from above; for example, my limited power from the Supreme and Infinite Power above; and so of justice, goodness, piety, mercy and so forth – just as the rays come down from the sun, or rains from their source.” As the rays are in the sun and the sun is in the rays, God is present in everything and everything is in God. God is a unifying lover.
Experience of God as a unifying lover leads to a more universal worldview. Ignatius writes, “The more universal the good, the more divine it is.” [622 d]. Only a person who has gone through true God experience could write like this. Genuine God experience makes a person transcend borders, divisions, factions, discrimination, nationalities and the person has a sense of belonging to the whole cosmos. She or he stands enveloped by the entire cosmic family. She or he becomes a citizen of the world; a citizen of the cosmos – a cosmozen. Therefore, fanaticism of any kind does not find place in any genuine God-experience. God is a unifying lover. We are invited to share in the unifying mission of God. Genuine God experience, therefore, leads us to work for universal peace. Loving all. Peace for all.
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