Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in pursuing the end for which he is created”—from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
This echoes Christ’s exhortation at the end of today’s Gospel, the single-minded focus to enter the Kingdom of God, no matter what the cost. Better to be maimed, crippled, and without one eye but enter the Kingdom of God, rather than be physically whole but burn in hell.
Desire for God
In his book, “Finding God in All Things,” Fr. William A. Barry, SJ, discusses the Ignatian principle and foundation from the perspective of desire. “This deepest desire of our hearts is for God. While we are in the throes of this desire, everything else we might desire takes a back seat… Everything else becomes relative before the absolute Mystery we desire.
“Moreover, insofar as this desire reigns in our hearts, we also desire to live out our lives in harmony with his desire… to live in harmony with God’s creative purpose for us, to choose what will be more in tune with our desire for union with God.”
This gives us a more positive and more powerful view of total giving of self, total dedication to God, and single-minded focus to be in union with him, which reaches perfection in eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel focuses on the avoidance, at all costs, of mortal sin that prevents us from entering the Kingdom of God. It uses a radical image of losing limbs and eye in exchange for eternal life. There is value to this.
However, there is an alternative view that is beautifully expressed in the prayer of St. Francis Xavier: “Why, therefore, should I not love you, O, most loving Jesus? Not that in heaven you shall save me, nor lest for eternity you shall condemn me; not with the hope of any reward, but as you have loved me, so also will I love you, only because you are my King, and because you are my God. Amen.”
Ignatius, whose close friend was Francis Xavier, put forth this same view. In one of his counsels for spiritual/retreat directors, he says one should encourage others to avoid sin out of love for God but, if this is difficult, the use of the fear of hell and eternal punishment will suffice, temporarily, i.e., a possible starting point to build on.
These points show us that the gold standard of gaining eternal life, of living a good Christian life, is love of God that unites us with God.
How Father Barry put it is equally radical: “Everything else becomes relative before the absolute Mystery we desire.” In the words of the great mystic saint, Teresa of Avila, “Solo Dios basta” (God alone suffices).
Father Barry’s take is very Ignatian. As Ignatius understood and shared, the goal of the spiritual journey is to reorient one’s life, passions and desires when one sees God’s will for us. In a sense, it is an alignment of desires—God’s desire to love us totally and our desire for him, “the absolute Mystery.”
St. Augustine said, “My heart is restless until it rests in you alone.” To which Ignatius added, “Give me only your love and your grace, these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.” —CONTRIBUTED