Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Called to be apostles?

Christ calls the fishermen to be apostles (Greek icon)
When Pope Francis was tallking to some students from Jesuit schools he summed up the essence of Ignatian spirituality as "mission, mission, mission!". Not always what people might imagine it to be... On the Ignatian Spirituality Course last term we were discussing whether the Spiritual Exercises are a way of deepening the contemplative life or a formation for apostolic ministry - or indeed both! And if there is an apostolic dimension to Ignatian spirituality, does that mean it's only for those who feel called to an active life of service?

One of our students wrote to me recently asking me to say a little more. I really enjoyed thinking about the questions and, with her permission, I'm sharing my reply here.

Dear J
Many thanks for your email reminding me of our conversation.  I'm grateful to you for giving me something so exciting and important to think about as I enjoy the sunshine!
So...the "apostolic charism" of Ignatian spirituality! I suppose it starts with Ignatius' own vision - his passion and calling was always, as he put it, to "help souls". (And because for him "soul" always referred to the whole person I hope it's not too much of a gloss to see this as meaning helping people become the whole persons they are called to be). The fruit of his own mystical experiences (which always led him to service) and meticulous recording of God's dealings with him was a desire to share what he had received with others - hence the Spiritual Exercises existing at all, and us being here doing this!  And as you know, he was anxious that he and his followers should be free and at the disposal of the Pope to be sent wherever there was a need - that's why they didn't follow a monastic pattern of lengthy offices etc., though in the Rules for Thinking with the Church he insists we should praise such ways of worshipping.
Perhaps the term "apostolic" is off-putting because in these busy days we see it as primarily about doing - Martha at the expense of Mary. I prefer to see it as not so much about doing things as about the dynamic or orientation of our lives - a desire to be turned towards God and therefore to those God loves (how could we not?). A bit like paragraphs 314 and 315 of the Exercises! We are, in a lovely phrase from the Ordination of Deacons, "heralds of the Gospel" - how we live that out will depend so much on our gifts and temperament.  I'm comforted to think there's an authentic calling there for Introverts too!
I've been thinking about how the thread of apostolic spirituality unwinds through the Exercises. It's right there in the Annotations: all the stress on allowing the Creator to deal with the creature is in service of the directee's discernment of their own call to be, as Gerard Hughes says, a "unique manifestation of God" in the world - and that's apostolicity!
I suppose it's a bit harder to see on the Principle & Foundation, but it's there - how do we relate to the rest of creation? And the freedom we pray for is not just freedom FROM but freedom TO - for action.
The Kingdom is all about being called as an apostle of course... And Second Week is about seeing how Jeaus is sent by his Father and being called into our own discipleship. Third Week - the costliness of Jesus' being sent to fulfil his Father's will... Fourth Week - "go and tell", "the Lord is risen indeed", "feed my sheep".  And then the Contemplatio - walking home and reflecting on the mutuality of love and gifts. "What return can I make?" How do I pay it forward?
I don't see contemplative and apostolic spirituality as opposites. That's why I love Ignatius so much - they are perfectly balanced in his spirituality. We need both ends of the spectrum - like two lungs, or two wings. And ultimately both contemplation and apostolicity will have a unique expression in every person's life: Ignatius' Exercises are way to find out what is mine. And both are charism - gift.  We can't manufacture either, only be called to them.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Antonia. I do sometimes get the impression that not everybody in our churches appreciates or is aware of the validity of each expression of spirituality. Food for thought.

    1. Thanks GP. I suppose that all of us, individuals or communities, tend to favour one end of the spectrum over the other. I like the way Ignatian spirituality has room for both - and a call to find our own balance. And I like the "other" Martha and Mary story too, in John 12:2 - at that dinner party they each do their own thing in harmony with other. There's a Martha and Mary in each of us, I suspect - nice when they cooperate rather than quarrelling!

      Welcome back to the blogosphere after your summer break!


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