THE FIRST PRINCIPLE & FOUNDATION
CONTEMPLATION TO ATTAIN THE LOVE OF GOD
Also know as
Before I had even got to the point of the assignment gestation period, I had already considered and decided in my heart that I longed to choose to explore further the Contemplatio ~ this is the final contemplation and exercise right at the end of the fourth and final week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. My motivations originally for wanting to do my assignment on the Contemplatio were partly romantic, egotistical, and of selfish motivation. Drenching oneself in a contemplation of bliss, akin to that of the Bridal Chamber of the Mystics and Saints ~ whose writings have so inspired and enticed me, and hold me to an aspiring transcendent euphoria, that I neither want to relinquish, nor wait to pass through the entire ‘four week’ journey of the EXX before I could immerse myself completely in His Undying Belovedness.
This crude interpretation of the Contemplatio is of course, in isolation, unrealistic fantasy. However the state of denying oneself the pilgrimage through weeks one, two, three and four prior to the Contemplatio was not altogether avoided, as now learning about The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I can see on many accounts how beyond the framework of the EXX the unfolding of process and the peeling away of layers on my own deepest conversion and journey into the heart of God and Catholicism, has followed a most comparable dynamic to that of the ‘four weeks’ of the EXX. From week one through the consideration and contemplation of sin ~ to week two following intimately the life and ministry of Christ ~ through week three by helping Christ carry His Cross as He lives out His Passion and Crucifixion (whilst I buckled under the weight of my own) to week four His Resurrection and Ascension, and in many ways the still unfurling and anticipation of my own Resurrection.
However in daily life I had only just left the starting block, and was lingering far longer than anyone else in the safety of my preparatory exercises before even embarking upon week one. ~ So you see at first it seemed to make barely any sense that I should choose the Contemplatio on which to do my assignment. Having spent a very slow six months preparing for the EXX, towards the end of my preparatory time my Spiritual Director had asked me to write my own First Principle & Foundation under one strict instruction ~ that it had to be succinct. I came home and looked up the true definition of succinct ~ ‘(especially of something written or spoken) briefly and clearly expressed.’ Its origin came from Late Middle English (in the sense ‘encircled’): from Latin succinctus ‘tucked up’, past participle of succingere, from sub- ‘from below’ + cingere ‘gird’.
Suddenly in the rewriting of the First Principle & Foundation the above definition in the context of my assignment came into its own, and spoke to me of a far greater revelation. This exercise became deeply holistic, all encompassing, and ultimately fulfilling ~ so much so, that it made every sense that the P & F that I had personally written (that was to be the unique blueprint by which I should aspire to live my life) would actually become not only my own Principle & Foundation to live by ~ but in practice and fulfilment of living it out, my very own Contemplatio for the rest of my life. How perfect then to discover that The First Principle & Foundation and The Contemplatio are held in direct relationship to one another and considered the ‘bookends’ to The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
As part of my own deepening pilgrimage into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, under instruction I embarked upon the writing of my own First Principle and Foundation. And having embarked upon it, I very quickly established that it was no small order. You see St. Ignatius wrote his own P & F at the beginning of the The Spiritual Exercises ~ there are good literal translations by Louis J.Puhl SJ, and by Elder Mullan SJ, ~ and then there are the many number of biographers, translators and contemporary Spiritual Directors for eg. John Reilly SJ, David Flemming SJ, Joseph Tetlow SJ, who have all followed suit, by interpreting their own understanding of the First Principle & Foundation in their own tongue, and who have shared it with us all, for the benefit of transcending the ancient text.
Having been given the strict instruction that it had to be succinct, I soon realised in my head that this was not going to be so easy for my poetic, flowery, descriptive style of writing. But harder still for having to take the original blue-print and make it my own, without being distracted by the other versions, having already been exposed to some of them. There are after all, only so many words.
For me this meant directly addressing St. Ignatius’ ancient Principle & Foundation through the Puhl version alone. I examined the P & F and considered where I felt the language, period, context, gender and even expression fell short of the fullness of my own contemporary but primeval desires, and the expression of that desire, for deepest intimacy with God. God whom I continuously know is Love & Spirit.
It was so hard.
It was far easier to feel . . . beyond intellect, or putting it into words . . . the fullness of my own living breathing Principle & Foundation ~ like my prayer, when I have no words at all, but just offer the full weight of my whole being up to Him in absolute fullness, completion and surrender ~ knowing that God in loving intimate Communion with me; meets me in absolute fullness completion and surrender the other way ~ and in that sacred meeting there is no separation ~ no incompleteness ~ only wholeness ~ fulfilment ~ holiness ~ and Love. ~ How then to translate this into my own written First Principle & Foundation?
To now have to articulate in words what others already consider absolute in Ignatius’ Principle & Foundation, which underlines the whole of the EXX and life beyond ~ and to translate it amongst the other examples of the P & F into my own unique tongue, would now in the face of it seem so very difficult.
For the past so many weeks, and even less consciously the past two years of my course, I have been grappling with ancient words like indifference, which in Ignatius’ time and context would have held a different weight, interpretation, slant, understanding and nuance to that of the contemporary, and for me Catholic, understanding, and use of the word today. Today we should not be indifferent to life around us, or indifferent and oblivious to others needs and suffering, for this is understood to be uncaring, and worse still, unnoticing either way, and therefore in the contemporary context indifference is considered unchristian and even inhumane ~ where as in Ignatius’ time he wanted us to be and remain indifferent to all things ~ any attachments to any object or state of life before that of God, he considered disordered.
There is however a contemporary understanding of the phrase indifference that diffuses any prejudices or difficulties that remain between the context and language barriers of time, and should define our contemporary understanding. We can see this new understanding of indifference as equipoise ~ the balance of forces or interests ~ holding everything in mindful measure ~ further enforced by the synonyms for equipoise which are equilibrium, balance, evenness, symmetry, parity and equality.
In order to interpret Ignatius’ ancient text sympathetically, and apply it to our own context, one has to know and be sympathetic to the context from which Ignatius of Loyola was writing. Ignatius of Loyola was living a life of valour and conquest as a soldier and royal courtier, 500 years ago in Spain. In his deepest heart he discovered during a long period of convalescence (from having his leg badly damaged by a canon ball) that he desperately wanted to break free from the life of valour and of serving an earthly king, and from that of courtly love, endlessly trying to win the hearts of royal ladies, where the lusts and loves of his earthly conquests left him sooner or later feeling dissatisfied ~ to serving Our Lord and Heavenly King, whose promise of fulfilment, salvation and Love were both attainable here on earth, and eternal.
Writing the P & F then for me became a battle of context, of living a rather different life from St. Ignatius, to one where I am prematurely cauterised from physical conjugal earthly love, because of the Catholic Church’s stance on second marriage and my personal situation ~ yet seemingly reinforced because of the historic attitudes and sexually sinful lives of men like St. Ignatius and St. Augustine, who because of their past, through their conversions chose to live their now ‘Saintly’ lives absolutely celibate, chaste, and indifferent to All but God.
And yet when I look beyond these examples to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Bethany for inspiration, and to other Saints, I see the response of Faithful Love overcoming both the Old and New Testament norms of the day, and so too those later chauvinistic courtier attitudes ~ with a new way ~ a response where Love alone, both in physical contact and in intimacy of spirit, between earthly companions ~ beloveds ~ friends ~ strangers ~ all creature ~ and all things ~ in fullness ~ becomes the absolute true Principle and Foundation for an intimate spiritual encounter ~ and in this way indifference takes on a whole new meaning for me.
This is so perfectly captured in one of my favourite pieces of writing attributed to Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907–1991)
‘Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.’
Through transcending indifference by loving All things in this order, with our full capacity, ultimately we enter into the highest Holy Communion with God the Father. For in that very same response and exchange of noblest Love, God who is tangibly Love and Spirit, is made manifest. This does not mean that there is no greater Love from one beloved exchange to the next – because our response has different levels of capacity which is only in fullness met by the fullness of mutual exchange – but it does mean that in each exchange of Love, we Love indifferently with our fullest possible capacity at that moment in time ~ thus aspiring to the Love of God in every encounter.
And so in undertaking the exercise of writing my own P & F, I discovered that it was ultimately from ‘this pinnacle of indifference’ the place from where I wanted my own Principle & Foundation to be born.
Each day in contemplation of the P & F I was to read a different short piece of scripture, twice daily praying the noon and evening examine, and whilst undertaking the requested tasks and spending quality time reflecting upon the whole experience to ask in prayer for grace ~ specifically for the grace to absolutely know and be immersed in the Love of God. In Larry Warner’s book The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius his prayer for us during this journey through the P & F is:
‘God help this one to know beyond knowing and understand beyond understanding something of the depths of your riches, the incomprehensibility of your knowledge and wisdom, and the impenetrability of your judgments. In accordance with your grace help this one to be moved to praise, honour and service as he or she begins to glimpse your creative power, magnificent splendour and awe-inspiring holiness. (Adapted from Romans 11:33-36).
We too should focus our own prayer accordingly when accompanying our directee through the preparatory period, through the P & F and in fact throughout the entire Exx.
Only when this grace is gifted us, are we, or our directee’s ready to embark upon week one of the Spiritual Exercises.
During this preparatory week (as a directee) I was out walking in isolation along the ropewalk, which runs along side the creek ~ I was to notice God in creation. ~ So I looked for Him in nature ~ in the little flowers ~ the grasses ~ the rich earth ~ the shingle path ~ the yellow fields of rapeseed ~ the ocean ~ the sky ~ the wildlife etc. ~ and as I was walking into the distance I just for one all-seeing moment had an overwhelming feeling that absolutely everything and nothing is of God. Not in a lesser head way, like when we should look for Jesus in everyone ~ or even in the hard-to-pin-down over-used, under-expressed saying that God is omnipresent ~ which often reaches our head and our mouths, but often not our hearts and our knowing, nor our feelings or our senses. But truly this day I knew, and saw, and felt that everything that I could see before my very eyes ~ everything that is before me ~ absolutely everything in my vision, was of God. Truly created ~ and living ~ of His D.N A. And absolutely everything before me, at that point ~ despite its difference ~ was consubstantial with the Father.
Surely then this mirrored something of the grace in the ongoing exercise of the Contemplatio ~ the ultimate exchange of Belovedness ~ and the grace so beautifully and perfectly described in Jean Pierre de Caussade, S.J. (1675-1751), – The Sacrament of the Present Moment.
‘Those who have abandoned themselves to God always lead mysterious lives and receive from God exceptional and miraculous gifts by means of the most ordinary, natural and chance experiences in which there appears to be nothing unusual. The simplest sermon, the most banal conversation, the least erudite books become the source of knowledge and wisdom to these souls by virtue of God’s purpose. This is why they carefully pick up the crumbs which clever minds tread underfoot, for to them everything is precious and a source of enrichment.’ –
Having stayed in the preparatory exercise alone for well over two weeks ~ and through my grappling of trying to translate my experience from a sensory one, into one which could be physically lived out, but recorded and accountable in words ~ finally my grappling gave birth to my very own unique and complete First Principle & Foundation.
The revelation was totally awe inspiring and utterly unexpected. On reading it through, and contemplating what it was that I had written ~ the entire words of my First Principle & Foundation echoed that state which I had first been so inspired by in the Mystics and the Saints writings ~ the motivation within, echoing the longings of that covenant of the Bride to her Church, and the metaphor of beloveds in a bridal chamber, as well as the commitment and nourishment in the words of espousal, all infused in the Love expressed in my P & F.
The entire sense of the whole of the spiritual exercises is perhaps best summed up, anchored, and underpinned by The First Principle and Foundation ~ which Ignatius specifically places in the introduction of the The Spiritual Exercises after the Presupposition, directly before and leading into the First Week. It reinforces the fact that everything comes from and leads to God ~ the Alpha and the Omega ~ the beginning and the end ~ and that in all choices large and small we should Love God first and foremost.
The First Principle and Foundation ~ St. Ignatius
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.
The First Principle & Foundation ~ Amber
Human Beings are made for God.
We are made for Love.
To wonder ~ praise ~ reverence ~ and serve God ~ in love & spirit.
We are to love Him with all our heart ~ soul ~ mind ~ and strength.
And love others as self.
We are to live in Love.
The entire cosmos ~ everything upon the earth ~ all other beings ~ and mankind ~ are created to reflect the Glory of God.
The Glory of Love.
Regardless of any position ~ condition ~ or state.
So it is with indifference, that we should live aspiring to this End.
At the end of the fourth week having contemplated the divinity and Resurrection of Christ, ~ the setting free the souls of the just ~ the arrangement of the sepulcher ~ and imaginative prayer of Our Lord appearing to Our Lady in her oratory ~ the grace to be desired, is to be glad and strive to feel joy and happiness, and rejoice intensely because of the great glory of Christ our Lord Creator and Redeemer.
After the fourth week, right at the very end of the EXX comes The Contemplation to attain the Love of God ~ for me the greatest contemplation of all time. We have learned from our earlier experience and pilgrimage through the EXX that the love we have attained should now manifest itself in deeds ~ and should consist in a ‘mutual sharing of goods ~ where any knowledge, honours, riches etc. are shared’ in Belovedness.
Here we behold ourselves in the presence of God and all His angels and Saints. And here we ask for the grace and humility to be filled with gratitude for all that the Lord has done for us, and for all that he has bestowed upon us, including Our Lords desire to give Himself to us. And that in all things we may Love and serve the Divine Majesty by reflecting upon all that is that we can offer of ourselves to the Lord ~ as in that, of annotation number 5.
We contemplate God as the Creator manifest in All of creation including ourselves made in the image and likeness of God ~ the bearer and breath of All life ~ making us temples of Himself. We consider how God ‘works and labors’ through All creatures, elements and creation, bringing them to life and sensation whilst conserving them. And just as the ‘rays of Light descend from the sun and as the waters flow from their fountains’ ~ we consider how all gift, and virtue, and blessings are bestowed from the infinite Power and Goodness of Our Almighty Father Creator of Heaven and earth.
The Contemplatio truly is the contemplation of the living out of our Love affair with God for the rest of our lives; hence St. Ignatius often gave this final exercise to people on their often-long pilgrimage home. For me the words of the Take Lord and Receive prayer reflect those of the wedding ceremony vows, and so too, echo those of the consecration of the sacrifice in Mass which is the greatest prayer on earth. The prayer of the bride to her Christ.
The contemplation is in revelation an almost coming home to our P & F and ourselves where we began our journey but knowing it now truly for the first time.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot, Four Qaurtets
If The Lords prayer and the Glory be are bookends to our lives as Christians ~ then in writing my own P & F I would like to reinforce that The P & F and the Contemplatio are bookends to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ~ and beyond.
From the very outset the blueprint of my P & F would, through words made manifest into deeds, translate the P & F into the Contemplatio ~ and via the Contemplatio on my journey ‘home’ at the very end of week four, become absolutely and apostolically my Vocation to Love.
By living out in deeds the very words of our First Principle & Foundation ~ in the Contemplatio they become our very own covenant of vows exchanged with Our Beloved ~ where through those very same deeds and vows made perfect in acts of caritas ~ He consecrates and consummates Himself to us, and us to Himself in LOVE.