Making Choices in Christ: The Foundations of Ignatian Spirituality


Even in our modern society, one of the most effective ways to develop a dynamic relationship with God is through the 450-year-old practice of Ignatian spirituality. Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, a leading expert on the subject, shows how Ignatian principles and practices can help each of us to discern God's will for our life and to become a changed person in Christ.

Having overseen the efforts of more than 200 Jesuit retreat houses and centers for spirituality, Fr. Tetlow is uniquely ...

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Making Choices in Christ: The Foundations of Ignatian Spirituality

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Even in our modern society, one of the most effective ways to develop a dynamic relationship with God is through the 450-year-old practice of Ignatian spirituality. Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, a leading expert on the subject, shows how Ignatian principles and practices can help each of us to discern God's will for our life and to become a changed person in Christ.

Having overseen the efforts of more than 200 Jesuit retreat houses and centers for spirituality, Fr. Tetlow is uniquely equipped to describe how the ordinary person in the 21st century can live out the extraordinary theology of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The 40 concise meditations contained in Making Choices in Christ explore what Ignatian spirituality is and isn't; what it means to live by it; Ignatius's legacy to all who practice the spirituality; and its important concepts and experiences, most notably the Spiritual Exercises.

An ideal resource to be used before or during a retreat with the Exercises, this book can guide any layperson at any time toward a life-changing encounter with the living God.

About the Author:
Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, is currently the director of the Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780829427165
  • Publisher: Loyola Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 136
  • Sales rank: 1,501,985
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, is currently the director of the Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas. A former head of the Jesuit general's Secretariat for Ignatian Spirituality, he has also served as president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, professor of theology at Saint Louis University, and associate editor of America magazine. He has written numerous articles and books, including Choosing Christ in the World.

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Read an Excerpt


It was my great privilege to work as assistant to Fr. Peter-­Hans Kolvenbach, SJ, superior general of the Society of Jesus, for Ignatian spirituality. My base for more than eight years was Rome, but the position took me to scores of retreat houses and spirituality centers on every continent. It gave me access to Jesuits and laypeople who live and spread Ignatian spirituality. My commission meant listening to their experiences so as to spread abroad how the Spiritual Exercises are being practiced and how Ignatian spirituality is developing.

My background in American philosophy was a great advantage, since it attends carefully to experience and its processes. At the same time, I stand in the long line of those who have been guided through the Exercises—a line that reaches all the way back to Master Ignatius. The experience of the Exercises, now as then, shapes a way of living in Christ Jesus that we now call Ignatian spirituality.

This book attempts a sketch of that spirituality as it is being lived around the world today. It will help those who wonder what really lies behind this “Jesuit mystique.” It will inform those who have made the Spiritual Exercises—the prolonged and distinctively structured prayer experience—of how their experiences express the depths of Christ’s revelation. It may guide those who are studying the text of The Spiritual Exercises—the oldest handbook still applicable in real time.

Ignatian spirituality, as everyone knows, begins in the experience of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. For long decades, the “real” Exercises were the preserve of Jesuits and other religious. No more. Today, men and women, religious and lay, young and elderly, Roman Catholics and Christians of other churches are praying through the Exercises and also giving them to others. They are doing this in the three different ways that Master Ignatius described in the opening paragraphs of his little book Annotations. It might be useful to note these ways here; skip the next paragraphs if you are already familiar with them.

The first way he describes (Annotation 18) helps Christians interiorize the truths they live by and structure for themselves a truly Christian way of life. Ignatius used this way a great deal during his fifteen years as a layman and continued to do so even long after his ordination as a priest.

The second way (Annotation 19), as it is done now, requires a person to pray daily for some long weeks and months, following the structure of revealed truths that Master Ignatius outlined for the full thirty-day retreat. The retreatant begins by reflecting on creation in Christ Jesus and moves through human sinfulness and the need for redemption. He or she then contemplates Jesus of Nazareth’s incarnation, public life, passion, and resurrection. These Exercises, now universally referred to as the Nineteenth Annotation retreat, or the Exercises in daily life, help people reach a serious decision or make deep changes in their way of living. In my experience, the Nineteenth Annotation retreat is the most common way of giving and going through the Exercises in use today.

The third way of making the Spiritual Exercises (Annotation 20) is the “long retreat” of thirty or more days in silence and seclusion. This retreat is now made in a retreat house, often with others. It is directed by trained guides—once only by Jesuits, but now just as often by other religious or by laymen or laywomen. This is the way Master Ignatius took his first companions through the Exercises. They all chose to give their lives to Christ and moved toward forming the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order. Every Jesuit does this long retreat twice during his formative years. It is notable that many laymen and laywomen are making this retreat as they come to important changes in midlife.
All three of these ways are now practiced everywhere. Consequently, more people give and make St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises today than ever before. Laypeople are confirmed in this ministry in a way unparalleled since Master Ignatius, as a layman himself, instructed some to pass on their experiences.

Within all of these activities lies an appreciation of the revelation given in and through Jesus of Nazareth and a distinctive set of prayer forms and practices that make up Ignatian spirituality. Underlying Ignatian spirituality is a rich and complex spiritual theology, extraordinarily available for what we might call ordinary people, which is the subject of this book.

These pages owe a lot to a great number of people who generously shared their experiences and wisdom with me. I can name only these few, who will know why they belong specially in this book: Donald L. Gelpi, SJ, of Berkeley, California; Roswitha Cooper of Munich and Rome; David Coghlan, SJ, of Dublin; Michael Smith, SJ, of Melbourne; Jim and Joan Felling of Vancouver and St. Louis; Mary Mondello of St. Louis; Jenny Go of Manila and San Francisco; Gérôme Gagnier, SJ, of Addis Ababa and Rome; Thomas Rochford, SJ, of Denver and Rome; Annemarie Poulin-­Cambell of Johannesburg; Raul Paiva, SJ, of Itaici, Brazil; and, before all the rest, Fr. Peter-­Hans Kolvenbach, general of the Society of Jesus.



Seeking an Active God

Spirituality shows up often enough in the public square as a vague postmodern fashion designed to replace worn-­out religions. The reality is no such vague and shopworn thing. Rather, as a personal quest for the transcendent holy One, spirituality runs through all the great cultures. Although the word spirituality was coined just a few centuries ago, the quest left its record in humankind’s most ancient art and architecture, writing and legislating. In the media today, the word can mean quite different things: an indistinct feeling about meaning in life qualifies just as well as the daily routine of a monk. All along, the traditional spiritualities have organized not only a special worldview and a way of praying but also a way of living.

With singular power and explicitness, spirituality in this sense has characterized Christian cultures from the beginning. It still does. Everywhere, the spiritual traditions of the Benedictines, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans thrive, as they have for many centuries. These traditional spiritualities were first practiced in monasteries and cloisters; then, around the time of Europe’s discovery of the Americas, spirituality came out into the marketplace. Ignatius of Loyola was vagabonding there as it did.
Ignatian spirituality, of course, is one of the more recent in the church. This spirituality took the great traditions of the interior life in the cloistered world and brought them to bear on everyday life in the home and on the street. There, in the world, Ignatian spirituality matured thoroughly before being applied to an ordered community life (that of the Jesuits). Even then, it was applied to a “communitas ad dispersionem,” as the Jesuit constitutions put it—a community set up explicitly to be dispersed into mission. This spirituality was meant to empower a dynamic service of God out in the marketplace. Here is one of the more obvious reasons why Ignatian spirituality remains useful today, when the whole church is evolving a distinctly lay spirituality.

Ignatian spirituality offers to those of us who live busy lives a way to God. It helps us find our own appropriate way in mental prayer and in an active life in the world and the church. It offers a way to discern what God wishes us to do, both with the whole of our lives as we focus down on a personal vocation and in the many concrete decisions we have to make every day. Its approach to discernment seems particularly helpful now, when we face so many options and our world changes so rapidly. This is because the God whom Ignatian spirituality seeks is an acting God, a busy God who continues to be our Creator and Lord.

Other spiritualities seek the God of love, or of beautiful order, or of truth. Ignatian spirituality seeks the God who is always at work in the world and in each heart. The purpose of the spirituality is to help us find how we are to work along with God to bring the reign of Christ to human life and good order to the natural world—to the everyday world as it now is. We find God working first of all in and through the church as the Spirit has formed it into the present, with all its holiness and sinfulness. Well practiced, this spirituality brings us to an informed, open-­eyed love for the church—for the real church in an ecumenical age. Not surprisingly, Ignatian spirituality is proving helpful not only to cradle Catholics, but to convinced Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists as well. Dedicated evangelicals are astonished to find that Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises give room for their own kinds of prayer.

Following this spirituality, we take both the church and the world as they really are. We are not trying to create an orderly life apart from the joys and sorrows of the everyday world, as though spirituality were a withdrawal from the world. On the contrary, we know that we are called to say yes to all that God is putting into the world and then to find how God wants us to cooperate in this ongoing creation. We know that the world is still coming to be, and we are coming to be along with our “life world”—that is, the world from which we come, in which we live, and to which we are called to bring justice, peace, and love. Now, in this place of ours and in our time.

Ignatian spirituality is not only a worldly spirituality but also a radically lay spirituality. It rose from the experiences of a layman and was developed for the sake of those who were busily engaged in everyday life. It began in notes that Ignatius kept about his own experiences as he was picking his difficult, conflicted way (he was tempted to suicide) through concrete choices to his personal vocation. What was he to do with his life as the church was going through agonizing reformation and his stonewalled European world was being blown apart by discoveries of a broad, lush, round world?

All he knew at the beginning was that he had a peremptory call to find Christ in the world and thereby live a holy life. Gradually, he discovered that certain materials and kinds of prayer helped him in specific ways to sort through the effects of sin in his life and discover honestly what God’s love demanded that he do next. He thought of these materials and kinds of prayer in the same way his contemporaries thought of them, as “spiritual exercises.” Helping others with what he found helpful himself, he then learned from their varied experiences, too. He was a great listener; from the first paragraph in his text, he tells what he learned from other peoples’ experiences. In this way, he steadily gave shape to the challenging, fruitful spiritual experience that we call the Spiritual Exercises and cobbled together a way to seek and find the acting God, a way we now call a spirituality—Ignatian spirituality.



One Way to God

Ignatius gave the Spiritual Exercises to many others—university students, nobles, religious women and men, and even illiterates. Besides being a passionate lover of Jesus Christ, he was a methodical man and a great note-­taker. As he studied at the universities in Salamanca and Paris and helped people in Venice and Rome, he gradually put his notes into a systematic form that he titled simply The Spiritual Exercises. He finally printed his text, after the pope had declared it orthodox, in 1548. It is a sort of handbook, surely the oldest one that can still be used in its original form. The reason is simple: it has been used without break ever since it was printed.

Master Ignatius had learned a great deal from the treasures of spirituality in the church, from contemporary Benedictines, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Franciscans whom historians can name. For instance, immobilized for months after being gravely wounded in battle, he lay absorbing Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ. Ludolph began religious life as a Dominican and then became a Carthusian, and his book draws on all the great traditions in the West. When Master Ignatius began an interior life, he went directly to the great Benedictine monastery of Montserrat and learned from its Ejercitatorio Spiritualis, which divides spiritual experience into four “weeks,” as Ignatius would later do in his handbook. Through his early years, he learned from Franciscan confessors and Dominican preachers.

When Ignatius began to evangelize people in the plazas, he learned a great deal from them. He was always very careful not to impose on others what had helped him, a mistake he considered the greatest that a spiritual guide or friend can make. Yet he was clear that the revelation made in Jesus Christ, passed on in the church’s Scriptures and teaching, was the uniquely secure guide to finding God. Ignatius’s way to God is proving helpful in our day, marked as it is by both individualism and the need to rediscover the core truths of Christ’s revelation.

Since about 1530, people have been making these Spiritual Exercises and then giving them to others. Ignatius gave them to many laypeople and religious and encouraged them all to pass them on. His companions in forming the Society of Jesus continued the ministry, which has been carried on by Jesuits through four and a half centuries. The result is that today thousands of men and women around the world, certainly more than ever before, have had the experience of prayer and spiritual conversation called the “Ignatian retreat.”

During the centuries when only Jesuits gave the retreats, they preached the Exercises to groups instead of giving them to individuals one at a time, the way Master Ignatius gave the full Exercises. These preached retreats were the “Exercises of St. Ignatius” that the church knew before the Second Vatican Council. A number of people would come together—typically, religious for eight days, or groups of laity for a weekend—and a priest would preach four or five times each day (and for a long while), strictly following the outline of the materials in the handbook. This style was used even for the retreats of thirty days. (It made memorable the retreat in 1947 during which I chose to be a Jesuit.)
After the Second Vatican Council, those giving the Exercises went back to Ignatius’s original way of giving the Exercises, and a great revolution took place. In the 1960s, putting historical research into practice, Jesuits began once again directing and guiding people one-­to-­one. Religious and then laity followed into this ministry. Just as radically, all began giving the Exercises not only as closed retreats in silence but also as Master Ignatius had clearly suggested as an alternative, in everyday life. Business professionals and parents no longer needed to go off to the wilderness to pray through the Exercises; they prayed at home or in their workplaces and met regularly with a guide. It is important to note that laymen and laywomen are guiding others in these Exercises, which has not happened much since Ignatius himself urged it. All of these practices have begun reshaping authentic Ignatian spirituality.



Three Retreats and a Way of Life

Master Ignatius did not find it easy to decide how to live his life, and he discovered that few of us do. When we have any options at all, we do not easily choose a vocation. Moreover, we are pulled this way and that by what our life world treasures most and by our own less-­than-­orderly desiring. This was true in Ignatius’s day as the church was reforming during the Council of Trent, and it is true today as the church is reforming after the Second Vatican Council.

When you set out to find what God wants, the experience of the Spiritual Exercises helps put some order into your thinking and desiring. A little more detail about the Exercises will be useful, because the brief meditations in this book will more or less follow their structure.

The primary experience, the “long retreat,” takes thirty days, in silence and seclusion. You go somewhere to be alone and move into deep silence—no phones or e-mail. You pray four or five hours a day, using a set frame and following the materials in the handbook. You reflect systematically on your prayer experiences, keep good notes, and meet daily with a guide, who explains the materials and helps you interpret your experiences. If you are trying to decide what to do with your life or to undertake some serious reform, your guide will help you understand the motions in your spirit but will be careful not to influence your choice.

Your prayer is divided into four “Weeks,” each of which can last from a few days to ten. In the first of these Weeks, you pray over the basic meaning of human existence. You attend to the mercy of God in the face of human sinfulness and to the way God cherishes you even as you sin. You come to feel that God summons you in a special way to contribute to the building of the reign. Then, in the Second Week, you meditate and contemplate the coming of the Son of God into human flesh and how he lived a human life. In the Third and Fourth Weeks, you enter into his passion and resurrection. At the end, you pray quietly to love the way God loves. This long retreat is described in the Twentieth Annotation, one of the brief numbered paragraphs of instruction at the beginning of Master Ignatius’s handbook. It is made today by hundreds of priests, religious, and laymen and laywomen every year, on every continent and in many languages.

Master Ignatius also found, as we find today, that many people had a serious choice to make or a real reform to undertake but could not go off for a month by themselves. So he also arranged to guide people through the Exercises as they continued their everyday life. He would guide them to pray an hour or two each day, taking them through the four Weeks to find what God wanted of them. Guides have found this Nineteenth Annotation retreat helpful everywhere and among all kinds of people. It is probably now the most common form of making the Exercises.

Master Ignatius often gave people only parts of the Exercises because they did not want to make the whole retreat or were not really able to. He described his practice in the Eighteenth Annotation. Many guides today do the same, taking groups through what are commonly called the “Exercises in daily life.” These guides are participating in what Pope John Paul II called “the new evangelization,” bringing Christians back to the blessed knowledge of Jesus Christ. Like Master Ignatius, they are recommending to ordinary Catholics a fundamentally Christian way of life—the Ignatian way of living in the church.

The Ignatian way is simply this: You receive regularly the sacraments of communion and reconciliation. You examine your thoughts, words, and actions every day, making sure that your conscience is well-­informed and matured. You pray awhile every day, perhaps in a simple way with the creed, the Our Father, and the commandments. You carefully discern (we’ll talk more about this Ignatian process later) your style of life and how your diet respects your health and service. Rejecting negative self-­image and perfectionism, you live joyfully with the gifts that God gives you. And you do everything you can to live faithfully and peacefully within the church. Live this way, and you are practicing Ignatian spirituality the way most people are called to practice it.



There Is Only Jesus Christ

Ignatian spirituality begins in the revelation that all things come to be in Jesus Christ. “There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11). The Father is the source and always the One to whom we appeal, as Jesus taught. From the Father, all of creation comes through the Son, “for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers” (Colossians 1:16). Jesus himself declared that “the Father, who is the source of life, has made the Son the source of life” (John 5:26).

Ignatius of Loyola was led to God through the Life of Christ of Ludolph of Saxony, which he read, reread, and took notes from as he lay on his couch with savagely wounded knees. Ludolph begins his richly detailed reflection on Jesus of Nazareth by referring to him as both principium and fundamentum. Ignatius’s “Principle and Foundation” (paragraph 23 of The Spiritual Exercises) has been treated in the past by rationalists as philosophy. This is a little like grinding up Michelangelo’s David to make a marble brick wall. For Ignatius, praising, reverencing, and loving Dominum nostrum were simply actions for Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, as he put it in the Latin translation of the Exercises that he submitted to the pope for the church’s approbation. There is no other principle and foundation than Jesus Christ.

Anyone can live a good life in the church without pondering all this very much. When we are guided by the Holy Spirit to choose an active interior life, however, we place on ourselves the obligation of learning the consequences of this truth. For to believe a truth means not merely claiming to believe it, but also accepting its real consequences in action in everyday life.

Well and good. And if we believe that creation began and goes on in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, how will we know what the consequences are? We find them by contemplating the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He showed once and for all what happens when a human being encounters the transcendent God. We have a record of that unique life in both Scripture and the church’s teaching, and we value it as the irreplaceable source for finding what God is hoping in us and in our life world. For in his fully human life, Jesus showed how you think and feel and act when you freely fulfill everything that God hopes in you and through you.

Jesus of Nazareth declared more than once that his work was not his own, but “it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work” (John 14:10). And again, “I can do nothing by myself . . . my aim is to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And finally, “The works my Father has given me to carry out . . . testify that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). Everything he freely chose to do was according to the Father’s hopes in him and in his life world. Even what he knew came from the Father: “the words I say to you I do not speak as from myself” (John 14:10).

The early Christians learned to think of Jesus as the Wisdom of God. They applied to Christ what the book of Wisdom says about Wisdom itself: he “is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of his goodness” (7:26). In following Christ, we try as completely as possible to reflect in our lives the one who is “the image of the unseen God and the first-­born of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). So we search his life for the way to find God acting in all things here and now.

Reflecting God the Father’s power at work in the world is giving glory to God, for God’s glory is precisely his infinite wisdom and power made manifest in concrete worldly events. This is the service that we are called to give to God: to make manifest the work that the Father is doing in the created world. Here is the Christian’s deepest identity: we are to be reflections, however fitful and fragmentary, of God’s work as he evolves all things under Christ the Head. This is why, in the familiar words, the glory of God is a human person fully alive.

We begin an Ignatian spiritual journey by accepting this intimate relationship freely and with an open (if tremulous) heart. This is the praise and service that God hopes for: not talk or feelings or intentions, but doing what God wants done, in the name of Jesus Christ, for all the world to see. What God wants is a kingdom of justice and peace and love. The divine privilege—privilege literally means “freedom from a law”; here, the law of sin and death—granted to us who are baptized into Christ, to the members of this Body, is to continue the work of Jesus of Nazareth, day by day on earth.

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Table of Contents


           Introduction  ix

    1    Seeking an Active God  1
    2    One Way to God  5
    3    Three Retreats and a Way of Life  8
    4    There Is Only Jesus Christ  11
    5    Creation and Chaos  14
    6    The Principle and Foundation  17
    7    God’s Passionately Creative Desiring  20
    8    The Greater Glory of God  23
    9    Contemplative in Action  26
    10    God’s Project  29
    11    Responsibility for Desires  32
    12    What Jesus of Nazareth Wanted  35
    13    From the Time of Adam  38
    14    Conversation by the Cross  41
    15    Redeemer and Redeemed  44
    16    Conversion of Heart  47
    17    The Examen of Conscience  50
    18    An Ignatian Framework for Prayer  53
    19    Friends in the Lord  56
    20    Enough and More Than Enough  59
    21    Ways of Praying  62
    22    The Prayer of Consideration  65
    23    The Prayer Called Meditation  68
    24    Ignatian Contemplation  71
    25    Builders of the Kingdom  74
    26    “As I Have Loved You”  77
    27    The Language of the Cross  80
    28    The Joy of the Consoler  83
    29    Spiritual Consolation  86
    30    Spiritual Desolation  89
    31    The Meaning of Desolation  92
    32    Ignatian Discernment of Spirits  95
    33    Humility and Greatness  98
    34    The Third Degree of Humility  101
    35    Making Choices  104
    36    The Two Standards  107
    37    Food for the Hungry  110
    38    Scruples and Perfectionism  113
    39    Belonging in the Church  116
    40    Finding God in All Things  119

            Selected Bibliography  122

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Must read!

    Father Joe takes the Spiritual Execises and helps you understand them in everyday terms. Highly recommend!

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