Life is complicated. Everyone has meaningful aspirations they never get around to because we all have too much on our plate. We want to have a deeper prayer life, but between kids and work and a social calendar, where can we get the uninterrupted time to make it happen? As Christians, we want to follow Jesus in a radical way, but when we see that our lives are more or less identical to the lives of ninety-nine percent of people we know, it forces us to ask–what are we supposed to do differently?
These problems (which we all struggle with) beg the question: What am I here for and how can I best do it? If we knew that, then we would have a filter to help distinguish what we could do from what we should do, what’s available to us from what’s useful to us. St. Ignatius of Loyola (whose feast we celebrate on July 31) offers a solution. It’s a principle of action based on what we are and what we’re aiming for, like the mission statement that prevents a successful company from straying from its purpose. In The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, it’s called the First Principle and Foundation.
“The First Principle and Foundation”
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.
Our first encounter with that short passage was like a two-by-four had just connected with the space between our eyes. We always knew that’s how we should put our lives in order! But something about seeing it so simply and clearly made it stand out in high relief.
Ignatius tells us what our goal is (“to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and…to save [one’s] soul”), how to do it (“make use of [created things] in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end”), and in what spirit (“we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things” and desire “what is more conducive to the end for which we are created”).
To sum up, we exist to give honor and glory to God and in doing so, cooperate with His saving grace in our lives. Anything in the world that helps us do that, we ought to use. Anything that makes it more difficult, we ought to avoid. In every situation we should choose what most honors God and moves us toward salvation.
Give it Some Thought
If you’re interest is piqued and want to see how this could apply concretely to your life, think about these questions for a while and see what you come up with:
- Do I actually believe that I was made for God and that everything I do (or avoid!) has eternal consequences?
- Is my free time spent in service or edifying rest and recreation? Is any of my time spent in ways that are positively unhelpful in reaching my final goal? (Think: what do I watch on TV, listen to on the radio, read on the internet…?)
- How often do I make time for prayer? Does anything keep me from giving time to prayer daily?
- Am I as “wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” when it comes to choosing the things that will most benefit me and my dependents for salvation?
- What most often distracts me from the duties of my state in life?
If you need to go deeper still (and we hope you do!) spend some time in The Spiritual Exercises. The wisdom of St. Ignatius and the example of Christ will untie the knots that complicate your life!