Finding God in Daily Life:
The Heart of Ignatian Spirituality *

Richard J. Hauser, S.J.

Creighton University, like all Jesuit institutions, is animated by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. Our dream at Creighton is to touch and enrich all members of our Creighton family by his vision. The Ignatian spiritual vision is distinctive. It is a spirituality geared for people living active lives in the world, lay people and Jesuits! It focuses upon ordinary daily actions and seeks to find God in them. It hopes to form individuals so united with God that they could even be called “contemplatives in action.” So distinctive was Ignatius’ vision for the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth century that he initially had trouble getting approval from Catholic Church authorities—at one point approval was even withdrawn briefly. The then current approaches to spirituality focused more upon personal and liturgical prayer than upon actions.

These spiritualities sought to develop contemplatives through prayer. Significantly, Ignatius never abandoned deep—or contemplative—union with God as the ultimate goal of his vision; he simply revised the means of achieving this union. To foster the realization of his vision of finding God in daily life Ignatius suggested appropriate spiritual practices or “exercises.” The heart of these practices are his Examination of Conscience and Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, found in his little retreat manual The Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius was acutely aware from his own rather tempestuous past (he spent most of his first 30 years as a warring, romancing Spanish courtier) that every human heart has two contrary movements, one from good (the Holy Spirit) and the other from evil. He learned that to grow in union with God we must learn to recognize and respond only to the movements of good, the Holy Spirit, and distinguish—or discern—those from movements of evil. And since finding God in daily life was his goal, this discernment of good vs. evil must be applied to ordinary daily actions. So Ignatius suggested daily periods for examination of conscience focusing upon awareness of this inner motivation. I believe that this daily rhythm of reflection on quality of heart underlying daily actions remains the key for all of us desiring to grow in union with God in the midst of busy daily schedules— as essential in our day as in Ignatius’.

Although these guidelines were originally included in The Spiritual Exercises to help retreat masters guide retreatants in recognizing God’s movements in their hearts, they are now used by all followers of Ignatian spirituality to help recognize God’s presence in daily life. They are the heart of Ignatian spirituality—and what all Ignatian institutions like Creighton University hope to impart to their students, faculty, staff and alumni. Recognizing the Spirit in Daily Life The key for finding God in daily life is recognizing and responding to the movements of the Holy Spirit. Christians are discovering anew a central element of the New Testament message: the role of the Spirit in our spirituality.

For many of us, Catholics especially, Vatican Council II (1962–1965) was crucial; before the Council an appreciation of this role was virtually absent from our awareness. But treatment of the role of the Spirit for Christian spirituality must begin with the Last Supper discourse in John’s gospel. Jesus is comforting his disciples after having told them of his imminent departure assuring them it is better for them that he goes. But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (Jn 16: 5-7). (All scripture quotes are from The New American Bible.) Indeed this union with himself through the Spirit is the condition for living as his disciple. The Gospel could not be more clear. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. (Jn 15: 4-5). Jesus’ prediction is fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit descends on the community.

After Pentecost finding God in the midst of daily life is a matter of recognizing the Spirit’s movements in our hearts. Indeed all Christian spirituality from now on is a matter of responding to the Spirit, the sanctifier. And Ignatius realized that we find God in daily life to the exact extent that we recognize and respond to God’s Spirit. But the matter is complicated by the fact that not every movement within our hearts can be trusted. All of us, like Ignatius, have spontaneous inclinations not only toward good (and so from the Holy Spirit) but also toward evil (and so not from the Holy Spirit). Traditionally we call the sources of our evil inclinations (or temptations) the “capital sins”: jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, sloth, lust, drunkenness. Honesty compels us to admit that in a typical day we experience much evidence of these inclinations; some days we may experience our hearts as more inclined toward evil than toward good. For conscientious Christians the key question becomes: “What criterion can we use to recognize the Spirit’s movements within our hearts?” I have adapted Ignatius’ guidelines from The Spiritual Exercises and have evolved a rather simple criterion for recognizing the Spirit’s movements that focuses upon the direction of our hearts: to the degree our hearts are moving toward the desire to love and serve God and others we are under the influence of the Spirit; to the degree they are moving away from this desire we are not.

This criterion for recognizing the presence of the Spirit relates to our inner experiences, to our quality of heart. We know that external actions can be performed with little or no love and hence cannot be in themselves accurate indications of the presence of the Spirit. The question then becomes which of our inner experiences— imagination, thinking, desiring, feeling—become the best criteria for discernment? The desire to love arising with us is the basic criterion for recognizing the transformation of our inner experience by the Holy Spirit. The theological reasoning behind this truth is simple: We can make no movement toward good, toward God or others in love, by our own initiative; since the desire to love and serve God and others is definitely a movement toward good, it cannot come from our initiative; therefore it must come from the Spirit—“without me you can do nothing!” Desire is a more reliable criterion for recognizing the Spirit than feelings or even inner peace. We know how ephemeral feelings are. We may wake up sick one morning and not feel like serving God and others. But we can still desire to serve—feelings come and go but desire remains. And desire is even a more reliable criterion than inner peace.

We may be experiencing a period in life dominated by sadness from troubled relationships or discouragement from failure in work. Our habitual inner peace may be lacking, yet we still “hang on” to the desire to love and serve. When this inner peace is absent and we still desire to serve the Lord, it is comforting to realize that we are indeed responding to the Spirit. It should be noted, however, that normally inner peace will accompany our desire to serve; Paul reminds us that “the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:23). Service is also central—Ignatian spirituality is frequently called a “mysticism of service.” The two great commandments of love given by Jesus center on service; we prove our love for God by loving our neighbor: “If God has so loved us, ought we not love one another?” This love (agape) is situated primarily in the will; it asks us to move through life regarding our neighbor’s need as primary. It counters the temptation to move through life with an individualistic, self-centered attitude, regarding our own needs as primary in all we do. Since this desire is situated in the will, it need not necessarily be accompanied by feelings of affection. We are commanded to love everyone irrespective of personal feelings— even our enemies! For our love is to be like God’s whose care and concern are universal.

And only because the Spirit of God is within us can we love like God. And this love will be accompanied by deeds. Luke’s gospel gives us the Good Samaritan story to illustrate what Jesus meant. Matthew’s gospel gives us the Last Judgment scene, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you give me drink.” Those who were saved were not even aware of serving God in their neighbor, but this did not matter to the Son of Man, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25: 40). Responding to Obstacles to the Spirit Awareness of the quality of heart underlying our daily actions is the key to finding God in daily life. Normally when we are moving toward the desire to love and serve God and others, we still experience a quality of heart marked by the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience. Our hearts are aligned with our deepest selves and the result is the experience of peace. And normally when we are moving away from the desire to love and serve God and others, we experience quality of heart marked by inner restlessness and anxiety. Our hearts are no longer aligned with our deepest selves, and so we experience a disorientation.

For me, a shortcut to discerning the presence or absence of the Spirit is to become aware of my different moods: In a good or peaceful mood the Spirit is normally present; in a bad or anxious mood It is normally not. When my daily life is not marked by inner peace but rather by restlessness and anxiety, I must be careful. A quality of heart marked by anxiety is a red flag telling me something is amiss and should be “checked out.” It is a clue that my heart may not be responding fully to the Spirit because the fruits of the Spirit are not present. In short, I am in a bad mood. Over the years I have become better at recognizing these moods. The restlessness prompting me to examine my moods then becomes a grace because it calls me to realign my heart with the Holy Spirit, if necessary. A further clarification on moods is important. I am connecting good and bad moods with the presence and absence of the Spirit. By a good mood, I mean simply a feeling state transformed by the Spirit and so supporting the desire to love and serve God and others; in contrast, by a bad mood I mean a feeling state not transformed by the Spirit and so not supporting the desire to love and serve. We all know the difference that being in a good mood makes for living our day. There is an intimate connection between our moods, thoughts and actions. When our mood is peaceful, our thoughts tend also to be peaceful and our actions reflect this peacefulness; when our mood is anxious, our thoughts tend also to be anxious, and our actions reflect this anxiety.

The following guidelines are shortcuts to developing the skill of recognizing the Spirit in daily life. First, be aware of situations causing bad moods. The first place to start is with our daily schedules. What daily activities do we approach without the desire to love and serve God and others? These situations may relate to our family lives or our work lives—what daily activities do we “dread”? Chances are we approach these parts of our day in bad moods. Next we should review our relationships. What people tend “to get to us,” in our homes, neighborhoods or workplaces?

Chances are we approach these people with bad moods. Finally, what other areas of our lives habitually irritate us—parish governance, community or national politics, sports? And in addition to these daily occurrences we all experience bad moods during periods of special stress caused by sickness, death, job threats, financial need. Second, replace bad moods with good desires, and then respond to the good desires. Recall that the most reliable sign of the presence of the Spirit in our inner experience is the desire to love and serve. We want our actions to flow not from the bad mood but from the good desire. When we replace the bad mood with a good desire and respond to the desire, we are doing all in our power to align ourselves with the action of the Holy Spirit. Often the mood may not change immediately, but we are comforted by the knowledge that our deepest identity flows not from our moods, but from our desires. Sometimes we find our own inner peace restored immediately.

Third, examine the causes of the bad moods and resolve to deal with them appropriately. It is important to know the causes in order to apply the right remedies for dealing with the moods. For instance, if the cause relates to the physical dimension of our being, we must deal with it on that level. We all know the effect that physical exhaustion and illness can have upon our moods. But if the mood flows from our psychological dimension, we deal with it differently.

Does my mood flow from some area of my life preoccupying me and causing me special stress, for instance, worry about my family, my job, my studies? Finally, does my mood flow from a spiritual need? Perhaps we have not been faithful to our rhythm of spiritual activities and are living alienated from our centers. We want to readjust these daily rhythms to include more fidelity to being with the Lord. Often bad moods are caused by all three dimensions. We are preoccupied with major tasks; we ignore our physical and spiritual needs to fulfill these tasks. We need to reinstate a daily rhythm that facilitates living in tune with the Spirit. Method for Examining Our Consciousness The Ignatian review of daily life focuses not on external actions but on the internal quality of heart underlying these actions. To highlight this dimension I will be referring to an examination of consciousness rather than the more traditional examination of conscience. The examen takes about fifteen minutes. It has five movements. It may be done anytime; Ignatius suggests noon and evening. First, we pray to the Holy Spirit for enlightenment. The consciousness examen is a Spirit-guided insight into the quality of heart underlying our actions. To achieve its purpose we must quiet down and allow the Spirit to guide our reflections. Remember that all movements of our heart toward God occur only when we are in touch with and responding to the Spirit. The examen is not self-centered introspection aimed at achieving some personal perfectionist ideals. And so we open with a prayer to the Spirit, acknowledging that if any good comes from our examen, it will flow from the Spirit. Second, we thank God for our blessings. God blesses us abundantly each day. We tend to presume these blessings and not to acknowledge them adequately. So we rest quietly at the opening of our examen, allowing the Spirit to move us toward gratitude for the blessings of our day.

Often the Spirit will bring something to our attention, and we want to spend nearly the entire time just resting in gratitude to the Lord. This happens when we have been serving the Lord peacefully, and our day has been going well. There is no need to rush through this thanksgiving. Being attentive to the Lord’s blessings is centering us and insuring we will emerge from our examen with the desire to serve God and others during the rest of the day or the next day. Third, we review the quality of heart underlying our actions. The review has two parts.

First, we allow the Spirit to make us aware of all obstacles to loving and serving others during the previous period; this is the general examen. It can be done systematically by reflecting upon our activities as they occurred. Or it can be done simply by allowing the obstacles to emerge. Often when we stop to do our examen, we become immediately aware that we are anxious and restless. This is a “red flag” signaling a bad mood. Usually the situations causing our bad moods will thrust themselves into our consciousness when we pause to reflect upon them. If our day has been especially anxious, the situations causing the bad moods may have already emerged at the opening of the examen during the prayer to the Spirit. In this case it is best to deal with them immediately and to postpone the thanksgiving until the end of examen. We must also decide the appropriate remedy for the situations causing the bad moods. Second, we allow the Spirit to reveal how we have handled the specific obstacle to the Spirit that has been bothering us most in recent days; this is the particular examen. Often there is one situation responsible for most of our bad moods. Particular examens for myself can come from many situations: discouragement over a class, friction with a university administrator, a problem in a personal relationship, worry over a particular world—or church—situation, concern about meeting a deadline for work or for writing. While one obstacle remains dominant, we keep it as our particular examen. When another obstacle becomes dominant, it becomes the particular examen. Since we have already named the particular examen prior to the examen, we review the previous period to see how we have handled the problem. Have we allowed it to dominate our thoughts and actions, or have we replaced the bad mood with a good desire and responded to the desire? It is helpful to repeat a favorite prayer to center ourselves and move us to the level of responding to the Spirit.

The key to the successful use of the particular examen is concreteness: we name the troublesome situation and the desired behavior. I record mine in a daily journal I keep; this is a typical example. Situation: Discouragement over progress of particular course Behavior: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Fourth, we ask for forgiveness for our failings. The Spirit leads us to contrition as soon as we become aware of our failings. If our day has been dominated by bad moods, we want to extend this period of contrition. We want to experience our own brokenness in the light of God’s continuing mercy. It is good to rest in God’s forgiveness as a repentant sinner—like the publican in the Gospel who remained in the back of the temple praying only “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” The experience of brokenness humbles and heightens our awareness of our need for God’s Spirit. Fifth, we resolve to serve God more fully during the following period. We look ahead trying to anticipate obstacles to service in the upcoming day: forewarned is forearmed. We pray for a renewed desire to love and serve God and others with our entire heart, soul, mind and body. We pray to be open to the Spirit and so to live with a quality of heart marked by the Spirit’s presence: love, joy, peace, patience.

Normally we leave the examen refreshed and peaceful. The Spirit, the Examen and Christ Ignatian spirituality is Christ-centered. Ignatius ends the very first meditation in The Spiritual Exercises succinctly: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?” Then to help retreatants get to know this Christ better, Ignatius leads them through three weeks of contemplations on the life of Christ and asks them to pray for “an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.” And this identity grows proportionately to our response to the Spirit—the Spirit sent by Christ and the Father as the culmination of our redemption. John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical on the Holy Spirit reaffirmed our Christian belief, “The redemption accomplished by the Son . . . is in its en tire salvific power transmitted to the Holy Spirit” (par. 11). We become Christ to the exact extent that we respond to the Spirit of Christ. The daily examen is our effort to respond conscientiously to the Spirit so as to become more Christ-like. But the transformation of our inner selves is a lifetime journey and we must be patient. The Lord asks only for fidelity to the journey. God permits the human condition which includes human brokenness. But God permits brokenness only because it is a unique occasion for experiencing the power of our redemption. I like Paul’s attitude toward his brokenness. Doubtless Paul was experiencing exasperation about a weakness, a “thorn in the flesh,” that just would not go away. It’s not clear whether the “thorn in the flesh” was a moral or physical weakness—although Paul does identify its source as an “angel of Satan.” It really doesn’t matter. Paul seems to indicate that he handles all his trials, weaknesses and temptations the same way.

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given me, an angel of Satan to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly in my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12: 7-10). Many of our problems, like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” never go away, be they relationships, job situations, physical liabilities or moral temptations. They are handled best when we name them—approaching them even with a sense of humor—and refuse to respond to them, realizing that without them we would be deprived of occasions for experiencing the grace of our redemption! Yes, even our temptations are opportunities to become Christ more fully, if we handle them as he handled his in the desert! And it is comforting to know that because of our redemption we are assured of the Spirit’s help in every temptation: Grace in us is stronger than sin in us! And that the Spirit we rely upon is the very Spirit that moved within the heart of Jesus himself—Jesus who was conceived by the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit and led by the Spirit throughout his life. Like ourselves Jesus lived in the Spirit and handled his weaknesses, trials and temptations as we handle ours, relying on the strength of the Spirit. The vision of St. Ignatius and dream of Creighton University of helping all the Creighton family find God in daily life and of helping Christians to become Christ-like is enshrined beautifully in the Creighton University Mission Statement: “As Jesuit, Creighton participates in the tradition of the Society of Jesus which provides an integrating vision of the world that arises out of a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.” It remains a core reason for Creighton’s existence.

* This article originally appeared in Creighton University Window magazine, Winter 1995-96, 20–25.
It is reprinted here with permission.

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