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Ignatian Humanism: A dynamic Spirituality for the 21st Century

by Ronald Modras

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight

I’ve read excellent Jesuit work on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius which have directed my life to some extent. I chose this book to read as I’ve thought the world has become more and more secular and the answer might be to embrace the secularity and mix it with Jesuit humanism as an antidote to our lack of spirituality. Humanism connotes a high regard for human freedom and many of the saints, including Ignatius, respond to that freedom. The humanistic features purported in the book make it exceptionally relevant to Roman Catholics, other Christians and all those who want to live a responsible spiritual life. So basically this book focuses on three words: humanism, spirituality, and Ignatius.

Spirituality has many meanings and becomes a bit esoteric in today’s society. With all the technology that permeates our lives, “we are experiencing a need to talk about ourselves in terms other than DNA molecules and genes”. Spirituality is …” a power, presence, drive, longing---that is beyond the ordinary”. It is a fire that burns within us. The author has difficulty with the definition of humanism not because of his own difficulty but in the entire history of humanism, it is difficult to find the variables that would assist us in clarifying the issue. He relies on Gabriel Marcel, Thomas Merton, Paul Tillich and Hans Kung. Modras continues to provide us with the struggles of the word secular humanism and what it might look like in society. When the final purpose of the book is laid out, the reader sees how the Ignatian overview is intrinsic to the development of the book.

In the first chapter, the author describes Ignatian spirituality in the context of its origin in the life of Ignatius Loyola. The second outlines the characteristics of Renaissance humanism and their influence on Ignatian spirituality and the founding of the Jesuits. Chapters 3-7 illustrates the fact that humanism continues to evolve shown in the lives of several notable Jesuits. In the concluding chapter Modras points out that: “Ignatian spirituality in the twenty-first century is not what it was when Inigo de Loyola first began giving people spiritual exercise. We no longer share many of his more basic assumptions. ….Homogeneous Christian cultures supportive of personal faith are relics of the past, confined at most to ghettos.” Thanks in a great measure to its deep-seated humanism with its aptitude for accommodation as all are included in the dialogue.

Chapter two investigates the Renaissance origin of Ignatian humanism. The author explores the foundational issues but cautions that “Ignatian spirituality is not the same as it was when Ignatius first published the Spiritual Exercises. Its openness to accommodation gives it a dynamism that allowed it to evolve, as encounters with new cultures and scientific discoveries broadened the horizons of the Jesuits who gave the Exercises and wrote theological reflections on them.” In Chapter three we read the life of Matteo Ricci whose humanism is what makes him relevant as a spiritual mentor for the Twenty-first century. ”Wisdom for Renaissance humanists; the truth is where you found it. ”Chapter four brings us the life of Jesuit Fredrick Spee who interacted with those involved in witchcraft and those killed for witchcraft. His story unravels the meaning and the experience of women in a patriarchal Church. Chapter 5 unfolds the mysticism of Teilhard de Chardin “…..affirmed the presence of God in all things but recognized that the beginnings of creation go back not a few thousand years but into what he called ‘an abyss of time’”. His theology allows us to see our lives and spiritual destiny as intimately intertwined with all the rest of life on Earth. In the next chapter, the author investigates the mystical world of Karl Rahner who is considered the mystic of everyday life. “Like Ignatius, Rahner encouraged his readers to recognize God in all things, even the most commonplace: when we forgive without reward, do our duty without thanks, when we dare to let ourselves hope despite our guilt and failures—there is God and the experience of God.

In Chapter seven we meet Pedro Arrupe. He is inspirational to me as the Jesuits have begun a two-year college for immigrants (right next to Chicago Loyola) on behalf of Arrupe and his work. One of Arrupe’s tasks as the superior general was to raise funds for Jesuit institutions and ministries. Arrupe’s efforts to make the promotion of justice integral to the service of faith, retrieving the this-worldly aspect of Ignatian spirituality, is a major and obvious warrant for calling Pedro Arrupe an Ignatian humanist. Arrupe was especially willing to learn from other cultures and take truth where they found it. The same awareness was evident of goodness, beauty, and grace. Arrupe’s optimism came from a “calculated choice to hope and trust”.

In the last chapter of the book, Modras, purports that ‘the dynamic nature of Ignatian spiritual tradition can be seen in the documents of the thirty-four general congregations of the Society of Jesus. Those documents reflect and formalize the experiences and contributions of Ignatian humanists” like the ones he describes in his book. What sticks out for me as a reader of this tome is the diversity that underlies all their work and above all the inclusivity that is threaded throughout the work. This inclusivity is of paramount importance in looking at our neighbor so that “Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself” is truly meaningful to all cultures, ethnic groups, ages, and beliefs.

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