“A Way to Clarify Your Values”

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This blog post from William Barry, SJ, is a reflection on David Fleming’s Book, “What is Ignatian Spirituality”, which Ignatian Volunteers are using for spiritual reflection in many regions this service year.

The meditation on the Two Standards in the Spiritual Exercises asks us to reflect on two different value systems, that of Lucifer and that of Jesus. After reflecting on these two value systems retreatants are then prompted to pray to have the values of Jesus, and even to pray to be chosen by God for real poverty. The suggestion shows that Ignatius knew that our hearts are not in tune with the values of Jesus. I want to reflect with you on this fact in this blog, an extension of what I wrote in January.

In a series of talks on the BBC in 1932 the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray opined that since the advent of the Enlightenment the western world had seen a great development of our intellects as people were urged to seek the truth wherever it was to be found. However, there had not been a parallel development of hearts. As a result, he believed, westerners had the minds of adults and had achieved great breakthroughs in science and in political life, but our hearts were still those of children. He went on to say that as a result of this one-sided development we had become afraid of the work of our own hands. Clearly we needed to do something to remedy this situation. I believe that we are not much better off these many years later.

When I read these talks some years ago, I realized that Ignatian spirituality had the means to help people to move toward more mature hearts, hearts more in tune with the values of Jesus. It is not enough to meditate on the values of Jesus if we do not also practice the discernment of spirits which will gradually attune our hearts to these values. Discernment requires that we pay attention to the movements of our hearts and minds as we reflect on our day, for instance by doing a daily examen of consciousness. As we pay attention we notice that some of these movements give us more life and joy, while others turn us in on ourselves and sadden us. As Ignatius himself did, we can begin to wonder about the difference and come to the conclusion that the former movements and what caused them were instances of God’s presence in our lives, while the others could not be from God since they led only to despondency and self-doubt, and they had us focused on ourselves. If we keep us this kind of reflection over time, we will be able more quickly to move away from the second kind movement and toward the first in our daily lives. Gradually we will find our hearts more in tune with the values of Jesus.

Our volunteer work gives us many opportunities to do such discerning since we meet situations that stretch our minds and hearts.

Fr. Bill Barry, SJ is a Spiritual Reflector for IVC New England.  He entered the Society of Jesus in 1950 and was ordained in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1968. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Boston College. Bill is the author or co-author of 20 books, including The Practice of Spiritual Direction, God and You, Finding God in All Things, Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God, Who Do You Say I Am?, Contemplatives in Action, and A Friendship like No Other. For more on his writing please visit Loyola Press.

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