Ignatius and Me: First Principle & Foundation

July 1, 2019

Welcome to our first week of the Ignatius and Me series! In honor of the feast of St Ignatius, which is coming up on July 31st, I’ve asked some friends to write about what Ignatian spirituality means to them in their daily lives. Each week will look at a different principle or prayer of Ignatian Spirituality, introduced with an excerpt from my book, Busy Lives and Restless Souls and then followed by a friend’s personal interpretation.

From Busy Lives & Restless Souls:

Through the First Principle and Foundation, Ignatius invites us to live in a stance of detachment. What in the world does he mean by that word? In my mind, I boil it down to this: God wants to be the center of our lives. It is in God and God alone that we find our worth and value. At the same time, God gives us gifts. As humans, we have a tendency to center ourselves on these gifts. St. Ignatius teaches us to be detached from the gifts God gives us—to not put our stock or our value in the gifts but in the giver of the gifts. All of the gifts God gives us—our work, our family, our friends, the place we live—have the potential to help us grow deeper in our relationship with God, but we must hold them in balance, with our life centered upon God. In this way, we are “detached” from the gifts because we are mindful of what they truly are: gifts from God, given to us to grow deeper in God and for us to help others grow deeper in God.


First Principle and Foundation


The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.

As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
and are not bound by some obligation.

We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better
leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.

St. Ignatius as paraphrased by David l. Fleming, S.J.

Ignatius’ Invitation:  To Fix Our Desires on God and Nothing Else

This week, Gretchen Crowder, the Director of Campus Ministry at Jesuit Dallas and an adjunct faculty member for the University of Dallas, shares about her experience with the First Principle and Foundation. Read more from Gretchen on her blog at GretchenCrowder.com.

I remember the first time I heard the First Principle and Foundation. It was my first year of teaching and for some reason, the “we should not fix our desires on health or sickness” line above all the rest really stuck out to me at that moment. At the time, I was kind of an… over-reactor. I was always getting sick and instead of just assuming I had a cold – I would jump straight online to WebMD and figure out what my symptoms were really saying. In fact, that’s how I bonded with my first fellow new teacher.

We were sharing a room on Faculty Retreat and during a break, we got on the topic of our current potential ailments… and, of course, it led to both of us to get on our phones and scroll through WebMD. We were able to admit that yes, we had a problem (thank you, retreat reflection time) and, through that common vice, a real friendship was born. So, needless to say, someone, even Ignatius, inviting me not to fix my desires on health or sickness really challenged my general way of proceeding at the time. As a young-er teacher, I was not really sure what to make of it all.

Over time and repetition and with both context and experience, the meditation as a whole started to make sense to me and shift my way of thinking. I began to recognize two truths hidden in the words of the meditation:

  1. God is not finished with me yet;
  2. If I am moving ever closer to the person God is calling me to be, the details will work themselves out.

As a parent and as an educator, I have to remind myself often of this first point – that I am a continual creation of God. It is what keeps me from assuming that when I make a mistake I am a “bad” mother or an “unqualified” educator. Instead I am reminded “God who loves us creates us and wants to share life with us forever.” God does not just create me once and pushes me out into the world. God CONTINUALLY creates me and participates in the world with me.

I also have to remind myself often of this second point – “the details will work themselves out.” The final portion of the First Principle and Foundation reminds us to not let any other created gifts of God become the center of our world. The center of our world should instead be God. If God is at the center of my world, then the details will work themselves out. God will help me figure out what I need to become the person God is calling me to be. I do not have to do that part alone! This is often difficult to remember, particularly at times like just a few weeks ago when we lost power throughout DFW. Businesses were closed, some daycares and kids camps were closed, and many hung out all day or returned at night to homes without air conditioning, hot water, or lights. Our lives were a little scattered as the city worked to put itself back together again for almost a week after just a quick, 30 minute storm. In the frustration of the moment, I felt myself so dependent on things like wifi and the camp where my son was supposed to go as I worked. I became impatient and so anxious about the details that I forgot to center my life on God. I forgot that the details were just the details… and I was focusing on the wrong things.

The First Principle and Foundation, which started out so foreign to me over a decade ago, has become central to my faith. Even though not originally intended as a prayer, I find myself using it as one often. I use it as a reminder to be gentle to myself, and a reminder that God always has my back. More than anything the last line reminds me of what my ultimate goal should be in this life: “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.

Go Deeper

Cultivating Space for God Together:

Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last fifteen years and counting. She is also a freelance writer and speaker. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.

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