Living As Contemplative Leaders in Action: People For Others

November 14, 2021

Ignatian spirituality is known for its genius concerning self-awareness. Centuries before psychology emerged as a science, Ignatius understood that people needed to reflect on their experiences, needed to learn about their specific interior “movements,” needed to take note of what helped or hindered their spiritual development. Many people are drawn to Ignatian prayer such as the Examen because it helps them reflect and grow in self-awareness.

It’s important to remember, however, that every spiritual practice Ignatius did and helped others do was aimed at helping others. The handful of men who founded the Society of Jesus were passionate about cooperating with God’s work in the world—through every avenue possible, whether ministering to society’s poorest and weakest or becoming linguists, schoolteachers, and mapmakers. Their purpose was to see where God was at work and where God called them to be—and to show up and do the hard and complex work of loving others.

At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is the belief that we humans have purpose in the universe, and that purpose is to grow in faith, hope, and love and to help others do the same. The late writer and spiritual director Bill Barry, SJ spoke in terms of God’s project or family business: we are invited to join in, to participate in this majestic venture. This sojourn with Jesus of Nazareth happens to us as individuals but always develops in the context of community.

It makes sense, though, that we develop self-awareness as we love others because we can’t love very well when we are blind to our faults and weaknesses. One goal of our personal spiritual development is to become free—so free of bias, fear, anxiety, insecurity, ambition, and self-loathing that we can open our hearts to others and give to them abundantly. We can give ourselves to love when we have at least begun to be freed by the growing conviction that God loves us.

Also, we know from experience that working on our spiritual life is not effective in isolation. Although there are periods when each of us must dwell with God alone and be trained by solitude, love must always have its object—it must always be expressed to someone. At times we must learn to love ourselves, but even that requires that we first experience love from God directly or, most of the time, from another person.

“People for others” negates clinging to power or status. “People for others” pulls us out of self-obsession. “People for others” keeps us connected in healthy ways to the larger community. “People for others” can take almost as many forms as there are people. “People for others” continues through heartbreak and setback. “People for others” is not a motto but a guiding principle of the Christian life.


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Vinita Hampton Wright recently retired from more than thirty years as a book editor. She has also served as a speaker and facilitated retreats and workshops on writing, creativity, prayer, and Ignatian spirituality. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship, The Art of Spiritual Writing, and Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living with Loyola Press, and most recently Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church with Ave Maria Press . Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015, she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She continues to write and now serves as a spiritual director from her home in Springdale, Arkansas with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.

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