Building the Future Priest: the Christ-centered Man

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Ignatian equipping aims to provide the future priest with all the tools he will need to be a dynamic apostle in the third millennium but above all to empower him to bring about the transformation of his spirit into that of an Alter Christus, “another Christ” who can say with St. Paul, “I live no longer I but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2: 19)

The building of the Ignatian’s interior Christian life is a tri-dimensional task: intellectual, ascetical, and mystical.

First and foremost there is the  work of laying deep foundations in the granite rock of the truths of the Catholic Faith, dogma, in order to form personal convictions. Then, using the same granite, follows a serene, patient but intense struggle to put in place the columns, steel pylons and retaining walls of a steadfast character composed of wise, time-tested asceticism. Crowning these efforts through sanctifying and actual grace will be a mystical prayer and interior life, mystical being defined in the widest sense.

Accordingly, from the beginning, during the stages of Candidacy and Novitiate, there is the study, meditation and contemplation of  Catholic dogma.

This is because the truths regarding God as our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, our First Beginning and our Last End, are the very raison d’etre for the Christian’s interior life.

As such these truths are the source of man’s fulfillment and happiness and are therefore the sure and direct highway on which to progress upwards to ever deeper union with God.

The call and journey to Christian perfection logically presents itself to the soul reflecting and contemplating in the Presence of God upon the central Christian truth of the Incarnation.

The reality of the love of the God-Man impells the soul ever upwards on the mountain overcoming sin, acquiring virtue, as one climbs upwards to the peaks of the unitive range of the Christian life through the purgative and illuminative ranges.

This ascent along the purgative and illuminative paths will be enlightened by the presence of his wise guide, St. Thomas Aquinas whose structure of “exitus-reditus” in his Summa Theologiae deepens man’s understanding of life’s pilgrimage.

But not only St. Thomas will walk with him. Also St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and those writers on the spiritual life who hold to the time-tested opinions commonly held by the vast majority of the great authors of the different schools of spirituality. A leading text, with its extensive bibliographical references, that Ignatians use, is Tanquerey’s The Spiritual Life: A Treatise of Ascetical and Mystical Theology. This text has the value of being both comprehensive and synthetic as well as balanced in judgment.

This Catholic vision of Christian life will enlighten and place in context the Ignatian’s understanding and appreciation for the grandeur of his own specific Ignatian spirituality, rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.

The Ignatian will thus have a wide and magnanimous veneration for all that is true and beautiful in all the great Catholic schools of spirituality, thus enabling him as spiritual director to be sensitive to the gifts, needs and aspirations of each person as an individual.

For as St. Ignatius once remarked:

“There is no error more pernicious among masters of the spiritual life than desiring to govern others by themselves, and thinking that what is good for them is good for all…This is very dangerous. This is to ignore the multiform diversity of the gifts of grace and the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not to understand how often graces are different in the same spirit.” (Pedro de Ribadaneneira, Vida del Bienventurado Padre Ignacio de Loyola, Fundador de la Religion de la Compania de Jesus, V, x, second edition, Barcelona, 1885, p. 586-587)