Plan of Ignatian Equipping

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
The Plan “Ecosystem” of  all of man’s natural  abilities and supernatural gifts

The plan for equipping a future priest cannot be a haphazard matter, a nonchalant saunter through the supermarket of psychologies and pedagogies picking and choosing according to personal taste.

We are Catholics; we have our principles; plus a highly complex, articulate anthropology developed by the greatest minds of the Western world during two thousand years, led by Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

Catholic philosophical anthropology and psychology enables us to recognize that far more complex than any precision instrument, man is an intricately meshed network of body, intellect, will, senses and passions, with each set of “mechanisms” playing its special role for the good of the whole. Therefore the Ignatian formation of man must take into account the roles of each of the “mechanisms”.

The Ignatian equipping plan also recognizes that there is only one plan, one way to the peaks of character-formation: a mountain-trail that is narrow, rocky and precipitous at the beginning, widening and smoothing higher up.

The trail has a name: Habits. A habit is a pattern of behavior, acquired principally by motivation, with the motivation gaining in intensity by frequent repetition of the motivation through action thus leading to a stable personality whether in the area of physical skills, moral virtues, intellectual qualities or interpersonal skills. 

Habits become almost a “second nature” and change the wax-like temperament of the individual into character, whether good or evil depending on the goodness or evil of the habits.

In concentric circles according to their importance for character formation are the moral virtues enlightened and strengthened by the theological virtues, followed by the intellectual qualities such as concentration, silence, study, and the physical abilities of a healthy body.

The equipping is all about becoming  Alter Christus on the basis of being a man of solid character by forming the necessary habits for priestly excellence but especially the cardinal virtues of wise decision-making (prudence), courage under fire ( fortitude), moderation of the power of pleasure ( temperance) and justice.

The Ignatian Method shows in a practical way the organic unity of the roles of grace, intellect and will-power.

This is important because effective priestly training is a matter of a joint-operation between the organism of the supernatural life (sanctifying grace) perfecting the operations of intelligence and will so that man’s nature cooperates like a well-oiled machine  -within the limitations of a defective vehicle!

 The Ignatian plan is therefore a plan for habit building: one that takes into account the roles of nature and the supernatural, of body and intellect, will and passions, time and sense of eternity.

A Realistic, Feet on the Ground Plan: Nature and Grace

It is therefore eminently realistic, common sense and down-to-earth. If a man wants to form habits, he must take into account the following:

  1. That he is not an angel but has a body with physical needs and passions
  2. That since the original catastrophe of the Fall he is not balanced but warped suffering from a shadow over his intellect, a body prone to sickness and weakness and a weakness in his will: if in doubt about this just pick up the day’s newspaper.

Therefore man can’t rely on his own organism or intelligence or will: something else is needed, something he will only find in sanctifying grace. BUT neither can he deny or ignore the necessary role of  a healthy body, the correct use of reasoning through logic, wise judgment, knowledge; the role of his will through motivation; the role of his sentiments and passions.

Sometimes you will hear from well-intentioned sources such vague and elastic phrases as “all is grace” or “all that matters is that you pray” or “stay close to the sacraments and you’ll be fine” or “be patient with yourself and all will be well”. To emphasize the role of any one of the four dimensions to the practical (few deny it theoretically) exclusion of one or more of the others is to set up an educational program that is most certainly not correct – and it will not work!

True formation lies not in these unilateral efforts but in respect for the roles of both grace and nature so superbly summed up by St. Thomas Aquinas: “Grace does not eliminate nature but perfects it” (Summa Theologiae I, 1, 9). Therefore in the acquisition of a priestly character, the only currencies that are always necessary and never deflate in value are four: Grace and Prayer, (considered as one because practically that is the way they function), Intellect, Self-Conquest and Time.

 By using all the means of both nature and grace the future Ignatian will navigate correctly and reach your destination avoiding the false turn-offs onto the roads of mere will-power (Pelagianism) and vague “spirituality” of mush, gush and slush. 

The dimensions of the  Ignatian method function together like an ecosystem – a biological community that together with its environment functions as a unit. All four are necessary: if one “dies”, all die or at least are stunted in growth. Each has to be nourished and protected daily and not just once in a blue moon in order to contribute to the other three, interacting with them and providing the life needed to reach  “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

 By reading the lives of the priest-saints who show amidst a dazzling diversity of temperaments and circumstances the unchanging and unchangeable way in which nature and grace interact to form the sacerdos magnus. The 4-D Method is rooted in the Catholic vision of man and therefore is “classic Catholic” and also classic battle-tested wisdom because its contents have been tested in the lives of these saints.

Seminarians should have formators with the same firey concern for training them (even if with more restrained tongues!) as Mgobozi had for his Zulu recruits back around 1818: “Do I want to see you eaten by vultures and hyaenas after the next battle, merely because you were too stupid or lazy to understand that what I am trying to teach you today will save you tomorrow?” (Quoted in E.A.RITTER, Shaka Zulu, 1955)

Special Focus in Ignatian Equipping
  1. Man of Grace instead of Man of Spiritual Formation:

The change of terminology specifies the essential difference between “spiritual formation” inside and outside the Catholic Church: Catholics recognize the distinct and vital role of the supernatural (grace) which acts within the Christian psyche to perfect it.

The concrete and dynamic role of  sanctifying grace through Holy Communion and Confession and actual grace through prayer and sacramentals in effectively changing personality.

Why “Grace” -and not “Spiritual Formation”?

Focus and Priority! By targeting Grace and not Spiritual Formation or Spirituality, you receive clear signals about the priorities of:

  • The Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession
  • Prayer
  • Spiritual warfare in order to conserve Grace

 “Spirituality” is no longer a pedagogically apt term for us Catholics in a globalized world with increasing contact with other religions and their spiritualities:  we need to be far more clear-minded that our “spirituality” is not similar to any other because it is not man-made but supernatural, for we belong not to a human religion but to the divine and Catholic Faith, fruit of Divine Revelation. 

The future leaders of God’s people want to be clear-minded from day one that being a Christian is ontologically different from being a “spiritually-minded” person. By having grace as defined by the Church your priority, you have a paradigm for your Christian life that is concrete, realistic, hale and hardy.

By emphasizing both grace and self-conquest non-Catholics will have no doubt that the Catholic religion is not the same as either the “New Age” religions of secularized society or indeed any other religion – and you’ll give them a reason to consider converting.

  1. Man of Character instead of Man of Human Formation in order to focus on

The Psychology of Habit-Formation: Following in the line of the anthropology held by St. Thomas Aquinas, applied in the field of psychology by the eminent Catholics Johann Lindworsky and Rudolf Allers, the 4-D Method brings to the fore the importance of habits forged through acquiring the ability to self-motivate. “Nothing comes off – except what you have practiced”.

Emphasizing Self-Conquest (asceticism) eliminating caricatures of it by explaining its surgical role for a wounded will – and its key ingredient: motivation.

Man of Time  because the 4-D Method focuses on  the importance of being time-sensitive in order – among other reasons – to pursue a policy of constant  formation of habits in the intellectual, character and social domains as well as in mental prayer and in the  prayed reception of the sacraments.

Man of Intellect involves acquiring knowledge of philosophy and theology but not as mere academic qualifications: we are called to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) which involves having the “unum necessarium” [the one thing necessary] of becoming a saint as the goal of our intellectual activities.

Accordingly our intention will be to perfect our mind to the utmost possible by throwing wide open its doors to the gifts of the Holy Spirit by both moral and ascetic effort.

The moral and ascetic effort will be through purity of intention alongside conscientious and selective reading, study and use of mass media, at every turn sharpening the mind’s powers by acquiring knowledge and avoiding all that degrades the imagination and intellect.  

It also involves having the intention of self-motivation which plays the same role in man’s interior victory as army supply-lines in military triumph (ask Napoleon about his 1812 Russian campaign).

All of these facets of intellectual preparation require a comprehensive program for the use of time through selective reading and use of mass-media, the acquisition of the art of conversation, forging an appreciation and an ability for silence, knowledge of one’s own personality and of one’s Catholic and priestly identity as well as guidelines to study philosophy and theology  – all of which are laid out in the various volumes.

  1. Man of Leadership

In many programs one will see the term “pastoral formation” and not “man of leadership”

Within the structure of  the 4-D  Man of Leadership stresses the unavoidable priestly obligation to lead and govern due to entry into the order of priesthood

Leadership is not presented as one of the “four pillars” of priestly formation but the practical application springing  from the empowerment of grace, intellect, character and time.

Leadership is thus the ethos that is integral to the equipped Ignatian, an intangible dimension, a standard of excellence that colors his deep sense of responsibility for the well being of souls; that urges him to put his souls first always, himself last always; that makes him willing to embrace death rather than betrayal of the ones he is meant to lead. 

Priestly leadership skills are important but they can be picked up without excessive difficulty if the 4-D is in place. The difference is not unimportant because the emphasis will mean that the priest or seminarian will focus on the essentials of the 4-D and avoid a pitfall of thinking that the “practical stuff” of pastoral training, internship, bureaucratic procedures is “what really matters”.

Instead with greater intensity whether on his knees in mental prayer or at study in his room he will have the clear awareness “This is where I prepare myself for priesthood”.  This does not preclude the importance of certain pastoral activities and internship but even they will be viewed in the light of growing in grace, forming character, intellect and a sense of time.