"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

DAY II: Ignatian First Principle and Foundation (July 19)

The fourth sign: the fish leap out of the sea roaring.
Second Rule of the Discernment of Spirits: In the case of those who go on earnestly striving to cleanse their souls from sin and who seek to rise in the service of God our Lord to greater perfection, the method pursued is the opposite of that mentioned in the first rule. Then it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. Thus he seeks to prevent the soul from advancing.

It is characteristic of the good spirit, however, to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace. This He does by making all easy, by removing all obstacles so that the soul goes forward in doing good. (SE 315)

What constitutes a person's living relationship with God? It is not only about keeping dogmas and doctrines which very often limits one's practice of faith by rigidly adhering and passively receiving a domesticated faith. Most sins of omission arise from this lopsided view of faith if one is not critically aware. Do not get me wrong, our Christian life must have dogmas but then one's living relationship with God is so much deeper and greater than that. It is important to have a faith that grows from constant critical reflection, which is constitutive of an authentic relationship with God—like a mustard seed with a growth process that involves one's whole mind and heart.

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s sixteenth-century Spiritual Exercises (SE) begins with what he calls the ‘First Principle and Foundation’ (FP&F). This is a deceptively simple statement of what one must embrace in order to claim God's offer of spiritual inheritance as His children. Ignatius suggests that we are created to praise, reverence and serve our ever-present God and Lord, and by these means to achieve our eternal well-being (SE 23). From the FP&F, one sets out on a spiritual path of increasing freedom in order to "advance" towards God and His truth. It is important to note also that the FP&F is not a once-and-for-all, unchanging reality, but rather an ever-deepening relationship between God and the creature. Neither is it something we can attain through human efforts alone. It is first to be received as a gift from God since ultimately God alone is the author of all spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Is the Devil real?
You might say no one believes in the Devil anymore, so why turn to the Bible rather than a psychiatrist for understanding disorders in the human psyche? It may be unpopular now to believe in spiritual beings like angels and demons, but the Bible does teach of their existence. However we do not like to say this simply as a biblical truth because there are those when they hear about religious stuff from the Bible, they switch into a superstitious mode.

I remember watching the movie "The Rite" where a Welsh Jesuit exorcist named Fr. Lucas (Anthony Hopkins) tells an apprentice, "Be careful Michael, choosing not to believe in the Devil doesn't protect you from him." Michael was supposed to be ordained already but he declined because of his skepticism and tentativeness of faith.

Then again it is also true that believing in the existence of the Devil may be dangerous as well especially if our image of God is erroneous, i.e., some picture Him as a Lawgiver and punishing God. This can be another deception by the enemy. No wonder Paul instructed Christians about spiritually putting on ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2-3). Seeing is not always believing and when you do not see something it does not mean it's not true, e.g., the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.

I believe that there are all too many factors, including the biological, behavioral, cultural and intellectual that can affect one's perception of everyday reality, let alone spiritual forces. Let us just put the matter aside, agree to differ and focus instead on the negative and destructive effects of a life that is not tuned to God. That is the bottom line of the second rule of the discernment of spirits and the FP&F.

Finally I would like to quote Pope Francis about our Church's long-standing take on the matter. He says,
We will not admit the existence of the devil if we insist on regarding life by empirical standards alone, without a supernatural understanding. It is precisely the conviction that this malign power is present in our midst that enables us to understand how evil can at times have so much destructive force... He is present in the very first pages of the Scriptures, which end with God’s victory over the devil. Indeed, in leaving us the Our Father, Jesus wanted us to conclude by asking the Father to “deliver us from evil.” That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact translation would be “the evil one.” It indicates a personal being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask daily for deliverance from him, lest his power prevail over us. (GE* 160)
One's relationship with God involves a "constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil" who is not a figment of the imagination but rather "a personal being who assails us." "It is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul" (SE 315). Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Meditate on the grace to beg for today: "Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will" (Rom 8:26-27).

*Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad)


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