By: A. Taiga Guterres
How might the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola help us to foster justice in our world today? Fr. Peter Gyves, SJ, MD offered many insights during his presentation at the Boston College School of Theology & Ministry entitled, “The Spiritual Exercises: A Reflection on Human Suffering from the Underside of History” on April 8, 2021.
Fr. Gyves provided an overview of the different movements within the Spiritual Exercises, offering insights from Ignatius’ perspective as well as those from Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. a Salvadorean Jesuit priest who was martyred for speaking out against oppression. Fr. Gyves speaks of his own experience in El Salvador, where he witnessed and was transformed by the ‘crucified people.’ He states, “It really changed the way I saw the world from those who were very privileged to people who really had no chance escaping this historical hell that Ignacio Ellacuría talked about in his own writings.”
In this transformation, he speaks to the ways in which the Spiritual Exercises, when seen through the lens of human suffering and the underside of history, can move us towards an engagement with the realities of suffering and a faith that does justice. From the Principle and Foundation to the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises, Fr. Gyves engages the face of Christ in the poor and marginalized – the ‘crucified people.’ In appropriating aspects of the Spiritual Exercises with the underside of history, he challenges us to pray with the questions: what have we done, what are we doing, and what ought we do to take people down from the cross?
In the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius grounds us in an ordered vision of reality to praise, reverence, and serve God and to use the things of this world to attain this end. Fr. Gyves places the social context of the margins to connect the vertical relationship with God to the horizonal responsibility with one another. In addition, this contextualizes the inner freedom, or indifference required to discern God’s will talked about in the Principle and Foundation towards living into the courage required for the magis, or “the more” of Christian praxis.
In the First Week, the Spiritual Exercises asks us to reflect on human sinfulness. Fr. Gyves guides us to differentiate personal sin and structural sin. This structural sin, which takes place beyond the context of our interpersonal encounters, can lead us to what Ellacuría calls a ‘historical hell.’ However, through this sin, God offers the grace of salvation to call us as beloved and humble sinners “looking out for other people to share our own state of life as we mutually seek the unseen God who really desires salvation for all God’s people.”
For Ignatius, the Call of Christ the King in the Second Week may lead us towards a deeper desire and identification with Jesus. However, Christ also shares that there will be suffering before glory. From the underside of history, Fr. Gyves shares that this call is one to walk in solidarity with the marginalized and move toward a deeper commitment, which may collide with society and human sinfulness. To move through this requires a faith that does not simply stay in the theoretical, but is incarnated into reality through our Christian praxis.
Fr. Gyves reflects on Third Week and the historical Jesus to remind us that Jesus spoke against injustice, ran into conflict with civil and religious authorities, and was killed by human sinfulness in his Christian praxis. “While the ‘crucified people’ do not replace Jesus,” he says, “they give witness to the ongoing crucifixion of Jesus, the ongoing need for redemption in this world. They witness to God’s love for people in this world. They witness to human sinfulness.” To follow Jesus in living a faith that does justice, we will at times, collide with society and receive pushback. However, “true discipleship in Jesus engages society. It moves us beyond our churches, our temples, and our mosques to really engage human suffering in this world in which we live so that all people might know the salvation that is being offered to them.”
In the Fourth Week, we are called to reflect on the risen Christ. Fr. Gyves brings in Ellacuría’s notion that the ‘crucified people’ are also a ‘resurrection people.’ He shares that it is in the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized where we often encounter the witness of God’s love as overcoming human sinfulness.
Fr. Gyves offers a wealth of insights to ponder in reflection and prayer that is rooted in the Jesuit tradition. Whether it be in our education and formation programs or in our socio-political engagement, he urges us to continue to find ways to walk in solidarity in history, not just in theory, stating that “love is fulfilled in acts of justice.”