There’s a meditation in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius called “Three Classes of People,” which is designed to help us understand our attachments. Three people are given a great fortune, and each decides, in a different way, what to do about the fortune.
Let’s be clear. The problem isn’t the fortune; it’s the attraction to the fortune. This exercise doesn’t assume that God wants you to give the thing up. It may well be that God wants you to have it. But you need to have freedom to make a decision. The attitude we strive for is complete openness to whatever God wants. The attraction may not go away—in fact, we should assume that it won’t. All our lives we will have many likes and dislikes, strong reactions to the things people do and don’t do, passionate attraction to some possibilities and sharp revulsion to others. The challenge is to find a way to stand aside from these passions when important decisions are at hand so that we can perceive what God tells us is the best outcome. (God Finds Us, 100)
Ignatius focused on money in this meditation, probably because the men he dealt with were what would be the equivalent of Ivy League scholars today, most of them privileged and ambitious; it makes sense that the meditation would strike at something quite central to their lives. Money is still a great motivator and source of attachment, because we need it to survive and thrive.
But sometimes other, more subtle attachments prevent our spiritual freedom. We can discover our attachments by looking squarely at our fears, because usually we fear losing what we are attached to the most.
It’s important to remember that God does not automatically ask us to give up what we love. God desires abundant life for us, and it’s a mistake to interpret “abundant” as applying only to intellectual or spiritual qualities. There are serious problems with the “health and wealth” message we sometimes hear from televangelists who claim that God wants each of us to be rich and problem-free. Certainly the long history of the Church, including its saints and martyrs, does not uphold such a philosophy. But above all, God wants us to be free—free to enjoy good things and free to give them up for the sake of accomplishing a greater good.
In other words, we cannot say that it is always God’s will to have good fortune of any and every kind, and neither can we say that it is always God’s will that we suffer and do without.
This seems like a simple topic, but really, it isn’t simple at all. Every day brings fortune or loss, and so every day we must be prepared to live abundantly—in freedom—regardless of how things go.
- How do you deal with the concept of abundance or want, of blessing or trial?
- What have you learned about becoming free to choose the best way in a given situation?