Ignatian Discernment: First Principle and Foundation

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s First Principle and Foundation summarizes the goal of life and the way to achieve this goal.

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Ignatius of Loyola, S. (1914). The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. (E. Mullan, Trans.) (p. 19). New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons.

Here’s some quotes from Fr. Michael Gaitley on the First Principle and Foundation:

“The First Principle and Foundation teaches us that we’re made to live the “first thing” (a life of praise, reverence, and service to God) by using the “second things” (the other things on the face of the earth) only insofar as they help us to live the first thing. Not only that , it teaches that if a second thing becomes an obstacle to living out the first thing, then we should rid ourselves of it. To find the right balance between this “using” and “ridding”, Ignatius says, “We must make ourselves indifferent to all created things.” (Fr. Michael Gaitley Consoling the Heart of Jesus, 37).

The principle works like this: If we stay fixed on the beauty and glory of the Lord Jesus, if we taste his wonderful sweetness, then we’ll discover he’s much better than any doughnut. If we truly behold his glory, then we’ll say with St. Paul that all else is dung! (see Phil 3:8). If we keep our eyes on the first thing, then like the early Jesuits, we’ll exclaim, “All for the greater glory of God!” And we’ll charge to our goal past dozens of doughnuts with ease… The Lord Jesus wants to help us more than we want to be helped… Jesus longs for saints, and he’s more than willing to help those who aspire to sanctity (ibid 38-9).

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