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Introduction to Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life | Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J.

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Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, espoused the ideal of becoming "contemplatives in action". He was convinced that contemplation (the deep awareness and appropriation of the unconditional Love of God) should affect our actions, and that our actions need to be brought back to contemplation. I believe that there are five essential means through which this ideal can be attained, particularly for busy people: (1) the Holy Eucharist, (2) spontaneous prayer, (3) the Beatitudes, (4) partnership with the Holy Spirit, and (5) the contemplative life itself.

These five dimensions of the spiritual life generally do not develop simultaneously or even in parallel ways. Some develop very quickly, but do not achieve significant depth, while others develop quite slowly, but seem to be almost unending in the depth of wisdom, trust, hope, virtue, and love they engender. All of them can become habits (second nature), and all are complementary to the others. Hence, even in the midst of sporadic and lopsided development, mutual and habitual reinforcement occurs. The best way of explaining this is to look at each of the pillars individually.

Before doing this, however, it is indispensable for each of us to acknowledge (at least intellectually) the fundamental basis for Christian contemplation, namely, the unconditional Love of God. Jesus taught us to address God as Abba (affectionate, caring, supporting parent—literally, "my [loving] Father" or even "Daddy"). This address was, for the people of His time, too familiar for God, too presumptuous for the Master of the Universe, and so Jesus seems to be the first to have uttered it. Yet, when He did so, He made it the center of His theology and the basis for His identity as "Beloved Son".

The prodigal son parable explains who this Abba is and how He acts toward His beloved children. The younger son essentially violates every imaginable law and custom in first century Judaism. He betrays and shames his father and his family (by essentially saying that the father is as good as dead to him, so "give me my share of the estate"). He betrays his country and his covenant by going to a foreign land (the Gentiles) to spend the money. He betrays and shames the Torah (the Law) by dissolute living and is in a profound state of ritual impurity by living with the pigs (a ritually impure animal). When he returns, his father (who for Jesus represents God the Father) does not disown him (as would be the father's right), but instead he runs out to meet him, throws his arms around him, kisses him, gives him a cloak and sandals, then gives him a ring (probably an heirloom indicating his full and renewed membership in the family), and then throws him a celebration feast. If this is Abba, then Abba is Unconditional Love.

If God really is Abba; if His love is like the father of the prodigal son; if Jesus' Passion and Eucharist are confirmations of that unconditional Love; if God really did so love the world that He sent His only begotten Son into the world not to condemn us, but to save us and bring us to eternal life (see Jn 3:16-19); if nothing really can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:31-39); and if God really has prepared us to grasp fully "with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph 3:18-20, emphasis added), then God's love is unconditional, and it is, therefore, the foundation for unconditional trust and unconditional hope. It is the full expression of the purpose of our lives, and therefore the goal of our lives. The confirmation and understanding of this truth about God is one of the main fruits of the spiritual life, indeed, of my spiritual life. There can be nothing more important than contemplating, affirming, appropriating, and living in this Unconditional Love. This is the purpose of contemplation, indeed, the purpose of the spiritual life itself.

Five Pillars Of The Spiritual Life: A Practical Guide to Prayer for Active People

by Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J.

Fr. Spitzer, President of Gonzaga University and a highly regarded spiritual teacher and writer, presents a practical, yet rich guide for helping busy people develop a regular and deeper prayer life. Based on many successful retreats and seminars he has given over the years, this brilliant Jesuit priest presents five essential means through which the contemplative and active aspects of our lives can be fused together for a stronger spiritual life.

Fr. Spitzer says that the contemporary generation, perhaps more than any other, needs to integrate contemplation into its very hyperactive way of life, because contemplation allows God to probe the depths of our hearts and allows us to gain deeper insight into His truth and love. This, in turn, leads ultimately to freedom--the freedom to love in the very imitation of Jesus Christ himself: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, espoused the ideal of becoming "contemplatives in action." He was convinced that contemplation (the deep awareness and appropriation of the unconditional love of God) should affect our actions, and that our actions need to be brought back to contemplation. Fr. Spitzer shows that there are five essential means through which this ideal can be attained, particularily for busy people. 1. the Holy Eucharist, 2. spontaneous prayer, 3. the Beatitudes, 4. partnership with the Holy Spirit, and 5. the contemplative life itself.

Not intending to replace the great beauty and depth of the spiritual masters, this book is a "jump start" to a deeper spiritual life which will enflame the desire to read the masters and to enter even more deeply into the heart of God.

"The publication of Father Spitzer's book is a happy coincidence, coming soon after Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. Both are strong statements of New Testament spirituality and provide an escape from the 'bleaching of Christ's image', caused by the exclusive use of the historical-critical method. Informed Catholic readers are summoned by this book to take the Christ of the Gospels intelligently and seriously." -- Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., author of Arise from Darkness

Visit the Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life website!

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:

Happiness and the Heart | Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J. | From Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life issues
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Seeking Deep Conversion | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M. | An excerpt from Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer
Leisure and Its Threefold Opposition | From Josef Pieper: An Anthology | Josef Pieper
Catholic Spirituality | Thomas Howard
The Scriptural Roots of St. Augustine's Spirituality | Stephen N. Filippo

Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D, is the President of Gonzaga University, and co-founder of University Faculty for Life and the Center for Life Principles. Fr. Spitzer has been a member of the Society of Jesus (Oregon Province) since August 1974. He took his first vows in August 1976. He was ordained a priest in June of 1983, and made his final profession in April 1994. Visit Fr. Spitzer online at RobertSpitzer.org.

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