The Presupposition

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is one of the great works of Christian spirituality in the history of the Church.  It is a spiritual retreat meant to help with discernment and growth in God. It’s a foundational text for members of The Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

At the very beginning of these exercises, St. Ignatius writes a ‘presupposition’ – a disposition to be assumed by both the one who is giving the exercises and the one who is receiving them.  He writes: “To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.”

I was reminded of this quote while reading a news article on a current dispute in the Church and it made me realize that this presupposition is something that is especially relevant today.  We are living in divided times and much of it is facilitated by the explosive growth in communications and the saturation of information as a result. Miscommunication is commonplace and shouting over each other too often trumps reasoned and respectful dialogue. As a result, cynicism (the general distrust of others and their motivations) is on the rise.

We can’t let this happen in the Church. As St. Ignatius instructs, we should not slip into the disposition of assuming the worst of anyone, above all our sisters and brothers in Christ. Certainly we all have mixed and sometimes ill-willed motivations, but to start with that supposition, particularly of those with whom we have theological or political agreements, will only hurt the Body of Christ. It takes intention and mindfulness, but may we all take St. Ignatius to heart and commit to being generous in our assumptions about others.

How Does It Live Within You?

Frederic Ozanam was a law student at the University of the Sorbonne in the 1830’s. During his time at the university, Frederic started a discussion club composed of Catholics, atheists, and agnostics. They met to discuss the issues of the day and often these meetings turned into lively and heated debates. During one meeting, Frederic spoke about Christianity’s role in civilization and while some of his detractors acknowledged the good that Christians had done in the past, one of the group members pointedly asked Frederic: “Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?”

This question hit Frederic hard. He and a friend began making visits to the poor in Paris offering what assistance they could. Eventually, a larger group formed under the patronage of the ‘apostle of charity’, St. Vincent De Paul, and was thus named The Society of St. Vincent De Paul.

We talk a lot about ‘apologetics’ in the Church. Apologetics is the term we use to describe the ancient practice of defending the tenets of Christianity. Does God exist? Is Jesus really God in the flesh? Was Jesus born of a virgin? Apologetics is the response we give to these and other questions meant to persuade the skeptic, or at the very least help him to understand why we believe the things we do.

I love apologetics. I am always searching for new ways to explain the faith to candidates, catechumens, and unbelievers. I appreciate the work of Bishop Robert Barron who is one of the great contemporary apologists. And though I have witnessed the great impact apologetics can have in the conversion of persons (C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity comes to mind), the greatest apologetic is your life. Most people are looking to see if our faith makes any real difference in our lives. How does our faith manifest itself to those in need? How does it live within us?

Though we should all know the tenets of our faith and why we believe them, we don’t have to be a great speaker, writer, or theologian to convince people of the truth of our faith.  We just need to live it.