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.