What is the meaning of life? The question is notorious in our culture as being synonymous with something that is impossible to really figure out, a lofty, philosophical conundrum that can never be fully understood or articulated. Yet, St. Ignatius attempted it! His “First Principle and Foundation” is the first thing he invites people to consider in the Spiritual Exercises. It makes sense to start with the basics, to use this foundation to build upon. As your CLC now moves forward together after our first phase of recognizing our belovedness, it is helpful to spend some time reflecting on what we really think is our purpose, our most basic objective. What do we live our lives for? Group members will have the opportunity to reflect on this and compose their own First Principle and Foundation.
It would be helpful for you to spend a little time reflecting on the First Principle and Foundation (available below) and praying about what it means to you. If this topic is fruitful for your group, you may want to consider building a second meeting on the topic. An emphasis could be placed on what it means to be “indifferent” to the things in our lives in order to give us freedom. It also might be interesting to return to this topic a year or two from now and see how people’s own principles and foundations have changed or stayed the same.
- Journal or paper & pens
- hard surfaces for people to write on
- quiet music
- handouts of the First Principle and Foundation
Ask for the grace to search deep in our hearts and see more clearly what the foundation or our lives is, motivating us in all we do.
What have been the motivating forces in your life this week (stress, love, fear, pressure, relationships, approval, etc.)?
Read together this contemporary interpretation of the First Principle and Foundation.
The First Principle and Foundation
As translated and interpreted by David Fleming, S.J.
The goal of our life is to live
with God forever.
God who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us
All the things in this world are gifts of God,
presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use
all these gifts of God
insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
they displace God
and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must
hold ourselves in balance
before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
and are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice
should be this:
I want and I choose what better
leads to the
deepening of God’s life in me.
Engage a brief discussion on what people notice about it.
- Does it ring true for you?
- Does it seem challenging?
- Does it inspire you?
- Does it feel inaccessible?
- Invite people to share their thoughts, and read it again if need be.
Invite everyone to spend 15 minutes writing her or his own First Principle and Foundation, considering what they believe to be the most meaningful motivating force(s) in their lives (or what they want to be the most motivating factors in their lives). You may want to play some quiet music in the background as people think and write. Some questions that might help prompt this activity include:
- What is the purpose of why I am here?
- What is the most foundational part of my life?
- Where does God fit in my foundation?
- Share some or all of your First Principle and Foundation with the rest of the group. Explain why you chose the words you did and how you came to include the ideas that you did.
- How does your First Principle and Foundation fit with your spiritual autobiography?
- In what ways are you already living in line with your First Principle and Foundation? What things in your life make it hard to live according to your First Principle.
- What has struck you as you have been listening to others share? Do you notice any patterns or similarities?
- How have you been feeling throughout the meeting? Comfortable? Anxious? Curious?
- Is there anything you would like to share after listening to another person share?
- What is remaining with you? What do you hope to return to in prayer at another point in the week?
Read the First Principle and Foundation (either yours or St. Ignatius’) at the start of each day this week. If you want to revise it during this week, feel free to. Consider the following ways to make it a concrete part of your life:
- Write it out in your own handwriting.
- Decorate it and hang it on your bathroom mirror to read while you brush your teeth.
- Put it on your computer screen so it is the first thing you see when you open your laptop.
- Set it as a reminder that pops up on your cell phone.
- Record yourself speaking it and listen to it on your way to class or work every morning.
Invite each person to turn their First Principle and Foundation into a prayer, asking God for the things that feel most challenging to them in living it out. Or, ask people to bless one another, with Person A asking that God give Person B the strength, clarity, and faith to do what Person B sees as the fundamental principle of his or her life.
“Each Person 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 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.”
Spiritual Exercises  Literal translation from Draw Me Into Your Friendship by David Fleming, S.J.
“‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:36-39
“The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything. He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’ as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Acts 24-28
“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Philippians 3:7-9