As the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola approaches, I am reminded of one of my favorite theologians, Karl Rahner, S.J., who credited Ignatius, the founder of his Order, for giving him…well, pretty much everything: his innermost and most authentic relationship with God, his theology, his pastoral vision, his mission in the church, his happiness. Rahner made his decision to join the Society of Jesus before he had actually encountered Ignatius’ mystical spirituality, an encounter that began as soon as he entered the Jesuit novitiate in his native Germany during the Spring of 1922. Making the Spiritual Exercises was life-changing for him, and would forever shape the way he lived, worked, prayed and wrote. Indeed, it was such a powerful transforming grace in his life that, from then on, Ignatius was Rahner’s muse, guiding him with his mysticism of joy in the world and the well-known Ignatian imperatives of “finding God in all things,” “consciousness examen,” and being a “contemplative in action.”
I find myself drawn again and again to the passage from Rahner’s “last will and testament,” as he called it (“Ignatius of Loyola Speaks to a Modern Jesuit,” from teh book Ignatius of Loyola) which almost gives voice to Ignatius himself: “All I Can Say is that I knew God, nameless and unfathomable, silent and yet near…” The experience was of such “nearness and grace as is impossible to confound or mistake.” What a gift! Surely this is the spiritual hope of each of us – to know God with deeply-assured intimacy. For Rahner, this knowing lies at the heart of his entire theological project, a knowing that has allowed him to become the guide to countless everyday Christians seeking God in everyday life.
By the time I studied Karl Rahner’s theology in a formal setting, I had already made a 30-day retreat in which I experienced Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises in a personal and profound way. Needless to say, my own spirituality was drawn to Karl Rahner’s, almost without fully realizing why. Rahner’s theology of grace drew me into a greater awareness of God’s presence, helping me to become more fully conscious of living in a “world of grace.” It stretched my understanding of the integral unity of faith and life, contemplation and action.
For many of my freshman students, Ignatius’ exhortation to find God in all things and to find all things in God is a new concept, but one that keeps reverberating in many ways throughout my introductory course in theology. Students identify with Rahner’s insight highlighted in one of the texts I use in class, that to be a human person is to be a questioner and that the deepest question of all is the question we are to ourselves. As one privileged to work with young spiritual seekers, my deepest desire is to help them become more aware of the nearness of God and to lead them, as Ignatius and Rahner desired to do, into the Mystery of God.
On the eve of the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I give thanks anew to these two great spiritual guides—Ignatius and Karl Rahner, S.J.—and to the many Jesuits who have passed on to me, in a variety of ways, the legacy and spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Peggy McDonald, I.H.M.