Making good choices according to St. Ignatius of Loyola

This coming Wednesday we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, who died on 31 July 1556.  Some of us will anticipate this anniversary on the last Sunday in July.

The writings of St. Ignatius do not lend themselves to catchy sound-bites or slogans.  His letters and meditations run deep and must be given time to simmer within.  His methods of prayer continue to inspire hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.

Wednesday is also the day on which our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters will go to the polls.  The politics of our neighbouring countries is a constant source of apprehension for many South Africans.  Given the socio-economic turmoil within Zimbabwe over the past two decades, we assume that those who continue to vote for the incumbent party do so out of self-interest, misplaced loyalty, or fear.

Many of us South Africans are quick to judge Zimbabweans, but fail to see that when we vote in an election, our motivations are also clouded by our emotions, anxieties and petty hatreds.

St. Ignatius gave his followers sets of rules for making wise choices.  As we pray for Zimbabwe this week, let us remember that we may have less than a year to go before our next general election.  Let’s consider the rules of St. Ignatius, and then put this bulletin in a safe place so as to remind ourselves of them the next time we have a choice to make.

If we have been thinking and praying about a decision we have to make, but are still not clear in our minds, St. Ignatius suggests the following:

  • Given that all real love comes from God above, I should ask myself whether I am truly choosing out of love.  Does my choice fit with my love of God?
  • I should imagine that I have to give sound, dispassionate advice to someone else.  Then I should consider whether I am able to take my own advice.
  • I ask myself that if I were on my deathbed, which choice would I have wished to have made?  Again, if I imagine that I am at the Day of Judgement, which choice would fill me with happiness and joy when before my God?
  • Having contemplated these things, I should then offer my choice to God in prayer.

These rules were written for people who were wrestling with really significant choices like career changes, whether to marry, or whether to enter religious life.  St. Ignatius saw that these decisions, which we might be tempted to call “personal”, actually touch the lives of many others.  A good decision is one made in freedom.  We do not make the end fit the means.  A good decision is always one that leads us to greater service and praise of God – and that always presupposes a commitment to the well-being of others.

Love maturely, pray honestly, then decide.

Fr Thomas Plastow SJ
BA, HDE (UCT), MA Philosophy (Heythrop, London), BST (Urbanianum), MA Theology (Catholic Theological Union, Chicago)
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