149-157.     Three Types of Attitude


This exercise is the last for the Fourth Period and similarly to the preceding meditation on the “Two Standards” is oriented toward the decision-making process - its purpose being further and more directly to enhance the companions’ ability to make a right choice. The meditations in the Second Phase become more and more specific and concrete as we get near to the decision, beginning at the general vision of “The Kingdom of Christ” [91-98] that ushers this Phase, through the more specific “Two Standards” [136-148] to this demanding meditation. Further difference is that while in the previous two meditations the stress was on the call coming “from above” for so to say, here our attention turns toward the possible human approaches “from below” to salvation[1]; namely we will consider three types of inner attitudes people can have toward the saving gift of God. This might be called a “test-meditation”[2], the goal of which is to test if the freedom of the companions and their readiness to accept the consequences of their choice of a way of life as they gradually have understood these from the previous meditations and in fact beginning from the “Principle and Foundation” [23] and from the understanding of the abyss of human brokenness and of the reality of sin in our world in the First Phase. The choice of the value system of Christ should translate in every question or issue of our daily existence and now the meditation on the “Three Types” aims to help us to render our love for God and his way concrete.

We want the companions to work together closely in this exercise share their insights, help each other toward an understanding of their inner drives, and move toward a change to a more proper attitude. In our schedule for the Fourth Period we have this exercise once, but the companions should feel free to repeat it and to stay with it as long as they need to arrive to the desired result and feel to gain insights from it. At the end in [157] we will give scriptural illustration of this meditation that might be helpful to read while doing this exercise or can be used for the repetition.

Opening prayer

The companions begin with their usual prayer and because it is an especially demanding exercise they need to give enough time to calm down and enter it with peaceful and passive disposition[3]. The preparatory part to the meditation also here will consist of three steps as it follows.

Visualization of the underlying history

Our meditation will be a parable about three groups of people, each representing a different attitude toward possessions. Let us choose for our example three married couples, although the parable could speak of groups of special interests or nations, too[4]. In this parable we speak of money, of the first vice in the triad of riches-honor-pride where all evil starts, but we could replace it by anything else, honored status, beloved persons, exterior or interior goods to which one can be attached or addicted. Imagine that each of the three couples obtains a great sum of money. The way in which they acquired it is honest and morally perfect, but as Ignatius puts it “not entirely as they should have, for the love of God” [150], which means that they did not search for it as a result of a proper discernment process. There are many of this kind of things in our life, we acquired or discovered them before reflecting or even thinking about how it fits in our existence and in our relationship with God. These things are morally perfect, to possess them is honorable and they might be the source of much good, but if not integrated in our love of God they constitute a “part of that wealth that seeks to absolutize itself and therefore become the starting point of true sin”[5]. Let us suppose that the couples in our example desire a great spiritual freedom and as they feel the attachment to this money presents an impediment of their goal, they want to free themselves of it.

There are different ways to achieve this freedom, and our parable presents two false solutions in order to teach us to avoid them, one is to simply get rid of the object of attachment, while the other is the decision to keep it and try to integrate it in our love of God. They are false solutions because the question is not to decide about the material possession or renunciation of this object, but the inner attitude that we need before to engage in this sort of decision. The attitude we need is the abandonment to God, the openness toward his will and the desire to let him to decide about our choice. Karl Rahner points out “In this attitude, the carefully evaluating indifference of the Foundation is surpassed. The unappealable will of ever greater God decides above and beyond all objective circumstances, yes, and even beyond the cross of Christ – and therefore, it even goes beyond the search for that which is more difficult”[6]. The Exercises process aims toward this attitude so that the choice we make would be born out of a loving surrender to God. The couples in our example will show very different attitudes in their decision.

Visualization of the place

Now let imagine ourselves standing among all the saints in front of Jesus Christ and listening as he tells the parable about the three couples in order that we “may know and desire what is more pleasing to His Divine Goodness” [151].

Asking what we want

In this meditation we ask for the grace to be able to choose always what serves more the fulfillment of our existence, as Ignatius words it “what is more for the glory of His Divine Majesty and the salvation of my soul” [152], which is the grace involved in the “Principle and Foundation” [23]. With other words, we might say that we seek here to receive from God the desire to act always with spiritual freedom, clarity and according to our authentically discerned choices.

153-155. Reflection on the example of the three couples of the parable

Let us see how the three couples in our parable try to solve the problem that the attachment to the money present to them.

The first couple is convinced that they should give away the money in order to be free of it, but they never do it actually. They have the mistaken concept that holiness equals radical renounce but they cannot do it and in consequence they live with a sense of guilt because of the attachment. This couple honestly would like to love God, but their underlying attitude is fear from him, they are afraid of a demanding God and find the heights of sanctity too frightening. They live and die remaining in the same situation without resolving the problem and really answering God’s call to them.

The second couple decides beforehand that they should keep the money and use it for good, for example investing it and from the profit regularly give to the poor. They desire to be free of the attachment to the money but in the same time also want to keep it convinced that they know how to use it for the greater glory of God and how to “save their souls”. Also this couple remains in their attachment which they don’t recognize either, they decide without discernment with an attitude of bargaining and a sort of pretense.

The third couple too wants to be free of attachments, but they do not decide immediately neither to get rid of the money nor to keep it. They don’t act without discernment, without seeing how this sum integrates in their life and relationship with God. Their attitude is the abandonment and openness toward God, a childlike trust in him as they try to understand for what he inspires them and what is the better for them. When Jesus in the gospels tells the disciples to become like children, he calls to this attitude of trust and dependence on God: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3)[7].

This third attitude illustrates how the freedom presented in the “Principle and Foundation” [23] leads to the “more” in Ignatian sense, brings to striving for what is more close to God and to the sense of our existence. Their inner motive to keep this money or give it away will be to serve God better to whom everything belongs in final analysis. Meanwhile they try to live as every attachment to it had been eliminated, as though not possessing it at all. St. Paul recommends this attitude with an emphasis on the transitoriness of human existence: “I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor 7:29-31).

This parable presents “a purification and clarification of desires and attitudes” as Bernard Tyrrell refers to it[8]. From this point of view, only the third couple goes through a transformation of their desire and reaches freedom from their attachment, while the first two did not change at all or only temporizing about it. The dynamics of this therapeutic transformation of attitudes can be applied also to the struggles of addicted or neurotic persons with their problems. In the different phases of healing the addicted or neurotic person might pass from the first attitude of doing nothing to bargaining and finally reaching a successful detachment. Somewhere during this process the sufferer needs to reach a basic decision about choosing health and freedom from the object of addiction. This application differs from the original function in the Exercises when the “Three Types of Attitudes” meditation serves as preparation for a choice between different morally good and healthy alternatives, while in the case of addiction and neurosis the choice is between a destructive tendency and a life-giving alternative[9].

156. Prayerful conversation, sharing and review

Before the threefold prayer in a similar way as in the “Two Standards” meditation in [147], the companions need to do their sharing on the things understood during this exercise, to summarize it in their diary to see the road they are making. These notes later will turn to be helpful in eventual decision situations when the companions will need to apply the principles learned here.

The question of how to use financial resources they have - or how to obtain them if they don’t have - are important issues in the life of married couples who try to take seriously the integrity of their existence and their faith in God. To find what is right to do, where is attachment and what are their real necessities will require a continuous effort of discernment and openness for change. There is no formula or recipe to follow and we cannot wait always to feel that we know the right solution. The crucial thing is to be aware and try to make good decisions -which in time will become also “better” - and God will bless our efforts and even the non-too-perfect choices if we sincerely try to understand what is the best in a given situation. Not even the bad choices are fatal as God can write straight with our crooked lines and turn out good from bad, too. We need not to be afraid but have an unshaken unconditional trust in God.

In the threefold prayer then they will ask to be able to realize their desire of spiritual freedom, to rely on God alone and accept the consequences of their choices. The following note gives a help to how to pray at this point.


157. Note and material for eventual reading or repetition of this meditation

St. Ignatius was an excellent psychologist as through his own inner struggles and through the guidance of his companions he learned to know a lot of the human psyche. His Exercises also offer psychotherapeutic techniques along the means for spiritual growth since in that age psychotherapy did not exist yet and the masters of spiritual life often served as psychotherapists of their contemporaries, but also for the deeper reason that psyche and spirit is interconnected and inseparable dimensions of the human being.

At this point Ignatius advises the exercitants who might feel fear of poverty “to beg our Lord in the colloquies to choose us to serve Him in actual poverty. We should insist that we desire it, beg for it, provided, of course, that it be for the service and praise of the Divine Goodness” [157]. This advice applies to the case of poverty what Ignatius already told in [16] giving a brilliant example of the so-called “paradoxical intention”, a logotherapeutic technique introduced by Viktor Frankl[10] for the overcoming of certain fears.

This advice is very demanding and we can find it repulsive as faking something in prayer since in reality we don’t desire to be poor. The emotional resistance can block us from understanding it properly, that in fact it is not falsity but a way to experience the extent of our attachment and a moment of freedom from it. At least we can arrive to admit in prayer how our human nature rebel against the possibility of being radically detached from the object of our attachment, meanwhile we try honestly to give in to our desire to be free to depend on God alone. If we see that our prayer here really means to ask to be depending on God alone than it will not be so frightening. This is not a way of fear but trust as Karl Rahner points it out: “From this angle, the possibility of giving something up does not seem so terrifying. God alone is the source of all movement; now the Kingdom of God is really close, is contained either in giving up or in keeping, in life and in death. Now man has really become a child who does not die of fright when God approaches either in the one garment or the other. In this class [of the third attitude], the love of God for man and the love of man for God can meet each other in any form. God alone arranges the way in which it happens. This ‘way’ is not a fate that man cannot avoid – it is God’s response to man’s love. If we have this disposition then God can truly communicate His will to each and every one of us”[11].


Repetition and scriptural presentation of the “Three Types of Attitudes”

Whether to repeat this meditation depends on the decision of the companions, if they feel enough clear about it and achieved the goal of it. If this meditation still gives them new insights it is good to prolong it until the grace is at work through it. It can happen that the reflection brings up something the companions recognize as clinging onto excessively and their prayer becomes concrete to be freed of it. Especially in the everyday life form of the Exercises developments in our life bring up all sorts of choices that enter the ongoing reflection on the “Three Types”. Usually it requires time to achieve the goal of greater spiritual freedom or at least receive the desire for the unconditional readiness for everything.

Let us see now how the “test” of readiness we are speaking in this meditation worked out in scriptural examples. Our first “case study” is the story of the rich young man in Mk 10:17-22 that the companions can read together. For the reflection we take some elements of the approach of Robert C. Leslie[12] who points out that this man in the gospel lives in a situation like many of our contemporaries in young maturity. Like a junior executive today, our hero achieved a certain wealth and status in society but began to sense that something is lacking in his life, that cannot find any more satisfaction in it, that his life is void of real meaning and personal life task. The goals of wealth and power that young people often follows are not adequate to render life meaningful and worth living if there is not some deeper commitment to a significant task. When a young man or woman achieved prestige and certain stability economically characteristically begins to wonder about what is the meaning of all of this and characteristically enters in the so-called midlife crisis[13]. The rich young man in the gospel finds himself in this “now what?” situation.

This young man recognized that in this situation he needed help and set out on the search for it. The fact that he did not deny the lack of meaning in his life but admitted it and asked for help is a significant step in itself toward healing. From the story we see that he felt a real urgency to find help as he ran to Jesus and threw himself at his feet forgetting his position and status. His question to Jesus, “what should I do?” gave further hope for a positive outcome, since it shows the readiness to take action without shifting responsibility for his life and blaming others and his conditions for the situation which brought him wealth but did not made his life worth to live eternally.

Jesus with his answer brought the problem to another dimension. He did not advice as the young man surely expected it, in terms of good actions to perform, to pray and fast more, to give more donations, read the Scriptures regularly or similar, but wants him to have as a frame of reference and integrate everything around the love of God, to consider the dimension of life that is dealing with ultimate meanings and values. The commandments for Jesus are not simply a set of rules, but expressions of the relationship to God. The young man followed very closely the rules but needed to discover his unique personal life task in the broader context of these. He was too busy “making money” to build relationship with anybody including God. This tragic situation to begin to change requires an experience of a real relationship and effective appreciation, the experience of being loved. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (v. 21), and in this atmosphere of acceptance arrives the challenge “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me” (v. 21). Jesus as counselor is very explicit here to direct the young man toward realizing that life is worth living and discovering that personal task that can fulfill it. He indicates to him that instead of continuing to accumulate possessions he could enrich many through entering in new relationships with them. In order to help him live up to this rather challenging new way, Jesus offers the young man personal support and the fellowship of the disciples. As Leslie points out, the counselor needs to provide this active help in case of lacking purpose of life, however, not by assigning the personal task to the counselee but by assisting him or her to discover the task that is already there[14]. The counselee remains always free to accept or not the help offered, and sometimes as in our story the young man rejected it and turned away sorrowfully. However, he has been exposed to the challenge and we don’t know how the life of this young man went on later.

At the end of this first example, the companions might take time to consider the question: “Given my talents and personal history, my peculiar experiences and gifts, what task God has for me in this moment of my life and how can I respond to its challenges?” and ask the grace to be able to find the answer to it.

Now we turn our attention to the second “case study” illustrating another type of attitude toward possessions. The companions need to read Lk 9:57-62, the story of the disciples who tried to compromise and bargain when Jesus called them. They expressed the desire to follow Jesus, to enter the group of disciples, an evident sign of openness for a new lifestyle. When to one of them Jesus presents the harsh conditions and privations he and his disciples live “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere rest his head” (v. 58), we don’t hear the response but from the context we understand, the enthusiasm for following him and the would-be disciple disappeared quickly. The next one whom Jesus called puts a condition “let me go first and bury my father” (v 60). We can be sure that the father mentioned here was well alive then, since to bury the dead quickly would be an absolute necessity in that ambient. What the expression “bury my father,” meant was that this person wanted to remain with his parents until they died, maybe a considerable time, to be able to inherit their possessions, and only after that become a disciple. Jesus rejected such temporizing tactics, as he did not accept the excuse of the last volunteer, who merely wanted to “say farewell to my family at home”, since this could have meant not a simple good-bye but an extensive tour of the family scattered all over the place with farewell gifts and feasts.

The companions stop now for a short while to ask light to see where they act like these persons. Sometimes all of us try to baptize attachments as noble obligations and want it both ways, we want to be free but also keep things under our control as we want it.

As a third scriptural example of attitudes toward possessions let us read the encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus in Lk 19:1-10. Robert C. Leslie in his analysis of the episode[15] points out its relevance to our modern society. This story is about alienation caused by the struggle for status and gives an example how the alienated person can be helped back into the community. Zacchaeus lives isolated from his people, in the hated position of tax collector, a collaborator with the occupying Roman forces. The reason he got in this position by what is called “security operation”[16] a way of defending his self-esteem and finding personal significance by it. His attempts to find significant position in the community were somehow frustrated and feeling alienated he tried to find a status in a way that puts him against the community that rejected him. He took on a mask that covered his hurt and got more and more attached to his status, which gave him security since by creating a distance between himself and the others he could be protected from further painful rejection. He climbed the tree to see Jesus, not only because he was small in stature but also to keep distance from the others; his being up on the tree became a sort of symbolic expression of his whole situation. The fact that to see Jesus he risked this ridiculous position on the tree, is a sign that under his mask he felt a longing for something and hoped for a change, even if he did not want ask help openly. The story however does not end here at the analysis of the motivating drives underlying the behavior of Zacchaeus.

While depth psychology contributes to understand the conditioning effects of past experiences and drives, it is not enough to achieve a change for the future of the individual. It is helpful to a point but is not a guarantee for a therapy. Even if there are unconscious drives, defense mechanisms, unresolved conflicts, and hurtful past experiences behind a person’s behavior these don’t determine his or her future. Notwithstanding the drives that led Zacchaeus to his situation when climbing that tree he had still the capacity for change. We don’t know if he ever understood the reasons of his isolation, but more importantly, he was able to make a conscious decision on the direction of his life. It seems that uncovering hidden defense mechanisms, complexes, imbalances caused by past traumas, or discovering archetypes in the collective unconscious of an individual is far less important than the choice one can make about how to direct his or her life. We find at the core of the Spiritual Exercises a well-prepared decision-making process (which is expressed also in our chosen title “Finding Our Way”) analogous to the role decisions play in psychological healing and giving to the Exercises a highly psychohygienic and we might say, also therapeutic character. In Christotherapy Bernard Tyrrell analyses the importance of the role decisions play not only in religious and moral conversion, but also in psychological conversion, and conversion from addiction[17]. Illustrating the importance of decisions in the healing from addictions he refers to the Third Step of the Alcoholics Anonymus: “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”[18]. As he points out, even if initially a neurotic condition can block the sufferer’s capability to make free decisions, there is a point when the success of the therapy depends on the patient’s active choice for healing over illness. The role of the decision and the function of the meditation on the Three Types which prepares for it however is somewhat different in case of the Exercises where the choice is basically between two good alternatives while in case of the neurotic or addict it is a decision for change from destructive tendencies toward freedom and healing[19].

Even if Zacchaeus had the potential to change, it could not happen without Jesus reaching out with acceptance and offering a personal relationship to him. Risking the criticism of the people Jesus wanted to enter the house of Zacchaeus as his guest, so demonstrating trust and acceptance toward the alienated and hated tax collector.

We don’t know what they conversed that day in Zacchaeus’ house, only the radical change which occurred there is reported to us. Jesus anticipated this change by dealing with Zacchaeus with acceptance that reaches out to the person where he is but does not leave him or her there. Seeing the best of the person helps to realize his or her ultimate possibilities, according to the aphorism of Goethe which Viktor Frankl quoted often: “If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming”[20].

When Zacchaues promised reparation for his wrongdoings, he demonstrated the new attitude he achieved toward his wealth. Jesus helped him to achieve freedom from the attachment to his status and wealth and this in Zacchaues’ case did not mean to leave everything, yet Jesus called the change that began to unfold in that moment salvation. Salvation indicates the completeness of the change and as Robert C. Leslie puts it: “Salvation (or ‘health’ as Tyndale’s translation reads) can be complete only when relationships are positive in both the human man-to-man dimension and the more human, man-to God dimension”[21]. We saw an example of how Jesus offered healing and ministered a psychotherapy that included the spiritual dimension of life, restoring Zacchaeus’ relationship with his community as an expression of his relatedness to God. Now the companions in their sharing can speak about what the story of Zacchaeus helped them to understand and finish this exercise with jotting in their diary and a closing prayer.



[1] Cf. Charlotte C. Prather, A Generous Openness. Praying the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1992) p.56.

[2] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, pp. 91-92.

[3] See the admonition in this regard in op.cit., p. 93-94.

[4] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 106.

[5] Rahner, “Spiritual Exercise,” p. 191.

[6] Op.cit., p. 192.

[7] Compare Mt 18:1-5 with other places speaking of childlike trust as condition to enter the kingdom of God in Mt 19:13-14; Mk10:13-16; Lk 18:15-17.

[8] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 183.

[9] See the exposition of this difference in op.cit., p. 184.

[10] See our presentation of the “General Guidelines to the Exercises” [16] in the “Preparatory Phase” where we explain this connection with the paradoxical intention and the dynamics involved.

[11] Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” p.194.

[12] Leslie, “Jesus as Counselor,” III. Finding the Personal Life Task The Rich Young Ruler; Mark 10:17-22, pp. 36-46.

[13] The Spiritual Exercises itself is clearly not so much for very young people but more adequate for the mature youth since characteristically they have enough experience and find themselves in dilemma about life. This group of people will engage in a search for a spiritual beacon and in many cases they don’t know where to go for it. They often miss a proper preparation for this, since they were always engaged in developing only the aspect of life that serves achieving wealth and status, they are vulnerable to accept and follow false, extremely conservative, simplifying guides or strange, exotic gurus.

[14] Cf. Ibid. pp.43-45.

[15] Ibid., II. Mobilizing the Defiant Power of the Human Spirit Zacchaeus; Luke 19:1-10, pp. 24-35.

[16] See Ibid., pp.28-29 for further explanation of “security operations”.

[17] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 189-192.

[18] See in Anonymous Authors, “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” p. 34. See also in Anonymous Authors, “Alcoholics Anonymous,” p. 60 ff.

[19] Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 183-184 where he describes the role of decision in his own struggles and healing from alcoholism.

[20] Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. 7.

[21] Leslie, “Jesus as Counselor,” p.35.