Recovering from a severe cannon ball wound that shattered his leg, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) spent six months reflecting on his life and imagining different options for his future. He realized that the various desires in his heart affected him differently: some left him with a deep and lasting sense of peace, others led to an emotional storm of extreme highs and lows, even feeling despair and suicidal.
He gradually recognized that the peace he experienced was evidence of God's desires for his life and, through much trial and error, began to make decisions that better directed his life in line with these desires. While deep in prayer, Ignatius experienced a vision of God laboring unceasingly to show His love and forgiveness to him and to all humanity. In gratitude for this love, he decided to devote his life to generous service to God and neighbor.
Ignatius summarized his understanding of the purpose of life, and how one may direct one's life more in line with that purpose, in his "First Principle and Foundation" found at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises, the primary text on Ignatian spirituality.
The First Principle and Foundation
(St. Ignatius of Loyola, as paraphrased by David L. 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 without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts from 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 to 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 a 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 God's deepening his life in me.
For more information on Ignatian Spirituality, see the Ignatian Spirituality webpage sponsored by Loyola Press.