According to Ignatian Spirituality, our singular goal in life is to be with God. It is our first principle and foundation. According to this guidance system, we should utilize all that we encounter in this world in ways that move us toward that goal. Of course, we also encounter many distractions that divert us along the way.
If you would like to read about the multiple facets of human development, look to great minds like James Fowler who offers stages of spiritual development, Lawrence Kohlberg who is famous for giving us stages of moral development, Jean Piaget who brought forth stages of cognitive development, Erik Erickson, who introduced stages of emotional development, and Mark Knapp who even presented stages of relational development. You might find it interesting to assess where you are on their development scales. When we overlap their theories, several things get revealed that are true for all of us. Among them is a primal intuition that exists from infancy and childhood that leads to a mythic faith (one of great power and imagination) which later becomes synthetic (in imitation of others but inauthentic to the self) and then, hopefully, reflective (whereby it becomes real and personal). At the same time, we advance relationally from hope (I trust that my family will care for me) to will (I desire certain relationships over others) to purpose (intentional relations in which we sense a spiritual presence or mission); in this, we are drawn instinctively toward bonding and unification with creation and Creator. In other words, we are always oriented towards our first principle and foundation.
Our diversions from the godly path often occur when we get caught in what Ignatian spiritualists call secondary motivations and quests. That is where things that are attractive to us take center stage. A boy in high school who is a good baseball player might become obsessed with the game: he lives it, breathes it, thinks about it all day, and dreams about it all night. A girl in college, captured by singing and dancing or academic achievement or beauty or friendships, might pursue a similar quest. A young lawyer who works seventy hours a week and is always searching for new insights or ways to win cases is motivated in a related fashion. As we develop our earthly interests and talents, they bring us pleasure and satisfaction. Because it is good for us to develop these interests, it is easy for secondary motivations to be in our spotlight and it is easy to understand how the pursuits of power, prestige, popularity, riches, romance, and other roads get taken. What Saint Ignatius discovered—and most of us will, too—is that these roads lead to pleasure that is fleeting but not to happiness that is eternal. They motivate us but don’t sustain us when it matters most.
Other saints and mystics, through the centuries, have given us a road map to follow in prayer development also. The path moves from the purgative state, in which we acknowledge that we are off-track and want to order our lives according to God’s magnetic pull, to the illuminative stage, where we exist within His light and reflect it. Some who are more experienced will proceed beyond the illuminative to the unitive state. Most of us don’t reach that level—at least not in this lifetime. We get stuck in undeveloped or underdeveloped places of incentive, places of law and order, crime and punishment, sin and penance, stages of rote prayer, desolation, or purgative muck. Many Catholics do not develop beyond elementary spiritual stages. The illuminative and unitive phases of prayer can be frightening or uncomfortable, causing some of us to revert to a more basic, less intimidating, existence.
My message amidst all of these layers of development is simple: it is good to be aware of our secondary quests so we can redirect them toward attainment of our primary goal. These secondary motivations produce pleasure, joy, and satisfaction—that is good. But if they occupy the center of our existence they lead to obsessions or addictions, resulting in false gods and a path leading away from the God of love who beckons us. If the first principle and foundation remains our focus it will take us beyond fleeting pleasures to sustaining happiness.