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  • Ignatian Prayer

Ignatian "Indifference"

Updated: May 11, 2020



In the Principle and Foundation, Ignatius writes, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, in regard to everything which is left to our free will and is not forbidden.” The word “indifference” can be ambivalent or confusing for us, and can give a false understanding of what Ignatius is asking for if not understood correctly.


One sense of indifference is similar to “lacking concern” or more simply “not caring”. This sense of indifference conjures up the image of an unmotivated, lazy teenager who slouches on the couch all day without seeming to be concerned with anything other than the next level of a video game (sound familiar?). This is not what Ignatius has in mind. Ignatian spirituality has the goal of forming individuals who are passionate lovers of God and the world, not passive bystanders.


Another sense of indifference is similar to being “unbiased” or “free from false prejudice or compulsion.” This comes much closer to what Ignatius has in mind. For Ignatius, indifference is about inner freedom; freedom from any kind of inclination, addiction, conviction, or passion that takes us away from loving God and others with our whole being.


Indifference is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is the means of purifying our intentions and desires so that it is not wasted on distractions, enslaved by addiction, or directed towards only self-serving choices. Indifference helps us gather up all our desires and place them in the service of love. Cultivating indifference is the process of freeing ourselves from parts of our lives that enslave us to selfishness or sin so that we can love more fully.


Mothers and fathers practice indifference every day when they take time to care for their children. They likely have all sorts of other desires: to have fun, to go out with friends, or to simply be alone with each other, alongside their desire to care for their children. Practicing indifference means being detached enough from the panoply of desires they have within them to be able to freely choose to follow their vocation to love and care for one another and their children.


Before ending, there are three important qualifications to make regarding indifference. First, we are not asked to be indifferent to everything. We are not asked to be indifferent to hurting others, or falling into sin for example.


Second, indifference does not imply becoming a passionless stoic. Indifference is about the cultivation of the goodness of our desires toward love, not the elimination of desire as a whole. The truth is that indifference helps the “rule of love” become the sole determining factor in decisions we make. It is the conviction that love - even if it requires great sacrifice, discipline, and inner growth - is where we become fully alive, blossoming into our true identities. Indifference frees us to love more fully, to enjoy the goods of the earth more completely, convinced that if we lay ourselves before God, he will mold us in to the beautiful people God calls us to be.


Finally, indifference that is not motivated by love and a positive desire for God becomes empty, draining, and can even leave a person feeling resentful toward God. Love empowers our growth in indifference, and indifference in turn forms us to become better lovers of God and others.


Indifference takes faith, because it means entrusting our whole humanity to a single reality, God’s love for us. It is of absolute importance to never forget that our root is always God’s love for us, and to trust in this, even when love is hard. It is to seek to imitate Jesus, who was willing to suffer and die out of a tremendous love for God and for all of us.


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