When I was kid, one of my greatest desires was to play soccer professionally. Along these lines, I realized in Middle School that if I was going to be the best that I could be, I had to learn how to kick with my left foot. For years I would practice kicking the ball with my weaker foot until the point came where I no longer favored my right foot. Although I was strong with it, the reality is that kicking with my left foot has never come as easy or natural as with my right.
I have recently been pondering that a principle of St. Ignatius of Loyola is very similar to learning how to kick with your non-dominate foot. Ignatius advised his fellow Jesuits to internalize a principle that he called “agere contra,” which means to work against. His insight into human behavior was that we tend to stick to our comfort zones and established routines. To grow, we have to learn to be stretched beyond such familiar ground so that we can be more docile to the Holy Spirit.
In this way, the principle of “agere contra” does not mean that we repress our instincts and inclinations with an iron will. Instead, it helps us to be aware of how the patterns of our interior life and the actions that flow from it need to be constantly opened to the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual maturity involves our willingness to embrace momentary discomfort and suffering for the sake of what we have discerned is the good, true, and beautiful. The principle helps us to look beyond the limits of our sense perception and interior life to discover the voice of God moving in the depths of our hearts.
Thus, we must work against those disordered patterns of thinking, feeling, and desiring which limit our horizons and potential. As we learn to kick with our metaphoric left foot, we learn to respond to God in ways that take us beyond our natural potential. This, in turn, helps us to develop flexible and open personalities that are able to respond to God’s grace in a variety of circumstances.
The practical way to put this principle into place is to pray for the grace to look beyond pain, suffering, and the many discomforts that come with day-to-day living. So often, our natural inclination when we are faced with suffering and discomfort is either to give into negative patterns of thinking and speaking or to fly for refuge in comforts and pleasures. Instead, the answer is to turn to the Lord in prayer and meditation, allowing him to speak to us in the midst of our daily trials.