Augustine, Benedict, Ignatius
Categories: Monk Reflections
Several months ago, in conversation with a friend, I quoted the rather well-known expression: “Pray as if everything depends on God; work as if everything depends on you.” The friend jumped on that, saying that she had just read that the saying, often attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, is NOT what he said. In fact, the author claimed that St. Ignatius had said just the opposite: “Pray as if everything depends upon yourself; work as though everything depends on God.” I was skeptical. Further research since then indicates that the text originally comes from St. Augustine, and that St. Ignatius himself did reverse it, but that soon Jesuit commentators put it back into its familiar form.
Neither format is a Scriptural “word of God,” or a matter of defined dogma. Neither saint is “right” and the other “wrong.” We can meditate with profit on both expressions. There are new insights to be found in Ignatius’ reversal.
If I pray as if everything depends on me, I would have to pray with a greater sense of urgency and need, recognizing my own inadequacy. I would have to pray for the wisdom and strength that I will need. I would need to seek forgiveness and humility, so that my past sins and my present flaws might not be stumbling blocks for those I am trying to serve.
If I work as if everything depends on God, then I will go forward with greater confidence and energy, since the work to be done is in more capable hands than my own. If the outcome is in God’s hands, then I will perhaps be able to persevere in the face of opposition and apparent poor results. If it all depends on God, then I will not hesitate to “step out of the boat,” out of my own comfort zone, as I try to serve. And if God is in charge, then He will not allow my mistakes to ruin His work, but will make all things work together unto good.
Ora et labora is our motto as Benedictines. St. Benedict tells us to pray and to work with our whole heart, in a balanced way: “Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” (Prologue, 4) And, “We must run and do now what will profit us forever.” (Prologue, 44)