Lesson #24 – Meditation of the Three Classes of Men

                    Mary’s School of Sanctity                   

Lesson #24 – The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – SECOND WEEK – MEDITATION ON THE THREE CLASSES OF MEN

In this lesson we study St. Ignatius’s famous meditation called the Three Classes of Men.  This meditation is a more subtle one and we must strive to understand the key message that St. Ignatius is giving us in this meditation.

His message harkens back to the proper use of creatures from our meditation on the Principle and Foundation Part II which was Lesson #11.[1]  There we discussed how creatures are supposed to be used solely for the service of God and to help us save our souls.  When one discovers there is a creature that is not useful for his salvation and the service of God, then he must rid himself of it. 

In this current meditation, St. Ignatius wants us to make a close examination of our own particular use of creatures.  We, no doubt, have some attachment to a creature which is an obstacle to our perfect service of God and to our salvation.  We must be convinced, like the third class of men (discussed below) that we must be completely detached from any obstacle which is between us and God.  When we are actually doing this meditation, it is often the case that we see more directly to which creature we are inordinately attached and we fortify our resolve to give up that attachment because we want to love God completely. 

This meditation helps us discover the demonic tricks which hinder us from ridding ourselves of inordinate attachments to creatures.  In this meditation we will consider the various inordinate attachments men typically have.  We will consider the consequences of delaying to get rid of bad attachments.  We will then discuss what happens if we try to retain our bad attachments by rationalizing that our attachment is not a problem after all.  Lastly, we will discuss the peace and harmony a person has within his soul when he truly renounces all inordinate attachments so he can serve God as He wills us to serve Him.

Before setting out our intended considerations, let us first see the material St. Ignatius gives for this meditation.

The preparatory prayer is the same as usual, I ask God Our Lord the grace that all my intentions, actions, and works may be directed purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.

The FIRST PRELUDE: is the history.  Here it is to consider three classes of men.  Each of them has acquired ten thousand ducats, but not purely, as they should have, for the love of God.  These men all wish to save their souls and find peace in God Our Lord by freeing themselves of the serious impediment arising from their attachment to this acquired money.

The SECOND PRELUDE: is the mental representation of the place.  Here I will behold myself standing in the presence of God Our Lord and all His saints, that I may desire and know what is most pleasing to His Divine Goodness.

The THIRD PRELUDE: I will ask for the grace that I desire.  Here it will be to beg for the grace to choose what is for the greater glory of His Divine Majesty and the salvation of my soul.

The FIRST class: They would like free themselves of the attachment they have for the money they acquired, in order to find peace in God Our Lord, and to be able to save their souls, but up to the hour of death they do not take the means.

The SECOND class: They want to free themselves of the attachment, but they wish to do so in such a way as to retain what they have acquired.  They want God to come to what they desire, and they do not resolve to give up the money in order to go to God, even though this would be the better state for them.

The THIRD class: They wish to free themselves of the attachment, but in such a way that their inclination will be neither to retain the thing acquired nor not to retain it, desiring to act only as God Our Lord shall inspire them and as it shall seem better to them for the service and praise of His Divine Majesty.  Meanwhile they wish to consider that they have in their hearts broken all the attachments, striving not to desire that thing nor anything else, unless it be only the service of God Our Lord that prompts their action.  Thus, the desire of being able to serve God Our Lord better will move them either to accept things or to give them up.   

The COLLOQUY:  we can make the same colloquies that were made in the previous contemplation or the Two Standards.

This meditation focuses on what to do when we discover that we have inordinate attachments to creatures.  Let us realize that as humans it is a given fact that we all have some inordinate attachment to one or more creatures.  This is a consequence of our fallen human nature.

What sort of things are we inordinately attached to?  Some typical examples are given below.

What are we supposed to do with inordinate attachments?  We get rid of them.

We all have things/creatures in our lives that are not good for our salvation.  We must discover what they are and be completely determined to rid ourselves of them without compromise or reservation.

Not only does our salvation depend on our complete detachment from creatures, but the mystical union which Our Lord intends to have with each Catholic is hindered by the obstacles we place between ourselves and the Bridegroom of our souls.[2]

Therefore, it is crucial that we be truly detached from creatures and only use them according to the will of God.

Yet, when we come to the point of getting rid of them, humans often do one of three things and these three things correspond to the three classes of men. 

1.    The first class men are those who delay giving up the inordinate attachment(s).

2.    The second class men are those who try to rationalize that the inordinate attachment(s) is (are) somehow not really inordinate.

3.    The third class men are those who when they realize that the inordinate attachment(s) is (are) a danger to their salvation, they simply rid themselves of it (them). 

Let us firstly examine the typical attachments that we humans have and then analyze the way we humans commonly react to these types of attachments.   In this way we will be considering the substance of St. Ignatius’s meditation and then see how we can increase our desire to be truly like the third class of men and acquire holy indifference.

Typical obstacles in our human condition:

False human respect:

We humans often worry too much about what others think of us and our actions.  We do not want to stand out and look different.  There are strong temptations to go along with the world in its fashions, and worldly activities. 

We often worry that if we have Mary-like modesty or moral standards that please Our Lord and King, then we will be considered weird or prudish.  We worry what our extended families or friends will think of us when we should really be concerned about what Our Lord and Our Lady will think about us.

What does Our Lord say about our being too concerned about what our relatives think about us? “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” (St. Matthew’s Gospel, 10:37). 

Our Lord does not want us to have inordinate attachments to people, especially if they are bad companions for us.

Further, when our worldly friends and acquaintances are hostile to us because we put Christ first, He consoles us in these words: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  (St. John’s Gospel, 15:20). 

If we are worried about people not liking our principled stand on Catholic Faith and Morals, we do well to remember these precious words of Our Lord and take courage and strength from them. 

Some additional consoling words are: “If the world hate you, know ye that it hath hated Me before you.”  (St. John’s Gospel, 15:18).  “In the world you will have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.”  (St. John’s Gospel, 16:33).

The Book of Wisdom teaches that worldlings despise the just.  Therefore, we must expect reproach and scorn from those who are worldly.  They will never agree with us and if we are trying to please Our Lord and Our Lady, we will necessarily be a thorn in the side of the worldly.  Our Dear Lord and His Mother suffered greatly from the worldly of their time, so we must not be surprised if we are misunderstood and held in contempt if we are imitating Our Lord and His Mother.


Here we must examine how we view our comforts both physical and spiritual.  Do we squawk when we encounter physical discomfort, e.g., it’s too warm or it’s too cold?  What do we do when we have some physical ailment or pain?  What do we do when we don’t feel like delving into intellectual work?   Are we prone to want to relax and take it easy?  Am I attached to some favorite clothes, shoes, or accessories?  


Here we must examine our use of technology.  Do we have to have the latest electronic equipment?   How much time do we spent focused on our modern equipment?  


Here we examine what delights us.  How do we spend our time?  Do we occupy our time with things that are wholesome and pleasing to God?  Are we attached to shallow and worldly amusements, travel, dining out, etc.?  Are we attached to some particular food(s) or beverage(s)?


Here we examine how we use the things which make our life easier.  How do we handle circumstances when one of these useful things is not available to us at a given time?  Do we get upset?  Do we think the situation is a horrible cross?  Do we tell ourselves that we cannot manage without this object?  Now is a good time to examine how we handle circumstances, in general, that do not go favorably for us.  Are we so attached to having our own way that we do not readily accept things that come to us?  (Are we too attached to our selfish will?)


Here we examine how we view our property.  Do we have the spirit of poverty when it comes to our belongings?  If something were to happen to our property, what would our reaction be?  Is there something we own that would be considered by Our Lord or Our Lady as a worldly luxury?  Is there something we own which we use only to pamper ourselves?


Here we examine our friendships and acquaintances.  Do they help us save our souls?  Do they help us increase in virtue?  By contrast, do they “drag us down”?

A sign to help us identify inordinate attachments:

One clear indication that we have a dangerous attachment to a person, place, or thing is to ask ourselves if something were to happen to [fill-in-the-blank], what would my reaction be?  Our reaction should be, “Whatever God wants is what I want”.

Like Job, we should say:

The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord.

 Job, 1:21.

If this is not our reaction, then we have an inordinate attachment.

Having found an inordinate attachment, how do humans react?

The first class of men delays getting rid of the inordinate attachment.

Men who fall into the first class do want to save their souls and yet they do not actually do what they know they should in order to save their souls.

We can truly consider how men in this class neglect to think about, let alone ponder, the Principle and Foundation.  They are considered by St. Ignatius to be procrastinators for they always tell themselves that they will take the means to save their souls later.  They put off until tomorrow what ought to be done today. They do not worry about the fact that man is created to praise, revere, and serve God and that he is to use creatures only insofar as they help him to obtain his end.  They do not weigh all of their actions in light of eternity.  Therefore, they do not have an eternal perspective.  

If they are not fulfilling the principle and foundation, what are they doing?   Fr. Hurter describes the focus of men who delay ridding themselves of their inordinate attachments:

The principles of the world rule and guide their judgment; they are not penetrated by the sentiments of Our Divine Savior.  They strive for comfort, honors, dignities, prestige and praise, not for the greater honor of God and the salvation of souls.  They have a passion for entertainments and amusements, but dread self-denial and mortification.  Spiritual exercises not binding under pain of mortal sin they neglect.  If, for some reason or other, they do attend spiritual exercises, they may indeed make some good resolutions, but without permanent results.  There is no earnest endeavor to reduce them to practice, for old customs and long-established habits choke the sprouting seeds (or correct desire to be rid of inordinate attachments).[3]

These are sufficient considerations to warn us about the danger of falling into this class.  Now let consider the second class of men.

The second class of men rationalizes and tries to make it look like the inordinate attachment is not a danger to salvation.

When a second-class man realizes that he has an inordinate attachment, he rationalizes so that he can keep the object to which he is inordinately attached.  The devil seeks to trick people to keep their inordinate attachment under the appearance of good.  The person tells himself that he could do so much good by keeping the thing he is inordinately attached to.

For example,

Ø  “I should keep associating the those (bad) companions (that are still a danger to my soul) because I can be a good example for them.”

Ø  “I should stay in that (compromise) group because I can influence them for the good from within.”

Ø  “I should receive those (compromise) sacraments because I need to get my children in the habit of receiving the sacraments.”

Ø  “I should keep my (worldly) media-streaming device because it will help me save my soul by watching (so-called) ‘holy’ movies.”

Ø  “I should not do extra penance because it will ruin my good health.” 

The devil also tempts us to think that we have a real need for something and that we cannot function without it.  When we find an attachment and we suspect it is an inordinate one, if we find ourselves coming up with a string of apparent reasons why we need the object, this is a very big clue that we have an inordinate attachment to the object.  Then it is important that we use Ignatian discernment to weigh whether at our deathbed we will have wished that we had rid ourselves of that object.  If we can see that we would regret at our particular judgment that we kept the object in our life, then we know that we have an inordinate attachment to the object.  We know what to do – detach ourselves from it!

God does not try to trick us.  Our reason must be used to weigh how we use creatures.  God expects us to use our reason to make a proper choice on how to use objects and which objects are dangerous to our salvation.  In other words, God expects us to be able to figure out whether something is an obstacle to our salvation or not.

We, therefore, have to be on our guard to not rationalize about things that we desire.   We must make our hearts docile to the Holy Ghost and to be willing to give up whatever diminishes our love of God.  We must be willing to give ourselves unconditionally to God.

Now that we have probed the subtle snares of the devil which draw men to be in the second class, let us turn our thoughts to the third class of men.

The third class of men gets rid of the inordinate attachment because he loves God and does not want to perish for all eternity.

This class of men includes those who truly want to be friends of Christ and please Him in all things.  The saints in heaven were in this class of men.  These souls did not count the cost of their sacrifices to God.  They gave Him all.  They wanted to love God above all things and would never want to offend Him in any way.  They did not want to place any obstacles between God and themselves.

This leads us back to the Ignatian holy indifference which we discussed in detail in Lesson #11.   We must be indifferent to our own wants and desires if these be opposed to God in any way.  In other words, we must be detached from ourselves.  With self-knowledge, we can easily detect if our own will is emerging and we are beginning to veer from trying to seek God’s Will.  We must pray hard to keep the will of God first and foremost in our minds.  We must watch carefully to see the circumstances and discern what God’s will actually is.  One rule of thumb to remember is that if something is out of our control, then we know that it is God’s will for us.  Then we strive to lovingly accept it and persevere in doing God’s will.


[Addressing Our Lady as St. Ignatius advised us to do.] O, my mother Mary, help me to root out anything in me that is displeasing to Thy Son.  Assist me to immediately cast out any inordinate attachment I have.   Please do not let the folly of procrastination enter into my soul, for I will surely perish eternally if this spirit is in me.  Help me, dear Mother, to want to focus entirely on thy Divine Son and never let any obstacle obscure my gaze on Him Who is most worthy of my love.

[Then St. Ignatius has us address Our Lord with a similar colloquy.] O my dearest Lord Jesus Christ, I love Thee and I need Thee.  I beg Thee to help me to have no attachment to things of this earth.  I want Thee to ever be my first priority in my life and for all eternity.  The sly fox, the devil, will ever try to distract me from the love of Thee.  He will tempt me with countless things to obscure my mind from thinking of my eternal end.  I need Thee, O my Savior, to guide me and keep me faithful to thee.  I never want anything to be an obstacle to my union with Thee.

[Then I will address the Father with a similar colloquy.]  O most almighty Father, I beg Thine assistance to help me see the proper use of Thy creatures.  Help me to not let any obstacle get in the way of the service and praise that I owe to Thee.  I want Thee with my whole heart.  Please grant me the grace to ever see if I am becoming attached to any creature.  Please give me the fortitude to ruthlessly detach myself immediately from such a creature.  Suffer me not to love any creature more than Thee and not to delay ridding myself from such a dangerous attachment.  Let me give myself entirely to Thee without compromise or reservation.  O be Thou King and Center of my poor heart forever in time and in eternity.

This meditation nicely complements the next lesson which is an explanation of the Three Modes of Humility.  This next lesson will also help us probe ourselves to find out how willing we truly are to suffer for Christ.

[1]           Lesson #11 The Principle and Foundation – Part 2 can be found here: https://catholiccandle.org/2022/06/27/lesson-11-the-principle-and-foundation-part-ii/

[2]           The Mystical Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, explains the importance of detachment this way:


It is well, then, for us to journey to Him by denying ourselves everything.  For otherwise, even if the soul be so wise, humble, and strong that the devil cannot deceive it by visions or cause it to fall into some sin of presumption, as he is wont to do, he will not allow it to make progress; for he sets obstacles in the way of spiritual detachment, poverty of spirit, and emptiness in faith, which are the essential conditions for union of the soul with God.


St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book III, ch.24, #9.


By emptiness of faith, he means that we must be willing to be detached even from spiritual consolations and sentimental comforts if God so wills to withdraw them from us.  In other words, we completely abandon our wills to the dear Lord.


[3]           Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, S.J., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, copyright 1918; third edition, 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, Page 192.