What is Ignatian Spirituality?
Ignatian Spirituality starts with the premise that God is acting in each of our lives, concretely, right now. St. Ignatius instructed the early Jesuits to “find God in all things”. For St. Ignatius, God is not distant, but all around us, and wants to have a deeper relationship with each of us.
Ignatian Spirituality provides a way to recognize God’s movement in our everyday lives and help us respond to His call with love, built on St. Ignatius’s own lived experience. Grounded in his call to “find God in all things,” St. Ignatius’s approach is both practical and mystical. It aims to bring us closer to God and more deeply into the world with gratitude, passion, and humility, and to become "contemplatives in action."
Ignatian Spirituality can be impactful in many areas of our lives:
Providing methods for discerning big life decisions
Engaging God in the desires, questions, emotions, and events of our daily life, and then turning that reflection into action
Experiencing God’s love for each of us, individually
Recognizing the gifts in our lives and choosing to respond out of love, not a sense of obligation
Ignatian Spirituality involves prayer, using our imagination and senses to place ourselves in a scene (Meditation), and quietly being in God’s presence (Contemplation). St. Ignatius designed a number of practices we can use to deepen our relationship with Jesus and experience where we are being drawn to, such as:
• The Spiritual Exercises is offered as a 30 days retreat or Retreat in everyday life, also known as the 19th Annotation (click here for more info)
• A dynamic process of prayer, meditation, and self-awareness with a spiritual director that makes us more attentive to God's activity in our world and more responsive to what God is calling us to do.
• A spiritual self-review that involves prayerfully recollecting moments during the day and reflecting on how God was present at those times, followed by a decision to act.
Through these methods, Ignatian Spirituality helps us discern God’s movements in our lives by identifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit and feelings of ‘rightness” (Consolation) and feelings of being lost, self-absorbed, and fearful (Desolation). Through this discernment process, we can more clearly see God’s call for us and take action accordingly.
There are a number of outstanding resources devoted to Ignatian spirituality.
Sacred Space is a popular prayer site run by the Irish Jesuits.
Jesuitprayer.org was created by the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus to provide daily online prayers and facilitate prayer requests.
The Jesuit Post, founded by a group of Jesuit scholastics (those in the process of religious formation), provides a contemporary look at Jesus, politics, and pop-culture in our secular age.
St. Ignatius - Soldier turned Saint
Ignatius of Loyola was born in 1491, the thirteenth child of a noble family. Ignatius left Loyola to take up life at court at the age of 16. Gallant, brave and honorable he became a soldier at the age of twenty-six and engaged in minor skirmishes for the Crown. In 1521, the French attacked Pamploma where Ignatius was stationed with his small band of soldiers. They were outnumbered in battle but Ignatius refused to give up the city. A cannonball thundered through the walls of the fortress and shattered Ignatius’ leg.
The re-setting of his leg was a failure. During convalescence at Loyola, Ignatius noticed a protrusion of bone and realized one leg was shorter than the other. Fearful that the deformity would put an end to his career as a Knight, Ignatius commanded doctors to break and reset his leg and saw off the protruding bone. For 6 months Ignatius was immobile. Wracked with pain, Ignatius had nothing to do but to be still and read. His caregiver could only find two books in the family castle, “The Life of Christ” and a book of stories about the saints
As Ignatius reflected on what he was reading and dreamed about his future, he noticed and paid attention to the interior reactions that he was experiencing. He realized that dreams of returning to his life as a Knight, although initially attractive, left him feeling inwardly dry and discontented. On the other hand when he imagined devoting his life to Christ like the saints had done, he experienced a deep sense of joy. This was the beginning of Ignatius journey into spiritual discernment and His adventure with God.
When he recovered, Ignatius left his stately home with a dream of going to Jerusalem. He travelled extensively, gave away his worldly possessions and focused on caring for the sick and the poor. For a period of 10 months he stayed at Manresa, spending hours in solitary prayer and working with the terminally ill. It was during this period that Ignatius carefully discerned the interior movements within his soul: the feelings, thoughts, desires and attractions that led him toward intimacy with Christ and alternative movements: reactions, feelings, thoughts and distractions that drew him away from Christ and hindered his spiritual growth. At Manresa Ignatius had several experiences of Christ that marked his life and led him to see the world in a new way. He began to record his spiritual insights and have conversations with others about the spiritual life, always being careful to record what he learned and experienced. These notes later became the foundation for a manual on prayer, which he would name the Spiritual Exercises.
At the age of thirty-three, Ignatius decided to train for the Priesthood. Unfortunately, he had no knowledge of Latin which was necessary for a vocation in the Church. So he returned to school and studied Latin with children for two years. He later went on to the University of Paris to study theology and philosophy. Throughout his years of study he continued to preach, teach and offer the Spiritual Exercises. He was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition on more than one occasion. Although they limited his public teaching, they found no heresy in the Spiritual Exercises and did not prohibit Ignatius from offering them.
Whilst studying in Paris, young men were drawn by Ignatius' experience of God and his vision to serve Christ in the world. Together they professed vows of chastity and poverty. They travelled, preached, gave the Spiritual Exercises and served in hospitals.
Ignatius was ordained as a Priest in Venice in 1537. He still had a dream of traveling to the Holy Land but was now prohibited from going due to the war between Venice and the Ottoman Empire. Ignatius and his band of men headed toward Rome. Along the way, Ignatius experienced another mystical vision in the town of La Sorta. This vision would inspire the mission that the band of men committed to: “to know, love and serve Jesus Christ," and it would inform their choice of name: “The Society of Jesus.”
Their religious order was formally constituted by the Pope in 1540 and the Jesuits dispersed throughout the world to serve those in greatest need. Ignatius spent his latter years in Rome writing the constitutions of the Jesuit Order and refining the Spiritual Exercises. He died on July 31st, 1556. At his death the society had over a thousand men working throughout Europe, Japan and South America. The Spiritual Exercises continue to be foundational to the identity of "The Society of Jesus" and their mission and ministry of service in the world. Ignatius was canonized in 1622.