HOW TO PARTICIPATE:
ABOUT ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA:
The above phrase is the motto of the Jesuits, and it means “for the greater glory of God.” It calls to mind that even our smallest works and quiet prayers can serve the glory of God and can be given back to God in recognition that He is in all things and the source of all good. It is an invitation to live out one’s day not only in a way that is pleasing to Christ, but in a way that offers to glorify God through everyday experiences and actions. Do we have the glory of God in mind when we go through the small, mundane tasks of everyday, or do we work mindlessly to get through them as quickly as possible? Do we escape the present moment, where we are already invited to glorify God, and instead dwell obsessively with the past or anxiously on the future? With the Jesuit motto in mind, reflect on how you can offer your life to the glory of God through the beautiful and simple experiences of everyday.
But, if what I seek is not for the glory of God and the good of my soul, grant, I pray, what is more conducive to both. I ask this through Christ our Lord. St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us. Amen.
St. Ignatius was seen as a contemplative in action, and his example in this area has become a cornerstone of Jesuit life. It means that in all action and activity, in all service and interactions, Ignatius contemplated the love and presence of God. His serving ministry and apostolic availability were grounded in constant discernment of God’s presence and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. How often do we hastily go through our day without contemplating the love that Christ has for us in each moment? How often do we treat prayer as a bookend for the beginning and end of each day but neglect to think of Christ in all the little moments in between? Let us instead follow in Ignatius’ example, contemplating the love of Jesus and His presence with us when we interact with coworkers, friends, or family, when we go to work or complete the simplest of tasks at home.
The examen is a familiar prayer and classic component of Ignatian spirituality. It is a form of prayer that allows us to become as Ignatius himself was, a contemplative in action. Ignatius leads us through this general examination of conscience at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises. It involves first reflecting and giving thanks for all that God has given us and the graces received. Next, Ignatius invites us to ask for the grace to know of and turn from our sins. Thirdly, Ignatius invites us to ask God “for an account of [our souls]” in regard to our thoughts, words, and deeds throughout the day. This is followed by asking for pardon for these sins and failings and finally, “to resolve, with his grace, to amend them.” Consider spending a moment halfway through your day or at the end of your day in quiet examination of conscience. Give to the Lord what you don’t want to hold on to, following the lead of St. Ignatius.
In a 1973 address in Valencia, Spain, the Superior General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, called for the education and development of “men and women for others.” He called for “men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and His Christ, for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors.” Thus, for Arrupe, to be men and women for others (including the least of our neighbors), we must first be men and women for Christ. St. Ignatius had an immense love for the life of Christ, as is evident in his Spiritual Exercises, and this love for Christ translated to an immense love for others. How can we better imitate St. Ignatius in our love for others and our desire for justice, for the sake of our love of Christ?
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius reveals how important he believes the imagination to be for conversion and contemplation. In a book on Ignatian spirituality, author Jim Manney writes, “[St. Ignatius] came to know Jesus intimately by immersing himself in Gospel stories that showed Jesus healing, teaching, casting out spirits, and walking on the roads of Palestine…Imaginative prayer makes the Jesus of the Gospels your Jesus” (Ignatian Spirituality A to Z, 123-4). St. Ignatius used his imagination, his feelings, his five senses, to creatively place himself on the scene with Jesus and His disciples. How can we follow in St. Ignatius’ lead, and place ourselves in the Gospels? Let us imagine that we ourselves are amongst the disciples following Jesus, that we ourselves are on the boat with Jesus as he calms the stormy sea, that we ourselves are at the foot of the Cross. What do we feel? What do we hear, taste, see, and smell? How are we going closer to Jesus this way?
Another of Ignatius’ emphases throughout his Spiritual Exercises is indifference.At the very beginning of the text he writes, “Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save their souls.” He goes on to explain that in order to have the freedom to do this- the freedom to serve God and act in accordance with His love and grace- we must achieve a certain level of indifference. He writes, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things.” Ignatius sees that we must be indifferent to creatures, to fellow human beings, and to worldly affairs. We must be indifferent to riches and wealth, to personal power and glory, and to the inclinations of our own wills. For only through this indifference, through this lack of attachment to material things and creatures, will we be free to choose and act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the will of God, free to love Him by choosing His will above anything else. Indifference, then, does not require that we totally reject or ignore the things of the world, but rather, that we prevent these things from altering our decisions or directing our paths. Our decisions must be made only through a sincere love and attention to the glory and service of God in each moment. In what areas of our lives can we grow in indifference? To what material things are we too attached? In what areas of our life are we too attached to our own will?
In a section of the Spiritual Exercises that treats the discernment of spirits, St. Ignatius explains how to respond to feelings of consolation or feelings of desolation. By consolation, he is referring to any good, positive feeling of closeness to God, of being loved by Him and of loving Him in return. In response to these feelings, St. Ignatius encourages us to be grateful, to rejoice, and to continue in our life and practice of faith. Yet he also reminds us that these feelings will most likely not last forever. For in this life, we are also subject to feelings of desolation. By desolation, Ignatius is referring to bad feelings. These can include such negative feelings as laziness, agitation, or sadness- perhaps including a sense of being spiritually distant from God or an all-around lack of zeal. Yet ‘desolation’ might also include a lack of spiritual feeling or emotion altogether, which can then give rise to bad feelings, such as a sense of dread or maybe even of having failed. Ignatius claims that these feelings can be the result of having sinned, of having given into the temptations of the devil and having turned away from God. However, desolation can also arise from God’s desire to strengthen us: as His invitation for us to believe in Him, even when His grace and presence is not felt. In times of desolation, Ignatius encourages us to refrain from making any big decisions, to recall the periods of consolation that we had previously experienced, and to increase our prayer by 5-10%. In doing so, we will be better able to understand that the desolations we are going through are an invitation to turn from one area of sin or another. Or, to trust that the desolations we are going through are all a part of God’s loving plan to unite us more fully with Himself. Let us reflect on the consolations and desolations we are experiencing in the spiritual life right now…how can we more fully trust in God, who allows and works in all things for our good?
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are broken down into four weeks. The third week is generally focused on contemplating the passion and death of our Lord on the Cross, wherein St. Ignatius invites us “to ask for sorrow, regret, and confusion, because the Lord is going to His passion for my sins.” The fourth week is then generally focused on contemplating the resurrection of Christ, wherein Ignatius invites us “to ask for the grace to be glad and to rejoice intensely because of the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord.” Thus, we see Ignatius leading us into some deep emotion: sorrow, regret, and even real confusion over having sinned against God. He invites us to really sit in these, to grow in sincere sorrow at having offended Christ. Yet, Ignatius then quickly reminds us that we are sons and daughters of God, espoused to Christ, who has been raised and has restored us to life! Let us take time today to recall our own failings with sorrow and regret. Then let us also reflect on the life and glory we have in Christ, with gladness and gratitude.
Towards the end of the text of the Spiritual Exercises, the fourth week culminates in what St. Ignatius calls “contemplation to attain love.” He writes, “First. Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words. Second. Love consists in a mutual communication between the two persons.” Here, St. Ignatius is calling to mind that God “desires to give [us] even his very self, in accordance with his divine design,” and that we, in turn, are called to give God “all [our] possessions, and [ourselves] along with them.” Thus, at the heart of Ignatius’ teachings, is the understanding of this mutual exchange, not only of goods (which we receive from and return to the Lord), but also of persons- for from God we receive God Himself, in Christ, and in turn, to God, we give ourselves. In the example of St. Ignatius, then, let us return to Christ all He has given us: our will, liberty, understanding, memory, our whole selves, our dreams, our possessions. And with open hearts, let us receive not only His good gifts, but Christ Himself.