Ignatian spirituality

What is Ignatian Spirituality?

Ignatian spirituality was developed over the course of many years by St Ignatius of Loyola (1491 - 1556), the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Ignatian spirituality centres on the imitation of Jesus - focusing of those priorities that constitute Christ's mind, heart, values, priorities and loves. At the foundation of Jesus' life was prayer,  a continuous search for how best to live as an authentic human being before a loving God. Jesus preached forgiveness, healed the sick and gave hope to the poor. Jesus spoke of joy, peace, justice and love and summoned people from all classes of society to follow his way to God and commitment to help people become whole and holy.

Ignatian spirituality attempts to incorporate these same gospel values into all of life. It stresses the need to take time to reflect and pray in order to find out how God wants us to serve in all our ministries.

Ignatian spirituality is incarnational; it views the world as a place where Christ walked and embraced people. It views the world therefore as a place of grace, a place of being able to give life to others. We are called to find and to pursue how God wants other men and women to be forgiven, free and utilize all their talents and opportunities in ways that build up the world as a place where faith, justice, peace and love flourish.

Ignatian spirituality is also realistic. The world Christ faced was also one of cruelty, injustice, abuse of power and authority. Consequently, Ignatian spirituality affirms our human potential but also is dedicated to ongoing, day-in day-out struggle between good and evil. The norm is to find where God will best be served and where people will best be helped.

Ignatius left 2 spiritual legacies: the Examen and the Spiritual Exercises.

The Examen has five steps:

  1. Recall you are in the presence of God and God cares for you.
  2. Give thanks to God for favours received - gifts received and given away.
  3. Ask for awareness of the Holy Spirit's aid which allows you to be open to growth without condemnation.
  4. Now examine the life you are living this day. Recall the events of your day, explore the context of your actions. Review the day by each hour, searching for the internal events of your life. What moved you to act the way you did? What are your hopes and hesitations?
  5. Pray words of reconciliation and resolve. Looking at the day, see your need for God and try to realise God's concern for you throughout the day. Express your sorrow for sin, give thanks for grace, praise God for times when you could see God in your life.

The Spiritual Exercises

The spiritual exercises are a way of examing one's conscience, of meditation, praying, and other spiritual activities. Just as walking and running are exercised for the body, so spiritual exercises are ways of preparing one's soul to seek and find the divine will in your life and soul. Essentially the spiritual exercises of Ignatius is a manual for giving 30 days retreats, the purpose of which is to bring one to an understanding and awareness of God while dealing honestly with failing and drawbacks that hinder such prayer. Many retreat centres offer direction for undertaking the spiritual exercises.

The spiritual exercises are actually made in one of three ways:

  1. Extended over 30 days in a retreat (this was its original form)
  2. As condensed in to a weekend or 8-day retreat
  3. In the midst of daily life while at home or over a period of several months. 

They are divided into a series of "weeks" or movements - with accompanying prayer, reflection and exercise for each of the four. Ignatius taught that God could be found at work in every situation, relationship and experience of human life - in the daily stuff of working, raising children, caring for neighbours, seeking justice, protecting the earth and building human community as well as in experience of friendship, solidarity, reqjoicing, sorrow, loneliness and fear.

How do I practise Ignatian Spirituality?

Many resources exist to help one engage in the practices of Ignatian spirituality, from retreat centres and church offerings, to online support and guidance, to books and other resources.

Ignatian spirituality is a daily practice. One way to practice this method of prayer is to read a passage from Scripture. Take the time and the space to ask yourself: What do I see and hear? Who are the characters and what is going on with them? What role would I play in this passage? If I were Jesus in this story, what might I think, feel and say? In Ignatian spirituality you enter into the story so you can learn more about and participate more fully in the mind, heart and work of Christ.

As a daily reflection, first take a moment to focus upon God. Ask God to bring to your awareness the moment today for which you are most grateful. If you could relive one moment, what would it be? When were you most able to give and receive love today? What was said and done in that moment that made it so good? Breathe in the gratitude you felt and receive life again from that moment.

Now ask God to bring to your awareness the moment today for which you are least grateful. When were you least able to give and receive love? What was said and done in that moment that made it so difficult? Relive the feelings without trying to change or fix it in any way. Take deep breaths and let God's love fill you just as you are.

Give thanks for whatever you have experienced. If possible, share as much as possible these two moments with a friend.

This is not intended to be a tallying of failures and successes but an assessment of how we have lived in union with God. This prayer may be practised in solitude but is ultimately about community, our relationship to self, God and others.

Another apporach to examen is as follows and include five basic movements that form the prayer: celebrate and give thanks; pray for God's illumination; examine the events and encounters of the day; sift through the joys, sorrows, struggles and delights asking God for needed grace; and rest in God's grace while living in hope for the new day to come.

In this way, it might look like:

  1. Thank you God for...
  2. Ever present God, what did you see in my day today...
  3. How has my day gone?
  4. What has touched my heart with joy, sorrow, fear, and/or pain today?
  5. Loving God, this is what I need from you today...
  6. Consoling God, I know you are with me...thank you.