1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1
At the age of thirty, during the defense of Pamplona in May of 1521, the soldier Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was struck in the legs by a cannon ball. During his long and painful recovery, he passed the time by reading a life of Christ and a book about the saints. In this, he found peace and this began his conversion from worldly frivolity to God.
On his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he stopped at a town called Manresa. There he experienced God’s presence and saw all of creation in a new way, in the light of God. This enabled him to find God in all things. After his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he began his studies for the priesthood. At the University of Paris, he gathered six companions, whom he directed in what became known as the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius and his companions eventually made their way to Rome, where they placed themselves at the service of the Pope. The Society of Jesus was approved in 1540, and the members made their vows in 1541. During the next fifteen years, Ignatius directed the Society and drafted their Constitutions.
A few years ago, Cardinal Avery Dulles published a brief article on the specific traits of the Ignatian charism (America, 15 January 2007). He wrote that Saint Ignatius founded “an order of men vowed to live in the midst of the world with their eyes continually focused on God, on Jesus Christ and on the needs of the church”. A Jesuit is a soldier of God, who seeks the greater glory of God. Jesus Christ is the way that leads to life, and a Jesuit fights under the standard of Christ’s Cross. “This is a commitment to struggle ceaselessly against great odds and to fight bravely, not heeding the wounds, imitating the example of Christ who embraced the cross to accomplish our redemption”.
Cardinal Dulles identified ten characteristics or features of Ignatian spirituality: dedication to the glory of God; personal love for Jesus Christ; thinking with the Church; readiness to serve the Church; communion of mind and heart; preference for spiritual and priestly ministries; the practice of spiritual discernment; adaptability to different situations, times, cultures and people; respect for human and natural talents; and, finally, being contemplative in action.
Although the primary image of Ignatius throughout the centuries has been that of a soldier saint, who emphasizes asceticism and spiritual discipline, we should not forget that he was also a mystic (see B. O’Leary, “The Mysticism of Ignatius of Loyola”, Review of Ignatian Spirituality, n. 116, 77-97). This is evident in his Contemplation to Attain the Love of God. Love, he writes, manifests itself in deeds rather than words and consists in a mutual sharing of goods. Ignatius first invites us to recall everything we have received from God and how much God desires to give us. In response, we offer ourselves completely to God. Secondly, we contemplate that God dwells in us; we are temples of God, created in his image and likeness. Third, God works in creation on our behalf and we are brought to reflect on our lives from this perspective. Lastly, we consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above. Our limited power to act comes from God’s infinite power. God’s justice, goodness and mercy descend upon us just as rays of light descend from the sun and waters flow from their fountains.
Ignatius’ mysticism is also present in his focus on discernment, where we look at the movements of the spirit, inner movements of consolation towards God and inner movements of desolation away from God. We strive to allow God to lead us throughout our life. At Manresa, on the banks of the Cardoner River, Ignatius was taught by God and understood and perceived many spiritual things: about the Trinity, Creation, the Eucharist, Christ’s human nature, and the whole of theology. He understood God as Giver of Grace and the Gift that is given. In this giving and communication, Ignatius experience the essence of love. Ignatius’ Spiritual diary reveals how he combing contemplation and action, how he sensibly experienced God’s love, how God guided him in the ordinary decisions of life. Growth in the spiritual life leads to union with God.
The Church today invites us to imitate Ignatius in fighting the good fight on earth so that we may receive with him a crown in heaven (Collect). This good fight entails renouncing all our earthly possessions, carrying our daily cross and following Christ as his disciple. With Saint Ignatius and Saint Paul, we need to understand our lives, everything we do, as ordered to the glory of God.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].