The heart of the Jesuit ethos is Ignatian Spirituality – the way of Christian growth developed by St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. At the heart of this spirituality are the Spiritual Exercises in which Ignatius makes available to others what he discovered in his own journey with God. By sharing these Exercises, Ignatius attracted others to join together as companions of one another, as ‘friends in the Lord’.
The Exercises offer a school of prayer and a means of finding that most precious gift, freedom, through recognition of the fact that God loves us, wherever we are and whatever we have done. Such prayer enables us to overcome any preoccupation with self and to give our energies to serve others.
Today, an integral part of the ministry of the Jesuits is in opening up Ignatian Spirituality to everyone. The Centres of Ignatian Spirituality offer people from all backgrounds the opportunity to experience the Spiritual Exercises, while outreach teams from these centres conduct retreats in rural and remote dioceses across the country. This spirituality is also an important aspect of our schools, parishes and other institutions.
As a Jesuit Parish, we offer the Ministry of Individual Spiritual Direction as well as Group Spiritual Direction to those wishing to deepen their relationship with God and their experience of prayer.
Please contact Fr. Paul Fyfe SJ for more information.
A short introduction to Ignatian Spirituality from the Paris Jesuit site:
What to do with one’s life?
To tell the story of Ignatian spirituality, or, better still, to introduce yourself, even if only for a few screens, to a spiritual experience similar to that experienced by many Christians today, you have to be transported to the ramparts of Pamplona. in 1521.
The fortress, attacked by French troops, is about to surrender when a thirty-year-old man, Ignace de Loyola, succeeds in persuading all the knights to defend themselves despite everything. But a French cannonball breaks Ignatius ‘leg and the fighters’ enthusiasm. All go immediately to the French. The winners treated the wounded man courteously and friendly, driving him home to Loyola.
After several surgeries to put his leg back, Ignace undergoes a long convalescence nailed to his bed. What to do? Read, of course. And he has only two books at hand, a life of Christ and a life of saints. What to dream then? Do great things for God like St. Dominic, like St. Francis, or leave to join the lady of his heart? Passing from one dream to another, Ignatius notices a simple thing that will inaugurate a new way of relating to God.
Joy comes from God
“When I thought of what is in the world I enjoyed it; but when, afterwards, tired, I left him, I found myself dry and discontented. But when I thought to go barefoot to Jerusalem, to eat only herbs, to do all the other austerities that I saw to have been done by the saints, not only was I consoled when I was in such thoughts, but again, after leaving them, I remained happy and happy.
But I did not pay attention to this and did not stop to weigh this difference until, once, my eyes opened a little: I began to wonder about this diversity and to reflect on it; seizing by experience that after certain thoughts I remained sad and after other light-hearted, I gradually came to know the diversity of minds that agitated me, one of the demon, the other of God. ”
(According to The Story, Life of Ignatius Loyola told by himself, § 8, Christus Collection No. 65, DDB, 1988.
The attention to the inner movements that inhabit each of us, the dynamics of our desire, the strength and contrast of the images that populate our imagination, the experience of sadness and joy experienced “affectively”: here is the point departure of Ignatian spirituality, the B.-A.-Ba of the discernment of spirits.
This experience of God, this first opening of the eyes, propels Ignatius into a mad adventure following Christ. No one can encourage you to read the story of his life told by himself to let you be surprised by the way God acts in this man.
In this way of acting, experiences made, internal struggles conducted, Ignatius will draw a certain number of rules and practical exercises that he will regroup as he finds out about God in a booklet that will later become Spiritual Exercises. Without doubt one of the rare books written to not be read! But a book for those who, following Ignatius, will offer others adapted exercises so that they in turn enter into a new relationship with God, where it is first “God who communicates himself himself to the soul who is faithful to him, enveloping him in his love and praise, and arranging it to enter the path where he can better serve him “(Spiritual Exercises, n ° 15, Christus collection n ° 61 DDB, 1985). A book to do and not to read, to freely enter an experience.
With all its senses, immerse yourself in the story of God with men
As you will have understood, Ignatian spirituality leads to a strong personalization of each person’s relationship with God. And on this path of humanization, a meeting that is, for you reader for a moment, at the crossroads of your story of a man or a woman living at the beginning of the millennium, and the story of Jesus Christ. Christ came one day from time to save the human race.
Ignatius, and in his wake all the Ignatians (religious, religious, priests, laity), deploy all their energy and their inventiveness so that this meeting can take place. Thus, the one who does the Exercises is invited, for example, to see through the eyes of the imagination the characters of a scene drawn from the Gospels, to hear what they say, to look at what they are doing, and then to reflect. to take advantage of this view, these words, these actions.
Immerse yourself with all your senses in the history of God with men to better recognize how this same story continues today in the cultural, social, economic context that is ours. In short, an invitation to keep one’s eyes open to the world as it is, to God as he acts, and to find thereby how to advance freely as baptized.
An experience of God lived in the Church
“To consider how God works and works for me in all things created on the face of the earth, that is, he behaves like someone who works … and from there, reflect in myself by considering what, on my side, I must offer and give in all fairness and justice to his divine majesty … ”
These phrases, taken from contemplation to reach love, end the exercises proposed to the retreatant by Ignatius. They may seem enigmatic when taken out of context, but they help to perceive the pulsation that punctuates all Ignatian spirituality: first look at all that God has done, done and done for me, and then ask me what I must do, freely, out of love.
The experience of God proposed by Ignatian spirituality is also an experience made in the Church. It touches the vitality of the people of God, the strength of their desire to proclaim the Gospel. Everyone is invited to recognize that it is the same Spirit who acts both in the Church and in personal experience, both in tradition and in the newness of the Spirit. He who follows the path opened by Christ will never stop testing his decisions, confronting them with others to escape from the blindness inherent in his narrow views.
Faith and society: a fertile tension
To end this brief introduction to Ignatian spirituality, remember this paradox. How to hold together an immediate experience of God and mediations as numerous as those held by the Jesuits of the province of France, such as the Center Sèvres, magazines or ICAM engineering schools? How to link the intimate of a personal faith and for example the work of the Jesuits of CERAS who patiently clash with the social questions that shake France?
This tension undoubtedly characterizes what Ignatian spirituality allows: to believe in the immediacy of the experience of God and the fruitfulness of long meditations to include it in a society and a history.
Today many men and women have chosen to live the Christian adventure with the help of Ignatian spirituality. They live alone or in a group, family or community. But no matter what style of life is chosen, the same desire is at work: to live and work in the shadow of the Spirit, tirelessly, until the eyes of every human being open a little.
Recalling our patrimony, embracing our commission (the link to Renaissance humanism)
‘Grounded in the ideal of the relationship between director and retreatant, Ignatius sought only to facilitate exchanges, not to lecture or be didactic.’ Fr Ross Jones SJ reflects during the inaugural Province Communications Conference – 2nd October 2019.
Excerpt: Ignatius was certainly a wordsmith. We know from others’ accounts, and from that small slice of his Spiritual Diary that remains, how he laboured over the Constitutions for 15 years until his death. To ensure the Society had properly grasped his intent, he sent Gerónimo Nadal across Europe to communicate the detail to all Jesuit communities.
As well as that, we have extant some 7000 letters of Ignatius to all manner of personages — the largest collection of anyone of his era. Ignatius’ secretary, Juan Polanco, once remarked that though Ignatius wrote or dictated 30 letters a day, there was not one that he did not read twice over. Our founder, Ignatius, was nothing if not an intentional communicator.
The Society was, of course, founded on the crest of the wave of Renaissance humanism. In contradistinction to the medieval universities (which focused upon analysis, argument, dialectics and debate), the humanist schools were concerned with character and values, the betterment of society, human engagement and consensus.
Those early Jesuit educators communicated this through the class texts they chose — even ‘pagan’ texts. There were some eyebrows raised in adopting such works but the Jesuit schoolmen appreciated that these were rich resources with which to communicate their message. Those stories wrestled with the big questions of life: good and evil, choices, duty, what was the nature of ‘a good life’.
This humanistic mindset shaped the way Jesuits engaged in the Reformation to the north and also in England. There persists a sort of Jesuit myth that we were the ‘Papal Stormtroopers’ with the advent of the Protestant Reformation. But Ignatius’ intentions were clear. Grounded in the ideal of the relationship between director and retreatant in the Exercises, Ignatius sought only to facilitate exchanges, not to lecture or be didactic.
The letters he wrote to two Jesuits missioned to Protestant Ireland, to three others missioned to Lutheran Germany and to the four attending the delicate discussions at the Council of Trent were very clear in the communicative style he expected: Listen a lot, be adaptive to the culture, respond to different dispositions of people, enter through the other’s door and lead them out your own, remember that everything you say may (or will) become public, understand before you speak, give opinions with humility and sincerity, love the truth, don’t be self-seeking, and offer no hasty opinions.
In another letter to scholastics studying in a secular university at Alcalá, Ignatius expected that they neither bicker stubbornly, nor try to gain the upper hand in exchanges. Ignatius’ communicative mode is quite clear. It is not disputatious — certainly not our parliamentary model, nor the way of much of our current aggressive media. Ignatius seeks a union of minds and hearts. Not finding fault, but common ground. Not digging trenches but building bridges. Two-way communication.
When the Society seriously took up what we would now call an international apostolate, the style of our cultural and evangelical communication was both sensitive and quite novel.
The hero in the story was an Italian Jesuit, Alessandro Valignano. In 1573, aged 34, he was appointed Father General’s Vicar in charge of all missions from Mozambique in the West to Japan in the East. Valignano operated on the basis of six principles for engagement with, and accommodation to, new cultures. I will mention just two: Firstly, a perfect command of the language, the idiom, in which that civilisation or culture was incarnated. Secondly, a long-term endeavour of serious writing and personal dialogue.