Ignatian spirituality—sometimes called Jesuit spirituality—is a Catholic spirituality founded on the experiences of the 16th century Ignatius of Loyola, sometimes referred to as the spirituality for decision makers. Some people who find the Ignatian 'way of proceeding' helpful, include Jesuits (SJs), RSCJs, FCJs, IBVMs, RSCs, and CLC. The 'long', or sometimes called 'Four weeks' (around 30 days), retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises, features strongly in St Ignatius' writings, and was obviously highly regarded by him.
Like all Catholic spirituality, Ignatian spirituality is based on the Christian faith and the gospels. Aside from the "Constitutions", "The Letters", and "Autobiography", Ignatian spirituality draws most specifically from St. Ignatius' "Spiritual Exercises", whose purpose is "to conquer oneself and to regulate one's life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment." In other words, the Exercises are intended, in Ignatius' view, to give the exercitant (the person undertaking them) a greater degree of freedom from his or her own likes, dislikes, comforts, wants, needs, drives, appetites and passions that they may choose based solely on what they discern God's will is for them.
Ignatian spirituality can be, and has been, described as a spirituality of finding God's will for a better decision making. The Ignatian process of making good decisions acknowledges that decisions are often between two goods, understanding that the better good, or 'the more' (lat. magis), is what we instinctively want, and what God wants for us. Formation in Ignatian orders (including the Jesuits), is a formation for mission, for those who have decided, during or after a 'long' retreat, that they want to, as Ignatius put it, 'lay aside [their] worldly armour and put on that of Christ.' 'In all things, to love and to serve' (Español: 'en todo amar y servir' ) was a motto of St Ignatius, who wanted to 'be like St Francis and St Dominic', though better. (Competitive spirit features quite strongly in Ignatian spirituality)
According to St Ignatius, the purpose of the Exercises is "to conquer oneself and to regulate one's life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment." In other words, the Exercises are intended, in Ignatius' view, to give the exercitant (the person undertaking them) a greater degree of freedom from his or her own likes, dislikes, comforts, wants, needs, drives, appetites and passions that they may choose based solely on what they discern God's will is for them.
Peter Hans Kolvenbach, who was the former Superior General of the Jesuits, said that the Exercises "try to unite two apparently incompatible realities: exercises and spiritual." It invites to "unlimited generosity" in contemplating God, yet going down to the level of many details.
The Ignatian ideal has the following characteristics:
God's greater glory: St Ignatius of Loyola—"a man who gave the first place of his life to God" says Benedict XVI—stressed that "Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord and by this means to save his soul." This is the "First Principle and Foundation" of the Exercises. Ignatius declares: "The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God's life to flow into us without limit... Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God's life in me."
Union with Jesus: Ignatius emphasized an ardent love for the Saviour. In his Exercises, he devoted the last weeks to the contemplation of Jesus: from infancy and public ministry, to his passion and lastly his risen life. The Spiritual Exercises, in 104, sum this up in a prayer: "Lord, grant that I may see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly." There is a great emphasis on the emotions in Ignatius' methods, and a call for the person to be very sensitive to the emotional movements that shape them.
Self-awareness: Ignatius recommends the twice-daily examen (examination). This is a guided method of prayerfully reviewing the events of the day, to awaken one's inner sensitivity to one's own actions, desires, and spiritual state, through each moment reviewed. The goals are to see where God is challenging the person to change and to growth, where God is calling the person to deeper reflection (especially apt when discerning if one has a Jesuit vocation in life), to where sinful or imperfect attitudes or blind spots are found. The general examen, often at the end of the day, is, as the name implies, a general review. The particular examen, often in the middle of the day, focuses on a particular fault—identified by the person—to be worked upon in the course of some days or weeks.
Spiritual direction: Meditation and contemplation, and for instance the aforementioned examen, are best guided, Ignatius says, by an experienced person. Jesuits, and those following Ignatian spirituality, meet with their spiritual director (traditionally a priest, though in recent years many laypersons have undertaken this role) on a regular basis (weekly or monthly) to discuss the fruits of their prayer life and be offered guidance. Ignatius sees the director as someone who can rein in impulsiveness or excesses, goad the complacent, and keep people honest with themselves. If the director is a priest, spiritual direction may or may not be connected with the Sacrament of Penance. Ignatius counseled frequent use of sacrament and while some directors see them as integrally linked, others hold them to be two separate relationships.
Effective love: The founder of the Society of Jesus put effective love (love shown in deeds) above affective love (love based on nice feelings). He usually ended his most important letters with "I implore God to grant us all the grace to know His holy will and to accomplish it perfectly." True and perfect love demands sacrifice, the abandonment of tastes and personal preferences, and the perfect renunciation of self. This can be taken together with the prayer for generosity, which asks for teaching to be generous, to serve God as God deserves without counting any cost or seeking any reward except knowing that one is doing God's will.
Detachment: Where Francis of Assisi's concept of poverty emphasized the spiritual benefits of simplicity and dependency, Ignatius emphasized detachment, or "indifference." For Ignatius, whether one was rich or poor, healthy or sick, in an assignment one enjoyed or one didn't, was comfortable in a culture or not, etc., should be a matter of spiritual indifference—a modern phrasing might put it as serene acceptance. Hence, a Jesuit (or one following Ignatian spirituality), placed in a comfortable, wealthy neighborhood should continue to live the Gospel life without anxiety or possessiveness, and if plucked instantly from that situation to be placed in a poor area and subjected to hardships should simply cheerfully accept that as well, without a sense of loss or being deprived.
Prayers, efforts at self-conquest, and reflection: Ignatius's little book, the Spiritual Exercises is a fruit of months of prayer. Jesuits stress the need to take time to reflect and to pray because prayer is at the foundation of Jesus's life. Prayer, in Ignatian spirituality, does not dispense from "helping oneself", a phrase frequently used by Ignatius. Thus, he also speaks of mortification and of amendment.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Eucharist, and Our Lady: The Society of Jesus has a relationship with the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in a commitment to spread the devotion to the Sacred Heart (though the concept of devotion to Christ's mercy, as symbolized in the image of the Sacred Heart, is more ancient, its modern origins can be traced to St. Marie Alacoque, a Visitation nun, whose spiritual director was St. Claude de la Colombière). The Jesuits particularly promoted this devotion to emphasize the compassion and overwhelming love of Christ for people, and to counteract the rigorism and spiritual pessimism of the Jansenists.
St. Ignatius counselled people to receive the Eucharist more often, and from the order's earliest days the Jesuits were promoters of "frequent communion". It should be noted that it was the custom for many Catholics at this time to receive Holy Communion perhaps once or twice a year, out of what Catholic theologians considered an exaggerated respect for the sacrament; Ignatius and others advocated receiving the sacrament at least monthly, emphasizing Holy Communion not as reward but as spiritual food; by the time of Pope St. Pius X (1903–1914), "frequent communion" had come to mean weekly, and even daily reception, of the Eucharist.
Ignatius made his initial commitment to a new way of life by leaving his soldier's weapons (and symbolically, his old values) on an altar before an image of the Christ child seated on the lap of Our Lady of Montserrat. The Jesuits were long promoters of the Sodality of Our Lady, their primary organization for their students until the 1960s, which they used to encourage frequent attendance at Mass, reception of communion, daily recitation of the Rosary, and attendance at retreats in the Ignatian tradition of the Spiritual Exercises.
Zeal for souls: The purpose of the Order, says the Summary of the Constitutions, is "not only to apply one's self to one's own salvation and to perfection with the help of divine grace but to employ all one's strength, for the salvation and perfection of one's neighbor."
Finding God in All Things: The vision that Ignatius places at the beginning of the Exercises keeps sight of both the Creator and the creature, the One and the other swept along in the same movement of love. In it, God offers himself to humankind in an absolute way through the Son, and humankind responds in an absolute way by a total self-donation. There is no longer sacred or profane, natural or supernatural, mortification or prayer—because it is one and the same Spirit who brings it about that the Christian will "love God in all things—and all things in God." Hence, Jesuits have always been active in the graphic and dramatic arts, literature and the sciences.
Examen of Consciousness: The Examen of Consciousness is a simple prayer directed toward developing a spiritual sensitivity to the special ways God approaches, invites, and calls. Ignatius recommends that the examen be done at least twice, and suggests five points of prayer:
- Recalling that one is in the holy presence of God
- Thanking God for all the blessings one has received
- Examining how one has lived his day
- Asking God for forgiveness
- Resolution and offering a prayer of hopeful recommitment
It is important, however, that the person feels free to structure the Examen in a way that is most helpful to him. There is no right way to do it; nor is there a need to go through all of the five points each time. A person might, for instance, find himself spending the entire time on only one or two points. The basic rule is: Go wherever God draws you. And this touches upon an important point: the Examen of Consciousness is primarily a time of prayer; it is a "being with God." It focuses on one's consciousness of God, not necessarily one's conscience regarding sins and mistakes.
Discernment: Discernment is rooted in the understanding that God is ever at work in one's life, "inviting, directing, guiding and drawing" one "into the fullness of life." Its central action is reflection on the ordinary events of one's life. It presupposes an ability to reflect on the ordinary events of one's life, a habit of personal prayer, self-knowledge, knowledge of one's deepest desires and openness to God's direction and guidance. Discernment is a prayerful 'pondering' or 'mulling over' the choices a person wishes to consider. In his discernment, the person's focus should be on a quiet attentiveness to God and sensing rather than thinking. His goal is to understand the choices in his heart: to see them, as it were, as God might see them. In one sense, there is no limit to how long he might wish to continue in this. Discernment is a repetitive process, yet as the person continues, some choices should of their own accord fall by the wayside while others should gain clarity and focus. It is a process that should move inexorably toward a decision.
Service and humility: Ignatius emphasized the active expression of God's love in life and the need to be self-forgetful in humility. Part of Jesuit formation is the undertaking of service specifically to the poor and sick in the most humble ways: Ignatius wanted Jesuits in training to serve part of their time as novices and in tertianship (see Formation below) as the equivalent of orderlies in hospitals, for instance, emptying bed pans and washing patients, to learn humility and loving service. Jesuit educational institutions often adopt mottoes and mission statements that include the idea of making students "men for others", and the like. Jesuit missions have generally included medical clinics, schools and agricultural development projects as ways to serve the poor or needy while preaching the Gospel. (see List of Jesuit institutions)
- p. 24, O'Malley, JW 1993, The First Jesuits, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Discourse given to the Rome Consultation, 16 February 2003.
- Pinard De La Boullaye, Ignatian Spirituality.
- O'Malley, John W. The First Jesuits Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard, 1993, p. 25.