Each of the great religious families in the Church (e.g., Benedictine, Dominican, Franciscan, etc.) has its own distinctive way of responding to the Holy Spirit. Ignatian spirituality was developed over the course of many years by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits).
Following the example of St. Ignatius, Ignatian spirituality centers on the imitation of Jesus—focusing on those priorities which constitute Christ's mind, heart, values, priorities and loves. To learn what those values, priorities and loves are, Ignatius would encourage us to consider what Jesus said and did. At the foundation of Jesus's life was prayer, a continuous search for how best to live as an authentic human being before a loving God. Jesus preached forgiveness of sins, healed the sick and possessed, and gave hope to the poor, to those socially and economically outcast. Jesus spoke of joy, peace, justice and love; he summoned men and women from all classes of society to continue to follow his way to God and his commitment to helping people become whole and holy.
Ignatian spirituality attempts to incorporate these same gospel values into all its works. It stresses the need to take time to reflect and to pray, in order to find out how God wants us to serve in all our ministries. This active commitment to seeking God's leadership is called discernment.
Ignatian spirituality is incarnational; it views the world as a place where Christ walked, talked 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, to be free, to utilize all their talents and opportunities in ways which build up this world as a place where faith, justice, peace, and love can flourish.
At the same time, Ignatian spirituality is realistic. The world Christ faced was also a world of cruelty, injustice and the abuse of power and authority. Consequently, Ignatian spirituality affirms our human potential but also is dedicated to the ongoing, day-in-day-out struggle between good and evil. The Jesuit norm is: to find where God will best be served and where people will best be helped.
Ignatius left his Society two spiritual legacies: the examen, and the spiritual exercises. The examen (or, The Examen of Consciousness) is intended as a short daily period of reflection. St. Ignatius believed that he received the examen as a gift from God that not only enriched his own Christian life but was meant to be shared with others. The examen was a "method," a way to seek and find God in all things and to gain the freedom to let God's will be done on earth.
The Examen traditionally has five steps:
- Recall you are in the presence of God. No matter where you are, you are a creature in the midst of creation and the Creator who called you forth is concerned for you.
- Give thanks to God for favors received. Pause and spend a moment looking at this day's gifts. Take stock of what you received and gave. Notice these clues that guide living.
- Ask for awareness of the Holy Spirit's aid. Before you explore the mystery of the human heart, ask to receive the Holy Spirit so that you can look upon your actions and motives with honesty and patience. The Spirit gives a freedom to look upon yourself without condemnation and without complacency and thus be open to growth.
- Now examine how you are living this day. Recalling the events of your day, explore the context of your actions. Review the day, hour by hour, searching for the internal events of your life. Look through the hours to see your interaction with what was before you. Ask what you were involved in and who you were with, and review your hopes and hesitations. What moved you to act the way you did?
- Pray words of reconciliation and resolve. Having reviewed this day of your life, look upon yourself with compassion and see your need for God and try to realize God's manifestations of concern for you. Express sorrow for sin, give thanks for grace, and praise God for the times you responded in ways that allowed you to better see God's life.
The Spiritual Exercises
The term "spiritual exercises" denotes every way of examining one's conscience, of meditating, contemplating, praying, vocally and mentally, and other spiritual activities, as will be said later. For just as strolling, walking and running are exercises for the body, so "spiritual exercises" is the name given to every way of preparing and disposing one's soul to rid herself of all disordered attachments, so that once rid of them one might seek and find the divine will in regard to the disposition of one's life for the good of the soul. Annotation 1, "Spiritual Exercises"
The "Spiritual Exercises" of Ignatius is essentially a manual for giving 30-day retreats, the purpose of which is to bring the retreatent to an understanding and awareness of God while dealing honestly with the failing and drawbacks that hinder such prayer. All Jesuits experience the spiritual exercises during their first year as a novice. Lay men and women are also invited to undertake the spiritual exercises under the direction of an experienced director at several local retreat centers.
The sense of the spiritual exercises can perhaps best be summed up by the introduction found in The Spiritual Exercises itself, titled "the first principle and foundation."
The First Principle and Foundation
The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.
It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.
To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.
Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.