Religion – from the Latin re = “again” + ligere = “to tie” – re-ties us, reunites us with God from whom we can easily feel estranged.
The concrete realities of human life - training for a career, finding a mate, paying mortgages and taxes - can make God seem distant, unknowable, uncaring. Success in meeting life’s challenges can even make God seem unnecessary.
Religion at its best reunites us to God in our daily experience.
Religion at its best connects us to God’s love as the necessary response to the stress and fatigue of engaging life’s concrete reality. God’s love strengthens and affirms us when we realize that we can’t overcome all of life’s challenges.
Religion at its best offers us life with God, a richness of life we cannot give ourselves.
•A religion’s dogmatic tradition states what that religion believes about God.
•A religion’s educational tradition teaches the religion’s dogmatic tradition.
•A religion’s mystical tradition unites us experientially with God in an actual, dynamic, living relationship.
The Church is the community of these individual human beings with God at their center.
Spirituality is a set of practices that expresses how a community of faith can experience the relationship with God.
The Roman Catholic mystic tradition encompasses multiple spiritualities, experienced and made relevant by centuries by countless believers. Each spirituality re-ties and reunites its followers with God the Creator in life-giving, affirming relationship.
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• ST IGNATIUS:
St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556),
as a young man, sought happiness and fulfillment in chivalry: engaging in battle, serving high-born women, carousing with fellow knights, and keeping his hair and dress in the latest fashion. In a battle with the French in the Spanish town of Pamplona in 1521 a cannon ball shattered his legs. During his months of painful convalescence Ignatius discovered Christ’s presence by reflection on the affective experience – feelings, intuitions, impressions - in his daily life.
Having recovered, Ignatius lived an austere life in a cave outside the Spanish city of Manresa for nearly a year. During this time he recorded these ongoing affective experiences. He realized that these experiences were Christ present to him in a way so rich, so healing and regenerative that he came to desire nothing else. Ignatius created the Spiritual Exercises from this record of experiences.
He left the cave, sensing that Christ was now inviting him into an active life of service.
That new life began with a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, followed by extensive education in Spain and the University of Paris. There he gathered a group of friends we now call the First Companions, who pledged themselves to one another in Christ’s service.
Desiring to undertake the greatest service to the church and world, they placed themselves at the service of the pope to go where the need was greatest. In 1540 the pope approved the formation of the Society of Jesus.
Ignatius spent the remainder of his life in Rome, completing the Constitutions and directing this new Society. Learn more
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• The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola:
Ignatius created the Spiritual Exercises, a structured series of meditations, based on his experiences in the cave at Manresa. Praying with these meditations in sequence will guide the participant to engage Christ in a more personal and direct way. This prayer will also elicit from the participant a deeper commitment to Christ and to his service.
The meditations group themselves unto four units, called Weeks, each building on its predecessor and each with its own flow and purpose:
- to discover that God has been caring for us throughout our lives, whether we knew it or not, and forgiving our weaknesses;
- to discover Christ as God’s saving presence, inviting us to choose life with him;
- to follow Christ in his suffering; and
- to encounter Christ in his resurrection and his ongoing life in the world and so to renew one’s commitment to Christ and service to his people.
The participant usually undertakes these meditations accompanied by a spiritual guide who moves the participant through the meditations. This process can take 30 days of intense, full-time prayer or about nine months of daily prayer and weekly meetings with a director.
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• Finding God in All Things:
We discover Christ at work in our experience through daily reflection and discernment. This reflection looks for affectively rich moments where we felt blessed, strengthened and encouraged, or distressed over our own missteps or those of another.
Oddly enough, these experiences may not seem significant as they occur. But in retrospect they will take on significance and meaning. In time we can come to recognize that these affectively rich experiences are in fact Christ’s presence in our lives.
We can also discover the “coincidences” that help move life forward: the phone call that provides necessary information, the “chance” meeting that resolves a difficulty, the invitation that opens up new opportunity.
All these occurrences demonstrate Ignatius’ claim that Christ labors in our lives. We discover this reality in our lives, a process known as Finding God in all Things. As we discover God in our experience, we find the reason to commit ourselves anew to Christ and service to his people.
Ignatian prayer, the primary prayer style of the Spiritual Exercises, uses the imagination to engage Scripture texts, in particular stories of Jesus’ public ministry. Christ’s presence in the participant’s prayer helps the participant come to know and experience more deeply who Christ is and how Christ wishes to encounter the participant in his or her life.
This prayer calls for the full use of the imagination and affect, noticing shifts in emotion, intuitions and impressions. This prayer also invites the participant to use the intellect to reflect afterwards on these affective experiences, a process called Ignatian discernment.
Later in the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius asks the participant to contemplate certain events or experiences wordlessly to enrich yet more deeply the experience of Christ’s love and action in their lives.
Within Ignatian Spirituality are practical and relevant tools such as Ignatian Discernment. Discernment is a process of deeply listening, of separating outside voices while listening to what is coming from within, from God.
Ignatian prayer registers primarily in the affective side of our beings: emotions, intuitions, perceptions, awarenesses. Some of these affective movements, however, may not arise from Christ’s action, but may arise simply from the participant’s emotions, from the intellect or psychological stress.
To judge whether these internal movements arise from Christ’s action, the participant must reflect with the rational mind on these affective experiences after they have occurred.
This ex-postrational reflection – a weighing, balancing and sifting of the experiences in the affect – is known as discernment or discernment of spirits. This process identifies experiences that seem genuinely from Christ and thus reliable guides in decision-making. It also identifies movements not of Christ that, if pursued, might well lead the participant into consternation, confusion, and unhappiness in the participant.
In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius provides guidelines and criteria for the discernment process. Nothing in the discernment process is arbitrary, haphazard, or self-serving.
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• Spiritual Direction & Daily Examen:
Conversation between the participant and a trained spiritual director - guides and affirms a participant’s own discernment. The director is a spiritual guide, a conversation partner, in some cases a mentor.
A wise director does not direct, require, insist, or compel. Rather, the director creates the safe space in which participants can become more aware of and reflect aloud on their experience of Christ’s presence and activity in their lives.
Spiritual direction provides quality control for a participant’s own reflection and discernment. Most importantly, Christ blesses the conversation between director and participant, making the conversation an important element in the participant’s life in Christ.
The Daily Examen
Ignatius asks his followers to spend a short time each day reflecting on their experience, a mode of prayer called the Daily Examen. In this prayer we look retrospectively
- for affectively rich moments during the past day where we felt blessed
- for affectively troubled moments where we acted inappropriately
- for affectively challenging moments where we felt under threatened or under pressure
To conclude we then give thanks to Christ for the blessings we received, we ask forgiveness for our missteps, and we ask for strength to face our challenges.
In the culmination of the Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius reminds the participant that Christ works in the concrete events of the participant’s life. The Examen guides us through the reflection that identifies Christ’s presence in our lives.
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• Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG):
St Ignatius recognized two dimensions of a dynamic relationship with Christ:
- we recognize the many blessings Christ gives us, and then
- as a consequence we express our gratitude for these blessings through service to people around us, especially people in great need.
When we serve those in need, we give glory to God – Ad Dei Gloriam - in other words, we acknowledge God’s care for us through reverence and thanksgiving.
St Ignatius asks his followers, though, to go beyond simply giving reverence and thanksgiving. He asks us to serve Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam - for the greater glory of God. We identify the service that is greater – qualitatively, not quantitatively - through ongoing discernment.
This is no invitation to workaholism nor to self-aggrandizement. Christ invites us to serve where the need is greater, where our particular gifts can be more productive, where the greater bounty can be harvested. Often the choice is between good options. The choice may not be for greater numerical production or public recognition, but rather to be engaged where, for example, our gifts can create opportunities for others to use their gifts.
As we recognize Christ’s blessings in our lives and respond in gratitude to the greater need around us, we undertake what St Ignatius called The Magis. The Magis – Latin for “the more” – represents what is qualitatively more significant, more productive, more opportune. One chooses to serve the greater of two real needs.
- For an adult abused as a child, it might be volunteering at a shelter for runaway teenagers, rather than being a teacher’s aide in a school.
- For the parent with healthy children, it might be assisting a neighbor whose child has Downs Syndrome, as well as also caring for one’s own family.
- For the Society of Jesus it might be creating Nativity schools or Cristo Rey schools serving poor urban families, rather than creating another suburban school.
The More in this sense encompasses the action to be taken as well as the motivation of gratitude to Christ, love of neighbor, and passion for justice, compassion, and human dignity.
Men and Women for Others
Working for the greater glory of God directs human compassion and creativity outward toward the greater need. Self-service and self-promotion channel creativity and compassion inward, generating selfishness and self-absorption. We build Christ’s Kingdom as we focus beyond ourselves in generosity and so become men and women in service to others.
We must never lose sight, though, of Christ’s constant, faithful love for each one of us (“I have called you each by name…I love you, and you are mine.”) It is this love that allows us to give of ourselves to those in greater need. We give what we have already received.
Paradoxically, the more we give ourselves away in Christ’s service, the more he blesses us with the good things of life (Mark 10:29-31, Luke 6:37-38), with complete joy (John 10) and fuller and more abundant life (John 15).
The more we give, the more he gives us. The poverty of giving ourselves to him and his people becomes the wealth of abundant life, always spiritually, often materially.
Solidarity with Those Most in Need
Christ’s death and resurrection free us from the sin we do and from the sin done to us. Millions of people suffer from natural or moral evil done to them – victims of earthquakes, those oppressed by unjust governments, exploited by unjust economic systems, or disenfranchised by war, ethnic or racial prejudice, or religious intolerance.
They often have little access to daily necessities and few ways to help themselves. Their plight calls not only for immediate material response but also for moral leadership.
Catholic leadership on behalf of the suffering is motivated by an affirmation of universal human dignity and the call to holiness. This affirmation creates solidarity between those most in need and the more affluent who can respond to their need. The Church becomes visible and vibrant where this solidarity generates a generous response to need and the chance to flourish for those who suffer.
Contemplatives in Action
Human life is active: earning a living, caring for a family, seeking education. Living an active life without reflecting on our experience robs us of the chance to appreciate the richness of our lives. This richness includes the reality of Christ at work in our lives, blessing us with good things and giving joy and peace in the midst of difficulty.
Christ at work in our lives invites us to career choices, decision making for job and lifestyle. When we follow Christ’s invitations, placing God at the center of our lives, then, Catholic tradition asserts, our lives gain meaning and value that we cannot create for ourselves.
This habit of reflecting and discerning Christ’s invitations makes us contemplatives. We become actors who contemplate as a means of determining action, an essential dynamic of Ignatian spirituality. Allowing our contemplation to guide our actions makes us co-builders of the Kingdom with Christ.
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