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Monday, August 13, 2007

More on Ignatius

I've been thinking a lot about Ignatius of Loyola lately. Sometimes, when things seem especially difficult, it feels like he's a friend, reaching through the centuries with advice. And this is odd, because he's not what you'd normally think of as a warm and fuzzy saint. As James Martin SJ wrote in My Life With The Saints ...

Despite his remarkably compelling and undeniably inspiring life, St. Ignatius doesn't elicit the kind of widespread affection afforded to saints like Terese of Lisieux or Francis of Assisi. Descriptions of Ignatius often use such terms as intellectual, serious, austere, mystical - making the saint, while respected, a rather distant figure. And while Jesuits revere their founder, more than a few hold "Fr. Ignatius" at arms lebgth. An elderly Jesuit at Boston College once said to me, regarding the prospect of his judgement in heaven: "I have no problem with Jesus judging me. It's St. Ignatius I'm worried about."

But there is one thing about Ignatius that puts other considerations in the sahde. As Fr. Martins continues ...

Ignatius found God everywhere: in the poor, in prayer, in the Mass, in his fellow Jesuits, in his work, and, most touchingly, on a balcony of the Jesuit house in Rome, where he loved to gaze up silently at the stars at night. During these times he would shed tears in wonder and adoration. His emotional responses to the presence of God in his life gives the lie to the stereotype of the cold saint. Ignatius was a mystic ...

Maybe this harks back to my earlier post on indifference and detachment .... Ignatius wrote about indifference, yet if I understand him correctly, he was anything but (I know, the definition of indifference is way up for grabs :-). Anyway, a book I sent for just came in the mail ... The First Jesuits by John W. O'Malley SJ. It's quite a tome and with tiny print, but yesterday my sister read me the introduction, and it sounds like the book will be very informative. It mentions a number of sources of info about Ignatius and the early Jesuit Order, including .... Ignatius' (dictated) autobiography, which can be downloaded here .... his tons of extant letters, some of which can be read here .... and of course the Spiritual Exercises, which can be downloaded here.

I especially think of the Spiritual Exercises when I think of Ignatius ... one thing to be found there is a list of rules for the discernment of spirits (nice intro to all this here). Ignatius believed that feelings matter (more reason why I distrust the detachment thing) ... our hopes, fears, moods, desires, or our "movements" as he called them, can be indications of whether we're moving towards God or away from him and an awareness of this can help us make good choices. Ignatius thought that we are created to be attracted towards God (his foundational principle) and so when we are moving towards God, we feel "consolation" (peaceful, hopeful, joyful, etc.), and when we move away, we feel "desolation" (fearful, disturbed, doubtful, despairing, etc.). Ignatius thought that some of these movements arise from the efforts of the bad spirit or the good spirit, thus the discipline of how to make choices is the discernment of which spirit is at work in us.

Though the Spiritual Exercises may be a training in discernment, there's another aspect of it that touches me more - it provides an opportunity of an experience of God ...

As was Ignatius himself at Manresa, the person making the retreat was to be ''taught by God". It was surely for this reason that the individual was to have at hand only a few books such as the Gospels. [Ignatius] warns the person guiding another in the Exercises that at the time of the election he should not try to influence the outcome one way or another, for "it is more appropriate and far better that the Creator and Lord himself communicate himself to the devout soul, embracing it with love, inciting it to praise of himself, and disposing it for the way that will most enable the soul to serve him in the future". He should "allow the Creator to deal immediately with the creature, and the creature with its Creator and Lord." This immediate action of God on the individual is the fundamental premise of the Exercises. - The First Jesuits, p. 43

I guess, from my (undoubtedly skewed) viewpoint, Ignatian spirituality has the whole world made in a way that helps us find true happiness ... maybe my dwelling on Ignatius isn't so odd after all.


Blogger Jeff said...

Loved this post, Crystal.

I've thought of taking a run at that book by O'Malley, but yeah, that small print makes it look daunting. Very kind of your sister to read it to you.

Here is an article on Peter Faber you might find interesting. Ignatius said that Faber was the single best director of the Spiritual Exercises.

3:07 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Jeff. Faber is my favorite early Jesuit ... he was kind of shy and depressed at times, from what I've read, yet he did ok, as you mention.

4:32 PM  

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