Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises

Debra Mooney, Ph.D.


Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, had a perspective of life, a spirituality, which has thrived for hundreds of years. Ignatian spirituality is:

 Centered around the belief that God can be found in all things

Taking time each day to reflect upon God's moment-by-moment presence is meaningful.

 Action-oriented

One is called to be (more) competent, caring, and charitable to relieve injustices and suffering in our world "for the greater glory of God".

 Focused on self-awareness

Enlisting affect, imagination, and intellect to know what one is being called to do, or more importantly - to Be, is prominent.

 Inner-directed

Personal insights are produced through the process of attention, reflection and discernment.

 Adapting

Ignatius valued differences in relation to time, culture and each individual. Likewise, he emphasized the importance of being prepared for change and a changing world. Thus, adaptation to current situations is respected, even expected. The invitation to adapt the Ignatian life philosophy to one's circumstances makes it a timeless, contemporary, spirituality.

 Experiential

Ignatius engaged in a focused way of enhancing and experiencing his spirituality. He called this process the Spiritual Exercises. He and his early companions found that the Spiritual Exercises helped to re-order and re-direct their lives to praise and serve God. Today, people chose to experience the process for a number of reasons: to form a closer relationship with God, to ponder vocational or other major life questions, to be a better person (e.g., parent, spouse, colleague, neighbor, global citizen) or to more fully understand Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit identity.

The process of "doing" the Spiritual Exercises involves prayerful reading and reflection. For Christians, this involves prayer and contemplation upon Biblical passages, primarily from the Gospels, in order to understand oneself and the life of Christ, including God's love (called "week" 1), discipleship/servant leadership (week 2), compassion and commitment (week 3 ) and God's presence in daily life (week 4) . 
For instance, while attending to the passage:

Matthew 7: 7-9
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

One might prayerfully contemplate:

What do I request and seek? Why?
What might prevent me from asking, seeking and knocking?
What will be on the other side of the door?

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not your woe!

One might prayerfully contemplate:
What fills me with hope?
What worries might be relieved?

Ignatius intended this spiritual process to take one's exclusive attention for 30-days or to be modified and extended over months for those with familial and professional responsibilities. While the Spiritual Exercises can be experienced privately, utilizing print or electronic resources, it is most fruitful to couple personal prayer with regular meetings with an experienced companion or director. The one-on-one time expands opportunities for individualized spiritual insight and meaning. Likewise, adaptations for various faith traditions can easily be integrated. Contact a Mission and Identity Coordinator for guidance options.

In the text of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius also outlined 5 "points" for daily spiritual thanksgiving, grace and introspection, called the Examen.

A modern adaptation of the Examen invites reflection upon the following questions:

  • What am I thankful for today? How have I been blessed?
  • As I review my day, when did I feel close to God? When did I feel more distant?
  • What have I learned about myself today? Am I pleased with this insight?
  • Who do I want to BE tomorrow? How can I BE that person?
  • What do I look forward to in my day tomorrow?

 

To know is to experience

Virginia Ann Froehle, RSM