An Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality: Part 2
In part one, we covered the first half of the pillars of Ignatian spirituality—and how they apply not just to Jesuits but our everyday lives. Now we'll take a look at the second half and consider, again, how they inform our spiritual habits and development.
8. Devotion to the Sacred Heart, Eucharist, and Our Lady
Each of these three have inspired multiple books, papal encyclicals, and contemplation down through the centuries. And not even the greatest saints or the turning of the centuries have exhausted the mysteries!
Reverence for Our Lord is the most fundamental root of Christianity. Particular devotion to the Sacred Heart began in the 11th and 12th centuries(1) although it wasn’t as widespread as it is today. St. Ignatius and his Jesuits cultivated a private devotion, notably St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart that we’re familiar with today is the fruit of Jesus’ appearances to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque from 1673-1675. He gave her the devotion of the First Friday; He also gave her twelve promises to those who were devoted to His Sacred Heart. And, He asked that souls consecrate their hearts to His, for “an act which is nothing else than an offering and a binding of oneself to Jesus Christ, seeing that whatever honor, veneration and love is given to this divine Heart is really and truly given to Christ Himself.”(2)
This is Jesus Himself; unity in a profound way. Making the Eucharist part of our lives is a foretaste of heaven—it’s the closest way we can unite ourselves to Our Savior on earth. Our entire life of faith is summed up in this profound sacrament! The Eucharist commemorates the Last Supper, yes, but in it we are drawn into the eternal sacrifice at Calvary. At the cross, we can offer our own sacrifices along with His (cf. Col 1:24). At the cross, we encounter not a distant deity but One Who willingly took on our flesh.
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).
For as completely transcendent as God is from us—“as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:9)—here is our incarnate Lord with flesh and bone, One intimately among us.
Did anyone love Jesus so much as Mary? Her vocation was that of obedience to the will of God, no matter how inconvenient or painful. She said yes to the Angel Gabriel’s good but surprising news, listened to St. Joseph when he was warned to escape to Egypt (in the middle of the night!), followed Jesus when His ministry began, and watched in agony as her Son slowly, painfully died on the cross. All the while, Mary kept these things in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19). So, she not only models humility, faith, and obedience, but also contemplation.
Putting these three devotions into our daily lives finds a lot of overlapping. As we pray to Our Lord, contemplating His Sacred Heart recalls His divine love for me. His mercy upon me. Jesus certainly came to offer salvation to all of humanity, but we should never forget that He comes to each one of our hearts to knock on the door (cf. Rev 3:20). Devotion to Mary is also very personal; on the cross, Jesus gave His Mother to St. John (cf. John 19:26-27). By extension, she became mother to the entire Church. When Mary sees any one of us, she sees her Son. Like any good mother, she knows what’s best, and ushers us right to her Son.
Another great way to foster devotion to the Sacred Heart is to enthrone an image in your house. The ceremony is simple (found here) and it’s a good, visible reminder of Who should come first in our lives.
The rosary is a great spiritual practice that covers many bases. It turns our gaze onto the life of Christ, and by extension, the Scriptures. It takes an average of 15-20 minutes: perfect for filling up the morning commute or saying as a family after dinner. In a vision to St. Dominic, Our Lady made 15 promises to those who recite the rosary. On that list is nearly every spiritual benefit and blessing. Although it can be difficult to carve out the time (as sad as that is), the practice is very worthwhile.
Devotion to the Eucharist is the capstone of the previous two, and proper love of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady should funnel us into love of the Eucharist. And, that love should manifest itself in love of the holy Mass. In addition to fulfilling the Sunday obligation, pursue the sacrament of sacraments in adoration or daily Mass. Even if daily Mass isn’t possible, there is an Act of Spiritual Communion. The more we faithfully receive the Eucharist, the more unified we are with Jesus. The more unified we are with Him, we’re better able to live out authentic Christian charity.
9. Zeal for souls
There’s insistency here. Our mission is not “take care of people” or “you should probably go make disciples of all nations.” Jesus commanded the apostles to go out and make disciples of all nations. This is a very active tenet of St. Ignatius’ spirituality, one that Jesuit after Jesuit exemplifies. St. Isaac Jogues, St. John de Brebeuf, and St. Francis Xavier all traveled across the world in their zeal for souls. Matteo Ricci died in China after spending a significant portion of his life trying to preach the Gospel. And, we cannot forget the Jesuits who stayed in Europe in the aftermath of the Reformation. They were vital in the efforts of the Counter-Reformation.
This isn’t necessarily a popular idea in our modern, Western, secular culture. It suffers under the weight of relativism, where no belief differs from another. Having a zeal for souls is keeping heaven in mind: spreading His great love and mercy for humanity. If we had a taste of what hell was like (like St. John Bosco, or the children at Fatima), we wouldn’t want even our worst enemies to end up there. And, if we had a vision of what heaven is like, we’d want everyone to end up there! Mother Teresa wrote a famous letter to her congregation, reflecting on how much Jesus thirsts for souls (see also this meditation). If we’re to love as He loves and model our lives after Him, we need to have this zeal.
Don’t forget that there are missionaries among us today. Young adult groups like NET, FOCUS, and Life Teen all have missionary programs that travel throughout the country and the world. Many religious orders still live out that charism. But you don’t even have to leave home! Every husband should have zeal for the salvation of his wife’s soul, and vice versa; and every parent should feel the same about the souls of their children.
For the nuts and bolts, I think three practical points apply:
Know the faith: How can you seek to win souls for Christ if you don’t know what you believe? Greater knowledge of the faith, the Scriptures, and the magisterial teachings of the Church will leave an impression on the heart as well as the mind.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your faith: In attracting souls to Christ, we need to take great care in our approach. I often don’t know where to start the conversation, so I try to bring up the faith in little ways. If someone asks about my weekend, I mention going to Mass (not ‘service’ or ‘church’). I’ve also taken to praying for opportunities to have conversations with friends, families, and coworkers.
Make sure your faith spills over into charity toward others: This is the tough part. How we act and speak can carry as much weight as any conversations that we have with others—for good or ill.
10. Finding God in All Things
God is in all things, though Catholics don’t understand that in a pantheistic way. Our worship is directed at the Holy Trinity, and that’s why we have Mass on Sundays instead of worshipping a tree or a mountain.
11. Examen of consciousness
We might confuse this with an examination of conscience—this pillar of Ignatian spirituality is not what we do in the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass, nor what we should do before confession. The examen of consciousness focuses on “the way God is affecting and moving us (often quite spontaneously!) deep in our own affective consciousness.”(3) This is a key in the process of discernment, and St. Ignatius urged the practice twice a day. There are variations, but the five steps of the examen are:
- 1. Prayer for enlightenment
- 2. Reflective thanksgiving
- 3. Practical survey of actions
- 4. Contrition and sorrow
- 5. Hopeful resolution for the future(4)
This has enough structure to it, but enough flexibility to lend itself to any soul. It doesn’t matter how advanced someone is in the practice of prayer or the pursuit of holiness. This places our heart before God: humbly requesting enlightenment, praying in gratitude for the things of the day, reviewing the events of the day for evidence of God’s fingerprints, having remorse for sin, and resolving to live again for Christ. On the outset, it seems very simple—yet it’s a great method of daily prayer.
The concept of “Discerment” is a familiar one in the Christian life. We hear it discussed often as something we're supposed to actively participate in—a process that requires our cooperation. The word usually crops up in conversations about our vocation in life—one of the bigger decisions we will ever make, actually. We may sometimes forget that discernment is a process that should be part of our everyday lives, however. It's not over when we've gotten married, taken our vows, etc. Every day we are called to be in communication with God, seeking His guidance in our decisions and asking Him what he desires for us and of us. St. Ignatius approached considered that there were several dynamics at work in our discernment in both big decisions and smaller scale daily decisions. These include: Consolation, Desolation, and Spirits. Ignatuis viewed discernment as the process of determining a path toward God, acknowledging that our decisions can either bring us closer to God or separate us from God. The dynamics of discernment discussed by Ignatius are beautiful and profound. A very good discussion of these can be found here.
Our spiritual lives and relationship with God would develop greatly if we considered the power of our decisions to move us toward or away from God more prayerfully. Here are some ways to do this:
Find Some Solitude.
It can be helpful to talk to trusted friends and advisors when making decisions, but ultimately, we're the one that has to determine the best course of action and take it. For this reason, it is really important to take some time alone and invite God into your decision-making process.
Be Honest with God and With Yourself.
Tell God both what you desire and what you fear at the deepest levels of your soul. We cannot surrender our wills and ourselves fully to God and say, “thy will be done,” unless we really know what we are placing on the altar. We can always tell God exactly what is in our heart of hearts, with no fear of punishment or rejection. God will help us to let go of ourselves and commend ourselves entirely to His care.
Listen and Let God Speak to You.
Be still, and silent, and pay attention closely to the ways that God is speaking to you. What kinds of thoughts, feelings, and memories might God be evoking within you to help you make your decision? Do any Scripture passages or saint's life come to mind that might enlighten your decision? Find the passage or story and read it prayerfully.
Remeber God Has a Plan for You.
You are not on your own and you are never abandoned. God has a plan for you that is founded on only the deepest knowledge of you and love for you. This is a promise He was made and will keep.
Pray for the Strength to Desire and to Do God's Will.
It is a true challenge to pray the words “thy will be done,” and mean them. We all need God to grant us the strength to make this prayer with our whole selves. Don't be discouraged if this prayer challenges you. Tell God you are afraid and need courage.
If possible, take some time before making major decisions. Pay attention to your feelings to see which direction you are being drawn to and pray earnestly.