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St Ignatius of Loyola: Master of Prayer

St Ignatius of Loyola: Master of Prayer

Once on a retreat I was finding prayer difficult. I felt dull, held back, resistant. I was praying with a passage from the Gospel of Mark, one of those simple passages about Jesus teaching and healing the crowds.

As I was meditating on the Gospel passage, I imagined myself in the crowd. Suddenly Jesus approached me and took me by the hand. He started to walk with me so fast down the road that I could barely keep up. Just the two of us were on this lightning journey. I realized I couldn’t keep up because I didn’t want to go with Jesus. I was surprised to realize that deep down I really didn’t want to be with him at all. The more I dragged my feet, however, the faster he walked. As I stayed with this feeling of being dragged along, I realized Jesus was actually dragging me past my lazy resistance.

Finally, I ran out in front of him and held up my hand for him to stop. I didn’t say a word. I turned around and set off in a dead run in the direction Jesus had been taking me. In an instant, Jesus ran ahead of me and I followed him once more, but this time I ran after him with joy. From that moment on my life has never been the same.

The heart of the prayer taught by Ignatius is closely tied to an imaginative praying of Scripture and to a keen awareness of our feelings. By paying close attention to our experiences and our feelings, we can discover how God reveals himself to us in the movements of our hearts and minds. Through a contemplation that involves our whole being, we directly communicate with the Lord who reveals himself to us.

The life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is intricately bound up with the method of contemplation, spiritual growth, and examen that has become his legacy to us.

Born in 1491 in the Basque region of Spain, young Ignatius dreamed of winning women and having a brilliant military career. Both came to an abrupt end, however, when, at the age of thirty, he was wounded in battle. Ignatius was sent to his family’s castle in Loyola to recuperate.

There, Ignatius had plenty of time for reflection during the long months of convalescence. The seeds of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius and his understanding of discernment were born in those days.

After receiving a vision of the Blessed Virgin, Ignatius made a pilgrimage to venerate her at Montserrat. He then settled in Manresa, where in 1522 he made a rough draft of his Spiritual Exercises. The feast of the Assumption in 1534, Ignatius and six companions, including Saint Francis Xavier, gathered in a chapel in Paris’ Montmartre. There they vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to Palestine to preach the Gospel. Their plans were impeded, however, by hostilities between Venice and the Turks. The group went to Rome instead, where Ignatius was ordained a priest in 1538 and the Society of Jesus was approved two years later.

Saint Ignatius’ own personal experience and the directives of prayer that he left as a legacy to all those who pray rest upon some basic foundations. Some of these foundations are:

  • In prayer, focus on God’s great love for you and on how that love is made manifest in the experiences of your life.
  • Observe your heart carefully, keeping in touch with the innermost part of yourself as it lives before God’s face.
  • In this prayer of intimacy with the Lord you will overcome estrangement and illusions.

Ignatius’ deepest desire was to seek and to do God’s will. In this quest, the feelings of his own God-centered heart were decisive. His contemplation led him to live in daily imitation of Jesus, to serve as an apostle in whatever way God desired. As we grow in this prayer, our hearts are stretched beyond what we ever thought possible: we are so transformed, so identified with Jesus, that we become, we are, Jesus in and for the world.

by Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

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Inspiration, Prayer and Holiness

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