Saint Ignatius Loyola was born in 1491 in northern Spain to a noble family. He had dreams of becoming a knight, but in 1521 he was gravely wounded in a battle. While he was recuperating, he asked for the great stories of romance that he enjoyed reading. But the only books available to him were the stories of Jesus and the lives of the Saints. After reading these stories, he noticed that they made him very happy and aroused in him a desire to do great things, which was a deeper desire that lasted longer than the passing thrill of becoming a knight or of courtly love. Ignatius realized that these feelings were clues to God’s direction for him, and he learned how to pay attention to them and discern God’s will for his life.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. When Jesus ascended to heaven, he promised the Holy Spirit who continues to make the Lord present to people in every age. In the second reading today Paul says to the Ephesians, “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.” To know God we must attend to the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that is present in both our tradition and scriptures, and also in our own lives.
Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises–a series of prayers, meditations, and contemplative practices to help us deepen our relationship with God. This process enables us to discern God at work in our lives and helps free us from that which keeps us from doing God’s will and loving freely. The Exercises were commonly given as a thirty day retreat, with silence and solitude as a major component. Today, however, in an effort to make them more accessible to lay people, the Exercises have been adapted to a months-long process of individual prayer at home combined with periodic meetings with a trained spiritual director.
Ignatius, along with a few companions, founded a community called the Society of Jesus, also known as Jesuits. Perhaps the best known Jesuit today is Pope Francis. In the interview published in the September 30, 2013 issue of America magazine, Antonio Spadaro, S.J. asked Pope Francis, “What element of Ignatian spirituality helps you live your ministry?” Pope Francis replied: “Discernment. Discernment is one of the things that worked inside Saint Ignatius. For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely…That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others.”
~ Renee Bhatia