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St. Ignatius of Loyola’s greatest gift to church was ‘Spiritual Exercises’

Although St. Ignatius of Loyola has had a profound influence on the spiritual lives of countless people over the ages, he is not as well known or beloved as some of the other saints.

That is partly because his legacy, a practical and powerful spirituality, was for too long confined to the experts – as in “for professionals only, do not try this at home.”

Inigo was born in 1491 in northern Spain. As a young man he was, according to his own testimony, “given over to the vanities of the world” – a rake, actually, writes Father James Martin in “My Life with the Saints.”

Recovering from a battle injury in 1521, Inigo had no other diversion but reading pious books provided by a relative. It was the beginning of a life-­changing conversion which eventually took him to Paris, where he changed his name to Ignatius and gathered around himself a small band of men dedicated to doing good in the world “for the greater glory of God.” They called themselves the “Company of Jesus” (Societas Jesu in Latin) and became known to their critics as “Jesu-its.”

Martin says Ignatius’ greatest gift to the church was his “Spiritual Exercises,” a handbook for spiritual growth written during his formative years in Paris.

Although Ignatius counsels a kind of spiritual “indifference” – a detachment from anything which prevents us from loving God – his spirituality is deeply rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation — “a broad-minded and life-affirming spirituality,” according to Martin, “grounded in the real-life experience of people living out their daily lives.”

A key element of Ignatian spirituality is the Examen, a series of steps by which one grows in awareness of God’s presence, gratitude for God’s blessings, sorrow for one’s sins and the desire to follow the divine way more faithfully. Martin calls it “a way of seeing God in the reality of everyday life” (or, as the motto of the Jesuits puts it, “finding God in all things”).

In a world where it is almost impossible to determine the veracity of any claim, when facts are casually dismissed as “fake news” and personal opinions masquerade as immutable truths, it has become so easy to deceive others, to deceive ourselves and to think we are deceiving God.

The Examen, this “long, loving look at the real” as Martin puts it, provides a counterbalance to self-deception. Even if we are not quite able, or not yet willing, to change what needs to be changed, I think it is no small thing to start by becoming a little more honest with ourselves and with God.

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how much time you spend reflecting on your life and your relationship to God. How would you have rated this five years ago?
  • Do you remember learning the Examination of Conscience as a child? How does this traditional examination differ from Ignatius’s Examen? If you are not in the habit of a regular Examen, can you imagine what the benefit would be? How can we prepare our children, grandchildren and students to live an “examined life”?
  • I think the important thing about living an “examined life” is …

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Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Office of Faith Formation and Education and is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.


The Ignatian Examen

The Examen is a way of reviewing our lives through the eyes of faith. Jim Manney, author of “A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer,” says it is more an attitude than a method. It can be used to review a day, a week, a month or the past year on the anniversary of an important milestone.

Here is one version of the Examen, based on Manney’s suggestions:

  • Ask God for the grace to look at this day with God’s eyes.
  • Give thanks for the gifts received during the day.
  • Review the day, looking for the ways in which God was present or absent.
  • Admit my shortcomings—what is wrong, harmful or hurtful in my life and my person.
  • Look forward to the day ahead and ask for God’s grace to live it well.

Find these resources online:

“How to Pray the Examen with Children”

“A Daily Examen for Parents”

“A Daily Examen Video for Students”