Today we celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus and author of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a course of prayer that has been so formative for so many of us.
Ignatius was changed by an understanding of God’s continual working with creation and inviting each of us to labor with Jesus. His spirituality was based on deepening a personal relationship with God and coming to see ever more deeply how God loves and works in our lives. What Ignatius realized was that not only the intellect, but also the emotions and feelings help us to come to a knowledge of the action of God in our lives. And he understood that affective knowledge is the key to conversion. As I’ve expressed it in numerous talks and in my writing, Ignatius understood that conversion is an experience of the heart, not of the head.
Based on his experience, St. Igantius wrote the Spiritual Exercises. That is something worth underscoring because from the very beginning, Ignatius talked with people out of his own experience. At the time he launched the Spiritual Exercises, he was neither a preacher nor a priest, but a relatively uneducated layperson writing about his experience of God. Joseph Tetlow wrote that Ignatius “seemed to have hoped almost from the start that he would be able to lead others through what he had experienced while reading and meditating on…the life of Christ. He kept looking for men and women to guide through his Exercises.”
This is something I understand well – it was my own experience with God, especially during the time I did the Spiritual Exercises that led to my desire to train as a spiritual director and retreat leader – the desire the help others have the same experience that I did.
St. Ignatius, prayer for us. And for all of my Jesuit friends, Happy Feast Day!