Ignatian Spirituality

Speaking the Same Language?

One area of our married life where my husband practices tremendous patience (or perseverance?) with me is in his sports-fan-dom and enthusiasm for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with me. Most of the time I can track which teams play which sports, but which teams play for which cities or which players play for which teams—that’s a hopeless cause.  All I can say is that it is a good thing other people track these games.

I have had a similar experience in the theological realm:

A Franciscan, a Dominican and a Benedictine walk into a bar…

If you’re anything like me, it took a while to get the punch line of these types of jokes--there are a million of them. Perhaps you have found (or find) yourself in a place of uncertainty when faced with the vast array of religious orders, their charism, and what they do. Saints dot our calendars, initials appear behind the names of sisters, brothers and priests and signify really important and distinct identities in ministry, yet unless you have encountered these different folks on a regular basis, just like my struggle to track athletes and professional sports--the lines can blur about who does what, and where.

Seeing as it is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, it seems right to spend some time with the vision and charism of the Society of Jesus’s (A.K.A. the Jesuits) founder. It is my hope to share a collection of gifts I have come to appreciate in getting to know this particular order and the ripple effect that has had on my experience of the Church. This may offer you a refresher or a new perspective on a familiar congregation.

Like many saints and mystics, Ignatius has a profound conversion story which caused his life to change so dramatically that he becomes nearly unrecognizable to those he had known previously. His recovery from a near fatal wound in battle left him with a great deal of time to read, wrestle, pray and ultimately decide that God was calling him to conversion.  I appreciate any accounting of a person who loved God well, and took an indirect route to get there. I recognize myself in these kinds of stories. The message seems clear that God does meet us where we are, and our unique paths are part of what God has in mind for our particular vocation.

4 Ways St. Ignatius’ influence continues to ‘Set the world on fire’:

  1. Education is synonymous with the Society of Jesus. Catholic middle schools, high schools and colleges abound in this country and beyond. As a person who has interviewed a great deal of young adults for post-grad service positions, my experience of those who have been Jesuit-educated is that they grasp tightly to the mission: To be men and women for others. In no uncertain terms, they say this string of words with conviction. I have been impressed with the notable call of service this group holds in common.

  2. St. Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises where he described a type of daily prayer called the Examen, which he required of his congregation  to pray, daily. The Examen is a short list of questions which lead the individual to reflect upon their day, prayerfully, with gratitude and honesty. Spiritual Direction is an obvious next step for those who pray with the Examen (and a ministry widely available to vowed and lay people alike). As Ignatius sought to ‘Find God in All Things,’ an adept spiritual director can help to shed light on experiences of encounter with God that a person may have missed at first pass. My own spiritual director of several years continues to invite me to enter the stories of Scripture with prayerful imagination—another gift of Ignatian spirituality in which participants are encouraged to allow God to speak in the depths of our collective story (Scripture).

  3. If there is one thing that folks know about the Jesuits it is that they were (and continue to be) missionaries…St. Francis Xavier, St. Peter Claver, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Paul Miki and companions, to name a few. Folks like Fr. Greg Boyle, Fr. James Martin and Fr. Gary Johnson continue to serve those on the margins—geographically and socially – and are doing a great deal to shed light on what it is to be involved in the messy work of the Gospel. If you haven’t read Tattoos on the Heart by Fr. Greg Boyle, that would be a great place to start.

  4. It is common knowledge that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to serve as the Bishop of Rome. I love the way that he has incorporated not just Jesuit values, but Catholic Christian values, into the leadership, writing and actions he has taken as Pope. It seems fair to say that never in the history of the world has the Church had the attention of the public in the way that it does now, and the person they are observing is a man—for others, who is encouraging men and women to  ‘set the world on fire’ with the love of Christ. St. Ignatius, pray for us.


‘Go and set the world on fire with the fire of Divine love.’-St. Ignatius of Loyola