05 Editorial - St Ignatius - Patron of Retreats

posted Jul 25, 2018, 11:13 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Jul 26, 2018, 11:59 PM ]
On July 31, we celebrate the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the soldier saint and founder of the Society of Jesus. A passionate Spaniard, who was after vainglory, to win fame in war as a soldier of his earthly king, broke with his past to become a Soldier for Christ. Two books—The Life of Christ and The Life of Saints—which he read during his convalescence, while recovering from his battle injuries, transformed his life to a career of holiness.

From the age of 29, Ignatius started his pilgrimage with God—a friendship with God. He prefers to call himself a pilgrim, as he was a constant seeker. He became aware of his interior world, and names the two prominent feelings as 'consolation' and 'desolation', marking the beginning of the spiritual process of which he would become a renowned master over the years. It is through his spiritual journey from self-centredness to God-centredness that he would learn the art of discernment of spirits, and would guide many, as a lay person, to live in God, because of which he is acclaimed as the patron saint of Retreats.

He allowed himself to be guided by the Spirit, and led a life of prayer, austerity and penance, by which he was able to find God's guidance. With his personal Trinitarian God experience at Manresa Cave, for ten months he wrote the famous Church-approved 'The Spiritual Exercises' - the one-month Silent Retreat formula, which would eventually invite many for a deeper experience of God, resulting in the radical commitment to Christ in a charism of service to others.

Thus, the first apostolic Order, 'The Society of Jesus', was founded by him with his like-minded companions that he had gathered during his Master's studies in Paris, whom he called the 'Friends in the Lord'; St Francis Xavier was one of them. Ignatius was convinced that it was fundamental to the growth of the Society of Jesus to be able to easily find God in all things. The ultimate goal for Ignatius was the Greater Glory of God and the good of the other, for which he offered himself completely.

We can learn two things from St Ignatius: Examination of Conscience and Discernment. St Ignatius underlines the importance of Examination of Conscience as a non-negotiable prayer. The Five steps: 1. Thanksgiving and gratitude 2. Petitioning and trust in the Divine Providence 3. Review and constant awareness 4. Forgiveness and contrition 5. Renewal and resolving to improve are the structure of the examen.

St Ignatius, with all his experience, had devised a method of awareness to be vigilant and ever abiding in the presence of God, and to be ever attentive to the promptings of the Spirit. Examination of Conscience is also an indispensable tool to evaluate, and to renew and rejuvenate our actions and attitude to be in conformity with that of Christ's mind and heart. "Spiritual Practices, with all their riches, benefit greatly from periodic renewal." It is a means to course correction and ongoing conversion.

To be a discerning person is to be interiorly free, and to always focus on the will of God as our priority. We speak of freedom as an ultimate right of the human person. How free are we and how conditioned are we? What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Why am I doing it that way? How do I succeed in doing that? What is success, according to me? Am I doing what is right? Are our decisions humanising us? Can I do it rightly?

At every juncture in life, St Ignatius would ask "What ought I to do?" It is a very important pause and reflection we need in our life when we are faced with situations filled with choices. Our interior strength and enlightenment will help us make a proper choice. Following the interior movements and becoming aware of our self and of the world, we will be able to assess the situation well. The more we are liberated and enlightened, the better our choices will be. And the more we are God-centred, 
the more humane we become.

Fr M A Leo Anand sj has worked with Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in Afghanistan.