For All the Saints: Ignatius of Loyola

In Congregational Sunday School as a child, I used to sing, “Jesus loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Today, I have a dear friend who signs his e-mails, “If the Catholic Church teaches it, it must be true.” This moves the argument from Protestant to Catholic terms: I know what I know, not because the Bible tells me but because the Church does.

But there’s really only one thing that can convince me of the Truth, or of Jesus’s love. If I am going to be a free and reasoning human being, the only thing that tells is my experience. I want to experience Jesus as intimately as that little child in the picture.

This is what touches me in today’s reading from the Office about St. Ignatius of Loyola. The excerpt is an anecdote from the life of the founder of the Jesuits that is recycled in Fr. James Martin’s book My Life with the Saints, which was so instrumental in my conversion. I know next to nothing about St. Ignatius or the Jesuits—I think of him as a sort of Don Quixote who woke up; I think of the Jesuits as really smart guys in black who, like me, may sometimes be too smart for their own good—but I think I understand the anecdote.

Bedridden and in search of something to read, Ignatius asked for tales of knight-errantry, but none were available. So, in spite of himself, he read “a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of saints written in Spanish.”

When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy.

Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercies, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.

“He understood his experience.” One of our great saints converted because of experience. Ignatius’s spiritual readings, unlike tales of knights and romance, corresponded to the deepest needs of his heart, leaving him not dry but joyful.

I am undertaking a book purge in my house. Now that I’ve entered my 60th year, I realize that I will never read all of the books I have accumulated around me, like boxes of Topps baseball cards from my youth. So I am giving them away, or selling them for pennies to the dollar where I can. Slowly the pile is dwindling down to a couple hundred or so, and maybe finally it will come down to a few dozen. I’m pretty sure that when the dwindling is done, the flashy Folio Society editions that I collected during a misspent youth will all have vanished. Popular novels by Cormac McCarthy and Tony Hillerman will be gone too. I’m not sure what will be left exactly, but I’m sure the saints will figure highly on the remaining list, as well as a few secular works that have always moved me, including Norman MacLean’s Young Men and Fire. 

If I remain true to the impulse that’s working now, I will hold on to those few books that correspond most deeply to the needs of my heart, the books that leave me anything but dry. I will do my best to be guided by experience.

There is a paradox waiting here, however, as our dear guest priest, Fr. Dan Hennessey suggested this morning. In his homily, he read us a prayer of St. Ignatius that I had never heard. (Repeat: I know very little about the guy.) The prayer is as follows:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

As a human being, I want to—I must—preserve and enhance my freedom and reason. I want my faith to remain solidly founded on experience. But St. Ignatius invites me to give up “my entire liberty . . . my whole will.” It’s no contradiction. When I have met Jesus as surely as that child in the picture, I will—from freedom as from reason—give him my whole will too. Or so I can pray.  

  • Maria

    Hi Webster: It has been quite a while since I have had the luxury of perusing YIMC at my leisure due to the demands of work; however, I couldn't let pass an opportunity to sing the praises of St. Igantius. How he changed my life. He helped me understand my own sin and nothingness before my Creator."I come from God.I belong to God.I am destined for God".–St. Ignatius of LoyolaThis changes everything…The prayer above is identified as the Suscipe( which means 'receive')and is one prayer, of many,included at the end of the Spiritual Exercises. We seek to give back to Him all of God's gifts that rightfully belong only to Him… “Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam et non confundas me in expectatione mea”Receive me Lord, according to your word and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in the promise you have given me. (Psalm 118:116)These are the words a monk sings three times the day he takes his vows for life. They are also the words sung by his brethren for him as his coffin is lowered into the grave – recalling a life given, a promise made.

  • Webster Bull

    Maria, THanks for stopping by. I am happy that you now have demanding and, I trust, fulfilling work!And thank you for the Suscipe. I will commit it to memory.

  • Anonymous

    I need to purge as well. I have too many books and need to pare down. Great idea.I want to read Ignatius' spiritual readings and I love the prayer you posted here.Have a blessed day,Miriam

  • Maria

    I truly love my job. I assume your book is now complete and ready for launching. Best of luck. I used to have this prayer in my office for many years, long before Ingatius helped convert and revolutionize my heart–it is one of my favorites:Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous.Teach me to serve You as You deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not ask for reward, save that of knowing that I am doing Your will. Amen.St. Ignatius Loyola

  • Webster Bull

    Maria,The book is "done" as a baby is done when conceived (that is, sent to the copyeditor) but a nine-month process of editing, design, proofreading, indexing, and printing is now beginning. Don't even know if it's a boy or a girl! :-) But "it" is due in April.

  • cathyf

    Ah, Webster, I forget sometimes that you are a baby Catholic. That prayer to me is always in song — John Foley's Take, Lord, Receive. I found you a copy of the sheet music. You can listen to a bit of the song from the album (and/or buy the mp3) on the OCP site.Like Maria, Ignatian spirituality has been a set of bedrock tools for my spiritual life. You two have gotten 2 of my favorite prayers, a third, which I repeat through the day, is from the First Principles and Foundation: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God's life in me. A few of my favorite links:Suggestions for Prayer in the Jesuit Tradition (from the New Orleans Province)Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards through Your Day By Dennis Hamm, SJ. This is an article about the Jesuit practice of "examen of consciousness" which is like an examination of conscience, but more. It is a technique where you use the day as a basis for your prayer in a structured way. If you recite Compline, it works rather nicely between the Introduction and the opening hymn.. (You can use the first prayer of compline as the first step of the examen.) Finally, Creighton University has an enormous resource in their online ministries web page, including a 34-week retreat. They have taken the traditional 3-day Spiritual Exercises and converted them to a 34 week format. You can start the retreat at any time, but if you start it on the right date it follows the liturgical year — in 2010-2011, the start date is September 19, 2010. I did this retreat last year, and I found it tremendously valuable. If I could give any piece of advice, though — start it a week early, and spend 2 weeks doing week one. I found the material I generated in week 1 provided "meat" for the entire retreat. I spent several hours a day that first week, I wasn't finished until halfway through the second week, and then I crammed to catch up! Don't worry, though, the rest of the retreat really works at 15-20 minutes per day…

  • Maria

    Thanks,Cathy ! Webster: The real work begins, after delivery, as w/ all children, right? I will keep you and your "child" in my prayers.