Ignatian prayer

Praying With St. Ignatius Loyola And The Jesuits

In 1491, a baby boy was born in northern Spain to a family of nobility. As he grew, he dreamed of knighthood and what a young boy would see as the romance of battle and courtly life.

God had other plans for him.

St. Ignatius of Loyola did become a soldier, but was seriously wounded. During his time of recuperation, he began studying the life of Christ and the lives of saints. This began a radical conversion for the soldier, who laid down his weapons for the cross. Eventually, St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits, an order of Catholic priests and brothers known for their intellectual endeavors and their dedication to missionary work. Pope Francis is likely the best known Jesuit in the world right now.

Another Jesuit, known for his gentle humor and popular writings is  Fr. James Martin. In his book, The Jesuit Guide to {Almost} Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, Martin explains the manner in which Jesuits pray, known as the Examen. Jesuits pray this once or twice a day, but it’s perfectly accessible to the lay person. The manner in which Jesuits pray this is long and meditative, but Martin suggests a simpler method:

Before you begin, as in all prayer, remind yourself that you’re in God’s presence, and as God to help you with your prayer.

  1. Gratitude: Recall anything from the day for which you are especially grateful, and give thanks.
  2. Review: Recall the events of the day, from start to finish, noticing where you felt God’s presence, and where you accepted or turned away from any invitations to grow in love.
  3. Sorrow: Recall any actions for which you are sorry.
  4. Forgiveness: Ask for God’s forgiveness. Decide whether you want to reconcile with anyone  yo have hurt.
  5. Grace: Ask God for the grace you need for the next day and an ability to see God’s presence more clearly.

All of us, at some point, need some structure in our prayer life to keep us focused on God and the “bigger picture,” to guard against focusing our prayers on ourselves and not God. Perhaps you will find the structure you need in praying with St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits.

If you’d like to know more about this form of prayer, visit this website.


For the Greater Glory of God: The Jesuits

475 years ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola became the leader of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. Their motto, Ad majorem Dei gloriam, translates to For the greater glory of God.  Over the centuries, the Jesuits have become known for their scholarship and their bold evangelization. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest.)

This boldness is no surprise, given their founder. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier who brought the fervor of battle into his spiritual life. He developed a series of exercises to help the men he led develop in their relationship with God, just as a commander might help those who serve under him to become stronger soldiers. The Spiritual Exercises continue to help Jesuits form their priestly lives. One writer describes this spirituality as practical:

Ignatian spirituality is adaptable. It is an outlook, not a program; a set of attitudes and insights, not rules or a scheme. Ignatius’s first advice to spiritual directors was to adapt the Spiritual Exercises to the needs of the person entering the retreat. At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is a profound humanism. It respects people’s lived experience and honors the vast diversity of God’s work in the world. The Latin phrase cura personalis is often heard in Ignatian circles. It means ‘care of the person’—attention to people’s individual needs and respect for their unique circumstances and concerns.

The Jesuits’ strong desire to evangelize has sent them all over the globe. Many have been martyred in their desire to “set the world ablaze” with Christ, as their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, enjoined them. Fr. Walther Ciszek, S.J., an American, joined the Jesuits in the early 20th century. He volunteered to go to Russia, even as the Soviet regime was taking control. It was not an easy time for the young priest.

He didn’t mind the hard work and harsh conditions of that camp in the Ural Mountains. But he was frustrated and disillusioned to find no outlets for his priestly ministry. It was “almost a non-apostolate,” he said, for even the Catholic workers feared Communist informers and refused to speak or hear of God. And so, as Ciszek and a fellow Jesuit said their furtive Masses in the forest, he wondered: “Have all my work and sacrifices been for nothing? Should I give up?”

He needn’t have worried. Ciszek was soon arrested as a spy, and sentenced to the infamous Siberian Gulag for 15 years. It was here that Ciszek found his mission field.

[I]n this nightmare realm, Fr. Ciszek knew the joy of bringing Christ to his fellow prisoners. In secret, he baptized, heard confessions, tended the sick and dying, gave homilies and retreats, said Mass, and distributed Communion. With quiet heroism, he built “a thriving parish,” though it cost him. He was punished with assignments to the dirtiest work. He shoveled coal for fifteen hours straight, hauled logs out of a frozen river, crawled through dangerous mine tunnels, and dug sewer trenches with a pickaxe in subzero temperatures.

“How did you survive?” people asked him later. “God’s providence,” he always replied. And abandoning himself to this providence — to God’s will, as revealed in each day’s situations — was his priority.

Many people, including lay persons, have over the centuries found Ignatian spirituality helpful in their own lives. The many brave Jesuit priests stand as awesome examples of awareness of Christ in the world and a strong desire to serve others.


radical prayer

Radical Prayer

St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest.) The order is known for its great scholarship and truly brave priests. While many Jesuits teach, the Jesuit order is, at its heart, a missionary order, charged with taking the Gospel to those who do not know it.

The Jesuits owe much of their spirit and calling to their founder. St. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier from a noble family. As a young man he dreamed of great deeds as a knight, but injuries forced him to abandon this. While recuperating, he began to deeply contemplate what God wanted of him.

One of the prayers St. Ignatius left us is called the Suscipe, or the Radical Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

No wonder it’s called the “Radical Prayer!” What a scary thought: that one should turn over everything to God! My free will, my memory … everything? Pray that I abandon my wants, desires and dreams for the will of God? Doesn’t that seem, well, just a little … crazy?

Perhaps. Lent is a good time to meditate on this prayer, even if one is not quite ready to pray it in earnest. We are Christians, after all: we bear the name of Christ because we choose to follow Him. And following Christ means a radical choice: picking up our cross, going wherever He sends us, becoming fishers of men.

St. Ignatius’ prayer acknowledges a simple truth: everything we have belongs to God. All the prayer says is, “I know that all I am is because of You, God. I want to use what You’ve given me, what You’ve made me, to do what You have planned for me.”

Even if we are not quite ready to pray this radical prayer, Lent is a good time to start asking God to lead you to it. What do you have planned for me, God? What is your will for me? How can I give everything to You, God?