Saint Ignatius Loyola
St. Ignatius came from a family of minor nobility in Spain’s northern Basque region and, in his early years, had dreams of personal honour and fame.
All that began to change one day in the spring of 1521. Ignatius was 30 years old at the time, a Knight at the Spanish Royal Court. Leading his fellow fighters into a battle against the French that they were sure to lose, he was struck by a cannonball in the leg. During a difficult recovery, in his family’s house, Ignatius asked for books about chivalry, his favourite reading. But nothing was available. He had to settle for a book about the life of Christ and biographies of the saints and he found these unexpectedly riveting.
St. Ignatius had always dreamed of imitating heroic deeds, but now, the heroes had names like Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena. Ignatius also noticed something extraordinary happening to him. God, he realized, was working within him — prompting, guiding, inviting. In later years, as he travelled far and wide, he realized too that God was similarly at work in the lives of all people, in the everyday events of the world.
During the 1530s, St. Ignatius Loyola began writing about the emotions that he experienced in everyday life — feelings of gratitude or anguish, consolation or sadness. Those meditations eventually became the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, first published in 1548.
The Spiritual Exercises is a compilation of meditations, prayers, and other contemplative practices. The Spiritual Exercises is a handbook, especially for use by spiritual directors who accompany and guide people through this dynamic process of reflection. The goal of the Spiritual Exercises is to help people develop their attentiveness, their openness, and their responsiveness to God.
The Constitutions were written by St Ignatius in collaboration with others, notably his secretary Juan de Polanco, over a number of years following the Society’s arrival in Rome. The writing exhibits both an extraordinary trust in God’s charismatic guidance and a realistic awareness of the need for structure. The ten parts deal with the successive stages of incorporation into the Society, with its life in mission, and with how it can be organized and governed so that it can keep moving forward in the divine service.
Finding God in All Things
The mission of Saint Ignatius and his companions was born in personal experience of God. This encounter with a loving God is at the heart of our mission as we reach out to others and live the gospel. Our spirituality is grounded in the conviction that God is active in our world. The spiritual path laid out by Ignatius helps us discern God's presence, to find God in all things, reaching out to a diverse, grace filled yet imperfect world. We bring this spirituality into the wider human context as we strive for social justice, peace and dialogue. Being a contemplative in action means that our active life feeds our contemplative life and our contemplative life informs our active life.
Discernment is about finding the voice of the Spirit of God speaking to us in the ordinary and practical details of our lives. It is a key gift that St. Ignatius brought in the Spiritual Exercises. By trying always to listen to the Spirit, without being attached to our own desires and ideas, Jesuits wish to find where the Spirit of God is leading and respond with humility and joy.
In our apostolic work, the Society engages in Discernment in Common to reach decisions about important apostolic issues. Those involved pray and reflect on the decision to be made and then share together the fruits of prayer. The major superior or Director of the work then makes the final decision. A special office for Discernment in Common and Apostolic Planning at the General Curia promotes this process.