In the first installment of this three-part series (Niagara Anglican, Summer 2019), John wrote, “A 16th century Roman Catholic has something surprising to offer to Christians of different traditions, even today”.
One fruit of that greater understanding has been increased Protestant interest in the Ignatian Exercises. The best way to do them is during a forty-day retreat, paralleling Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. Loyola House in Guelph (ignatiusguelph.ca) is a favourite place for people to do the Exercises this way.
But you may say “I don’t have forty days to be quiet”. Loyola foresaw that problem and figured out a way for “busy people” to do the Exercises in the course of everyday life by referring us to section 19 of his instructions.
This way of doing it involves taking an hour a day, following the course of a liturgical year. Even one hour daily may seem daunting. That’s what I thought when I did this a few years back, but, to my amazement, I found the time. I told my spiritual director I didn’t know how I was managing it. She smiled mischievously, and said, “Everyone says that”. So, don’t despair.
Doing the Exercises is one way that this obscure figure from almost five hundred years ago can help us develop our spirituality. But the challenge—and the invitation—of Ignatian spirituality for Anglicans goes beyond that. There are four areas in particular where I believe he speaks to us.
One is that the Exercises require a close engagement with Scripture. Anglicans have often said to me, “I am embarrassed at how little I know the Bible”. Loyola can help.
One distinction of his approach is that students imagine themselves in the Bible story, whether it be with the shepherds at the manger, with Jesus as he leaves Nazareth and walks to the Jordan river or with Mary as she encounters the risen Jesus.
Many insights come through this contemplative engagement with scripture that might never come through academic study alone. Even familiar stories take on new dimensions.
I confess that when the Exercises required me to read the Prodigal Son for the third time, I was skeptical: “I saw something new the first two times. Give me a break! Surely there can’t possibly be anything else?” But of course, there was. Each week I saw something new every time.
Secondly, Ignatius could almost have coined the phrase which these days we tend to associate with evangelicals and some other traditions, “a personal relationship with Jesus”.
A few years back, a group of doctoral students were discussing an article critiquing this idea of “a personal relationship with Jesus”.
The author argued that it was anti-community, simplistic, other-worldly, made faith a private matter and so on. The students agreed. Then they turned to the professor, a very senior and distinguished academic — and a Jesuit, and asked: “So what did you think of the article?” He promptly replied, “I felt very sorry for the author.” Classic Jesuitism!
As Ignatius guides us through the Gospels, always the emphasis is on what you might say to Jesus and what he might say to you.
Of course, orthodox Catholic that he is, for Ignatius, that “personal relationship” is never free wheeling like that of some Protestants, but is always securely in the context of God the Trinity (as were most of Ignatius’ mystical visions), and in line with the Church’s teaching.
Yet at the heart of the Exercises is a yearning to be a more faithful and dedicated disciple of Jesus, and to learn all that he has to teach.
As Loyola wrote of his own experience, “God taught me as a schoolteacher teaches a pupil”. That’s a good perspective for Anglicans as we think about what that trendy word, “discipleship,” means these days.
John Bowen is a retired professor from Wycliffe College, where he taught evangelism from 1997 till 2013. He and his wife Deborah have been members of St John the Evangelist in Hamilton since 1997.
(Next month, John examines how Ignatius’ Exercises can help develop our own spirituality by exploring the other two areas about which he believes Ignatius can speak to us today.)