In two earlier installments (Summer and September 2019), John maintained that a 16th century Roman Catholic has something to offer Christians today and described the first two of Ignatius’ Exercises to help develop our spirituality. Now he completes the cycle by adding the other two Exercises.
The Jesuits have a strong sense of mission.
In a time when the church is being called to be more “missional,” this is worth considering. Unlike many Orders the Jesuits did not and do not build or live in monasteries. They needed and need to be flexible and nimble for the sake of Christ’s mission. According to biographer Philip Caraman, Loyola insisted that “Jesuits … must have one foot on the road, ready to hasten from place to place”.
This is why Jesuits developed the discipline known as the Examen: pausing twice during the day, noon and evening, to reflect on God’s activity in their lives.
Where have I sensed God’s presence? Where have I felt God’s absence? What is God saying to me through these experiences?
This was important enough in Loyola’s understanding of spirituality that he counselled the Jesuits that, even if they didn’t have time to pray (does that sound familiar?), they should still do the Examen! The Examen enabled them to remain open to the promptings of God’s Spirit to pursue new areas for mission, even at short notice.
The heart of Ignatian spirituality therefore is internal, personal and highly portable—though again, that is not in isolation, but is set in the context of worship in community and frequent attendance at Mass. In a day when we are learning to explore ways of “doing church differently,” this is a helpful example.
The last point of resonance came home to me in a comment by Caraman, that Loyola’s “contemporaries … saw in him, first and foremost, not a champion of Roman Catholicism, still less a hammer of heretics, but a passionate believer in holiness, reaching out with his whole being towards God.” Anglicans are not generally known for unbridled and passionate enthusiasm in their faith. They are, however, known for understatement.
If you are familiar with the Natural Church Development (NCD) program, you may be aware that, of the eight characteristics of healthy churches which NCD measures, “passionate spirituality” is almost always the weakest feature of Anglican church life.
Loyola encourages us to recognize God as the centre of our faith, to experience the love of God and to respond with love. Jesus did not come to start a new religion. There was a perfectly good one close at hand. Rather, he announced the turning point in God’s plan to make all things new, and to invite human beings to participate in that work as his apprentices. Without that focus Christianity, and Anglicanism not least, becomes just another religion—and who in the world needs that?
Despite differences of culture and theology Anglicans are increasingly recognizing in Ignatius Loyola one of the more helpful figures in the history of the church. Within that mysterious and wonderful thing called the Body of Christ, there is much to learn from him.
Maybe you would like to try doing the Exercises some time—either during a forty-day retreat or following the 19th Annotation—and discover it for yourself. Perhaps it could even be your “One Thing”?
The experience might just bring that crazy busyness under control. And — what’s more — it might help our church move with confidence into an uncertain future.
John Bowen is a retired professor from Wycliffe College, where he taught evangelism from 1997 to 2013. He and his wife Deborah have been members of St. John the Evangelist Hamilton since 1997.