In a few days we will be celebrating the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and the man who tried to put his spiritual experience at the service of others through his writings and through the foundation of the Jesuit order. Though he lived in the 16th century (1491-1556), his spirituality – the way he understands and speaks of God, prayer and our place in the world – still sounds very relevant to us 500 years later. These few blogs will present some central points of his spirituality.
1. Putting order in one’s life
Cardinal Martini, the Jesuit bishop of Milan who passed away a few years ago, wrote extensively on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, and he used to leave copies of some of his books on his waiting room table. One was called Putting order in my life, (published in English with the title ‘Letting God free us’) and he once said that many, priests and lay people, would pick up this book and tell him: ‘This is what I really need, more order in my life’.
The book’s title comes from Ignatius himself, who used this terse phrase to describe the objective of the Spiritual Exercises. Five centuries later, it still strikes a chord in the heart of many of us.
An ordered life is not necessarily an organised life, but one with clear priorities, where everything is given its due importance, a sort of first things first. Our lives are disordered when the way we live shows that we are giving first place to what does not deserve it, at the expense of what is more important.
For most of us life is not simple, we have multiple responsibilities, and are pulled in many directions at the same time. How should I use my time, my energies? How much money do I really need? Am I giving too much importance to my work, at the expense of my relationships? Am I becoming slowly addicted to work, or to social media, or to the internet? Am I happy with my prayer life?
Such questions can be a source of endless worry, and even of conflict within myself and with those closest to me, so that trying to achieve real order in my life is worth the effort. Very often the question lies not in the thing in itself but its place in my list of priorities. Money, power, popularity, work, pleasure are all good things in themselves but they will bring disorder into my life if I give them more importance than they deserve.
An ordered life requires real decisions, made in freedom, but it also needs some basic principle around which we can organise our priorities. For Ignatius this basic organising principle is God’s will for us. This will is not something we discover once and for all, it is really a life-long quest, a dynamic task. In fact, Ignatius understood his own life, and that of others, as a pilgrimage, in which surprises always feature.
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1991), 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus