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Ignatius Loyola

Founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

Portrait of Ignatius of Loyola

There is so much that could be said about St Ignatius and the Jesuit Order that I am at a loss to know where to start. I found the focus always seemed to shift from Ignatius himself to his teachings on prayer as transmitted to us by his modern brethren and sistren. Perhaps this is also a clue to the man himself. His focus is all about God in Jesus, loving Jesus, introducing Jesus to us, not about himself. So this is a personal take. It leaves out much. Please explore Ignatius and the Jesuits for yourself. Exciting Holiness doesn’t do him justice at all. Try reading his autobiography. During the introduction to the spiritual exercises course we listened to a tape with a reading from his biography, read in the first person. So powerful. I came away with the strong feeling that I had actually met him. A strange feeling which has faded a little but not entirely. The extraordinary charisma of his personality rolls over the centuries.

I find Ignatius a paradoxical person. In life he was the ultimate macho 16th Century Spanish nobleman. Even after his conversion to Christianity he was very keen on acts of tremendous spiritual ascetism and derring-do. Very competitive, he wanted to outdo all the saints of history in acts of spiritual valour. I didn’t expect to like him so much! I have heard his Jesuit brothers today refer to him affectionately as ‘Ig’ or ‘Iggy’. I haven’t heard a Benedictine refer ‘Ben’ or ‘Benny’, or a Franciscan to ‘Fran’ or ‘Franny’. Despite being emaciated and going about in rags a lot of the time and renouncing the desires of the flesh, he had a large female fan club and following. The ladies seemed to love him. He refused to allow a women’s society to be established. There still isn’t a female Jesuit order, although there are orders of nuns whose communities are established on Jesuit lines. Jesuits, like all religious orders have had a troubled history. On my retreat they were at pains to point out that in the past perhaps there was an undue emphasis on certain unhelpful things. They have moved on and learnt a lot from their collective experience of living and teaching the spiritual exercises.

Ignatian spirituality is gentle, nurturing, peaceful. kind, compassionate. Healing. Balm for the soul. A very feminine feel to things. But also very down to earth and practical. A paradox when you think about the founder. Yes, it can also be challenging, but never destructive. It is a very sensual approach to prayer. God is found and experienced in all created things and in the experience of our senses. On retreat you may well find yourself encouraged to draw, paint and make clay sculptures. To delight in the beauty of the natural world. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit. He trained at St Beuno’s in Wales. I suppose Ignatius is most associated with a style of prayer involving an imaginative reconstruction of bible passages. Do not be put off if your experience of these type of led meditations has been disappointing. There is so much more to Ignatian spirituality than this. Here is the St Beuno’s website. Hover the mouse over the spirituality section for lots of useful information on prayer.


See a walking meditation given to me by my spiritual director on retreat at St Beuno’s.

A touch of faith Ignatius invented the ‘Spiritual Exercises’. These are done under the guidance of a spiritual director and take 30 days. There are also many variations on this theme involving shorter periods of time and retreats in daily life. The common themes of these prayer exercises are: • The guidance of a spiritual director, whose role is better described as accompanying. • Meditation on a bible passage with attention to its relevance for us now into us in our daily lives and spiritual journey. Entering into bible stories in our imagination.


Ignatian spiritual directors often focus on healing our image of God, so often negative. See Gerard Hughes SJ, ‘God of Surprises’ Chapter 3 ‘Inner Chaos and False Images of God’, and books by Dennis and Matthew Linn and Sheila Fabricant-Linn. In particular ‘Good Goats – healing our image of God’. You can read a bit of it here. The Jesuits also pay a lot of attention to discerning God’s will for our lives, and a regular examination of our lives. They offer many good tools for discernment, which have been enthusiastically adopted in recent times by business management gurus and all sorts of therapies. For a flavour of a retreat if you can't get away, and for something you could do at home or with a group of friends, have a look at: soul spark It is an Anglican course on spirituality, but is very influenced by the Ignatian style. See particularly: session 4 linked to above on images of God. All the course talks and exercises are available online and can be downloaded for free. An individually guided retreat is a profound experience. There are a number of first class Jesuit retreat houses in the UK. Do make a retreat if you can. The Jesuits have a strong on line ministry, just Google. Sacred Space is a very popular site.

Clasped hands


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