Nicolas Stebbing CR on how Ignatian spirituality can help us to find God in our daily lives
Jesus is at the heart of our Christian life. That is obvious. Yet it is surprisingly difficult to keep him there. We are so easily distracted. There is so much noise, so much to o, so many things happening that he easily gets crowded out. That is natural. Human beings cannot think of more than a few things at once and we must not feel too guilty about not remembering Jesus every moment of the day. He remembers us and that is what really matters. What is more serious is that we live in a world where the values are very different from the ones Jesus wants us to keep. The messages we get from newspapers, television, internet, friends, colleagues on all sorts of issues like truth, money, sex and ambition are often very different from the Christian values we learn from the Gospel. Letting these get eroded can have catastrophic consequences in our lives.
Returning the love
What is true of Jesus is equally true of God. We know God loves us. We know we ought to love him. But much of the time he seems so far away; his love at most is like a vague cloud of benevolence. More often he just seems uninterested in us. Or he speaks only to tell us to do something, or tell us not to do something. He can still seem a very Victorian sort of Father – caring for us maybe but happy to send us off to boarding school for most of the year.
And yet God does love us, and so does Jesus. What does this mean? Well, when I love someone I think of him or her all the time. I imagine what she is doing. I remember what he last said to me. I look at photographs; I long for the next time we meet. That must be what Jesus and God feel about us (in their much bigger and infinite way!). The fact they know and love everyone does not mean they cannot know each one of us individually and passionately. That is the advantage of being infinite. How can we return that love? How we can love Jesus in something like the way we love people here on earth?
Sacraments and devotions
Catholics have dealt with this in the past in a number of different ways – frequent use of the sacraments is one: going to mass during the week, not just on Sundays can have a big effect in making God more present to us during the week. Going to confession generally clears away a lot of the muck that was obscuring our view of God, and starts us off again in a good place. Other devotions such as prayer, meditation and Scripture reading are essential too, but can be difficult to keep fresh, and can themselves become a burden if we don’t take care.
One way to prevent that happening is to see the devotion within a particular framework, a certain spirituality which helps to make a large sense of it. Some people find Franciscan or Benedictine spirituality helps a great deal to ‘join up’ the devotional parts into a coherent way of serving and loving Jesus. Others find Ignatius of Loyola does this well for a modern world. How does this happen?
Ignatius teaches us to ‘find God in daily life’. But to find him in daily life we need to find him in the Scriptures where he makes himself known. We also find him in our own histories and in Christian people we have known. Ignatius shows us we do not need to spend a lot of time in prayer each day; what matters is that we have a kind of quality time with God which centres us on him, reminds us how important he is to our life, and then lets us gets on with life. This is of course easier said than done. Learning how it is done often requires a teacher.
In recent years the Jesuits have been very generous in sharing Ignatian spirituality with other Christians. It has become a major factor in today’s ecumenical world. Ignatian spirituality is simply a way of following Jesus, of looking for him in the Gospel and of finding him in our daily lives. It is particularly good for people who live very busy lives. In that way it is a spirituality of the market place. We know Jesus spent much time in the midst of crowds of people; we can expect to find him in the midst of crowds of people today.
How can you ‘get into’ Ignatian spirituality? Many places offer talks or weekends on this and that can be a good way to start. A longer and greater commitment would be an Individually Guided Retreat over six to eight days. Having done that one may then elect to do the full Exercises of St Ignatius. At Mirfield this year we are offering a weekend on Ignatian spirituality from 26 to 28 October, and Individually Guided Retreats from 29 July to 4 August and 7–13 October. Contact the Guest brother (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to know more.
There are lots of other places which offer this approach to following Jesus. The Jesuit retreat houses – St Beuno’s, Loyola Hall, for instance – are excellent places to go. But for each of us the essential question must be ‘How can deepen my love for God?’, ‘How can I become more aware of God’s love for me?’, ‘How can I find Jesus in my daily life?’ If I can find good answers to those questions my Christian life will be rich and enjoyable and I shan’t mind the occasional hardship it brings.
If I do not answer those questions there is a real danger that my life will cease to be centred on Christ and will be centred on me and my enjoyment of the mere externals of religion. It will be shallow and meaningless and will not stand up to the demands of daily life. That often happens and it is death. ND