Skip to comments.What We Can Learn from St. Ignatius: He shows us how to pay attention
Posted on 07/31/2013 2:06:09 PM PDT by Salvation
In third grade Sr. Cordelia gave out free tickets to the movies for every student in the class. In fact, Catholic school kids throughout Chicago were offered the tickets to see a movie about a Catholic saint.
We talked Mom into driving us to the theater. What made an impression on me then was a big battle at a castle and a brave soldier wounded there. After the fights ended, not much else made sense to me. Ten years later I realized that the movie was about the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of my order, the Jesuits. Over the years I have found his story to be so important for understanding the rules for discernment of God’s will that I want to pass it on to you.
How to Listen When God Is Speaking. The battle portrayed in the old movie took place at Pamplona between the French and Spanish in 1521. Ignatius, known then by his Basque name, Inigo, was wounded in the leg by a cannon- ball. He was so admired for his bravery that the victorious French soldiers carried him to his family castle at Loyola. The broken leg had been set poorly, and it healed crookedly with an unsightly bump. He asked the doctors to straighten out the leg (without anesthetics) so that he might look good for the ladies—as being with the ladies was his favorite pastime. But infection set in and nearly killed him until he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin and St. Peter. Still, a year-long process of recuperation left him in bed, bored out of his soldier’s mind.
Inigo asked his sister-in-law for some books about battles, knights, and chivalry, but the castle had none. The only two books available were ones about the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. Inigo finally got so bored that he read them. When he wasn’t reading, he continued to imagine feats of chivalry and winning great battles, which excited him and made him feel good. Yet after a short while, he would find himself feeling flat and empty. He then went back to reading about Christ and the saints, imagining Christ as a great king and the saints as his knights and ladies of the court. This also made him feel good, but these good feelings and a sense of peace remained with him for a long time afterward. He finally noticed this pattern and decided to give up knighthood, turn to Jesus Christ, and make a pilgrimage. Eventually he founded the Society of Jesus—a task he had never anticipated and an adventure that has changed the history of the world in so many ways. This was also the way he learned about interior discernment of God’s will. As a result, he became a great teacher of discernment—both for his contemporaries and for generations ever since.
What can we learn from Inigo? First, begin with your actual life. In Ignatius’ case, he was a loyal Catholic who cared more about defending external attacks on the faith than living out its morals and piety. He needed a personal conversion from a sinful life to a virtuous one. This need to pay attention to one’s actual circumstances applies to everyone. People come from so many diverse backgrounds and experiences; we don’t have to try to make someone else’s experiences fit our own life. Simply know yourself and your own real conditions: What has been the pattern of your moral life? What kind of piety are you comfortable with? Do you pray? What do you do in prayer, and what are the subjects of your prayer?
Second, pay attention to the spiritual movements occurring in your actual life situation. Inigo felt movements of peace both when thinking about chivalry and when reading about Christ and the saints, but one peace lasted and the other did not. What movements do you experience? Are there times of great joy and consolation? Do feelings of holiness, emptiness, and desolation come into your life? What do these experiences mean, and how do we know whether God is speaking to us through them? If God is speaking, how can we discern what he is saying? To answer these questions, Inigo wrote some rules for interior discernment.
Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, as they are known, are included in paragraphs 313 to 336 of his famous book, The Spiritual Exercises. The purpose of these rules, he says, is to help people understand these diverse interior movements so as to accept the good ones and reject the bad ones (par. 313). This is easier said than done, because people experience so many different spiritual movements that they do not usually think about them or reflect on them. How often do we even identify the various spiritual movements within us? How commonly do we ignore them? Do we ever speak of them to our closest friends? Such awareness that anything spiritual is happening inside us is the first step of discernment.
Biblical scholar Fr. Mitch Pacwa is a popular speaker, writer, and TV host. You can learn more about the Ignatian approach to discernment by reading his book, How to Listen When God Is Speaking. Just visit our bookstore.
Saint of the Day Ping!
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Wonderful, wonderful essay. Thank you so much for introducing me to this scholar.
You’re quite welcome.
You can find Fr. Pacwa on Youtube. He has a cute sense of humor.
Here’s the homily given by Pope Francis to his Jesuit brothers for this feast day: