Centered on the Eucharist, Jesuit spirituality seeks God in all things and every moment.
Ignatius of Loyola (whose feast we celebrate July 31) was a layman when he formulated his Spiritual Exercises and, with those exercises, formed another six laymen who made up the kernel of the nascent Society of Jesus. Since Jesuit spirituality develops persons who are contemplative in action, it is a lay spirituality, for those busy with our world. For the Creator God is present and active in all things — bugs, birds and beasts — and so can be found and served in all our actions.
All Christian spiritualities are centered on Jesus Christ. Like Ignatius, Jesuits desire to be magnanimous companions and servants of their Lord Jesus, whose heroic life led to the triumph of his resurrection. Imitating — rather, reliving — the ministry, death and resurrection of our Lord is the center of Jesuit spirituality. Characteristically Jesuit spirituality uses the sensory powers of our imagination. Jesus is accessed through Ignatian contemplation, in which the one praying imaginatively enters as an actor into the Gospel scene contemplated. This renders Jesus more vibrantly present, and enables one to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.
This use of imagination engages one’s whole being in our material world. And so the Jesus encountered is not just the historical Jesus, but the cosmic Christ, who made all things and is the goal of our evolving universe. Jesuit spirituality is world-affirming, so that the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin came to see Christ as the beginning and the end of evolution. But the cosmic Christ is present not only in nature; he is present in the cry of the poor with whom Jesus identified himself. Jesuit spirituality seeks the greater glory of God, which is humanity fully alive. Thus it is a spirituality for those whose occupation is a ministry of health, wealth and welfare. Jesuit spirituality leads to a mysticism not of marital union with God, but of service.
A few footsteps from the center
But Jesuit spirituality is deeply aware of the mystery of evil which seeps into culture to intensify the baser human tendencies to selfishness and sin. That evil spirit always disguises itself as the good, and so discernment is needed. Being centered in Christ’s identity and mission is what gives us spiritual freedom from the attachments of this world and so enables us to see and choose the authentic good. Correlative to this contemplative attachment to Christ is our daily examination of consciousness, in which we are aware of where God has been present during our workday, and also aware of how we habitually push aside Christ’s program for our own short-term gains. We know we are sinners, yet called to be companions of Jesus on his mission to save the world.
Because of this mystery of evil, human life is warfare between the forces of evil and the Spirit of peace. Jesuit spirituality necessarily sees its faith and prayer linked to the promotion of justice rooted in Christ’s love. Jesus, and Ignatius, understood that God’s peace and justice exact a price for those who work for it. Ultimately, one committed to Christ has to come to a desire to imitate Christ even in his sufferings, so as to bring his Spirit to birth in our world.
Finally, at the core of Jesuit spirituality is the Eucharist. Ignatius himself had mystical experiences of Christ present in the Eucharist, and celebrated Mass with tears of consolation. The Eucharist connected him with the Creator whom he saw in the stars above his residence. It was the ritual action in which he discerned how to live and what to do. The Eucharist so unites us with Christ that we are free to discern his presence and action in our world. Bread and wine as body and blood of the cosmic Christ unite heaven and earth, individual and community — the whole world where we find Christ every minute. This center of Jesuit spirituality is only a few footsteps away in the nearest church.
Jesuit Father John Topel is pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Port Townsend.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2015