Ignatius of Loyola: a saint for every day


By Kathy Berken
On Deck

Why is St. Ignatius of Loyola so important? Born in 1491 in Loyola, Spain, Ignatius was a soldier before he experienced a profound religious conversion. In 1540 he founded the Society of Jesus, known more commonly as the Jesuits. His feast day is July 31.

His down-to-earth, practical spirituality attracts me. When two Jesuit novices would stay with us each year during Lent at the L’arche community in Clinton, I witnessed firsthand how they put their faith into action. This visit was intentionally timed by their novice master. Their first year of formation included a semester of introduction to St. Ignatius and then an intensely focused 30-day retreat based on St. Ignatius’ book, “The Spiritual Exercises.” After that, the young men were ready to get out there and serve.

I remember meeting novice Dan as he walked into our house at Arch III that first afternoon. The upstairs toilet was plugged and I was in the middle of helping the core members make dinner. Dan said hello and asked what he could do. I smiled and said, “Victor’s toilet is plugged. He’ll show you where it is.” Dan happily agreed to the work. Similarly, when I was at Arch I, novice Joe had just begun his Lenten service with us. Bob accidentally dropped a Corel plate on the hard tile floor. It shattered into a million shards. I held a roll of paper towels and a bucket of water for Joe to pick up the sharp slivers. He looked up with a smile and said, “This wasn’t in the Jesuit brochure!” Joe was one of our most faithful servants.


Ignatian spirituality focuses on finding God in all things, everywhere, all the time. The website ignatianspirituality.com tells us: “An Ignatian spiritual life focuses on God at work now. It fosters an active attentiveness to God joined with a prompt responsiveness to God. God calls; we respond.” When I was moving from Arch I to Arch III, Jesuit novices Tom and Kevin did not hesitate to pack up all my things, haul them over and unpack them for me. I did not even have to ask. They found the presence of God in everyday things. This is at the core of Ignatian spirituality and is the heart of “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius,” which is sometimes called a “retreat in everyday life.” It can be made as the traditional 30-day getaway retreat or spread out over several weeks or months, a choice made by many who cannot afford 30 days away from home.

Foundational to the exercises is the prayer called “The Examen,” which one typically prays upon retiring each night. As you review your day, you reflect on these five things: 1) become aware of God’s presence; 2) review the day with gratitude; 3) pay attention to your emotions; 4) choose one feature of the day and pray about it; and, 5) look toward tomorrow.

Ignatian spirituality respects people’s lived experiences and honors the vast diversity of God’s work in the world. The Latin phrase “cura personalis,” often heard in Ignatian circles, refers to the care of the individual person, so that particular attention is paid to people’s individual needs and respect for their unique circumstances and concerns. A spiritual director trained in Ignatian spirituality starts where you are, not where they are.

One of the most famous prayers of St. Ignatius is this: “Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.”

 (Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at L’Arche in Clinton  — The Arch from 1999-2009.)

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