If you’ve struggled to develop your Christian spirituality, Ignatian spirituality might be what you’re looking for. But what is Ignatian spirituality?
In this Ultimate Guide to Ignatian Spirituality, I will teach you the basics of this approach and how it can help you develop a practical spirituality, build a personal relationship with Jesus, and how to discern God’s will for your life.
Table of Contents
What is Ignatian Spirituality?
Ignatian Spirituality is a Christian spirituality based on the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a Catholic saint who lived in Spain in the 16th century – a time of great upheaval in the Christian church. At a time when the church was splintering due to theological differences, Ignatius took a back-to-basics approach which focused on developing a more personal relationship with Jesus.
Ignatian spirituality is a very practical spirituality – one that can be adapted by every Christian into their everyday life. While some other forms of spirituality focus on finding God through deeper contemplation and meditation, Ignatian spirituality focuses on finding God in the here and now.
The modern world makes it difficult to connect with God, but this 500 year-old approach can help you build a stronger, more personal relationship with Jesus. It is meant to be adapted to our daily lives, and it can easily be applied to your life today.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
The term “Ignatian Spirituality” comes from its namesake: St. Ignatius of Loyola, a man who was alive during a lot of turmoil in the church. Through his own experience, he learned how to connect with God and understand God’s will for our lives.
Key Elements Of Ignatian Spirituality:
The Principle and Foundation of Ignatian Spirituality
Simply put, St. Ignatius set some basic rules on how we are to approach life. This is what I call “directional faith.” What is that direction? Simply put, Christ. Our approach, our goals, and our lens for seeing the world must all be oriented towards Christ. Dive deeper into the Principle and Foundation.
The Spiritual Exercises
The culmination of a life’s work, St. Ignatius compiled “The Spiritual Exercises” from his personal journey. Have you ever been on a Christian retreat before? That might be thanks to the work of St. Ignatius. The retreat focuses on reorienting your life towards Christ, and he designed it to adapt to your everyday life.
Finding God in All Things
Deeper spirituality requires understanding where God is in our lives. In the eyes of St. Ignatius, He is everywhere, but we simply might not recognize Him. Finding God in all things requires changing our perspective on the world.
Living “For the Greater Glory of God”
The phrase “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” (AMDG) is a Latin phrase that is the motto of the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits), which was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It translates to “For the Greater Glory of God.” The intention was to ensure that everything we do, big or small, should not be for our glory but God’s. Are you living for the greater glory of God?
Discerning God’s Will
One of St. Ignatius’s most well-known concepts is the Discernment of Spirits, a method for discerning God’s will for your life. Ignatius recognized the push and pull of the spirits in his life and how that related to his relationship with God. He soon realized that by understanding where he was spiritually, he could discern what God was calling him to do. Have you found God’s will for your life?
Learn to discern God’s will for your life.
Another Latin phrase, “cura personalis” translates to “care for the entire person.” As we go out into the world sharing the Gospel, Ignatius challenges us to care for the whole person. We cannot simply help others on a surface level, we must be willing to understand everything about them to truly know the ways we can help.
His most famous prayer is called the Daily Examen. Like all of Ignatius’s teachings, his approach to prayer is practical, as well. He knew that we would not all be natural contemplatives – able to spend hours in prayer contemplating the deeper mysteries of God. Instead, he called us to be “contemplatives in action,” learning to discern as we go through life. He does this through imaginative prayer and a process of reviewing your day spiritually.
So What is Ignatian Spirituality, Then?
It’s a way of life. It’s not a spirituality meant to be practiced alone in your private prayer space in the quiet of the night. It’s a practical spirituality that we are meant to take out into the world with us. It’s meant to change every moment of our lives by changing the way we see, feel, and interact with the world around us.
Who was St. Ignatius of Loyola?
You may have seen the name of St. Ignatius of Loyola before – possibly as the name of a university, publisher, or ministry. But who was St. Ignatius of Loyola? St. Ignatius of Loyola was born Íñigo López de Loyola in the Basque country of Spain – sometime around 1491. He was raised to be a courtier but eventually went to the military.
After being injured in batttle, Ignatius had a great conversion of faith that led him to change his life dramatically. Putting down his sword, he became a pilgrim who devoted his life to God. His experiences as a pilgrim led him to write The Spiritual Exercises, which he devoted his life to teaching.
In time, Ignatius drew loyal followers, and when that group began to formally organize itself, they became the Society of Jesus (better known today as the Jesuits).
St. Ignatius, the Soldier
St. Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier – first for the military and then for Christ. He was fearless. It was this that first drew me to him.
Born as Íñigo López in the Basque Country of Spain, he dreamed of becoming a great warrior to gain wealth, fame, and to “win the girl.” His military career was going pretty well until a cannonball put a stop to all of that.
Still, not one to give up, Ignatius went through multiple surgeries to try and repair his leg. This was not simply functional, either. He did not like the way his leg looked – fearing that it would impact how others looked at him – so he went through many grueling procedures for cosmetic reasons alone.
The Conversion of Ignatius of Loyola
All of the surgeries left Ignatius with time on his hands as he recovered. Despite his leg, he still dreamed of becoming a great knight and winning over the fair maiden. These thoughts continued to drive him, but he still needed something to do.
In the castle where he stayed, he was given two books to read on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. Over time, he began imagining his own life as a saint. Instead of becoming a great knight, what if he became a great saint instead?
And then he started to notice something.
This was the beginning of the Discernment of Spirits.
Ignatius Gives His Life to Christ
Called to a new path, Ignatius set out to make a new life for himself. It began at Montserrat where he left his sword behind and took on the clothes of a pilgrim. He moved on to Manresa where he served the poor and lived in a cave. He begged for his food and spent his time serving those less fortunate than himself.
During this time, he began to formulate his greatest work: the Spiritual Exercises. Meant as a guide for a retreat, it contains many of the core principles that Ignatian Spirituality is known for today. Through his own experiences of prayer, fasting, and meditation, he developed a guide to help others enrich their relationships with Christ in the same way.
Ignatius and Education
When I first learned about Ignatius, another thing that drew me to him was his pursuit of education. At the time, I was an adult student myself – choosing to go back to school after my days in the military. So I instantly identified with Ignatius’s decision to do the same.
Ignatius actually took it a step further. He still needed a more elementary education, so he went back to grammar school and took classes with kids much younger than him (he was in his 30s at this point). Still, he had the humility to do this so that he could move on to pursuing a higher theology degree.
But why was this education necessary?
The Spanish Inquisition. Yes, that Inquisition – famous for burning heretics at the stake.
During this time, Ignatius continued to develop his Spiritual Exercises. When he arrived in Paris to pursue a Master’s degree, he made an impression on some of his fellow students. They included men who would go on to become saints themselves, such as Saints Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, who were his roommates at school.
Ignatius, Founder of the Jesuits
Together, Loyola and his new companions went on to take vows to continue the work Ignatius had started. Together, they formed the Society of Jesus – or as it is more commonly known, the Jesuits. While many groups are named after their founder (the Dominicans, the Franciscans, and so on), Ignatius wanted the focus to always remain on Jesus and not on himself.
The group elected Ignatius to be the first Superior General of the order, much to his chagrin. He wanted to continue serving the people, but through careful discernment, he realized that this is what God was calling him to do.
The Jesuits continue serving the church to this day. They are well known for their educational ministries – especially the many universities that they have founded (many credit them for inventing modern university structure). They are also known for their social justice ministries (cura personalis) and of course for their many retreat houses (to offer the Spiritual Exercises and other similar retreats).
The First Principle and Foundation of Ignatian Spirituality
Faith with a Purpose
Have you struggled to find purpose in your Christian life? Why were you created? What is God’s will for your life? How do you get there? What is the purpose of faith? Ignatius’s “First Principle and Foundation” gives us that faith with a purpose:
“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”
—–-St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises
Ignatian Spirituality and Our Purpose
We are Created to Praise, Reverence, and Serve God
Could it be any clearer? St. Ignatius laid out our Christian purpose in one simple statement. God created us for praise, reverence, and to serve him. It’s that simple.
But it’s not, is it?
We sometimes struggle with being able to actually accomplish this. It may seem straightforward enough, but ensuring that we do this every moment of every day can be a challenge. Realize that this is a goal and not a destination. We must continue to strive to this aim, even if we are not able to ever truly reach this goal.
Everything Else Draws Us Closer to God
Everything else created on the earth, then, has been put here to help us accomplish that first goal. It is here to assist us in reaching the goal of praising, reverencing, and serving God.
The people we meet, our circumstances, and the world around us can draw us closer to God. Even the obstacles we face, the challenges we overcome, and the distractions in life are all meant to help us get there.
How can that be? How can the difficulties of life draw us closer to God? It would be easy to have faith if life always went our way. What Ignatius is challenging us with is recognizing that our ability to overcome and prosper – regardless of our situation or struggles – is a key component to a deeper faith. Faith comes not only in the best of times, but it is forged and strengthened in the worst of times.
Let Go When Needed
When the other aspects of our lives draw us closer to God, we should embrace them for the gift they are giving us; however, if they are pulling us away, we must let them go.
Most of the time, this is easy. If sin or vice is drawing us away from God, we know that we need to let it go. But other things will come into our lives that pull us away from God that make us hold on.
For instance, your career may be taking off, but the time required leaves little time for God. You need to let it go. You may love someone, but it’s a toxic relationship that pulls you away from God. You need to let them go. You may have a successful ministry, but your pride in your work is pulling you away from God. You need to let it go.
There are times when seemingly good things – things that should draw you closer to God – are not. We can attempt to change that, but if it doesn’t work, it is time to move on. It is time to let go and find a new path that leads us back to God.
Ignatian Spirituality and Indifference
Ignatius calls us to be indifferent to created things, and as challenging as it may be, it is what changed my life! This bold idea calls us to be indifferent to:
- Health vs. Sickness
- Riches vs. Poverty
- Honor vs. Dishonor
- Long Life vs. Short Life
- And any other duality
How does this work?
If our striving for “perfect health” leads us to vanity, it is pulling us away from God. Meanwhile, if our struggle with cancer brings us to our knees in prayer, it is drawing us closer to God. If our wealth leads us to put our own needs first, it is pulling us away from God. If we put our faith and trust in God due to our poverty, it is again drawing us closer.
Of course, we can change all of that, too. If we use our wealth to help those in need or teach others how to live a healthy life, that can be good. However, if we lose faith in our battle with cancer or give up in the face of poverty, that is not good.
It’s not about what is in front of us, but about how we respond to it that matters! The purpose of everything is to draw us closer to God. When you evaluate your life, what is drawing you closer to God? What is pulling you away? Do an honest assessment – the answers might surprise you!
Finding God in All Things
Finding God in all things is an important part of Ignatian Spirituality. In St. Ignatius’s First Principle and Foundation, he tells us,
“All the things in this world are gifts of God, created for us, to be the means by which we can come to know him better, love him more surely, and serve him more faithfully.”
—–St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises
From that quote, we gain two important ideas:
- Everything in this world is a gift from God
- Those gifts serve to bring us closer to God
Everything in This World is a Gift from God
Generally, we look at particularly good things in our lives as gifts from God. We see our talents as a gift from God. We see our spouses and our kids as gifts from God. We see a successful career or a nice home as gifts from God. And they are. But in reality, as Ignatius tells us, “all things in this world are gifts from God.”
Everything. Yes, everything.
The pothole that took out your tire this morning is a gift from God. Your loud neighbor is a gift from God. Your mother who calls a little too often is a gift from God. The pimple that showed up hours before your first date is a gift from God.
While those small daily disturbances seem trivial, even the larger challenges in life can be gifts from God – if we approach them in the right way. A broken relationship can be a gift from God. A medical diagnosis can be a gift from God. The loss of a job, home, or financial security can be a gift from God.
Sounds crazy, I know.
Gifts that Bring Us Closer to God
How can our struggles be a gift? Our triumphs can only come from our struggles. Without a struggle, a triumph means far less. Our struggles, then, are a gift in that they present an opportunity for us to overcome them. Every champion needs a battle.
Each moment of our lives is a gift from God. Whatever we may be facing, whether it is celebrating the birth of a child or mourning the loss of a loved one, we are given a choice to follow Christ. We willingly pick up our own crosses in times of sorrow and celebrate the Resurrection with Him in our times of joy.
When our burdens become heavy, Jesus helps us carry the load. When joy comes into our lives, Jesus magnifies their brilliance.
The purpose of Ignatius telling us to find God in all things is to help us see that we may be receiving gifts that we did not recognize. Sometimes, we find God in the mundane routines of the day that allow our minds to wander off to more heavenly things. We might also find God on the good days that help us to appreciate how wonderful life is. Or we might even find God in our tragedies as we begin to recognize His healing presence.
3 Reasons for Finding God in All Things
Ignatius mentions three reasons that we gain from our search to find God in all things:
To Know God Better
How better to know Christ than to carry crosses of our own? To understand the depth of God’s love, carrying our own crosses offers us the opportunity to meet our struggles with the faith, hope, and the confidence that Jesus carried to the cross.
Love God More Surely
Life has a way of distracting us when things are going well. It also can lead us down a prideful path. Finding God in both the best and worst parts of life allows us to be thankful for the good that has come our way and be thankful for God when things come against us. In that way, we begin to love, trust, and have a deeper faith in God.
Serve God More Faithfully
When we make God a “Sunday thing” or a “Church thing,” our faith is often left the moment we step out the church door. By recognizing God in all things, we begin to serve Him beyond the church doors and out into the world. When we see that God is all around us, every moment becomes another opportunity to serve our Creator.
Did You Find God in All Things?
Spend some time reflecting back on the past week, month, or year to find God in your life. Look for those small daily moments when He was there to lift you. Remember those obstacles that seemed unsurmountable. Cherish those joys that came from nowhere.
God has been with you every step of the way, from the day of your birth until now. How can you help be God’s presence in the world today?
for the Greater Glory of God (AMDG)
We would all like to assume that we are living for the greater glory of God, but are we? What does it even mean to live for God’s glory? Is it even attainable?
Origins of AMDG
The acronym AMDG is an acronym for “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam”, which means “For the Greater Glory of God.” It is the motto of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits as they are more commonly known, which was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
It’s a great tagline, but what does it really mean?
As you begin to learn more about Ignatian Spirituality, you’ll find that it is a spirituality focused on daily life as much as it is the bigger milestones. As Christians, we often focus on the waypoints of our journey – not realizing that every step we take is an opportunity for a deeper, richer faith.
But don’t worry, it’s not reserved just for Jesuits; we can live for the greater glory of God, too.
The Greater Glory of God in Daily Life
It begins with each moment, with each decision, and with every fork in the road. We are continually given an opportunity to live for the greater glory of God. Whether we accomplish it or not is up to us.
We don’t have to wait for the larger moments of life to live for God – there are plenty of opportunities right in front of us. Saying a kind word to someone in need gives the greater glory to God. “Paying it forward” at the drive-thru gives the greater glory to God. Giving back some of our time to serve others gives the greater glory to God.
Of course, we can give the glory to God in bigger ways, as well. We can dedicate our lives in ministry and service to the church. We can choose to remain chaste until we get married. We can continually share a portion of our wealth with those in need. There are ways that we can share God’s glory in more ways than I could possibly list.
WWJD vs. AMDG – Before “What Would Jesus Do?” Was Cool
So what would Jesus do? First and foremost, He would give the glory to God the Father. Everything Jesus did was to that end. He healed the sick and gave the glory to God. He fed the hungry and gave the glory to God. Jesus nailed Himself to the cross and gave the glory to God.
Unfortunately, our natural inclination is generally self-centered. Our first reaction is to serve our own needs, wants, and desires. We are drawn to sin this way, which pulls us away from God. We are lured away from seeking the greater glory of God to serve the greater glory of me!
Our first step, then, is to reorient from our path to God’s path. We must follow in Jesus’s footsteps and give the glory to God.
Ways to Give God the Greater Glory
If we are looking for concrete ways to give God the glory, we can simply follow Jesus’s teachings and examples:
- When someone is hungry, we can make sure they have something to eat.
- When someone is sick or in pain, we can help them find healing.
- When someone feels hopeless or lost, we can show them the way.
- When someone is overwhelmed by their guilt, we can offer them a path to forgiveness.
- When someone gives us praise for any of these works, we can give that glory to God.
Do you live for your own gratification, or are you living for the greater glory of God?
Cura Personalis – How To Care For The Whole Person
The phrase “Cura Personalis” is a Latin phrase that means “caring for the whole person,” and it is a key component of Ignatian spirituality. As a practical spirituality focused on the day-to-day lives of individuals, Ignatian spirituality aims to look at every aspect of their lives.
Why is this important?
Our Body, Mind, Heart, and Soul in Ignatian Spirituality
Our body, mind, heart, and soul need to function as one. If one is ailing, it will impact the others. We often overcompensate for one area by pulling attention away from another. Unfortunately, the soul is often the first to lose attention.
For example, if we are struggling with our health, going to church regularly may take a lower priority. If our mind is always racing, it will be difficult to develop a good prayer life. If our heart is filled with sorrow, we may turn away from God. In all these ways, our body, mind, and heart can impact the state of our soul.
On the flip side, our soul can lift us up when our body feels too weak to carry on. Our soul can give us peace when our mind simply can’t comprehend the world around us. And our soul can bring us hope when our heart is overwhelmed with sadness or despair.
Cura personalis, then, is important because it recognizes how the body, mind, and heart impact the soul, and how the soul can impact them in return.
How Do We Care for the Whole Person?
It begins with our own lives. Are we taking care of our bodies, minds, and hearts? Are we doing our best to stay healthy? Are we enriching our minds with the beauty of Christian theology? Are we tending to the relationships that guide our hearts?
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20), so our connection with God flows through our body. We must care for it then. I’m not saying that we need to be on the cover of a fitness magazine, but we should strive to eat healthy, exercise, and not doing anything to harm our bodies. I am not the model for perfect health, trust me, but it is something that I am beginning to see as a more important part of my spirituality.
Many of us already feed our minds spiritually. Simply reading this is a step on the right path. Yet in the midst of the “information age,” we spend a large amount of time dumbing ourselves down in front of a screen. We need to spend less time in front of the television binge-watching shows and more time with a good book to enrich our spiritual lives.
The heart can be a little trickier, but it begins with our relationships. We may have toxic relationships in need of repair, or we may be facing the loss of a loved one. That is why it’s important to continually build strong, positive relationships with those that help to lift our souls up even higher. We should focus our attention on those relationships that draw us closer to God in one way or the other.
Cura Personalis for Others
Many of the ministries that we may work with have one focus or another. For instance, a food pantry focuses primarily on the body, a religious education program focuses on the mind, and a marriage ministry focuses on matters of the heart. But it might be possible to go beyond on that.
Imagine working at a food pantry when someone asks you a question. You see the opportunity to teach them a little about the faith. In that way, you are caring for the whole person. If someone in a class you are teaching tells you about a struggle they are facing in a relationship, that is an opportunity for cura personalis.
My Approach to Cura Personalis
If you are someone who generally loves fitness but then falls off the bandwagon, that might tell me that something deeper is going on spiritually. If you are struggling with a relationship, we can discuss how that has impacted your relationship with God. The more I know you – the whole person – the better job I can do as a spiritual director.
Ignatian spirituality guides how I live my life, and so it guides my spiritual direction practice, as well. They are interconnected. In the same way, your health, thought patterns, and emotions shape your spiritual life, too. That is why cura personalis is important. That is why it works!
Prayer in Ignatian Spirituality
Prayer is a key component of developing a relationship with God, and St. Ignatius knew that better than most. While some spiritual traditions focus on deep, contemplative prayer, Ignatian Spirituality takes a different approach – it’s very practical. The focus of Ignatian prayer is to understand where you’ve been so that you’ll know exactly where you’re headed.
For Ignatius, it all began with daydreams and imaginative prayer. When you read his life story, you find out that he was left recovering from a major wound in battle. At first, he imagined life as a great soldier, winning the girl, and becoming famous for his valor, but this left him unsatisfied in the long run. It excited him at the moment but left him feeling empty afterward.
Without much to do, he began reading books. Much to his dismay, the only books available to him were not stories of famous warriors. Instead, he was left with a book on the life of Christ and another on the lives of the saints.
Still, he read them anyway.
Ignatius took this experience and made it a regular part of his prayer life. He realized that imagining his life on these two very different paths brought him different feelings and ultimately in different directions. So if we want to begin to pray like Ignatius, it begins with our imagination. It begins with seeing our lives from different points of view to see where God may be leading us.
The Daily Examen – The Backbone of Ignatian Spirituality
One of the most famous forms of Ignatian prayer is the Daily Examen. Many consider it to be a cornerstone of Ignatian Spirituality. In my own life, it has become my compass in navigating my way back to God.
What is the Daily Examen?
Many might think that this is a very self-centered form of prayer, but it is not. While we review our day, the goal is to recognize God in our daily lives, or to find God in all things. By going through each moment, we start to see God’s presence even in the smallest aspects of our lives. As this builds into weeks, months, and years, we start to recognize God with us all the time.
How does this help us see God, though? This is where imaginative prayer comes in. When we apply this idea of reviewing our day with imaginative prayer, we can actually see Jesus standing by our side at the grocery store, across from us at the dinner table, or kneeling next to us in our struggles.
Knowing that God is with us gives us the strength to learn and grow from our days. Instead of looking back at the last year and wondering what went wrong, the Daily Examen gives us an opportunity for course correction before life goes too far off course. We can continually realign ourselves with God’s will for our lives, and this is the true beauty of the Daily Examen.
The Suscipe Prayer
Another Ignatian prayer that is often quoted is known as the Suscipe prayer. One short, simple prayer can sum up the very purpose of Ignatian Spirituality:
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.”
—–St. Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatian Spirituality is a very practical spirituality, but it is also a spirituality that is heavily focused on orienting our lives towards God. We are meant to find God’s will and then follow it. Even the Daily Examen serves this purpose. The end goal is always for the greater glory of God. The Suscipe greatly reflects Ignatius’s “First Principle and Foundation” that reminds us to be indifferent to the things in this world and be willing to give them all to God. Our goal in everything is to see how all things lead us back to our Creator.