For many people, spirituality means getting in touch with the invisible force of nature, or one's "higher power." Regardless of historical conceptions of a supreme being, spirituality really means finding one's true purpose in life, which in other words, is "doing God's will." Doing God's will depends on first finding God and then discerning His will for us to be complete human beings. For Christians it means getting to know Jesus, who was the clearest expression of what it meant to follow God's will.

Following Jesus in the current cultural context depends on recognizing that the historical Jesus, the person we read about in the gospels, is a human being. He still has a personality with emotions, He was able to love his Apostles even though they messed up, He knows what it feels like to be rejected and he is able to feel compassion for the poor and the down-trodden. The good news is that Jesus, the Jesus his disciples knew and loved, was raised up and is not only alive today in the hearts of all of mankind, but calls everyone to follow in his footsteps.

Ignatian spirituality was developed to make the process of spiritual discovery quick and powerful, while at the same time recognizing that understanding our place in God's plan doesn't happen overnight. It is really a life-long process of discernment.

Ignatian prayer grew out of the experience of St Ignatius of Loyola. Injured as a young man and confined to bed, he read the accounts of the lives of the saints. Ignatius saw no reason why he too couldn't do something radical and all-consuming for the Lord. His profound insight was that following Jesus meant following his example and using his strategies in all of life's decisions, whether large or small.

The ultimate expression of his insight is to uncover a deep personal desire to finding God in all things. His determination to live according to this ideal was not meant to be reserved for the private and solitary world of contemplatives, but to be fully incorporated into everyday life. The real world is the only place, after all, where any revelation of God can take place. In other words, to be spiritual means not only to pray and meditate, but to be fully engaged in what life has to offer.

The spiritual exercises of St Ignatius outlines a procedure for entering into a journey of faith. Ignatius suggests that we enter into the Gospel stories with our imaginations to make the stories come alive. Quite deliberately, the exercises lead us through the life of Christ, beginning with the Incarnation and ending, not simply with the resurrection, but with Christ's enduring presence throughout all of creation.

The beauty of praying on the person of Jesus through the gospels is its simplicity. It doesn't require years of spiritual training beyond the reach of any Christian. It requires only a heartfelt desire to know Jesus, and a facility for day-dreaming! Yes, we make think that day-dreaming is "escapism" or a way to avoid current stresses and responsibilities, but when used to imagine what it must have been like to be part of the story of Jesus, it can become a magical experience.

Doing the exercises is "putting on the mind, and heart of Jesus." The person making the exercises prays for an intense love of Jesus and an uncompromising desire to follow him. This grace is experienced as a spiritual freedom, a willingness to follow Jesus no matter what the cost. The hope is for the person to reach a level of freedom which would allow him or her to make decisions based solely on whatever helped them the most to praise, to love and to serve God. But according to practitioners of Ignatian spirituality, following Jesus has to be concrete: it has to affect real life and day to day decisions.

Suggestions for Ignatian Prayer and Meditation
  • Choose a passage and read it once
  • Focus on the Lord and invoke the Holy Spirit of Jesus
  • Ask for what I want: to know and to follow Jesus. (A Grace.)
  • Read the passage several times, then either imagine or consider Jesus in the scene
  • Spend some quiet time with the Lord. Close with a prayer of gratitude, and when done, review.
  • Keep a journal.