St Ignatius wooden painted statue

St Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus - the Jesuits - in 1540. Today there are over 18,000 priests and brothers present in more than 100 countries.

One of the 18,000 just so happens to be our current Holy Father, Pope Francis. His heart for social justice, deep prayer and inspirational teaching in some ways makes him a typical Jesuit.

So who can tell us more about St Ignatius and his teaching? How can we learn from Ignatian Spirituality to deepen our own prayer by having that personal encounter with God - that face-to-face conversation?

We visited Campion Hall in Oxford to speak to Dr Rob Marsh SJ.

A few years ago, six or seven years ago to be more precise, I was fortunate to participate in a training programme in the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. We were sixteen on the course. The worldwide Society of Jesus which St Ignatius founded was well represented. There were men from North America and Europe; from Zambia and Malawi and Rwanda; from Goa, Madras, the Punjab and Calcutta; from Japan and even China.

To the surprise of many, this was my very first visit to Rome. So before, in between and after class – but, I can truthfully say, never missing a class – I set off to see some of the sights of the Eternal City

Our headquarters suits the would-be tourist down to the ground: it’s as close to the Vatican City as it is possible for anywhere outside the Vatican City to be. Turn left outside the front door, make your way along a cobbled street towards Bernini’s colonnade and in two minutes you are standing in St Peter’s Square.

As maybe you would expect from a training programme of this kind, there was no shortage of trips and tours organised to the many places in the city connected with the Society. We toured the Church of the Gesù and prayed at the tomb of Ignatius himself; we were guided around the rooms, in the Jesuit residence next door, where Ignatius had lived in the last years of his life as General of the Order; we visited the Roman College he had founded in 1550, or rather its successor the Gregorian University, where one morning we met the Jesuit faculty and were then entertained to lunch.

The visit which meant most to me took place later that same afternoon. We were asked if we would like to take a trip by train to a suburban town some twelve kilometres to the north-west of the centre of Rome. Most of us signed up to go.

Being men more accustomed to leading than to being led, there were the inevitable disputes. Was it better to walk to the station by this road or that? Having agreed the walking route, three promptly took the bus! Once on the train at the Stazione San Pietro there was another animated discussion: it was four stops, no it was six stops, no eight! After what seemed more like seven the train pulled in to our destination. We alighted and we were led, with great confidence, out one door of the station, across a car park to a bus stand where we all promptly did a U turn, went back into the station and out the door on the opposite side.

Five minutes and only one further mishap later we arrived and were standing inside our destination: a small chapel, measuring no more than six metres by six metres, dedicated to Our Lady, in the town of La Storta, by the side of the Via Cassia, a busy highway in the midst of the Friday afternoon rush hour. This is where we all wanted to be since it was here, long ago in 1537, that, in a sense, it all began.

Ignatius was travelling on foot from Vicenza to Rome with his first companion, Peter Faber, and with Diego Laynez, who more than twenty years later would succeed him as the second General of the Jesuits. It was here in this chapel that something happened to Ignatius, an experience that made a branding-iron impression upon him. If you want to know what it was that shaped and drove him and gave him and his first Jesuit companions their identity; if you want to know what still gives Jesuits and those others who follow the Ignatian way their identity today, then look to what happened in that chapel, one afternoon in the autumn of 1537. That’s why we wanted to be there, since it was there, in a real sense, that it all began.

When it came to describing the event himself, Ignatius used few words; his companion on that journey, Diego Laynez, gives a fuller report. Ignatius had for some time been praying earnestly for what it seemed mattered more than anything else. Ignatius was a man of big desires and when he sensed God wanted to give him something, he put his all and everything into obtaining it. Diego Laynez tells us that Ignatius was praying that he might be ‘placed with the Son’ and that he was determined to get all the help he could to obtain this grace: he was praying to Mary that she might intercede with Jesus to obtain from the Father this singular grace, to be ‘placed with the Son’.

Any journey was a pilgrimage for Ignatius. ‘Pilgrimage’ was a metaphor he also applied to his life which he understood as a journey with God and to God. So as they entered the village of La Storta and saw the shrine at the side of the road they called in to pray. As Ignatius prayed, it became clear to him that the Father had indeed ‘placed him with the Son’. Indeed, it was so clear to him that he had been ‘placed with the Son’ that, no matter what happened afterwards, he would never doubt that his prayer had been answered.

Facing us in that chapel that Friday afternoon was a mural of the scene as Diego Laynez had described it: Ignatius was being received by Jesus. This was not the Jesus of the nativity, not the Jesus of the hidden life, nor the Jesus of the Resurrection. Rather, Ignatius was there alongside Jesus who was carrying his cross.

This became, one might say, Ignatius’s core experience, one to which he constantly referred. The rest of his life lived it out; the decisions he took lived it out; the Society he founded was to live it out. When Ignatius died in 1556 and his Jesuit brothers looked through his notes about the many matters that he had dealt with as Jesuit General, they found again and again references to ‘when the Father was placing me with his Son’.

So when Ignatius and his first companions wondered what name their new religious congregation might take, it was clear that it had to take the name ‘the Company of Jesus’, since Jesus alone was their head. It was Jesus who had taken them all into his company, and that made them companions of him, companions of each other, friends in the Lord together, alongside Jesus, carrying his cross.

Their desire to live alongside Jesus, carrying his cross, set them free to make their specifically Jesuit contribution to the Church. It set them free to go where the need was greatest, to the frontiers, to those places where often no one else would go or could go, and when necessary to accept the suffering this involved. So Francis Xavier went to the furthest geographical frontiers of the Church, to India, to Japan, dying in sight of China; Peter Faber went to its internal frontiers, to Germany and to those frontiers where one interpretation of Christianity met another; and Ignatius himself went to arguably the toughest frontier of them all, to those places where the comfort of the past met the uncertainties of the future, as he accompanied and encouraged the Church in change.

And what was their motivation for it all? Not a policy programme, not a manifesto, but a relationship. Ignatius was a man in love. He had given his life for the Jesus who had given his life for him; that Jesus who made himself so affectively present that Ignatius, that hardened war veteran, could weep at the very thought of him. It wasn’t a matter of just doing his work; it had to be always more. Ignatius wanted to do that work as Jesus would have done it, with the mind of Jesus, with the heart of Jesus, always with the poor alongside Jesus, himself another Jesus. He wanted the name of Jesus to be deeply imprinted upon him. One day in 1544, holding the host at Mass, he found himself saying spontaneously that he would never abandon Jesus, not for all the world.

Such it was to be ‘placed with the Son’.

The chapel in which we stood that Friday afternoon was not the original chapel in which Ignatius had seen these things that mattered so clearly: that was long gone. This one had been built just thirty years before, replacing a shrine the US Air Force had unhelpfully blasted to bits as the Allies made their way towards Rome in 1944.

Writing to the Society of Jesus as we made preparations seven years ago to celebrate the Jubilees of Ignatius and his first companions, Fr General Kolvenbach, then our superior general, asked us to remember that Ignatius, Francis Xavier and Peter Faber are not history lessons, but men whose spirit is to be lived today.

It was Fr Pedro Arrupe, the superior general of the Society in the fifteen years following the Second Vatican Council, who had been responsible for the rebuilding of the Chapel at La Storta. I have only the dimmest personal memories of this remarkable man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Ignatius himself. But his memory was alive for us that afternoon in La Storta, for in so many ways he is the one who tells us what it means to live the spirit of Ignatius and the first companions; tell us what it means to be ‘placed with the Son’ today. And that ‘us’ includes Pope Francis whose affection for Fr Arrupe is clear and who prayed at his tomb in the Gesù Church this morning.

Many of us have heard before, but it’s worth hearing again, how Fr Arrupe was famously asked in an interview a question that took him by surprise since the interview was about other topics entirely. ‘Fr Arrupe, what does Jesus Christ mean for you?’ ‘For me,’ Arrupe replied, ‘Jesus Christ is everything. For me, Jesus Christ is everything….Take Jesus from my life and everything would collapse – like a human body from which someone had taken the heart, the bones, the head. For me, Jesus Christ is everything.’

To be a follower of Ignatius in today’s Church, as Pope Francis shows, is to be one for whom Jesus Christ is everything, one who desires nothing more than that Jesus be everything for every other man and woman today and who dares to say so. A follower of Ignatius is one who makes his or her faith in Jesus known by living the Gospel of Jesus as Jesus lived it, with the whole of life, and who makes it credible by living with the poor, for the poor, amongst the poor, following Christ poor. A follower of Ignatius is one who has encountered Christ and helps others meet him too; one who can bring Christ to the toughest issues of our time; one who can travel with people who struggle with those issues, knowing that he or she often struggles with them as well – creatively, one hopes, but faithfully and truthfully too.

As this evening we all gather to give thanks to God for the gift of Ignatius to the Church, please pray for all who follow the way of Ignatius, for us Jesuits, and above all for our brother Pope Francis, that the spirit of Ignatius might be alive in us. Please pray that we might want nothing more than to be placed with the Son carrying his cross and so truly be companions of Jesus in our service of the Church and of all God’s good people today.

A pure heart quote from the psalms
Introduction to the Examen

The EXAMEN is a way to look back over your day to say thank you for the things which have gone well and sorry for the things which have not. By doing it each day, you will become more aware of what God is doing in your life. People who use this prayer often find that their lives just get better.
First start by finding stillness. Allow yourself to relax and just do the minimum it takes to be here. Shut your eyes if it helps. Gently listen to all the sounds around you. Try to capture each one.
Now, what was the best thing which happened today? It might be something small, it might be something big. Remember that moment in your day, see it again, touch it, hear it, smell it or taste it all over again… and whatever that moment was, just thank God for it.
Let that feeling of thankfulness spread to the whole of your day. Ask for a gentle light so you can see what God has been doing in your life.
Now replay everything that happened today in your mind, just as though you are watching a movie. Start from the moment you woke up… what you did with your day… how you spent your free time… the people you were with… what amazed you or what disappointed you…
Where you feel thankful, give thanks to God who gave you that moment…
Where you did not live up to everything you could be, say sorry to God…
Now you have replayed the day in your mind, let those feelings of gratitude and sorrow sink deeper. Speak to God about your day, in the same way you speak to one of your friends.
And finally, what is the one thing which you need to ask from God to strengthen you for tomorrow? Ask him for it now.

Image of Jesus walking on water by Maria O'Laughlin
The Introduction to a series of four podcast reflections on the life of St Ignatius Loyola as seen through The Spiritual Exercises.
The Last Supper by Andrew White, detail

It is Holy Week – the week in which we re-live in our prayers the journey Jesus made from Jerusalem to his crucifixion on Calvary and his resurrection.

We have produced eight conversations for Holy week to take you back to those tense and frightening days in Jerusalem and place you alongside the apostles as they try to make sense of the political and mystical forces at work in what is happening to them, to Jesus their Lord, and to the people of God.

Listen to the other episodes >>

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Roman province of Judaea was under the authority of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate, who reported to the Governor of Syria and the Emperor Tiberius in Rome.  The Jews were a reluctant subject people, but generally peace was maintained.  In Jerusalem itself the politically astute Romans allowed considerable authority to the High Priest in maintaining the sanctuary, taking responsibility for law and order, and running the affairs of the holy city.  However, it was they who appointed the High Priest and they expected full co-operation from him and his inner circle.   The Passover festival was always a volatile time as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice at the Temple and celebrate the festival of liberation from Egypt.  The city was over-crowded and emotions ran high.  Pilate himself made sure he was present in the city with an enhanced military presence ready to intervene in case of any flare-ups and to remove insurgents from the streets.

Jesus and his friends entered the city as pilgrims on the first day of the week.  We call this day Palm Sunday because as he entered the people of Jerusalem flocked to him and laid palms on the ground before him, acclaiming him as their king. This was a clear political challenge to the powers that be.
 

Stephen B Whatley's the Sacred Heart of Jesus - part image

This novena is for the nine days leading to the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which falls this year on 12th June. You may pray the novena privately, in your family, in a parish group or with your neighbours or friends. If you are praying it with others, a different person may lead the novena each day, or you may share the various sections among those taking part.

Don't rush. Read the Scripture passage (on the image) and the meditation slowly, pausing when something strikes you. A short prayer follows, which takes up the theme of the day, and you end with the Novena Prayer.

Find out more about the modern devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus which was promoted by St Margaret Mary Alacoque with the help of the Jesuit priest St Claude de la Colombiere SJ >>

So, what does this feast mean to us today? We are made for love. How we all long to love and to be loved. Of course statues and pictures of the Sacred Heart will be very poor images of God’s love. What could show it? Fr Simon Bishop SJ reflects: "When I was a young boy, I remember going into my parents’ bedroom where, together, we would say night prayer. Above their bed was this lovely little statue of a rather fat-bellied man, with rosy cheeks and the biggest of smiles. His arms were held open wide and underneath were the words; “I love you this much!” Again, it was only a faint image of the love I received from my parents and an even fainter image of the love we receive from God, but it gave me an image. It was, of course, an image of the Cross."

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we enter the greatest love story ever lived. At its heart we hear Jesus’ extraordinary words of love; “This is my Body given up for you … This is my Blood poured out for you.” This is no mere picture of love, this is love in action. The Lord gives Himself, pours out Himself, in love for us. How He longs to love us and to be loved by us. How He longs to fulfill our longings. How He longs for us to reveal His love to those searching for His love. So, let us allow the Lord to love us in the Holy Eucharist, at Mass; in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, spending time with him, quietly, simply, every day, if possible, so that He, in turn, can fill those we meet with His love. Perhaps we don’t have rosy cheeks, perhaps we aren’t (too!) over-weight, but with a smile and with our hearts open wide, let all who meet us see the Lord saying to them: “I love you this much”!