Iggy Fever! Gearing Up for the Feast of St. Ignatius

The Apostleship of Prayer is a ministry of the Society of Jesus--the Jesuits. You know, Pope Francis' guys, the guys who follow the vision of their community's founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

On Thursday we celebrate the feast day of St. Ignatius. Since the early days of the Christian church, believers have celebrated not the birthdays of their Christian heroes, but their day of death: the day they met God face to face. In this spirit, July 31st, the anniversary of Ignatius' death, is a day of great joy for those who carefully mark the way St. Ignatius grew ever closer to the Heart of Jesus in his one-of-a-kind life.

I knew nothing of Ignatius until I stepped my eighteen-year-old foot onto the campus of my Jesuit university. Though I lacked any formal training in spirituality, I knew I liked to pray, and that I loved to reflect on the human condition. I was eager to learn the Best Practices of admirable men and women in history: Who set and met personal goals? Who were effective leaders? Who survived tragic events, and how? Who found deep happiness?

And then I read the Principle and Foundation of Ignatius' great work, the Spiritual Exercises:
 Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God, our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him attain the end for which he was created. Hence man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him. Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things. Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

And, just like that, I found my spiritual home.

The wisdom of Ignatius' Principle and Foundation filled me with joy, with hope. That single paragraph reminded me who I am, why I exist, and how to embrace the world. I am created by God, a personal and loving God, who provides everything I need to know and love him back. The Principle and Foundation reinforced my instinctively positive view of creation and my aching desire to feel free.

The more I read the words of Ignatius, the more I saw them as a poem--a love poem. If I allowed myself, I could fall so in love with God that I wouldn't care about my surroundings or my conditions. I would be like a brave character in a great romantic movie who finds her soulmate and risks everything to be by his side for the rest of her days. And I would feel confident in my lover's faithfulness to me; he loved me first, after all, and he can't be outdone in love.

At the end of the Spiritual Exercises, this fierce love takes form in one of my all-time favorite prayers, Ignatius' Suscipe:

Photo from Pray As You Go

Everything is yours; do with it what you will. That line challenges me to remember that nothing, nothing, nothing is really mine. Not my intellect, not my accomplishments, and--most relevant to this blog for parents--not my children. The Principle and Foundation describes the attitude of indifference as the thing that helps us not prefer one way of life to another. Back in romantic movie mode, this indifference would be the kind of thing that makes an aristocrat give up title and wealth, to free herself of all impediments to marry the commoner who has offered his love.

The Economist, July 26, 2014
Indifference is great for parents. As I read through the latest issue of The Economist over the weekend, I plunged into an article about helicopter parents that made me remember the Ignatian principle of indifference. The article, titled Cancel that violin class, invites modern parents to relax. I imagined Ignatius reading the article, a secret smile on his lips, shaking his head slowly, as he learned about the savage preferences parents have for their children and the exhausting effort they put forth to make sure their children are playing the right instrument, volunteering the established number of service hours, and getting the necessary grades to enter an Ivy League school. The article cites the advice of Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University: "if parents fretted less about each child, they might find it less daunting to have three instead of two. And that might make them happier in the long run. No 60-year-old ever wished for fewer grandchildren."

Many parents I know are currently beseiged by the unending demands of their little ones. A diaper here, a safety hazard there, meals and laundry everywhere--it is literally true that some parents do not get to go to the bathroom alone for years at a time. And then the children get older and there are new concerns, like Internet safety, college savings, driver's education, special needs, flagging interest in famliy activities or beliefs, endless activities. The wisdom of St. Ignatius reminds me that even here, I know God is taking care of me. Even here, I can serve the Lord. Indifference is confidence in God's providence. Unless I know I can serve God better in one way rather than another (and how could I know for certain, really?), I am indifferent. I can say "I know you are taking care of me right now. My purpose is to praise, revere, and serve you even here."

So, thank you, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Thank you for your Principle and Foundation, your Spiritual Exercises, your Suscipe prayer, your enormous love for Jesus Christ. Thank you for inviting companions into the Society of Jesus, and for sharing your insights with men and women all over the world. Happy Feast Day!