Dermot Mansfield has here updated his earlier 2006 publication, Praying with St Ignatius of Loyola, to reflect the added interest in the subject evoked by Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit and thus a ‘spiritual son’ of St Ignatius. We therefore have presented to us the spirituality of these two towering figures.
However, this booklet does more than merely inform. There is an invitation to the reader also to enter, not only into the experience of St Ignatius and Pope Francis, but also into his/her own experience of the God who is so immediate to us. This was the discovery of St Ignatius as he convalesced on his sickbed at Loyola nearly 500 years ago, and Fr Mansfield shows us how we can also discover it for ourselves, whatever our state of life.
In so doing, he necessarily packs a lot in. There is a brief outline of the key elements in St Ignatius’s life story, with some of his fundamental insights into discernment of spirits and the centrality of desire in the spiritual life, that is to say those deepest desires of a person that accord with God’s own desires for her. These desires, where well-ordered, inform the choices we make in freedom, and the genius of St Ignatius lay in the instrument he devised for discerning such in his Spiritual Exercises.
Dermot Mansfield thus gives us a brief outline of the basic structure of these Exercises, and the various means by which they continue to be available to people today – either the traditional ‘Thirty Day’ experience in a retreat house or, perhaps more suited to modern busy lifestyles, the popular ‘Exercises in Daily Life’.
There are also other forms of retreat, based on Ignatian principles, such as Individually Guided Retreats of up to 8 days and Weeks of Guided Prayer, and the formats of these too are helpfully outlined.
After all this useful information, the reader is then invited to experience for herself something of these Ignatian treasures, with some of the key exercises of St Ignatius presented in an accessible format.
It is worth pausing to note the change of tempo here, as these suggestions for prayer in the second part of the booklet are best savoured slowly, providing as they do much food for reflection. Fr Mansfield indeed here follows St Ignatius’s own maxim that
it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul but the inner feeling and relish of things.
There is much to be relished here.
It is also good to see an entire chapter given over to the Ignatian exercise ‘par excellence’, the prayer of Examen. This was the prayer that St Ignatius insisted his busy Jesuits pray even if they had no time for any other and it rightly merits the attention it is given here. This is certainly a chapter to be prayed and not just read.
Yet, for all the emphasis on the personal experience of God, Fr Mansfield is acutely aware, as was St Ignatius and is Pope Francis, that any authentic experience of God is never for the person alone but rather for the wider people of God.
His conclusion to this fine little booklet thus directs the reader outwards ‘in companionship with all who live in the knowledge and love of Christ…increasingly drawn ‘to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with God.’’
This is a wonderful introduction to Ignatian spirituality, opening the door to further exploration through prayer and retreat for the enrichment of all the people of God.