Tag Archive: Ignatius


imagesReading the wonderful interview that Pope Francis gave to Thinking Faith and other Jesuit journals last week – what comes across is the great freedom with which he speaks and also the humility with which he looks back on his past.  There is an interesting parallel between him and St Ignatius the founder of the Jesuits.  When we were Jesuit novices we had seminars on what is referred to as the ‘autobiography’ of Ignatius.  This was written towards the end of his life, somewhat reluctantly, Ignatius was wary of vainglory.  He had been urged by the young members of his new order to leave them an account of his life before he died, he seem to avoid it,  but eventually he submitted and dictated his memories to a young Jesuit – Goncalves de Camara.

autobiography-st-ignatius-loyola-paperback-cover-artAt a time when saint’s lives where often written after their death by their adoring followers, the literary style was usually hagiographic.  Emphasising their virtues, downplaying or ignoring their vices, often from a desire to inspire devotion – the result was that the Saints lives didn’t seem very human, or distant from what many of experience in normal life.  Ignatius is determined in his autobiography to do the opposite – he wants to show young Jesuits and also those who read about his life, about his mistakes and how God has worked through them and transformed him.  Some historians even think that de Camara ‘toned’ down some of the passages, particularly of Ignatius as a young man in order not to cause a scandal.

Pope Francis’s interview comes across in a similar tone.  He speaks frankly, and without excuses or self pity about the mistakes he made as a young Jesuit.  He was put in as a provincial in his thirties, a very young age, and in his own words ‘My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems’ How refreshing it is to hear the Pope talk in such ways.  Francis talks about a period of ‘great interior crisis’ in Cordoba– – again mirroring Ignatius who went through great spiritual turmoil in Manresa after his initial conversion and overly zealous ways.  I am convinced that in life we often learn more about ourselves through failure than success – as long as we are supported through our failures in a loving environment.  Both Francis and Ignatius give testament to this, and theirs is the ultimate loving environment – an regular, deep and intimate prayer life.  This is  how grace works through weakness. This is easy to forget when we have an education system that is obsessed with measurable success.  

If you have a bit of time – read the Pope’s interview – and if you are too busy, make time!!


English: Manchester University Logo

English: Manchester University Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it has been announced publicly now that my next job is to be chaplain at Manchester University.  I will be moving in sometime by the end of this week.  I will be on my own till Christmas and then 3 other Jesuits will join me.  It is a very exciting new mission, with a conglomeration of over 85,000 students (the biggest in Europe I’ve been told) and 400-600 coming to the Sunday evening mass.  Outside the chaplaincy is also the busiest bus stop in the country (foot-fall wise) with more than 2000 passengers embarking and disembarking an hour, so we really are in the thick of it.  Fantastic!  Many of mates think it is hilarious that a scouser and Liverpool fan is going to Manchester to be chaplain, but as I said on local radio yesterday, over the last 20 years us Liverpool fans have had to learn humility, which is a good quality for a chaplain.  I hope that brought a smile to a few Mancunian faces….  Daniel into the lions den!

Probably by advent we will be taking back the Holy Name Church (next door to the chaplaincy) as the Oratorians will move to their newly founded oratory nearby.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude as in essence they saved the Church.  Last week a national newspaper reported that Roberto Mancini (Man City manager) is a regular mass attendee click here, so I will have to exercise restraint in the pulpit!  At the back of the church is a beautiful copy of the Rubens painting of St Ignatius and St Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratorians (see right).  They were great friends and St. Philip encouraged a number of his own disciples who displayed a desire for missionary work to become Jesuits.  Philip was fascinated with the plans of St. Francis Xavier, whom he befriended before the latter set off on his missionary journeys. Ignatius used to pass along the letters of St. Francis reporting back to Rome, which Philip and his companions would read and discuss together in community.  However,  Philip was told by a wise Trappist that “Your India is to be Rome.”, a city which is always in need of missionary and reforming zeal!  We owe a great debt to Father Ray Matus and his companions for all the work they have done in Manchester and I hope we can keep the spiritual synergy going!



Today is a special day for Jesuits and friends all over the world. It is the feast day of St Ignatius of Loyola.  It will be celebrated in thousands of schools, universities, parishes, retreat houses, refugee camps, radio stations, tv studios, publishing houses, blogs …… Ignatius of course was the founder of the Society of Jesus.  He wrote more letters than anyone in the sixteenth century, we still have over 7000 of them, so we know a lot about him. In an age when hagiographys were written about saints, often distancing us from a frank history of religious figures by the desire to create pious and edifying stories, Ignatius’ autobiography, reluctantly dictated as his life was ebbing away, is refreshing for its simplicity, honesty and desire to show how had grown through mistakes and failures. Last year, whilst I was in Manila on ‘tertianship’ which is like a renewal year for us Jesuits – I took the opportunity to read what I consider to be the best book about him  I have read.  Written by a Basque Historian, Jose Ignacio Tellechea Idigoras and called ‘The Pilgrim Saint‘. Idigoras, not a Jesuit but an award winning Historian, has an incredible amount of detail to hand and weaves it in with the background information to create a warm and compelling portrait of this great man.

If I was to be asked to sum up what Ignatius could teach us normal folk, struggling with faith or even outside the church, it would be by looking at the contrast between his early life and his later life. Ignatius as a young man was very unpleasant – arrogant, vain, promiscuous and violent,  being brought up in the spiritually toxic climate of the ambitious courtier desiring power, influence and conquests (political and sexual).  A little bit like our cult of celebrity today.  When his life was shattered along with his leg at the Battle of Pamplona, the lengthy convalescence forced a period of extensive introspection.  He didn’t like what he saw and opened his heart to God.  So as Idigoras masterfully put it – as well as reconstructing his disjointed leg, he began to reconstruct his disjointed soul.  In order to reconstruct we need something to build on.  From the chaos of Ignatius’s life of excess and disorder there were three things he could cling on to. 1)When he looked at his hands he could take comfort that he never engaged in pillaging as a soldier when the opportunity arose, a fact that was well known and respected. 2) When he considered his mouth,  he never once blasphemed even in the extreme pain after Pamplona. 3) Although he had enemies who had pursued him through the courts and sought his arrest after some of his outrageous actions, he didn’t carry any hatred in his heart. Perhaps this was the most important thing he could cling on to, as it is the heart where God slowly and silently can change us. And so began the long. slow journey back into God’s grace which bore has born so much fruit down the centuries.  By the end of his life God had achieved much through him, at the time of his death there were 1036 Jesuits, 11 provinces, 92 houses, 33 colleges at his death.  Idigoras leaves us with this beautiful portrait of the elderly Ignatius.

He wore a simple austere cassock and fought off the cold with a large cloak.  When he left the house he wore a voluminous cape and a broad brimmed hat with attached chords that he tied to his chin. It was impressive to see him walking in the street. He was always going, because of some business, to some specific place or to see some particular person. At this period in his life his fair hair had disappeared, he was bald and wore a short beard from which loomed an aquiline nose and high cheekbones.  His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart. 


My cheesy ‘helping-others’ picture

The turning point in the life of St.Ignatius was when he encountered God whilst recovering in Loyola and realised that God wants to help us.  These may seem obvious, but I have met many people who feel God is there just to judge them, or catch them out, or disapprove of their sex-life, or stop them from doing what makes them happy.  I think this is Freud’s ‘God’ – who as far as I am concerned, doesn’t really exist, or at  least is a stranger to me.  On the contrary, like Ignatius and many of us, when you have first-hand experience of  the goodness and kindness of God you realise that you are invited to share in and spread this goodness and kindness (easier said than done!).  The ministry of helping others like God helps us is the greatest thing that we can do with our lives! Another way of putting it is to that we can become ambassadors of the goodness and kindness of God.  (Note – Before I get complaints I am not saying it is to be a Jesuit! although for some of us it helps!)

This calling to spread the goodness and kindness of God is why Ignatius and his companions understood their mission to be one of a ‘Ministry of Consolation’.

Or put into his own words and more simply ‘To help Souls’.

But as a wise Jesuit once said (excuse the English) - to be ‘helpers’ we need to be helped!   How can we get help so that we can be helpers?  This is where our way of life comes in (not just lifestyle – but more than that – how we life our lives.  If you believe in an infinite God that there must be different ‘paths’ or ways to God….. some are better than others…. others can be false paths or dead ends.  For Christians – there is a uniqueness about the claim that God became a man – in the figure of Jesus.  But even within Christianity God calls us in different ways –  for most Jesuits – serving others within the Society of Jesus seems to be the best way for us.  So this month has been put aside to study the ‘institute’ of the Society of Jesus. Institute here means our way of living and working, which is most concisely expressed in our Constitutions.

Ignatius dedicated the last 16 years of his life in Rome working on the Constitutions – in fact they weren’t finalised until after his death.

As a former tertian-master said ‘The Spiritual Exercises are what make us Ignatian – the Constitutions are what makes us Jesuit’   So this January – we are encouraged to have a ‘sapiential‘ reading of the Constitutions of the Jesuits.  Sapiential reading,  reading wisely, listening with the heart – as opposed to a purely academic or dry technical reading.I think we are all relieved to just be in the same place for a month! Our feet on the ground and some valuable reading and reflection time.  The experiences have been so rich that is good to do a bit of ‘digesting’.  And we are very priveleged to have this space and time, but also to have the lense of the Constitutions to do so.

Some approach the Constitutions with a bit of trepidation – calling it the ‘Law’ of the Society of Jesus (which of course we all fall short of).  But maybe the approach taken below in the video – of a former US Tertian Master – is more helpful, more ‘sapiential’ .


The newspapers in the Phillipines have all had David Beckham on the cover the last couple of days. He is in town to play a game – but is doing impressive work for UNICEF too.  His LA Galaxy beat the Philippine National  team (the Azkals) 6-1, and as he left the pitch after 70 mins he handed his shirt to a certain Manny Pacquio who was in the crowd.  It is a testament to Beckhams global appeal that he even seems to outshine Pacquio. Well who outshines Beckham? Well for devotion in Asia – Saturday was the feast day of St Francis Xavier – close friend of Ignatius and great missionary to Asia. His voyages are now legendary – and his popularity as a saint seems to be universal – he is truly an A-Lister!   His popularity can be measured by the amount of institutions, schools, parishes, universities, centers that are named after him.  Perhaps an even more impressive legacy is the impact of his name – Xavier is the name of his home ‘town’ or estate.  Just think about how many people you know who are named after him, Javier – Xavi – Xavier – Javi.

The Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Ignatius of Loyola and Xavier – Pacecco de Rosa

In honour of the feastday – ignoring the big game – we tertians were invited on Saturday night to the Xavier school in Manila.  As well as celebrating mass, a very generous dinner was laid on – and the highlight of the dinner was the  presentation of a painting to the Jesuit Community and College of Francis Xavier.  The benefactors and donors of the painting – the D.Campos family (former students) -were attending an auction of Princess Diana’s goods on behalf of the Spencer Familyat Christies in London. This painting of Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius with the Madonna and child caught their eye, it is an original by Pacceco de Rosa and it was bought  at an auction .  In a commemorative postcard given to is all said May we have the burning zeal to bring everyone to the Lord. 

The Devotion to Francis in Asia transcends religious groups.  I still have fond memories of taking a group of students from Wimbledon to Goa.  We were given permission to celebrate mass in beautiful Jesuit Church (and UNESCO site) the Bom Jesu – but had to wait about half an hour.  The reason we had to wait was that a Japanese goverment minister was visting the chapel.  It is a very popular place of pilgrimage in Asia as the chapel holds the glass casket where St Francis’s incorrupt body is on display.  The Japanese minister, not a Christian, had traveled all the way to Goa after a ministerial meeting in Dehli just to pay his respects.  The Body of Francis is brought down for veneration every 10 years and millions travel to Goa (Christians & non Christians) to venerate this holy man. Amongst Jesuits, Xavier is treasured for many reasons,  his successful missionary work, his capacity of inculturation, the beautiful letters written to Ignatius and distributed throughout Europe. He was sent by Ignatius to the ‘Indies’ as a last-minute replacement for Bobadilla, who had suddenly fallen ill. The very next day he packed up his things to leave Rome for Lisbon never to see Europe or his beloved Ignatius again.  This freedom of spirit, ‘availability for mission’ and generosity is what we are asked to live up to.


St Lorenzo Ruiz

At last! We have finished the retreat – we are out of the silence. Talking and listening to my fellow tertians the shared feeling is one of renewal and deep gratitude. The proto-martyr of the Phillipines, St Lorenzo Ruiz, on his death in Japan said If I had a thousand lives – all of them I will offer to Him.   A beautiful hymn in Tagalog has been composed to this by a remarkably creative young Jesuit – Manoling Fransisco .  We sang the hymn together at the final mass of the retreat, and it was a lovely way to sum up the feelings in my heart.

I think for Ignatius the primary sin is not of pride but of ingratitude. As someone once said to me that Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices. It seems to me that the unhappiest people you meet in life, are those who take things for granted or even worse are locked into a mindset of ‘the world owes me a living’.  This gratitude at the end of the retreat is expressed by a beautiful prayer of ‘giving back’ that is treasured by all Jesuits.  It is often referred to by its Latin Title The Suscipe….. 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and 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.

The Suscipe is a radical prayer of total self-giving, the fruit of self-reflection and of openness to God’s love.  Very close to the heart of St Ignatius……  I think the happiest, most joyful people you meet in life are the ones who can say this prayer, roll it around in their heart, habitually.

Thanks for all the comments left – and the interest shown – Now can anyone tell me what happened in the world in the month of November?  

Reaching Love


At the end of the fourth week – after contemplating various post-resurrection narratives – we reach a beautiful and original Ignatian contemplation – often referred to by Jesuits as just The Contemplatio.  The goal of this is to know how to love as God loves….. wait a second ….. go back and read that last sentence again…..  the goal of this is to know how to love as God loves!  If that is not something worth investigating then what is!

Ignatius starts with 2 suppositions… 

1) Love shows itself in deeds not in words

2)Love is a constant and generous sharing between the lover and the beloved and vice versa.

Let us recall that Ignatius is famous for the gift of tears. Most of his spiritual notes / diaries were burnt at his request before his death, but what survives of his spiritual diary is full of references to ‘tears’.  Tears whislt saying mass, whislt making a discernment, even whilst gazing at the stars.  It seems that he frequently and intensively felt the magnificent sense of Gods love. Some of his contemporaries even claim that his face would be luminous at times as though radiating an inner light. Seomething quickkly notice by children on the streets of Manresa, Paris or Rome.  So he is worth listening to when he talks about Gods love!

After the presuppositions there are four points of consideration that lead into the Contemplation  A) God Gives Gifts

B)You are a guft (God is present in you as well as other gifts)

C) God is dynamic - He is constantly giving and recieving

D) He (She) deisres us to be part of this dynamism – so that we become co-creators  

Love is a powerful word – we are limited in English – but this love of God is close to the agape of the Greeks – self giving love (as opposed to eros - the possesive love that is exhausted, philia - friendship, or storge- affection).  When we experience this self-giving love we are drawn into responding (not compelled)  but this uncondition – self giving love – calls us out of ourselves.

That is definately worth meditating on! How much is this type of love part of my life?


There is a phrase I learnt from a US Podcast on the series Lost – ‘it got a little bit dusty in the  living room’ – when you are trying to blink back the tears watching a movie.  I am a real softy when it comes to that – but when my eyes get a bit moist I pretend I have hay fever or something and am trying to get the pollen out! Well in The Passion of the Christ  there is always a moment that gets a bit dusty for me – when Mary is trying to follow the Via Dolorosa of Jesus – as he carries his cross to Golgotha.  Mary is pressing herself against the wall – in horror at how her son is being treated – not being able to watch but also not being able to tear her eyes away. The director, a certain Mr Gibson, masterfully intertwines this with a flashback of Jesus as a little boy.  He falls and grazes his knee – and crying in pain – Mary does what all mothers would do, she drops her washing and runs over to him.  Of course cut back to the present and Jesus – the man – falls under the weight of the cross, at which point Mary appears at his side. “See mother – I make all things new” he croaks as he strains to get up….

The grace of the Third Week that Ignatius instructs us to pray for is to ask for grief with Christ in grief, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and interior pain at such great pain which Christ suffered for me.  It is tough and very difficult to recieve the graces – withouth being voyeuristic in some way. Of course we understand the throry -  focus on the humanity of Jesus by pointing out how his divinity hides itself. Greater love has no one than the person who lays down one’s life for one’s friend…. Jesus does this for us individually to help us overcome our complicity with evil…. This is all fine – but how can we really share in that grief?

For me a key to this week is to witness the passion third hand…. i.e. watching Mary watching her son.  Please keep us all in your prayers – the darkest hour is just before dawn.

Please leave comments – but don’t expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 

The Spiritual Exercises on Coronation Street?


If you have ever sat by the hospital bed of someone you love – as they are dying – you will have experienced the anguish and pain of being helpless in the face of such a trauma.  Even worse accompanyings somebody who has been tortured and is to be executed – violently – especially if you are convinced they are innocent.  Well this is what happens in the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises….

It is all very well following Jesus in the second week, witnessing his miracles, seeing the crowds grow around him, hearing his great parables, soaking in the richness of the sights and sounds of the Second Week.  The real test of discipleship, and friendship, is when the crowds turn on him, his friends disappear – his enemies become more vocal and more violent.  Ignatius challenges to enter in to all of these scenes as well, using our imagination and with an open heart.  This is the cost of discipleship.

There is a real gear change in the third week – for me it has always been a difficult part of the exercises.  The prayer becomes dryer – its difficult to stomach.  In the third week we also enter the mystery and power of evil. And whilst I am writing this I thihnk of the thousands who aer being tortured, or who have been left to rot in some hell hole – thinking the world has forgotten about them.   It may be difficult to understand the violence and the evil, but we believe somehow Love is always stronger – and it will ultimately win – this is our faith.  More of that to come….

Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 

Foolish Devotion


It’s only a flesh wound….

Many alumni from Jesuit schools worldwide should be able to tell you of Ignatius of Loyolas heroic attempt to defend Pamplona from the French.  Rousing the desperate troops into defiant resistance, they held on until a canonball smashed his legs.  What the students might not tell you – is that the whole enterprise was also due to a certain dangerous madness of Ignatius.  According to the excellent book by the Basque historian Idigoras -  the French army advancing on Pamplona had over 12,000 men, with 26 pieces of heavy artillery. The fortress of Pamplona was unfinished, and the commander the Duke of Najera had fled to seek ‘reinforcements’ … of course. At the inquiry afterwards he said that it was better for the captain to be free…….  He left Pedro de Beaumont in command – who also soon fled with his 1000 men. Pamplona had become a ghost town – and Ignatius driven by honour and a kind of chivalric madness stirred teh remnant to defend it.  This commitment to serve his Lord faithfully, even in the face of such odds is outstanding.  But it is also true that men died in the Battle – needlessly – there is a fine line between this commitment and a dangerous fanatacism.

As we know the cannonball didn’t only shatter his knees -  it also shattered his self image. During his long and painful recovery he rebuilt this – but this time he vowed to serve the eternal King.

As we reach the end of the second week Ignatius now proposes that we should consider three types of responses to this Eternal King.   The first class of response is those who would really like to follow Him but they procrastinate, they talk about it, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to follow the King, but try to do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up or changing their way of life. They are kidding themselves - it is a dead form of religion, one which Benedict XVI has identified as empty.  The third class wants to get rid of any attachments  that stop them following. They act on it - now – they dont just talk about it, pretend, procrastinate, they follow their hearts without regard to the consequences – their friends and family think they are mad –  Whatever God wants, they want.

In a word, they are the free ones.  This foolish devotion to the Eternal King is not a path to fanatacisim, or fundamentalism but freedom and joy.

Please leave comments – but don’t expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 


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