Many of us have come to know the Jesuits (more formally known as the Society of Jesus) as a religious order of priests who run many of the excellent universities across the world. More locally, the Jesuits run Marquette University, Marquette University High School, Nativity Jesuit Middle School and staff St. Patrick Parish and Gesu Parish in Milwaukee. For the first time in history, a Jesuit priest has been named the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis.
The Jesuits were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 15th century saint who took his inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi (hence, our Holy Father chose the name of Francis). The youngest of 13 children, Iñigo (or Ignatius) was born into the family castle in Spain. He longed for a life of glory, and became a soldier of Spain who fought against the French. A cannon ball ended his military career in the early 1500s, and a series of bad surgeries to repair the cannon ball damage to his leg left him bedbound. While Ignatius recovered, he began to read the lives of the saints, and experienced a profound conversion, upon which he dedicated himself to becoming a soldier of the Catholic faith. Part of his journey involved moments of great joy, but also great trials, during which he wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises. His society, known as the Company of Jesus (Ignatius was a soldier, after all) began to attract followers, including St. Francis Xavier. Ignatius died on July 31st at the age of 65, and we celebrate his feast day on that day. Today, Ignatius’ Company of Jesus, his companions, minister all over our globe.
Ignatian spirituality focuses on the imitation of Jesus, and so Ignatius encourages us to consider what Jesus said and did. At the foundation of Jesus’ life was prayer — a continuous search for how to best live as an authentic person before a loving God. Ignatian spirituality is incarnational….it views the world as a place where Jesus walked, talked, healed and embraced…and therefore is a place of grace for us. That’s why we look for God in our everyday lives. We are called to find and live out how God wants us all to be forgiven, to be free, to use our gifts and talents and opportunities in ways that build up the world as a place where faith, peace, hope and love flourish.
So what does that have to do with praying like the Holy Father?
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius developed a technique or method of prayer, known as the Examen. It’s a way to pray about the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern God’s direction for us. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it shared as widely as possible. All Jesuits are required to pray the Examen twice daily — at noon, and at the end of the day. It doesn’t take long.
If you ever feel you don’t know how to pray, or feel stuck in prayer, try the Examen. I’ve been praying this every night for over 20 years of my life (no kidding), and it is one of the best things I do every day. The repetition of praying this every day becomes, literally, a spiritual exercise — an exercise for my soul and my relationship with God — so I make sure I do it every day.
So among other ways, this is how you pray with the Pope:
1. Quiet yourself, and become aware of God’s presence.
2. Look at your day with gratitude. Give thanks to God for all of the gifts, blessings and graces of the day. As you look back over the day, where did you find God? Where did you encounter joy, happiness, peace, love? Give thanks to God for these!
3. Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to look at where you responded to God’s gifts and love, and where you need help and encountered your own limitations and sinfulness.
4. Review your day (this is the longest of the steps)
- Think back on your whole day — how you acted, your motives, your feelings, the details
- Where did you fail? When were you not at your best?
- When did you love?
- Are there any daily habits that are dragging you down? Situations that cause you to be negative?
- Where and when did Jesus help you?
- Were there other signs of God’s presence and grace (in people, in the Scriptures, in events)?
5. Reconcile and resolve — Imagine Jesus sitting beside you. Tell him you are sorry for anything that is sinful. Remember the good things and thank Jesus for helping you, for the gifts you received. Ask for the grace you need for tomorrow. Pour out what you need, and ask for help and guidance.
Finish with the Lord’s Prayer.
It’s a very simple yet powerful way to pray….and to find everyday grace.