There is only one Saint that has deeply impacted my life, and he continues to impact my life on a daily basis. He died on the day I was born, July 31, although 399 years separated the two events. The two books I have written were birthed by the thoughts and insights that flowed from his quill as he jotted down notes from one of the two books he was reading, Life of Christ, as he recovered from having his leg shattered by a cannonball.
When I first met him, it was a unsettling, he seemed stiff and inflexible. His reputation amongst my friends was a bit sketchy, to say the least. But there was one respected voice, Dallas Willard, who encouraged me to strike up a friendship with him and assured me this Saint had much to share that was good, especially in terms of Jesus. That was over a decade ago. Today my life and thinking bear the distinct marks of his writings. Phrases like ‘finding God in all things’, ‘Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam’ (Latin: For the Greater Glory of God), ‘freedom from disordered attachments’, ‘contemplatives in actions’, ‘helping souls'; prayer practices like prayer of Examen and imaginative prayer; words like indifference, consolations (defined as anything that takes my focus to God), and desolations (anything that takes my focus away from God) and wonderful images such as ‘a drop of water hitting a stone or drop of water hitting a sponge’ as a means of discernment, are a part of my world view informing for me what it means to follow Jesus.
Additionally, I have found his emphasis on discernment, the freedom to be and become who God created us to be, the centrality of Jesus and the guidelines for decision making and discernment challenging and refreshing. He has not so much taught me who Jesus was as he has invited me to journey with Jesus using my imagination to walk with Jesus through his earthly ministry, the passion week and resurrection and during that journey to pay attention and present myself throughout using the prayer of Examen.
The Saint of which I am speaking is St. Ignatius of Loyola. His conversion, at age 30, and subsequent journey is remarkable in its ordinariness, except for his whole leg being shattered by a cannonball, of course. He was one who struggled as he sought to follow Jesus, bumping up again and again against his own brokenness (vainglory) and scrupulosity. Early on he was so despondent over the true condition of his heart he seriously considered taking his own life! Yet, through it all, he came to experience the transforming power of Jesus and the need to heed the call of Jesus to live free from disordered attachments of any kind that would keep a person from wholehearted saying to yes to the invitations and challenges of Jesus. In no small part I am who I am today because of St Ignatius. In fact, one friend has commented, “Larry’s thinking is drenched in the thoughts of Ignatius. You could tell him you’re enjoying a scrumptious hamburger and he would relate that to Ignatian thinking–somehow!” And of course she is right – finding God in all things covers eating hamburgers as much as it does kneeling to receive communion.
In the years since my initial encounter with St Ignatius I have found him anything but stiff and inflexible. His emphases on helping souls, endeavoring to bring greater glory to God, being a contemplative in action and journeying with Jesus necessitate a free flowing life unencumbered by preset solutions and ever open to the inner promptings of the Spirit (drop of water hitting a sponge). St Ignatius has invited me into a life yielding to God, depending on Jesus, finding God in all things, believing that this “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.” Thank you Iggy!
How does this Saint’s words, life, inform and shape your life today?
What are 3 questions you would want to ask your Saint over a cup of coffee as you shared a fresh pastry together?
Larry Warner is founder and president of b, a spiritual formation ministry working with pastors, missionaries, seminarians, and churches; he is a retreat leader and spiritual director; he teaches at a number of seminaries and is a consultant for churches. He is author of Journey with Jesus: Discovering the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. He has been married for thirty-five years and has four children and three grandchildren.