IGNATIAN SPIRITUALITY AND
THE APOSTLESHIP OF PRAYER
by Fr. James Kubicki, S.J.
For the past 160 years the spirituality of St. Ignatius has found a fruitful embodiment in the Apostleship of Prayer (AoP). Five aspects of Ignatian spirituality provide a natural connection to the mission of the AoP.
|A Spirituality for People in the World
St. Ignatius was not a monk who withdrew from the world in order to find God. Rather, he marked out a path by which active priests, religious, and lay people would find God in the midst of the world. Two phrases capture the essence of his approach: to find God in all things and to be a contemplative in action. The AoP, by helping people become "apostles of prayer," follows the same path. We strive to find God in the middle of our every day lives.
This ideal has been part of the AoP from its beginning. In 1844, the Jesuit students in Vals, France received letters from Jesuit foreign missionaries. The letters inflamed them with missionary fervor, a great zeal for the salvation of souls. They became impatient, eager to be missionaries and go out into the field. They had difficulty finding God in the ordinary, mundane, and frustrating work of their philosophy classes. Fr. Francois Xavier Gautrelet, the young Jesuits' spiritual director, gathered them together for a conference on the feast of his namesake. He challenged the idealistic young men not to wait to become missionaries, but to become apostles or missionaries in their present circumstances. They could do this by offering to God all their prayers, the frustrations of their studies, and their impatience, trusting that any fruit or success in the mission field would result from spiritual means-the grace flowing from their prayer and sacrifice in union with the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Fr. Gautrelet's challenge inspired them and helped them to find God in their daily tasks. This approach soon spread beyond the seminary to lay people who found in it the key to loving God and their neighbor in the ordinary circumstances of their lives. This ideal was not new. St. Paul, writing his first letter to the Church in Thessalonica, offered the same challenge: "Pray without ceasing" (5: 17). In the 17th century, the Carmelite Brother, Lawrence of the Resurrection, taught "The Practice of the Presence of God." One of his Maxims was: "The holiest, most common, most necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God, that is to take delight in and become accustomed to His divine company, speaking humbly and talking lovingly with Him at all times, at every moment, without rule or system and especially in times of temptation, suffering spiritual aridity, disgust and even of unfaithfulness and sin."
In the late 19th century another Carmelite, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, recently named the second patron saint of the AoP, popularized finding God in all things by means of what she called "The Little Way." St. Therese most likely learned of this approach through the spirituality of the AoP in which she was officially enrolled at the age of twelve. In more recent times this path to holiness by living each moment with and for God was embodied in Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who wrote: "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into what we do." In all these examples we see the ideal at the heart of Ignatian spirituality and the AoP: to find God at all times and in all places and to make an offering to God of all we think, feel, say, and do.
A second element of St. Ignatius' approach is its practicality. The "Spiritual Exercises" are a very methodical program through which retreatants open themselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The AoP combines the ideal of finding God in all things and a very concrete and practical spirituality in the simple prayer we recommend-the Morning or Daily Offering. At the beginning of each day, the apostle of prayer calls to mind the presence of God and offers the entire day with all its "prayers, works, joys, and sufferings" to God. Every moment of the coming day is consecrated and given to God to be used in achieving His will-that "everyone be saved and come to knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2: 4).
When he was asked how he and others were able to survive imprisonment and exile in the Soviet Union, Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. answered that it was through faith and prayer. In his book "He Leadeth Me," Fr. Ciszek wrote: ".in my opinion, the Morning Offering is still one of the best practices of prayer-no matter how old-fashioned some may think it. For in it, at the beginning of each day, we accept from God and offer back to him all the prayers, works, and sufferings of the day, and so serve to remind ourselves once again of his providence and his kingdom. If we could only remember to spend the day in his presence, in doing his will, what a difference it would make in our own lives and the lives of those around us! We cannot pray always, in the sense of those contemplatives who have dedicated their whole lives to prayer and penance. Nor can we go around abstracted all day, thinking only of God and ignoring our duties to those around us, to family and friends and to those for whom we are responsible. But we can pray always by making each action and work and suffering of the day a prayer insofar as it has been offered and promised to God."
The Daily Offering is not simply a formula we recite at the beginning of the day and then forget. Ideally the offering of ourselves is renewed throughout the day. A great help in renewing the offering and in developing the spiritual awareness that finds God in all things is the Examen. The AoP encourages the Evening Review as a "bookend" to the Daily Offering. Not only do we offer the moments and events of our day to God but, at the end of it, we examine what we have offered to God. These two very practical methods of prayer are a sure path to becoming a contemplative in action.
St. Ignatius had a deep love for the humanity of the Son of God. In the "Spiritual Exercises" he invites the retreatants to imagine themselves in the Gospel scenes. His intention is to help people develop a close, personal relationship with Jesus, to have "an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely" (Spir. Ex. #104). St. Ignatius encouraged prayer with the five senses, thus emphasizing prayer with all the faculties and not just with the intellect. This is because the goal of prayer is not simply to know about Jesus, but to know Jesus in an intimate way. And so, he recommended that people find and use that method of prayer which speaks to their affective side, which helps them to grow in "devotion." In the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius counseled Jesuits in formation that, after the two prescribed examinations of conscience, they were to fill in their allotted time for prayer with the "Hours of Our Lady," or "meditations and other spiritual exercises," or "other prayers according to the devotion of each one." The point was to give each individual the flexibility to choose the kind of prayer that would help them "advance spiritually," that would foster their "genuine devotion" (see #342-43).
We find this third element of Ignatian spirituality in our very name: we are "apostles of prayer." We are "apostles"-close companions of Jesus who seek to abide with Him (John 1: 35-39), to follow Him, and to labor with Him, hoping to share His Life forever in the Kingdom of Heaven. And we are apostles "of prayer." Our prayer is not simply a recited formula but a striving, in the midst of all our "Martha-like" activities, to be aware of the Lord Jesus and our offering to Him, to focus on "the one thing necessary" (Luke 10: 42).
Inspired by St. Ignatius' deep personal love for Jesus, it was natural that the Apostleship of Prayer, shortly after its beginning in the mid-19th century, would form apostles of prayer by means of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This devotion emphasizes both the knowledge of God's love for humanity revealed in the Heart of Jesus, and in turn, each individual's response to that love. By means of this devotion we grow in prayer that is personal and affective. We do not simply recite prayers, but rather we seek, as St. Ignatius invites the retreatant at the end of many of the Exercises, to enter into a colloquy with the Lord, to have a heart to Heart talk with Him. Pope Pius XI, in his 1928 encyclical "Miserentissimus Redemptor," said that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus "more easily leads our minds to know Christ the Lord intimately and more effectively turns our hearts to love Him more ardently and to imitate Him more perfectly" (#3). Thus we find embodied in this devotion, so central to the work of the AoP, the same grace that is sought in the "Spiritual Exercises."
St. Ignatius' intimate relationship with Jesus revealed itself in a striking manner when he celebrated Mass. The brief section of his spiritual diary that still exists, covering the period of 1544-45, often speaks of the tears that he experienced while celebrating Mass. In the Eucharist the Son of God and Son of Man takes flesh and offers Himself to the Father in a perfect sacrifice. St. Ignatius was often overcome with great emotion as he celebrated this awesome mystery. He experienced what Pope John Paul II has recently termed "Eucharistic amazement" over the reality that Jesus continues to take flesh and give His life for every human being (see "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" #5-6).
A fourth key element of the spirituality of St. Ignatius is Eucharistic devotion. As apostles of prayer, followers and intimate companions of Jesus, we join the offering of our lives to the perfect offering of Jesus on the Cross and at the Mass. In our Daily Offering we, in one form or another, unite our entire self-our prayers and activities, our thoughts and feelings, our joys and sorrows-to "the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world." We, the Body of Christ, join Jesus, the Head of the Body, in His total gift of Himself for the salvation of the world.
Thus, we strive to live "Eucharistic lives." We accept St. Paul's challenges "to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God your spiritual worship" (Rm. 12: 1) and to "make up in my own body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of His body the Church" (Col. 1: 24). What could be lacking in the extreme sufferings of Christ, in His perfect sacrifice? Our own participation in them. We are one in and with Christ. As St. Augustine wrote: "Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man.. The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does 'head and members' mean? Christ and the Church" (Quoted in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" #795). Each of us is joined to Christ through Baptism and the Eucharist, which the Church has traditionally seen as originating from the open Heart of the Savior on the Cross (John 19: 34). We live our lives united to Him by the daily offering of ourselves in union with the Eucharist.
|An Apostolic Spirituality with the Pope
The "Spiritual Exercises" end with the great prayer of self-offering, the "Suscipe," in which we give God all we are and have, asking only for His grace and love. This prayer is the culmination of the Exercises. After contemplating Jesus for weeks, we seek to imitate Him in a total offering of self. The "Suscipe," like the Daily Offering, leads to "apostleship," living an apostolic life at all times. Ignatian spirituality leads to the desire to become, like Jesus, a person for others. Our whole life-whether it is moments of prayer or busy activity, hidden suffering or ecstatic joy-becomes apostolic. Every moment becomes a means for advancing the Kingdom of God and nurturing the fruits of evangelization.
This final element of Ignatian spirituality that we find in the AoP is especially suited to the faithful who are called to the lay vocation. It is common to think of the lay apostolate in terms of ecclesial works-reading at Mass, bringing the Eucharist to the sick, teaching children about the faith. However, the primary lay apostolate involves being a leaven in the world. In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Christefideles Laici," Pope John Paul II wrote: "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual' life, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular' life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity" (#59). The spirituality of the AoP challenges us to see ourselves as apostles in our daily lives. We are called to serve God at every moment. Even our hours of sleep can be part of our daily offering to God.
In the "Spiritual Exercises" St. Ignatius asks retreatants to be specific in their prayer. The second prelude at the beginning of each Exercise directs the retreatant to ask God for the specific grace being sought in that particular prayer period. In the same way, the Daily Offering of the apostles of prayer is very specific. We pray and offer ourselves for certain intentions which we name. In various versions of this prayer we bring to God the intention of the reunion of all Christians, the intention of repairing the harm sins have caused, the intentions of our bishop, and the two monthly intentions of the Pope.
St. Ignatius and his early companions looked to the Pope for guidance. They went to him because they trusted that he would know the needs of the entire Church and could mission them to the most pressing needs. Similarly, the AoP looks to the Pope so that we may know and pray for the most pressing needs of our time. We fulfill our apostolic call by praying and offering our lives each day of each month for two specific intentions that the Holy Father gives to us. Living an apostolic life, united with the Pope, is a fifth and final element of Ignatian spirituality present in the Apostleship of Prayer.
The AoP was founded by a Jesuit and for 160 years it has been served by the Society of Jesus. This connection is a natural one because the spirituality of the AoP is very Ignatian. In a 1985 address to the World Congress of National Secretaries of the Apostleship of Prayer, Pope John Paul II renewed the connection: "The Apostleship of Prayer can bring a meaningful and concrete contribution to the diffusion, at all levels, of the great and consoling truth that all Christians can be intimately united to Christ the Redeemer by offering their own life to the Heart of Christ. I do not doubt that the Society of Jesus will continue to put its strength, its talents, its organization and its obedience at the service of such a high spiritual end. Again today, I entrust this commitment to the zeal of the Superior General.."
For its part, the Society of Jesus renewed the connection in 1995 at its last General Congregation when it wrote in Decree Thirteen, "Cooperation with the Laity in Mission," the following: "The Apostleship of Prayer seeks to form Christians shaped by the Eucharist, devoted to the Heart of Christ through the daily offering and prayer for the intentions of the Church, and committed to apostolic service. The Society supports and promotes this pastoral service entrusted to it by the Holy Father, as well as the Eucharistic Youth Movement."
May this relationship between the Society of Jesus and the Apostleship of Prayer, grounded in Ignatian spirituality, continue to thrive to their mutual benefit.