How Ignatian Spirituality Has Influenced My Life

By Dr. James E. Manning

Recently, my Muslim neighbor related to my wife and me that when she prays, she thinks of all God has given her and wants to give these things back to God. Her prayer reminded me of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Suscipe (a prayer for generosity), which I copied and gave to her.  

Ignatian spirituality has enriched and informed my life in many ways. My Ignatian roots stem from being a Jesuit in the Chicago Province from 1964 to 1973. Subsequent roles of husband, father, grandfather, and doctor provided ample opportunities for me to use the spiritual wisdom I learned as a Jesuit.

Five elements of Ignatian spirituality have been most useful: the First Principle and Foundation, discernment of spirits, contemplation in action, indifference, and the Suscipe.

The First Principle and Foundation establishes criteria to determine whether a particular action is beneficial. My answer to these questions has determined whether I adhered to my principles. Whether we formulate our own wording or use St. Ignatius’s, “Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.”

"Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me"
– Excerpt from the Suscipe

Discernment of spirits led me to pay attention to my deepest feelings, choosing that which provides true consolation and rejecting that which causes desolation. Every major decision in my life has involved discernment of spirits. Consolation’s role in the discernment process has convinced me that when we are true to our deepest selves, we are true to God. Discernment helps us discover our true nature.  

Contemplation in action was what first attracted me to the Jesuits. This Jesuit ideal means to be a deeply spiritual person engaged in bettering the world. The two years of Jesuit novitiate inculcated a practice of recollection which was to infuse all our activities. When I am engaged in an activity, I concentrate and am not thinking about God. When I am between activities, my mind goes to God in spontaneous prayer. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that my life is one of contemplation and action.

The ideal of indifference, or detachment, appears repeatedly in the Spiritual Exercises. Father Bob Ochs, SJ, warned us students to beware of our expectations (attachments), which can lead to disappointments. An art instructor I had at the University of California stated this another way: “Make plans, but don’t plan the outcome.” 

The Midwest Jesuits are active in ministry with Native American people at the St. Francis Mission and Holy Rosary Mission in South Dakota.

Finally, the Suscipe served as a key prayer at a juncture in my life. Would I continue in a lucrative but unfulfilling medical practice or move to the Navajo Nation in Arizona and work for the Indian Health Service? During a retreat to discern this question, I focused on the last line of the Suscipe: “Give me your love and your grace, for this is sufficient for me.” It soon became clear that pursuing a path of service was more meaningful to me than higher revenue, and I submitted my application.  

I am indebted to St. Ignatius and the Society of Jesus which carries on his traditions and teachings. 

Dr. James Manning is a retired physician living with his wife in Alameda, California.

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