Ignatius vs. Francis

So we had out retreat team follow up meeting last night. My colleague,

St Ignatius of Loyola
Julianne Wallace, who has a great Franciscan heart remarked that while the retreat was a great experience, she admitted that Ignatian Spirituality just isn’t her bag. She also had just spent a week with Franciscans, a spirituality that does speak to her. So she wondered if that had something to do with it.

I pressed her a bit. Not because I didn’t believe her, or found her comment distressing, but rather because my own experience with both spiritualities has been more complimentary than diametrically opposed. I find that both Ignatius and Francis are concerned with the poor, both look to find God in all things, both are filled with a grace experience in which we are called to experience a poverty of spirit, realizing that God is really all we need. The retreats I’ve experienced with both orders have been good experiences.

Some of the other influences for me is that I have had good experiences when I’ve done retreats with younger people and not so much when there have been older people around. Perhaps it’s an energy thing, the young people give me a lot of energy. Often baby boomers fall into a bit of a superficial spirituality in retreat circles where heart often not only trumps head, but pushes it out the door.

Recently, one of our Catholic volunteers expressed annoyance that when he seeks an intellectual experience in faith circles he’s often told to only focus on how he feels about these things. “Don’t we need both experiences?” he remarked. Agreed.

Back to my colleague, Julianne, she expressed the centering on joy that Franciscan spirituality offers as opposed to Ignatius having a more intellectual outlook. Not that Ignatius’ outlook is DEPRIVED of joy, but there’s certainly a different feel to going to a Franciscan retreat, than an Ignatian one. Again, I’d also caution that Ignatius always talked about looking at one’s feelings as a primary means of experiencing God and then reflecting on those feelings. Naturally, Ignatius was also a great admirer of Francis, so I’m sure much of his outlook is based on Francis’ work.

I tease, Br. Dan Horan, saying that Franciscans should often read Jesuits. Perhaps there are Jesuits who should also spend time centered in a Friary being in community and working together on things. Perhaps Franciscans are a bit more communally centered than placing so much emphasis on the individual?

I also commented to my co-director, Greg Coogan, that we might like the Jesuits and have studied much about him, but even with all that we’re not Jesuits. The same would be true if we centered our focus on a Franciscan theme. Greg, also made the comment that most of the younger people probably could care less about what “brand” of retreat we run as long as it is for young adults. I think that’s on the mark.

At the same time, I’m always looking for opportunities to merge the church a bit closer. After all, we are all Catholics, not merely directed towards one particular saint. We preach Jesus, not Ignatius or Francis. I often joke with Franciscan friends that if the Franciscans would quit breaking themselves up into smaller groups of Franciscans they’d probably run the world!

I suppose eventually one would have to pick a particular tradition to focus on. While working with the Paulists we often merged a bit of Isaac Hecker’s thoughts in with Ignatius. Perhaps Benedictine hospitality, Francis’ joy, Ignaitus’ exercises and our modern efforts as lay people all have something to offer to these weekend experiences. Our partners in Charis ministries, an Ignatian retreat organization, surely will want to continue to be identifiable with Ignatian spirituality, but I am glad they are open to our experimenting and staying open to other traditions as well.

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3 Comments

  1. Mike,

    I also have been reflecting on our conversation that we shared last night. I want to say that I do respect and love the Jesuit tradition very much so…in fact my life has been positively impacted by many Jesuits. As I continued to reflect on why Franciscan spirituality speaks so closely to my heart, I went back to both the stories of St. Francis. I feel, in my own life, my conversion process was very much like Francis’s own journey to God. And I constantly return to the story of Francis for continued inspiration.

    I do believe we are each called to experience and express our faith in unique ways (some Franciscan, some Trappist, some Jesuit, etc)…and part of what makes our Church so wonderful are the many religious traditions that help us experience God in so many different ways. So with great joy I proclaim, St. Ignatius and St. Francis…Pray for us!

    Peace,
    Julianne

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  2. “Naturally, Ignatius was also a great admirer of Francis, so I’m sure much of his outlook is based on Francis’ work.”

    So true! As Jesuits are quick to point out to me, Ignatius mentions reading Francis (among other saints) during his own conversion and long afterward.

    I hate to be a party pooper, but as renown (Fordham Univ) theologian Ewert Cousins has written:

    “Bonaventure can be seen in relation to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Bonaventure’s The Tree of Life is in many respects a forerunner of Ignatian meditation, in both its subject matter and its techniques.”

    I’ve spoken about the strongly Franciscan, particularly Bonaventurean, influence on Ignatian spirituality. Which, in a sibling-rilvary sort of way, causes me to laugh when people talk about how unique Ignatian spirituality is. I like to think that it’s the baby brother of Franciscan Spirituality, who picked up on some of the best traits of the big bro and developed them in a particular style.

    One thing is absolutely, 100% for sure — the Jesuits know how to market their take on what originated centuries earlier in the Franciscan tradition.

    Oh well — you are right, they’re not contradictory or mutually exclusive, but related in a very intimate way.

    Peace and good!

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  3. Mike,

    I LOVE this post for many reasons! First, you know my passion for Ignatian Spirituality. That being said, I am currently at a Franciscan parish, and I have thoroughly benefited from their spirituality, especially in terms of social justice.

    We, too, offer Charis retreats at this parish, and I have found the two spiritualities compliment each other very well. I joke with our pastor that he quotes Jesuits very often in his homilies, writings, and talks, and that there are many great Jesuit theologians in prominent places in our parish libraries.

    I am thankful for both and for being exposed to both. The wisdom I have learned in terms of helping the poor, of living a simple life, and of being involved in outreach has been profound!

    So thank you for sharing! I have already sent this link to my fellow colleagues in ministry at my parish!
    Peace,
    Becky

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