St. Ignatius: Administrator / Mystic – Part One

Source: youtube,com

One of my classmates from many years ago, Eric Jense SJ, a frequent contributor to Ignation, has become a go-to person for Ignatian spirituality through his books and articles.

The latest, Ignatius Loyola and You: learning to become a reflective Christian, is a brief book structured around the life events of Ignatius, beautifully setting them in the context of his age, but also incisively bringing out their contemporary relevance.

We have in succession Ignatius a Boy in the Basque country, Ignatius the Courtier, Ignatius the Knight, Ignatius the Penitent, Ignatius the Pilgrim, Ignatius the Student, Ignatius the Mystic.

These stages are inwardly nourished by a deep and evolving spiritual experience, which Ignatius reflected on and made available in the spiritual guidance he offered to retreatants and their directors (Spiritual Exercises), to Jesuits (Constitutions), and to many others that sought his help (Letters). Jensen makes Ignatius’ experience and teachings accessible in a contemporary vein.

The stages are straightforward, but the last one does not so much feature what Ignatius was doing at the time, but how he was doing it. This was when Ignatius travelled from Paris, where he studied, to Rome, where he was elected Superior General of a new community, the Society of Jesus.

His role of administrative leadership, exercised from before 1540 to his death in 1556, is something to which I am especially sensitive, since early in my Jesuit career I was drawn into administration by my Jesuit superiors and kept there for a long time.

Thus while Ignatius the Mystic is an apt description of the last stage of his life, the pattern of the other chapter titles could have led to Ignatius the Administrator and the Years in Rome or something like that.

Yes, Ignatius was a mystic, notably in this last part of his earthly journey, but he was also a peerless administrator. Reading his letters one gets the sense of someone who was on top of his leadership agenda, who knew how to phrase things diplomatically to often prickly people and get good results.

His companions had many gifts, which he knew how to put to use, but also many flaws, which he knew how to counteract. He set a solid base for the Society to grow in its ministries beyond his death.

Both mystic and administrator, his mystical experiences nourished his many discernments as administrator, leader of his companions, and author of the Constitutions. How are the inner reality of Ignatius the mystic and the outer reality of Ignatius the administrator related?

(Part 2 tomorrow)


Jean-Marc Laporte, SJ lives in Montreal where he is the socius to the novice director for the Canadian Jesuits.

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