While LMU is often referred to as a Jesuit university it would be more correct to say that we are a school in the Ignatian tradition. The presence of the Marymount sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange give LMU a distinctive character. The unifying principle, however, is without a doubt the spirituality of St. Ignatius founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits); a spirituality that inspires and forms all three of the sponsoring religious communities of LMU.
The History of Ignatian Spirituality1
The Society of Jesus was born in a university — the University of Paris in the 16th century. Shortly after Ignatius of Loyola arrived in Paris to continue his studies, he began to challenge his new friends to consider what they were going to do with the gifts that God gave them. Through his own ongoing spiritual journey, he developed the Spiritual Exercises as a means to discern the will of God. The goal of the Exercises is to achieve an interior freedom that facilitates good life decisions. The government of Messina in Sicily asked Ignatius to establish a school there in 1547. Many similar requests followed, and Ignatius quickly realized that teaching was a significant way to form the minds, hearts and souls of those who would then positively influence others. The early Jesuits adopted the best available educational methods. The curriculum of the humanities—Greek and Laten, writing, public speaking and rhetorical analysis—and a humanist pedagogy served as guides for moral decision-making and practical action to help build the reign of God. Soon other disciplines—mathematics, the natural sciences, music and theater—were added.
The most distinguishing influence on early Jesuit education, however, did not come from the methodologies or curricula but from the spirituality the Jesuits learned in the Exercises. Ignatius regarded God as “schoolmaster,” educating their souls. This edification taught them (and continues to teach people today) how to discern the lights and shadows in the facets of their lives, enabling them (and us) to use freedom wisely and re-orient their lives toward God. The history of Loyola Marymount University is imbued with the same distinctive spirituality. The founders possessed a spirituality that is distinctly Christian. For the Jesuits, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (the Marymount sisters), and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Christ is the unique moment of encounter between the human and the divine. Today, Loyola Marymount is enriched with many more religious traditions that contribute to the University’s educational and moral milieu.
For Ignatius, our human journey originates in eternity, in the mystery of God. This fundamental truth of human life permeates much of what occurs at Loyola Marymount. This truth lifts up the ideal that God has always cared for a woman or a man, even when God’s love may be forgotten.
The Practice of Ignatian Spirituality2
Love ought to show itself in deeds more than in words.
– St. Ignatius Loyola
Spirituality remains just ideas and words if it is not embodied in people and institutions. In this sense it is helpful to speak not only of a history or philosophy of spirituality but of a practice (or praxis) of how this spirituality enlivens the work that we do.
The Examen is widely considered to be one of St. Ignatius’ two great gifts to the spiritual heritage and prayer life of the Church; the other being the Spiritual Exercises. The examen (or, The Examen of Consciousness) is a form of daily prayer and reflection that enabled the early Jesuits, and countless individuals after them, to live as true contemplatives in action. The examen liberated contemplative prayer from the walls of the monastery and encouraged active men and women everywhere to seek God in the details of their daily lives. Here is how to pray the Examen:
- Recall you are in the presence of God. No matter where you are, you are a creature in the midst of creation. Asking the Holy Spirit for help is reaching out in love to all.
- Give thanks to God for all the gifts you have received. Take a moment to look at the gifts of the day. Be concrete. The gentle feeling of love, the moment of beauty, the act of patience.
- Ask for awareness of all that has transpired in the day. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help you look upon your day—your actions and motives—with honesty, patience, and openness. Review the feelings you felt throughout the day.
- Select one of these feelings and pray from it. Recalling the events of your day, explore the context of your actions. Look at your day from many angles. See the opportunities for growth in faith, in hope, in love. How did you respond? How might you have responded differently?
- Look ahead to tomorrow. Face your immediate future. What do you experience when you think of upcoming events? Whatever it is, turn this into your prayer and ask for help, for healing, for compassion with yourself and others.
The Spiritual Exercises
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is actually a manual for facilitating a 30-day silent retreat. This retreat has been the cornerstone of formation in the Society of Jesus from the outset but the wisdom of these exercises has found expression in many different ways. Here at LMU there are many opportunities to get a taste of the exercises without committing to an entire 30 silent retreat. Whether in the retreat program on the Silent Retreat or the Busy Person’s Retreat, both of which are rooted in the pedagogy of the spiritual exercises, or in a Christian Life Community, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius continue to form young men and women here at LMU. Please explore this Spiritual Formation site to learn more. The Center for Ignatian Spirituality offers regular opportunities for faculty and staff to experience the spiritual exercises in everyday life.