Lent is a time of deep prayer, an opportunity for Catholics to look more closely for the sacred in ordinary life, while also reflecting on the humanity of Christ. Finding God in all things — one of the core perspectives of Ignatian spirituality, named for St. Ignatius of Loyola — is something that plays a key role in transforming many Catholics’ spiritual lives.
Pray Like St. Ignatius
“Long before I realized it, I was immersed in Ignatian spirituality, but it wasn’t until my 20s when I realized this spirituality had a name to it,” said Becky Eldredge, Ignatian spiritual director, author and writer. “What drew me to it, and what still draws me to it, is its practicality in daily life. Ignatian spirituality teaches me how to live as a contemplative in action, grounded in daily prayer [while] living my life in the real world.”
Eldredge, a wife, mother of three and retreat facilitator, regularly notices how Ignatian prayer bears fruit in her family life and at work, which is why it is such an important part of her life, in Lent and beyond.
“My husband and I use St. Igantius’ discernment wisdom to help guide us in making big and small decisions. Ignatian spirituality helps me see that God is in all things and cares about even the tiniest details of my life,” Eldredge explained. Eldredge’s Lenten prayer life also began to benefit from her Ignatian spirituality, opening the door to a more powerful spiritual journey in Lent and during the Easter Triduum every year.
“Praying with Jesus’ passion using Ignatian contemplation, where you place yourself in the scene of the Gospel, made the Stations of the Cross come alive for me,” Eldredge explained. “I understand in a profound way what Jesus did for us and why Jesus did so because of the Spiritual Exercises, which Ignatian spirituality is based upon.”
The Spiritual Exercises are meditations, prayers and contemplative practices developed by St. Ignatius to help the faithful grow in their faith.
Gary Jansen, author of the book Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey Through the Stations of the Cross (Loyola Press, 2016), was inspired to understand Jesus’ humanity more deeply by unpacking the Stations of the Cross, attempting to answer the question:
“How did Jesus respond to suffering?”
He believed that an Ignatian approach was the best way to discover the response to that question, which could then “open the doors to a more truly human experience.”
“I think we can sometimes be a little too ‘left brain’ in our prayers,” Jansen explained.
“We can overthink prayer and devotionals like the Stations of the Cross, analyze instead of experience. An Ignatian approach, especially in terms of imaginative prayer, helps us to pray from our heart and with our emotions. The heart is the engine of the soul.
“This combination of the head and the heart that we find in Ignatius’ teachings is vital for me in my spiritual life.”
Jansen has found that praying the Stations of the Cross during Lent using the method in his book can lead those praying to “a greater awareness of how we can conduct our lives in the midst of suffering.” He continued, “Lent is a time of purification, and praying the Stations is a purgative experience. I think this spiritual practice helps empty us so that we can be filled with the joy of the Resurrection, and hence be transformed as Jesus was transformed.”
Ignatian Prayer All Year
Lent isn’t the only time to take advantage of Ignatian prayer or the Stations of the Cross. “I now pray the Stations regularly throughout the year because it shows Jesus at his most human,” Jansen said. “He is most relatable at this point in the Gospels. He suffers, and suffering, in all its various forms, is a universal language, one everyone speaks many times throughout life.”
Father Tom Carzon of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, rector of Our Lady of Grace Seminary in Boston, agrees that the Stations of the Cross can “help a person experience that the Lord really is with us always — and everywhere. In that way, it can be a great help to cultivating a lively personal relationship with Jesus Christ, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, coming to know more fully the mercy and goodness of God the Father.”
There is lasting power in praying the Stations, the priest said. “Just as we can look through old photos over and over again, or hear and tell our favorite stories with our families and friends, so we can repeatedly look through the life of Jesus in order to not only remember what he did, but experience the lasting value and power of his sacrifice of love.”
In addition to praying the Stations of the Cross, Father Carzon recommends the Daily Examen and the Rosary as “doorways to Ignatian prayer” that can help others “grow in awareness of God’s presence.”
The Examen consists of reflecting back on one’s day to see how God was present throughout, with a focus on gratitude and praying about one’s concerns and emotions.
And the Rosary can be prayed in an Ignatian way, too.
“I might suggest that a person could take a single mystery of the Rosary and spend the time usually dedicated to the daily Rosary — 15-20 minutes — to apply Ignatian prayer to that mystery,” the priest explained. “Look up the Gospel passage or use a scriptural Rosary for suggestions from the word of God. Who is present in this mystery? What are they doing, saying, thinking and feeling? What part do I imagine playing in this mystery? Am I a spectator, one of the characters, a close friend standing beside Jesus or Mary? How does Jesus or Mary look at me as I consider this mystery?”
Jansen has found that, in addition to praying the Stations during Lent with an Ignatian approach, his Ignatian spirituality, in general, really helps him draw closer to God throughout the entire liturgical year.
“Like many people, I live my life somewhere between order and chaos,” Jansen admitted. “Ignatian spirituality, with its dual approach that engages both the intellect and the emotions, has really moved me toward a certain stillness in my life.”
Katie Warner writes from