Seminarian for the Diocese of Marquette
A cave is generally thought to be a home for animals. It might shelter people during times when no other shelter is available. It is not a location one normally thinks of as a place to write a famous masterpiece of Christian spirituality. Ignatius Loyola spent somewhere between eight and eleven months in a cave at Manresa composing a retreat known as The Spiritual Exercises. Since the sixteenth century, countless people have done this thirty day long (usually silent) retreat. I was blessed last summer to do the Exercises with the men in my seminary class.
Who was Ignatius? He was a soldier living a fairly worldly lifestyle who was injured in battle. When there were no more books on chivalry for him to read during his recovery, they gave him a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints. He began to think, “What if I were to do what St. Francis or St. Dominic did?” He began to realize that different thoughts produced different kinds of interior movements. “When he was thinking about the things of the world, he took much delight in them, but afterwards…he found that he was dry and discontented…but when he thought of going to Jerusalem…not only was he consoled…but even after putting [the thoughts] aside, he remained content and happy.” These internal states would come and go, until one day he began to see how some thoughts brought him feelings of consolation and others had a different effect.
One day, “his eyes were opened a little” and he began to recognize how these different thoughts affected him. This experience provided a basic framework for his later doctrine on the discernment of spirits. Ignatius renounced worldly honors, and in the cave at Manresa he wrote The Spiritual Exercises. He went on to found the Society of Jesus and he remains a towering figure in the history of Christian spirituality.
Personally, I found the cave at Manresa to be a beautiful place to pray. Although more decoration has been added since Ignatius’s day, one can still see the rough walls and ceiling formed by the stone. Today, two crosses thought to have been carved by Ignatius himself in the stone wall are visible under a pane of glass. I found myself overcome with feelings of gratitude for the graces I received during the exercises. I was especially grateful for Ignatius’s insights about the goodness of God. In his final meditation in the exercises, Ignatius talks about how God shows his love for us in a multitude of ways. God created us and redeemed us by sending his Son, and these are the primary reasons to thank him. He also shows his love in things as small as sending the rain so the cattle we eat have sufficient grass to eat. In recognizing this love, the one doing the exercises is to offer everything to God by saying “with great devotion:” Take Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me; to thee Lord I return it. All is Thine. I seek only Thy love and thy grace; this is sufficient for me.”
I give thanks to God that I was able to visit such a place and give thanks to God for the graces I received through the Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius has been a great inspiration to me and I hope that, through his intercession, I can become a saintly priest who does all things for the “greater glory of God” and proclaims the love that is to be found in the heart of Jesus.