St. Ignatius of Loyola and Prayer as a continuous conversion

      I have often defined “prayer” as a response to God’s omnipresent and omnipotent Love which is found in every dimension of our daily lives in the form of what St. Ignatius calls an effective Love. Today, upon further reading and reflection, I am more ready to define “prayer” as a transformation; an on-going conversion, if you wish, towards a perfect union with our very Trinitarian God. I have also grown more inclined to go beyond the reality of God’s call for an intimate union and to lay greater emphasis on the conversion process that this union entails. Prayer ought to be more than a final revelation about God’s Love or a once felt metanoia. It should constitute a one-on-one progressive relationship and consequent transformation. Prayer, viewed in this light, makes us aware of two very important realities in regards to the God-creature relationship: God is perfect Love, and we are wounded and imperfect. The mystical union which the Gospel calls us into with God is more than simply being able to acknowledge Its Majesty in our midst but a progression or pilgrimage towards holiness. StIgnatius Adopting St. Ignatius’ description of his own soul, we can also claim to be pilgrims in journeying to a more intimate union with our Creator. Personally, I find great strength in this. To understand prayer from a pilgrim’s perspective allows me to be more conscious of the effects of original sin and redemption and how each of my actions could become a prayer. Moreover, I am reminded of the call to continuously surrender to God’s Will and the spiritual treasure found in humility.

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Let us start by saying that a pilgrim is aware of his/her sinful state and the Redemption which has been gained by His Lord. In his journey, prayer is viewed as the soul’s progression from being self-centered to becoming Christ-centric. This transformation that our souls are to undergo illuminates the value of being aware of both our sinful and redeemed state. First off, we should state clearly that the pilgrim bears the effects of original sin or the consequences of the Fall by the first Adam. This becomes evident in our own lives as we have felt the challenge to reconcile our desire to approach God with the discouragement planted by our wounds, distrust of Love, ill-informed reasoning, a misdirected will, selfishness, vanity, and concupiscence. The pilgrim recognizes its sinful tendencies but looking at prayer as a journey gives him/her a greater disposition to accept his/her faults. This in turn makes the pilgrim more receptive to God’s Graces and able to grow from his/her common spiritual struggles. Moreover, the pilgrim knows as well that he/she bears the fruits of the new Adam. Through Christ, by His Life, Death, and Resurrection, the wounded soul has gained adoption as a son or daughter of the Almighty God. This turns the effects of the first Adam into an opportunity to meet God’s Merciful Love and receive the fruits of redemption. While the soul remains wounded, always unrepeatable, wonderfully made and autonomous in his free will, he/she shares the image of Christ’s baptism. The soul receives the fruits of redemption while living in the mystery of Love where the pilgrim’s freedom to move closer to Its Majesty is still respected by presenting both the choice of life or death. Prayer in the life of the pilgrim becomes the continuous effort to choose life and such a choice is typified in changing from the old Adam into the New Adam.
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Eventually, prayer, in union with Christ, becomes the pilgrim’s very action. As the pilgrim embarks on his/her journey, the soul views prayer as a re-orientation of his/her focus. The objective is to remove anything that may impede the soul’s on-going conversion into the new Adam. St. Ignatius depicts this clearly in his Spiritual Exercises in the way the soul is helped to obtain greater degrees of freedom in order to progress into a deeper union with The Creator. Through specific meditations and reflections found in his Spiritual Exercises, the soul, by God’s Grace, works on freeing itself from the prison of its own ego and re-orients all its faculties towards God. What has caused the soul to fall is now a conduit to Its Creator. For instance, the ability to reason now becomes the key to free ourselves from our concupiscence. Our memories can now be divinized to see God as our primary reference point. Our wills become an opportunity to participate in the Trinitarian life by choosing to be a sincere gift of self to others. In brief, the soul becomes rooted in Christ and our prayers carry the fruits of His very Passion, Death, and the Redemption which He has gained for us. By His merits, our prayers operate in the power and intimacy of the second person of the Trinity. Our soul becomes the incarnation of Christ and our very actions including our sufferings and joys, united with Our Savior, become actual prayers.
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     To the pilgrim, these prayers are a constant surrendering to God’s Will and a deepening relationship with His Savior. To look at prayer as a journey serves to expose several lies which I have always found to be roadblocks on my journey towards Love. I am referring particularly to the tendency to make prayer a superficial and un-engaging act while adopting the mindset that we have reached a final stage of conversion. A pilgrim is not interested in viewing prayer as a finite solution to the reality of God. As we have mentioned before, the soul rather sees prayer as a journey rooted in an on-going affair. This allows the soul to address God with sincerity knowing that the objective is not to be found sinless but to be part of the relationship anticipated by the desired union. The soul does not keep moments of desolation and consolation to himself/herself but shares these with His Creator. Superficial prayers are inapplicable when the pilgrim understands prayer to be a heart-to-heart conversation with its Creator. Moreover, consistency in relating to God is highly valued as this is the basis of the relationship. Time is scheduled to be spent with the Lord and an on-going awareness of God’s presence is fostered throughout the day. The transformation is never final since the Creator is infinite but yet the journey provides fulfillment for the pilgrim’s deepest longings. As the soul works on becoming freer, the pilgrim does not experience a recurring metanoia but a deepening knowledge of God’s Mercy. This moves him/her to respond more fully to the Lord and in this way gradually surrender to His Will.

      At last, the act of surrendering turns prayer into a complete dependence on God’s Grace. The ability to understand what we have mentioned above (our sinful nature and redemption, the Incarnation and God’s Will) rest wholly on the Graces that God imparts. The pilgrim understands that he/she cannot advance one inch forward without God’s Grace. In our arrogance, we shy away from His Graces. In our journey, the most sought after gift then becomes humility. For St. Ignatius, the three degrees of humility (provided in His Spiritual Exercises) represent three levels of generosity which the pilgrim would want to experience in following Christ. Again, we find in Ignatius’ writing the call to be transformed into Christ. When looking at the first degree of humility, the pilgrim desires to be detached from any mortal sin. The second degree seeks detachment from venial sin. The third degree of humility calls for the pilgrim’s total configuration into Christ sharing His poverty, humiliations, and Cross. The greater degree of our humility, the more our souls open to God’s Graces and we grow in our mystical union with God. This reality of our journey seems to be heightened by looking at prayer in the context of our pilgrimage.
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      In conclusion, prayer is to be transformed into the new Adam: Christ. And in this process, we do contemplate God’s outpouring self through our daily events and even in our very actions. In understanding my current spiritual state to be the one of a pilgrim, I find it easier to accept my faults and the redemption Christ has gained for me. I can more trustingly approach His Merciful Heart with the goal that one day I would be able to hear both My Savior beg for my heart and my heart begging for His. Certainly, God’s effective Love will become manifested in my caring for those who are in need. My life will be my prayer. My prayer will be my conversion.

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