What I learned About Suffering from St. Ignatius of Loyola

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St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius once said: “If God causes you to suffer much, it is a sign that He has great designs for you, and that He certainly intends to make you a saint. And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.”

In the midst of suffering, that is often the time when God’s presence is strongly felt. It has been in my darkest of moments that I have felt the presence of God in my life more than any other time. Often we praise God during times of happiness, but in sorrow we ask, “Where is God?”  I admit, sometimes I have had those moments.

I don’t think there is a human being on this planet who has not been face to face with suffering. For me, suffering has been in the form of depression. I was never formally diagnosed with depression for in order to receive a clinical diagnosis, the symptoms must be chronic. My depression comes in bouts and therefore, appears to be just “the blues.” However, I am predisposed to melancholia. There have been times in my life when the sadness hurt so badly, I felt it in my bones.

When I was confirmed, I chose St. Dymphna  as a confirmation name because she is the patroness of psychologists (my future profession) and depression and anxiety.  I did not know until recently that St. Ignatius of Loyola suffered for years with depression and even suicidal thoughts.  I find it a bit ironic that out of all the churches in the city, the one I manage to wander into would be a Jesuit parish.

What is known as Ignatian spirituality mirrors that of a contemporary therapeutic practice often used for patients with depressive disorders or anxiety called cognitive behavioral therapy. Ignatian spirituality is the practice of deliberate mindfulness redirecting one’s thoughts to the Father.  Ignatian spirituality encourages daily meditative behavior. Fr. James Martin, S.J. explains in his book,  A Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, :

“It means that nothing is considered outside the purview of the spiritual life. Ignatian spirituality is not confined within the walls of a church. It’s not a spirituality that considers only ‘spiritual’ topics, like prayer and sacred texts, as part of a person’s spiritual life.”

Everything in this life is spiritual. Yes, even suffering.   As St. Ignatius has taught us, this means in all circumstances we are to find God in all things. God is always present even in our darkest hours- especially in our darkest hours.  For without suffering, without sin, without darkness, there would be no need for Jesus.

When I feel sadness, I seek God, “Out of the depths, I call to you, Lord; Lord, hear my cry! May your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy,” as David, the psalmist, writes Psalm 130:1-2. The face of God  peers through the light of the sun, in the majesty of crashing waves, in the sorrow of the poor, in a slumbering baby in the pew next to me, in the sorrowful eyes of the sick, in the embrace of two lovers- in all things. In the quiet, I can find God in all things even in suffering. In his gentleness, I can pull my face to the shining sun.

Suscipe (St. Ignatius of Loyola)

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,

my memory, my understanding

and my entire will,

All I have and call my own.

 

You have given all to me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

 

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace.

That is enough for me.

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