Thursday, July 31, 2003

The scariest prayer in the hymnal, and its composer: St. Ignatius Loyola

Take, Lord, receive
all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
my entire will.

Take, Lord, receive
all I have and possess.
You have given all to me;
now I return it.

Give me only Your love and Your grace;
that's enough for me.
Your love and Your grace
are enough for me.

Take, Lord, receive;
all is Yours now.
Dispose of it
wholly according to Your will.

Give me only Your love and Your grace;
that's enough for me.
Your love and Your grace
are enough for me.


. . . . . -----Saint Ignatius Loyola



Today is the Solemnity (in my parish, memorial just about everywhere else....) of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Also the developer of the Spiritual Exercises and of a set of particularly good guidelines for the discernment of spirits. Also the author of the prayer Anima Christi ---- you all know the one: "....Blood of Christ, inebriate me........" And of that scariest prayer in the hymnal, Suscipe, that I typed above the picture. And he learned his wisdom, mostly, in the school of hard knocks, repentance, and experimentation. It all began with a crippling war wound, a long bout of bed rest, and a castle library with not one good rip-roaring chivalric romance in it, only the Book of the Gospels and a book on the lives of the saints.

A first generation Jesuit named Luis Gonzalez wrote a biography of St. Ignatius based on his own words and writings, a portion of which is given to us in today's Office of Readings.

Ignatius was passionately fond of reading worldly books of fiction and tales of knight-errantry. When he felt he was getting better, he asked for some of these books to pass the time. But no book of that sort could be found in the house; instead they gave him a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of saints written in Spanish.

By constantly reading these books he began to be attracted to what he found narrated there. Sometimes in the midst of his reading he would reflect on what he had read. Yet at other times he would dwell on many of the things which he had been accustomed to dwell on previously. But at this point our Lord came to his assistance, insuring that these thoughts were followed by others which arose from his current reading.

While reading the life of Christ our Lord or the lives of the saints, he would reflect and reason with himself: “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?” In this way he let his mind dwell on many thoughts; they lasted a while until other things took their place. Then those vain and worldly images would come into his mind and remain a long time. This sequence of thoughts persisted with him for a long time.

But there was a difference. When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood his experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercises, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.


Yes, St. Ignatius is daunting, one of the scariest of the scary-holy saints of God. But this is no reason to fear to follow; Ignatius didn't start out daunting and scary-holy, he started out as a wimp, just as we all do. He started taking care for his soul, and started putting some effort into his relationship with Jesus, and started to be willing to listen and learn, and he got stronger and stronger until he became daunting --- and it took quite a while.

Do not be afraid to sing Suscipe. Even if, right now, you can only want and wish that you could want what you are asking for, that will be enough for now. Our Lord, who unfailingly desires each and every one of us to come to him, honors even our littlest steps in that direction, and pours our his help and grace in great overabundance. His is plentious redemption. Step forward faithfully and without fear, and you, also, can grow up to be strong and holy --- and the day will come when you can sing Suscipe with a fully willing heart and totally empty hands, and wonders will then happen. You have my word on that.

If my word is not enough, take April Oursler Armstrong's word. Read Cry Babel, her book about her adventures, rather extraordinary ones, when she came to the day that she could pray the Suscipe without hedging her bets in her mind. Not every case is as dramatic as hers, mind you, but it's still a really good read.

Happy St. Iggy's Day!
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[Addendum: 3:40 pm]

Since my text of Suscipe, the first I learned and the only one I've got memorized, is a metrical translation for singing, I'm filching from Fr. Jim of Dappled Things and reposting here the original Latin text of that prayer; some of you may want to have fun with compare-contrast. We all know that metrical translations of anything can have their problems.......

Suscipe, Domine, universam meam libertatem; accipe memoriam, intellectum atque voluntatem omnem; quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es; id tibi totum restituo atque tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum; amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones et dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco. Amen.
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1 comment:

Fr. Michael de Stoop said...

Prior to going on the Ignatian 30-day retreat, the "Suscipe" of St. Ignatius seemed to me to be a rather daunting prayer as it expresses such a radical desire to give oneself. But after going on the retreat, the "Suscipe" has become a whole lot more meaningful for me. Given that the retreat led me to contemplate the beauty of the love within the Blessed Trinity, what suddenly stood out for me when praying his "Suscipe" is that this prayer becomes even more beautiful to pray when imagining that you are Jesus praying to God the Father!

In this, I can see that this prayer was the fruit of St. Ignatius’ own contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.