Ignatius vs. Francis

So we had out retreat team follow up meeting last night. My colleague,

St Ignatius of Loyola

Julianne Wallace, who has a great Franciscan heart remarked that while the retreat was a great experience, she admitted that Ignatian Spirituality just isn’t her bag. She also had just spent a week with Franciscans, a spirituality that does speak to her. So she wondered if that had something to do with it.

I pressed her a bit. Not because I didn’t believe her, or found her comment distressing, but rather because my own experience with both spiritualities has been more complimentary than diametrically opposed. I find that both Ignatius and Francis are concerned with the poor, both look to find God in all things, both are filled with a grace experience in which we are called to experience a poverty of spirit, realizing that God is really all we need. The retreats I’ve experienced with both orders have been good experiences.

Some of the other influences for me is that I have had good experiences when I’ve done retreats with younger people and not so much when there have been older people around. Perhaps it’s an energy thing, the young people give me a lot of energy. Often baby boomers fall into a bit of a superficial spirituality in retreat circles where heart often not only trumps head, but pushes it out the door.

Recently, one of our Catholic volunteers expressed annoyance that when he seeks an intellectual experience in faith circles he’s often told to only focus on how he feels about these things. “Don’t we need both experiences?” he remarked. Agreed.

Back to my colleague, Julianne, she expressed the centering on joy that Franciscan spirituality offers as opposed to Ignatius having a more intellectual outlook. Not that Ignatius’ outlook is DEPRIVED of joy, but there’s certainly a different feel to going to a Franciscan retreat, than an Ignatian one. Again, I’d also caution that Ignatius always talked about looking at one’s feelings as a primary means of experiencing God and then reflecting on those feelings. Naturally, Ignatius was also a great admirer of Francis, so I’m sure much of his outlook is based on Francis’ work.

I tease, Br. Dan Horan, saying that Franciscans should often read Jesuits. Perhaps there are Jesuits who should also spend time centered in a Friary being in community and working together on things. Perhaps Franciscans are a bit more communally centered than placing so much emphasis on the individual?

I also commented to my co-director, Greg Coogan, that we might like the Jesuits and have studied much about him, but even with all that we’re not Jesuits. The same would be true if we centered our focus on a Franciscan theme. Greg, also made the comment that most of the younger people probably could care less about what “brand” of retreat we run as long as it is for young adults. I think that’s on the mark.

At the same time, I’m always looking for opportunities to merge the church a bit closer. After all, we are all Catholics, not merely directed towards one particular saint. We preach Jesus, not Ignatius or Francis. I often joke with Franciscan friends that if the Franciscans would quit breaking themselves up into smaller groups of Franciscans they’d probably run the world!

I suppose eventually one would have to pick a particular tradition to focus on. While working with the Paulists we often merged a bit of Isaac Hecker’s thoughts in with Ignatius. Perhaps Benedictine hospitality, Francis’ joy, Ignaitus’ exercises and our modern efforts as lay people all have something to offer to these weekend experiences. Our partners in Charis ministries, an Ignatian retreat organization, surely will want to continue to be identifiable with Ignatian spirituality, but I am glad they are open to our experimenting and staying open to other traditions as well.