The Accents of Ignacian Spirituality of Humble Servanthood
By: S. Ma. Anicia B. Co, RVM


         As a follow-up to our session on Ignacian Spirituality held last March 2012, we shall focus on the accents of Ignacian spirituality. These are the centrality of Christ and the spirituality of the cross, application to work and grateful dependence on God, interior freedom. We shall begin with a review of what we mean by Christian spirituality and additional notes on characteristics of Christian spirituality. Then we shall discuss each of the accepts of Ignacian spirituality according to the following pattern: a) experience of Mother Ignacia based on the brief account of Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde; b) what Mother Ignacia teaches based on the 1726 Rules; c) reflections based on Scriptures.


Christian Spirituality and Its Characteristics

         As we have noted before, spirituality is a lived religious experience. Christian spirituality is one’s entire life in relationship to God, in Christ Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is our way of being Christian, in response to the call of God, issued through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is thus clear that Christian spirituality is Trinitarian, Christocentric, pneumatological, ecclesial and eschatological while being deeply personal. Christian spirituality is “rooted in the life of the triune God, centered on Jesus Christ, situated in the Church, ever responsive to the Holy Spirit, and oriented always to the coming of God’s Reign in all its fullness at the end of human history.We mentioned five constants or elements of Christian spirituality: God-image, prayer, community, ministry, asceticism.

         God-image: how one relates to God is based on one’s image of God, how God appears to a person.

Prayer: One’s way of communicating with and encountering God is conditioned by one’s God-image.

         Community: prayer influences one’s relationship with others in the community of believers. Prayer is not only personal or individual but also communal.

         Ministry: the overflow of one’s relationship with God is expressed in acts of service, kindness and love.

         Asceticism: growth in one’s relationship with God is supported, sustained, deepened and enhanced by acts of spiritual discipline that strengthens one’s spirit to will and do what is good avoid what is evil. Asceticism includes fasting, prayer and other forms of discipline such as of the body, of the tongue, of one’s thoughts, reading Scripture and spiritual books, spiritual conversation, discernment examen.

         Currents of contemporary spirituality lead us to speak of four characteristics of Christian spirituality; namely, visionary, sacramental, relational and transformational.It is visionary because it involves a new way of seeing reality, of seeing through things  to their spiritual core, “describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms” (1 Cor 2:13). It is sacramental because it manifests the hidden presence of God with which it is imbued. It is relational because Christian life is never an isolated experience. To be Christian is to live in community, to belong to the Church.To be spiritually Christian is to live always in relation with others; with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ and in the human community at large. Christian spirituality demands sensitivity to the presence, the needs and the gifts of others, as well as to the created goods of the earth. Christian spirituality is transformational. The spiritual Christian is in touch with the presence of the Spirit as the power which heals, reconciles, renews, gives life, bestows peace, sustains hope, brings joy and creates unity.Christian spirituality is open to the work of the Spirit so that through the instrumentality of the individual and of the Church the transformation of the world into the Reign of God might continue to occur.

         Contemporary Christian spirituality takes into explicit account the experience of women, the poor and socially marginalized, the global outreach of spiritual experience (ecumenical, interfaith, transcultural), its prophetic dimension (justice and peace), its ecological dimension (rooted in creation), and its incarnational character (integrated with the body).

         This renewed understanding of spirituality will have to be taken into account as we seriously consider our personal and communal growth in Ignacian spirituality.


Accents of Ignacian Spirituality of Humble Servanthood

         We recognize certain highlights or points of emphasis in Mother Ignacia’s spirituality of humble servanthood which we define as “spirituality of Marian radical openness to the will of God that impels to humble and courageous, generous and creative service of the Church.” I call these highlights or emphases as accents.

Centrality of Christ and Spirituality of the Cross

         Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde paints for us a picture of Mother Ignacia’s commitment to Jesus Christ and the spirituality of the cross in the following words:


They lived in extreme poverty, hardly having enough rice to eat, and to obtain a little salt they had to go beg for some from Fr. Andres Serrano, the rector of the College of St. Joseph. To cook their little rice they scrounged the streets for pieces of firewood. Mother Ignacia exhorted her companions to bear with constancy those hardships and poverty, and encouraged them to practice penance in order to move God to have mercy on them. Mother Ignacia took to wearing a yoke on the neck while others pulled her throughout the house; she used to carry a heavy cross on her shoulders, prostrated herself on the ground so that others may walk on her; she prayed with arms outstretched in the form of a cross under the heat of the noonday sun. The others imitated her, and every night they used the discipline, slept very little, passing most of the time in prayer. They were often in darkness for having no means of light.


         Fr. Murillo Velarde also mentions their practices of penance and public mortifications. Without doubt, Mother Ignacia and her companions were influenced by traditional Christian piety and the expressions of spirituality current during their time. We can highlight three pictures of Mother Ignacia from Fr. Murillo Velarde’s description: Mother Ignacia praying with outstretched arms under the noonday sun, Mother Ignacia carrying a heavy cross, Mother Ignacia lying prostrate on the ground. These three images appear to us as manifestations of Mother Ignacia’s desire to imitate Jesus Christ in his passion. Mother Ignacia was devoted to Jesus, the crucified Christ. She desires to share in the sufferings of Christ. She witnessed to the radical following of Jesus in poverty and powerlessness.These images also give us an insight into her asceticism and prayer.

From the 1726 Rules we read the following:

  Chapter I, no. 6
Ninguna procure la Vanaesti- macion, dePrudentesabia, yeloquen teenelhablar, paraquelasotras la honrren, y àlaben; antesbienpongan los ojos en JesuChristo, queescogiò lashumillaciones, y desprecios porno- sotros. No one should strive for empty self-esteem of being prudent, wise and eloquent in speech, so that the others may honor and praise her; rather they should set their eyes on Jesus Christ, who chose humiliations and contempt for us.


         Mother Ignacia teaches her companions to focus on the love and mercy of Jesus as in Rule I.13 regarding religious decorum where she counsels that they “observe modesty of the eyes, meditating on how Jesus carried the cross out of His love for us.”


  Chapter I, no. 13
Quandohandenporlacallenoba_ yansolas; sinoàcompañadasdedos endos, sin hablar, y sin bolverlaCave sa, auna, y òtra parte; queestoescosaindecente; antes tengan los ojosfixos enelsuelo, yenlas Calles mediten, co_ mo Jesus llevava la Cruz acuestass porlaMiSericordia, quetuvo de_ nosotros. They should not go alone on the streets; but accompanied, by twos, without talking, and without turning one’s head from one side to the other; because this is indecent; rather, they should fix their eyes on the ground, and on the streets meditate how Jesus was burdened with the cross out of the mercy that he had for us.
  Chapter I, no. 34
Tan altaperfeccion, nosepodrà al canzardelas Hermanas, sino re_ frenaren sus pacionesporamor deJesu Christo SeñorNuestro. This high degree of perfection cannot be obtained by the Sisters unless they curb their passions for the love of Christ, our Lord.
  Chapter I, no. 39
PoramordeJesusamaràn la pobrezaVoluntariaconservan dolaensu Corazon, y estimandola como el murodedtodaslasVirtudess. Out of love for Jesus, all should love poverty voluntarily conserving it in their hearts and regarding it as the rampart of all virtues.
  Chapter II, no. 12
Las quevivenencomunidaddeven dvitartodaparcialidadestoes, no handemostrar mas Inclinacion, ni amistadaunas, queàotras, sino ã marlasãtodas en Jesus Christo NuestroSeñor, mucho mas deven observer estolasquegoviernan lasqualesdevenmostraratodass igualVenevolencia, yasistirlass entodoloquehubieronmenester, su firendo sus imperfecciones; y corri giendolas con amordeMadress. Ysisehadesingularizarconal_ gunas sea conaquellas, queseess_ meran mas enserfervorosas en todogenerodeVirtud. Those who live in community should avoid all sort of partiality; they should not show more inclination nor friendship for one or the other, but love all in Jesus Christ our Lord; much more should those who govern observe this, those who should show to all equal benevolence and assist them in all that they need, bearing their imperfections and correcting them with motherly love. If ever a preference has to be made, it should be for those who are more fervent in all kinds of virtue.


         Her spirituality of the cross takes after the humble and obedient Jesus as model and teacher (Rule I.42 and 44).


  Chapter I, no. 42
Todaslasvezes, queobedecenãsuss Superioras, persuadanzemuideve ras, queenestoobedecenãDios cum pliendoquantoselesmanda, que no fuerepecado, y mucho les apro_ vecharasi se acostumbraren, ão bedeceraqualquier Persona por amordeJesus Christo; elqualobe_ decioàSusenemigostambien ypecadores. Whenever they obey their superiors, they should convince themselves that they truly obey God, complying with all their commands in all matters except what is sinful. They would profit more if they accustom themselves to obey any person for the love of Jesus Christ who obeyed His enemies as well as sinners.
  Chapter I, no. 44
Recivancongrandehumildad qualquierpenitenciaquelesim puciere la Superiora, õlaMaestra aunquenoayanCometidofalta quemerescatalmortificacionpu_ esJesu Christo SeñorNuestro, sintenersombradepecado ha_ padecidotantas ignominies y tor mentos, parasalvaratodos los hombres pecadores. Each must accept with great humility any penance imposed upon her by the Superior or Mistress even if she has not committed any fault which deserves such punishment, inasmuch as, Jesus Christ our Lord, being sinless had suffered much ignominy and torture in order to save all sinners.


         Spirituality of the cross is rooted in love and identification with Jesus. It is bearing sufferings out of love for Jesus. It is filled with confident hope and trust in growing in conformity with Christ.

Scriptural Foundation

         The centrality of Christ is the basis of Christian faith. We can find in the echoes of the following Scripture texts in the life and teachings of Mother Ignacia.

         Heb 12:1-2  Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.

         Mark 8:34/Mt 16:24Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

         Lk 9:23  If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

         Lk14:27  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

         Gal 2:19-20  I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.

         Phil 3:12 I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.

         2 Cor5:14  the love of Christ impels us. 

         Rom 6:4-6.8 We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery of sin…If then we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.

         Rom 8:16-17  The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

         Rom 8:35-39  What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:  “For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

         Phil 3:8-11   More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness form God, depending on faith to know him and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

         2 Cor 4:7-11 But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Spirituality of the Cross for Our Time

         The spirituality of the cross is not a joyless spirituality nor does it start with a negative view of human existence. This spirituality accepts the reality of the human condition with its possibilities and limitations, vulnerability and radical perplexity.

         We are creatures with limitless desires and possibilities confronted with the problem of evil, sin, suffering and death. Into the heart of our finite reality, evil continues to insinuate itself, mutating into ever new sinister and devastating forms, often bringing about intense suffering, even the destruction of very good lives. This aspect of perplexity is the dark reality of human existence and its entanglements in sin, suffering, and death that come to light in tragedy” Paul Crowley, SJ

         This spirituality expresses hope in God in a situation of darkness, even death. Karl Rahner says, “Christianity is a message of joy, courage and unshakeable confidence.” A Christian, according to him is “a person who accepts without reservations the whole of concrete human life with all of its adventures, its absurdities, and its incomprehensibilities.”

         Different forms of suffering send waves of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering throughout whole continents. But there is also the darkness of anguish, of confronting the truth about ourselves, of coming up against the imprisonments of our lives, and facing full throttle the complex of our moral, physical, and spiritual selves in relation to others and to God. The experience of truth can be, ironically, the darkness of confusion because what one sees is how perplexing life is, an admixture of great goodness of desire and incalculable failure and loss, mixed with a sense of unforgiving fate.

         Spirituality of the cross affirms that the experience of perplexity is the locus of encounter with God.  “One must face squarely and with appropriate humiliation the stark reality of sin—one's own, and the world's—and ultimately the reality of suffering and death that are, at least indirectly, the tragic consequences of sin.”

         Our natural tendency is to pull back from darkness, to avoid darkness, and thus the grace which seemed to be imposed upon us by the trials of life. We need to face reality and acknowledge it as it is, not in the spirit of fatalism but in active surrender, an acceptance of God’s dark grace.

         Spirituality of the cross is a spirituality of hope. “Only by running the risk of this existence and embracing the sorrows that it brings in its wake, as God did in Jesus, can one begin to speak of hope. The Cross is such an important symbol in Christian self-understanding, because on the Cross sorrow was fully embraced and hope mysteriously born.”

         We gain a deeper sense of hope as we see earthly realities more and more as provisional, passing, and incomprehensible.

         As John of the Cross suggested, those who have everything taken from them, through death, tragedy, calamity, or spiritual trial,are ironically those who even in their darkness can finally find themselves most secure in God.

         Grace often comes unexpectedly in darkness, and often it is only the darkness that one sees.

         Christians can, through an active faith, imagine dying as a gradual handling over of oneself to God with ever increasing desire and willingness.

         Cross of Christ as the central symbol of our faith. The cross represents not only our facing life's darkness but our embracing the darkness as the place where the God of hope will be encountered. The cross of Jesus is the symbol of the intrinsic connection of the sin of the world and death and the threshold of hope.

         Spirituality of the Cross is an active surrender of everything through dying to God. It is consistent with a quiet joy in life and a love for life that in no way denies the bleak landscapes of human existence but opens life to the future of God. In Jesus the human sorrows are met by God’s sorrow. Cross is the sign of divine empathy. God is for us and for our salvation because God has been revealed in Jesus as a God of empathy, a God who sorrows.

         Hope enlivens and emboldens the Christian along the way to find grounds for faith, active love, compassion, and joy.

Application to work and Grateful dependence on God

         The decision of Mother Ignacia to live by the sweat of her brow led to the distinctive apostolic character of her beaterio. Her original inspiration included the decision to live a life of work at the service of the Divine Majesty. She chose to support herself by the labor of her own hands. She looked at her work as loving service. It was not the work of a slave but of a child who experienced the love of a gracious Father.

         Fr. Murillo Velarde describes the work of Mother Ignacia and her companions.

Interior Freedom

         One of the legacy of Mother Ignacia to us is the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It was after undergoing the Spiritual Exercises that she decided to “remain in the service of the Divine Majesty” and she was sustained by the same exercises to commit her whole life to God’s service until God finally called her to eternal union with Him.

         The purpose of the Spiritual Exercises, according to St Ignatius,  is "to conquer oneself and to regulate one's life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment." In other words, the Exercises are intended, in Ignatius' view, to give the exercitant (the person undertaking them) a greater degree of freedom from his or her own likes, dislikes, comforts, wants, needs, drives, appetites and passions that they may choose based solely on what they discern God's will is for them.

         “In its entirety, the Spiritual Exercises is an intense experience of discipleship and God’s service in ever deeper spiritual freedom…Both the seeker and the guide remain free to search for the spiritual exercises that best facilitate movement toward God, adapting to the pace and needs of each individual seeker” (Dyckman, et al, 2001:55). 

         “Disordered affections” conflict with one’s deepest humanity, unfolding spirituality and growth in spiritual freedom.

         We affirm the freedom of the human will. To be free is to choose what God wants us to choose. “The happiest people on earth are those who use their free wills to choose what God wants them to choose. And the most unhappy people in the world are those who choose what they want. The pro-choicers are all unhappy people. If by pro-choice, as we know, they mean choosing what you want” (John Hardon)

         To be free is to be present to oneself, to be in possession of oneself, to be conscious of oneself as a distinct, responsible being. Freedom does not so much allow us to do something as to be someone, in relation to God, neighbour, world, and self.

         We become who we are meant to be, who God wants us to be by the exercise of our free will. Our freedom is limited from without and from within. It is qualified by our situatedness in history, by various natural and physical realities and events. Our freedom is also limited from within by the mystery of our personhood. We can never be fully present to ourselves. There is a psychic universe which remains hidden from our consciousness and yet influences profoundly our awareness, our vision, and our sense of personal responsibility.

         Human Freedom is the relatively limited capacity to decide who we shall be. It is a transcendental capacity of which we can never be directly conscious. We are at once present to ourselves and distant from ourselves. We are present to ourselves in that we are who we are and in that we alone are directly conscious of who we are. But we are also distant from ourselves in that even our self-knowledge is limited by factors and forces outside and inside ourselves.

         “Only one who understands his or her self in relationship of response and dialogue with God and fellowmen can reach that selfhood that is truly free to love and to be faithful in a creative way.”  “The liberty for which Christ has freed us cannot reveal its responsive and creative dynamics without an equally creative fidelity to the Lord of history” (Bernard Haring). 

         Freedom is transcendental openness to everything –truth, love, beauty, goodness, absolute.

         Within ourselves is a space of freedom which nobody can take away because God is its source and guarantor.No matter what sufferings we endure, none will oppress or crush us.

         During the Spiritual Exercises, focused through the key meditations of the Second Week, with their demanding ascesis, we attempt to get out of God’s way in our hearts, deepen our sense of interior freedom from the hero-system of popular secular society, and allow God’s own impelling Spirit to lead us in taking action, out of this new freedom, which is authentically emancipatory for other men and women.

         This freedom is exercised within the concrete, categorical dimension of existence when we realize our identity as unique spiritual persons in relation to others. Successive acts of freedom help determine the final state of our lives, for which each is finally responsible, a responsibility nevertheless held in the ambit of God's mercy. Yet we cannot actualize this freedom in an absolutely unhindered way, as though we were monads in self-possession of utterly pure, abstracted natures. The actualization of our freedom takes place within a set of historical and even determining factors and in mutual relationship with other persons and their limitations. We co-determine one another, not only in freedom, but also in our sinfulness. The actualization of human freedom is then co-determined by mutually shared history of sin and guilt. Our lives bear the stamp of the history of other persons.

         "[T]he good act itself always remains ambiguous because of the co-determination of this situation by guilt. It always remains burdened with consequences which could not really be intended because they lead to tragic impasses, and which disguise the good that was intended by one's own freedom."26 What one intends as a gesture of love could turn out to be an act of selfish domination, an act "lured on" by cupidity, to borrow a phrase from Bernard of Clairvaux.27 Conversely, even the experience of grace is not without ambiguity within the contours of what Paul terms "the flesh".

         The darkness of life is the theatre of freedom; reality is the place where hope dawns.

“Living out the gospel freely and joyfully, depends upon the ability to recognize the features of the crucified and risen Jesus in one’s life and in the world.” (Pierre Wolff, 1997:xiv)

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