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Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola: Prayer Is a Force for Action

 

St. Ignatius of LoyolaJesuit Fr. Walter Burghardt once described prayer as, “A long, loving look at the real”. Rather than a form of escapism or an appeal to a magical deity for favors or special treatment, true prayer immerses one in the world around us and with the creator of this world. A key feature of St. Ignatius’ spirituality and worldview is that we start with a firm grounding in the reality of our world. As we celebrate his Feast Day on July 31, I’m reminded of a couple of Ignatius’ key contributions to my prayer life. 

First, he starts with the conviction that all of God’s creation is good. Evil is what comes out of the misuse of that creation. If I forget this truth (which happens more frequently than I would like), I find myself slipping into cynicism and despair, both rational reactions to observing the situation around us. Terrorism, conflict, hunger, violence, etc. It’s easy to assume that the problems we see have always been, and will always be, with us. It’s “the human condition”, and hopelessness is a natural response. But Ignatius’ view of creation can help me focus on the positive and life-affirming things I am also surrounded by. And this can push me to a constructive response in gratitude for this world, versus a fearful retreat from it. It is a reminder that we can make a difference. 

Prayer then is a force for action, not escapism. This is another feature of Ignatius’ outlook on reality that I appreciate. Don’t get me wrong, I practice escapism as much as the next guy. I love to have a couple beers and watch the Orioles, or read (too many) apocalyptic zombie novels. Nothing wrong with a little down time. But I hope that my prayer is always about engaging the world, making it better, and building the Kingdom. And prayer doesn’t happen just when I am alone in my room or in church, but it’s also taking place when I am immersed in my daily life and encounters with people. Prayer is an active response of gratitude and hope. It is a recognition of our partnership with the creator. We are called to be co-creators with God. Pope Francis, himself a son of Ignatius, says it best: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”

- by Kevin O'Brien, Director of Ignatian Partners