"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

3/5 'PRESENCE': Saint Ignatius of Loyola Speaks About The Five Elements Of Ignatian Prayer


e, myself included, would often approach prayer as ‘thinking’ more, ‘saying’ more or 'doing' more. No. Prayer is not dependent on what we think, say or do 'exteriorly'. St Ignatius tells us that “it is not much knowing that fills and satisfies the spirit but more to sense and taste things interiorly" (SE 2). I really take to heart this spiritual mnemonic every time I listen to my retreatants during our one on one sessions. I restrain myself from saying too much so that the person may experience first interiorly, inside-out, “the action of God illuminating the mind.” When we desire and remember God in prayer we experience His presence, God's proximity—nearness in time, space, and relationship.

There is an animated film entitled “Soul” that I would like to use to illustrate the third element of Ignatian prayer. There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet! Towards the end of the film, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finally got the gig he wanted the most. He just recently died but he was miraculously given a second lease on life in order to play piano for Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). When the show was over he felt empty–his bubble was suddenly pricked. Joe had finally passed the rubicon and, all along, he had been hoping to be ecstatic like in Katy Perry's song Firework and to be flooded with euphoria. That did not happen. Dorothea, his heroine-turned-bandmate, consoled him by telling the story of the two fish. “I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to an older fish and says: ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean’. ‘The ocean?’ the older fish exclaims in disbelief, ‘that’s what you’re in right now!’ ‘This’, says the young fish, ‘this is water. What I want is the ocean!’”

Often times we are like the young fish–always seeking for the best at breakneck speed and not taking a second to appreciate the many second bests that have transpired right before our very eyes. We are living in an ocean and to be able to see, taste and relish the beauty all around us is to carry with us that deep sense of awe and wonder. We can hide the ocean from ourselves but we can never hide from it. The initial reward for being aware of the all-encompassing presence is the view that literally takes one’s breath away. It’s not an item that we can put in our résumé but definitely, it is imprinted in our souls forever.

But Ignatian prayer moves deeper beyond the visual imagining and also sense experiences. But these are important as launching pads like St Ignatius’ imagined maidservant in the Contemplation on the Nativity, e.g., I am moved from ‘gazing at’ the Holy Family to ‘serving them in their needs, just as if I were there’ (SE 114). But when all is said and done in contemplation we are brought closer and closer to the heart. St Teresa writes in the “Interior Castle” her vision of the soul as "a castle made of a single diamond… in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions." She describes the various rooms of this castle—the degrees of purgation and continual strife—through which the soul in search for perfection must traverse before reaching the innermost chamber, the place of complete transfiguration and communion with God. For St Teresa, there is no life more real than the interior life, and few persons have had such an extraordinarily rich experience of this ultimate spiritual reality–the source of St Teresa’s profound joy.


This is where the gift of St Ignatius as a spiritual master comes in. We can safely turn to him whom God himself trained. Ignatius so diligently inculcates in his Spiritual Exercises that initial in-depth attitude of the person’s total readiness for God from where he or she existentially is—“to enter upon them (the Spiritual Exercises [SE]) with magnanimity and generosity (con grande animo) towards his or her Creator and Lord, offering him his or her entire will and liberty, that his Divine Majesty may dispose of him or her and all he or she possesses according to his most holy will” (SE 5).

In our first treatment of desire, we must be courageous and magnanimous in desiring God himself. St Ignatius always couple every prayer period with the grace to beg for. In the original Spanish it is “demandar lo que quiero”–demand that which I want. When we go to a restaurant and we would like to complain about something, many of us would normally demand to talk to the manager or to the one in charge. Similarly, this is what we are doing with each “demandar lo que quiero.” St Ignatius urges us to demand seeing God, not for anything that is less than God, but God himself. But we all vary in our degrees of desire for God which requires spiritual maturity and freedom. Like in any human relationship, the desire to be with each other must be allowed to grow first. In the parable of the two fish, the younger fish already possesses the desire to experience not just water but the ocean, however, the young fish does not have yet the same spiritual vision that the older fish has. “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hurries toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it delays, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay long" (Habbakuk 2:3). Therefore constancy in desiring and remembering is a great spiritual virtue to cultivate in prayer. St Ignatius holds that it does not matter how short or how long the prayer period will take for as long as the goal is achieved, i.e., ‘To have God always before one's eyes’.
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it" (Deuteronomy 30: 11-14).


Broth­er Lawrence of the Res­ur­rec­tion (c. 1614—12 Feb­ru­ary 1691) served as a lay broth­er in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Chris­tians com­mon­ly regard him for writing the clas­sic Chris­t­ian text, The Prac­tice of the Pres­ence of God. He said that our rela­tion­ship to God is God's indwelling presence in our hearts. God is truly in our hearts, that we must adore, love, and serve him in spirit and in truth. This is the best disposition to have in the practice of the presence of God—who sees everything that happens and will happen in us and in all creatures; that He is always at work freely in spite of all creatures that depend on Him for everything they need.

Brother Lawrence’s concept of prayer goes even deeper, as he defines the practice of the presence of God as a 'prayer within the prayer'. He says: “During our work and other activities, even during our reading and writing, no matter how spiritual—and, I emphasize, even during our religious exercises and vocal prayers—we must stop for a moment, as often as possible, to adore God in the depths of our hearts, to savor him, even though in passing and stealthily. Since you are aware that God is present to you during your actions, that he is in the depths and center of your heart, stop your activities and even your vocal prayers, at least from time to time, to adore him within, to praise him, to ask his help, to offer him your heart, and to thank him” (Spiritual Maxims 9). For it is these brief moments of relishing God's presence that truly satisfies.

The Curé of Ars, St John Mary Vianney, gives this perfect catechism on prayer. I quote,
Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When the heart is pure and united with God it is consoled and filled with sweetness; it is dazzled by a marvelous light. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax moulded into one; they cannot any more be separated. It is a very wonderful thing, this union of God with his insignificant creature, a happiness passing all understanding.
Fr JM Manzano SJ