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

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


e come to the fifth element of Ignatian prayer which is the act of surrender. We have an English word for 'fifth element'—quintessence. In Sacred Scripture, something quite like the "one thing necessary" and "the good portion" (Lk 10:42). The modern definition of quintessence is "the pure, highly concentrated essence of something." In medieval philosophy, quintessence is the highest essence—the fifth element after earth, air, fire, and water—thought to be the substance of the heavenly bodies and latent in all things. Quintessential things give that same childlike and unabated joy at being back in the water. It is both 'taking' and 'receiving'. There is a famous prayer of St Ignatius called Take and Receive. It is a prayer of radical self-emptying. A person who could say such a prayer is the one who has received the "good portion," the "one thing necessary" which brings about the "salvation of one's soul." No wonder, this is the Church's supreme law (suprema lex)—“the salvation of souls... must be the supreme law in the Church” "Salus animarum suprema lex esto" (1983 Code of Canon Law 1752).

The final step towards the salvation of a person's soul is self-emptying of which Mary of Nazareth is the model par excellence. When Mary made her choice, in freedom, to surrender everything beginning from her Yes to the angel until her Assumption, she was filled with the 'fifth essence'. The key to Mary's fullness of grace is tied to her total surrender to God, who alone could never be outdone in generosity. Mary's self-emptying was filled with God's abundance. William Wordsworth captured what Mary has achieved on human beings' behalf in his poem The Virgin. The following is an excerpt:
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before Jesus's passion, he talks about this quintessential act of surrender. He says, "The one who loves his life loses it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life" (Lk 9:24). "...[W]hat can we give to God that he does not already have? How can the finite repay the infinite? It simply is not possible. But that, of course, does not imply that we can do nothing. There are offerings we can make which will be acceptable to God and received with joy. We can offer our freedom and service. One saves one's soul by serving and choosing, that is, giving sense and fullness to one’s life" (Eight Days Of The Spiritual Exercises, Florencio Segura SJ, p. 9).


“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mt 16:26). Jesus by asking this question he puts the highest premium on the human person's ultimate end. The more of that precious fifth essence a person has, the higher is his or her standing on the ladder of virtue. Though the soul is only for persons properly speaking, the consideration of other created objects or realities are part of the human person and are not separate. Pope Francis looks at the human person as embodied or enfleshed. The Holy Father writes, “Realities are greater than ideas. This principle has to do with the incarnation of the word and its being put into practice... The principle of reality, of a word, already made flesh and constantly striving to take flesh anew, is essential to evangelization... this principle impels us to put the word into practice, to perform works of justice and charity which make that word fruitful. Not to put the word into practice, not to make it a reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas, and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centeredness and Gnosticism” (Evangelii Gaudium 233).


When we say that a person has life is to be spirited or soulful. We began with the metaphor of bird flight—Spirit is to prayer as air is to flight. Prayer begins always with the aid of the Spirit but it ends too with the same Spirit. Without the Spirit, nothing in the world is of any worth, value or meaning, and if we labor or build without the Spirit, i.e., "the good portion," we labor and build in vain, devoid of quintessence. To be without this precious element is equivalent to being lukewarm. In the parable of the talents the lukewarm—those who are neither hot nor cold—are some of the most wretched of the damned. One of the promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is for lukewarm souls to become fervent. We are not called to be lukewarm but rather to have, what St Ignatius calls discreta caritas (discerning love) for the Giver—the source of all consolations. This is linked to the true meaning of Ignatian magis—the quality of having, doing, and being that makes a person tick. In Jesus' stinging rebuke to the church of Laodicea for being lukewarm, he says "I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot" (Rev 3:15). It is not in terms of doing or having many but drawing closer to a God whose presence is always more (Deus semper major). Therefore whenever we reach the point of having longed for or desired God already, we realize all the more how he remains unfathomable and that the only appropriate response is to surrender. Recall the parable of the two fishes.

This final part of every prayer, which is also a new beginning, looks to the future with hope, trust, and a surrendering attitude towards an ever greater love for and from God. This love has been the sustaining element for Jesus all throughout his earthly life and, therefore, it is the "one thing necessary" in each passing day. Albert Nolan writes in his book “Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom,” about what must have been like for Jesus to love his own Father with the same quality of quintessence. I quote, “How can someone be commanded to love? Love is an emotion that wells up inside us in certain circumstances. It is not a matter of obedience or duty... In Jesus’ understanding, loving God was a grateful and joyful response to God’s unconditional love. It was a spontaneous response to the experience of God as a loving, caring Father... In practice many Christians see it the other way around: that we first make a giant effort to obey the commandment to love God, and when, with God’s grace, we succeed, God responds by loving us. For Jesus, however, God’s love comes first.”

Fr JM Manzano SJ