As we celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the following was shared by Fr. Xavier Olin, SJ, Xavier School’s Campus Minister, and Superior of the Xavier School-Mary the Queen-Philippine General Hospital Jesuit community. Below is an excerpt from Fr. Brian O’Leary, SJ’s book Ignatian Spirituality.
It is important to recognise that his enlightenment was not about abstract truths but about a personal God who is in a relationship with us. God was revealing himself through these “visions”, enabling Ignatius to enter into the mystery of the divine: The Trinity (God is a community), Creation (all that God made is good), Eucharist (God shares his life with us), Christ’s humanity (Jesus, although God, is like us in all things except sin), Our Lady (Mary models our relationship with her Son and with the Father).
However, these experiences were surpassed by another known as the “great enlightenment”. It took place on the banks of the river Cardoner that flows through Manresa, In his own words:
He was once on his way, out of devotion, to a church a little more than a mile from Manresa, which I think was called Saint Paul. The road followed the path of the river and he was taken up with his devotions; he sat down for a while facing the river flowing far below him. As he sat there the eyes of his understanding were opened and though he saw no vision he understood and perceived many things, numerous spiritual things as well as matters touching on faith and learning, and this was with an elucidation so bright that all these things seemed new to him. He cannot expound in detail what he then understood, for they were many things, but he can state that he received such a lucidity in understanding that during the course of his entire life – now having passed his sixty-second year – if he were to gather all the helps he received from God and everything he knew, and add them together, he does not think they would add up to all that he received on that one occasion (Aut. 30).
Like his comment after describing the five earlier experiences, this account ends with a similarly remarkable claim. The Cardoner experience was without doubt the high point of his enlightenment by God. The content of this enlightenment is more difficult to identify. He speaks of understanding “numerous spiritual things as well as matters touching on faith and learning”. But what were they? He does not specify. Probably (though by no means certainly) he was not being taught new truths but was seeing familiar ones in a more penetrating light (they seemed new to him). And since he speaks of the Cardoner experience immediately after his description of the earlier visions, it is at least conceivable that he received inter alia a still deeper understanding of the Trinity, Creation, Eucharist, humanity of Christ, and Our Lady. But there was another crucial aspect to this experience by the Cardoner.
Unusual, if not unique, in this portrayal of a mystical experience is the incorporation of “learning” in its content (from the word he uses it is clear that this refers to secular learning). Its inclusion indicates that he grasped within the experience the inter-relatedness of truth – bringing together matters of the spirit, of faith, and of secular learning. One of the early Jesuits wrote that at the Cardoner Ignatius saw “the guiding principles and causes of all things”. He saw how all things, secular as well as sacred, human as well as divine, had their source and origin in the creator God. All this is implied by the word “inter-relatedness”, This reading of the Autobiography helps us to understand, however obscurely, how the Cardoner experience bore fruit in Ignatius as the gift of discernment. It became for him the touchstone for all his future decision-making.
Note: The quoted text within the above quote is from the Autobiography (Aut.) of St Ignatius.