My mother-in-law passed away several months ago, and now my husband and his siblings are going through the arduous task of sorting through her belongings. My in-laws had six children and kept each report card, poorly colored picture, toddler outfit, and favorite childhood toy. There are decades worth of boxes of remnants of bad fashion, vinyl records, transistor radios, and diaries. And then there are the myriad gifts given to them for birthdays and Christmas, each displayed lovingly throughout their home.
Watching my husband and his sisters sort through these mementos, I observed their emotions. Some items brought howling laughter; others brought tears. But all through the process, each item was appreciated for the lesson it had taught, the memories it helped make, or the continuing value of its presence in their lives.
Being a part of this remembering made me aware that we have, in our faith tradition, spiritual family heirlooms as well. These are handed down to us in various ways but always as a means to grow deeper in our relationship with God. I am especially aware of the sacred heirlooms left to us by St. Ignatius Loyola. As a result of his life experiences, he has left us spiritual gifts that are priceless.
The Principle and Foundation is his gift of a spirituality that shows us a relational God, one who wants to know us and wants to be known by us. Its words invite us to be in love with God and God’s creation. It is a testimony of God’s desire for us as God’s beloved creations. By leaving us the Principle and Foundation, St. Ignatius teaches us how to live in balance and find the peace for which we are meant.
The Spiritual Exercises, in which we find the Principle and Foundation and so much more, is a guide for those accompanying others through a spiritual retreat inviting us to experience a deep closeness with God. We pray through creation, our sinfulness, our call to discipleship and its cost, holy suffering, and Resurrection. The Exercises are a masterful journey in spirituality, prayer, and discernment.
Placed within the Spiritual Exercises, the discernment of spirits is a tool willed to us by St. Ignatius. Developed through his own experiences of life and prayer, Ignatian discernment offers a guide for wise, spiritual decision-making. It is the GPS system St. Ignatius wanted us to have to get in touch with our inner movements and their source.
The Suscipe prayer gives us the words to surrender our lives to God. Written after much prayer, meditation, and contemplation, St. Ignatius bequeathed this to us as an offering of humility and service to God.
There are many other Ignatian heirlooms left to us to further our spiritual lives, such as finding God in all things, being a contemplative in action, and the Jesuit order. What gifts these are, handed down centuries ago and still blessing us today!
We should cherish our family heirlooms, whatever they may be. But we mustn’t forget about our spiritual heirlooms, lovingly left to us by saints like St. Ignatius and other holy men and women of faith.