Waiting on the Spirit

River Cardoner
This is the River Cardoner today, flowing by the church that was built over the cave in which St. Ignatius prayed.

My son is preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation this month. The other day, he came home from school worried because he couldn’t remember all of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit on a quiz. He was secretly wondering if this would affect his Confirmation. I told him not to worry; he simply needed to prepare his heart and ask the Spirit to come. The Holy Spirit would not be delayed by his quiz score.

I recounted to my son how St. Ignatius, his chosen Confirmation saint, experienced the power of the Holy Spirit well before he studied theology. As a youth, St. Ignatius trained to be a courtier, so he didn’t receive even a basic elementary education until he sought it out in his early 30s so that he could apply to university. At the age of 33, Ignatius sat among elementary school children to learn Latin grammar! Yet Ignatius experienced the most powerful mystical experience of his life prior to attending that elementary school and without a degree in theology.

In fact, when Ignatius made the decision to follow Christ, he had a lot of zeal but only a basic knowledge of his faith. He had read about the lives of the saints and had decided that if they could do it, he could too. And, being a competitive person, he wanted to outdo the saints. He recounts in his autobiography how it took him three full days to write an account of his sins at Montserrat, how he fasted from all food and even water for an entire week, and how he performed severe penitential practices in his quest to become a saint. During that time, his focus was on his sins, and he saw himself as so worthless that he was even tempted to commit suicide.

Then, one day, as he sat on the banks of the Cardoner River, everything changed:

Near the road is a stream, on the bank of which he sat, and gazed at the deep waters flowing by. While seated there, the eyes of his soul were opened. He did not have any special vision, but his mind was enlightened on many subjects, spiritual and intellectual. So clear was this knowledge that from that day everything appeared to him in a new light. Such was the abundance of this light in his mind that all the divine helps received, and all the knowledge acquired up to his sixty-second year, were not equal to it. From that day he seemed to be quite another man, and possessed of a new intellect. (The Autobiography of St. Ignatius)

There, he suddenly realized how loved he was by God. He understood how precious he was to God. He knew without a doubt that although he was a sinner, he was loved in a way he could not even fathom. His fear-filled approach to God changed into awe and wonder at the depths of God’s mercy and love. He didn’t want to sin, because he didn’t want to be apart from that love. Ignatius said, “It is not hard to obey, when we love the one we obey.” It was a pivotal point in Ignatius’s spiritual journey, and it’s a distinction that sets his spirituality apart to this day: we are sinners, but we are loved sinners.

That powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit left Ignatius with a kind of gratitude, a relational gratitude, that exists only within the experience of encounter; a gratitude that resides within the sacred relationship with God. It was that gratitude, infused with the joy of the Spirit, which impelled him forward throughout the remainder of his life. No amount of learning could have prepared him for that experience, and no amount of learning was required for the Holy Spirit to visit him on that day.

It is the same with my son. With his heart open and waiting, the Spirit will come. The Spirit will not be waiting for a better quiz score.


  1. Rebecca, thank you for reminding us that we need to realize and embrace the most important title that anyone holds is “beloved sinner and friend of Jesus;” then, we are rich beyond compare. Our great treasures should be the spiritual gifts we recieve in the reception of the sacraments, the sacred scriptures and life within the Mystical Body of the Church. Blessing!

  2. A beautiful and humbling reminder that the love of God is not dependant on our behavior or knowledge and our most important calling is to love.

    • Thank you, Barbara. Yes, isn’t it wonderful that God’s ways are not our ways? I love seeing God’s mercy demonstrated in St. Ignatius’ life and in our own lives every day!

  3. The innocence of children and the powerful words of guidance from a mother so caring. Lovely and thank you for sharing Rebecca.

  4. Congratulations to your son and family on his upcoming Confirmation, Rebecca! I’m praying he will be aware throughout his life of the overflowing of gifts of the Holy Spirit in ways he never expected. May he always be open to receiving them, and always amazed!

  5. I was confirmed at age nine, and it meant nothing to me except a new dress and a new name. The Holy Spirit waited patiently for forty years before I finally opened my heart and soul to Him. I am new to Ignatian spirituality. God bless you!

    • How wonderful that your heart and soul is open to the Holy Spirit, Marian! Welcome to Ignatian Spirituality. This site is a treasure trove of Ignatian wisdom (in theory and in practice) – I hope you find it helpful on your spiritual journey!

  6. This story reminded me of my own preparation for confirmation at age 8. I begged to be allowed to wait until I was older I knew I found it really hard to understand the gifts of the Spirit. I was told I was making my confirmation and that was that. Consequently as I became older my wanting to understand had been increased by my lack of understanding. Praise God.

    • How wonderful that you are seeking to understand more! Regardless of the age at which we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, it is the Spirit within us that calls us to deeper faith. If we are seeking God, it is a response to God seeking us first.

  7. I think it,s great to tell your son all about the life and experiences of St Ignatious. And also to tell him that the Holy Spirit will come to his heart taht is well prepared and ready and waiting .
    But I also think it is good to teach children intellectual contents and therefore it is a good idea to teach them lists such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why not expect them to know facts about their faith? And if you thik i of alll the facts they learn on other subjects you can see it does them no harm to have to learn things off by heart.
    Keep up the good work

    • Hi Ruth,
      Yes, I agree! Children (and all of us) do need to learn the tenets of our faith – this too is critical. And, if we can’t remember all of the facts at first, we should keep striving and remember that the Spirit will not be held back by our imperfect human nature.


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