Spirituality is essentially about how we see, experience, and respond to the world in which we live, and to God’s presence in it. Every religious congregation has a spirituality that reflects the spirituality of its founder. Mary Ward, a woman close to God, wished to found an apostolic congregation modelled on that of the Jesuits. For the Jesuits, and therefore for us, the key experience is that of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.
These Spiritual Exercises grew out of the spiritual experience of the young Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). Ignatius was a nobleman from the Basque country of Spain, who, after sustaining a serious injury in battle, spent his convalescence reflecting on the shaping influences in his life. Ignatius came to realise through these experiences that God’s presence is to be found in the inner movements of the Spirit. By learning to listen and feel with profound attentiveness the desires God has for each one of us we can enter into a unique relationship with our Creator and ‘find God in all things’. Simultaneously, the individual making the Spiritual Exercises with great generosity of heart will feel impelled by love to offer him or herself to the service of God in mission. Mission, the service of others, lies at the very heart of our spirituality.
The Constitutions of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary are those of the Society of Jesus adapted for women. In them, the members of Mary Ward’s congregation find inner strength and an understanding of what it means to be focussed solely on the ‘greater honour and glory of God’, always ready to be sent on universal mission.
Via practices such as the Daily Examen, Ignatian Spirituality offers a school of prayer and a means of finding that most precious gift, freedom, through recognition of the fact that God loves us, wherever we are and whatever we have done. Such prayer enables us to overcome any preoccupation with self and to give our energies to serve others, ‘to be men and women for others’.