The question of why, for over 400 years, the mystical dimension of Ignatius’ life was half forgotten or deliberately underplayed is a long and fascinating story. Its rediscovery was in large part due to the renewal of interest in the original Ignatian sources, already underway earlier in the 20th century but then mandated and subsequently given a massive boost by Vatican II. The image of “Ignatius the mystic” expresses a belief that it is his relationship with God that is at the core of what makes him admirable, as well as being the inspiration of his teaching and other achievements. It suggests that in some way everything that Ignatius said, did or wrote can ultimately be traced to his mystical experiences at Manresa, La Storta and Rome.
These were “peak experiences” (to use Abraham Maslow’s terminology) and are central to any understanding of Ignatian mysticism. But Ignatius also had to live off-peak, as it were, and he realized that most people live off-peak most of the time. This does not mean that off-peak experiences cannot also be mystical. To express the reality more adequately, one needs to regard Ignatius as a mystic, not just because of certain peak experiences but because mysticism became a way of life. This is the real meaning of the popular phrase, “everyday mysticism.”
Through his own experience Ignatius developed a wisdom that is available to us mainly, but not exclusively, through the Spiritual Exercises. However, anything we discover or come to understand about Ignatius’ mysticism must be brought into dialogue with the present. We need to ask contemporary questions of Ignatius and of the texts and tradition that he left us. So here I want to explore what Ignatian mysticism might look like in the lives of men and women today. What practical wisdom has he left us? How does his experience inform our current concerns? I begin with some reflections on contemporary culture.