Why Young Adults Need Ignatian Spirituality
by Tim Muldoon
How can a spirituality that was developed in the 16th century help young people today to “develop a vocabulary of faith”? Tim Muldoon describes the distinctive appeal of the spiritual teachings of St Ignatius Loyola, and suggests that Ignatian spirituality is uniquely placed to meet the needs and questions of today’s young adults.
There have been a number of articles and books in recent years that have addressed a basic concern among Church leaders: what will the Church look like in twenty years? Underlying this basic concern is an awareness that the generation of young adults has not (it seems) appropriated Catholic faith according to the models of earlier generations, and thus have not the same commitment to our faith that would seem to be necessary for the future well-being of the Church. Writers such as Tom Beaudoin and Jeremy Langford have contributed articles to America suggesting that there are legitimate faith questions that young people still raise, and that the Church needs to develop a greater understanding of our generation if it is to effectively minister to us. What I offer here is a reflection on how Ignatian spirituality in particular can speak to young people, and help us to develop a vocabulary of faith.
Why Ignatian spirituality? There are two major reasons: the first practical, the second theological. The practical reason is that it is available. There are many Jesuit high schools and colleges in the US, more than any other religious community sponsors, and thus there is a long history of addressing the spiritual and intellectual growth of young people. Ignatian spirituality works because we have learned how to encourage young people to use it. The theological reason emphasises this point even further: Ignatian spirituality emphasises faith as an ongoing dialogue between the person and God, and thus represents the kind of dynamic approach to faith that young people often intuit for ourselves. To see spirituality as that which demands exercise, work, is to see it as more than an either/or proposition – and this latter position is too often presented as the traditional view ('if you don’t believe in God, you’re going to hell'). Young people live in a world in which we must constantly confront ambiguity and change; Ignatian spirituality recognises this on a very deep level, and invites us to engage in a process of ongoing conversion. This resonates with our experience of confronting the question of God. Many have grown suspicious of facile answers and arrogant claims to authority, and instead need an invitation to consider more clearly the personal question: who is God for me?
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