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, one of the most influential spiritual texts ever to have been written, grew out of the spiritual experience of the young Ignatius of Loyola. 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.
Mary Ward was led into paths unknown for women of her time by her attentiveness to the movements of the Spirit and her experience of discerning love. We hope to follow in her footsteps and in this way aspire to ‘find God in all things’ or, as Mary Ward would have put it, ‘to refer all to God’.
Mary, led by the Spirit, believed that women should not be afraid to take new paths in the service of the Church, and be open and ready to respond to the signs of the times where the need is greatest. Discerning the greatest need is only possible where there is attentive love, disponibility of spirit and freedom from fear.
The Constitutions of the Congregatio Jesu 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’. If we live the Spiritual Exercises and the Constitutions as Mary Ward lived them we will come to understand what it means to be ‘a contemplative in action’ ready to be sent on universal mission.