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How Blaise Pascal Helped Me Through the “Suscipe” of St. Ignatius 

June 21, 2021


After he’d experienced a mystical vision lasting two hours, Blaise Pascal immediately wrote a summation of what he had been shown, which he then had sewn into his coat. There it remained, undiscovered, until his death. 

Sometimes, inspired by this story, I wonder if I should sew St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Surrender into my own coat in order to keep it near my heart. The “surrender” Ignatius articulates is no easy thing—impossible, of course, without grace—but I find I must learn to do it, because I have found nothing but misery when I am unwilling to surrender to the Lord.

 This is St. Ignatius’ prayer (often called the “Suscipe”): “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my whole will, all that I have and all that I possess. You gave it all to me, Lord; I give it all back to you. Do with it as you will, according to your good pleasure. Give me your love and your grace; for with this, I have all that I need.”

It strikes me that I have lived most of my life asking God what he can do for me, telling him my plans, but hardly ever asking him what his plans are. What a recipe for disaster!

Surrender bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But many of us resist it because we want what we want, or because we stupidly distrust, fearing that God does not truly desire our full flourishing. I often feel my own resistance viscerally, especially in the feet that tend to curve, sensing the lies of my own desires. 

The idol of the competitive God that Satan has sculpted for us is a hard one to knock down and eradicate within a heart governed by fear. We tend to keep it standing to justify the path we’re trodding—usually a path away from the Lord. But the arms of the Lord are mercy and love, and they will always catch us in the inevitable fall that comes from fleeing from his designs. Also, God is strong enough to knock down any false image we have of him. We just need to trust him more. 

My wife often encourages me to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which concludes with Jezu ufam tobie (“Jesus, I trust in you”). The name of Jesus and our trust in him work to heal us.

Praying the chaplet has illuminated my lack of trust. Now, I just cry out like a beggar, “Lord, I keep turning my back on you. Give me the grace to face you again. Run to me like the father of the prodigal son, and give me what you have in store for me which alone will satisfy me.”  

Wanderer that I am, I see my life as the parable of the prodigal son on repeat. In determining to live my life on my own terms, without asking God what he wants of me, I so frequently end up too near the swine herd. The sequence of the parable plays out perfectly. But his Spirit lifts me up and turns me back to the Lord, helping me to trust that in him I will find nourishment, even a feast.

As my mind journeys back to the Lord, I recall Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your Spirit? . . . Your right hand will guide me.” All I can do is offer God my praise, secure in his love. That is what he desires of me, and he has already made it possible for me in his Son. 

Yet, I am afraid of this. 

I recently met a holy man at Mass, and I think God wants me to be like him. I’ve seen this man many times before, and I have always delighted in his presence. He’s serene. It seems like he’s learned how to put his trust in the Lord. I often see him kneeling at prayer, full of con-fidence (with trust). There’s a false kind of confidence popular today. It’s based on oneself. People with this false confidence like to boast of their success, but the true confidence, the kind this man has, is secure and not threatened by anything because it is based on the eternal “I Am” who has defeated all enemies, especially fear. 

A wise priest once told me that at the root of all sin is fear. I was initially confused by this statement, thinking the root was pride. But fear and pride are related. They are both the refusal of self-gift, the antithesis of surrender. In a way, they are the antithesis of what it means to be a human being insofar as human beings find their fulfillment in self-gift. 

John Paul II, a saint who told us not to be afraid, often liked to quote Gaudium et Spes 24: “Man . . . cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

This is theological anthropology 101. Read in conjunction with another of John Paul II’s favorite Vatican II quotes—“Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (Gaudium et Spes, 22)—the importance of surrender becomes clear. In Christian theology, the filial Word is the gift of the Father. The pattern of Jesus’ life is kenotic (self-emptying) love. He is surrender. The Holy Spirit energizes us for this full potential within us. This is the life of the Church. And in this deepest identity, there is no reason for fear, only complete trust. 

My wife has set up a Divine Mercy icon in the front window of our home, so every time I return I am reminded to place my trust in Jesus, handing him all my concerns and anxieties. The icon shows Jesus pointing to his heart, torn open and poured out for me. The rays of light beaming out from his heart are the love and grace that help me surrender. They also burn away all my deceitful plans. They might just be the mystical fire Pascal saw on his most memorable night—the experience of which he recorded in his coat-carried note. Whatever happened to Pascal was enough to change his life. It was an experience that called him to surrender. The last several lines on of his note read: 

Joy, joy, joy…tears of joy…..

Jesus Christ.

I separated myself from him; I fled him, renounced him,

Crucified him.

May I never be separated from him. . .

Total submission to Jesus Christ and my director

Eternally in joy for a day of trial on earth . . . Amen.

These words are similar to the prayer of St. Ignatius. Both capture the joy in surrendering everything to the Lord. I hope to get better at doing this. At first, it’s bitter. But, from what I’ve experienced, it turns sweet—a sweet surrender.