*** DEBUG END ***

Book review: First Belong to God: On retreat with Pope Francis by Austen Ivereigh

23 February 2024

Lavinia Byrne on a way into Jesuit spirituality

AUSTEN IVEREIGH’s reputation as a journalist and Roman Catholic commentator was sealed when he produced two biographies of Pope Francis. His The Great Reformer: Francis and the making of a radical Pope, published in 2014, presented a compelling study of what brought the first Jesuit pope from Argentina to the Vatican. His Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and his struggle to convert the Catholic Church followed in 2019. Two strands are constant: Francis himself, but also the influence of Ignatian spirituality on his life and teaching.

These two interests are brought together in Ivereigh’s latest work. The ultimate source for all Jesuit spirituality is the handbook known as The Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius compiled these exercises for use among his earliest followers. They were intended to enable these men to discern their call to follow Christ and lead an apostolic life. Never an end in themselves, they were intended to foster discipleship.

When asked to lead a retreat for present-day Jesuits in 2020, Ivereigh drew on his knowledge of Francis’s writings, including retreat notes, his friendship with the Pope, and also his own exposure to The Spiritual Exercises: a heady mix. First Belong to God is the result.

Written essentially as a “how-to” book, it offers readings, reflections, suggestions for prayer, and a wealth of references. These follow the Four Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises as traditionally conceived and are presented here either for group or individual use as an eight-day programme.

The intention is clear and put in refreshingly simple language by Pope Francis in his foreword to the book: “Jesus comes to meet us, breaking our chains that we might walk with him as his disciples and companions.” The apostolic thrust of this final phrase neatly sums up the whole dynamic of the Exercises.

What Ivereigh has done here is to adapt this quintessential experience of Ignatian spirituality and make it accessible in an attractive format. This is not a book to read, or even to study. It is a book to work with, and will repay judicious use with a renewed sense of calling, based in the firm conviction that the retreatant does indeed belong to God.

Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.

First Belong to God: On retreat with Pope Francis
Austen Ivereigh
Messenger Publications £15
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)