Ignatius and His Exercises

There are certain feast days in the calendar of the Catholic Church that are very special to me. Today is one of them: the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

One of the (if not the) most life-changing experiences of my life was doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

A description of the Exercises by Hans Urs von Balthasar describes perfectly what I experienced. von Balthasar write:

By their relentless practicality, the Exercises shove the searcher into the center of the Gospel and leave him alone there with Christ, with the triune God who speaks to him. In this way the book sweeps away the hundreds of pious “manuals for perfection” that abounded during the high and late Middle Ages. I used the word shove deliberately, for, in order to be sure to arrive at the center, one must first be stripped of his illusions about himself, his fantasies and sins, so that “naked he can follow the naked Christ,” so that God’s Word – Christ – can confront him personally, nose to nose. This happens not somewhere at the enges but int he center of his existence, so that the call becomes a turning point in his life.

The stripping away process is not easy. As I said to my director at the time, our illusions may be illusions, but they are our illusions and we grow accustomed and comfortable with them. Stripped bare was exactly how I felt as I was forced to confront various illusions about myself and the ways in which I am most vulnerable to attack by what Ignatius calls “the evil spirit.”

But the result of the process was profound. As von Balthasar says – the call becomes a turning point and I came away from the Exercises with the conviction that my life belongs to God and that I am called to labor with Christ.

I always tell people who ask me about the Spiritual Exercises: if you don’t want to change, stay far away from them, for they will change you. But if you are a regular pray-er open to a radical change, the Exercises may be something you want to consider.

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