Ignatius and His Exercises

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a saint who has been very influential in my spiritual development.

I quipped not long ago to my spiritual director, after sharing some of the experiences of my most recent retreat, “Is there anyone who ever has a realization Ignatius didn’t already have?”  An exaggeration, perhaps, but the truth is that Ignatius really got it, and there is a reason his Exercises have flourished and survived for centuries.

To be sure, some of Ignatius’ imagery and ways of talking about certain issues can benefit from adaptation (he was, after all, a 16th Century former soldier) to our times.  (Although Ignatius himself recognized the need for those directing the Spiritual Exercises to adapt them to the needs and qualities of those making the retreat, the need for adaptation today is greater than he could have imagined.)  But the fundamental aspects of the Exercises – the Principle and Foundation, the Call of Christ, The Two Standards and so forth – are as meaningful today as they were when Ignatius wrote them.

On this feast day I say a prayer of thanksgiving for all Ignatius and his Exercises have meant for me and for countless others. And I pray especially for all of the members of the Jesuit family.


Getting in Touch With our Deepest Desires

Last night was the first evening of a monthly program I am offering with Christine Luna Munger at St Catherine University titled Now What? Deepening Your Ignatian Retreat Experience. The progam series is aimed at people who have had some experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – through a preached weekend retreat, a parish retreat in daily living, an online retreat or otherwise. The goal is to help people deepen their experience, to make it part of their reality. As I quipped to participants last night, St. Ignatius’ interest was not in providing people with fantastic retreat experiences, but in transformation, in inviting them into a new way of life.

The topic of our first session was desire, or, as we titled it What Do You Want? Getting in Touch with Our Deepest Desire. Although many people are suspicious of desire – thinking of desires only in terms of surface or sexual desires, desire is what motivates us. Ignatius believed that our deepest desires, the desires that lead us to become who we truly are, God’s desire for us. That at the deepest levels, our desires and God’s desires are the same. And that makes desire a key way God’s voice is heard in our lives, an important way that God leads us to discover who we are and what we are meant to do. As James Martin writes in his most recent book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage,

Once we scrape off any surface selfishness, our deepest longings and holy desires are uncovered: the desire for friendship, the desire for love, the desire for meaningful work, and often the desire for healing. Ultimately, or course, our deepest longing is for God. And it is God who places these desires within us. This is one way God calls us to himself. We desire God because God desires us.

People often need to be encouraged to recognize these deep longings, which can help guide their lives, especially if they have been told to ignore or eradicate their desires. Once they do so, they discover a fundamental truth: desire is one of the engines of a person’s vocation.

In my talk, I spoke about the distinction between surface desires and our deepest desires and about what Ignatius might call disordered desires or attachments and we spent some time with Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation. After my talk, Christine instructed the group in the prayer exercise she had prepared for them and after a period of silent reflection, we ended with small group sharing and a larger group discussion.

It was a great kickoff to the series and I will be looking forward to future sessions. For those in the Twin Cities: You can find more information about the program here. Each session is a stand-alone topic so you can feel free to attend as may or as few as work with your schedule. So join us even if you missed the first session!

What I Wish For Myself and Others

I returned early from my retreat (about which I may write more as I continue to process the experience), hence my posting a day earlier than I had anticipated when I left.

This retreat was advertised as “a retreat experience in Christian Insight Meditation.” During one of the afternoons, one of the retreat leaders introduced a Loving Kindness Meditation, something I had practiced in a different form during the years I was a Buddhist (and a different version of which I present in adapted form in my book Growing in Love and Wisdom).

The practice begins with the self, based on the understanding that one has to develop loving kindness toward oneself before one can develop it toward others. So first one prays for oneself: May I be healthy…May I be peaceful…May I be safe…May I take care of myself easily. (The latter is a wish to have one’s daily needs easily met.) This is repeated many times.

Then, after some time, one visualizes another person – perhaps a family member or friend – or a group of people and prays: May she/they be healthy…May she/they be peaceful…May she/they be safe…May she/they take care of herself easily. Again this is repeated many times. Then after a time, one makes the same wishes for all beings.

I was stopped in my tracks as soon as I began the practice. I simply could not enunciate these wishes for myself. It had nothing to do with any difficulty of self love and everything to do with the depth of my Ignatian spirituality. Before I even got the words out, I felt their deep inconsistency with Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, the last lines of which express that

as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

I suppose I could say that if I am healthy, I am better able to engage in my ministry. But perhaps in illness there is something deeper I would learn, something deeper I would pass on to others. Likewise, the fact that I don’t have to spend two hours a day fetching water and can simply turn on a tap to wash myself gives me more time to do God’s work. But perhaps God would touch me more deeply in that walk for water than anywhere else. Ignatius’ point is that everything can be a means of “God’s deepening his life in me” (to use David Fleming’s translation of the last line of the Principle and Foundation). And that is all that I wish for.

It took me a little more time to sort out my feelings about praying this for others. Certainly when a family member or friend is sick I pray for their healing. And I pray for the safety of those in war-torn countries. But at the deepest level, my wish for others is no different than my wish for myself – that they experience whatever will bring them closer to God, whether that be something we label good or bad, positive or negative.

So I could not pray the Loving Kindness Meditation as it was taught. What I can wish for myself and others is this:

May I know God’s love.
May I be an instrument of God’s love to all I meet.
May I have the peace of Christ (which may not always feel like peace).
May I be an instrument of Christ’s peace.
May whatever I experience bring me closer to God and my brothers and sisters.

May you know God’s love.
May you be an instrument of God’s love to all you meet.
May you have the peace of Christ.
May you be an instrument of Christ’s peace.
May whatever you experience bring you close to God and your brothers and sisters.

I suppose I could word these in different ways (it is not as short an catchy as the meditation as it was expressed at the retreat), but I think that covers it.

2014 Lent Retreat in Daily Living: Week 2

Yesterday was the second of the weekly gathering of our Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the Law school. As I wrote last week, our retreat this year aims to give us an experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

The goal of our prayer during this past week was to help participants get in touch with God’s love at deep level, to get a sense of who they are in the eyes of God. At the beginning of our session (as we always do in these retreat in daily living) participants shared in small groups something of their prayer experience of the week.

After the sharing and some broader discussion about the first week, I offered a reflection on the subject of this week’s prayer: Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation.

Ignatius called the Principle and Foundation the key to the spiritual life and for him, it epitomizes the entire message of the Spiritual Exercises. It is, if you will, a skeletal summary of the inner journey; the kernel.

On the one hand, the Principle and Foundation is something that takes us some time to fully embrace in its entirety, to really grasp to the depth of our being. At the same time, as one commentator suggested, the “basic thesis of the Principle and Foundation is imprinted in human nature itself, which issues from the hand of God and is bound to Him by ties of total dependence and servitude.” It is indeed, imprinted in our nature, but whether original sin or something else, we are weak and need to come back to this understanding. That will be the aim of our prayer this week.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 23:30. You can the prayer material for this week here.

Pattern of Sinfulness

This weekend I gave an Ignatian retreat for UST undergraduate students. For many of the students (quite a number of whom were freshman or sophomores), this was their first silent retreat and their first exposure to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Igantius. I was impressed with their diligence in keeping the silence and engaging seriously in the prayer exercises, and absolutely thrilled at the depth of many of their prayer experiences. For all of us involved, it was a grace-filled weekend.

One of the talks I gave focused on Week 1 of the Exercises, during which we seek for God to reveal to us our sinfulness. It is when God reveals my sinfulness that I can let God begin the process of healing in my hearts.

The grace of Week 1 of the Exercises is not a laundry list of our sins, but rather a sense of our sinfulness and a greater understanding of our patterns of sinfulness. For the students the movement from simply looking at sinful actions to trying to get underneath the acts themselves to the underlying ways in which we are broken, the underlying causes of our sinful acts was a very significant one. So too was the movement from thinking of sin merely in terms of breaking a rule or law to understanding it as a rupturing of the proper relationship between myself and God, and between myself and those whom God has given me to love and to move from thinking about punishment to an awareness of our need for healing.

You can access a recording of the talk I gave here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 35:31 and addresses both the subject of sin and the basic exercises that are part of Week 1 prayer.

Note: I also recorded my talk on Week 2 of the Spiritual Exercises, which you can access here. That podcast runs for 39:53.)

St. Ignatius and Pilgrimage

Yesterday I gave a Day of Reflection for the Twin Cities Ignatian Volunteer Corps. It is a group I have presented for before and I always enjoy my time with them.

Every year, the IVC has a book that is the focus of discussion at their monthly meetings, and this year the book is An Ignatian Spirituality Reader (ed. Traub), which contains essays on various aspects of Ignatian Spirituality. Pulling themes from the chapters they have read thus far, my theme for yesterday’s day of reflection was The Wisdom of St. Ignatius.

One of the themes that emerges from the portions of the book the IVC folks have read thus far has to do with pilgrimage. Pilgrimage was something that meant something to Ignatius. Howard Gray, in one of the essays in the Ignatian Spirituality Reader, called Ignatius a pilgrim of God. Gray refers to pilgrimage as the central metaphor of Ignatius’ life. Ignatius himself referred to he and his companions as pilgraims constantly ont eh move.

In my two talks on the subject (in my first talk of the day I talked of God’s Love as both Necessary and Suficient) I focused on three things implied by this pilgrimage metaphor that was so central to Ignatian Spirituality. The first (which I addressed in the first talk) is the idea of traveling light. The other two, which I addressed in my second talk are: first, a patient willingness to find God through the journeying, and, second, working for the kingdom in the midst of the world, not secluded from it.

You can access a recording of the two pilgrimage talks I gave here and here or stream it from the icon below. (The first podcast runs for 29:32 and the second for 26:40.)

An Experience of the Spiritual Exercises

As I mentioned already, I spent this past weekend giving a retreat for students and alum of the St. Catherine’s MAT program. Many, but not all of the participants are in a training program to become spiritual directors. The purpose of the retreat was to give the participants some flavor of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Since the Exercises are traditionally done in a 30-day retreat or (more frequently these days) in the form of 9-month Retreat in Daily Living, all one can do in a weekend is provide a taste of the arc of the Exercises. Still, if I’ve learned anything in my years of serving as a spiritual director and leader of retreats, it is that God does amazing things in whatever time we give him. This weekend was no exception to that rule and the retreatants and I experienced God in very powerful and movings ways.

Over the course of the weekend, I gave talks on each of the major segments of the Spiritual Exercises, after each of which the retreatants had time for individual prayer with material relating to that segment. We also had time for sharing of the experience of the prayer. (Apart from the sharing, the retreatants remained in silence, which was a new – but welcome – experience for some of them.)

I recorded several of the talks I gave during the retreat. Saturday morning I talked about Week 2 of the Spiritual Exercises, the longest segment of the Exercises. In Week 2, we reflect on the person and life of Jesus, so that we may grow more and more in love with him and thus chose to follow him closely and faithfully. The podcast begins with a brief reminder about some dynamics of Ignatian Prayer before launching into the discussion of Week 2.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 35:57.)

Note: I also recorded my talk on Week 1 of the Exercises, which you can find here; that podcast runs for 29:54.

Introducing the Spiritual Exercises

This weekend I was part of a UST Campus Ministry team presenting an overnight retreat to undergraduates designed to introduce them to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ingatius. For most of the students, this was their first encounter with Ignatius and the Exercises.

I was very pleased with their response. For many it was challenging and for some a real struggle. But all of them experienced a deepending of their relationship with God and a desire to continue to deepen that relationship and grow in discipleship. For me, it was a very energizing experience and I was heartened to see the response of 35 college students to a method of prayer that is so close to my heart.

I gave three of the talks through the weekend, including the first talk, which did three things. First, it gave an introduction to the Spiritual Excercises and the ways of encountering them. Second, I spent time talking about the disposition phase of the exercises, during which one focuses on getting in touch with a felt sense of God’s enormous love for them. Finally, I talked about Week 1 of the Exericises, and the subject of sin.

You can find a podcast of that talk (which runs for 37:24) here. I’ve also posted podcasts of the other two talks I gave during the retreat – one on Week 3 of the exericises and one on Week 4 and the Contemplatio. (They are here and here.)

Anima Christi

I spent much of the day yesterday preparing for an upcoming overnight Ignatian retreat for UST undergraduates so I woke up with St. Ignatius still on my mind.

A favorite prayer of Ignatius was the Anima Christi. The prayer is included at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, and Ignatius recommended reciting the prayer at the end of one’s prayer time. It is a prayer that I love and it is one I recite every day.

In its traditional form it reads:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ’s side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
and with Thy angels
Forever and ever

The version of the prayer I use, which speaks to me more powerfully than the traditional version is by David Fleming, S.J. and it reads:

Jesus, may all that is in you flow into me.
May your body and blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer.
But hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling to me until that day comes.
When with our saints, I may praise you forever.

“With you by my side enough has been given.” That is the truth we are invited to embrace to the core of our being – that Jesus is the only shelter we need and is the source of our strength and life.

Savoring our Experiences

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to savor our religious experiences – to spend time with experiences that move us so as to mine from them all that God has to offer us. This is the reason that Repetition is such an important dynamic in Ignatian prayer. In a particularly good explanation of this dynamic, David Asselin, S.J., once wrote:

The activity characteristic of an Ignatian repetition is not a simple review of matter covered in a previous exercise; rather, it means returning to and dwelling on those points in that exercise where affective responses or spiritual experiences were stimulated in the retreatant, consolations, desolations, inspirations, and so forth. In the Ignatian repetition it is not so much the points of subject matter as the points of personal sensitivity that are revisited, so as to reinforce, deepen, or better appreciate them….By virtue of repeatedly entering the mysteries of the Lord at successively more intimate levels, [one] can be expected to see, savor, and know the Word in a new and wholly personal way — eventually, to borrow Ignatius’ favorite prayer phrase, to “find the Lord in all things.

I love that word, “savor.” It carries a a sense of dwelling with enjoyment in something. Of relishing it. Of swimming in it until we’ve appreciated everything there is to appreciate about it.

I think we do not spend enough time savoring our experiences, of whatever nature, not just our prayer experiences. We move from one encounter or activity to the next, often without a breath in between. I know that I’m sometimes already worrying about planning my next visit with someone with whom I have a close relationship before the current one has even come to an end. Our on-line activity contributes (although it is not the causal factor) to this tendency. If we are not multi-tasking, we are switching from e-mail to facebook to a blog or other website without a pause.

We need to stop now and then. To linger in our experiences. To appreciate them more fully. To savor them. That is as true for our experiences with each other as it is for our experiences in prayer.