Tuesday, July 31, 2007

St. Ignatius and the "Spiritual Exercises"

Today, the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who lived from 1491-1556. As I mentioned in my homily at Mass this morning, St. Ignatius wrote much about how to discern if certain things in our lives are from God or not. These writings would become known as the “Spiritual Exercises” which many people use to this day and which I highly recommend. The following two sources (americancatholic.org and the Office of Readings) speak about the life of St. Ignatius and the Exercises:

1) “The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, he whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began…After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned.

It was during this year of conversion that he began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises…

Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam—‘for the greater glory of God.’”

2) “While reading the life of Christ our Lord or the lives of the saints, he would reflect and reason with himself: ‘What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?’ In this way he let his mind dwell on many thoughts; they lasted a while until other things took their place. Then those vain and worldly images would come into his mind and remain a long time. This sequence of thoughts persisted with him for a long time.

But there was a difference. When Ignatius reflected on worldly thoughts, he felt intense pleasure; but when he gave them up out of weariness, he felt dry and depressed. Yet when he thought of living the rigorous sort of life he knew the saints had lived, he not only experienced pleasure when he actually thought about it, but even after he dismissed these thoughts, he still experienced great joy. Yet he did not pay attention to this, nor did he appreciate it until one day, in a moment of insight, he began to marvel at the difference. Then he understood the experience: thoughts of one kind left him sad, the others full of joy. And this was the first time he applied a process of reasoning to his religious experience. Later on, when he began to formulate his spiritual exercises, he used this experience as an illustration to explain the doctrine he taught his disciples on the discernment of spirits.”


At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool! Where can I learn more about the spiritual exercises?

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Tony S. S.J. said...

Try Jesuit.org or call local offices, the US Assistancy in DC or the Province office in Baltimore. There are e-mails and phone numbers on the websites. It is almost impossible to "do" the Exercises alone, one needs a guide to go through them the above offices should be able to direct you to someone if you are interested.

At 11:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have to be a mystic to understand and benefit from it?

At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Tony S. S.J. said...

No. You just need to seek God above all things.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ve been struggling in how to deal with another’s behavior, and I heard FG’s homily. I thought, “If something causes me anxiety or unrest, it can’t be from God and therefore I can (and maybe should) reject it.” What if what creates that for me are the actions of someone else? It challenges me to think about what force is potentially at work around someone who behaves in a hate-filled way. I wouldn’t classify anyone as evil- that’s not my place, but I do wonder if, when evil is at work (even in people who can also be good) should you walk away?

So, for the better part of the day, I was thinking about about the fact that it has been so difficult for me to be “at peace” around this person. I had been reading about humilty and FG’s homily struck me as very similar to something I read-

“Humility does not disturb or disquiet or agitate however great it may be; it comes with peace, delight, and calm. . . . The pain of genuine humility doesn’t agitate or afflict the soul; rather, this humility expands it and enables it to serve God more.”

It went on to basically say, to live in humility is to live in confidence of God’s love and protection, and therefore to have no concern for yourself when others insult you. But “insults” do have the potential to do harm, especially the brand of insult that is based in lies and manipulation. So, if I choose to walk away from a relationship with this person (and it is a family member) do I not trust that God will protect me, or am I rejecting what does not come from God?

At 9:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comments about St. Ignatius have been very helpful to me. I have been wanting to learn more about him after hearing someone comment on his prayer life. I can't remember exactly what was said except something about how St. Ignatius had some type of prayer of peace that he would pray at the end of the day. What he would do is that when he came to the end of his day he would reflect on the good that had been done through him. I believe he would instruct others in this spiritual discipline as well believing that this was a great source of peace for our lives. That caught my attention because so often I find myself confessing all the bad I had done and not reflecting on the good that had been done through me. When I heard this I understood that there was an actual prayer provided by St. Ignatius for this spiritual discipline. I have been searching for this prayer, but I have been unable to find it. Does any such prayer exist?


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