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Friday, July 31, 2009

Feast of St. Ignatius & More from Maryland

Happy Feast to all the Jesuits and to all the followers of Ignatian spirituality in all parts of the world! I hope Jean's letters have been helpful for those of you who are just learning about Ignatian spirituality. I had three Jesuit cousins, but only one is still living; I wanted to be a Jesuit from the time I read all of Father Finn's books, beginning with Tom Playfair when I was in sixth grade. Later, I found that same book in Spanish in Chile!! The adventures of Tom Playfair had something to do with my vocation as I admired the Jesuit scholastic who helped Tom and his friends at St. Mary's, a Jesuit boarding school attended by several of my male relatives.
It is interesting that the entire United States Province is gathered at the Jesuit University, Loyola, in Chicago for our Provincial Assembly this year from July 29 to August 2 so that the Feast of St. Ignatius will be celebrated with much discernment taking place as we plan for the future. I will continue with Jean's letters;below is a very valuable one that I am including today, but there are enough posts scheduled until August 4 when I will be home to begin the blog again.

“Ignatian Spirituality and Other Prayer Forms”

As effective, growth-promoting and grace filled as the Exercises are for many people over a life time they are not a “rule” or a magic process to cling to or to use to exclude other prayer forms. Fleming points out that a “way of proceeding’ is a key concept in Ignatian spirituality. That is, it is an approach toward the spiritual life, not a spiritual system. Flexibility and adaptability are paramount.
Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., former superior general of the Society of Jesus, has said, “Ignatian spirituality must not become an ideology, but remain an incarnate spirituality by means of the balance between Exercises and mysticism.” (Discourse given to the Rome Constitution, 2003).
We have seen in the previous brief synopsis of Thomas Green S.J.’s writings that many using the Exercises come to a point of darkness described by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. From that point onward they may be led to pray in a more imageless way instead of active use of the imagination.
I was extremely fortunate some years back to participate in a Contemplative Retreat at Guelph given by John Govan, S.J .doing precisely that, synthesizing Ignatius with Teresa and John. I now use a more passive form of contemplation in my formal prayer periods but still think of Ignatian spirituality as my way of life.
So we need not fear that the Exercises demand giving up other forms of prayer or that they are a rigid system demanding loyalty to them alone. It is a structured experience but part of what Fleming calls a reflective spirituality. And Ignatius himself had frequent mystical experiences.
I close with 3 thoughts related to current thinking about this topic. Some now refer to the Ignatian precept of finding God in all things as “Ignatian mindfulness” showing why the Exercises are still seen as powerfully contemporary.
The second is from Sr. Joan Chittister’s Aug., 2009 issue of “The Monastic Way”:
“To insist on a spiritual practice
that served you in the past
is to carry the raft on your back
after you have crossed the river.”

And finally from the late Ernest E. Larkin, O.Carm. referring to Ignatian prayer:
“Prayer taught in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius that encourages the use of the imagination so as to enter into scriptural passages. Modern commentaries on the Exercises show that the use of imagination does not preclude but should lead to the imageless form of contemplation.”

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality

After having made the 30-day Spiritual Exercises in the Jesuit retreat house built over the cave in Manresa where Ignatius prayed and wrote them, I longed to see where Ignatius had been born and raised. I went back to Spain to give the 30-day retreat to priests and Religious in Spain and had many opportunities to pray in the cave, visit Montserrat and other places where Ignatius was in both Manresa and Barcelona, but did not get to Loyola in the north until I went back to Spain to teach a summer course on the Spanish mystics and managed to travel to Loyola. It was a wonderful experience and I loved seeing the house (a very modest castle), the room where Ignatius was converted while suffering from the wound in his leg that nearly cost him his life. It was there that he began to reflect on how the different spirts moved him and his own experience later gave us the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits found in his Spiritual Exercises.
With all that introduction to the next letter from Maryland, I am going to cut the letter and you will get part of it today and part later.


“Purposes of the Spiritual Exercises” and “Consolation and Desolation”

Margaret Silf is a lay married grandmother employed in the computer field residing in England trained by the Jesuits to accompany and guide others in prayer. She is the author of several very well selling and extremely helpful books on Ignatian spirituality. I am citing some of her thoughts from her book, Inner Compass, An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality.
She states that the Spiritual Exercises offer methods of discovering answers to the most fundamental questions concerning every human being: “Where are you? How are you and why? And who are you?”. The Exercises help us to find the will of God within our own hearts. Citing Gerald Hughes, S.J. she said, “This will is never directed only to our individual benefit but to the well being of all peoples and all creation.”
She describes her book as a companion for the inner journey to be used gently and the landscape enjoyed as you go.
She says that the Spiritual Exercises include:

Discovering who I really am
Directing myself toward God
Noticing God’s action in my life
Responding to the movements of my heart
Discovering the nature of my deepest desire
Seeking God’s will
Becoming free of all that distracts me from my deepest desire
Making choices in line with my truest self
Connecting my lived experience to the life, death and resurrection of Christ
Responding to God’s love for me
Finding God in all things."

Look for the other half of Jean's letter about Margaret Silf and Ignatian Spirituality on August 1 as tomorrow is the Feast!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality


“The Ignatian Family”

While there is a genuine overlap there is also often a misunderstanding about the terms Jesuit spirituality and Ignatian spirituality. In truth the strong commonalty of the experience of the Exercises and teachings of Ignatius are shared by both Jesuit Companions of Jesus and both other religious groups such as Sr. Helen’s rscj community and the Sisters of Saint Joseph that taught me as well as lay groups based on the Exercises such as Christian Life Communities (CLC).The difference is that in addition to the experience of the Exercises the Jesuits also have a Constitution to follow plus vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and a special fidelity to the service of the Pope.
Fr. Jean-Marc Laporte, S.J. shares the discussion of this topic at a recent workshop in Rome following the Jesuit General Chapter 35 in an article called “Ignatian Identity and Mission: Beyond GC 35”. The proceedings were transforming on Ignatian and Jesuit identity and the common kinship between the groups. Because collaboration of Jesuits and non-Jesuits are at the heart of the mission of both, the non-Jesuits found themselves asking, “What about OUR identity?” and “Where do WE fit in?”. Sympathetic reactions plus previous bonding led to intense listening and that experience of grace made communal discernment possible,
The Jesuit GC Decree 6 gave official sanction to the terms Ignatian network, community and family. The latter is the preference of the participants. Three important points were also reached. First, the relationship between Jesuits and non-Jesuits in the Ignatian family is NOT one of concentric circles with the Jesuits at the center. Secondly, Non-Jesuit Ignatian bodies are AUTONOMOUS. This autonomy was explicitly recognized in relation to Christian Life Communities. Thirdly, the Ignatian “we” should be inclusive not exclusive.
Christian Life Communities, of which I am a member, are by self description a world community of lay organizations lived out in a local community of 6 to 10 people. There are members from all walks of life and the group gives support for members to respond more fully to God’s loving desires for them. The discerning stance toward life leads to a greater spiritual freedom. CLC mission is not an activity but a focus of energy and passion in living as Christ which entails a preferential option for the poor, simplicity of lifestyle and a sense of Church. The CLC way of living in the world incorporates 5 spiritual dynamics of the Exercises: finding God in all things, following the spirit, collaboration with Jesus, ordering relationships and living in true freedom.
More information on these topics may be found at: Click on “Ignatian Identity” . BE SURE NOT TO MISS the riches of the rest of the website, John Veltri S.J.’s “Orientations for Spiritual Growth”.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality

Today's letter from Jean depicts a popular Jesuit writer on Ignatian spirituality. I have read and enjoyed all his books; he is one of the contemporary writers that my students enjoy reading.

Some Writings of Thomas Green, S.J.
"An internationally recognized writer on Ignatian spirituality is Thomas Green, S.J. who died last March. His nine published books are treasures of learning the art of prayer; the clarity and organization reflect the author’s decades of teaching, counseling and directing the Exercises. He has said he tried not to write the same book twice and that each one tackles a different aspect in the life of contemplation in action. To aid the reader in seeing the unifying threads and getting the most from his books he has grouped them under 3 headings: the Dynamics of Formal Prayer, Books Explicitly Treating Discernment and Books Discussing the Links Between Formal Prayer and Discernment in Specific Life Situations.
The books in the Dynamics of Formal prayer category are Opening to God, When the Well Runs Dry, and Drinking from a Dry Well. The first teaches the 'how to’s' of a beginning prayer life. The second deals with prayer beyond the beginnings and specifically accepting the dryness which St. John of the Cross says is the normal lot of anyone who perseveres in a life of prayer. The third discusses what God is doing and how we can best cooperate after we have come to be at home in the dry darkness of contemplation.
The books explicitly treating discernment are Weeds Among the Wheat and Darkness in the Market Place The latter is an earlier work that laid the foundation for later discussion of the mechanics of discernment. It asks what sort of person one must be, what faith version of life and experience is needed in order to be able to discern the Lord’s will. In the former, the author attempts to explain and apply to contemporary culture the classic rules of St. Ignatius Loyola for discerning God’s will in our life choices. NOTE: the author recommends starting the book with Chapter 3.
I will discuss one book from the third category of links between prayer, discernment and everyday life situations. It is called, Prayer and Common Sense and focuses on the extremely important quality of any genuine life of prayer: common sense. “God is really the most sensible person I know… anyone truly growing in holiness should be becoming more like God – more sensible.” We recognize the ‘Holy Person’ by Galatians 5:22 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness and self-control. Those qualities in our unsteady growth lead to freedom.
His books are all still available and highly recommended. They are like having a warm, wise, supportive Jesuit director on call.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality

Letter continued from yesterday:
"The word indifferent has caused a lot of misunderstanding and struggle. In my copy of John English’s book Spiritual Freedom given to me after my first retreat I have a big “NO!” notation in the margin next to the passage on indifference. To clarify and save future book margins, indifference does not mean not feeling or not caring. It means more “at balance”, ready to go in whatever direction seems to serve God best.
Ignatius gave wise advice for decision making. He differentiated between types of choices and gave different rules for those going from good to better and those going from good to worse. In one type of choice we know what is right without any doubts about what God wants. In another situation the preferred choice is not clear. We are attracted to different possibilities. This is where the inner movements of consolation and desolation come into play. In consolation the person experiences the love of God as an increase in faith, hope, or love. Desolation is the opposite. It leads to the lack of peace, darkness, agitation or temptations. This is a time not to make new decisions or change previous ones.
Ignatius also instructed the person faced with a decision to list the pros and cons and ask themselves what they would advise a friend in the same situation. Then make a decision, offer it to God and pray for the peace of consolation.
For people intent on living God’s desires for them, Ignatius compares the actions of the evil spirit to water falling on stone, that is, noisy, hard and disruptive. The action of the good spirit is like water falling on a sponge, quiet, gentle and nourishing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality

As I leave tomorrow, I am just adding a few thoughts here. Ignatius gave us a way of life and no matter in what stage of the spiritual journey we are finding ourselves at this moment, Ignatian spirituality helps us to deepen our relationship with Jesus and with each person in the Trinity. He has the wonderful suggestion that when we really are wanting something we ask Mary to go with us to Jesus and ask her to ask for us and then we go with Mary and Jesus to the Father. I have found this way of prayer helpful at many different stages of my own life and the lives of others I have directed.
I also find the way Ignatius would have us look over our day after praying to the Holy Spirit to see it as God sees it an important exercise. We then reflect back to see how God was acting in our lives and give thanks for all the times we recognized His action. He often speaks to us through other people, through events, and through circumstances. I often am not conscious of his action in my life at the time but can look back and thank or even ask pardon for my inattentiveness during the day and resolve to do better the next day. This form of Examen is very much a part of Ignatian spirituality and can change our lives.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality


“The Principle and Foundation and Rules for Discernment of Spirits”

The Principle and Foundation and Rules for the Discernment of Spirits are key and reciprocal components of the Exercises. Fleming cites the Principle and Foundation as “a life vision” and I find his Contemporary Reading of it the clearest and the one which speaks best to people today. Here it is:

“God freely created us so we might know, love and serve him in this life and be happy with him forever. God’s purpose in creating us is to draw forth from us a response of love and service here one earth, so that we may attain our goal of everlasting happiness with him in heaven.
All the things in this world are gifts of God insofar as they help us toward our goal of loving service and union with God. But insofar as any created thing hinders our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go.
In everyday life then, we should keep ourselves indifferent or undecided in the face of all created gifts when we have an option and we do not have the clarity of what would be the better choice. We ought not to be led by our natural likes and dislikes even in matters such as health or sickness, wealth or poverty, between living in the east and in the west, becoming an accountant or a lawyer. Rather, our only desire and our only choice should be that option which better leads us to the goal for which God created us.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality

Before printing another letter from Maryland, Jean asked me to make the correction about my mistake yesterday in giving her a doctorate. Here is what she wrote for me to say:
"Jean has corrected me that she has the course work to a doctorate and she gives this self description, 'She is now retired after a career in the helping professions of nursing, counseling and teaching college level psychology'."

I will refrain from more, but she is a wise and valiant woman and you will learn from her Letters on Ignatian Spirituality.

“The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius”

"One of the old stand-bys on my book case is a well worn copy of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. That notwithstanding, the Exercises is not a book to be read but to be “made”. It was written by Ignatius based on his own prayer experiences and was intended to be used by the person directing others on retreat not the one making it .It has rightly been called a “school of prayer” and relies on a carefully structured approach based on Scriptural passages and the use of the active imagination in prayer.
It is interesting to note that it was written and first used to guide others by Ignatius while he was still a lay man. And it, of course, was written after his injury at the battle of Pamplona that left him with a permanent limp. A former director of the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities pointed out that it was only after he was disabled that he began to choose correctly.
It originally was designed for those who would leave the duties of everyday life and fully concentrate on the prayer exercises at hand over the course of a long period of time. Traditionally that became 30 days using the 4 “weeks” structure of the Exercises. The “weeks” are more accurately depictions of the prayer topics involved and are described by David Fleming, S.J. as follows:

First Week – The context of God’s love and rejection by everyone through sin

Second Week – Centers on the life of Jesus and his beginnings through his public ministry

Third Week – The passion and death of Jesus

Fourth week – The Risen Christ and the world renewed in his victory.

The retreatant moves from ‘week’ to ‘week’ according to the grace which God gives. The Director determines whether the time of the “week” should be shortened or lengthened.
Many retreatants today are experiencing the Exercises in what is called Annotation 19 or the Exercises in Daily Life. Rather than going off to a retreat house for a month the person stays home with family and work responsibilities as usual and prays the Exercises an hour a day and meets weekly with a Director. Some make it as part of a group Direction experience.
Whether made at a retreat house or at home over the course of 9 months or more, the most important qualities to bring to the Exercises are a deep reverence before God, openness and generosity of spirit.
The purpose of the Exercise structure is to lead the person to true spiritual freedom attained by gradually bringing an order of values into our lives so we make no choice or decision because we have been influenced by some disordered attachment or love (Fleming).
The Exercises use active contemplation, putting oneself in the scripture settings in an imaginative way. One can learn more of this from, websites such as Sacred Space run by the Irish Jesuits or from Creighton’s Online Ministries’ site or by reading Fleming’s book, What Is Ignatian Spirituality where he discusses among other things, “Prayer is a Conversation” and “Pray with your Imagination”.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality

This is a continuation of the letter from yesterday to help us prepare the Feast of St. Ignatius on July 31 by understanding what Ignatian spirituality is! I am hoping that Jean, who has her doctorate and has taught psychology for years, will add let me add more about her own life and what has led her to be such a great director of others. In the meantime, enjoy her wisdom.

"These letters make no attempt at comprehensiveness. Rather, I hope they will serve as a basic introduction and a catalyst for further reading in the area. Before closing I do want to give the basic characteristics of Ignatian spirituality. They have been described as Trinitarian, Christocentric, Discernment of Spirits, Finding God in All Things, the Magis and Contemplation in Action. They can be summed up in one word: freedom, spiritual, human freedom.
In the next letters topics that will be addressed are the Spiritual Exercises including the Principle and Foundation and Rules for Discernment of Spirits as well as what is termed the Ignatian Family, and a look at two authors who are goldmines for the study and practice of Ignatian spirituality. In addition there will be a brief discussion of Ignatian spirituality and other prayer forms. The ending will be a sampling of prayers written by Ignatius and his followers.
You already know what a positive difference the program has made in my life and how it has aided me in sharing the wealth with others. As Ignatius said, love is shown in action and one shares the gifts one receives with those one loves. You have been a big part in making that possible."

Your grateful student, Jean

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letters on Ignatian Spirituality

You are in for a great treat with these letters from Maryland from one of my former students who is really an expert in Ignatian spirituality; she knows more than I do and I suspect more than many Jesuits know about Ignatius and his spirituality. I am sure you will enjoy reading these letters and know that you will be better informed and maybe motivated to study more about Ignatian spirituality that is so important for us today.

"Dear Helen,

Here is the first of the letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality that you requested. It has been over 3 years now since my happy discovery of the St. Thomas University Online Certificate Program in Spirituality and 1 year last April since I received the Certificate. It occurs to be as I write that while the requirements for the program are completed, the program is a bit like the Spiritual Exercises in that they are never really finished but lived. Both have been rich blessings in my life.
It seems fitting that these letters are written from Maryland as it is the State where Fr. Andrew White, S.J. and 4 other Jesuits landed on March 25th, 1634 and said the first Catholic Mass in the new colonies. The Jesuit – Ignatian family presence in education, pastoral services and other ministries remains strong.
When I look back at the presence and influence of Ignatian Spirituality in my life it goes a long way beginning with stories of Jesuit cousins and a Jesuit priest who came to out parish weekly and enriched us with his homilies. It was further strengthened in high school Sodality when I was first taught Ignatian active contemplation.
I was born on Thanksgiving Day and, like Ignatius, I have been a Pilgrim ever since. David Fleming, S.J. says we can look at Ignatian spirituality as a basic set of attitudes about the pilgrimage we are on and that the tools of Ignatian spirituality keep us attentive to the movements of the Spirit. Therefore, Ignatian spirituality is not so much devotional practices as a pilgrimage following Jesus. I was greatly aided on my journey by annual directed retreats at Guelph, Ontario, Canada and by being patiently accompanied through Annotation 19 here at home. Those experiences gave me a strong foundation as well as a desire to share the graces with others."

I cut the letter here and will continue tomorrow as I know you will want to read more.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Preparing the Feast of Mary Magdalene

Tomorrow is the feast of Mary Magdalene and I am preparing it today as I hope to begin a series of Letters from Maryland on Ignatian Spirituality tomorrow to prepare for the Feast of St. Ignatius on July 31. As you may remember, I will be away again for a week attending a meeting of Religious of the Sacred Heart involved in Higher Education and then a Provincial Assembly. Both will be in Chicago at Loyola University. That is why I planned to schedule ahead for the blog but am waiting to receive the Letters which I know will be helpful for all my readers.
With regard to Mary Magdalene, we forget what an important role she played in the Gospels. She was the one Jesus sent to tell the others that he was indeed risen from the dead. I often wonder what the rest of her life was like - I am sure she continued to tell others about Jesus and all that he had done for her. She was full of gratitude and joy and communicated her joy to others! That is the way I want to live!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Time, time zones, and the gift of twenty-four hours a day!

This picture is from the Sea of Tiberias and I spent much time in the retreat on both the time Jesus came to his disciples walking on the water and when, after Easter, he appeared on the shore and had prepared breakfast for his disciples. Being on the shore of the Pacific helped for a composition of place for both prayers.

I have often felt that Jesus sends me out into the sea and he must know that a storm is coming; it is a lesson repeated often to increase my trust. I wrote this little "jingle" one night during the retreat:
A storm descended late that night at sea.
The wind was fierce and waves rocked the boat.
Jesus saw their struggle with the sea;
they rowed and bailed and tried to stay afloat.
Then he came walking on the water,
but he made as though to pass them by.
Terrified, they saw a ghost appear!
At once Jesus tells them not to fear.

I suspect that all of us have heard Jesus saying to each of us: "Courage! It is I! Fear not!"

Sometimes Jesus asks me to get out of the boat and walk to him on the water. I am a bit like Peter and do have the courage to try but then cry out to the Lord to save me. He immediately takes me by the hand and all becomes peaceful. He also chides me for my lack of trust. Then, I like to combine that with the scene where Jesus invites me to breakfast. He has prepared the fire and has the fish grilling and has brought bread, too. He serves me and then we just talk.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back in Miami full of gratitude

Last night I arrived home around 10:30 at night and found a huge stack of mail in my room and many, many e-mails. I just am taking it easy and trying to keep the wonderful feeling of tranquility that surrounded my retreat. I felt the prayer and I must tell you that each day was a grace. I had the director of my first choice; one that I had many years ago and loved. She has a gift for giving feedback and is also so loving and caring that I always find God speaking to me through her. I also had a lovely room with a view of the ocean. There was a full moon so that added to the beauty of each night and we never had a foggy morning; that is unusual. It was also warmer than usual so the jackets I took from Miami were not worn at all!
It is too late to try to tell you more, but I do want to thank for all the prayer as my trip was really a joy and the retreat wonderful, but so was connecting with friends. Now, I am just glad to be home for a few days before we have the Higher Education meeting and Provincial assembly in Chicago.