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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”.

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