Ignatius to You
To You From Ignatius...
A great part of my life was travel. I was a pilgrim. From the time my eyes were opened to the mystery of God-in-Christ in my life, I became even more spiritual pilgrim. On this interior journey my great desire was always tell people about God, and about Jesus, crucified and risen, and help them feel the freedom God offers. I wanted to bring the old message of the church to people in a new way. Why was this so?
1. We can meet God personally.
I experienced a direct and personal meeting with God, particularly during the months of 1522, at Manresa, a small town near Barcelona in the northeast of Spain, where God taught me like a child at school.
Yes I, Ignatius of Loyola, Inigo as they called me, experienced God ... Father, son and spirit ... nameless and unknowable, mysterious and yet near, sharing God self with me in a manner beyond all concrete imaginings.
I experienced God in nearness and graciousness impossible to confuse or mistake.
I experienced God, not simply human words describing God but God, God's very self.
I experienced God's glory. I knew God, as you would say today, experientially.
This is grace ... a divine gift.
I believe that God ... Father, son and spirit ... desires to give this same give to everyone.
The grace that I received during those months at Manresa was not something that I considered a special privilege for myself or a chosen few. I wrote down the process of my experience in a notebook which I called Spiritual Exercises.
I gave me Spiritual Exercises to anyone for whom such spiritual help might be profitable.
Just as strolling, walking and running are exercises for the body, these Spiritual Exercises are ways of examining our awareness or consciousness, meditating, contemplating, praying vocally and mentally, and other spiritual activities. Their aim is to ready us for freedom, to be freed from all self-centered desires and feelings to be able to discover in our own lives God's own desiring and willing. I did this as a layperson, before I went back to school to learn the elements of Latin, and then to spend seven years at University of Paris in France where he studied arts, philosophy and theology to prepare for ordination to the priesthood. I gave my Exercises to others, convinced that God desires each communicate directly to us if we are generous, eager to discover God's will, and to act responsibly in the world.
Over the years, I have seen that if we are willing to ready ourselves generously according to the process of these Exercises, in time God will personally lead us. When this happens, we experience in our own lives the power of God's own freedom.
This simple and yet stupendous conviction of mine is the key to my spirituality - which would be betrayed if reduced to any of its different methods.
By different exterior ways of readying ourselves, the Exercises lead us to become more open to an interior dynamic, where God touches us directly. This graced dynamic moves us beyond all tangible assurances, including my methods, to grow confidently toward our final, fearful, creaturely choice at the end of our lives.
To experience God directly and learn that the mystery we name God is near to each of us and meets us personally, is the goal of the journey of the Spiritual Exercises. Do you desire that the father, son and spirit share themselves with you?
Do you desire to base your life choices on the experience of God's desire for you? Then enter confidently into the Spiritual Exercises.
2. Disposing and opening ourselves to meet God.
A fruitful making of the Spiritual Exercises will cost effort. It greatly helps when making the Exercises if we begin them in a magnanimous spirit and with great openness towards Christ, our Creator and Lord, offering him all our powers to desire and shoes, so that God may take and guide us in all things, our whole person and all we have.
The Spiritual Exercises ask a price - our time and our patience and discipline, to limit things that would drain our energies and leave us unable, to find a good space for the daily Times of solitude that the Spiritual Exercises require.
The price is a commitment to prayer, each day if possible, at a special time, the best time, and with more focus within our prayer than we may have been used to.
The price is waiting for God to catch are being personally, and trusting God to do this.
The price may be that we will have to surrender our own personal methods of praying and weight... at least for a time, in confusion or emptiness, even with a distaste for prayer.
In the Spiritual Exercises you will begin to experience interiorly movements - a variety of feelings towards which you will become progressively more sensitive. The interior movements that we experience can be of many different kinds: Joy, uplift, hope, and enlightenment, peace, enthusiasm, comfort, happiness, or tears, dryness, pain, sadness, fear, anxieties, turmoil, temptation, discouragement, or many others.
In my Spiritual Exercises notebook, I called them inner movements, in Spanish "agitaciones," coming from good or evil "spirits," or sources outside our own free choices.
In my notebook I have given guidelines to help others making or giving the Exercises to sift through these various inner movements and discern their origin.
3. Making the spiritual exercises in our daily life.
The way you will do the Spiritual Exercises is, as your contemporaries now call it, the Spiritual Exercises in daily life. You'll be doing the Exercises in the midst of your normal everyday life and work, and the journey you are beginning will take you many months. If you were to make this same journey in and closed setting, away from your normal place of living and working, you would usually do it over a period of one month in a retreat house.
In Europe of the 16th-century we did not have retreat houses, as you call them today, and anyone who made the Exercises, even in a closed setting of 30 days, lived in a boarding house, away from home, sometime shopping and cooking for oneself, went to church several times a week for mass, vespers and benediction, and had to go outside for toiletry needs, and to the stream to wash dirty clothes. For anyone making the Exercises in an enclosed way there were many distractions, more than for someone making the Exercises this way in your retreat houses today.
Another big difference in my time had to do with the culture, the unified way of looking at life. Your lives today seemed to be divided. In my time this was not so. Society was not schizoid, as many see societies today, that is, split or separated.
In the past 70 years, you also seem to have discovered what you call the unconscious, and you appear to experience this as being separated from your conscious self. In my time people did not experience the public and private spheres of life as separate. We did not speak of the secular and sacred at it as if they were separated, as you do now. When people withdrew into an enclosed setting for 30 days to make the Spiritual Exercises, they found it easy to live as one reality which you call secular and Spiritual Exercises, they did not easily become locked into an unreal world of sterile piety and ideas.
The advantage today of doing the Spiritual Exercises within your daily life and work is an opportunity to learn how to integrate better into your life the movement of God's spirit. Doing the Exercises in daily life will also probably give you more scope for adaptation, applying them to your own particular character and life situation.
Over the coming months, many of your daily activities of family, work, and leisure, they first appeared to take you away from God, which you will discover how they can give a greater realism to your relationship with God. I assure you that if you are faithfully each take your times for prayer and review, and remain generously open to what you will discover during the Exercises journey, you'll learn how you can be surprised by God in all the happenings of your life.
This goal of the Exercises ... to find God always ... to experience God personally ... to respond in love to God's love ... and all the choices you freely make.
4. The one giving you the exercises is your companion.
The one meeting you each week to give you the Exercises a your companion on the journey, not your superior, your judge, your confessor, but a fellow pilgrim with you, one whom God will use, at this point in your life, to be an instrument for your guidance as you make the Spiritual Exercises. I have given your companion instructions how to adapt my Spiritual Exercises for you so as not to block God's action in you and to allow God to speak directly with you. I presuppose that you and the one guiding you will act as companions together on a journey, and that each of you comes to the Exercises with goodwill and mutual trust, so that your relation will be one of friendliness, gentleness, and respect for each other.
As the one doing the Exercises, be faithful in each week to your times for prayer and review, especially your review each evening of your prayer times and the events of the whole day. When your companion comes to visit you each week or when you make contact, share briefly what has been happening in your week and your times of prayer and review, the ups and downs ... the insights ... the struggles ... success feelings ... they'll your feelings. By listening to your experiences, your companion can guide you to continue your journey.
The first task is to help you get beyond the barriers that stop God being personal with you. This may take some time or it may happen quickly.
Besides being an opportunity for conversation about what has been happening in your week, the meeting is it time for teaching, explanation, and discussion of possible experimenting.
When it becomes clear that you are allowing got to be personal with you, that you are free enough to allow yourself to be touched by God's mystery, then the companion guide you through the Exercises moves into a second task. This second task is to sit on the sidelines, as it were, but attentive and listening actively, while God directly and personally leads you both from within and from without. During the Exercises, it is always better in bringing your desires to God that show creator and lowered deals directly with you in a way that is unique to you, inflaming you with love and gratitude to God for the gift of life and of all you are. God is always creating you, redeeming you from your brokenness, and reconciling you by inspiring you to share your life with others and so learned how to share God's life.
Your companion giving you the Exercises will not favor one side or other of choice but, standing in the center like a balance, will allow God to deal directly with you as a unique creation of God, and you to deal directly with God as your creator. There are two misunderstandings which are companion will help you to avoid. The first is that God is unable to communicate directly with you, and that you can never have a close personal experience of God. Against this paralyzing error, your companion helps you notice what you feel in your heart.
The second misunderstanding is widespread in your day because your society is in transition, like my own was in the 16th century. You may be tempted to look for black-and-white securities that are not God, and wrongly presumed every good feeling you have his directly from God. Against this oversimplification, your companion will guide and help you to become better attuned to what movements in your heart are more likely from God. It is often by one or other of these two different kinds of misunderstandings that an evil spirit can obstruct the good work that God desires to do in you, or can trivialize your persevering efforts to be open to God's initiatives.
5. My hope for you.
During a Spiritual Exercises my hope for you is that week by week, slowly and gradually, you'll come to a greater ease and the greater familiarity and entering the mystery of God, and feeling God's love for you in the way I was able to experience God's love for me. My hope is that you will grow in spiritual freedom, in love for God and in union with God, through a deepening love for Christ, our risen Lord and leader. Later in your life, as you grow in faith by continuing to reflect on the Word of God, you'll find more readily which God desires and once for you in different situations. You'll recognize more readily Christ in all people, in their struggles towards freedom. And you'll be able to make true and good choices and all you do and all you are.
My hope is that you will be able to find God with peace in all things, always and everywhere. In the communion of saints I will pray that you will grow in this awareness of God's presence, an experience I can never directly described, but which you must discover for yourself, finding God's continuous action, in the private and public worlds where you live. In the communion of all the saints I will pray that eventually God will so touch you that you will become able to guide gratefully all the desires of your heart, and every action and decision that will flow from these desires, towards the joyful sharing of God's life by the generous sharing of your life with others.
In your Spiritual Exercises journey may you learn how specially loved you are by God, Father, son and spirit ... mystery beyond us, word all around us, and breath within us, God's intimately shared self who as one desires to share with you all God is.
In the power of God's love, poured into your heart through Christ's own human love for you, may you find yourself more and more able to give God all you had and all that you are.
As God's personal love in Christ's Easter love for you transforms your heart by the spirit, may you find yourself moved more and more towards love for all who touch your life.
United with you in Christ as you make this journey, Ignatius.
This letter in the name of Ignatius Loyola to one about to make the journey of the Spiritual Exercises in daily life is my reformulation of a letter written in the early 1980s by John Veltri SJ, who gave me the Spiritual Exercises at Pickering in Canada in July 2002 when I made them for a third time in my life.
John Reilly, S.J.
16 October 2004