Commentary

Commentary arranged according to the structure of the Exercises

First Week

(024)

Listening becomes an essential skill for the one making the Exercises. She must first learn to discern and honor her own authentic inner voice. This awareness and acceptance can prove difficult, as the most familiar voices she may hear are the loud dominating voices of external authority or the strident voice of her own inner critic. Claiming the authority of her own voice becomes a prerequisite for personal authenticity and for contributing to the wisdom of the faith community. Thus, each woman’s self-identity questions relate to concepts of self-image and God-image and make up an essential dynamic of this First Week. She is encouraged to reflect on her self-image: self as personal and as public but always as relational. The Exercises assume the importance of self-definition leading to self-understanding. Each of the Weeks moves toward a greater self-reflexivity and therefore relate to the dynamic direction of human development.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(024)

Don’t try to do a postmortem on every incident and conversation, but simply notice and become aware of any specific moments that your memory sends up to your conscious mind, trusting that these prompts are coming from God, who is present and active deep in your own psyche, just as in every other created space.

Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living by Margaret Silf

(024)

Don’t try to do a postmortem on every incident and conversation, but simply notice and become aware of any specific moments that your memory sends up to your conscious mind, trusting that these prompts are coming from God, who is present and active deep in your own psyche, just as in every other created space.

Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living by Margaret Silf

(024)

What has given me life today? What has made me feel more alive, more human? These questions might then lead us on to reflect: In what ways have I been a source of life, hope, encouragement, trust or love to other people and to the rest of creation? For any ways in which I have failed, and for the many opportunities I will have missed, I confidently beg God’s forgiveness and entrust tomorrow to God’s care and keeping.

Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living by Margaret Silf

(032)

Listening becomes an essential skill for the one making the Exercises. She must first learn to discern and honor her own authentic inner voice. This awareness and acceptance can prove difficult, as the most familiar voices she may hear are the loud dominating voices of external authority or the strident voice of her own inner critic. Claiming the authority of her own voice becomes a prerequisite for personal authenticity and for contributing to the wisdom of the faith community. Thus, each woman’s self-identity questions relate to concepts of self-image and God-image and make up an essential dynamic of this First Week. She is encouraged to reflect on her self-image: self as personal and as public but always as relational. The Exercises assume the importance of self-definition leading to self-understanding. Each of the Weeks moves toward a greater self-reflexivity and therefore relate to the dynamic direction of human development.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(033–37)

It is well know that evil strategies, complicities and collusions operate within our thought-processes without our being fully aware of what is happening, or, rather, without our being willing to admit to it. We are in need of grace if we are to have our eyes open, grace operating amid the dis-grace that cannot, thanks to the subtle work of the evil spirit, be seen clearly for what it is.

Ignatius, as we know, wants people to move out from their self-love, their self-centered desires, their self-interest (Exx 189), and to work hard at overcoming themselves and setting their lives in order, to become free of disordered affections. The aim is that we become interiorly open to love and service in every dimension of our lives, constantly moving forward in ways befitting our vocation to become the likeness of God. But there is always the risk that our freedom will be trapped subtly by the evil spirit that cannot leave our desires and actions in peace, but is always disturbing us, impeding us, paralyzing us. We are thus always having to work at discernment—discernment which inevitably involves self-examination.

“The First Method of Prayer” by Luis Raul Cruz, SJ

(043)

“first point . . . second point”

To appreciate the General Examen as a method of prayer, full weight—and time—must be given to the first two points. A common distortion of the Ignatian General Examen comes from a tendency to regard these opening points as perfunctory preliminaries. The method begins with thanksgiving for blessings, the attitude epitomized in the Contemplation to Attain Love, and which belongs to the very heart of the Ignatian spirituality of finding God in all things. With regard to the pray for “light” (point 2), while of course we need “light” to appreciate blessings, the placing of this petition immediately before the recall of one’s sins accentuates the fact that sin can be known only in the light of Christ (and not any other “light”).

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(043)

“third point”

Exponents of the examen today emphasize the need to ask where one has responded or failed to respond to God, rather than to look simply at right or wrong actions. Approached in this way, the examen brings the discernment of spirits into daily life. Through it one is helped to recognize the often subtle drawing of the “good” spirit, and the (again, often subtle) influences of the “bad” spirit within everyday experience; to become familiar with the processes through which these operate (cf. especially [333, 334]) While this interpretation might seem at first sight to exceed the thoughts, words and deeds of Ignatius’ text, it must be remembered that “thought” includes the “movements of the spirits.”

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(043)

The later years are a time to acknowledge decisions made in the past—decisions that we cannot change, and that have set a direction for our lives. Many of them may well have been wise and loving, but some decisions we may now regret, and carry as a burden. They may have harmed others, or excluded possibilities for growth in our lives. We would choose differently now, but the choices we have made cannot be erased or denied. We must come to peace with these decisions, seek forgiveness when possible, and surrender them to God.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(043)

As we grow older . . . we must move towards forgiveness, towards letting go and accepting responsibility for our lives at the present moment. This means letting go of grudges and resentments that drag us back into the past and sap our enthusiasm for the present and future. Forgiveness and letting go free us from the endless repetition of past stories of injustice and hurt that we tell as if they were the events of yesterday.

. . . But perhaps the greatest and most difficult challenge of later life is to forgive ourselves. We are called upon to forgive our own failings and mistakes and sins, and to love ourselves as God loves us. Forgiving ourselves means letting go of our regrets, accepting our limitations, and coming to peace with the decisions and actions that we can no longer change. Forgiving ourselves is the final fruit of accepting God’s forgiveness, and the only path to peace.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(048)

“Shame and confusion”

Both terms are relational, and together they represent a way of experiencing oneself before God’s mercy. Hence the cause of “shame and confusion” is not sin-awareness in itself, but the experience of the self as a sinner in the presence of a God who is merciful and faithful (cf. [74]). One asks that through prayer this experience be deepened and intensified so as to change the heart profoundly.

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(048)

Reflect on what others are already doing. Reflect on the Holy Spirit inspiring many people around the world to carry out tasks, individually and in groups, that would bring about more love, compassion, healing, and forgiveness on Earth. Think of other groups helping to make advances in biology, chemistry, genetics, medicine, surgery, pharmacology, agriculture, fuel efficiency, alternative energies, technology, communication, pure research, space exploration, undersea exploration, ecology, and so on. Give thanks for the Holy Spirit’s inspirations and blessing for all these undertakings that are helping the Christ Project. The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary

(050)

“sin of the angels”

Since sin can be committed by a pure spirit, sin is not essentially tied to animal passions, the instability of the human make-up, or the dynamics of human society. The essence of sin—ours and that of the angels—is, as Ignatius here defines it: the refusal to use one’s freedom to give reverence and obedience to one’s Creator and Lord, in short the refusal to allow God to be God.

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(050–51)

In the First Week, Ignatius invites us first of all to reflect on the history of sin. He has us look at the fall of the angels, at the Adam and Eve story, and at our own story. He wants us to get a sense that we are not alone. We think, “I’m not the first one to sin. I didn’t make up sin. I was born into a history of sin.” There is a salvation history, but there is also a history of sinfulness that we are born into. Ignatius wants us to reflect on that and then to realize that we are a part of that history.

Discovering Your Dream: How Ignatian Spirituality Can Guide Your Life by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(050–51)

Social sin is systemic, that is, it is manifested and “lives” in the social structures functioning in the larger society. Jesus spent much of his public ministry stirring up awareness of some of the most hurtful social evils of his day, like religious hypocrisy among the priests and Pharisees, corrupt systems of justice perpetuated by the lawyers and scribes, unfair treatment of the poor by the rich, biased treatment of women, the social ostracism of tax collectors and the ritually impure, etc. Truly, Jesus bore the damaging effects of these social sins because he felt their evil impact daily on his own body and soul and on those around him.

He had not contributed to these social sins or tolerated them, as we have. He was like us in all things but sin. Yet these evils were laid on him. They diminished him and his ability to convert people to a change of heart. What diminished him and the people were not only the personal sins of Caiaphas, Pilate, or Judas, but also, perhaps even more powerfully, the social evils of humanity.

The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary

(050–53)

Social sin and personal sin mutually reinforce each other in an interactive anti-evolutionary way. For example, these devolutionary social, cultural, political, and economic arrangements (social sins) distort our personal perceptions of reality. They often restrain our abilities to such an extent that we, individually and collectively, find it harder to choose what is good and easier to choose evil.

The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary

(051)

“Sin of Adam and Eve”

Biblical scholarship has long held that the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis is not history but a theological reflection by the people of Israel on the reality of good and evil. This story speaks a timeless truth known to all humanity: human beings, like the angels, enjoy the gift of freedom, yet we sometimes choose to abuse that freedom by trying to put ourselves at the center of creation and displacing God. This is the essence of original sin.

The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

(051)

Another provocative element in the story is the theme of wanting to be like God. . . . Many young people, especially, feel invincible—we want to determine the course of our lives, and because of the world we live in today, we have much greater freedom than so many others enjoyed. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are self-reliant and that we do not need God: with so many resources at our disposal, it seems easy to feed our spiritual hunger.

The Ignatian Workout by Tim Muldoon

(053)

“What have I done for Christ . . .”

Return to these questions throughout the retreat. In one sense, they are not completely answerable during the retreat itself; we often lean into the answers as we continue our normal routines. By considering the questions, we realize how practical the Exercises are. Just as our sin is reflected in concrete decisions and actions, so, too, does grace come to life in choices and deeds for the love of Christ and others. We encounter Christ not only in our prayer and in the sacraments but also in our relationships with the Body of Christ, living now as the church, the people of God.

The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

(053)

Christ on the cross labors and saves. Each person, created in God’s image and gifted in the mutuality of creation, is bound both by personal sin and, in some mysterious way, by the power of sin in the world. Such a realization can evoke tears, sorrow, confusion, helplessness and repentance. The God of love and mercy calls to conversion.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(053)

To know the reality of our brokenness and our separation from God, in our gut and not just in our heads, is a harrowing experience. We enter into this experience only when we know, in the same deep-felt way, God’s unconditional love for us, which holds our brokenness in gently sheltering hands.

So what went wrong? Can we be satisfied by the conventional religious language of “sin” and somehow make that cover for the inner howling that comes from the deep awareness of something badly wrong, that no amount of theology is going to cure for us?

Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf

(053)

Because social sins and personal sins are tied together so inextricably, it is inadequate to say that in his crucifixion Christ died only for our personal sins. What is much more realistic is that Jesus of Nazareth very consciously died bearing the weight of the social sins of organized society, those very sins he openly struggled to confront during his ministry. We might call them, collectively, the sins of humanity. Of course, our personal sins are bound up in those social evils and have contributed to their continued existence.

The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary

(053)

There is a whole realm of resistance—I call it the Big Resistance—that works in us apart from fear, anger, pain, perception, or experience. This resistance is not forced upon us but seems to grow up within us like persistent weeds in an otherwise lovely garden. This is what theologians—and standard Christian doctrine—call sin. This resistance is our tendency to move away from God, even as our souls yearn to move closer to God.

. . . We regularly do what we know we shouldn’t do; we consistently do not live up to our own plans or proceed in the way we envision ourselves living and acting. We repeatedly set our feet upon a good path, only to resist our own steps and cause all sorts of messes.

At the heart of our resistance is ego in its multiple forms. One way or the other, we put ourselves at the center of the universe. For some of us, that means we want to be in control of our own life; we don’t want anyone telling us what to do or preventing us from doing whatever we want. We’ll listen to advice, but we don’t believe we really need help because we are smart and tough and self-sufficient.

Others of us want, ultimately, to be taken care of, to have our every need met and every desire fulfilled. Deep down we believe that we are entitled to this, and we act in quite unloving ways when our needs and desires get thwarted. Some of us want everybody to love and appreciate us. We constantly need to be recognized and adored.

And some of us must always feel significant and valuable. We push others to profess how important we are to them; we test people to see if they miss us enough when we’re gone, or we get angry when we’re not included in every discussion or decision. For this sort of person, major life changes can be hell, because she needs consistency: work that she performs well and for which she receives praise, and a stable group of people who make her feel validated and loved.

Whatever form our self-centeredness takes, it moves us to act not out of love but out of sheer need. If we need to be in control, then we push and use our power abusively. If we want to be taken care of, then we become needy and clingy, just to assure that someone will step up to the challenge. And if we must be loved and appreciated, we invent multiple ways to manipulate people into giving us what we want.

. . . We want, really, to be our own gods. Which is why, throughout history, “God” has been presented to us so often as a monstrous projection of human nature: vengeful, egotistical, controlling, demanding, and always hungry for more. Even our sacred stories have not gone untouched by our ideas of what God should be like—just a bigger, stronger, unassailable version of us.

Days of Deepening Friendship: For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God by Vinita Hampton Wright

(053)

Sin is, perhaps, like holding a daffodil bulb in our hands but neglecting to plant it in our life’s soil because we refuse to believe that it contains a flower. Yet alongside all of our flat refusals to believe, the Gardener plants us nonetheless, and tends us lovingly because he knows who we are and holds everything we shall become in his gentle hands.

Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf

(053)

As we grow older . . . we must move towards forgiveness, towards letting go and accepting responsibility for our lives at the present moment. This means letting go of grudges and resentments that drag us back into the past and sap our enthusiasm for the present and future. Forgiveness and letting go free us from the endless repetition of past stories of injustice and hurt that we tell as if they were the events of yesterday.

. . . But perhaps the greatest and most difficult challenge of later life is to forgive ourselves. We are called upon to forgive our own failings and mistakes and sins, and to love ourselves as God loves us. Forgiving ourselves means letting go of our regrets, accepting our limitations, and coming to peace with the decisions and actions that we can no longer change. Forgiving ourselves is the final fruit of accepting God’s forgiveness, and the only path to peace.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(053)

The later years are a time to acknowledge decisions made in the past—decisions that we cannot change, and that have set a direction for our lives. Many of them may well have been wise and loving, but some decisions we may now regret, and carry as a burden. They may have harmed others, or excluded possibilities for growth in our lives. We would choose differently now, but the choices we have made cannot be erased or denied. We must come to peace with these decisions, seek forgiveness when possible, and surrender them to God.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(053)

Christ on the cross labors and saves. Each person, created in God’s image and gifted in the mutuality of creation, is bound both by personal sin and, in some mysterious way, by the power of sin in the world. Such a realization can evoke tears, sorrow, confusion, helplessness and repentance. The God of love and mercy calls to conversion. The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(054)

In both meditation and contemplation the “points” lead into the prayer that Ignatius describes in terms of familiar exchange and calls “colloquy.” Though given a special place at the end of prayer, it is not an appendage to prayer, but its culmination; moreover it may arise at any moment in prayer, and when it does so, it is always, in a sense, a culminating moment.

In the Exercises Ignatius presents the colloquy in various ways. Sometimes he simply invites the exercitant to “end with a colloquy,” sometimes he offers brief guidelines, while the colloquy can also be the context in which he concludes an exercise with specific content or procedures (such is the case here and in the Triple Colloquies). But in whatever form the colloquy is proposed it will always be marked by the personal and spontaneous quality of conversation between friends.

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(054)

In the colloquy, we speak and listen as the Spirit moves us: expressing ourselves, for example, as a friend speaks to a friend, or as a person speaks to one whom he or she has offended, or as a child speaks to a parent or mentor, or as a lover speaks to his or her beloved. Whatever the context, be “real,” speaking from the heart. As in any meaningful conversation, make sure to leave times of silence for listening.

The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

(055)

Ignatius invites us to look at our own history of sin and evil in light of the goodness of God. Even though we reject God, he still blesses us. The saints and angels still pray for us. The earth does not swallow us up. Rather we enjoy the bounty of God’s splendid creation—“heavens, sun, moon, stars, and elements, fruits, birds, fishes, and animals.” Sin is not the breaking of a law or commandment as much as it is a lack of gratitude.

What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David L. Fleming, SJ

(055–57)

The focus of the first exercise was on the effects of sin in the world and on the exercitant’s involvement in these. The second is concerned with the meaning of sin in itself. The exercise begins with a reality already considered obliquely, “my many sins.”

 . . . The second exercise is very much concerned, then, with the “sin within the sins,” and in insisting in the second point on the “malice and turpitude that sin has in itself even if it were not forbidden,” Ignatius is directing the exercitant to look beyond merely moral considerations to the recognition of sin in its essence.

“The First Week: Some Notes on the Text” by Michael Ivens, SJ

(055–57)

At the heart of our resistance is ego in its multiple forms. One way or the other, we put ourselves at the center of the universe. Whatever form our self-centeredness takes, it moves us to act not out of love but out of sheer need. If we need to be in control, then we push and use our power abusively. If we want to be taken care of, then we become needy and clingy, just to assure that someone will step up to the challenge. And if we must be loved and appreciated, we invent multiple ways to manipulate people into giving us what we want. . . . We want, really, to be our own gods. Which is why, throughout history, “God” has been presented to us so often as a monstrous projection of human nature: vengeful, egotistical, controlling, demanding, and always hungry for more. Even our sacred stories have not gone untouched by our ideas of what God should be like—just a bigger, stronger, unassailable version of us.

Days of Deepening Friendship: For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God by Vinita Hampton Wright

(055–57)

To know the reality of our brokenness and our separation from God, in our gut and not just in our heads, is a harrowing experience. We enter into this experience only when we know, in the same deep-felt way, God’s unconditional love for us, which holds our brokenness in gently sheltering hands.

So what went wrong? Can we be satisfied by the conventional religious language of “sin” and somehow make that cover for the inner howling that comes from the deep awareness of something badly wrong, that no amount of theology is going to cure for us?

Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf

(055–57)

Sin is, perhaps, like holding a daffodil bulb in our hands but neglecting to plant it in our life’s soil because we refuse to believe that it contains a flower. Yet alongside all of our flat refusals to believe, the Gardener plants us nonetheless, and tends us lovingly because he knows who we are and holds everything we shall become in his gentle hands.

Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf

(055–57)

There is a whole realm of resistance—I call it the Big Resistance—that works in us apart from fear, anger, pain, perception, or experience. This resistance is not forced upon us but seems to grow up within us like persistent weeds in an otherwise lovely garden. This is what theologians—and standard Christian doctrine—call sin. This resistance is our tendency to move away from God, even as our souls yearn to move closer to God.

. . . We regularly do what we know we shouldn’t do; we consistently do not live up to our own plans or proceed in the way we envision ourselves living and acting. We repeatedly set our feet upon a good path, only to resist our own steps and cause all sorts of messes.

At the heart of our resistance is ego in its multiple forms. One way or the other, we put ourselves at the center of the universe. For some of us, that means we want to be in control of our own life; we don’t want anyone telling us what to do or preventing us from doing whatever we want. We’ll listen to advice, but we don’t believe we really need help because we are smart and tough and self-sufficient.

Others of us want, ultimately, to be taken care of, to have our every need met and every desire fulfilled. Deep down we believe that we are entitled to this, and we act in quite unloving ways when our needs and desires get thwarted. Some of us want everybody to love and appreciate us. We constantly need to be recognized and adored.

And some of us must always feel significant and valuable. We push others to profess how important we are to them; we test people to see if they miss us enough when we’re gone, or we get angry when we’re not included in every discussion or decision. For this sort of person, major life changes can be hell, because she needs consistency: work that she performs well and for which she receives praise, and a stable group of people who make her feel validated and loved.

Whatever form our self-centeredness takes, it moves us to act not out of love but out of sheer need. If we need to be in control, then we push and use our power abusively. If we want to be taken care of, then we become needy and clingy, just to assure that someone will step up to the challenge. And if we must be loved and appreciated, we invent multiple ways to manipulate people into giving us what we want.

. . . We want, really, to be our own gods. Which is why, throughout history, “God” has been presented to us so often as a monstrous projection of human nature: vengeful, egotistical, controlling, demanding, and always hungry for more. Even our sacred stories have not gone untouched by our ideas of what God should be like—just a bigger, stronger, unassailable version of us.

Days of Deepening Friendship: For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God by Vinita Hampton Wright

(055–58)

The second exercise invites the one making the Exercises to move from observer to participant. She takes center stage in her own dramatic struggle to choose the direction of her life through memories of her personal “sin stories.”

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(055–61)

When the woman making the Exercises perceives God primarily as Patriarchal King, Lord and Judge, she may base her sense of sin largely on submission and judgment. . . . “Contemplating my many sins” may be exactly what a given woman should not do until she broadens her sense of sin and interprets it in light of a loving God. Perhaps an authentic conversion in the First Week reveals an inner experience of knowing oneself as loved by God and rejecting any internalized self-hatred. Conversion may uniquely relate to ordinary events of daily life and its missed possibilities for growth.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(055–61)

One woman said tellingly, “I grew up thinking and feeling that almost everything was a sin, venial or mortal, especially mortal if it looked, sounded, smelled or felt good. Now I realize that this belief was the sin I committed against myself.”

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(055–61)

By pondering her culpability rather than exclusively contemplating her “many sins,” the seeker can more productively reflect upon the First Week. Such consciousness asks each person to develop a true sense of sin and self before the reality of a living, loving, relational God. Each woman needs to let God reveal where she refuses love.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(055–61)

Following the work of Saiving, feminist thinker Judith Plaskow challenges the assumption that equates sin with pride and egoistic self-assertion, suggesting that this norm better describes the experience of men. She notes the impact of cultural expectations in defining “the feminine”: “The ‘sin’ which the feminine role in modern society creates and encourages in women, is not illegitimate self-centeredness but failure to center the self, the failure to take responsibility for one’s own life” (Plaskow 1980, 92).

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(055–61)

Theologian Anne Carr (1996) points out the need to reinterpret Christian categories of sin in light of the experience of women. She concludes that women’s sin manifests itself in a lack of self-assertion in the face of society and culture’s expectations. A woman’s sin often consists not of what she does, but of what she fails to do, such as failing to assume responsibility for choices and naming her own values and gifts (8). Carr reiterates that a male theological perspective has dominated the definition of sin as pride and rebellion and has failed to pay attention to the sin “of those who are powerless, who lack agency, selfhood, and responsibility, and who have suffered violence and abuse” (186).

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(055–61)

Women often identify themselves not first as sinners but as victims of sin and oppression. This self-identification leads to a personal form of prayer, lament. In lament one names her suffering, caused by injustice, evil and pain, and cries out for God’s help. Naming the trouble begins the healing; turning to God in faith and hope opens one to grace. . . . Therefore, a prayer of lament may prove a more appropriate starting point for the First Week of the Exercises than a prayer of contrition.

. . . Today’s suffering women more typically cry out against the evil that has touched their lives, acknowledging and naming their grief, sorrow, pain and oppression. From here they can move to a freer, deeper and more authentic awareness of personal sin.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(056)

Try to be very concrete. Note specific actions or patterns of acting that are sinful, and then go beneath actions or habits to discern the attitudes, tendencies, and intentions that cause them. We aim for a graced understanding that cuts to the heart.

 . . . We aim for our understanding of sin to be heartfelt because conversion involves a change in thinking and feeling, in choosing and desiring. With this deepening understanding may come strong reactions, including sorrow for sins and gratitude for God’s mercy.

. . . This taking stock is not easy, but awareness is a grace when it leads us to freedom from a self-centered isolation and freedom for loving service of God and others.

The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

(056)

I see myself as a person that is somehow closed off from God, that did not have enough love, that did not have enough courage to let himself go, that did not break loose to find God. Perhaps I can then get a clear picture of my sins: a picture of acts that should not have taken place and that I alone am responsible for. These are truly my sins; I am the one who has become this man. And these sins are still with me, at least as forgiven sins. Perhaps the man that is looking at me from out of my past, is the same man that I am today. Who knows whether or not I have found God’s mercy, whether or not I am near God in the depths of my being—or whether or not I have already begun to be lost? Who knows?

Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ

(056)

The later years are a time to acknowledge decisions made in the past—decisions that we cannot change, and that have set a direction for our lives. Many of them may well have been wise and loving, but some decisions we may now regret, and carry as a burden. They may have harmed others, or excluded possibilities for growth in our lives. We would choose differently now, but the choices we have made cannot be erased or denied. We must come to peace with these decisions, seek forgiveness when possible, and surrender them to God.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(056)

As we grow older . . . we must move towards forgiveness, towards letting go and accepting responsibility for our lives at the present moment. This means letting go of grudges and resentments that drag us back into the past and sap our enthusiasm for the present and future. Forgiveness and letting go free us from the endless repetition of past stories of injustice and hurt that we tell as if they were the events of yesterday.

. . . But perhaps the greatest and most difficult challenge of later life is to forgive ourselves. We are called upon to forgive our own failings and mistakes and sins, and to love ourselves as God loves us. Forgiving ourselves means letting go of our regrets, accepting our limitations, and coming to peace with the decisions and actions that we can no longer change. Forgiving ourselves is the final fruit of accepting God’s forgiveness, and the only path to peace.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(057)

As we grow older . . . we must move towards forgiveness, towards letting go and accepting responsibility for our lives at the present moment. This means letting go of grudges and resentments that drag us back into the past and sap our enthusiasm for the present and future. Forgiveness and letting go free us from the endless repetition of past stories of injustice and hurt that we tell as if they were the events of yesterday.

. . . But perhaps the greatest and most difficult challenge of later life is to forgive ourselves. We are called upon to forgive our own failings and mistakes and sins, and to love ourselves as God loves us. Forgiving ourselves means letting go of our regrets, accepting our limitations, and coming to peace with the decisions and actions that we can no longer change. Forgiving ourselves is the final fruit of accepting God’s forgiveness, and the only path to peace.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(057)

The later years are a time to acknowledge decisions made in the past—decisions that we cannot change, and that have set a direction for our lives. Many of them may well have been wise and loving, but some decisions we may now regret, and carry as a burden. They may have harmed others, or excluded possibilities for growth in our lives. We would choose differently now, but the choices we have made cannot be erased or denied. We must come to peace with these decisions, seek forgiveness when possible, and surrender them to God.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(058)

Consider the following questions:

1. Who am I compared to all the other people in the world? I am one small person in a world of billions.

2. Who am I compared to all the good men and women who have gone before me: my ancestors, whose hope was that their descendants, like me, might live in happiness; the heroes and heroines who fought in many ways to secure my freedom, my right to autonomy; the holy people who died to pass on the faith that I have received as gift?

3. Who am I in the context of the whole of creation? One person on one small planet in one small solar system on the outskirts of an ocean of millions of galaxies. I am less than a speck of dust; I barely merit being identified as a single atom in a speck of dust.

4. Who am I compared to God? One small atom on one speck of dust in the midst of the whole of creation that God made. What can I be apart from God? Why has God chosen to care for me?

The Ignatian Workout by Tim Muldoon

(059)

Remember that we do this heavy lifting in the context of having experienced ourselves as sinners who are loved. God seeks to free us from everything that gets in the way of loving ourselves, others, and God. The focus is not simply naming our sins, which can itself become a form of self-preoccupation. Instead, we focus on who God is and who we are before God. With this orientation, we discover the source of our liberation: the boundless mercy of God. We begin to see how sin has distorted our relationships. Recognizing how generous and faithful God is, we become dissatisfied with our meager, self-directed responses. We naturally want to reorder our values and make tangible changes. We do this not out of duty or obligation, but out of love for Someone greater than ourselves.

The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

(059–61)

Ignatius’s worldview did not include an awareness of social sin. He did not identify the unjust structures of society as embodiments of sin nor did he think of sin in communal or relational terms. Ignatius’s understanding of sin would have been more individual and act-oriented. His own battles with scrupulosity taught him that obsessing with particular actions did not lead to peace or bring him closer to God. Ignatius is more concerned with the graces and desires of our hearts than with our individual sins. More important for him is the call to gratitude and freedom that focuses our hearts on God and God’s goodness. The more contemporary approach to sin can, however, further expand and enrich Ignatius’s sixteenth-century understanding of sin. Reflection on social sin is an essential adaptation of the Exercises in today’s context.

Putting on the Heart of Christ: How the Spiritual Exercises Invite Us to a Virtuous Life by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(059–61)

Within your growing awareness of sin, something profoundly personal and hopeful is at work. The fire of God’s love is inviting you insistently into the deep glow of peace and the radiant energy of salvation in Christ Jesus. Your own memory and willpower cannot produce this revelation. Without a lively sense of God’s love, this revelation of sin is not possible. In that situation the problem lies not with God but with your complacent sense of the Creator’s immediate, intimate love.

Stretched for Greater Glory: What to Expect from the Spiritual Exercises by George A. Aschenbrenner, SJ

(059–61)

The loved sinner stands at the center of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. Although sin provides the focus, the First Week really dwells on love, God’s love, which is greater than human sin. This Week moves from awareness of and responsibility for sin to awareness of God’s gracious love, a love that forgives sin and welcomes the sinner.

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(060)

At this point, St. Ignatius once again mentions the history of salvation and how it embraces all visible things, the saints and the angels—all from Christ and toward Christ. I stand somewhere in this salvation history as a sinner. And the bolt of divine justice and retaliation is still restrained. The world, as it were, holds its breath and waits.

Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ

(061)

When, however we are pierced by sorrow because we have received the grace to see our own sinfulness against the horizon of the Infinity of God, something different happens. This is no longer an experience in which the powers of reason and will can be applied first to judge the consequences of our actions and then to resolve to amend them. Rather, it is a gift which alters from within—instantly, deeply, and wholly mysteriously. Above all, it is not an experience of agonizing remorse but rather one of unimaginable love.

A Generous Openness: Praying the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Charlotte C. Prather

(061)

As we grow older . . . we must move towards forgiveness, towards letting go and accepting responsibility for our lives at the present moment. This means letting go of grudges and resentments that drag us back into the past and sap our enthusiasm for the present and future. Forgiveness and letting go free us from the endless repetition of past stories of injustice and hurt that we tell as if they were the events of yesterday.

. . . But perhaps the greatest and most difficult challenge of later life is to forgive ourselves. We are called upon to forgive our own failings and mistakes and sins, and to love ourselves as God loves us. Forgiving ourselves means letting go of our regrets, accepting our limitations, and coming to peace with the decisions and actions that we can no longer change. Forgiving ourselves is the final fruit of accepting God’s forgiveness, and the only path to peace.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(061)

The later years are a time to acknowledge decisions made in the past—decisions that we cannot change, and that have set a direction for our lives. Many of them may well have been wise and loving, but some decisions we may now regret, and carry as a burden. They may have harmed others, or excluded possibilities for growth in our lives. We would choose differently now, but the choices we have made cannot be erased or denied. We must come to peace with these decisions, seek forgiveness when possible, and surrender them to God.

“The Spiritual Exercises and a Spirituality for the Later Years” by Gerald M. Fagin, SJ

(062)

The Ignatian prayer of repetition is to be understood in relation to two inseparable processes: the gradual assimilation of the given material, and the development of prayer towards the simple, receptive and personal quality of contemplation. Repetition does not mean making an exercise over again. Though in the repetition one might replay some detail, or even pick up on a point previously overlooked or not reached, repetition is essentially concerned not with the material given, but with one’s own significant responses to it, whether positive or negative. It is a selective and subjective prayer, spacious and unhurried, typified by the “pause,” by staying put where “I find what I want.”

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(063)

The first request should be directed to our Lady. We are with her in the communion of saints and of prayer—the Mystical Body of Christ. Mary has a very special place and function in this body. Prayer to Mary is a part of Christian piety. St. Ignatius is a witness to that here with his triple colloquy, in a simple but theologically relevant way.

Then we should say: “Soul of Christ, sanctify me . . . ,” turning to our Mediator, the Incarnate Word who affirms in Himself before God the present world-structure. He is the Lord, the Victor over the world. He has given to everyone who does not belong to the “world” the power to become a child of God.

Finally, I should direct myself to the Father Who has loved us so much that He sent His dearly beloved Son into the darkness, the emptiness, and the sin of this world.

He alone is the all-holy One, the Lord, the Judge, the absolute center, according to Whom everything else must pattern itself. In His deep, un-searchable designs, He must have mercy on us so that we can know Christ and learn to love Him in grace. When we have been caught up in His mercy, we no longer belong to the “world,” and the struggle with venial sin has become nothing but a valid following of Christ.

The Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ

(063)

“Abhorrence”

Perhaps the only jarring note the modern reader will find in the text is the notion of “abhorrence,” used in each of the colloquies to designate the affective response for which the exercitant is required to pray. Since inevitably the word is liable to conjure up pictures of the more morbid aspects of religious conversion (such as self-loathing or the hatred of the world), it is important to be clear that it is sin and not self that is the object of abhorrence and that abhorrence for the sinfulness of the world must be understood in the light of Ignatius’s positive theology of creation.

“The First Week: Some Notes on the Text” by Michael Ivens, SJ

(063)

“A knowledge of the world”

The concept “world” is very ambiguous. Here it means just what Scripture says of it: It is not an imaginary picture dreamed up by illusionary ascetics, but it is the world of scandals on which the Lord called down His terrible “woes”; the world of darkness into which the light came and was not received; the world which cannot receive the spirit of truth, which, according to St. Paul, has a wisdom all its own that is not our wisdom; the world which does not know Christ, which hates Him and His, but which has already been conquered by the Lord.

Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, SJ

(063)

A contemporary worldview can open up a deeper realization about the interdependence of all creation and foster the basic recognition that she is not god. This assent leads to a growing sense of truth about self and God in light of the “creation and fall.”

The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women by Katherine Marie Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert

(063)

We may be willing to admit sin intellectually, but to experience it as part of who we are, at the core of our being, is another matter. To grasp it, to hold it in our hands, to bring it into the presence of another person, to expose it to the light of God in Christ requires a willingness to be naked, which is quite terrifying. Thus, like Adam and Eve, we take cover under the trees of denial and repression and persuade ourselves that to hide from the face of God is less painful than to experience our shame.

A Generous Openness: Praying the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Charlotte C. Prather

(063)

Today, perhaps the best we can do immediately is resist, as Jesus did, in those few areas where we recognize injustice and can do something about it. We can also choose to become agents of change for organizations that try to address and improve certain obvious injustices. The challenge always is to turn a structure that is currently devolutionary into one that is evolutionary, one that is more fitting for the development of the Body of Christ.

The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary

(063)

It is well know that evil strategies, complicities and collusions operate within our thought-processes without our being fully aware of what is happening, or, rather, without our being willing to admit to it. We are in need of grace if we are to have our eyes open, grace operating amid the dis-grace that cannot, thanks to the subtle work of the evil spirit, be seen clearly for what it is.

Ignatius, as we know, wants people to move out from their self-love, their self-centred desires, their self-interest (Exx 189), and to work hard at overcoming themselves and setting their lives in order, to become free of disordered affections. The aim is that we become interiorly open to love and service in every dimension of our lives, constantly moving forward in ways befitting our vocation to become the likeness of God. But there is always the risk that our freedom will be trapped subtly by the evil spirit that cannot leave our desires and actions in peace, but is always disturbing us, impeding us, paralyzing us. We are thus always having to work at discernment—discernment which inevitably involves self-examination.

“The First Method of Prayer” by Luis Raul Cruz, SJ

(065)

The subject of the final meditation is one which needs to be present to the consciousness of the free person, who is invited to choose life but is capable of choosing death.” But in the First Week of the Exercises the meditation on Hell is not for Ignatius the starting-point of conversion, but a confirmation. It comes after the exercitant has had the experience of God’s merciful love. Made in a climate of trust in that love, it is made too in the awareness that we are capable of refusing love. Though the petition is for the grace of fear, the meditation ends on a note of thanksgiving for God’s loving mercy, and implicit in the thanksgiving for the past is trust for the future, yet a trust which must never degenerate into presumption or complacency.

Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ

(065)

To suffer the dreadful absence of God is a genuine experience of the effects of sin, for the disorientation, unrest, and despair caused by sin is exactly the experience of having lost the center of our lives, that which gives us meaning, peace, and joy. To feel the sense of loss of God in prayer is a very precious experience, for in it we learn that we would rather suffer any other loss. To know, love, and delight in the Lord becomes something we begin to value more. This is grace.

A Generous Openness: Praying the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Charlotte C. Prather

(065)

Imagine you are somewhere above Earth . . . looking down and seeing the network of sinful social structures keeping people from living full human lives and hindering the development of the Christ Project. You can see dominator people trying publicly to deny the harm these evil structures are doing to the human race and to nature itself. You can see others observing the destruction, yet doing nothing, or perhaps looking for someone to blame in order to absolve themselves. Still others, perhaps, feel helpless or too cowardly to say or do anything to make a difference. Others are resisting one specific social evil but without a true change of heart, and so end up, perhaps unwittingly, supporting different social evils: for example, some may condemn abortion, yet support the death penalty.

The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin by Louis M. Savary

(065–71)

St. Paul speaks of our being able to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love and experiencing this love which surpasses all knowledge (Eph. 3:18–19). At its opposite pole, I try to experience the breadth and length and height and depth of hell—the despair of facing a cross with no one on it, the turning out upon a world which has no God, the total emptiness of living without purpose, an environment pervasive with hatred and self-seeking, a living death.

I bring the whole of my being into the vividness of this experience. I let all the horror of sin which has been the fruit of my previous prayer periods wash over me in an enveloping flood. In many ways, this setting is the most passive of prayer experiences; it is not a matter of thinking new thoughts or even of looking for new images, but rather entering fully into the felt experience of sin which has been building up from all my past prayer periods.

It is akin to the passive way that my senses take in sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touches as an automatic datum for my attention. I know that the total felt-environment of sin, in whatever ways it can be most vividly mine, is the setting for this prayer period.

Colloquy: Once I have let the awfulness of this experience sink deep within me, I begin to talk to Christ our Lord about it. I talk to him about all the people who have lived—the many who lived before his coming and who deliberately closed in upon themselves and chose such a hell for all eternity, the many who walked with him in his own country and who rejected his call to love, the many who still keep rejecting the call to love and remain locked in their own chosen hell.

I give thanks to Jesus that he has not allowed me to fall into any of these groups, thus ending my life. All I can do is give thanks to him that up to this moment he has shown himself so loving and merciful to me.

Then I close with an Our Father.

Draw Me into Your Friendship by David L. Fleming, SJ

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