General commentary based on themes in the exercises including reflections and prayers
Ignatius appreciates the relishing and savoring of prayer so much that he asks pray-ers to go to a separate place and journal about their prayer experience. What happens is that writing out the details of the experience, including the feelings and graces experienced, bring about new graces and new realizations that wouldn’t appear if one were to rush through the prayer without adequate reflection. When I experience a feeling of tremendous consolation during prayer I tend to get excited and almost want to end my prayer so I can be sure to remember the details in order to journal about it. Those feelings of consolation are gifts from God. Don’t rush it. The best bit of advice is spreading the “spiritual relish” thick by sitting in that moment and relishing the grace. Hold onto it. Let yourself be enveloped with consoling feelings. Ignatius says that we should relish times of consolation as a preparation for times we find ourselves in desolation. In other words, store up that “spiritual relish” for later. It can remind you about God’s goodness in down times when you feel more separated from God.From Spiritual Relish By Andy Otto
The first thing we need to impress upon retreatants is the quest of the Eternal. If they are not part of that quest, we are wasting our time. Perhaps they are following a secondary quest where they will end up frustrated, or they will end up deluded with a certain amount of fake consolations and will go nowhere. In other words, this is Ignatius’ approach. Jesus wants people to approach the kingdom with this disposition. Do they approach the retreat with this same disposition when they stand before the kingdom and say: “I will sell everything to get this precious pearl, everything”? This is the kind of attitude we are talking about. This is what Ignatius is inviting us to in “The First Principle and Foundation.” Do we have the attitude that Paul expressed in the Epistle to the Philippians: “I had all these things, but all of this is garbage, nothing, all of this is loss compared to gaining Christ?” This is essential for beginning the retreat.From Seek God Everywhere by Anthony de Mello, SJ
Here is something of a summary of these paragraphs: My life world is a welter of things--things that attract me and draw me; things that repel me and fill me with loathing. To be rich, to be wretched; to be powerful, to be marginated; to marry, to live single; to be healthy, to be sickly; to go on living long years, to die very young—l know which among these things draw me on their own. Bu t when it comes to concrete choices. I will try to hold my desiring and my choosing still, until I can see in each concrete particular what leads me toward God and what leads me away from God. I would resolutely repudiate anything that would lead me away from God, no matter how precious and valuable my culture or my friends might think it. That goes without saying. But should I discover, to take a concrete instance, that a particular kind of exercise keeps me healthy but leaves me loving God and my friends less, then I will drop it. Should I discover that not having enough money opens me to real problems with living honestly, then I will energetically try to earn more money and escape a condition that for me prepares me to love less. And I take responsibility even for my desires . So, knowing what is authentic to myself and what leads me to love in this concrete situation, I will freely approve of a desiring I feel or I will take effective steps to suppress that desiring: then I will freely choose to act this way or that way, to act or not act. And not before.From “Presenting the Principle and Foundation” in Choosing Christ in the World by Joseph Tetlow, SJ
We might outline the examen prayer as follows:
God, thank you.
I thank you, God, for always being with me, but
especially I am grateful that you are with me right now.
God, send your Holy Spirit upon me.
God, let the Holy Spirit enlighten my mind and
warm my heart that I may know where and how we
have been together this day.
God, let me look at my day.
God, where have I felt your presence, seen your face, heard your word this day?
God, where have I ignored you, run from you, perhaps even rejected you this day?
God, let me be grateful and ask forgiveness.
God, I thank you for the times this day we have been together and we have worked together.
God, I am sorry for the ways that I have offended you by what I have done or what I did not do.
God, stay close.
God, I ask that you draw me ever closer to you this day and tomorrow.
God, you are the God of my life—thank you.
From A Simple Life Changing Prayer by Jim Manney
As I deepen my love for my friend, I come to know what she likes and dislikes. I come to see the world through her eyes, and thereby experience it anew. What once was trite and meaningless to me now becomes an object of wonder, when I look at it with her. This deepening friendship gives rise to regular moments of conversion.
In the early days when I was just coming to know the woman who was to become my wife, I tried wild and wonderful things. I remember our first date, for pizza and a late night showing of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. To me, that was the pinnacle of class and romance: shared Shakespeare. Ah! She fell asleep midway through the film. By the end of the evening I could hear my sails flapping as the wind died down. It had felt like a Truly Great Idea. But it was rooted pretty deeply in my own imagination, rather than in the good soil of conversation. I had not yet learned the art of discernment.
I like to think of discernment as common vision, a shared look at the world. In prayer, I come to love God even as I have come to love Sue. I learn to distinguish my Great Ideas from those which emerge deliberately in the context of prayer over time. In Ignatius’ language, I discern which movements come from God and which come from the enemy of my nature (or is it “the enemy, my nature”?).
Friendship–and its sacramental version, marriage–is the practice of shared vision, and as such it is good practice for the life of discernment. My will–my Great Ideas–are only one part of the conversation, and I derive my joy from sharing a vision of the good. And over time that practice of common vision becomes habitual, even though imperfect. I make mistakes; I backtrack; I say sorry. I grow, but more importantly we grow together.By Tim Muldoon, author of The Ignatian Workout
The God of the First Week is a God of mercy. Conversion can come about on different levels, and although people of varying spiritual quality might be admitted to them, the five exercises envisage primarily a spiritually mature and sensitive person, one seeking to advance “from good to better.” For a person of this kind, conversion will mean not a preliminary change of conduct prompted by fear, but the deep change of heart that can only arise out of a new personal discovery of God's mercy.
Mercy, then, is the dominant theme of the First Week Meditations, but there can be no profound sense of God's mercy without a profound sense of sin. Hence the week opens up a faith-vision of sin: sin seen as the negation of praise, reverence and service [50, 52, 58, 59], as a negative power pervading the history of free creation [50-52], as destructive of our relationship with ourselves and with the world. But sin is always considered in the Exercises in the light of mercy, the mercy which is finally revealed in the Creator's commitment to sinful humanity in the cross of Jesus , and which can be sensed in everything - in one's experience of the world  and in life itself [61, 70]. This discovery, made without complacency or presumption, brings about a love-inspired conversion which is different from the conversion prompted by fear. Certainly Ignatius recognized, as does the mainstream homiletic tradition, that situations exist when fear must indeed be the first step . But the First Week, where the meditation on Hell comes after and not before the person has been touched by God's love , is not such a situation. The essential grace of the First Week is that of a conversion arising out of the literally heart-breaking experience of being loved and forgiven.From Understanding the Spiritual Exercises by Michael Ivens, SJ
Among the things I keep in mind in presenting the First Week are:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14)
That one sentence took on a whole new meaning for me when I experienced the Spiritual Exercises. Sadly lacking in imagination, I found myself struggling greatly with contemplation, and I was dragging our poor director along with me to the point that I thought he was going to “excuse” me from the Exercises altogether. Nearing Christmas, he had me discard all previous attempts and follow this one simple instruction instead: “Just spend some time holding baby Jesus.” That was supposed to be easier? I expected the experience to be as fruitless and frustrating as my prior attempts at contemplation to that point. But I trudged on, and I am so glad I did.
By the grace of God, I did manage to hold baby Jesus in my next attempt at contemplation. In holding that sweet, sleeping babe in my arms that night, I started to appreciate the humanity of Jesus. Babies have a way of making us feel peaceful, protective, and completely in love. There Jesus lay in my arms fully divine, but fully human, too. Just like any other baby, I could smell that lovely baby smell, marvel at his tiny hands, and count his tiny baby toes. This baby in my arms was completely dependent; he got hungry, tired, or just needed to be held. Dependent, needing, tiny—those are not qualities I had ever really associated with the divine and thus never appreciated in Jesus.
As I held baby Jesus I realized that I could no longer dismiss the trials and pains in his life as being “maybe not quite so awful” because he was fully divine. Fully human is not overtaken by being fully divine. Just as Jesus fully experienced the dependence of being a baby, he experienced every human moment of his life. As we continued to journey together through the Exercises, I began to understand that Jesus had experienced many things in life that I too have experienced. Jesus was loved by his family, he lost loved ones, he was tempted, he traveled, friends betrayed him, and he suffered. Jesus can relate to us on a human level, because he’s been there.
Jesus put on skin for me that night in my arms, and that changed me. This Christmas season, I encourage you to do as my director instructed and spend some time just holding baby Jesus. You can’t help but fall completely in love when you hold him in your arms.By Cara Callbeck, a human resources professional who recently completed the Spiritual Exercises and has since felt quite drawn to Ignatian spirituality.
Magis is one of the more mysterious Ignatian terms. It’s a Latin word meaning “the greater, the excellent, the best.” It’s associated with restless striving to always do better, to undertake a greater project, to set more ambitious goals. Sometimes I find the notion of magis inspiring. Often I find it intimidating.
The idea of the magis comes from the Call of the King meditation in The Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius has us imagine Christ as a King calling us to join him in his work to save and heal the world. Who wouldn’t want to respond eagerly to this call? It makes perfect sense to sign up. “All those who have judgment and reason will offer themselves wholeheartedly for this labor,” Ignatius comments. But Ignatius urges us to consider something more: to “go further still,” to “make offerings of greater worth and moment.” We’re asked to serve the King with something more than wholehearted service. How is this possible?
It really isn’t possible. I think Ignatius is raising the possibility of greater-than-wholehearted service as a personal invitation. He’s putting it out there for us to consider. It has more to do with personal commitment to Christ than with restless type-A overachieving. What can you imagine that would motivate you to do more than your best? It’s a question each of us can answer only for ourselves. It’s a question we can answer only as we get closer to our King.By Jim Manney, author of God Finds Us and A Simple Life Changing Prayer is a frequent contributor to Ignatianspirituality.com.
If I had a Latin motto posted over my office door it might be Conplecte abyssum—embrace chaos, or more literally, entwine youself into the depths. At the start of each semester my students face what I imagine seems to them an enormous writhing mass of primordial information, which they must dive into, come to know, and ultimately recognize in new situations. It’s not always a comfortable space to inhabit.
Ignatius charges us in the third movement of his Spiritual Exercises to embrace chaos, to know confusion, and to be present to the difficult. Pray, he says, for the grace to know sorrow, regret, and confusion, because the Lord is going to his passion for my sins. These are not comfortable contemplations, and I am finding them particularly challenging to engage with in the middle of my routine life. This morning between dropping off 140 tea sandwiches for the seventh grade language arts party and a midday consultation with a student, I spent an hour sitting in the back pew of my parish church, my mind fixed on what was happening on Calvary. It was a jarring shift of perspective.
As I walked into town for my meeting later, I thought about how difficult it was to move from threading my way through a mass of effervescent middle schoolers into the Passover crowds in Jerusalem, and to walk away from Jesus’ body in his mother’s lap out onto to the sidewalks of Bryn Mawr. Maybe it would have been better to keep these contemplations for the seclusion and quiet my study offers late at night?
Waiting for the pedestrian signal, I notice the woman standing next to me, with a half-dozen shopping bags awkwardly crammed with her belongings, the jaunty turquoise hat on her head belies her burdens. A gentleman, underdressed for the weather and engaged in an animated discussion with people I cannot see, barrels down the block. A woman with a strained expression on her face clutches a manila folder as she walks out of the doctor’s office and turns the corner toward the hospital. I recall St. Augustine’s advice about contemplating the passion: “You suppose that having said ‘I cried out to you,’ you are somehow done with crying out. But even though you have cried out, you must not expect relief to come quickly. The agony of the Church and of the Body of Christ will last until the end of time.”
Suddenly I am aware that the dividing line between Lancaster Avenue and the road to Calvary is not as sharp as I once imagined. The paschal mystery plays out here as well as in Jerusalem; the Body of Christ suffers in front of me now. Can I be present to Christ’s suffering, even now? Can I continue to cry out my sorrow, my regret?
These are the depths that I have let become entwined in my life. This is the grace of the Third Week: to stand by the cross on which the body of Christ hangs and not look away.By Michelle Francl-Donnay is a regular contributor to the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com.
The first contemplation in the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises involves Jesus appearing to his mother. Can you imagine being Mary, sitting in her house, overcome with grief and despair at losing her son? Can you imagine Mary, fully immersed in a “Holy Saturday” moment, pondering what happened, absorbed in her grief? Grief that we can relate to because of loss in our own lives. Ignatius invites us to contemplate the interaction between Mary and her beloved son, who she watched die on the cross. What would the dialogue sound like?
“Woman, why are you crying?”
“I thought I had lost you.”
“I am here. I am here. I am risen, Mom. I am risen.”
“You are here, Son.”
Being a mom, I cannot even imagine the depth of joy Mary felt at seeing her son again. I have no doubt that her heart burst with joy and that she was radiant with love and hope. Can you imagine the depth of her consolation in that moment?
But what does Mary’s experience have to do with our lives? EVERYTHING! In this Easter season we celebrate Mary’s joy that her son is here. We celebrate that Jesus is alive in each of us, in our world, creating us moment by moment. We celebrate that we can experience the joy Mary felt at seeing her son because Jesus lives within us. Easter reminds us of the reason to hope in the first place—because of the Resurrection of Mary’s son!By Becky Eldridge, a writer and spiritual director in Dallas, Texas. She has her Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Spring Hill College.
The tools and methods of Ignatian spirituality instill in us habits of prayerful, thoughtful reflection.
Ignatius made this clear in the way he arranged the Spiritual Exercises. He begins the retreat with the Principle and Foundation that states in concise form Ignatius’s vision of God’s purposes in creating (“to share life with us forever”), the purpose of the things he created (“presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more easily”), and the goal of the retreat (“to choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me”). Ignatius then presents a method of reflective prayer that he calls “the particular and daily examen.” This surprises many who undertake the Exercises. The examen seems to be a digression, or at least a pause, from the real business of the retreat.
But Ignatius deliberately put the examen at the beginning. The examen is an indispensable tool to realize the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises – to detect God’s presence and to discern his will through close attention to the subtle interior movements of God’s spirit. It is the cornerstone of Ignatian prayer.
Ignatius wanted his Jesuits to make the examen a daily habit. He understood that the press of work or illness might sometimes make it impossible for Jesuits to have an extended time of daily prayer. But he insisted that they never omit the examen. Twice a day, about midday and again before retiring, Jesuits were to pause for a while and review the events of the day in a spirit of prayerful reflection. This is one of the few rules for prayer never to be omitted that he laid down for Jesuit life.From What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David Fleming
You can download, use, and adapt these PowerPoint presentations (with notes) to help you shed light on key moments of The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. We’ll soon provide presentations on each of the Four Weeks, the Principle & Foundation, and a number of key concepts such as The Two Standards and Discernment of the Spirits, and others. We will also provide a video version with music and narration that can be shown to a group or viewed individually. Right now we have The First Week in both PowerPoint and Video formats. More to come soon.
Jesuit pioneers in the 20th-century renewal of the Spiritual Exercises relate their personal experiences in their introduction to the guided retreat.See More...
The same Jesuit pioneers discuss the guided retreat movement that grew from training programs they instituted and witnessed.See More...