A letter from Ignatius
Tomorrow is the memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I tried to think of what to post (and it's never too late watch my mini slideshow of him :) and decided on a hypothetical letter written by Ignatius to anyone who might be interested in Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises - I first read it when I was taking the online Ignatian retreat "in everyday life" given by Creighton University, and it touched me. The letter was created by Canadian Jesuit John Veltri SJ. I've posted the letter below, and though it is long, it's well worth a read. The original has many hot links contained within it that give more info on various concepts mentioned, like spiritual freedom or the discernment of spirits, so please visit Fr. Veltri's page, as I didn't include the links in my post. Here it is .....
To You . . .
. . . From Ignatius
As you know, my great desire was always
to tell people about God and God's grace,
and about Jesus ... both crucified and risen,
so that my brothers and sisters
the freedom of God.
I wanted to bring the same message
as the church had always brought
... and yet,
I felt I could put this in a new way.
Why was this so?
I had a direct encounter with God,
particularly during those months at Manresa,
where, as I told you in my autobiography,
God personally taught me like a school boy.
Yes, I, Ignatius of Loyola, Inigo as they called me,
I knew God ... Father, Son and Spirit ...
nameless and unfathomable,
mysterious and yet near ...
bestowing themselves upon me in a manner
beyond all concrete imaginings.
I knew God clearly in such nearness and grace
as was impossible to confound or mistake.
God, God's very self ...
I knew God,
not simply human words describing God.
I knew the Divine Majesty.
I knew God,
as you would say in your modern world --
even if knowing God face to face, as I do now,
is again different ... and yet ...
somehow the same.
This is grace ... gift ...
I believe that God ... Father, Son and Spirit ...
desires to give this gift of God's self
to all who desire to be open to it.
This grace that I received during those days
was not something that I considered
a special privilege
for myself or a chosen few.
Therefore, I set down the structure of this experience
in a little manual which I called
The Spiritual Exercises.
I gave these exercises to anyone
for whom such an offer of spiritual help
might seem profitable.
I did this as a lay person,
long before I went to school
to learn theology for ordination.
I gave these Exercises on the conviction
that God desires to communicate directly
to the generous person,
eager to discover God's will
and ready to act responsibly in the world
with deliberate choice.
Over the years, it has been observed
that, if persons are willing to dispose themselves generously
according to the directives of these Exercises,
in time ... God personally leads them.
God can and does communicate personally to human creatures
who are open-hearted.
A person knows God truly when this happens,
and that person
will experience the sovereign power
of God's freedom in one's own life.
This very simple and yet
stupendous conviction of mine
is a key to my spirituality.
Unfortunately, over the years,
people have thought of my spirituality
as being too rigidly methodical.
They did this because they separated
the exterior structure and content of the Exercises
from their interior dynamic,
sometimes misinterpreting and misunderstanding
the very simple approach
that I have always believed in,
We do the best we can,
only by way of disposition
and by way of creating an openness.
In the meantime, we know that
only God's Spirit can give us
what we are seeking.
My spirituality would be betrayed if it were reduced to methods ...
but the Exercises contain many methods.
My spirituality would be betrayed
if persons were not led, ultimately,
to abandon all tangible assurances,
including my methods --
thus growing in confidence toward the inconceivable
where there are no longer paths or methods,
and thus entering their final, fearful,
at the end of their lives.
To help others to experience God directly,
and to realize
that the incomprehensible mystery we call God,
is near ... and ...
we can talk with God --
this is the goal
of the Spiritual Exercises journey.
Do you desire that the Father, Son and Spirit,
share themselves with you?
Do you desire to base your life choices
on this personal sharing and communication?
Then, by all means,
enter into these Spiritual Exercises.
But you will have to pay a price --
the price is your time;
the price is your patience;
the price is putting aside, for almost a year,
frenetic occupations, pressing decisions,
that will scatter your energies
and leave you so unfocused
that you will not be able to give yourself
to the daily moments of solitude
that my Spiritual Exercises presume.
The price is commitment to prayer,
each day, at a special time;
perhaps the best time.
More prayer, possibly,
and more focus in your prayer
than you have been used to.
The price is waiting for God
to influence your being
and trusting God to do so.
The price is that you will have to surrender
your own personal methods ... and wait ...
at least, for a time.
Occasionally, you will feel
that you should never have begun,
and you will experience a variety of reactions
towards which you will become more and more sensitive.
Reactions that are interior,
some of which are spiritual movements ...
... turmoil, anxieties, joy, pain, uplift,
peace, enthusiasm, comfort, happiness,
sadness, dryness, discouragement, tears,
hope, enlightenment, temptation, fear ...
In my Spiritual Exercises manual,
I describe them in Spanish as "agitaciones" --
spiritual movements caused by the good and evil spirits.
Modern psychology undoubtedly will have
a different explanation of how they arise.
I have discernment guidelines that will help
you and your prayer guide
sift through these reactions.
At the beginning of the manual which I wrote
for your prayer guide,
I included twenty-two different
introductory notes or comments
that apply to the whole of the Exercises.
In time, these comments came to be known as Annotations.
The way you are receiving
the Spiritual Exercises
is according to Annotation 19,
or as some of your contemporaries call it,
Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life.
The journey you are about to make
will take you many months,
and you will be doing the Spiritual Exercises
in the midst of your everyday life.
If you were to do this same journey
according to Annotation 20,
you would be doing so in the closed setting
of a retreat house,
away from everyday life,
from your usual activities and occupations.
You might feel that this is a better way
of making the Exercises.
I used to think that way myself,
particularly in my time.
we didn't have retreat houses then,
and the person who made the Exercises,
even in a closed setting of thirty days,
had to take lodging in a boarding house,
away from home,
and had to go to church several times a day
for mass, vespers and benediction.
had to go outside for one's toiletry needs,
go to the stream to wash one's clothes,
and sometimes cook and shop for oneself.
There were many more distractions for the person
of the 20th Annotation in my time,
than for the person
of the 20th Annotation in your retreat houses today.
Another difference in my time had to do with the culture.
Society, then, was not what you refer to today as
schizoid ... separated.
There was a more unified way of looking at life.
In the past seventy years,
you seem to have discovered
what is called the unconscious, and, I believe,
you experience this phenomenon
as being separated from your conscious self.
Your life in various areas seems to be divided.
The public and private spheres of life in my time
were not experienced as
disparate, as I believe, they are for you.
Nor did we speak of secular and sacred
as if they were separate,
as you regard them now.
For persons of my time, the process of integrating
their spiritual experiences
with their secular experiences
Therefore, when they went away for thirty days,
they would more automatically experience
between their experiences.
Not so with the people of your time.
The advantage of doing my Spiritual Exercises
according to Annotation 19
is that you will be taught to integrate
the experience of God's Spirit
with your daily life.
In the next several months,
many of your activities
of work, family and leisure,
even if you adapt them for this journey,
may appear to take you
away from God.
I assure you, however, that
if you are faithful
in your committed prayer times
and to what you will learn in the course
of the Exercises journey,
you will begin to find God in all things.
This is the goal of the Spiritual Exercises journey ...
to find God ...
to experience God ...
to return love for love ...
in the choices you make.
Your prayer guide is a companion on your journey.
She is neither your superior nor your judge.
You do not have
a subject/superior relationship,
a slave/master relationship,
nor a sacred obedience relationship with her.
She is a sister pilgrim.
She is a sinner as you are.
She is a person whom God will use,
at this point in your life,
as an instrument for your guidance.
I have given her
very special instructions on how to apply
my Spiritual Exercises
so that she will not interfere and
will allow God to communicate personally with you.
I presume, then,
that you and your guide are companions on the journey,
that each of you is coming out of good will,
that each of you is coming out of generosity.
will be one of friendliness and gentleness.
On your part,
you are being asked to be deeply faithful
to the exercises for each day
and faithful to the reflection
upon the experiences of these exercises.
Then, when you meet with your prayer guide,
you will share
what has been transpiring in your experiences ...
... the ups and downs ...
the insights ...
the struggles ...
the success feelings ...
the failure feelings ...
By listening to your prayer experiences,
she will be able to guide you and
help you to proceed on your journey.
Her very first task
is to help you get beyond the barriers
that prevent God from being personal with you.
This may take a long time
or it may proceed quickly;
there may be teaching, explaining, dialogue,
and possibly some experimenting.
once you have allowed God
to be personal with you,
once you are free enough to allow your mystery
to be touched by God's mystery,
then your guide moves into the second task.
Her second task is to be more passive,
sitting on the sidelines, as it were,
but attentive while God leads you.
I describe this in the 15th Annotation:
... while one is making the Exercises, it is much better that the Creator and Lord communicate directly with the directee seeking to discover God's desires, that God inflame him with God's love and praise, and dispose him to serve God better in the future. Therefore, standing in the centre like a balance, the director of the Exercises, should permit our Creator God to deal immediately with the directee, and the directee immediately with God.
There are two obvious exaggerations
which she will help you to avoid ...
is that God is not able
to communicate personally with you,
and that you can never have
a close experience with God.
Against this exaggeration,
she will teach you to take seriously
what happens in your heart.
is a growing exaggeration in your day ...
growing because your society, like my own,
is in transition;
you may be tempted
to look for black and white securities
that are not God.
states that every good feeling you have
is a direct experience of God.
Against this exaggeration,
she will help you to become better attuned
to what is more authentic within your heart.
Often, it is with one or the other
of these two exaggerations,
that the enemy of our human nature
will attempt to obstruct
the good work that God desires to do in you,
by seductively and persistently,
attempting to trivialize your attempts
to be open to God's initiatives.
What is my hope?
My hope is that week by week,
slowly and gradually,
you will develop a greater ability,
a greater facility,
in entering the mystery of God
You can then experience God's love
the way I was able to experience God's love.
My hope is that you will grow in Spiritual Freedom
and in union and love ...
deep love with Jesus,
my risen Lord and King.
With all the communion of saints,
I am interceding on your behalf ...
that at some point in your life,
you will be affected by God's power,
that all the desires of your heart
and the actions
that flow from these desires,
will be oriented towards God,
who is more than both Mother and Father to us
and towards God's service and praise.
We pray that you may grow
in the awareness of God's continuous
presence in your everyday experiences
and discover that presence
in both the private and public worlds
in which you live.
Then, later, living in faith
and meditating on the word of God,
you will be able to find God always
seek God's will in every event,
and see Jesus, the Lord, in all people
and in all their struggles for liberation;
you will be able to make good judgements
and correct decisions in all you do
and in all you are.
I finish here
with two statements
that will be given again to you
towards the last weeks
of the Spiritual Exercises journey.
is that love is manifested in deeds,
not just in words ...
God's love, poured into your heart,
will move you
towards your sisters and brothers.
is that love consists in a mutual sharing
by the two parties involved ...
the lover gives to and shares
with the beloved
all that the lover has,
and the beloved acts towards the lover
in the same way.
On your Spiritual Exercises journey,
you are the beloved,
and God is your lover.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
desire to share everything that they have ...
even their intimate life ... with you.
Hopefully, through the power of Jesus' love
poured into your heart,
you will be able to share
everything that you have with them.
Happy St. Ignatius Day :)