I am struck this time doing the Ignatian Exercises on something which I suppose I took for granted in times past, when I did these.
Over forty years have passed since the first time I was introduced to the Exercises. Then, again, about thirty years ago, and in the year 2001, I again made the journey into the spiritual life with St. Ignatius.
This time, in 2015, what impresses me is St. Ignatius’ emphasis on reason and will power. This may sound daft, but examining my own life and also viewing the lives of so many others around me, I have seen that most people merely react to stimuli, like billiard balls on a table, rather than actually deciding to do something, or in the case of following God’s Will, to be someone, as called by God in each person’s unique creation.
Reacting either emotionally or even out of a halfhearted attempt at reasoning will not lead one to make the correct and true decisions for one’s life. When St. Ignatius lays out the questions and guidance as to the details of each decision in ones’ life, to be married or become a priest or religious, for examples, he assumes the person praying the Exercises is not only free to choose God’s way, but desires this.
St. Ignatius also covers the problems of those who have made life decisions, such as marriage or becoming a priest, for the wrong reasons. He notes that one can go back and consecrate a poorly made decision by offering all the details to God.
He constantly refers to the destruction of self-will and self-love, the two great obstacles we all have in following God’s Will.
Sometimes, God just takes over and arranges things for us, like poverty and chastity. Sometimes one has to stop and make a real decision regarding following the evangelical counsels.
My friend Father Francis in telling me that I consecrated my already life of poverty, chastity, and obedience to Holy Mother Church brought me in a new relationship with Christ bears upon this above point. God arranged things in my life so that I was brought to this point. But, would it have been more meritorious if I had followed this way from the beginning?
Apparently not, the saints tell us, as God will have His way and actually will us to suffer until we are in the right place to accept Him and His Will. To be poor is a higher calling than to will to be poor, as nuns and monks do. I find this a mystery, but over and over again, not only am I instructed that this is so, but that accepting one’s state graciously and making that state holy brings more merit. Why?
Because accepting that which we have not chosen is a more humble position. I cannot say that I wanted to be poor, although I was never ambitious for fame and money. My ambitions were always more personal-to use the talents God had given me to the best of my ability and to make the world a better place, at least in whatever little sphere I found myself. Modest ambitions, but those of someone who sensed that the life of the virtues was a higher calling than one’s own desires for honor or riches.
St. Ignatius points out that one can consecrate one’s bad or emotional decisions to God. It is never too late to become holy. Did one marry “the wrong person”? So what, God can work out holiness in all situations of unhappiness or thwarted dreams. Did one not fulfill one’s vocation as a religious in the best way because one made a hasty decision? Nothing matters, except giving that marred life to Christ and letting Him bring about new conviction, new life, new depth, by dying to self and accepting His Will within the situation.
I am reminded of St. Padre Pio’s disappointment with his sister who was a nun and left her convent because it “went liberal”. He chastised her and said she should have toughed it out, staying with the lib nuns and becoming a saint by fulfilling her original vows to that order. Padre Pio was acting out of Divine Intention, as he himself was persecuted by his own brothers in his own order. He personally obeyed unfair and bad orders, becoming even more holy in the process.
So, the Exercises tell us also that the apostles followed Christ in steps, or at least, Peter, Andrew, John, Philip and James, those closest to Christ. Some were disciples of St. John the Baptist and learned from the Last Old Testament and First New Testament Prophet who Christ was—the Messiah, the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins of the world. Andrew actually told Peter he had found the Messiah in John 1:41. He and then the chosen few knew Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, almost immediately. And then, they chose to go with Christ—knowledge, intimacy, commitment.
Knowledge first….then, they followed Christ to where He lived, a second step involving getting to know Christ, becoming more intimate with Him, listening to Him, learning from Him. Then, they finally left their boats and followed Him forever, making the big decision to leave all things, family, place.
So too, some of us come to Christ in steps, having some knowledge, deciding to becoming friends with Christ, then becoming His disciples, forever.
For some, this decision happens in an instant, as my friend said about St. Paul….
For some, the decision to follow Christ is a slower process.
Grace is given according to our openness to grace. But, God is not only Patience, but Mercy, calling us again and again through the sacraments of the Church.
St. Ignatius is a genius of the psychological as well as the spiritual. He understands that many people have not acted out of reason and good will, but out of disordered desires.
To allow God to purify one so that one can follow Christ totally without disordered desires is the entire point of these Exercises. Purification demands time and attention.
I am grateful for this time, and I hope I do not waste it, but be able to concentrate and take in the riches of the Ignatian Way.
Tomorrow, in this adapted version, I begin looking at the miracles of Christ. The long sessions will be on the road to Jerusalem, followed by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. While one studies and reflects on the events of Christ’s Life, one thinks of one’s own call in this world. Again, one must be willing to destroy self-will, self-love, and self-interests.
Sadly, I lost an entire meditaton because of Net problems. Here are some more thoughts for today.
My spiritual director reads my blog on the Exercises, as we can only meet once a week and not daily. Thus, I am putting some, but not all, of my retreat diary, or journal as posts, as some of you have figured out so far this week.
However, not all things will be shared here, only those thoughts and movements of the good spirits which I think are appropriate for sharing.
One main prayer of St. Ignatius which I am praying this week is worth sharing. Ignatius writes that one should ask Christ and Mary for an interior knowledge of the Son of God.
How lovely to ask Mary Our Mother for knowledge of her Son. What mother does not want to share information, good news, attributes of her son(s). So, I ask.
Two passages which have captured my imagination this week have been the call of the apostles and Christ’s presence in Jerusalem, the prelude to the long meditations on the Passion and Death of Christ. To see in one’s imagination the route of the apostles in following Christ, and then their following Him in a certain way to Jerusalem where He shall die, are meditations which apply to my own peripatetic lifestyle.
It seems like the apostles and Christ were almost constantly moving in the Gospels. Some Bibles have maps of Christ’s journeys through the Holy Land, even into non-Jewish territories. These travels speak to my journeys, which my readers have followed over the years. Today, I spoke with another person who has traveled quite a bit, and is now evangelizing in another country. She moves back and forth between two continents, giving talks at retreats and counseling people, (she does not like the phrase “spiritual direction” but that is what she is doing). God moves her about for His reasons, but also this type of lifestyle reveals God’s plan for her life, and her vocation as well.
Did the apostles ever just rest awhile? I think of St. Paul’s long list of eventful journeys. Some of us seemed to be called to this type of evangelizing, but the whys seem mysterious to me. Nothing happens by accident, and meditating on the wanderings of Christ and His men gives me some consolation in that , although I am not an apostle, like my friend, I have been called to go out and bring Christ to many different people in many different localities.
God is amazingly creative, and to follow Him is to be surprised. Remember my phrase, “God makes new doughnuts every day”. St. Ignatius seemed to have known that too, but maybe not the doughnut part…..