You may be at a stage in your spiritual life where you want something more structured, more directed, more intense. By this time, you have probably had a spiritual director for several years. Perhaps it is time to consider the Ignatian Exercises.
They are an ordered set of directed meditations and exercises offered either in 40 days in a retreat setting or in daily life (30 weeks).
The Exercises begin with the Disposition Days (This lasts about 6 weeks):
This is a time of testing whether or not the Exercises are for us. We learn the basic practices, we become comfortable with the routine of prayer and meditation, and we become more deeply aware of God’s Love for us. We ask for the Grace of a felt awareness of God’s personal love for me.
Then we learn and pray the Principle and Foundation:
This prayer is at the heart of the spirituality of the Exercises. We learn to acknowledge our creaturely status – that humans are created to praise, reverence, and serve God – and that our task in life is to distance ourselves from inordinate attachments in order to be spiritually free, to respond to whatever call God has for us.
If we are ready, we continue with Facing Brokenness (known in the original Exercises as “Week one“. This lasts about 6 weeks.)
This is a time of inviting God into the state of our world and lives, praying with the grace of the gift of feeling shame and confusion before God as I consider the effects of a spirit of evil and sinfulness. We look at ourselves, and we ask: what have we done for Christ, what are we doing for Christ, what ought we do for Christ?
We prepare to enter “Week 2”; we undertake The Kingdom Exercise.
We are invited to hear Jesus’ call to imitate Him, and to be transformed in heart and soul. We pray the Grace to know Jesus with such a deep felt knowledge that we might love him more and not to be deaf to his call in the unique and concrete circumstances of our life.
We are now ready for Discipleship (“Week two“. This last about 12 weeks)
Jesus invites us into his life. We learn methods of prayer to help us on our journey, to walk and talk and share in the ministry and the events in the life of Jesus. In short, to become a disciple.
We pray the Grace of asking for an intimate knowledge of Jesus, that I may love him more deeply and follow him more closely.
As part of our discipleship during “Week Two,” we are offered a set of exercises to help us become even clearer on our desire to follow Jesus: The Two Standards, The Three Kinds of Humility, and The Three Classes of persons.
This is a time to choose: to follow the ways of the world or to follow Jesus by accepting his call. We ask for the Grace of a growing ability to recognize the deceits of the World and of our Ego in the decisions we make and the strength to guard against them.
During “Week Two,” we have made a commitment to be Jesus’ disciples. We are prepared to enter Faithfulness Unto Death. (“Week three.” This lasts about 4 weeks)
This week is an invitation to stay with Jesus at a time when many of his followers fled in fear. We ask for the Grace to have the courage to stand with Jesus in solidarity, bearing his sorrow and pain and brokenness with our own love, tears, and deep grief.
We can now participate with Jesus in His new life: New Life in Christ (“Week four” This lasts about 4 weeks)
Jesus is risen. We are called to experience the movement from deep sorrow to great joy and gladness. We see the eagerness of Jesus to walk with us in the unique and concrete circumstances of our lives. We ask for the Grace of deep interior joy because Jesus, now Lord, is filled with glory, and a deep appreciation of how Jesus is present to me in my daily life.
In gratitude for the gift of this journey, we engage in the Contemplatio:
We contemplate on the love of God; we consider that love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words. That love consists in a mutual sharing of goods. As a lover one shares with the beloved something of one`s own personal gifts or possessions; so too, the beloved shares in a similar way with the lover.
In return for this new-found appreciation for God’s love, we pray the “Suscipe” – “Take, Lord, and Receive”
We conclude the Exercises with the Appropriation Days (This takes about 4 weeks)
We recall the graces received through this journey with gratitude. We experience a deeper awareness of a truer image of God: a God of love and mercy in our own sense of sin. We remember the sense of call to move beyond the confines of self, beyond fear and weakness. Love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than words.We relish in a new sense of personal freedom and a knowledge of discernment through the discernment of the spirit, the movement of consolation and desolation. We acknowledge the call to suffer with Jesus, to forget self and to be present to the needs of others, knowing that the Christ is always with us.
It is best to take the Exercises with a trained spiritual director. Harcourt Memorial United Church in Guelph offers the Exercises every two years – in even years. Check with Harcourt’s weekly Bulletin or the Harcourt Herald for contact information.
You can certainly take the Exercises – either in daily life, or in their original 30-day format at Loyola House.
If you wish to do the Exercises with a director you may find a director online at Spiritual Directors International. There are directors qualified to offer the Exercises in the Guelph area.
Also possible, though less recommended is an on-line version offered by Creighton University.