14.4.09

The Spirtual Exersises

St. Ignatius was born in the family castle in Guipúzcoa, Spain, the youngest of 13 children, and was called Iñigo. When he was old enough, he became a page, and then a soldier of Spain to fight against the French. A cannon ball and a series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521. While St. Ignatius recovered, he read the lives of the saints, and decided to dedicate himself to becoming a soldier of the Catholic Faith. Soon after he experienced visions, but a year later suffered a trial of fears and scruples, driving him almost to despair. Out of this experience he wrote his famous "Spiritual Exercises". After traveling and studying in different schools, he finished in Paris, where he received his degree at the age of 43. Many first hated St. Ignatius because of his humble Lifestyle. Despite this, he attracted several followers at the university, including St. Francis Xavier, and soon started his order called The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. There are 38 members of the Society of Jesus who have been declared Blessed, and 38 who have been canonized as saints. He died at the age of 65.

The spiritual exercises may be found here

The two words that form the general title of St. Ignatius's book bespeak at once the soul's action and labour, and the interior struggle. The still more explicit title which we find immediately after the annotations leaves one no doubt: "Spiritual Exercises to conquer oneself and regulate one's life, and to avoid coming to a determination through any inordinate affection". A method is here offered, which with God's grace teaches and helps one to overcome oneself, that is to say one's unruly passions, and by gaining control over every conscious act, to acquire inward peace — a method of self-conquest and self-government. A general idea of the "Exercises" may best be gained from Diertins's summary: After setting forth the end for which God created man and all other things, the book, ever considering this truth as the first foundation, leads us in a short time by the way known as the purgative way to acknowledge the ugliness of the sins which have caused us to stray shamefully from the end, and to cleanse our souls from sin. Setting before us the example of Christ, our King and Leader, the author then invites us, in what is termed the illuminative life, to avoid the devil's standard and to follow the standard of this very good and wise Chief, and to imitate His virtues; indeed he almost forces us to do so by the meditation of the three classes, or grades, of men (the first of which is reluctant to follow Christ, the second eager to do so, but with limitations, and the last bent on following Him at once wholly and always). These resolutions are strengthened more and more in the third week, at the sight of Jesus Christ walking before us with His cross. Lastly, in the unitive way, which comprises the fourth week, he enkindles in our hearts a desire for the glory of Jesus risen, and for His purest love. To this are joined annotations, additions, preludes, colloquies, examinations, modes of election, rules for rightly regulating one's food, for discerning spirits, for the scrupulous, for thinking with the Orthodox Church, etc. The whole, if applied in the prescribed order possesses the incredible strength of leading one to solid virtue and to eternal salvation. The four weeks have been summed up still more briefly in as many sentences:

deformata reformare;
reformata conformare;
conformata confirmare;
confirmata transformare;

that is:

to reform what has been deformed by sin;
to make what is thus reformed conform to the Divine model, Jesus;
to strengthen what thus conforms'
to transform by love the already strengthened resolutions.

This method of spiritual progress had already been traced by St. Paul (Hebrews 12:1-2). It cannot be repeated too often that, if St. Ignatius displayed his originality in uniting and co-ordinating the materials of his book, he did not compose the matter itself. He derived it from the ever open treasury of the Catholic Church, from Scripture and Tradition, from the Bible and the Fathers. The Gospel is the marrow of the "Exercises". The spirituality of St. Ignatius is in constant harmony with the teachings of Christ and His Apostles. What is the "homo vincat seipsum" but an echo of the "abneget semstipsum"? And whence came Loyola's idea of giving us the soldier's theory, a warlike book which contains all the plan of a campaign of man's struggle against himself, if not from the Saviour's words, which are a declaration of war: "Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword" (Matthew 10:34). The spirituality of the "Exercises" belongs, therefore, to the active and militant kind. We must also remark that the work is not a mere book for reading or a mere manual of devotion; it gives us in the high sense of the word a psychological and pedagogic method. Mr. Orby Shipley, a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, judged them rightly, when he said in the preface of his edition: "This treatise is not so much a manual as a method — and a method the value, the extraordinary power, of which does not appear at first sight. One of its great marvels consists in the fact that it has done so very much by such very simple means . . . They are no mere theoretical compositions, but they have been framed upon the closest study of the human mind; . . . they enter into its several emotions, encounter its numberless difficulties, and probe to their very depths its several springs of thought and action".

To obtain the desired result St. Ignatius uses only a few words, but these are so selected as to make a deep impression on the mind and, if seriously meditated on by the exercitant and fostered in his soul, will soon develop into powerful thoughts and become a source of great spiritual enlightenment and consequently of earnest energetic resolutions. However, though the method of St. Ignatius leaves the exercitant to think for himself, the author does not intend that the latter should use it without guidance. He places the "Book of Exercises" in the hands of a director, and entrusts him with applying it to the exercitant. He teaches him how to guide a soul in the choice of a state of life and in the work of self-reform. The annotations, which provide a key to the "Exercises", are intended more especially for the director. The greater part of them — the second, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, a total of twelve out of twenty — is written for "el que da los Exercicios" (the person who gives the exercises). The fifteenth advises him to proceed with great discretion, so as not to interfere between the Creator and the creature, and to abstain especially in the case of a retreat of election, from any suggestion regarding the determination to be taken, even should it be, strictly speaking, for the very best. This advice shows how falsely some critics of the Exercises represent them as bringing undue influence to bear on the will, with a view to enslaving or paralyzing it. From this also appears the absurdity of Muller's thesis in "Les origines de la Compagnie de Jésus", in which he strives to show the Mohammedan origin of the Exercises and of the Society of Jesus. In this way, therefore, the director in compliance with the author's desire respects the soul's freedom, a freedom already regulated by the authority of the Church, of which he is the representative. He also considers the soul's capacity; the Exercises contain in themselves matters useful to all, but taken altogether they may not be suitable to every one. The eighteenth annotation forbids them to be given indiscriminately; without considering who the exercitant is. Finally to sum up, all St. Ignatius's spirituality lies in traditional Catholic instruction, in a method favourable to personal activity, and in the importance of prudent direction.

I just thought it might be a good thing to remember the Spiritual Exercises today.

Preserver.

St. Ignatius ora pro nobis.

Jhesu+Marie,
Brantigny

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