This week, The Jesuit Post features excerpts from Fr. Kevin O'Brien's upcoming book, The Ignatian Adventure, published by Loyola Press:
Ignatius gave the church the Spiritual Exercises as a testament to God’s gentle, persistent laboring in his life. Over his lifetime, Ignatius became convinced that the Exercises could help other people draw closer to God and discern God’s call in their lives, much as they had helped him.
The Exercises have never been for Jesuits alone. Ignatius crafted the Exercises as a layman, and he intended them to benefit the entire church. He honed them as he offered the Exercises to a variety of people. Inspired by the Second Vatican Council, the Society of Jesus has continued to offer the Exercises in varied and creative ways to ever-increasing numbers of people…
Thus, the purpose of the Exercises is very practical: to grow in union with God, who frees us to make good decisions about our lives and to “help souls.” Ignatius invites us into an intimate encounter with God, revealed in Jesus Christ, so that we can learn to think and act more like Christ. The Exercises help us grow in interior freedom from sin and disordered loves so that we can respond more generously to God’s call in our life (SE 2, 21). The Exercises demand much of us, engaging our intellect and emotions, our memory and will. Making the Exercises can be both exhilarating and exhausting; it’s no wonder that Ignatius com- pared making the Spiritual Exercises to doing physical exercise, such as “taking a walk, traveling on foot, and running” (SE 1).
The Exercises are a school of prayer. The two primary forms of praying taught in the Exercises are meditation and contemplation. In meditation, we use our intellect to wrestle with basic principles that guide our life. Reading Scripture, we pray over words, images, and ideas. We engage our memory to appreciate the activity of God in our life. Such insights into who God is and who we are before God allow our hearts to be moved.
Contemplation is more about feeling than thinking. Contemplation often stirs the emotions and inspires deep, God- given desires. In contemplation, we rely on our imaginations to place ourselves in a setting from the Gospels or in a scene pro- posed by Ignatius. Scripture has a central place in the Exercises because it is the revelation of who God is, particularly in Jesus Christ, and of what God does in our world. In the Exercises, we pray with Scripture; we do not study it. Although Scripture study is central to any believer’s faith, we leave for another time extended biblical exegesis and theological investigation.