Spiritual exercises aid in answering call to mission
By LISA SCHULTE
The Catholic Voice
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Editor's Note: This is the second story in a series on prayer and spirituality.
Just like running or swimming help a person become more physically fit, the exercises of Ignatian Spirituality help those who are spiritually out of shape to become stronger in their prayer life.
Ignatian Spirituality, based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, draws people from lives of sinfulness to lives of service with the Lord, said Father Larry Gillick, SJ, director of the Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Creighton University.
The spiritual exercises, written specifically for lay people, follow the Gospel call of repentance and mission. They prepare and dispose one's soul to get rid of all disordered attachments by going through the discernment of spirits. This discernment, Father Gillick said, requires one to listen for God's voice to know which feelings, which movements of the heart, are from God and which ones are not.
Eventually this discernment leads to a change in attitude, which leads to a life of action and service to others "“ just like Jesus, he said.
'The exercises orient you to want to follow Jesus so much that you actually even pray for insults and rejections because then you will understand the interior of Jesus," Father Gillick said. 'If you pray to be free for rejection and people not liking you, it makes you tremendously free and bold and you can say what needs to be said. That's why we have martyrs."
Contemplating the Gospels
While meditation uses the mind to provide deep insights, contemplation "“ an aspect of Ignatian Spirituality "“ uses the gift of imagination to enter more deeply into a Scripture scene and to experience it from the inside, so as to grow closer to God in prayer.
It's one thing to read the Nativity story and think about God becoming man through Jesus, but it's another thing to enter the scene and become a character in the scene, said Father Andy Alexander, SJ, director of the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton.
'I have a much more profound experience of what's going on in these stories of the Gospel, and as I start to watch Jesus throughout his life that way, I can't help but fall in love with him because then I experience how attractive he is in the full sense of that," he said. 'The more attracted we are to someone, the more we want to imitate them and be like them."
Finding God in all things
What makes Ignatian Spirituality different from other forms of prayer is that it calls people to live as a contemplative in the midst of everyday life.
'You can see the tension that says this is a spirituality of being a contemplative in action, which means the focus is on action, on putting myself in places where I will be loving, forgiving, transforming, reconciling, making a difference in this world and doing that with an intimacy with the Lord," Father Alexander said.
This can be challenging, he said, but St. Ignatius believed that once a person finds intimacy with God, it's easy to maintain that intimacy in the midst of everyday life.
Father Alexander encourages people to find God in all things by simply waking up each morning and for a brief moment taking time to name the grace one desires for the day. Then throughout the day, while getting ready in the morning, driving to work, walking to a meeting, or going shopping, one can have moments of contact with the Lord connecting around that desire.
'Imagine if we did that four or five times a day every day. We would start to become a companion of Jesus in the midst of our everyday life," he said.
Creighton University's Collaborative Ministry Office offers an online 34-week retreat using the spiritual exercises, as well as guides for daily prayer.