Spiritual Exercises for Married Couples: Finding Our Way Together with St. Ignatius - Manual for the Retreat

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Introduction: On the Reason and Aim of this Book

Ignatian Spiritual Exercises exist in many formats. These different experiences range from three or eight-day silent retreats to the thirty-day retreat in seclusion to the so-called “Exercises in the Everyday Life” which takes a year or more of short daily time commitments to the process of the exercises. The possible formats of the Spiritual Exercises differ also in the style of guiding it, from the “directed” Exercises which are guided personally with one-by-one direction, or group retreats where some material is given to the whole group and there are personal encounters with the guide(s) and so on.

We consider this book to be a self-directed guide sufficient in itself. Traditionally one is supposed to be guided during this experience by a spiritual director – which however is not absolutely necessary. Some examples of Exercises made by the help of a book is John F. X. Sheehan, S.J., On Becoming Whole in Christ (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1978), and the very practical guide-book, entitled What Do I Want in Prayer? from William A. Barry S.J. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1994).

Another particular characteristic of the spiritual experience we try to present in this book regards the subjects of the Exercises, often called the “exercitants”. We suppose here that this subject is a married couple, whom we call the “companions” throughout this book, a word very dear to St. Ignatius who developed these Spiritual Exercises in the 16th century in Spain. St. Ignatius, a former soldier, also founded the religious order in the Catholic Church known as the Jesuits; this order is well known for it’s many universities. Also, we think that this experience of companions could be extended in a larger sense and lived by a group of friends who want to find their way together using these methods.

The title “Finding Our Way” was born after several attempts to give name to this work. We chose this title in order to express what we feel to be the central topic at the center of the dynamics of the Exercises; namely the discernment and decision (election as St. Ignatius calls it) which are to be lived and practiced continuously in order for finding orientation in our complicated world. The word “Way” in itself is rich in scriptural connotations [1] and here we use it in the general Christian sense as the way that leads to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit and also in particular as the personal and concrete realization of such a spiritual journey in everyday situations and decisions.

The above described characteristics were chosen by us for the reason that it is hard to find a good guide and also to find a place and time to go into a secluded retreat. We had in our mind the situation of a married couple - as ourselves - who are immersed in the everyday activities, making a living, answering to family obligations, etc. We felt the need to make accessible the good that the exercises can create to such people.

Generally, even if spouses decide to make the Spiritual Exercises together they are treated as and regard themselves as two separate “subjects” doing the Exercises, with separate dynamics to go through it. We would like to think of a couple as a distinct entity in communion, making this spiritual road as a single subject, as a “we”, that has its own dynamics. This element of togetherness and communion is essential for the experience we try to describe.

Another reason that made us decide for such an enterprise is the necessity we felt to have an interpretation of the book of St. Ignatius that is on one side understandable and appealing to the men and women of our times and on the other side is faithful to the Ignatian concept of spiritual growth.

Similar tentative works already exist, as for example David Fleming’s translation in modern language (David L. Fleming, S.J., The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading, St Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978). Still we felt something new can be made in this field, giving new examples and sometimes new names to concepts, which are not widely used nowadays.

We are Catholics and suppose a mostly Catholic audience, but we are convinced that also non-Catholics, or even non-Christians could use with success this interpretation of the Exercises as it deals with general human concerns about life, possible choices of lifestyles, and other decisions. Also, for this reason the title we use is in general terms to remain open to everybody who is interested in finding his or her particular “way”.

Naturally, our personal experiences have a great role in this book. One very profound and long relationship we have is with the Christotherapy of Fr. Bernard Tyrrell, S.J. (Christotherapy I and Christotherapy II, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1999). Surely, the insights of Christotherapy, which is a synthetic, spiritual-psychological work, will be somehow –sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly - integrated in our dealing with the material of the Exercises.

Our method will be the following. We follow the book of the Spiritual Exercises and give a wide translation complemented by comments, notes and explanations to the text. With this method we intend to give enough material to the readers to “do” (or “pray”) a proper spiritual experience using this book. Here we need to underline that the personal experience of the companions making the Exercises has a far greater importance then the contents of the book, which are not for reading only but as invitation for certain activities. One insight for the individual or couple is more important than what they can read about other’s insights. What will count at the end is the encounter with the living God with whom the companions want to go on their way. Though this will be a highly personal experience, we will continuously involve examples of social character, of peace and justice – faithful to the Ignatian tradition and to the gospel of which we think the communal aspect is a constitutional element.

We use the English translation of Louis J. Puhl, S.J. based on studies in the language of the autograph (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951) and utilize the same marginal numbers throughout this work. It is helpful to have on hand the original text of the Spiritual Exercises (other translations mainly use the same numbering) but this book can be used in itself to go through the process of the Exercises. Throughout this book we use Spiritual Exercises (or Exercises) capitalized for the whole process and exercise(s) with small letters for a particular activity, prayer, meditation or reflection. Here should we underline that the personal experience of the companions making the Exercises has far more importance than the contents of this book. One insight - even if for the individual couple it seems little – is far more important than what they can read from other people’s experience. What really counts is the encounter of the living God with whom we want to find and follow our way. The judgment is then out for our work, depending on the companions who will take it in their hands.

We are aware that some persons may have an interest in what we are presenting and how we are presenting it and this interest is a valid reason to read and study this book and we invite comments, comparisons and critiques; we thank those who make this commitment.  We also know that other persons will want to use this book to develop their own spiritual path and to clarify their deepest calling; we also thank those who make this commitment and invite their comments and critiques too. Our hope is that many will find this book to offer them something regarding the spiritual and psychological matters.

 

 



[1] Jesus in John’s gospel identifies himself with the way that leads to the Father: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Later the Christians are called followers of the Way, “men and women who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2) and Christian life is referred to as the Way (Acts 19:9.23; 22:4; 24:14.22).