Preparatory Phase to the Exercises

 


Anima Christi, sanctifica me.

Corpus Christi, salve me.

Sanguis Christi, inebria me.

Aqua lateris Christi, lava me.

Passio Christi, conforta me.

O bone Iesu, exaudi me.

Intra tua vulnera absconde me.

Ne permittas me separari a te.

Ab hoste maligno defende me.

In hora mortis meae voca me.

Et iube me venire ad te,

Ut cum Sanctis tuis laudem te

in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

 

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

Body of Christ, save me.

Blood of Christ, inspire me.

Water flowing from the Heart of Christ, wash me.

Sufferings of Christ, console me.

O good Jesus, listen to me.

Hide me in your wounds.

Do not allow me to separate from you.

Defend me from the evil foe.

At the hour of my death, call me,

And tell me to come to you,

That I may praise you with your saints,

Forever and ever. Amen.


 


 

This is a prayer very much loved by St. Ignatius[1], so much that he began the book of the Spiritual Exercises with it and frequently recommended it (in the Exercises at [63], [147], [253] and [258]). It is hard to make the original beauty of the Latin text transpire in the English translation. With this prayer we enter at once in the climate of the times of St. Ignatius, a time of the naturalistic Spanish Crucifixes with agonizing Christs, placing the suffering of Jesus in the center of the spirituality. However, what is appealing to us today is the sensibility and love for the humanity of Christ along with the expression of trust in him as Savior.

My personal experience (Krisztina) is that this prayer once memorized fits especially well in the moments after Communion. In that moment of taking the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ it is helpful to make more conscious our faith and hope in the healing and saving power of Christ for all our being.

The following translation is a tentative one to make the prayer well understood. All the references present in the text of “soul”, “body”, “water”, “wounds” and “suffering” are realities beyond strict theological or philosophical explanation. We might get near to catch their meaning by trying to contemplate an actual Crucifix. There also expressions as “hide me in your wounds” might make sense. We can refer here for analogy to expressions as “having somebody in one’s heart”. For a scriptural meditation here we can take Isaiah 53 and Song of Songs 8 [2]

 

“…he was pierced for our offences, crushed for our sins,

upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,

by his stripes we were healed” (Is 53:5)

 

“Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm;

For stern as death is love, restless as the netherworld is devotion,

its flames are blazing fire” (Ct 8:6)

 

The passionate love of God for mankind is incarnate in Jesus Christ’s divine-human love which we are led to contemplate through the meditation upon his death and resurrection, through the right kind of contemplation of the crucifix. The encounter with such love might inspire us to do something, to respond to it. What can we do for Jesus Christ now, when he is the risen Lord in the glory of God? He lives glorified with his humanity included but he has still a body on earth, which suffers. In a sense this body of Christ is the Church, and in this sense Paul said too “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1:24). In a broader sense, and we want to use this sense here, all humankind is meant as Jesus identified himself with every “one of the least ones” (cf. Mt 25:31-45). If we think of Teilhard de Chardin’s[3] concept of Universal Christ, the Person of Christ in his role of uniting humankind and all the universe in himself, nothing is foreign to his body as everything moves toward him in an evolutionary process, in the Christogenesis. In this sense we can do something for Jesus Christ, consoling the suffering members of his body, by reaching out to our fellow humans[4]. To love God means to act as he himself, and God gives good to everyone “for he makes his sun rise on the bad and on the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust”. Hence the imperative, “Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (see Mt 5:43-48).

 

 

1-22. General Guidelines to the Exercises

 

The purpose of the following guidelines is to help the companions who are about to engage in the Exercises process to understand better what they need to do, what they can expect and how to prepare themselves for this journey.

 

 

1.   If we use the term “Spiritual Exercises” everybody will have a certain idea what it could mean. We know about exercises as walking, hiking, biking, jogging, swimming, skiing and so on. All these activities are intended to make us more energetic, beautiful and healthy. We have an idea also what spiritual means: the specific human dimension, referring to intentions, ideas, ideals, responsibility, freedom and ethical or moral stand, realizing values, and meanings. More specifically we are used to speak of “spiritual” in religious terms, meaning by “spirit” the center core of the human being, where we suppose the presence of the Holy Spirit. “Spiritual” in this sense refers to realities of the human spirit and its relation with the Holy Spirit.

When we speak about spiritual realities we don’t want to put in contrast body and spirit, but stress the unity of the human being, who is spiritual in every aspect, even in the somatic functions, since the “spirit” is the all-encompassing principle of us. Spirit is what distinguishes us from animals, for example and it permeates every level of our existence. With other words, there are no such sections of the human being as “body”, “psyche” and “spirit” but hierarchical levels and intercommunicating dimensions of the whole being. From this view of the human person flows that activity that promotes spiritual growth and should be also healthy in psychological terms and vice versa. In the opposite direction, however, physical illness or psychological disorder are not necessarily consequences of moral or spiritual failures. It is important to point out that in general there is no known cause and effect relation between sin and sickness, even if it might happen that a spiritual distress is behind what seems to be neuroses or somatic illness. Christotherapy too, uses this holistic concept of the human person, and proposes an approach to human suffering and healing which integrates methods of spiritual direction and psychological counseling. The idea of Christotherapy is to provide methods that aim at psychological, moral and spiritual healing and growth in the same process, not excluding eventual beneficial effect on physical health.

In this book by spiritual exercises are meant particular efforts of psycho-spiritual activities with the purpose to help find a way of how to respond to the questions life poses in front of us. These methods of prayer, reflection, or other means first help the companions to recognize and free themselves from unhealthy, unethical or spiritually inauthentic attitudes; things that hinder or harm them in a wholly lived life. When they have achieved a greater freedom, they will work to find out the direction they should follow and to understand the next step to do. One can call this direction also the will of God or the meaning of life in the given moment.

Bernard Tyrrell, S.J. in his Christotherapy uses the terms “existential diagnosis” and “existential discernment”[5] for these steps. In his book “existential” means something referring directly to life, touching the core of the human being; “diagnosis” is the understanding and identifying of anything that makes one unhealthy, unhappy and less holy. By existential discernment he refers to the discovery of the positive direction, the actions to be taken in order of greater health and holiness. He continues to describe the psycho-spiritual healing process with two other elements, which are the realization and habitual living of the recognized good, namely conversion and mysticism.

As a scriptural reading in relation of the content of this paragraph you can use:

Rom 12:1-2; Eph 1:18-21

For a prayerful meditation we propose the prayer of St. Nicholas of Flue:

 

My Lord and my God, remove from me all that can prevent me from going to You.

My Lord and my God, give me all that can draw me to You.

My Lord and my God, remove me from myself that I might give my all to You.

 

2.   In these Exercises we suppose that no “director” is present (except of course God who is the true director and guide of it). However, the companions walking together on this road will give to each other support that serves as a sort of guidance and help to be open for the action of the Holy Spirit. First of all this support is their loving and listening presence and acceptance of each other. They need to pray for each other and for their community of two. When they share experiences their dialog should avoid judgmental and preachy attitudes. The love and friendship between the companions makes them excellent support for each other and the fact they decide together for this spiritual journey of the Exercises shows that at least on the level of desiring they are enough prepared to help each other. On the base of these characteristics they will have the right attitude for an effective guidance if after this Preparatory Phase they decide to go ahead and begin the Exercises process. As told earlier, we retain that much more important is the personal experience than what somebody can read in a book. In this line, our main stress is on the encouragement of the personal and common prayer of the companions. The contents of this book might serve as a catalyst for the process and some kind of road signs for pilgrims. For the same reason, the sharing and dialog between the companions plays a decisive role in this form of the Spiritual Exercises.

“For it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul [the human person] but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth” (St Ignatius).

 

3.   These exercises are meant to involve the totality of the person: mind, psyche, spirit as well as all the faculties of reason, affectivity and imagination. We will also describe a method of prayer (called also the Ignatian contemplation even if it is not exactly contemplative prayer in the well-known sense) which calls for the active use of imagination. This is in contrast of the so-called contemplative methods, which try to avoid images during the prayer (as the centering prayer, Jesus prayer, and the Carmelite tradition in general) - the Ignatian prayer actively relies on the fantasy.

Great importance will be given to the realization of God’s active presence in our life, and especially in the concrete moment when we are at the time of the individual exercises. This can be simply done by making conscious the divine presence and entering into contact with the divine. To help this realization and contact we can find for ourselves some gesture that reminds us of God’s presence at the beginning of the reflection or prayer time. We might stop for a second in front of the place where we will meditate, bow our head or have a sign of the cross or similar gesture which helps us to have the right attitude and awareness that we are not alone on this road.

 

4.   The Spiritual Exercises process consists of four Phases, which somehow reflect the successive stages of growth supposed generally to be present in every spirituality. The classical spiritual theology speaks of purgative or liberative, illuminative, confirmative and unitive stages or ways [6]. Notwithstanding the general idea of partition in stages the spiritual growth is seen as a single process of movement to the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Similarly, the healing from neurosis, addictions, moral and spiritual disorders takes on the form of a process consisting of stages. In our presentation the Phases of the Spiritual Exercises form a continuous unified process of spiritual growth and healing in which there are returns, repetitions, interferences, and transitions. The companions will several times return to and go through the particular Phases and also will do so later in their life as the necessity for it will arise. The graphic illustration of this process would be not a straight line, but a sort of a spiral, slowly rising upward, going through more times over the same coordinates but every time on a different level [7]. The four Phases can be seen as parallel with the enlightenment process described in Christotherapy I[8] as “existential diagnosis”, “existential discernment”, “conversion” and “mysticism”. In Christotherapy II, Fr. Tyrrell, referring to the traditional formulation of the goals of these four Phases of the Spiritual Exercises chose the names Reforming, Conforming, Confirming and Transforming[9]. Let us take now a look briefly on each of these Phases.

The First Phase basically consists in what Christotherapy calls existential diagnosis, that is recognizing sinful and /or unhealthy features in our personality and life, in order to realize our need of redemption and achieve the necessary freedom and openness to receive the saving and healing grace. “The gift of freedom which has deformed [by sin etc.], will now be reformed by redemptive Love”[10]. The Second Phase is the time for discernment and a “decision for Christ”, in other words, decision to go toward a greater degree of spiritual and psychological health. This process is aided by the reflections of the life of Jesus Christ and other specific meditations. The Third Phase is the confirmation of the decision made in the precedent phase and is aided by meditations on the last days of Jesus’ life and of his death. The Fourth Phase is a further deepening of the confirmed decision. In this Phase there are involved meditations on the resurrection of Jesus, aimed to raise joy, hope and greater commitment on the chosen way. This Phase can be seen also as the beginning of living a new kind of life, already fully practicing the new features and methods acquired during the Exercises.

The time spent with each of these Phases might be very variable and the companions need to recognize when it is their moment to pass from one to the other, when to repeat certain reflections, when to stop and wait for the appropriate time to go on. Hopefully, the indications given later during the presentation of these individual Phases will be helpful to the companions in learning to “feel” and see the signs that indicate the changes that occur in them. Basically and interestingly the process of the Exercises itself with the necessity of deciding on the passages between the Phases puts in practice already the main topic of this whole spiritual enterprise: to see, to discern, to decide and realize the decision made.

Once somebody is engaged in this process, we think it will become a habit, almost a necessity for the future, to live with discernment and make more conscious choices. In this sense, the Spiritual Exercises become part of our life, a distinct lifestyle or spirituality to live, similarly to the fact that who begins to have the habit to walk, swim, bike will retain it for the rest of life as a “healthy lifestyle”. As we mentioned earlier, each Phase of the Exercises process might return at various stages of life as the need for reforming our life, returning to basic choices, or the necessity for some major decision will arise. An example of recurrent periods of time for reforming life is built in the liturgical year of the Church as it returns every year to the Lenten season, for example.

 

5.   The companions who want to find their way through these Exercises need to begin with a proper attitude of openness, trust in God and willingness to change and to accept unpredictable discoveries. The more open we are to accept whatever we will understand the wider the horizon will be open for us and the easier it will be to find that path which is the best for us in the given moment of our life. This is a continuous task that we cannot avoid until we live, moment by moment to try to choose what is the best in order to live a meaningful, whole, and holy life. That is a task which is most properly ours, nobody can do it for us or instead of us and we cannot escape to face it as not choosing is already a decision of a sort and not always the best.

 

6.   If we feel that “nothing happens” during the exercises, if we feel not touched by the reflections, if everything seems like indifferent or boring, then we need to evaluate our situation. First of all, we should review our motivations to do these exercises, the attitudes we have doing them, and the methods we are using. It could be the case that we need to change something, choose different times of the day, or different places, modes for our reflections, prayers, conversations and sharing. Maybe one of us is or both are stressed and need some relaxing time, diversion, before continuing with the Exercises. Later in [73-90] we will present some additional practical remarks, which are meant to help find the right methods during the exercises.

It is possible that right in the given moment these types of exercises are not for us. In this case simply we need not to continue. We should do everything with great inner freedom, as the Exercises and every other method of prayer are only means and never goals. Generally it happens that a kind of prayer, devotion or other activity for a while gives us much insight, joy peace and satisfaction. Then as time passes the once so fruitful method seems to become empty and meaningless and we need to realize that it is time to change for some other sort of prayer, activity, movement and so on.

 

7.   In case of experiencing a great resistance or rejection toward the exercises, or sadness, depression, and other negative feeling occur, we need to be very gentle with each other and ourselves. We should not judge too quickly about these states of mind or feelings. The source of these might be Satan who is a mysterious but very concrete reality; or we are encountering our own resistances. We should not be discouraged and give up finding our way, but be patient with ourselves and with our companion and wait for better times.

 

8.   In the Appendix of this book (in [313-327] and [328-336]) we will present two sets of Guidelines for Discernment to help the companions in understanding the nature of spiritual-psychological happenings, as joy or sadness, hope or despair, peace or disturbance and the lack of any such feelings. Traditionally the first set is to be used during the First Phase and the second set during the Second Phase, according to the different character of the feelings usually emerging during these stages. Their place in the Appendix makes it easier to use them anytime when the need will occur; also and very importantly after the Exercises in the course of the life of the companions. Here let us remind ourselves briefly on the experience and teaching in this topic of some mystics in the history of the Church. St. John of the Cross extensively described two very specific kinds of spiritual-psychological suffering which he calls the “night of the senses” and the “night of the spirit”. The previously mentioned negative feelings or lack of affective movements occurring during the Exercises can be in certain cases part of such “nights”, which are basically signs of God’s work in the human being, a gift for rendering the individual more free and whole. The usual term for this kind of process is purification but we prefer to speak of liberation or greater freedom, avoiding the negative perception of human nature as something “dirty” in itself.

 

9.   During the First Phase it might happen that doubts over the aim of the Exercises or of the usefulness of proceeding, despair, or similar temptations attack the companions. In this case the Guidelines in [313-327] will be the appropriate help. The temptations of seeing difficulties and obstacles that seem overwhelming are typical for the First Phase (or times of reforming life).

 

10.   If the temptations are of different nature, as for example a sudden great enthusiasm over some sort of project or commitment (here we speak of good projects) during the Second Phase (or whenever we face major decisions in life), then the second set of Guidelines in [328-336] will be appropriate to use in order to verify if these ideas are good to follow or not at all. For a rushed decision without thorough discernment can lead to ways that leave us later frustrated or disappointed. This disappointment can cause further regression in our spiritual growth or psychological health, even to blaming God for our failure. God really wants us to be adult, responsible and free and make our own decisions with care, intelligence, generosity and trust in his help to us.

As a scriptural reading for reflection and prayerful meditation you might want to read at this point Lk 12:22-32.

 

11.   If we begin the Exercises process it is good to follow the order of the Phases, that is, not to jump over to the Second Phase, for example, before arriving to the end of the First one. The transition between the Phases should be made by a careful decision of the companions. The book of the Exercises is not only for reading but serves as a manual, a presentation of material to go through slowly, in a reflective and prayerful manner.

 

12.   As for the time to be spent in the reflections and prayers the companions should find and establish a certain amount for every day. This amount can be as variable as our lives and necessities differ from each other. More or less as guideline we can say that a half-hour a day should be set for a minimum in order to have any concrete effect. We think that more than one-and-a-half hours daily prayer time is simply unrealistic for persons with job and family obligations, and also that much is suitable only for special situations. Once we established the daily time set apart for our Exercises, it is good to “stick” to it and a change should be made only by conscious decision. If we think we need to experiment with the amount of prayer time we can shorten or make it longer, or change the period of the day when we pray until we find an actual optimum. Certain people find that it is better to pray in the morning, while others feel the evening hours are more fruitful. It is important to try out our own habits with great freedom and creativity (within the limits of our possibilities, of course) regarding the prayer time as in everything else. If we are living a very strict daily program, and it is hard to find free time we should not forget that any prayer is better than none.

 

13.   During the Exercises as in every other period of our life we will experience basically two main spiritual-psychological states. Sometimes we will feel a certain joy, hope, peace, gratefulness toward God, have optimistic trustful thoughts, and even physically feel well. In these periods (classically called consolation) the time we spend in prayer and reflection will fly quickly and it will be easy to maintain our pre-established amount of meditation time. The other sort of state is the time of fatigue in every sense, spiritually, emotionally and physically, too. In these days (called desolation) it will be hard to stay in prayer and be faithful to our schedule.

The simultaneous presence and sometimes conflict of the states in which the companions find themselves makes the situation more complex in case of a couple. One feels it easy to pray while the other can hardly pay attention on what is going on and so on. Hopefully the presence of the partner who is in consolation can become help for the companion who experiences desolation, being a source of acceptance, gentleness and encouragement.

To deal with the hard period and the temptation to give up, it is good to agree beforehand that even if both of the companions find themselves in desolation they will remain in the exercises for the established timeframe, and even a little bit longer! Thus the companions not only resist the temptation but also overcome it, and one thing they can be sure is that they have given their time for the exercises. This is not a little achievement and mainly this is the only thing we can guarantee, not the deep insights or beautiful feelings. If we do this we can be in peace as we did our part.

 

14.   At this point St. Ignatius warns the person who does the Exercises from making hastily any promise or religious vow during the time of consolation. In case of married couple as subject of the Exercises the desire for religious vows does not seem a realistic danger. However, the enthusiasm that one (or the couple together) might experience could mean somebody might feel an urge to do something, like a commitment for a service or movement, or similar life-changing decision. It is better to wait and give time for a thorough consideration of the implication of such commitment or change and let the decision mature for a while.

In connection to what is said here of commitments the companions need to consider how with their marriage they already have a religious vocation; as the sacramental marriage is exactly that, a ministry inside the Church. They are consecrated by the sacrament of matrimony to symbolize effectively in their married love and life the inner love and life of God. That means they are called to represent in this world some characteristics of God’s love[11], which is stabile, exclusive, personal and total, embracing the entire being of the beloved. It seems that quite a few people still do not realize the importance of their vocation as lay persons and as married couples from the point of the entire Church. Otherwise they would not have remarks like “I wish I would have become a priest” or similar when they have already families and maybe also involved in various ministries. The view and the lived experience of the equal dignity and importance of all vocations gets so slowly a foothold in the Church that even after four decades after the Vatican II there is really a great need to educate and prepare people also in this regard.

 

15.   The companions need to avoid pressing their partner to significant changes in their life during the Exercises process. The Holy Spirit prefers to work with a certain sign or hallmark of peace, tranquillity and naturalness when guiding us. If it is an inspiration, which comes from God, there should not be an anxiety to rush; the companions can verify it with time and make their decision based on careful discernment. Fundamentally, for discernment the Exercises will be the school to learn and get used to it, making discernment a constant element of life.

 

16.   St. Ignatius through observing first himself and later others arrived surely to an extensive knowledge of the human psyche, too. He is one of the great self-observers of the history of the Church along with St. Augustine and St. Theresa of Avila – all of them interestingly were able to discover something generally true in their individual experiences.

An example which shows St. Ignatius’ being expert of the psyche is his advice for the retreatant who finds himself or herself very strongly attached to something, willing it with extreme force. Recognizing that this attachment is not healthy or not helpful, the individual wants to get free of it. St. Ignatius advises a person in this case to desire with all his or her power the opposite of that to which one is attached: “Let him be insistent in prayer and in his [or her] other spiritual exercises in begging God for the reverse”. This is an example of the principle “agere contra” (working against) which will turn out in other contexts during the Exercises.

Here we can recognize a parallel to the logotherapeutic technique called “paradoxical intention” formulated by Viktor Frankl first in 1946[12]. By paradoxical intention he means a “process by which the patient is encouraged to do, or to wish to happen, the very things he fears[13] in order to break the vicious cycle of the anticipatory anxiety, the growing fear that causes to happen what the patient is afraid of. The paradoxical intention is based on the fact that on one side the fear (anticipatory anxiety) brings about what one fears, and on the other hand excessive will (hyper-intention in logotherapy) prevents the accomplishment of what one desires.

To illustrate this process Frankl describes several cases. One of them is of a young doctor[14] who became afraid that his hands would tremble during an eye operation whenever the chief of the clinic was present. This fear then actually caused him trembling. In this case the paradoxical intention meant for him wanting to tremble, to show everybody how strong his hands are shaking. Whenever he deliberately tried to tremble he was unable to do so. Similarly it happens if somebody is disturbed by fears to go out in wide spaces (agoraphobia), fear of uncontrolled reddening, sweating and such. Paradoxical intention is useful mostly in the treatment of obsessive, compulsive and phobic conditions, especially in cases of underlying anticipatory anxiety. It is applied properly by the professional logotherapist (sometimes combined with other therapies and medication); but anyway if the principle is understood it could be successfully utilized for minor disturbances as a self-help tool.

When using paradoxical intention the logotherapist most of the time will evoke the specific human ability of humor and when the patient learns to laugh on himself or herself the healing is already beginning. “The humoristic formulation of its method are based on a restoration of basic trust in being…What transpires is essentially more than a change of behavior patterns; rather, it is an existential reorientation”[15]. Humor as Frankl describes “is to be regarded as a manifestation of that peculiar human ability which in logotherapy is called self-detachment”[16]. By self-detachment one can put the problem at a distance and so find solutions for it or break away from symptoms caused by it.

It is interesting to see how the particular character of the human psyche on which logotherapeutic techniques are based was already “discovered” in a different context by St. Ignatius in an age when of course there were no disciplines as psychology and psychiatry. When there is a strong attachment to something, there will be the fear to lose it or not to achieve or get it and this fear might be won by desiring the opposite of that particular attachment. St. Francis of Sales understood, too the blocking effect of the strong will when he warns that nothing obstacles so much the achievement of a virtue than desiring it too much[17].

To see this principle in the Scriptures we can refer to Jesus’ saying:

 

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24)

 

Let us meditate over these words of Jesus, let us feel relief from our constant worries for ourselves and feel the joy of finding something noble, true and worthwhile to live for. Indeed, is not loosing his or her life the individual who is living in the grip of excessive worries? While even living for long years, this person never lived really in the sense of a meaningful life for something important, something other than him- or herself. There are things in our life that just cannot be willed, as we cannot laugh deliberately if there is no reason for it. So is it with happiness, too. If there is a reason for it we are happy but we cannot produce the desired happiness by wanting it. The sheer “pursuit of happiness” is doomed to fail[18]. We need to work for the sake of some task or for a loved one and then this will fill us with happiness. Our intention should not be oriented toward ourselves, toward our pleasure or happiness but needs to be directed toward someone or something else to fulfill our life[19]. Then with a meaningful life the happiness will come as a “side effect”. We can read in connection to this the “Sermon on the Mount” particularly the part when Jesus speaks about the uselessness of worries and the trust in God (Mt 6,25-34) which emphasizes:

 

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all this things will be given to you” (Mt 6:33)

 

17.   It is not required during the Exercises to go to confession and neither do the companions need to know each other’s sins or every single thought their partner might have. However, it could be useful if they help each other by sharing about how they feel, what are the consoling or disturbing thoughts they have. In this manner they can pray for each other more specifically and help to solve problems by listening, support and maybe with advice. We mention advice as last, because often it is hard to find for an intimate partner the right kind of proposal, and how and when to give it. Most of the times the loving understanding and listening will be the most appropriate help by which we ensure our companion that we support and accept him or her in every situation and are ready to help as best as we can whatever he or she would ask of us.

 

18.   These Exercises can be adapted to the particular need of the companions who wish to do them. Surely the individual reflections and meditations given in this book are only an outline and based on these every individual or couple needs to “make” their own “Exercises”. That means that the companions will fill in with content and personal meaning these reflections guided by the Spirit of God. So every single period of the Exercises process will be unique in its kind, fitting in the course of the life history of the participants. The given material will inspire different insights, feelings and decisions according to everyone’s situation, education, background and desires.

It is possible also to go through only part of the process. One possibility might be to learn only about the Examination of Consciousness (see [24-31] and [32-43]) – at least for the moment - to keep it as part of the couple’s daily prayer life as a useful tool for discernment. Others might decide to go through only the First Phase ([24-100]). Later of course, the companions might want to repeat the experience and maybe go further in the process.

 

19.   When writing this interpretation of the Spiritual Exercises we had in mind the full process of it. We think that the entire Exercises process can take as long as 1 to 1½ year, with a commitment to spend daily ½ to 1½ hours for reflection and prayer.

 

20.   Some very fortunate and exceptional couples might find the opportunity to do the Exercises going away for a month or so to a quiet place and having all day at their disposition. In this case it is good to alternate the times spent for reflection or prayer with physical exercises as walking, swimming and so on. As for other books, in order to avoid too much distraction it is better to restrain to writings somehow related to the material of the Exercises and not to flee in reading. Something of this advice will remain valid for the aftermath of the Exercises if the companions wish to continue to live a life of discernment and commitment to prayer.

 

21.   The Spiritual Exercises, in St. Ignatius’ words, “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment” [21].

 

22.   To make sure that the companions can work well together on the exercises and experience a personal and common (relational) growth and healing, they should begin with accepting this presupposition:

Everyone who wants to enter a dialog needs to be more ready to interpret the other’s statements and suggestions for the best, rather than a priori refusal or condemnation of it as false or inauthentic. However, if the idea seems to be such as one wants to reject it, it is good to formulate questions about the meaning of the statement in quiet and accepting ways. In this way both of the companions can learn something and grow in reciprocal understanding and love.

This presupposition describes the attitudes of openness and listening, which are necessary for an effective collaboration also in broader sense.

 

23.            “Principle and Foundation”: Transition to the First Phase

 

God creates every man and woman out of love and for the same human vocation: to love and praise God with their existence and serve him with reverence. Living this way they will find the fulfillment of their life and collaborate in their salvation and that of all humankind.

 

All other things – material goods as well as spiritual and psychological gifts - are created out of the same love of God toward every human being, to help them to realize their vocation.

 

Hence, everyone of us should use or accept all created things exactly as far as these are helpful toward the human vocation of love; and leave them whenever they are verified to be an obstacle in this.

 

To discover the proper use of everything we should find freedom in our relations to everything and everyone, insofar as not being bound by some obligation and allowed to choose. Some examples regarding things toward we should attain freedom are health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, long or short life. These are the same time the points where the human person tends to have prefixed desires[20]. We need to realize that everything has the potential of bringing meaning and fulfillment in our life.

 

Our only strong desire and fundamental choice should be to prefer always what we understand after proper discernment guided by the Holy Spirit as more appropriate for our vocation in our concrete personal and societal situation, and so find our way toward the fulness of life.

 

 

This “Principle and Foundation” gives the program of the entire process of the Spiritual Exercises. Speaking of the human vocation and of the way to achieve its fulfillment, the “Principle and Foundation” summarizes what in the upcoming four Phases will be expounded and together with the “Contemplation to Attain the Love of God” ([230-237]) it constitutes a frame of the whole Exercises. It will be constantly present in the form of the Opening prayer of each exercises period (see [46]) and reoccurs in other places as well in order to be absorbed by the companions. It shows not only the program but also the fruit which the companions can receive living through the adventure of the Exercises; that is, a life of discernment, positive relationships with all creation, and becoming true images of God, and responding to his creative love with our love.

The “principle of freedom” given here is very logical and simple, but in reality it is not so easy to realize it. Sometimes it is very hard to arrive to the freedom necessary for a good decision as things tend to obscure our vision and clear understanding and we ourselves have many wounds, imperfections, bias, prejudices, and a whole life story that also will interplay in our choices. The freedom, which is defined here, includes all the four Christotherapeutic attitudes of cooperation with the enlightenment process: humbleness of heart, listening. “letting-be” and “wu wei” (a Chinese word meaning like perfect harmony or effortless motion)[21]. In Christotherapy II Bernard Tyrrell introduces an elemental practice which he calls “Detachment from the Must” and compares this method to the principle of freedom[22].

The “principle of freedom” means a positive relation toward all created reality where everything has the potential of bringing meaning and fulfillment to our life. This statement also constitutes the central “message” of Frankl’s logotherapy. We are used to find meaning in our work (realizing creative values) and in experiencing something or encountering someone (realizing experiential values). But also when these are no more possible because of inevitable suffering, failure or death, we have the possibility to find meaning in the attitude taken toward the situation, changing ourselves, growing up to the challenge it brings to us (this is called in logotherapy realizing attitudinal values). “Life is never lacking meaning. To be sure, this is only understandable if we recognize that there is a potential meaning to be found even beyond work and love. …What I wanted to convey to you is the secret of life’s unconditional meaningfulness, which owes to the third possibility of finding meaning in life, the possibility of investing meaning even in suffering and death”[23]. A presentation of how the realization of attitudinal values is present in Jesus’ healing ministry can be found in the book of Robert C. Leslie[24]. The author analyzes the healing of the Bethesda invalid in Jn 5:2-15 from this point of view showing how Jesus stresses the change of attitude taken toward the illness as source of inner wholeness and finally of physical healing.

The “Principle and Foundation” constitutes the last part of the Preparatory Phase and at the same time a transition to the First Phase. The companions need to spend as much time at this point as is necessary to be able to say “yes” for its content or at least feel the desire for such freedom before proceeding with the Exercises. In order to meditate fruitfully with the text they might use some or all of the following proposals.

-         Read the text of the Decalog from Deut 6:6-21 and note the similarities with the “Principle and Foundation”.

-         Go into the texts below paragraph by paragraph, spending at least one reflection period on each with the help also of some scriptural reading.

1. The creation of mankind: Gn 1:26-27; The greatest commandment: Lk 10:25-28;

2. God creates all as help for mankind Gn 1:28-31; The praise of God as Creator: Ps 104 (this might be adapted for a contemplation of the beauty of nature outdoors)

3. See 1 Cor 10:23;

4. God gives mankind stewardship over the creation: Gn 2;

5. The only criterion necessary for all our choices: “the better part” in the story of Martha and Mary: Lk 11:38-42;

-         Slowly go through everything present in your life – also personal relationships - and sort out; realize what is not to be identified with you, which are the “other things” and “feel” where is the “center” of you.

Finally formulate an ideal for the meaning or purpose of your life, personally and as a couple; such as being helpful to others, a service, taking care of family and so on. In formulating this goal it might be helpful to review of the life of the companions in some form. If they made earlier Spiritual Exercises they can review what were their aspirations then, and so on.



[1] However, he is not the author of it, as for a copy of the prayer appears in a document from 1334, a good century and a half before St. Ignatius was born. The author of this traditional prayer is unknown, even if there are speculations about who could be.

[2] For scriptural quotes throughout the book we use “The New American Bible” (Iowa Falls: World Publishing Co., 1987) if not indicated differently.

[3] Teilhard de Chardin was a Catholic priest and a member of the Jesuit religious order in the early 20th century.  He also was an anthropologist, archaeologist and paleontologist who wrote philosophical and theological books which tried to describe a sort of ascent of humanity from matter in an evolutionary way as under the guidance and design of Divine Creation.

[4] . This love toward others is the authentic content also of the devotion and reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, see in David M. Stanley, S.J., A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises, (Chicago: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1967) Chapter 27, pp.264- 271.

[5] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” pp. 8-25. In “Christotherapy II” Fr. Tyrrell further develops these concepts under “The Method of Existential Discerning,” see pp. 119-126.

[6] We prefer to call the first stage “liberative” instead of purgative to avoid the association that something is fundamentally “dirty” in the human person, to which the notion of purification might lead. The liberative way points more directly to the beginning stage toward greater spiritual freedom, which is the goal of Spiritual Exercises.

[7] Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 3-6.

[8] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” p. 8-24.

[9] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 145. The goals of each phase are in this formulation: First: “reform the deformed”; Second: “conform the reformed”; Third: “confirm the conformed”; Fourth: “transform the confirmed”.

[10] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 150.

[11] Of the characteristics of God’s love, the universality is supposed to be represented and lived more appropriately by those who live in virginity or celibacy, thus the two ecclesiastic vocations, marriage and virginity together form an “icon” of the divine love. Although of course married love does not exclude love for others, and the celibate love should not loose its personal character, there is a difference in the main thrust how they are called to live their vocation. See in this regard the writings of John Paul II who worked extensively in the field of the theology of marriage and human love.

[12] A brief presentation of the paradoxical intention can be found in Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, (New York: Washington Square Press, 1963) pp. 193-204.

[13] Viktor Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978) p. 117.

[14] Viktor Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul, (New York: Knopf, 1965) p. 181.

[15] Ibid., p. 193.

[16] Frankl, “The Unheard Cry for Meaning,” p. 121.

[17] Let us place here in this context a note on an everyday experience of wives: if you push hard your husband for something, he will resist it more and more. So there is a necessity to find other ways to make him understand what you would like. It seems for example that expressing simply what would make you happy will cause every loving husband to want it for you.

[18] Frankl writes so in “The Doctor and the Soul”: “How well Kierkegaard expressed this in his maxim that the door to happiness opens outward. Anyone who tries to push this door open thereby causes it to close more. The man who desperately anxious to be happy thereby cuts off his own path to happiness. Thus in the end all striving for happiness – for the supposed ‘ultimate’ in human life – proves to be in itself impossible (op. cit., p. 32. see also p.209.)

[19] The above described hyper-intention often is accompanied by the so-called hyper-reflection, which means a compulsion for self-observation, excess attention on one’s condition, achievement, problem or symptom. This is the case when a sufferer of insomnia not only wants excessively to fall asleep and fears to remain awaken, but also the attention he or she pays prohibits the process of falling asleep. The problem of hyper-reflection plays role in sexual problems of potency and orgasm, as the individual pays excessive attention on his or her own performance and blocks the pleasure itself. Hyper-reflection reinforces neurosis in general. The logotherapeutic technique to deal with the hyper-reflection is called “de-reflection”, which means to orient the patient’s attention toward a partner or a task in a positive manner. See Frankl, “The Unheard Cry for Meaning,” pp. 150-158.

[20] Karl Rahner sees in these examples the basic drives to live, to possess, to be somebody and to exist, “the points in which man seeks to assert himself in the different dimensions of his human existence”. See in Karl Rahner, Spiritual Exercises, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965) p. 27.

[21] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” pp. 18-25.

[22] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 206-07.

[23] Frankl, “The Unheard Cry for Meaning,” pp. 39-40.

[24] Robert C. Leslie, Jesus as Counselor, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968) pp. 92-101