73-90.   Additions

 

The purpose of the following remarks is to help the companions to make the Exercises better and be more open to receive the asked graces.

 

1.          At nighttime, for a short while, about one or two minutes before falling asleep we think on the actual exercise, which we are making. Then we think of the hour when we will rise in the morning and the reason why we will get up. In this way also during the hours when we sleep our subconscious mind still can “work” on the material of the exercises; and as our resistances to God diminish with the rest of our conscious mind, we will be more open for accepting the inspirations and the healing grace f the Holy Spirit in our whole being.

2.          When we wake up, at once we try to remember what is the subject matter of our exercise. For example, in the time when we have the first exercise we can imagine ourselves with the person whom we love the most and speaking with him or her about our being sinner, broken and fragile. During the morning preparations we let our mind to think over these thoughts or others in keeping with the subject matter of the reflections.

3.          It is good to establish a place in our home for prayer and reflection. If we are able, the best is to prepare a “meditation room” or chapel in our home; or at least dedicate for this purpose a corner, a rug or a seat and placing there a candle, an icon or similar sign, that reminds us on the presence of God. At the beginning of our prayer session, we stop for a short while in front of this prayer place, recall in our mind what we are going to do and become aware of the presence of God. This might be helped with a concrete gesture, a sign of cross, lighting a candle, a simple bowing of the head or ringing a bell and so on. We in our home used to have a lit candle at our prayer place in front of a statue of Mary and sing a little song when lighting it in the beginning of the day.

4.          During the prayer sessions of the Exercises our bodily position should be chosen by personal preference and agreed on by the companions; that is, some might want to sit, or to walk, or to prostrate on the ground, or to kneel during the prayer. This position might be changed too during the sessions and try which is more suitable in the given moment. Of course, we need to have a position that enables us to do the exercise together with our companion and share with him or her. A simple guideline for choosing the position is that we should not be too comfortable as to fall asleep and not too uncomfortable causing our attention to turn to our aching parts. By our own experience, too much attention on bodily postures or breathing is not advisable. We are not doing a yoga meditation or similar. Everything needs to be very “normal” so that we can feel everything natural for us.

Another very important remark on the exercises regards the grace we asked. If we begin and continue to experience the desired feelings and thoughts, than we don’t need to go on for the next point in the exercise. We can dwell on the points that give us more thoughts and feelings as long as we continue to receive these graces.

5.     When we finish an exercise we need to spend some time considering how things went on during the reflection and prayer. This review is not for judging ourselves but to thank God for the graces, insights and positive or negative feelings experienced during the exercises, and to see what might be changed in order to do better. If everything went well and we feel good about our reflection and prayer, it is advisable to keep the same methods, positions and so on for the future exercises.

6-9. This remark regards the changes we might establish in our lifestyle to help the effectiveness of the exercises. In accordance of the general theme of the Phase in which we are, it is advisable to seek readings, entertainment or other occupations that are related somehow to the material of the reflections and avoid as much as it is possible for us everything that might interfere negatively with our exercises. As for example in the First Phase we don’t need to read about the resurrection and should try to keep a bit back on entertainments according to the theme of sin and related suffering. The reflection on the resurrection and other joyful themes are appropriate for the Fourth Phase, when we should seek them.

 

10.      Penance

Penance is something that sounds strange for most of us in our age and even if we might desire to do some, we are not sure what it exactly means. Some people who claim that have clear ideas and practices, usually have some very traditional and not too appealing or effective ways to do it. The “new law” that Jesus gave is love. Consequently, everything should be made in order to grow in love, and because love has a priority over every aspect of Christian life, it is a main criterion of the goodness of our decisions, traditions, habits, prayers, philosophies, psychologies and so on. So it is with penance, too. It should be a means to help us to grow in love. It is not for convention, for tradition or for bravery to pat us on the shoulder and feel righteous and it is not even for health reasons. If we desire to do penance we might try to choose for example one that does not make us more irritable toward others.

St. Ignatius at this point ([82]) distinguishes two kinds of penance, interior and exterior. Interior penance is the sorrow for our sins and the exterior penance should be the fruit of the first one. Usually, we think first of fasting and similar practices as exterior penance. Instead, the sorrow for our sins might lead us to ulterior “interior” acts of “penance”, as for example trying to avoid the thoughts that render us destructive toward others and ourselves, that is toward a kind of mind-fasting as it taught by Bernard Tyrrell in his Christotherapy. It seems to us that for the mean and women of our times this inner fasting is more appropriate than the bodily penances. Maybe because our sin and illnesses are more evident on the psychological level, our disorders of life are manifest in our superficial thinking, living, desiring and feeling. Even the overeaters and others with wasteful behavior are more damaged in their psychological and spiritual dimensions. The food and other conveniences certainly meant something different for the people in the Middle Ages as they lived in the continuous danger of extreme scarcity and starvation. For them eating well meant a great feast that is not more so in the developed countries. Renouncing food was giving something essential away a real experience of the existential weakness, the dependence on someone greater. We need personally see what help fasting gives us and this help may change also during our life. If we are on the brink with other issues, stress, and frustration in our jobs, problems on social level it is not sure that fasting helps us to cope with it. Some do fasting as a form of solidarity with the starving people of the earth, which is well but there is the danger of doing something hypocritical to quiet or consciences instead of facing issues. Sure eating (sometimes costly) fish instead of meat does not change too much on the world, and even eating “only” three times a day is only symbolic act, as the fast on water and bread or going without food is good only if the individual is really helped in his or her growth toward spiritual and psychological maturity. Some might find special strength in even rigorous fast, but the individual should discern about it in his or her particular situation. Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14) is quite clear in this regard: notwithstanding his excellent practice of fast and considerable donations the self-righteous Pharisee did not achieve justification as did the humble tax collector who simply recognized his sins with sorrow in front of God.

We said that mind-fasting seems more needed virtually by everyone nowadays when our spirit and psyche is constantly in danger of contamination by advertisements, television, internet, videogames and so on. Everything that excites and clearly tries to influence and determine our mind is dangerous to take us over as captives even addicted. All this confusion alienates us from ourselves, from each other, from reality and from God so we hardly grow in love until not find inner order and harmony notwithstanding this invasive chaos. Since our existence is one, all dimensions and aspects of our being are interconnected, the practice of interior penance, the fasting of our mind and heart requires also physical changes; we will need to used to more silence for example, to calm down our excited and over-stimulated mind. Similarly we need to calm down or fast our eyes and all the senses. This kind of bodily penance might be connected with fasting, taking simpler, cheaper and less food and drinks. A good means also to try to keep physical order and cleanliness in our home and workplace. The creation and maintenance of such exterior order will influence our interior harmony, peace and calm. The interior peace and calm is not an egoistic goal, this search is not egocentric, alienated, selfish and l’art pour l’art desire, but necessary for our authentic prayer and love[1]. We need a certain amount of inner peace in order to be open to each other, to listen, to understand what needs are calling for action and be strong enough to do good works. Finally we need peace to contemplate the beauty and goodness of the creation and to praise God. Inner peace serves the ultimate goal and meaning of our existence presented in the Principle and Foundation and in this context it is clearly something to seek and cultivate. This peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit[2] and does not exclude tensions. When Jesus promises to the disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27 ff.)[3], in the same time warns them of the struggles, persecutions, expulsions that wait for his followers. Jesus’ peace is a continuous struggle against the “world”, incorporating all the forces that work against God. It is a dynamic peace, which is maintained in the midst of contradictions, striving for goals and suffering. This concept of peace that overcomes the dichotomy between tranquility and struggle is very Ignatian, too. St. Ignatius introduced a spirituality of “more”, of striving always for more love of God, of serving him and humanity more. This “more” is included in the “Principle and Foundation” ([23]), which says not only to use things “as far as” they are helpful toward our human vocation, but to search what is “more” appropriate. When he gave the Exercises to “order the life” of the exercitants, he wanted not only making them more happy, balanced and healthy, but to train apostles, workers for the Kingdom of God on earth, sensible for the burning issues of their times. Also from a psychiatric point of view, a fulfilled and healthy human life needs orientation, tension toward a goal to achieve and a meaning to fulfill (this aspect of tension is called self-transcendence in Frankl’s works), and only for short while can take a presentist attitude of self-forgetfulness[4].

An interesting limit case between interior and exterior is our language, the words we use. This field gives many occasions for “fasting”, for restraining from what is harmful and seeking what is lovable, true, authentic and necessary. As scriptural reading we propose now the hymn of love in 1 Cor 13, since it presents the criterion of love as measure for all actions, penance included.

 

88-90. Notes

 

88.   If we make the Exercises in the form of a retreat in seclusion, the first and second Additions (see above from [73]) are to be applied to the exercises we do at night and for the first in the morning. If we are in the process of the Exercises in the everyday life then of course we will have a different schedule and we should apply these remarks on the current theme we are dealing with. In this form one exercise can be held for a week or so, and every night and morning we will remind ourselves on this particular exercise we are doing.

The fourth remark on the bodily position gives us more freedom in our home or other private place; in the case we are doing our sessions in a public place we need to take into consideration this fact and respect the sensibility of others and the general habits at that place. In certain churches maybe we will be allowed to prostrate for example, but it is still an exception for now.

89.   If we feel that the Exercises are not as fruitful as we would like, that is, we don’t have any consolations, inspiring insights or feelings at all, sometimes the thing to do is to change something about our habits. Maybe we should do some penance as described in the tenth Addition above, or maybe we need other changes in our daily life, physical exercise, more or less sleep, better nutritional habits and so on. We should understand this concept of “experimenting” with ourselves, to choose and fine-tune the means in our disposition in order to achieve our goal with these Exercises, and in general sense, in many aspects of our lives. God who knows us better than we ourselves, will come to our help to understand what is the best in everything if we make such experimentation in order to love and serve better.

90.   The examination of our conscience sometimes here might have as theme the Exercises of the First Week and the given Additions, to see how well we applied these for ourselves. This will be valid also for the other Phases in these Exercises.

 

 



[1] As for the inner peace in the context of penance we can refer to St. Francis of Assisi who said that the perfect poverty is the peace of heart.

[2] See the famous list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Gal 5:22.

[3] The word ‘peace’ is ‘shalom’, the Hebrew salutation; it gains in the use of Jesus a wider meaning of salvific gift.

[4] See in this regard Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” pp. 22-23 in the chapter “On the Meaning of Life” (pp. 21-50), where the author shows the insufficiency of the pleasure principle, and the principle of tension reduction that follows from it to describe human life (as Freud sustained it); a healthy life instead of a sort of homeostasis manifests itself in realizing values.