55-61.   Second exercise: Our Personal Salvation History

 

To use the classical expression “to reform the deformed” we must begin with a diagnosis. We saw in the first exercise how the sin entering our world, deformed it. This second exercise can be properly identified with the personal existential diagnosis of the enlightenment process in Christotherapy, that is “the discovery or understanding of the meaning of negative factors in one’s life, the diseases and disharmonies which one experiences”[1]. The discovery of the negative element in one’s life always, also in this First Phase needs to be accompanied by the realization the good in the person, by “existential appreciation”[2]. The exercise will contain five points for the reflection after the preparatory part. Similarly to the first exercise also here we can dedicate a prayer meeting or session on each of the points, always beginning each session with the same preparation and end with prayerful conversation and sharing. This might be a more applicable form in everyday life situations. Some companions might want to take the whole exercise in one meeting, if they have enough time to reserve for it and feel inspired to do so.

 

Opening prayer a visualization

These will be the same as in the first exercise.

Asking what we want

Here it will be appropriate to ask the grace of understanding our sins and destructive tendencies, to see realistically the deformities in our personality and we need to ask a “growing and intense sorrow and tears” [55] because of these. We need to experience an intense sorrow, a real compunction of heart in order to overcome our repressions and a pharisaical attitude toward sin.

First point: on our personal history of sin and our destructive tendencies

Now with the help of the Holy Spirit we recall memories from our life, sins, and moments of brokenness, period by period. As in the examination of consciousness, also the “twilight consciousness” is involved here, the companions need to try to attend to the destructive assumptions, irrational beliefs and feelings working in the background[3]. This review can be made by remembering the places where we lived, the relations and occupations we had. It is a good occasion to reflect on the whole of our life personally and on our common life as companions. We should not deny or hide our weaknesses, as we are alone with God and our companion who know us very well, but in the same time need to avoid any false sense of guilt. We should look at our story in the horizon of God’s love toward us, with a peaceful and quiet look, even if we are sorry for what went wrong in our hands. The companions’ role toward each other now is to give support, encouragement and protection against despair while going through this delicate process; in one word, practice “existential loving”. In Christotherapy “to love a person existentially is to value the gift of unique existence which the person possesses and incarnates”[4]. In our view the companions are by the nature of their relationship the best candidates to live this holistic type of love. Their aim should be the same as of the spiritual guide or Christotherapist, which is “to facilitate the occurrence of a diagnostic discernment which hopefully will lead to a decision, reforming and fasting of the mind, heart, and imagination”[5]. “Mind-fasting” is the central technique of the Christotherapy together with the complementary “spirit-feasting”. It means an emptying the mind from the thoughts, attitudes and desires discerned as harmful, a letting go of the destructive tendencies by the help of the Holy Spirit and sort of replacing it with authentic, life-giving inspirations and feelings[6]. During the First Phase we are beginning to engage in this process and will continue to return to it and practice it throughout the entire Spiritual Exercises and beyond that. Notwithstanding everything we still should hope and trust in God’s unconditional love, even if we don’t know how it is possible to love us unconditionally.

For some of the companions it will be useful at this point to read here the “Notes Concerning Scruples” [345-351] to overcome a sort of legalistic view of sins[7].

Second point: on the seriousness of our sins

We need to reflect here how destructive are the sins we have committed, how these actions harmed others and us, how meaningless and useless they were, and so on. When we reflect upon the gravity of our sins here, we do not simply look for the distinction between “mortal” or “venial” sin, but consider how every sin damages our relations and contributes to the sinfulness of the world.

Third point: on who we are

At this point we will place ourselves in the context humankind, then the whole world and the entire creation, and finally before God and reflect upon how small we are. It is the effect of sin, ours and of others if we feel as becoming unimportant, insignificant, only a number, reduced to thingness.

As a scriptural reading we can take Mt 25,14-30. The talents in this parable represent occasions that God gives us in our life: the courageous person who uses these occasions enters the Kingdom of God, while the coward loses all occasions because tries to avoid conflicts and at the end will be judged as “useless servant”, a “nobody”.

Then we reflect upon the final weakness of our life, on our death which also is a consequence of sin. Here I (Kris) recall an experience of mine years ago. I was on the beach at the Black Sea, young and happy on a vacation; and as I was lying on the sand enjoying the sun, a sudden strange feeling took over me. Looking at my hand lying on the sand at once I recalled how this hand would one day decompose, only some bones remaining. It was utterly strange and deep experience of my limitedness; it did not last long but still I remember clearly that feeling of a sort of being condemned to death.

Reflecting on the seriousness of sin we should see how we ourselves are the source of its destructive force in our community, in the Church, and for the world.

Fourth point: on who is God against whom we sinned

Everything that we can say about God shows the lack of that virtue in us. He is wise, we are ignorant; he is powerful, we are weak; he is good and we are not so good; is just and we live in injustice, and so on. As a scriptural reference some might find it helpful in this reflection to read from the book of Job the final dialog between God and Job (38:1-42:6). For an expression of the immense difference between the all holy God and the sinful humanity let us recall the story of the prophetic call of Isaiah when the seraphim around the throne of Yahweh cry out loud:

“ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!’…Then I said, ‘Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’”     (Is 6,3-5)

Or a similar experience of meeting with the holiness of God at the call of Peter to become apostle:

“Depart from me, o Lord, for I am a sinful man”   (Lk 5,8)

Fifth point: “a cry of wonder” (St. Ignatius)

At this point we reflect upon the goodness of God’s creation toward us – a sign of his mercy and goodness. As sinners, our relation with the entire creation is in danger, is in the risk of a breach. Notwithstanding our faults and mistakes we are still here, alive, the sun is shining on us, the earth gives food and water, the flowers show their beauty, the saints and angels in heaven intercede for us and the Church spread in the entire world offers incessant prayers for each of us! We are loved as we are!

This “cry of wonder” about the goodness of creation leads us to spirit-feasting, which complements the mind-fasting introduced at the first point of this exercise. The gratitude and joy about the faithfulness of God’s love might become a mystical experience, a surrender to this love in our hearts. As Bernard Tyrrell describes it, “spirit-feasting occurs on many levels, from a thankful delight in the beauties of sunrise and sunset to the intense joys of mystical marriage as described by Theresa [of Avila] and John of the Cross”[8]

Prayerful conversation: Dialog of Mercy, sharing and review

This exercise ends with a prayerful dialog with the good and merciful God. He gave us life and preserved us to this moment faithfully. We can express our thankfulness and gratitude toward him with a prayer in the manner of Psalm 136:

Praise the Lord, who is so good;

God’s love endures forever;

Praise the God of gods;

God’s love endure forever…”   (Ps 136:1-2)

 

Continue with your own history of salvation, with the deeds of God in your life who loved and saved you with steadfastness, mercy and fidelity, and repeat for each acclamation “God’s love endure forever”. Close with an Our Father.

 

62-63.   Third Exercise

 

This is a repetition of the precedent two exercises with a special attention on those parts that had moved us most emotionally and spiritually or where we have found consolation or desolation ([13-14]). The repetition will help us to know and understand more of ourselves, since the points that we found profitable or hard to stay with have a somewhat significant meaning for our personal history. Giving us more time to reflect on these interior movements a greater self-knowledge can emerge from the exercises.

When we finish these reflections in this exercise the closing prayer will consist of three dialogs.

Prayerful conversation with Mary

We approach Our Lady as our intercessor to God and to his son Jesus Christ. We ask here to pray for us to receive three graces: (1) that we would know deeply our sins and destructive tendencies and reject them; (2) to understand when in our everyday life certain desires become disproportionate and to be able to take a distance from them in order to find balance; (3) we ask her prayers also for a proper knowledge of the sinfulness of the “world” - which in this context means the totality of destructive forces working in our unauthentic, often neurotic and addictive [9] lifestyle and in the society as a whole[10] - and to be free of it.

We finish with a Hail Mary…

Prayerful conversation with Jesus Christ

We ask Jesus to obtain for us from the Father the graces we asked before also through the intercession of Mary. This dialog we finish with the prayer of St. Ignatius Soul of Christ…

Prayerful conversation with God our Father

We present now our request for these three graces directly to the Father. This dialog we will finish with an Our Father…

Sharing and review

If we received the grace of a deep knowledge, understanding, and detachment from sin and destructive tendencies we will experience a sort of “hitting bottom” experience which shows us our weakness and need of help[11]. It is important not be alone with this experience but share with our companion and support each other toward openness in trust to God. In the climate of support and acceptance the companions now need to share here the most important insights, feelings and similar experiences they had during the precedent exercises. The companions need to be very careful in this sharing to maintain the reciprocal acceptance since the reflections on our sins render us vulnerable and the reflections in this phase touch the core of our existence. This remark however needs to be a general guideline for all sharing during the Exercises and beyond.

As usual at the end of an exercise, also now it is advisable that we take some time to write notes in a diary.

 

64.         Fourth Exercise: A Summary

 

This is a summary of the precedent exercises, where we try to recall the material reflected upon and see some lines of direction in the discovered insights and experienced feelings. We will have the same prayerful conversations as in the third exercise asking for a deepening of the graces received.

The sharing after this exercise might be a sort of “existential clarification”, a method by which we try to communicate what we understood in our companion in terms of his or her problems, inauthentic attitudes, and sinful tendencies in a way that helps him or her to understand these [12]. The task of each companion is very delicate in this sharing, and it needs to be done in prayerful, patient, humble and loving manner, asking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is important to do also the positive part of the clarification when we communicate what we appreciate most in each other, which are the best qualities and potentials we see in each other. We should remember that the goal of our communication is to help to bring out the best of our companion, to support he or she in the process of growing or healing morally, spiritually, mentally, and so on. It is commonly said that love is blind but in reality the opposite is true: only a loving person can see well who his or her beloved is. He or she can discover the best, often hidden beauty, goodness and wisdom in the beloved that nobody else sees. Our goal here is similar to that of the psychotherapist of which Viktor Frankl writes so: “For the aim of the psychotherapist should be to bring out the ultimate possibilities of the patient, to realize his latent values – remembering the aphorism of Goethe, which might be well be adopted as the maxim of psychotherapy: ‘If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming’” [13]

Some couples at first might not feel to do it, but it is important to realize the possibility of it and the great advantage that can derive from the help of a person who loves us and knows us intimately and wants the best for us.

Part of this existential clarification can take the form of feedback session about the difficulties of the companions with each other. During this feedback we can tell each other what features or habits are disturbing in our companion, without the pretension that our companion should change as we would like it.

The clarification or feedback is helped if we can make a little ritual of it, beginning and ending with prayer and expression of our reciprocal love and appreciation toward each other. When we take turns to say what we understood or feel the other companion answers briefly that he or she accepts what we said but is not restrained to fulfill all our expectations.

It might be good at this point to insert a prayer session for the healing of memories as it is practiced in the charismatic movement. This method is mentioned also Christotherapy and offered for utilization[14]. We here propose a simple prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit to heal each of the painful memories that emerged during these last exercises. The companions can pray for each other alternatively as they present these memories to God. The presentation might be done in chronological order, passing through the successive periods of the companion’s life for whom the prayer is done.

As usual, also after this exercise is advisable to take notes in the diary of the companions.

 

 



[1] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” p. 10. See also Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 120.

[2] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 120-121.

[3] On the role of the background consciousness in this part of the Exercises see Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 153-154.

[4] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 116.

[5] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 151.

[6] See the presentation of the mind-fasting and spirit-feasting in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” p. 73-106 and in “Christotherapy II,” pp.126-128.

[7] See in this regard Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p.39.

[8] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” p. 81.

[9] For this interpretation of the “world” in the context of the third exercise and of the Alcoholics Anonymous we can refer to Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 154.

[10] The social dimension of the notion of “world” is reviewed for example in Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p.42.

[11] The “hitting bottom” experience and its meaning is described in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 151-153.

[12] The detailed presentation of the existential clarification is to be found in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 123-127, and pp. 154- 157 where the method is applied in the context of the Spiritual Exercises.

[13] Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. 7.

[14] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 140-141. Bernard Tyrrell in a brief manner presents also the method of Matthew and Dennis Linn on p. 74.