Second Phase: Conforming


Thunder, rain, roar;

What do I care

Pound and pound again

Damn the ground

Punch the weather

Hit, bang, whoosh, whomp,

I feel secure


My head held high

Like a poppy spurting

Oblivious to pain, to destruction

Unknowing, but knowing

Deep inside

Which is why like the poppy

I prepare a seed to survive

As I thrive

Damning the forces

That thunder outside


(Pride in a storm, John 1988)


As we mentioned earlier the Second Phase is the time for discernment and decision[1]. A decision that even if small, really shapes the life of the companions, bringing about a deepening love for Jesus Christ and conformation to the values and ideal represented by him, in broader sense, to grow in spiritual and psychological health and wanting to work for the salvation of others, too. Conforming does not mean an external imitation but it expresses the essence of belonging to Christ, as “to be conformed to the image”(Rom 8:29) of the Son[2]. Meanwhile tradition uses the expression Imitatio Christi, “Imitation of Christ” for what we call here conforming, it is not meant to be nor a slavish copying Jesus’ words or deeds neither a sort of moralizing based on Jesus’ example. As David M. Stanley points out “Imitatio Christi” involves the arduous process through which the contemporary Christ operates with a man on a long term basis”[3]. Man and woman were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), and this image was deformed by sin, but can be restored to integrity by turning to Christ the true image of God (2 Cor 4:4) and through an intimate association with him “all of us, gazing the unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18). St. Paul describes this change also as acquiring a new self: “you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator” (Col 3:9-10).

Conforming is part of the process of the Christification of the creation, in which the Universal Christ unites in himself all. With other words, by conforming we are inserted in the process of the salvation history in union with Jesus who is the “Christ-for-the world”, the Head of the creation, as God’s plan is “to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth” (Eph 1:10)[4]. Clearly that means also that conforming to Christ is not restricted to those who are incorporated in the Church but it is possible for non-Christians and even for those who not even know the name of Jesus Christ. One is “conformed” to Christ in every single spiritually and morally good act without the necessity that it should be performed for consciously supernatural motives (cf. Mt 25:31-46). The grace of Christ exists also outside of the Church and is deeper and more pervasive than we used to suppose[5]. If we think of Jesus Christ as the person who realizes in a unique way what is the best in human reality, than every human person can meet him even without knowing of the historical Jesus: “If Christology represents the unique fulfillment of anthropology it follows that everyone who fully accepts his life as a human being has thereby also implicitly accepted the Son of man. Hence…such an individual has already encountered Jesus Christ without knowing however that he had met with the person whom the Christians call Jesus of Nazareth”[6]

Conforming is an important part of the religious and moral conversion process represented in the Spiritual Exercises. Following Bernard Tyrrell’s distinction we speak of four analogous types of conversions: religious, moral, psychological conversions and the conversion from addiction[7]. Each of these evolves in two stages, in radical and ongoing conversion and in each stage we can distinguish two movements, as “turning-from” destructive tendencies and “turning-toward” authentic, healthy and holy ways of living. To illustrate this process the image of an ascending spiral might be suitable, since healing and spiritual growth is not a linear movement but has more new beginnings, re-turnings as the stages of conversions move forward while it is advancing similarly to a spiral that goes over the same ground several times but at successively higher levels[8]. The Second Phase generally supposes that the companions are already committed to Jesus Christ, that is, they are advancing in the ongoing religious and moral conversion and as we mentioned earlier, it involves mainly the dynamic of the turning toward movement. However, we believe that also non-Christians can use the entire Spiritual Exercises fruitfully, supposed their openness toward the person of Jesus Christ and the healing and spiritual growth involved in the ideals and values of his mission as presented in this interpretation. The commitment required for the Second Phase is meant in an adapted fashion in this case to a certain degree of openness and psychological health. Further, the exercises of the Second Phase might be applied in some analogous and adapted form in the ongoing healing of neurosis and addiction and even for the radical stage of these conversions[9]. Besides this analogous use it seems to us that the conforming process in itself might be beneficial for the healing of psychological disturbances, as a “side-effect” of the religious and moral conversion involved in it, since the conforming to an ideal brings on a therapeutic effect even if it is not intended directly[10]. Later at the presentation of the decision or election involved in the Second Phase (see [169-189]) we will return to the therapeutic effect of this process.

It is appropriate at this point of the Exercises to read the “Guidelines for Discernment for the Second Phase” [328-336], which are to be found in the Appendix C. Of course, these are useful not only in the context of the Exercises but later in the life of the companions when one “is being assailed and tempted under the appearance of good” [10]. The companions will need to get an experiential knowledge of these guidelines during the Second Phase and keep them in consideration for the aftermath whenever a similar spiritual-existential situation occurs.

The goal of the exercises in this Phase is to prepare the companions for the decision and to support the conforming process through the contemplation of events from the life of Jesus Christ and a series of specific meditations. “The Ignatian contemplation concerns itself with the events of sacred history, where the Ignatian meditation is taken up with the consideration of truths of faith”[11]. While the meditations require the use of thinking and reasoning, the contemplation in the Exercises means to enter a specific scene in the time and place of Jesus through the creative use of our imagination and so acquire an experiential knowledge of the event. These events that Jesus lived in his earthly life in the Exercises are called “mysteries”, underlining that these are spiritual realities present for everyone in history; some way the contemplation of these mysteries gets us in touch with the risen, living Christ today. By the contemplation we don’t simply accomplish a pious exercise of imagination but this is a way to grow in faith and openness toward God’s word in order to discern our way in the world and also to recognize Christ living now in other people[12]. The Ignatian contemplation is a conscious effort, active use of our faculties, differing from the passive, infused contemplation when God draws the individual in vivid interaction with himself, Jesus Christ or other persons[13].

This Phase is divided into time periods, each containing a number of contemplations and meditations. A typical period has two contemplations and two repetitions and ends with the “application of the senses”, but this structure will slightly vary through the Phase. This dynamics serve the goal to stay long enough with each mystery and let the movements of the Holy Spirit become relevant through the repetitions. The companions are free to decide how long these periods will last depending on the form they chose for the Exercises and the pace of their advancement in the process. In the secluded form one period can be one day, while in the everyday life form it might extend to several sessions and last a number of weeks. The Second Phase can be prolonged also by further periods in the same form that we present and for these we give only an indication of the material to use in the contemplations. For the contemplations there are texts presented in the Appendix B under the title “The Mysteries of the Life of Jesus Christ” [261-312]. These can be used along the Scripture text as help to enter the scene of the actual story[14]. At this point before beginning with the exercises proper of this Phase the companions need to read also the Notes in [127-131] which gives further orientation how to arrange the conditions for this time[15].

The grace what we will ask throughout all the contemplations of this Phase will be the same. As Ignatius formulated it, “it will be to ask for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely” [104]. His insistence on this desire shows the importance of it for the whole Exercises process. The conformation (in Ignatius’ words “following”) involves both an intimate, existential knowledge and a personal love for Jesus Christ. In the biblical sense, knowledge and love are close realities in relation of reciprocity, in the in Hebrew “to know” someone is an expression of the sexual relation; man “knows” his wife (Gn 4:1). In the New Testament the interplay of love and knowledge is especially visible in the language of John’s gospel and epistles, where love and knowledge of God grow together, reinforce each other. The intercommunion of love and knowledge, of which we are speaking here, is an important characteristic of the religious conversion as described in Christotherapy[16]. Illustrating this reciprocal relation of love and knowledge we can use the image of a double ascending spiral with connections like the DNA. Spiritual life is a journey on this spiral upward. This imagery related to the traditional picture of the mountain as in the works of St. John of the Cross, where through the different nights one is advancing toward the peak of the mountain where there is nothing else than love. The two fundamental anthropological images of the “way” and the “house” are presented together in this imagery as we find our way toward home throughout our life[17].


“For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,

and knowledge of God rather than holocausts” (Hos 6:6)


“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God;

everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love” (1John 4:7-8)



[1] We will see more of the character of this decision in [135].

[2] See the description of conforming in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 159.

[3] Stanley, “A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises,” pp.75-76.

[4] Cf. Alex Lefrank, S.J.-Maurice Giuliani, S.J., Freedom for Service. Dynamics of the Ignatian Exercises as Currently Understood and Practiced, (Rome: World Federation of Christian Life Communities, 1989) p. 68. The authors of this study present the movement of the Second Phase as the extension of our relationship with Christ from “Christ-for-me” (First Phase) to “Christ-for-the world-with-me”.

[5] For a presentation of this view of the salvation through Christ, see Karl Rahner, The Dynamic Element in The Church, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964) pp. 42-83. Rahner was the main contributor to the Vatican II on the question of the relation with other religions, and the Council endorsed his theory of “anonym Christians” (without the controversial name) (see more about this topic in Joseph H. Wong, “Anonymous Christians: Karl Rahner's Pneuma-Christocentrism and an East-West Dialogue” Theological Studies, Vol. 55, 1994).

[6] Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) p. 49 in the chapter where the author presents Rahner’s “transcendental Christology from below”.

[7] Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 3-6. See also the chapter Religious Conversion: Third Form of Christian Enlightenment, “Christotherapy I,” pp.13-16.

[8] Ibid., p. 6 and Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” p.137.

[9] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 23-24 and 160-161.

[10] Let quote the words of Viktor Frankl: “…the side-effect of religion is an eminently psychohygienic one. Religion provides man with a spiritual anchor, with a feeling of security such as he can find nowhere else” (Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. xiv).

[11] Stanley, “A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises,” p. 5.

[12] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” pp. 82-83. See also Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” p. 117.

[13] Ibid., p. 97.

[14] As John C. Futrell points out, reading the Scriptures at the beginning of the contemplations will make sure that the movements experienced during the prayer will be a response to the revealed Word of God. Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 73.

[15] We kept the original numbering of the Spiritual Exercises and the place of each number. These notes even if placed later in the text by Ignatius are necessary for the companions from the beginning of the Phase.

[16] See the presentation of this characteristic of the religious conversion in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” pp. 14-16.

[17] It is interesting to note that Jesus calls himself the “Way” and Mary is hailed as “Domus Aurea”, the “Golden House” in the Lauretan Litany, somehow reflecting this basic need of being on the road and thriving to arrive home, to have a house to stay. In the same time “Way” and “House” represents something of the masculine and feminine dimension in our humanity.