(During the directed retreat and at other times.)


        I should be aware that the spiritual guide, even if a priest, is not necessarily my confessor. It is not essential for the spiritual guide to know my past sins or even my present state of sin. However, the attempt to speak out my temptations and fears, the consolations and suggestions that flow in and out of my heart, that is, the various movements that happen within me, is very important for spiritual guidance. It is only then that the guide can adapt the guidance according to the way I am being led by and responding to God.

        Without this openness between myself and the spiritual guide, it is not possible to discern which focus would better lead to my growth. My interior reactions are made up of many feelings and thoughts. Some of these flow in and out of me and others I make my own. The most helpful arenas for discernment are precisely those thoughts and feelings that flow in and out of me rather than those consciously worked out thoughts that I own as mine. We speak of inspirations `as coming to me'. Conversely, when we take in the inspiration and think about acting on it we call it `my own' and we own it `as mine'. Scripture refers to this combination of thoughts-mixed-with-feelings as `thoughts from one's heart'.

        During the course of the directed retreat discernment can only take place if one shares this arena of the heart with the spiritual guide. The interior reactions or movements that happen within the actual prayer exercises, those very feelings/thoughts that `come to one', or that `flow in and out of one during prayer' is the material that needs to be brought to the spiritual guide. To a great extent this is also true during spiritual guidance outside directed retreat times. During these other times a guide will enable this noticing in a variety of different ways. However, the purpose behind the guide's approach even during these times will ultimately have the same focus - compassionate loving attention to the arena of the heart.


        Colloquy is a term from the Sp Exs. It describes the intimate conversation between God and me or one of the saints and me, or some special wisdom person with whom I feel at home. This conversation happens on the occasion of my putting myself as totally as I can into the setting of the prayer; I will find that I speak or listen as I am moved -- sometimes as one in need of healing, sometimes as one struggling to understand. At other times, as sinner, as child, as lover or friend, and so on. A colloquy does not take place at any particular time within the period of prayer. I enter into such conversation as I am moved. If it doesn't take place earlier in the prayer exercise it may be helpful to make a colloquy before taking one's leave.

        Conversation implies a dialogue. For example, I speak with a friend, and my friend responds to me. Thus the conversation goes back and forth, in a kind of free flow. In order to be open to this experience it is often important to `prime the pump' as it were. You can do this by placing a chair in front of you and imagining the person sitting there while you role play in conversation. Say something out loud to the person and repeat out loud what you imagine the person is saying back to you. No doubt you might understand this as pretending, as a child pretends in play with a doll. It is, at the start! However, very soon pretending turns into role playing; and this turns into projecting; and this turns into opening your heart and deeper self; and this turns into God communicating personally with you.(Sp Exs [15])



        Formal prayer can be made in almost any bodily position. Certain positions are more helpful for some people than for others, just as certain positions are more helpful at one time in prayer than at another. One can judge whether one posture rather than another is helpful by the following criteria:

  • Does this posture help in disposing oneself for the grace one is seeking?
  • Is this posture helping one to be at ease and yet attentive, reverent yet relaxed?

  •         Therefore one uses any posture that helps - kneeling, sitting, standing, prostrate. Walking, too, may lend itself to praying well if it can dispose one for the relaxation and the openness of the heart needed for the prayer exercise. On the other hand, walking often interferes with such openness by its restless effect upon one's inner being. Often a certain rhythm of kneeling and sitting, standing or lying prostrate, may help one keep in harmony with the variety of moods being expressed within the prayer exercise.

           Once one has adopted a position in prayer and the prayer is going well, one should not readily change position. The outward restlessness or shifting of position can jar the inner calm of prayer. One should remain with the posture while one is finding what one desires. Remain with it until there has been a sense of completion `for now'.

            Sometimes it is important either to change or refrain from certain positions, for example when one finds that certain postures interfere with the flow of the prayer or are a distraction for others as someone lying prostrate on the bench or floor in a church or public chapel.



            After a prayer exercise is over it is helpful to make a review. This is done by reflecting upon the experience of the prayer exercise just finished. The focus of the review is what happened during the prayer exercise itself: not so much what finished ideas you had but rather what heart-felt understandings were emerging - the interior reactions of the heart. Therefore, the movements of consolation, desolation, fear, anxiety, boredom, distractions, especially if they were deep or disturbing. Questions like the following may help:

    • What happened inside me during the period of prayer?
    • How did I feel about what went on?
    • What was my mood, change in mood ... what feelings flowed through me ...
    • What thoughts came in and out of my mind ... where was I drawn to dwell? 
    • How were God and I present or absent to each other? 
    • Did I receive the grace I was seeking? 
    • Is there some point I should return to in my next period of prayer?
            During this review I thank God for favours received and ask pardon for any carelessness on my part.

            This review is an instrument to help one reflect upon what was happening in one's heart during the times of prayer. It helps one notice one's interior reactions. Thus it enables one to be spontaneous during the actual prayer time and to go with the flow of experience. If you were to monitor yourself during the period of prayer, you might be interfering with the free flowing communication between you and God. Let happen what is happening during the prayer time. Afterwards take a look to see what the Spirit means through all this.

            During the review make a brief record of these happenings. Note down those moments and experiences that strike you. With this you can more easily prepare for your next period of prayer. The Spirit may be inviting you to go back to a point where you were moved. St. Ignatius says, one should remain quietly meditating upon a point until one has been satisfied i.e., until the movement has been completed (the insight completed; the struggle resolved; the consolation ended; the meaningfulness finished ... for now.) This written record is also a help for you to discuss your prayer experience with the spiritual guide. In addition, this practice in time will empower you to discern for yourself.

            The review is not a continuation of the prayer; nor is it a journal as in the Progoff journal. It is not a moving forward with the process of experience. Rather it is a looking backward in order to judge how to move forward when I go to prayer. So the review is not a notebook of insights and partial essays or letters. Because this instrument is different from the prayer exercise itself, it is helpful to symbolize the difference by separating the place where you do this activity from the place you make your prayer exercise.


            Repetition is an important way to notice the interior spiritual movements in one's heart and thus listen for the prompting of God's Spirit. St. Ignatius would recommend its use both during the directed retreat and for one's daily prayer exercises.

     What Repetition is NOT

  • Repetition is not the repeating of the material for prayer as one repeats a study assignment for more thorough understanding.
  • Nor does it mean that one returns to the same matter for prayer in order to dig for something new or different.
  • Nor does it mean that one always returns to all the material of the last prayer period.

  • What Repetition IS

            Repetition means that I return to those points where I have experienced "greater consolation, desolation or greater spiritual appreciation" Sp Exs [62]. Hence I return to those points where I have experienced significant movements; not to the whole scripture passage itself; not to a parallel scripture text from another gospel. Rather I return to the remembered experience and, more importantly, to those points of the prayer exercise or parts in scripture where the experience occurred.

     Some Examples

  • I have prayed over the scripture account of the Last Supper. In my review I notice that I have spent much time absorbed in the adoration of the sacrament; I also notice that I had a struggle reflecting upon the persons present at the Last Supper. In the following prayer period I return to both the real presence and to the various persons present.
  • I am using my imagination in praying over the Baptism at the Jordan. In my review after the period of prayer I notice that I was with Jesus but his back was to me and I had a feeling of sadness. So in the next period of prayer I return to the place where Jesus was turned away from me and the experience of sadness occurred.
  • I am praying over the hidden life of Jesus. In the review I notice that I could not get settled; that I was filled with distractions and anxiousness. So in the next period of prayer I return to the same material.
  • I am praying over my cooperation with evil, my sinfulness, and I am requesting from God a deeper awareness of those hidden disordered tendencies that affect the decisions I make. This is now being given to me. In my review I have a sense that the Spirit desires to show me more. So I keep on returning to the same material.

  • Repetition helps one listen more carefully
    to God's communication.

    First, repetition allows spiritual movements to take place:

             Since one of the goals of daily prayer and of the directed retreat is to discern the interior movements in one's being, repetition is the way we allow these movements. If the one praying moves from scripture passage to scripture passage even within the same theme, that person will tend to cut off significant interior movements.

     Second, repetition is a help to NOTICE interior movements:

             Since many of our interior reactions at prayer happen without our noticing them, repetition gives the time for the interior reaction to be experienced more distinctly.

     Third, repetition is the way we can respect God's communication:

             Just because a prayer period has ended, we should not suppose that God has nothing more to say to us through the particular passage we have been using. Repetition respects God's communication for we keep on returning to the same material until we sense that God wishes us to move on.

    Fourth, repetition is a means by which desolation becomes consolation:

             As stated above, repetition is used where there has been struggle, distraction, discomfort, ennui. Often these latter experiences indicate that God's Spirit is trying to communicate with us at a deeper level and we are resisting. When we return to those points which were experienced `negatively' we often discover that the Spirit overcomes our barriers and desolation gives way to consolation; darkness to light; struggle to surrender.

     Finally, repetition helps one to experience the Holy One's mystery more deeply:

             When Ignatius writes -- "I will remain quietly meditating upon the point in which I have found what I desire without any eagerness to go on till I have been satisfied." -- he means not only within the one period of prayer, but also over several periods of prayer, and even days of prayer. Through repetition we allow God's mystery to touch our mystery at deeper levels of our being. Often, through repetition a kind of simplification of our own activity takes place as we become more and more passively receptive to God's activity. Often what starts off as meditation, through the use of repetition, eventually becomes stillness. `What were you just doing?' `Oh I was just looking at God and letting God look at me.'

    `"What were you just doing?"    "Oh I was just looking at God and letting God look at me."
    "What were you just doing?"   "Oh I was just loving God and letting God love me."
    "What were you just doing?"   "Oh I was just enjoying God and letting God enjoy me."
     "What were you just doing?"   "Oh I don't really know I was just with God!"


            Our external circumstances are part of our life of the spirit and vice versa. As we invoked the principle of harmony in dealing above with bodily positions during the prayer exercises so now we continue the application of this key principle in Ignatian spirituality. One's whole day should stress external and internal harmony with the graces that one is seeking through one's prayer exercises. The following suggestions may help keep one in harmony:

    a) At bedtime briefly recall the subject, grace desired, and perspective of the prayer exercise for the following day. Ask God's help and blessings.

    b) As soon as one wakes, do not let your thoughts roam at random, but once again recall the direction of the whole day's prayer and ask for God's continual help. Keep yourself in this recollected mood while dressing.

    c) Just a few moments before the actual prayer exercise recall what you are about to do ... As part of your settling-into-prayer ritual, stand for a few moments and briefly recall how your Caring God beholds you. Then make an appropriate gesture to begin the prayer exercise.


            These remarks on recollection above originate from the Sp Exs and apply primarily to time of the silent directed retreat. Some people have tried to apply these same guidelines in daily life. Usually this does not work except in special occasions3 when the external goal of the occasion helps to focus one's energies. However the principle of harmony applies at all times for we are always called to live as much as possible open to receive the gift of consolation. To walk tenderly with God is our goal always even when we are busy: pray as if the outcome depends on oneself; work as if it depends on God! Therefore outside those special occasions or the closed retreat setting the principle of harmony needs to be adapted. Here are some suggestions to aid your own creativity:

  • Maybe a prayer corner - a special place with chair, candle, table, etc.
  • Shut off the phone; pull the plug on it or soften the bell ten minutes before until ten minutes after the prayer period!
  • Don't watch TV immediately before the prayer period.
  • Sometimes it may be helpful to light a candle and pull down the blind in order to create a mood.
  • Talk to those you live with about the importance for you of the time you have chosen for meditation. Enlist their cooperation in protecting your special prayer time and place.
  • Sometimes it helps to settle into prayer by making the examen of consciousness or something similar at the beginning of the prayer period. For example, as you begin to settle into prayer, spend some moments reflecting on the day as a whole - where has God been throughout the day? Where did you notice or not notice God? Talk of God about some of the stress factors.
  • You may need to spend some time in centering prayer as a way of quieting yourself, becoming aware that you are placing yourself in the presence of God.
  • Ask for the grace you most desire and proceed in whatever manner you have chosen.
  • Any other ideas to help you live in harmony with your prayer?




            We do what we can in the hope that God will give us the grace we are seeking. Hence the principle of harmony governs our use of penance, which must always be understood in terms of our love response to God. Penance can be divided into two kinds: interior and exterior penance. The more important is interior penance. It can be described as a deep sorrow for one's sins and a firm purpose of amendment, especially in terms of an ever more full-hearted response of love in God's service.

            Exterior penance properly flows out of the gift of interior penance. It consists in taking on a certain self-inflicted punishment, either through denying ourselves something or through some positive action, to concretize our regret and resolution about our failings in our love response to God and neighbour. There are times, however, when exterior penance does not flow out of grace already received, but rather one takes on this kind of penance as a gesture of good faith or of serious intent. This gesture is made as another method of asking for the grace. In this latter case, you must be very diligent in following the advice of your spiritual guide. The reason why advice is important is that more penance is better for some, and less for others. When you are seeking a particular grace and you seem not to find it, it may be the time for working out with the spiritual guide some helpful pattern of penance. The counsel of the spiritual guide is very important at this time since you can easily be taken in by the subtle deception of thinking you can force God's hand by your effort. Another reason that the spiritual guide should always be kept informed is to protect yourself from a variety of self-deceptions:

    • rationalizing such as "it is medieval ... I am not strong enough ... it's not for me ..." or
    • being imprudent in your use of penance - with too much fasting, too many vigils, with the result that your prayer suffers or you weaken yourself. Working with your guide, you may be granted the grace by God to understand what penance is suitable for you.
            Ordinarily, as with different prayer postures, you do not make a change if you are receiving the graces you are seeking. However, at certain times, penance seems to be called for. At other times penance would add a jarring note in your personal relationship with God. In general one performs some exterior penance because of some grace or gift one desires very earnestly, but experiences oneself as blocking or blocked. Harmony suggests that one's earnestness somehow should involve the wholeness of your being.

            In other circumstances when you are experiencing those graces you are seeking (for example, the gift of deep sorrow for one's sins or for Jesus suffering his passion even now through the violence in a certain area of our world) you may then feel moved to do some penance to enter more fully into those mysteries you are already experiencing.

    (For the competitive workaholics in our culture)

            Both Jesus and Francis revolutionized their world after being on this earth a very few years. Neither of them worked frantically for long hours, with no time to allow the Spirit to renew them. Jesus spent time socially over meals, relaxed with intimate friends, prayed with his apostles, secured time alone with himself and his Father. Francis also had leisure time and prayer time integrated into his ministry. The roads to San Damiano, St. Mary of the Angels and Mount Alverno would have provided him with long, scenic walks, environments and time to allow God to touch him intimately. The spirituality of leisure unfolds for us the relationship between wholeness and holiness of life and our lifestyle. Our extreme dedication to ministry is the religious woman's version of the husband working overtime for the family and ending up a stranger to his own wife or children. We can become strangers to our God and lose a sense of the Spirit's activity in our lives and actually miss the heart of Christianity when leisure is missing from our lives.

             The definition of leisure is that time and space which we carry in our lives to get in touch with the ultimate. Notice, leisure is not synonymous with nor does it embrace entertainment or recreational activities when these activities fill our space with things other than God. Leisure does include those activities, places and persons which put us in touch with our God.

            I am concerned over the imbalance in our lives in the spiritualities of ministry, leisure and play. In order to truly allow God to create in us a new spirit, to be truly impelled by the Spirit, I ask each of us to consider the following:

    Note the internal pressure I have to be busy, to appear busy, to talk about being busy. Let go of it!
    Note the number of times I place the blame for my overwork on people and events outside of myself. Accept responsibility for your own busy-ness.
    Note how often I choose entertainment in order to `unwind' and don't leave enough time for leisure that re-creates the spirit.
    Identify the places, people or activities which help me get in touch with God.
    Create leisure moments for myself daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. Perhaps in our culture these moments need to be planned with more care than many of our other activities.
            At all times of our lives, leisure is essentially an attitude toward life, and therefore can be present in the most active among us. I guess what I am challenging us to develop is a leisured approach to activity, which will only develop when there are times when leisure is more intensely lived.4


    1. Adapted from my cousin Armand Nigro, sj. who is so generous with his work. Back to document
    2. This outline is particularly useful for the person who arrives ready to make a directed retreat and the director is not available soon after the arrival. It is also helpful for the beginning of a directed retreat. Back to document
    3. As, for example, during THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES IN DAILY LIFE or during THE WEEK OF DIRECTED PRAYER or during a novena or parish mission.Back to document
    4. These remarks on leisure are excerpts of a letter by Sister Madonna Marie, osf., to members of her religious community. Back to document

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