A Letter From St. Ignatius

For Those About To Make The Thirty-Days 
Spiritual Exercises 
In Solitude  (note)

Dear Companion Pilgrim,

A great part of my life was travel. I was a pilgrim. From the time my eyes were opened to the 
    mystery of God-in-Christ in my life, I became even more a spiritual pilgrim.
On this interior journey my great desire was always to tell people about God, 
    and about Jesus, crucified and risen, and help them feel the freedom God offers. 
I wanted to bring the old message of the church to people in a new way. Why was this so?

[1] We Can Meet God Personally. 

I experienced a direct and personal meeting with God, particularly during the months of 1522,
    at Manresa, a small town near Barcelona in the north-east of Spain, 
    where God taught me like a child at school.
Yes I, Ignatius of Loyola, Inigo as they called me, experienced God 
      ... Father, Son and Spirit Ö nameless and unknowable, mysterious and yet near, 
    sharing Godís self with me in a manner beyond all concrete imaginings. 
 I experienced God in a nearness and a graciousness impossible to confuse or mistake. 
    I experienced God, not simply human words describing God but God, God's very self. 
I experienced Godís glory. I knew God, as you would say today, experientially. 
    This is grace ... a divine gift. 
I believe that God ... Father, Son and Spirit ... desires to give this same gift to everyone. 
      The grace that I received during those months at Manresa was not something 
      that I considered a special privilege for myself or a chosen few.
I wrote down the process of my experience in a notebook 
      which I called Spiritual Exercises. 
I gave these Spiritual Exercises to anyone for whom such spiritual help might be profitable.

Just as strolling, walking and running are exercises for the body, 
      these Spiritual Exercises are ways of examining our awareness or consciousness, 
      meditating, contemplating, praying vocally and mentally, and other spiritual activities.  Their aim is to ready us for freedom, to be freed from all self-centred desires and feelings 
      to be able us to discover in our lives Godís own desiring and willing.
 I did this as a lay person, before I went back to school to learn the elements of Latin, 
      and then to spend seven years at the University of Paris in France
      where I studied arts, philosophy and theology to prepare for ordination to the priesthood. 

I gave my Exercises to others, convinced that God desires to communicate directly to us 
     if we are generous, eager to discover God's will, and to act responsibly in the world.
Over the years, I have seen that if we are willing to ready ourselves generously 
      according to the process of these Exercises, in time God will personally lead us. 
When this happens, we experience in our lives the power of God's own freedom. 

This simple and yet stupendous conviction of mine is the key to my spirituality, 
      which would be betrayed if reduced to any of its different methods. 
By different exterior ways of readying ourselves, the Exercises lead us
      to become more open to an interior dynamic, where God touches us directly.
This graced dynamic moves us beyond all tangible assurances, including my methods,
      to grow confidently toward our final, fearful, creaturely choice at the end of our lives.

To experience God directly and learn that the mystery we name God is near to each of us 
      and meets us personally, is the goal of the journey of the Spiritual Exercises. 
Do you desire that the Father, Son and Spirit share themselves with you? 
      Do you desire to base your life choices on the experience of Godís desire for you? 
Then enter confidently into these Spiritual Exercises.

[2] Disposing and Opening Ourselves to Meet God. 

A fruitful making of the Spiritual Exercises will cost effort.
      It greatly helps  when making the Exercises if we begin them in a magnanimous spirit 
      and with great openness towards Christ, our Creator and Lord, 
      offering him all our powers to desire and choose, 
      so that God may take and guide us in all things, our whole person and all we have.

The Spiritual Exercises ask a price -- our time and our patience and the discipline 
      to limit things that would drain our energies and leave us unable 
      to find a good space for the times of prayer that these Spiritual Exercises require.
The price is a commitment to prayer and review at special times, the best times, 
      and with more focus in our prayer than we may have been used to have.
The price is waiting for God to touch our being personally, 
      and trusting God to do this. 
The price may be that we will have to surrender our own personal methods of praying 
      and wait ... at least for a time, in confusion or emptiness, even with a distaste for prayer. 
In the Spiritual Exercises you will begin to experience movements interiorly --
      a variety of feelings towards which you will become progressively more sensitive. 
The interior movements that we experience can be of many different kinds:
      joy, uplift, hope, enlightenment, peace, 
      enthusiasm, comfort, happiness, or tears, 
      dryness, pain, sadness, fear, 
      anxieties, turmoil, temptation, discouragement, and many others. 
In my Spiritual Exercises notebook, I call them inner movements, in Spanish "agitaciones", 
      coming to us from good or evil ďspiritsĒ, sources outside our own free choices. 
In my notebook I have given guidelines to help others making or giving the Exercises 
      to sift through these various inner movements and discern their origin. 

[3] Making the Spiritual Exercises in Solitude. 

In recent years many are making the Exercises in the midst of their normal life and work,
      doing the Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life, as your contemporaries now call it. 
You will be doing the Exercises by withdrawing from your normal activities and friends
      to make the same journey of the Exercises in a retreat house over a period of thirty days.

In Europe of the sixteenth century we did not have retreat houses, as you call them today,
      and anyone who made the Exercises in a closed setting over thirty days 
      lived in a boarding house, away from home, sometimes shopping and cooking for oneself,
      went to church several times a day for mass, vespers and benediction, 
      and had to go outside for toiletry needs, and to the stream to wash dirty clothes. 
For anyone making the Exercises in solitude there were many everyday activities, 
      more than for someone making the Exercises this way in your retreat houses today.

Another big difference in my time had to do with the culture, a more unified way of life. 
      Your lives today seem to be divided. In my time this was not so.
      Society then was not schizoid, as many see societies today, that is, split or separated. 
In the past seventy years, you also seem to have discovered what you call the unconscious, 
      and you appear to experience this as being separated from your conscious self. 
In my time people did not experience the public and private spheres of life as separate, 
      We did not speak of the secular and the sacred as if they were separated, as you do now. 
When people withdrew into a closed setting for thirty days to make the Spiritual Exercises, 
      they found it easy to live as one reality what you call secular and spiritual experiences. 

The advantage today of doing the Spiritual Exercises within your daily life and work is
      an opportunity to learn how to integrate better the movement of God's Spirit into your life.
Doing the Exercises in Daily Life will also probably give you more scope for adaptation, 
      applying them to your own particular character and life situation.
However, discipline is required to remain faithful to times for prayer and review each day
      if one is to have an authentic experience of my Spiritual Exercises in oneís daily life. 

The advantage of doing my Spiritual Exercises in solitude, as you are doing them,
       is time and space to find the action of God in your life with greater freedom and focus.
Nevertheless, in this month keep your feet firmly planted in the ordinary realities of your life,
       the activities of family, the work and leisure you come from and to which you will return,
       otherwise you may find yourself locked into an unreal world of sterile piety and ideas. 

I assure you, however, that if you are faithful to your times for prayer and review each day,
      and remain generously open to what you will discover during the Exercises journey, 
      you will learn how you can be surprised by God in all the happenings of your life. 
This is the goal of the Exercises ... to find God always ... to experience God personally Ö 
      to respond in love to Godís love ... in all the choices you freely make. 

[4] The One Giving You the Exercises Is Your Companion. 

The one who meets you each day to give you the Exercises is your companion on the journey, 
      not your superior, your judge, your confessor, but a fellow pilgrim with you, 
      one whom God will use, at this point in your life, 
      to be an instrument for your guidance as you make my Spiritual Exercises. 
I have given your companion instructions how to adapt my Spiritual Exercises for you 
      so as not to block Godís action in you and to allow God to speak directly with you.

I presuppose that you and the one guiding you will act as companions together on a journey, 
      and that each of you comes comes to the Exercises with good will and mutual trust, 
      so that your relation will be one of friendliness, gentleness, and respect for each other. 
As the one doing the Exercises, be faithful each day to your times for prayer and review, 
      especially your review each evening of your prayer times and the events of the whole day. 

When your companion comes to meet with you each day, 
      share briefly what has been happening in your day and in your times of prayer and review, 
      the ups and downs ... the insights ... the struggles ... success feelings ... failure feelings. 
By listening to your experiences, your companion can guide you to continue your journey.
      The first task is to help you get beyond the barriers that stop God being personal with you. 
      This may take some time or it may happen quickly. 

Besides being an opportunity for conversation about what has been happening in your day, 
      the meeting is a time for teaching, explanation, and discussion of possible experimenting. 
When it becomes clear that you are allowing God to be personal with you, 
      that you are free enough to allow yourself to be touched by God's mystery, 
      the companion guiding you through the Exercises moves into a second task.

This second task is to sit on the sidelines, as it were, but attentive and listening actively, 
      while God directly and personally leads you both from within and from without.
During the Exercises, it is always better in bringing your desires to God 
      that your Creator and Lord deals directly with you in a way that is unique to you,
      inflaming you with love and gratitude to God for the gift of life and of all you are.
God is always creating you, redeeming you from your brokenness, and reconciling you
      by inspiring you to share your life with others and so learn how to share Godís life. 
Your companion giving you the Exercises will not favour one side or other of a choice 
      but, standing in the centre like a balance, will allow God to deal directly with you
      as a unique creation of God, and you to deal directly with God as your Creator. 

There are two misunderstandings which your companion will help you to avoid: 
The first is that God is unable to communicate directly with you, 
      and that you can never have a close personal experience of God. 
Against this paralysing error, your companion helps you notice what you feel in your heart. 

The second misunderstanding is widespread in your day because your society is in transition, 
      like my own was in the sixteenth century,
 You may be tempted to look for black and white securities that are not God, 
      and wrongly presume that every good feeling you have is directly from God. 
Against this over-simplification, your companion will guide and help you 
      to become better attuned to what movements in your heart are more likely from God. 
It is often by one or other of these two different kinds of misunderstanding
       that an evil spirit can obstruct the good work that God desires to do in you, 
       or can trivialise your persevering efforts to be open to God's initiatives. 

[5] My Hope for You. 

During these Spiritual Exercises my hope for you is that day by day, slowly and gradually, 
      you will come to a greater ease and a greater familiarity in entering the mystery of God, 
      and feeling God's love for you in the way I was able to experience God's love for me. 
My hope is that you will grow in spiritual freedom, in love for God and in union with God,
       through a deepening love for Christ, our risen Lord and Leader.

Later in your life, as you grow in faith by continuing to reflect on the word of God, 
      you will come to find what God desires and wants for you in different situations,
      you will recognise more readily Christ in all people, in their struggles towards freedom, 
      and you will be able to make true and good choices in all you do and all you are.
My hope is that you will be able to find God with ease in all things, always and everywere.

In the communion of saints I will pray that you will grow in this awareness of God's presence, 
      an experience I can never directly describe, but which you must discover for yourself,
      finding Godís continuous action in the private and public worlds where you live.
In the communion of all the saints I will pray that eventually God will so touch you 
     that you will become able to guide gratefully all the desires of your heart, 
      and every action and decision that will flow from these desires, 
      towards the joyful sharing of Godís life by the generous sharing of your life with others.

In your Spiritual Exercises journey may you learn how specially loved you are by God, 
      Father, Son and Spirit ... Mystery beyond us, Word all around us, and Breath within us, 
      Godís intimately shared self who as one desires to share with you all God is.

In the power of Godís love, poured into your heart through Christís own human love for you, 
      may you find yourself more and more able to give God all you have and all that you are.
As God's personal love in Christís Easter love for you transforms your heart by the Spirit, 
      may you find yourself moved more and more towards love for all who touch your life.

United with you in Christ as you make this journey,

This letter in the name of Ignatius Loyola to one about to make the Spiritual Exercises in Solitude is my refomulation of a letter written in the early 1980s by John Veltri sj, (click here),  for those about to make the Exercises not in thirty days but stretched out over a period of several months. He gave me the Exercises at Pickering in Canada in July 2002 when I made them for a third time in my life. 
- John Reilly sj, 11 November 2004

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