The Exercises: Getting Ready

The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O'Brien, SJ

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien, SJ, copyright 2011 by Loyola Press.  This is reprinted with permission of Loyola Press. To order copies please call 1-800-621-1008 or go to www.loyolapress.com/obrien.

In this second excerpt from O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure, he broaches the important question of how best to approach the intense experience of delving into relationship with the God of our lives.  For Ignatius, a crucial component of the Exercises was the practice of getting ready for the hard work of the Exercises, and thankfully (especially for all of us when we’re novices in this practice) Ignatius is very specific in naming how we ought to prepare.  If we understand our relationship with God to be a two-way street, he says, then we need to “make straight the way of the Lord” by preparing our hearts and minds to recognize (and accept) how God looks at us with deep affection.  A key part of this acceptance is the process of getting spiritually free, of setting aside those distractions and demons that turn our attention away from God’s love of us.  In today’s excerpt, O’Brien offers a brief take on this spiritual freedom, as well as a set of typical meditations used to pray for the grace of inner freedom.

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Week of Prayer #4: God’s Invitation to Greater Freedom

One of the goals of the Spiritual Exercises is to help retreatants grow in spiritual freedom. In Ignatius’s words, the Exercises are intended “to overcome oneself and to order one’s life, without reaching a decision through some disordered affection” (SE 21).

Spiritual freedom is an interior freedom, a freedom of the mind and heart. People who are spiritually free know who they are—with all of their gifts and limitations—and are comfortable with who they are. They are able to discern God’s presence; find meaning in their lives, and make choices that flow from who they are, whatever the circumstance. In his oft-quoted study of the Exercises, Spiritual Freedom, John J. English, SJ, describes this freedom as an “acceptance of oneself as historically coming from God, going to God, and being with God” (p. 18).

With this reminder of our most fundamental identity, we keep God at the center of our lives. We work at becoming more aware of God’s call in our lives and to responding generously to that call. We have numerous preoccupations that get in the way of our hearing and responding to God’s call: fears, prejudices, greed, the need to control, perfectionism, jealousies, resentments, and excessive self-doubts. These tendencies bind us and hold us back from loving God, ourselves, and others as we ought to. They create chaos in our souls and lead us to make poor choices.

Lacking spiritual freedom, we become excessively attached to persons, places, material possessions, titles, occupations, honors, and the acclaim of others. These things are good in themselves when ordered and directed by the love of God. They become disordered attachments or disordered loves when they push God out of the center of our lives and become key to our identity. As these weeks of prayer have emphasized, the fundamental truth of our identity is that God loves us unconditionally.

This week, we pray for greater spiritual freedom. In so doing, we become aware of our disordered attachments. Such self-examination will continue in the weeks ahead, so do not feel pressure to get your house in order all in one week. Let God’s liberating grace gently work on you.

Prayer for the Week

I pray for the following graces: to grow in interior freedom; to become more aware of disordered attachments that get in the way of loving God, others, or myself.

Day 1: Read Luke 1:26–38. Pray over the story of the Annunciation and marvel at Mary’s freedom to say, “Yes!” Notice how she deals with her fears and keeps her focus on God. Pray over the words of the Gospel slowly, meditatively, or use your imagination to place yourself in the scene.

Day 2: Repetition of Luke 1:26–38.

Day 3: Read Mark 10:17–27 ( Jesus calls the rich man to follow him). Consider the rich man’s spiritual freedom or lack thereof. Notice how Jesus relates to him. Ask: What attracts me to following Jesus, and what holds me back?

Day 4: Repetition of Mark 10:17–27.

Day 5: Read Philippians 3:7–16. Pray for St. Paul’s single-minded and single-hearted focus on Christ. Ask: When have I experienced or witnessed such focus, such freedom in my life? We always need to pray for more spiritual freedom; we cannot become free on our own.

Day 6: Read John 3:22–30. Reflect on John the Baptist’s freedom: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” How have I demonstrated such freedom and other-centeredness? Where in my life do I still need to let go of excessive self-preoccupation and control?

Day 7: Review the week; savor the graces

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