The Exercises: The 1st Week, or “Mistakes Were Made”

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 our third excerpt from O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure, we get a brief glimpse of how one approaches the meditations of “The First Week” of the Exercises.  Though these meditations take us into the depths of sin—not only the panoramic history of sin in the world, but our own personal sinfulness laid bare before God—each retreatant approaches his or her own sinfulness with the foreknowledge that we are loved by God.  Loved regardless of how insufficiently or negatively we have responded to God’s call in our lives.  Here, O’Brien reminds us to abandon pretense, to accept our limitations, and to understand how dependent we are on the God from whom we so often turn.

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Week of Prayer #10: God’s Merciful Love for Me

By this time in the journey, every prayer exercise becomes a repetition of sorts. The mind becomes less and less active with ideas because the subject matter does not change. As a result, the heart is more and more central to the way we respond. Every exercise unfolds the mystery of evil in light of God’s continuing protective love. Feel free to return to any of the significant meditations of the past few weeks.

Be real. Abandon any pretense before the God who loves you, who knows you better than you know yourself, and who continues to create in you. God redeems all of your weakness, pain, and sin. God does not take them away: they are a part of your life, but they do not define you. Look forward with hope.

Part of the challenge of these weeks is to truly accept that we are created; we are limited beings. We are not God, thank God! While striving to become better persons, we let go of the need to be perfect. Slowly and gently God helps us integrate our human limitations in such a way that, while we don’t forget them, we can find meaning in them and learn from them. For example, recognizing our own imperfections helps us become more compassionate to others in their weakness.

Journaling will help you distill some of the key lessons of these weeks of heartfelt examination.

Continue the daily practice of the Examen.

Prayer for the Week

I pray for the following grace: an ever-deepening, heartfelt appreciation of God’s merciful love for me.

Day 1: Read 2 Corinthians 12:5–10, with a colloquy (Editor’s note: a colloquy is a prayerful conversation with God starting from what one has just prayed about) (“[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me”). Can you recall times when you have felt such power, such indwelling of Christ in your life?

Day 2: Read Luke 18:9–14, with a colloquy (parable of the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble tax collector). Can you relate to the Pharisee? The tax collector? Who would you rather be?

Day 3: Read John 8:2–11 (Jesus meets the woman caught in adultery). Imagine this scene. Notice how Jesus looks at the woman. Listen to his words to her and the crowd. Speak to Jesus or the woman as in a colloquy.

Day 4: Repetition of any day.

Day 5: Read Luke 15:1–7, with a colloquy (the Good Shepherd). Do you know what it’s like to be lost and then found? Have you acted as a “good shepherd” to another person? As with the parable of the prodigal son and his brother, note how much the Father rejoices when we come home or let ourselves be found. Is there such festivity in your life?

Day 6: Read Ezekiel 36:25–28, with a colloquy (“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you”). Have you felt what this new heart is for you? Do you see the remains of your “heart of stone”? What new spirit is stirring within you?

Day 7: Review your journal from the past few weeks. Savor and distill the graces.

For Further Reflection

“If you want to make progress in love, speak about love; for holy conversation, like a breeze, fans the flame of charity.”

— St. Ignatius of Loyola, in Thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola for Every Day of the Year