My Journey with St. Ignatius of Loyola ( Part 2)
In early 2019, a group of very active parishioners was tasked to collect statistics and to discuss how we could better serve all ages in our community with various needs. I was asked to sit in one of their pilot meetings, pretty much as an observer.
I thought it would be desirable for all these good Samaritans to spend some time together to help each other find God and grow together spiritually. To this day I feel that that it is like a call from Jesus Himself. “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:30-32) The idea was immediately met with enthusiasm by our Pastor and the Pastoral Administrator, as long as I would be willing to lead these meetings.
I prayed and reflected for a few days. Perhaps this was an opportunity for me to apply what I learned at Regis College. Then we commenced monthly meetings in the summer of 2019.
My approach was affected by the adult learning philosophy pioneered by the McMaster University Medical School in the early 70s – i.e. problem based, group based and self-directed.
The first period of each meeting, about 30 minutes, was always spent in sharing what recent (or remote) life experience had touched each of us personally. From there we went deeper to search ourselves for the reason. More often than not the exercise led to a sense of gratitude. Looking back, this was the embryogenesis of a group Examen.
Then we spent about 30-45 minutes exploring different topics. Examples of topics covered include Compassion, the various parts of Mass, Palliative care movement in Canada, Hospice, Gospel Contemplation, Lectio Divina, centering prayer, Praying the Rosary, Praying the with psalms, Examen prayer and its evolution.
After the formal part of the meeting, we had a period of social over some tea and biscuits. This way the group got to know each other better. The spiritual sharing became more at ease. I was reminded how Jesus often shared meals with his friends. With the onset of pandemic, we started meeting virtually via zoom. I
had to learn to be the zoom operator using our parish account. Only a small group of about 8-10 people was left. I asked God not to give me too many hiccups. Little did I realize that the size of the group was perfect for the SE sharing.
Then a couple of them requested the topic on Discernment of spirits. We spent five months on this from the beginning of 2021 and only went through the rules for the first week. While rewarding for me to revisit and reflect on Ignatius’ writings, this experience of teaching left me in a state of spiritual desolation. I realize that we need God’s grace to grant us the opportunities of consolation and desolation. It cannot be taught.
Despite this a number of subsequent events have prompted the idea of going through the Spiritual Exercises for Daily Life together.
On May 20th this year, the Society of Jesus globally celebrate the beginning of the 500th Anniversary Year of Conversion of Ignatius of Loyola. It will end on July 31st 2022.
As a compliment from Bishop Robert Barron, founder of the Word on Fire team, the video on St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Catholicism Pivotal Players Series is made free for viewing from May 20 2021 to July 31 2022. It is a beautiful rendition of the saint’s life narrated by Barron. Just copy and paste the following link onto the browser. It will take us to the video. This is perfect for our group. The only books I ask them to acquire is a Catholic Bible and a blank note book.
John the Baptist who points us to Jesus Christ is not the Messiah. Neither is St. Ignatius of Loyola or any other saints. God is our invisible director in this journey. We are co-discerner for each other.
Our small group are interested. A couple Christians from other parishes also join us.
The challenge for me is to present a down to earth easy to relate guide specifically for the nature of our group. I have to re-read many texts in my small library. Often, I have to stop and pray for help.
There are many scholarly writings about the Spiritual Exercises (SE). For me, the edited Notes on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Review for Religious, St. Louis, Mo, 1983) by Fr. David Fleming SJ is particularly helpful. What characterizes SE is the sense of movement both forward and in depth in a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. It is about a “Conversion Experience”. The SE is one of the many styles of retreat through periods of prayer that we come to personal spiritual-renewal.
I am therefore grateful and thrilled that we will be sharing the SE. My plan is to start from September 2021 ending in the season of Easter 2022 during this special 500th anniversary year of Conversion of Ignatius.
I follow closely the frame work of Fr. Louis J Puhl’s The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, reading in parallel with Fr. David Fleming’s literal translation Draw Me Into Your Friendship. Some of the reflections are specific to Ignatius which are endearingly included, e.g. the Two Standards, the Three Classes of Persons, the Three Kinds of Humility.
Of course, Ignatius’ favourite prayers are inserted at various suitable locations. I pattern my guide somewhat on other books such as Fr. James Skehan’s Place Me With Your Son, or Fr. Kevin O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure. However, none of them cover the length of period I have in mind.
Most of the scriptural readings in the original SE are focused on passages from the four gospels. I also make use of readings from the Hebrew Testament. Reflections may include current events such as climate change, effect on other creatures, human displacement, political unrest.
Sometimes I put in my own photos, or some maps to make the biblical narrative more realistic. My own experience in various pilgrimages helps. For example, the flight to Egypt brings to mind the stops made by the Holy Family. It also makes us relate not just to the Holy Family but to the many refugees today. Comic, poetry, links to music, current readings from daily Mass all help punctuate the guide as I write for this small group. It is like preparing for an intimate meal. My own spirituality become rather transparent in the guide which I wish to dedicate to Ignatius of Loyola.
As I pen this article, we are still just in ‘week 2’ of the SE. Week 3 focuses on the Passion and death; and Week 4 Resurrection. The whole SE movement is Christocentric. I pray that we will live through succession of conversions as we grow into the mystery of Christ.