One of the great blessings of my spiritual life was journeying for a time with my dear and departed friend, Father Leo Murray SJ. He was my spiritual director for many years, though he preferred the term spiritual friend, and he lead me through several different shortened adaptations of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He even once took me through the complete Exercises. The adaptations of the Exercises are made for those of us who cannot take a month off of life’s responsibilities to go into retreat… instead, we make time in our busy daily lives for the prayers, readings, meditations and journaling.
Tomorrow, July 31st, is the Feast of St. Ignatius, and I always stop and say a grateful prayer for my friend Fr Murray as well as the work of St. Ignatius to orient us to the voice and movement of God in our lives. That’s what the Exercises are all about, hearing God.
I myself have written short one-week or one-month daily life adaptations, but more in the style of the Exercises, not following their content or flow. This summer I decided to engage the task of adapting the actual Exercises from St. Ignatius into something I could do myself in the course of a month alongside all my many responsibilities in daily life. This is audacious and maybe even a bit offensive to someone who is a Jesuit or who has spent decades devoted to the Exercises in their vocation, so let me briefly give a few caveats… I’m not a Jesuit, an authority on the Exercises, or the most experienced person you’ll meet with Ignatian Spirituality. But adapting spiritual wisdom into daily life is a passion for me. This is a humble effort is truly a labor of love, and a work in progress.
I’ve almost finished Week 1 of the four weeks in the Exercises and hope to be done with all four sometime in August. The Exercises are not intended to be a solo journey, but something shared between spiritual friends, and that brings me to a question: Would you be interested in sharing this journey with me?
I’m wondering if I have a few friends who would like to experience the Exercises in daily life, and check in with each other once a week to share the journey. We are each expected to be giving about a total of 30 minutes a day (15 in the morning and 15 in the evening) to this effort, Monday through Saturday, each week. It’s a commitment. Let me know if you’re curious!
Sometimes God brings us the friends we need at just the right moment, and other times we meet someone and just hold on for dear life because we know we found a treasure. I believe St. Ignatius of Loyola entered my life in a combination of both those movements… I am so thankful that God brought me in touch with Ignatius’ lasting influence, and I’m determined not to let go of my connection to him.
I have a painting on my bedroom wall of Ignatius with his community’s catch phrase, “AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM,” to the greater glory of God. I meant this to be simply a study, a first expression of a painting I was carrying in my heart. As often happens, my attention span gave out and the study is all I ever painted.
Today is his feast day, July 31st! It’s one of the few feast days I will think about in any given year and I always look forward to it. Ignatius is my friend, a spiritual friend and mentor. I’m blessed to have become an heir of his contributions to the world.
Ignatius, as I have come to understand him, was a mystic who enjoyed laughing. He was not terribly well educated in theology, but had a passion and a zeal, sometimes tempered by wisdom and sometimes not so much. He was devoted at once to community and individually hearing God. He was an opposable mind.
I like Saints who shine in their humanity as much as their connection to the divine, who make us stand in wonder at the way the two are so often one in the same, as God intended the two to intertwine in us. I like the way that Ignatius was a person of vision and visions, though he sometimes didn’t know what a particular vision meant. Such an occurrence didn’t cause fear or anxiety for Ignatius, because “perfect love casts out fear.”
He was a soldier turned saint. He was a Don Quixote. He was a renaissance dreamer who took a canon ball to the leg and was forced to slow down long enough to see what would matter most to him in life.
He taught me to pray with the saints. I had grown up with many “s” saints, the wonderful people of faith all around me, but I hadn’t grown up with the “S” Saints. Ignatius’ life work, his Spiritual Exercises, welcomed me into the joyful practice of praying with, and even just sitting with, a community of comfort, love and support I had not previously known. Suddenly, I joined the generations who call Mary “blessed” and I prayed with Jesus instead of only to Jesus.
I will always be thankful for my spiritual friend Fr Leo Murray SJ in Georgetown who patiently led me in the Exercises for four years. Community and friendships come to us in many ways, and the lasting influence of Ignatius’ joy and devotion is a gift I will always carry.