The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as a Remedy in Our Time
Follow-up article to “The Supernatural Origins of the Spiritual Exercises”
Our Lady’s Heavenly Aids
The circumstances in which Our Lady appeared to St. Ignatius and entrusted to him the Spiritual Exercises are reminiscent of those prevailing when She appeared to St. Dominic and asked him to propagate the Rosary. In both cases, Our Blessed Mother gave us a powerful means by which to combat a great evil devastating the life of Faith. The Rosary was a perfectly crafted weapon to crush the Albigensian heresy and the Spiritual Exercises are a powerful shield against the errors of Protestantism.
Our Lady has often intervened on our behalf by providing ideal means by which to combat the pressing problems of the day. In Her appearance to St. James in Zaragoza (40 AD), She encouraged him in the great importance of building churches wherein God would be rightly worshipped, so as to counter the prevalence of pagan temples. At Tepeyac in Mexico (1531 AD), Our Lady of Guadalupe revealed the truths of Her Son’s Gospel through a miraculous image (which “spoke” in a language readily understood by the native inhabitants). At Lourdes, She revealed a name that bespeaks of the supernatural, Immaculata, and provided a spring of blessed water which worked countless miracles so as to combat the unbelieving rationalism of that age. God has chosen to continue working miracles through Lourdes water in our time.
And at Fatima, Our Blessed Mother emphasized devotion to Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, which is God’s chosen means by which to save us in our time. This devotion includes making the Five First Saturdays, daily recitation of the Rosary, praying for the Pope and for the Consecration of Russia, doing penance to help save souls from hell, and faithfully wearing the Brown Scapular. We know that things will only continue to worsen in our world and in the Church until Russia is consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Pope in union with all the world’s bishops. Only then will we have a period of world peace and the triumphant reign of Our Lady.
REGARDING THE IGNATIAN RETREAT AND SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
In charitable jest, Dominicans often like to claim that St. Dominic was more successful in converting the Albigensians and stamping out their heresy, than St. Ignatius was against the Protestants. This is probably more on account of the fact that the term ‘Albigensian’ is relatively unknown, whereas everyone knows ‘Protestantism’. Moreover, the errors of the Albigensians do still, regrettably, endure. If there is any truth to this jest, perhaps it is only because Catholics at large have more faithfully practiced the prayer of the Rosary than the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises.
The Spiritual Exercises are highly ‘incarnational’, strengthen the will by objective and proper use of the mind, and encourage necessary silent communication with God. As such, they are an excellent means for combatting foundational errors of Protestantism – such as the rejection of the full implication of the Mystery of the Incarnation (for they reject the Church as Christ’s Mystical Body) – and its highly subjective, individualistic and emotionally driven character.
All of these fallacious traits of Protestantism are still prevalent today. In fact, they have made substantial encroachments amongst the members of Holy Mother Church. Who has not noticed the highly subjective, individualistic, and emotional dimensions of how the Faith is being practiced today by most Catholics? A few months ago, I gave a talk precisely on this subject, entitled “The Heresy of Emotionalism” (which can be viewed here).
In fact, if you have ever been on a mainstream Catholic retreat, it was in all likelihood filled with a great deal of emotionalism and subjectivity. Most ‘Catholic’ retreats today have sadly adopted a Protestant structure. They include very little silence, very little meditation, and strive to impart upon the retreatants a “spiritual” (read here, “emotional”) high. This is highly problematic for several reasons.
First, the retreatant often does not truly communicate with God, but rather within himself and with others. The focus becomes man-centered instead of God-centered. Second, vices are usually curtailed by the community’s support instead of by reliance on God and His grace. We can’t overcome sin and the devil through aid from fellow laypeople – that will inevitably fail; rather, we need supernatural aid which only comes from God. Third, the highly subjective nature of the retreat often means dogma and doctrine are de-emphasized or even taught with error. Finally, the emotional high inevitably wears off; yet it was so pleasurable that the retreatant continues to seek that next emotional high. This actually impedes authentic spiritual growth and can lead one down the path of superstition, esoteric spiritualties and even occultism.
If you have ever been on this kind of retreat or encountered these kinds of problems, perhaps you can add your comments to the “Disqus” section below.
On the other hand, an Ignatian Retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises combats all of these problems. It is filled with sound doctrine, meditation and silence. St. Ignatius’ method – revealed by the Blessed Virgin Mary Herself! – inevitably leads the retreatant into an authentic and more profound, intimate relationship with the Triune God. This is what all of us need, for our hearts are restless until they rest in God!
If you have only been on retreats based upon the ‘emotional’ model, then you have most likely never had the real Catholic retreat experience. A retreat is meant to get us away from the world and all its errors, so that we can be in quiet solitude with God. A retreat is meant to uproot sin and effect a profound and lasting change for the good. It was a thirty-day Ignatian retreat that transformed St. Francis Xavier from a nobleman infatuated with the honors and pleasures of the world into a man vowed to poverty, celibacy and obedience and who became the greatest missionary since St. Paul!
If you have never been on a silent five-day Ignatian Retreat, then I highly encourage you to attend one. And if you have been on such a retreat, perhaps it is time to attend one again. Lent, being a privileged time of grace, is certainly the best time to make a retreat. However, if you can’t attend a retreat this Lent, why not make it a Lenten resolution that you will attend one in the coming year, that you will sign-up for one before this Lent is over; then, every day throughout Lent, pray for the grace to be faithful to this resolution.
A silent Ignatian Retreat can be a truly life-changing experience.
If you have witnessed grace-filled fruits of a silent Ignatian Retreat, please consider adding your comments to the ‘Disqus’ section below as a means of Christian encouragement for others in this suggested Lenten resolution.
 The Mystery of the Incarnation denotes the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity assuming a human nature. In biblical language, St. John wrote “the Word was made flesh” (Jn 1:14). By the term ‘incarnational,’ we mean that Catholics recognize that God chooses to transmit His sanctifying grace in and through physical matter. So while God’s grace is a supernatural reality, and thus not a part of the material world, God has allowed our human senses to play a role in the reception of grace. We see, touch, smell and hear things which can help strengthen our faith and awareness of God’s grace in our life.
For example, bread and wine become Christ’s real Body and Blood, and water at Baptism imparts God’s sanctifying grace. Thus, the entire sacramental system, based on form (sacred words) and matter, is ‘incarnational.’ In addition, we know that candles, incense, beautiful artwork, holy water and so many other sacramentals are also means by which God gives us many actual graces. .
Note how the structure of both the sacraments and sacramentals parallels that of the Incarnate Word; if the blind man was touched by the physical hand of Jesus, we would rightly say that God touched him. In fact, our very human nature – being a union of body and soul – bears an analogous resemblance to the Incarnate Word. This sacramental and incarnational system is largely rejected by a deficient and heretical Protestant theology.
Because the Spiritual Exercises rely on sensory experience fueling the imagination, and because they enable us to merit actual graces through our meditation, we rightly say that they are ‘incarnational’ and a powerful antidote against the anti-incarnational perspective of the Protestant heresy.