Understanding 40 Weeks of Prayer
How To Engage Cuarenta Semanas
St. Ignatius became a great spiritual guide by surrendering his heart to Christ under the guidance of the Church. He passed his wisdom along in his Spiritual Exercises and the methods of Examen (on which Forty Weeks is based), and in his letters and instructions. His spiritual disciplines invite a deep, personal relationship with Christ. It is Christ’s forgiving and healing love that burns away the selfishness and hardheartedness of sin’s legacy in one’s history, transforming it into a Sacred Story: fruit that endures to eternity.
Following Ignatius’s wisdom, all you need to engage this spiritual journey is a generous heart and a willingness to be transformed by Christ’s purifying forgiveness and mercy. It is the narrow path to holiness held out by the Church for millennia and the one followed by every saint in our history. The weekly lessons are not complicated. Pray for a generous heart and ask Christ for His help every step of the way. Trust the wisdom of the structure presented here, and resist the temptation to rush or “pray the weeks” out of their natural order. Simple enough!
What Do We Mean by “Weeks?”
You may be engaging this prayer journey as an individual or as part of a group. If you are doing this by yourself, you may find it beneficial to discipline yourself to stick to a seven-day week for each chapter of Cuarenta Semanas. St. Ignatius’ spiritual wisdom for the 4 weeks of the Spiritual Exercises, was to allow one to move forward based on the fruit being experienced. In this framework, a “week” was measured by the spiritual profit being received, and not on hours and days. Use the time frame of spiritual fruit to measure your weeks if you so desire. Sometimes it may helpful to repeat a week several times to fully internalize the lesson! Trust your heart.
If you are part of a group doing these spiritual disciplines, my best advice is to discipline yourself to stay together as a group. That is, keep a 7-day week structure for the whole forty weeks. You can mark places and weeks that you may want to return for additional reflection and spiritual profit. Great spiritual fruit is also gained by tracking your “weeks” with the community you belong to.
No matter which way you are doing Cuarenta Semanas—solo or with a group—realize that the exercises are incremental, building on each other. Doing them slowly and in order will help you stay better focused and live in the present moment. Trust the structure, and do not read or practice the disciplines out of their natural order.
Listen to your heart, at all times, in the present moment. God is in the present moment. This way, the Sacred Story prayer will, by God’s grace and your free submission, lead you to the deepest desires of your heart.
The 15-Minute Rule of St. Ignatius
St. Ignatius proposed 15-minutes as the optimum time for his Examen prayer discipline. Twice-daily was the recommendation for Jesuits. The laity who practiced the prayer were encouraged to do it at least once daily. As you begin this prayer journey, make a decision whether you want to pray once or twice daily. You can always adjust your commitment to either of the options, but setting a goal for your practice is important.
Our extensive experience has shown that those who have practiced the Sacred Story Examen method in Cuarenta Semanas have found praying in the morning, at mid-day or mid-afternoon to be the most sustainable over time. Those who set evening hours for their prayer were less faithful to the discipline. Use your judgment. Ignatius advised it be done at mid-day and after the evening meal. Everyone has different schedules and life rhythms.
You will receive further guidance on the structure and use of these 15-minute times of quiet as the lessons progress. For now, it is sufficient to choose the time(s) you intend to pray daily. You would do well also to select a primary location for your 15-minute prayer times. Let it be a place apart: a technology-free zone. Ask God to strengthen your resolve and desire for entering these times of reflection. Your fidelity to Sacred Story depends less on you, and more on your decision to continually ask God to be faithful.
Additional Resources for Your Spiritual Journey
There are other resources besides this book to help you along. Those participating in the research for the Cuarenta Semanas project also helped shape a weekly series of supplemental resources we call Encouragements & Wisdom or “E&W.” The E&W are very important aids for deepening your understanding of the prayer materials. They are only available online to keep the size and cost of the physical Cuarenta Semanas book affordable.
Once you begin the Cuarenta Semanas prayer, you are not given prompts to consult the E&W. Please make a mental note to do this weekly. You will be greatly blessed! Many of the additional questions you are likely to have as you move forward are contained in this very helpful supplemental prayer resource
A simple journal exercise is a discipline linked to the Forty Weeks Sacred Story prayer. Purchase a small spiral notebook for this purpose and have it with you when you do your structured 15-minute prayer periods. We have also left a blank page at the end of each chapter and eight more at the back of the book for Notes. Feel free to use this as your notebook if you so desire.
Many of the instructions are written in the personal “I.” For example: “I am invited; I will now…”. The reason for this is for you to affirm your role in opening to Christ. It also helps emphasize the relational dimension of faith and prayer.
What To Do If You Hit A Wall
If you reach a point in the forty week prayer process where you think you can’t continue, here is my advice. Jump to the last chapter, Abide in Me, and read it. I placed this chapter at the end to encourage people to commit to a life-long process of Sacred Story prayer. But sometimes, that encouragement is necessary to simply complete the process that will carry you for life. Just keep trying and Be Not Afraid!
Help Us Make Cuarenta Semanas a Better Prayer Resource
We will continue to refine this prayer discipline with your feedback. Parishes and individuals using Cuarenta Semanas are strongly encouraged to give us feedback on the weekly lessons and the E&W.
We count on hearing about your experiences with Sacred Story prayer. We strongly encourage you to comment on any (or all!) of the weeks; the lessons and the E&W. To send feedback, please email us at email@example.com and include “Feedback” and the week(s) which you are giving feedback in the title your email; for example: “Feedback: Weeks 3-7”.
Tell us what helped you and what you found transformative. Tell us what you did not understand and propose suggestions to help clarify ideas or concepts. Share stories of faith and transformation in your life. What you share will become part of the living community of Sacred Story prayer. Your own “encouragement and wisdom” will be a source of blessing for countless more pilgrims in need of deepening their connection to Christ, in their walk of faith as Catholics and Christians. And remember, Be Not Afraid!
St. Ignatius, pray for us!