Week 16 Prayer Exercises
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1 I continue to ask for patience to start each day with renewed commitment. I will not be discouraged by the times I have missed prayer, but will instead ask God for help to be more faithful. I will bring my notebook for each prayer and resolve to spend no more and no less than 15-minutes in each prayer period.
2 This week I am invited to learn the components of daily prayer in Sacred Story. My fidelity to the linked practice of these daily exercises will produce sustained spiritual growth and enlightenment. Ignatius was a strategist and he understood that spiritual exercises must be regular, focused, and open to grace. It is up to me to ask God for help in using these resources for my healing and spiritual growth.
3 I will continue to draw consolation from my letter to Jesus and/or my Whole-Life Confession.
I will awaken to the present moment.
I will awaken to my spiritual nature.
I will not make any decisions based on fear.
I will practice Sacramental Reconciliation monthly.
I will say this affirmation aloud once daily:
The most important activity in any day is the time I take to direct my conscious attention—my mind and heart—to God in a prayer relationship. Not only is my relationship with God the most important dimension of life, it is also a relationship that takes time to build—a lifetime! The depth of the relationship I desire will be evident in my fidelity to my prayer and sacramental life. As Scripture says, where your treasure is, so will your heart be (Mt 6:21).
The Sacred Story Examen prayer is a time-proven and highly effective prayer discipline for waking up to God’s life in you, and your life in God. Practiced daily, you learn to surrender to God. You will find interior freedom and peace so your life’s labor produces fruit that endures to eternity. Ignatius and the early Jesuits used this prayer in conjunction with frequent Sacramental Reconciliation as primary spiritual tools in their pastoral ministries in Europe and the New World.
The combined practice produced tremendous spiritual growth for countless thousands of souls, and still does so today. Sacred Story prayer can help you bring this dual spiritual practice into your Christian life to help you encounter Christ daily. It would be hard to find a more effective prayer discipline for this purpose.
This week’s prayer disciplines are the support structure to the Sacred Story prayer form that you will start next week. It will be a tremendous benefit for you to learn these habits of thought and introduce them into your daily life. One of the chief victories of human nature’s enemy in modern times is the violence of hyperactivity and a loss of interior silence.
The prayer disciplines this week, the Sacred Story prayer you start next week, and the regular practice of Reconciliation will help you counter this unique modern form of violence and open your heart to the voice of God. These practices are simple, take little time and if done faithfully, will move you forward on the path of integration and holiness with your Sacred Story. They are valuable spiritual practices for your life.
You will need this week’s reference materials throughout the rest of the 40 weeks and beyond. Use this week’s prayer periods to become familiar with them, and bookmark them so you can reference them often. Remember that you are not expected to implement these exercises this week.
We will begin implementing them next week.
Reflect on the instructions for the Daily Practice: Prayer on Waking, and use the 15-minutes to understand this discipline. Note briefly in your journal what you consider significant. When you begin to incorporate this exercise in your day, you should spend no more than fifteen to thirty seconds with it.
Sacred Story Daily Practice: Prayer on Waking
(15 to 30 seconds)
Before arising from your bed, consciously awaken to Creation, Presence, Memory, Mercy and Eternity. Note any significant movements in your heart and mind that come from your dreams. Note the state of your heart regarding any planned events of the day. Pay particular attention to feelings of peace or anxiety that stir in you. Anticipate any challenges that might confront you today, especially those linked to your wounded human nature that might stir fear, anger or grief in you. With gratitude, offer the thoughts, words, and deeds of your day to God.
Reflect on the instructions for the Daily Practice: During the Day Awareness Exercise, and take the 15-minutes to understand this discipline. Note briefly in your journal what you consider significant. This exercise is linked to the exercises on sin, addiction, vices, commandments, narcissism and people in your life narrative.
Sacred Story Daily Practice: During the Day Exercise Awakening to Sins, Addictions, and Compulsions
(15 to 30 seconds)
Prepare your heart to watch and listen to your day as it unfolds. Be attentive to the events and circumstances that evoke temptation and incite your attraction to things low and earthly. These are easily recognized because they trigger your angers or addictions, or hook into your vices and the fault lines in your mind and heart. You are, in short, seeking to “wake up” to what makes living the Gospel of Christ Jesus difficult. Discipline yourself to not react to them outwardly.
Be curious about why you are tempted or angry. Remain open to the links between the events that spark your temptations, angers, addictions, narcissism and attractions to things low and earthly. Be conscious of the theme and the fact of the temptation. Wake up, and watch it with Christ so He can teach you how to grow in grace.
When you are tempted or when you fail in the course of your day, Jesus is the Divine Physician who desires to help you. He judges you, but with compassion. He desires you to awaken to patterns of addiction, anger, narcissism and chronic failures that rob you of freedom and peace so they can be healed, so you can be forgiven, so hope and peace may return to your life. Establish this ritual each time you are tempted, and each time you fail by giving in to your core sins, wounds, addictions, angers, and narcissism:
Your goal in this short exercise is to invite God’s grace to be present in your most difficult issues. Do the exercise two or three times a day on the most obvious sins, angers and failures. and then move on. Your awakening and healing is on God’s schedule, not yours. Over time, this will become a spiritual exercise that comes naturally. It takes people varying amounts of time to make it a habit. But it will become a positive spiritual habit that decreases your fears, reveals your truest self, and deepens your trust in Jesus as your protector and healer. It will also open you to Christ constantly at the most critical moments during your day, reminding you that He is Lord and Savior of your life. Remember, you are not doing this exercise to learn how to save yourself. You are doing it to turn to the Savior who saves, forgives, loves and heals the sins, addictions, angers, and compulsions from which you cannot save yourself!
Reflect on the instructions on the following pages for the Daily Practice: Sacred Story Prayer at Mid-Day and at Night, and take your 15-minute prayer periods to understand the purpose of this discipline. The content for this main Sacred Story prayer will be given to you over the next ten weeks starting in week seventeen. We will take ten weeks to learn the five meditations of Creation, Presence, Memory, Mercy and Eternity and how to combine them into a single 15-minute prayer exercise. While we use the Creation, Presence, Memory, Mercy, Eternity elements below to explain aspects of Sacred Story discipline, you will only fully understand these pieces once you have been introduced into their full practice in the next ten weeks. Consider this a preview, and do not be anxious if you “do not get it.”
Sacred Story Daily Practice: Sacred Story Prayer at Mid-Day and Evening
Find a quiet place apart where you will not be disturbed. Bring with you the particular issues that surfaced in your day related to any specific annoyances or strong emotional events you experienced. Bring also your particular graces and inspirations.
During this time, you may kneel or sit, whichever is better suited to your prayer style, and more conducive to contemplative reflection, prayer, and devotion. Keep your eyes closed, or if opened, in a fixed position, not allowing them to roam.
Take a full 15-minutes for this exercise, no more and no less. You can consciously enter Sacred Story prayer for these 15-minute periods in one of two ways. Try both and determine which best suits your character and personality.
First Way: say “Creation” and continue meditating upon this word, as long as you find meaning, connections, delight, and inspirations in considering it and some positive fruit in the graces you seek. The same method of reflection should be followed for each meditation in Sacred Story (Presence, Memory, Mercy, Eternity).
Second Way: with each breath or respiration, say interiorly, “Creation,” and from one breath to another say this word while you ponder the graces and inspirations you seek. For this same space of time, direct your attention mainly to the meaning of the word and graces you seek, the Person who is addressed, and why you need those graces. Follow this method with the other words (Presence, Memory, Mercy, Eternity) until you finish all the other meditations in Sacred Story prayer.
No matter which way you choose, at the beginning and at the end of the prayer time, in your imagination, see your whole life in God’s hands and say inwardly, while breathing slowly and deeply: “Creation, Presence, Memory, Mercy, and Eternity.”
For the body of the 15-minute prayer, after the opening mantra, and before the closing mantra, you can be flexible. On some days, you may spend equal amounts of time on each meditation. On other days, you may spend most of your time on one meditation. Let your heart lead you, based on the events of the day, and the images and emotions that emerge in your reflections.
As the lessons progress, and you learn each meditation in Sacred Story prayer, only say the word(s) of the specific lesson for each week. Some weeks you will have only one word. Other weeks you will be combining two or more until you finally combine all five into your completed prayer.
Close the 15-minute Sacred Story exercise with one or other of these two prayers:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.
(The prayer favored by Ignatius for this discipline)
Take Lord, receive, my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, You have given to me. I surrender it all back to you to be governed by your will. Give me only Your love and grace. This is enough for me, and I ask for nothing more. Amen.
(The prayer of St. Ignatius that concludes his Spiritual Exercises)
Reflect on the instructions for the Daily Practice: <em, and take your 15-minutes to understand this discipline. Note briefly in your journal what you consider significant.
Sacred Story Daily Practice: Journal and Day’s End Prayer
(2 minutes—no more)
Write in your journal daily, after you end your last Sacred Story 15-minute prayer session. It is not a diary, but a logbook (“jottings,” most accurately). What you write should be only single words or short phrases. The goal is to track the most significant events from your days. You are looking, first and foremost, for destructive patterns and trends in your life: patterns of fear, anger and grief, and patterns of sin, compulsion and addiction. In both of these patterns you are also looking for links to persons, events, or issues. On the graced end of the scale, you are looking for gratitude, hope, and peace linked to your Sacred Story and the daydreams and fantasies coming from the Divine-Inspirer.
The patterns and trends that are most relevant to Sacred Story in awakening to your life as a whole, and growing in interior freedom, are those that help you identify damaging, addictive, sinful habits at their roots. This is the principal goal of the Particular Examen (PE) of St. Ignatius. The PE helps individuals name and target the core sins that, more than others, distract us from our lives as Sacred Story.
Be aware of patterns and trends that reveal the triggering mechanisms that make you easy prey to these habits, sins, angers, addictions and vices. Pay attention for patterns and trends that help you ‘source’ the ‘origins’ and ‘roots’ of those habits from your early life. Every day, take one minute before going to bed to write your brief journal entry. Remember your day’s awakening exercises, and ask for the grace to be aware of the importance of any significant events that open you to anger, fear, grief or temptations, failures and sins. Ask for God’s grace to see your life integrated and holistic as God does. God longs for your freedom, forgiveness, peace and healing.
People who engaged the journal exercises gained much more from the entire Sacred Story method than those who did not write in their journal. Those who persevered in the journal practice are the ones who learned to be brief and to do as instructed: write no more than a few words or a short phrase. You will not succeed in the journal practice if you take more than a minute or two a day to accomplish it! Be brief, but specific.
Day’s End Prayer
Upon retiring, listen to your heart for the state of spirit (peaceful or anxious), and what person or event inspires one or the other emotion. Speak a few words to God appropriate to your heart’s peace or anxiety, and then invite God into your dreams.
Reflect on the instructions for the Daily Practice: At Week’s End and at Month’s End, and take your 15-minutes to understand this discipline. Note briefly in your journal what you consider significant as you come to understand the purpose of this exercise.
Sacred Story Daily Practice: Journal at Week’s End Month’s End
On Sunday (or Saturday if that is your “weekend”), in place of the day’s end journal exercise, review the words and phrases from the preceding week. Ponder the words and phrases and ask to see the story of your whole life (Creation, Presence, Memory, Mercy and Eternity), and notice what particular insights or inspirations arise in you. Do not try to force insights. Most likely you will awaken gradually to patterns and trends.
Read over your journal entries from the week. Write a brief entry that captures any insights you have gained about your life over the course of the week’s prayer and reflection process. Be attentive for any connections between persons, events, temptations, sins, fear, anger, grief, and strong emotions.
Pay particular attention to insights that can help you unravel the manifest and root spiritual and psychological stresses (sinful habits and psychological stresses or addictions and vices) that might be linked to significant events from your past history. Write these insights in a new section of your notes (perhaps entitled “Insights and Integration.”) Date these reflections so you can watch your progressive growth and awakening.
Journal At Month’s End
At the end of a month, in place of the week’s end journal exercise, review your summary insights from these end-of-week exercises and look for any patterns that are emerging in your life story, especially those linked to the matrix of spiritual and psychological stresses highlighted by these insights. In your “Insights and Integration section,” write short comments (“I think…” “I believe…” “I discovered…”) that reveal any changes you experience in your life as a result of grace, healing, forgiveness, or the insights you receive.
It is highly recommended that you initiate a monthly ritual of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation. This discipline of grace and sacramental accountability will give you energy to engage Sacred Story daily, and provide a clear focus for your life-narrative exercises. Those who engage this discipline of monthly Reconciliation, accompanied with Sacred Story prayer, advance immeasurably more than those who forgo the graces of this great sacrament of insight and healing. Your journal practice is excellent preparation for Sacramental Reconciliation.
When you receive monthly Reconciliation, consider following the same pattern as when you made your Whole-Life Confession. Write your confession and speak directly to Christ and talk about the events of your life and where you need healing and peace. Do not tire of repeating the same issues, sins and failures. Rely on and ask for the grace to see more and more clearly the roots and origins of the challenges in your life. St. Ignatius even suggested that his followers make a life confession every six months! He said it would help them make a new book of their lives. However, monthly Reconciliation is sufficient for measured spiritual, psychological, emotional growth and enlightenment unless you have grave matter that begs immediate attention.1
The Daily Disciplines at a Glance
THE SACRED STORY TEMPLATE
(Ps 90: 1-2)
1 From the Catechism of the Catholic Church on THE GRAVITY OF SIN: MORTAL AND VENIAL SIN:
Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.
Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.
Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation: When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object, whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.
For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.” The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.
Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.
Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.
Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.
One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.
Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.”
While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.
“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.