Forty Weeks ~ Sacred Story
Week 2 Prayer Exercises
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Listening to Your History
1 I will choose a place of contemplative rest and reflection. It will be a place apart—a technology-free zone!
2 I will make a decision on whether to take one 15-minute or two 15-minute prayer breaks a day. Regularity is key to sustainable disciplines of any kind, and is especially true of this prayer relationship with Christ.
3 During my 15-minute quiet moments this week I will slowly and thoughtfully read Part One of St. Ignatius’ conversion story. I will commit to read reflectively and take my time. I will ask the Spirit to inspire me to fully see and hear Ignatius’ story, especially as it relates to my life. I will pray for an open mind and heart.
I will not read ahead.
I will awaken to the present moment.
I will take each day and each exercise as it comes.
I cannot do Sacred Story better by going faster.
Read this at the beginning of the week
The exercises for this second week are related to the conversion story of St. Ignatius. Your prayer exercise for this week is to read and ponder the beginning of St. Ignatius’ Sacred Story. Pay careful attention to what in Ignatius’ experience touches your own unique history. Thank Christ in advance for the blessings and insights you will receive.
Read and ponder. You may be inspired to reflect on the Affirmations from last week. Be attentive to any memories that might arise and the feelings that stir as you pray this week. St. Ignatius was very clear in his teachings that careful attention to your internal spiritual movements marks the beginning of discernment. This heart-focused attention attunes your radar to the voices of the spiritual world.
Part One: St. Ignatius and His Legacy
A Fallen Soldier
Until his thirtieth year Ignatius Loyola was unconscious of the sacredness of his life. Instead, he was sincerely devoted to life’s pleasures and vanities. He was a gambling addict, sexually self-indulgent, arrogant, hotheaded and insecure. Ignatius’ mother died when he was an infant and his father died when he was sixteen.
By our contemporary measures, Ignatius’ family was dysfunctional. Was this person a possible candidate for sainthood? It did not look promising. But God does not judge by human standards. It is God’s nature to pursue all who have fallen asleep through sin, addiction and selfishness. God judges the heart; with unbounded grace and patient mercy God reaches into the ruins that sin makes of our lives and transforms them into Sacred Stories.
Ignatius, with all his narcissism, psychological problems and sinful vices, was awakened by God’s great love. A failed military campaign and a shattered leg forced him into a lengthy convalescence back at Loyola castle, his family home. Ignatius’ time of recuperation provided an opportunity for Love to shine a light on much more serious and life-threatening wounds that were spiritual, emotional and psychological in nature.
These wounds were supported by the evolution of a destructive, sinful narcissism. For thirty years Ignatius’ narcissism had rendered him unconscious to his true human nature and oblivious to his life as Sacred Story. The pleasures he indulged in and the power he wielded functioned like a narcotic to numb the pain of his hidden spiritual and psychological wounds. His sinful vices and self-indulgent pleasures blinded him to his authentic human nature and a fruitful life guided by a well-formed conscience.
God’s grace reached into the reality of Ignatius’ life and awakened in him a desire for innocence. His long-buried aspirations for living authentically suddenly became his prime motivation. He noticed it first while convalescing at Loyola. He became aware of new desires and a different energy while he daydreamed in reading stories of Christ and the saints. Pondering the saints’ lives he imagined himself living a different, selfless life.
He compared these new daydreams to his usual vain, narcissistic daydreams. The old daydreams drew energy from a life of sin, addiction and vice while the daydreams of selfless generosity produced their own energy. Ignatius noticed a significant difference between the two sets of daydreams and the feelings they produced. The vain fantasies entertained him when he was thinking about them. But he noticed that when he set them aside, he felt him empty and unsatisfied.
The new holy daydreams also entertained him when he was thinking about them. Yet when he set these aside, he remained content and felt an enduring calm and quiet joy. By paying close attention to the ultimate affective results of these two sets of daydreams and discerning their difference, Ignatius made a discovery that transformed his life and the history of Christian spirituality.
|A graced experience of God’s love opened Ignatius to: →
|GIVE THANKS FOR FAVORS RECEIVED ↓|
|A dissatisfaction with vain fantasies which led to surrendering to holy daydreams, characterized by consolation, which in turn: →
|PRAY FOR GRACE TO SEE CLEARLY ↓|
|Caused him to review his life and actions leading to: →
|GIVE A DETAILED ACCOUNT OF CONSCIENCE: GENERAL AND PARTICULAR ↓|
|Grief with yearning for penance and repentance for his past sins, culminating in: →
|ASK PARDON FOR ONE’S FAULTS ↓|
|Ignatius’ passion to amend his life and a desire to love God wholeheartedly. →||RESOLVE AND AMEND TO SERVE GOD|
The Voice of Conscience
Ignatius discovered that the new, selfless aspirations were influenced by Divine inspirations. He further discovered that these inspirations reflected his true human nature and that the vain fantasies deadened his conscience. His narcissistic daydreams led him away from enduring peace because they masked his authentic human nature. The old daydreams were powerful, ego affirming, and familiar. He knew in his heart that living their fantasy was the path to self-destruction. On the one hand he would be judged successful by the standards of the world, a world that measured success in terms of riches, honors, and pride. On the other hand, he would be judged a failure by the standards of the Gospel, standards that advocated a life of spiritual poverty, humility and consequential service — a Sacred Story that endures to eternal life.
Ignatius was awakened to the emotional wisdom and spiritual truth of his new daydreams. He became aware of the significant damage that his old lifestyle had done to both himself and others. What had been awakened in him was the divine gift of conscience, and with it, Ignatius experienced profound regret and sorrow for having wasted so much of his life on self-indulgent pleasures and fantasies, seductions that could never bring him lasting peace and satisfaction. He began to understand that living in pleasure and fantasy destroyed his authentic human nature and silenced his deepest desires.
Divine inspiration inspired Ignatius to seek forgiveness for wasting his life and abusing his innocence. Grace enabled Ignatius to take responsibility for his sins against God and his authentic human nature. Divine inspiration provided Ignatius with the desire, energy, and courage to renounce the thoughts, words, and deeds of his sinful habits. Grace, received through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, heightened Ignatius’ consciousness and enabled him to imagine a new path for his life, and new ways to express his gifts and talents.
As usually happens when people respond to the grace of conversion, Ignatius’ new aspirations confused and disconcerted many of his closest family members and friends. Nonetheless he acted on these aspirations. Ignatius was now able to understand a path to God, a pattern of conversion that countless thousands would imitate.
A Menacing Fear Unmasked
After some months of living in the light of these new positive virtues, habits, and Divine inspirations, Ignatius was suddenly gripped by terror and panic. How could he manage to live the rest of his life without the pleasures of the past? It was easy to live virtuously for some months, but for the rest of his life? This was a real crisis because Ignatius began to wonder if this was an impossible goal.
Ignatius had two vital insights about this menacing fear. First, he realized it was a counter-inspiration prompted by the enemy of his true human nature. The panicky fear led him to think that it would be impossible to live virtuously for such a long time. Second, the counter-inspiration tempted him to return to his old narcissistic vices and habits. Seduced by their powerful influence, Ignatius would abandon all hope for a life of virtue. In essence, Ignatius was tempted to surrender living the authentic life that had finally brought him peace. He sensed an evil source inspiring this menacing fear and he challenged it head-on: “You pitiful thing! Can you even promise me one hour of life?”
A Decisive and Enduring Commitment to Remain Awake
Not knowing how he would endure, Ignatius dismissed the counter-inspiration and its evil author by re-committing to this new wakefulness for the remainder of his life. This was Ignatius’ second insight: NEVER trust the messages prompted by menacing fears. Counter them with a firm commitment to stay the course, to awaken and remain conscious. This decisive, enduring commitment to persevere restored tranquility, and his fear abated. Ignatius had discovered, unmasked and confronted the deceiver. In this Ignatius learned another lesson about speaking truth to power that would guide his new life and help shape his first set of foundational discernment principles.
|A enemy voice evokes Ignatius’ fear of a lifelong struggle with his sinful habits. →
|CONSCIOUS FEAR AND ANXIETY OVER SURRENDERING SINFUL AND ADDICTIVE HABITS ↓|
|Ignatius rejects the “enemy of human nature” and confronts his false promises.→
|CONFRONTING THE THREATENING “VOICE” OF SIN AND ADDICTION WITH THE “TRUTH” THAT THEY BRING DEATH, NOT LIFE ↓|
|Peace is restored after truthfully naming sin and addiction as death dealing. →||PEACE RETURNS AND ANXIETY DISSOLVES|
Ignatius had to face these same fears many, many more times. Eventually he knew they were false fears, inspirations of the enemy of his human nature. Most importantly, he gradually learned how to diffuse them, and to defend against them. It is vital that we understand this lesson from Ignatius: anyone who changes his or her lifestyle through a Divine awakening and who, by grace, consciously and consistently enters his or her Sacred Story, will encounter the same menacing fears. You can be strongly tempted to fall asleep and slip back into old habits and vices. When you are faced with these menacing fears — when, not if — confidently recommit to the path of life, and to the Author of life. The fears, in time, will subside. The enemy of human nature will always be disarmed.
Our spirit, body and God’s grace at work in us compose a holy trinity. God made us this way. All three parts working cooperatively are necessary for holiness and human growth. In the paradise depicted in Genesis, the perfect cooperation of this trinity of human nature rendered us immortal. By turning from the fullness of God’s grace, our immortality was lost: the perfect balance of the Divinely crafted trinity of human nature — body, spirit and God’s grace—shattered. Christ’s incarnation and death opened the way to immortality once again.
Our Christian life is a labor of love. In order for God’s love to heal us we must do our part to open ourselves to God’s graces. This requires conscious and ongoing effort to abstain from sinful, addictive habits in thoughts, words and deeds. There is a need to pray for God’s grace. First we must awaken to that grace. With that same grace, we have the strength to resist and abstain from sinful, addictive attitudes and behaviors, both spiritual and material. God’s grace infuses our spiritual disciplines, activating the trinity of our human nature. Grace helps us climb out of the spiritual, mental physical and emotional ruts of our bound self. In doing so, God graces us with a future of increased hope holiness and balance.