Week 40 Prayer Exercises
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1 I resolve to spend no more and no less than 15-minutes in each formal prayer period.
2 I ask God’s grace to help me commit to a life-long habit of praying the five meditations of Sacred Story prayer. With God’s grace, I will be able to enter my prayer at least once daily as Ignatius suggested. God’s grace will also help me to commit to my simple journal exercises and a monthly practice of Sacramental Reconciliation.
3 This week I am invited to conclude my lessons on St. Ignatius’ rules for spiritual discernment. This final section offers special discernment advice for those times that my deepening conversion to life as Sacred Story may prompt life changes of one sort or another.
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 ask Jesus for help when I am troubled.
I will thank Jesus daily for life’s gifts.
I will say this affirmation aloud once daily:
Additional Guidelines on Life Choices
Take some time on this week to read and reflect on this thirteenth lesson in discernment. Last week we completed the study of St. Ignatius’ second set of rules on discernment. These examined the sixth and seventh guidelines that indicate the presence of temptations of a more subtle form in our lives. This week we conclude the study of discernment by examining the guidelines St. Ignatius offers to those who, open to God’s grace, contemplate making life choices.
These rules may not be applicable at this point in your spiritual journey. These guidelines will be helpful whenever you are required to make decisions based on faith in the future. The enemy of human nature is always at work to derail our conversion process, but we are not to be afraid. The Lord is our strength and shield. We must simply learn to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents (Mt 10:16).
As your conversion deepens, grace illumines your mind and heart. What had been in darkness is now revealed. You begin to awaken, to see the true nature of reality, the world, and your authentic human nature. Grace alone facilitates this journey out of spiritual unconsciousness and the darkened conscience of counter inspiration. As you continue to awaken, you will discover why narcissism and pride are so much more difficult to identify and eliminate than the sins of the flesh.
The pain of Original Sin, early life trauma and lost innocence encourages your narcissism. The narcissistic ego is closed to the Spirit. This ego rationalizes and legitimizes whatever it needs to fill its painful void. It is the ancient wound created by the self displacing God as the heart’s center. The defenses that hide your narcissism match the intensity of the hidden pain at the center of your heart. You defend the use of vices and addictions because they protect you from feeling the pain in your heart, and keep you from turning to God for help and healing.
Your Sacred Story begins when you accept the Divine Physician’s grace to honestly name your sin and let the heart’s healing begin. You need God’s grace, to both break through and dismantle your defenses. This is the true path to mystical awakening. There are no shortcuts. There is no other way home. You have a unique path to holiness that no one else in all of history can follow. It is God’s path for you. It is linked to the unique circumstances of your life. Let the Divine Physician heal you and lead you to wholeness and holiness.
The humility Ignatius discovered in surrendering control of his life—surrendering his pride and narcissism—allowed him to envision a new life, in and for Christ, that he had never known before. This awakened consciousness has its own graces and difficulties, as Ignatius well-discovered. These graces abound regardless of one’s state of life and vocation. These graces bring illumination and clarity. They illumine the true portrait of your free and authentic self. They open you to the world, your Catholic faith, and the creator God. They reveal your past and present commitments, and your choices—both well and ill conceived. This is where Ignatius found himself after his spiritual and psychological trials at Manresa.
The grace of conversion transforms and heals divided hearts. The values you previously espoused that were contrary to the Gospel give way to thoughts, words, and deeds that open you to opportunities never before imagined or thought possible. Purifying graces rush in with new opportunities for your life, filling the void of a heart on the mend. What else would you expect when your heart is touched directly by Divine grace? When your heart is flush with the energy, enthusiasm, and the vitality of God, Ignatius has clear advice.
Ignatius advises that a person in this stage of integrated conversion and healing, who has received these graces of illumination, must consider them very attentively. One needs to cautiously distinguish the initial consolation from the period that follows. In the afterglow of these illuminations and insights, when the consolations themselves have ceased, the soul is still passionate. It has been blessed with graces and these graces have an afterglow. In the time of the afterglow, the heart and soul often forms resolutions and plans that are not directly inspired or granted by God.
These ideas and resolutions can emanate from your own reasoning, creating ideas based on your own judgments. Or these resolutions can be the direct inspiration of the Divine-Inspirer or the counter-inspirer. It is critical to distinguish the illuminations themselves, and the period of time after the illuminations—the period of afterglow. Carefully, thoughtfully and cautiously examine your afterglow reflections and plans, before approving them or acting on them.
This advice is especially important if you are transitioning from established habits and lifestyles. Those thoughts, words, and deeds, inauthentic expressions of your human nature, have deep roots and/or a long history. These long-established patterns of sin and dysfunction have created spiritual, mental and psychological grooves. The grooves are your default narratives for defining “normal” and “success.” These false-but-familiar narratives are narcissism’s anti-story. They draw strength from your broken heart and wounded innocence.
We experience the spiritual and physical wreckage of the Original Fall in our wounded hearts. Our lost innocence is combined with the evolution of sin in our families, clans and social groups. The energy fueling our narcissistic anti-story shields us from pain and shame both real and perceived. As you gradually receive the grace and illumination to relinquish the anti-story, you will experience a void. Surrendering the false definitions of success, and the habits that support these false narratives, creates the void. You will feel a powerful compulsion to fill that void, a compulsion that is easily exploited by the counter-inspirer.
When you relinquish your anti-story, you will also have the desire to make up for lost time and to correct the mistakes of the past. These desires can also fill your heart with urgent and pressing agendas for change. These agendas may feel honorable and right. This is true especially in light of your past misdeeds and errors. One must exercise caution, however, because these urgent and pressing agendas for change can lead away from the truths, positive resolutions and commitments recently illumined by Divine grace.
If you experience strong inspirations to change your life commitments, test them and the imagined future plans they represent. Do the inspirations of this follow-up period (after the initial consolation) strike the heart gently? Do they create delight and peace? Is there a notable absence of electrical energy or nervous urgency towards immediate action?
Or do the inspirations and ideas of this follow-up period strike the heart violently? Do they disturb the heart with electrical excitement, and a compelling urgency to immediately enact the good ideas or plans being pondered? This latter effect is a clear sign that the inspirations and ideas will lead you away from life and love—fruit that endures to eternity—no matter how enlightened these ideas seem.
Be attentive! Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent. Honor the process of change. Wait for the signs of peace and humility, and test the decisions being pondered.
Spiritual discernment is an art that takes time to master. Its first phase involves knowing the objective rights and wrongs of thoughts, words and deeds as taught by the Commandments, Christ and the teaching Church. Spiritual discernment advances when you consciously attend to your affective/spiritual states and become aware of spiritual movements that are present in your life story. Next, you need to familiarize yourself with the language and signatures of the two different voices; that of the Divine-Inspirer and that of the counter-inspirer.
Finally, you need to learn to trust making decisions based on what you have learned from St. Ignatius’ experience and wisdom. This means confronting fears that, in the past, incited cowardice on your part. It also means confronting narcissism’s illusions that, in the past, incited self-satisfaction on your part. Confronting both these will feel difficult, but you must trust Ignatius’ wisdom and act rightly. You will make mistakes. But learn from your mistakes, always trusting God’s infinite mercy. God has infinite patience for those honestly struggling to live a new life in Christ.
In all of this, God will be your support and guide. Turn your attention and heart to God. God will give you the insight, wisdom and strength necessary to develop your spiritual self. Do not be fearful or discouraged as you gradually integrate the art of spiritual discernment into your life. The Divine-Inspirer will offer all of the graces and insights needed to lead you home. Be not afraid!
(Ps 93: 1-2; 5)