The Exercises in a Fractured World

Posted on September 7th, 2018

Recently, some 50 people, all working with the 500 year old spiritual teaching of St Ignatius, gathered in Leeds to ponder the question - Are the Exercises relevant in our broken world today?

After listening to three highly respected, challenging and eloquent “Ignatian” speakers, we reflected both individually and in small contemplative groups, before plenary sessions.

Julia MacDonald (Director of St Bede’s Pastoral Centre in York) spoke of the point of global crisis we are in with the opportunity to enter a ‘higher’ future (Jeremiah 21:8). She quoted Ignatius: ‘you wish to reform the world, then reform yourself through God’s loving action’. We looked through the eyes of the astronauts at the awesome wonder of earth. We listened to the words of Teillhard de Chardin, SJ - ‘helping the human family moves towards the next step of human evolution in love is the most challenging task of contemporary spirituality’. Julia affirmed that, through the living document of the Ignatian Exercises, we are given an interior compass, a knowingness that we’re working towards oneness in a living committed loving relationship - thus finding God in all things.

Edel McClean (Discipleship and Ministries Learning Network of the Methodist Church) asked another question: Given that for Ignatius and his first companions, the insights of the Exercises informed everything they said and did, and the insights of life informed the giving of the Exercises, how far do we share an integrated approach? The Prayer of Pedro Arrupe, SJ (Founder of the Jesuit Refugee Service) says:

Grant me O Lord, to see with new eyes,

To discern and test the spirits that

help me read the signs of the times,

To relish things that are yours,

and to communicate them to others.

Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave IGNATIUS.

How do we see the signs of the times now - general divisions, decline in the Church and coarsening of public discourse? Here she quoted the BBC DG ‘there’s
a sense of public discourse losing its power to explain and reconcile, or indeed express anything beyond hatred and division’ … Our integration of the Two Standards, spiritual conversation and remembering that everything we say and do tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on our friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends. Edel concluded by quoting the words from the Pope to all Jesuits - that they live in Consolation, Compassion and Discernment. Our way too!

Nick Austin, SJ a priest who teaches Theological Ethics and also directs the Exx.

His topic - spiritual direction - discerning in the grey in a morally fragmented world. He began by looking at the Wesleyan Quadrilateral - 4 sources of Christian Moral Wisdom - Reason, Scripture, Tradition and Experience. Quoting Pope Francis ‘the shades of grey prevail life. We must teach to discern in this grey area.’ Nick asked us to reflect on what gives us courage to discern in the grey and what does it mean for us now to accompany others in moral discernment. Where do we meet moral fragmentation in our society, church and ourselves? How do the Exx. speak to us?

The days were wrapped in prayer together with gentle, reflective liturgies created by Shirley Taylor, a member of the SEN committee, whilst the afternoons included a large choice of workshops led by conference members. What a feast! I am sure Ignatius and his first companions would have delighted in it all. I am also sure everyone attending would be able to give you a different picture of what particularly spoke, what challenged and what gifts they received.

SEN (Spiritual Exercises Network) is an organisation set up for those working with the Spiritual Exercises in some way.It is free to become a member.

The next Conference will be in 2019

Sue Wilson, Committee member of SEN

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