Thursday, July 21, 2022

What makes a reflective Spirituality in life

It doesn’t necessarily take a spiritual person who answer the question “what is the goal of the spiritual life?”  Most people who are in touch with their thoughts in life would give an answer that says that the spiritual life is all about doing good things in life.  A person who has his eyes fixed on heaven would say something like “the spiritual life helps us to detect God’s presence in the world”, which is not that far from the truth.  But it was my experience in going through 30 days in a Jesuit Retreat Centre in Chiangmai, Thailand, that opened my eyes and heart to the inner core of the spirituality of the Jesuits.  This happened in the middle of my sixth year in the seminary where I was being trained for the Catholic priesthood, and to me, it was an experience of pure gold.  

It is a place that is tranquil and green, so idyllic to be in to be guided on a spiritual journey like an Ignatian 30-day silent retreat.  Those who have pursued such a journey in life would say without hesitation that a place would have to be quiet and remote for it to help one to attain a fruitful end when one decides to pursue good fruit at the end of the retreat.  Of course, a good retreat master would be desired to have in order to be led and directed in the journey of the soul.  This came as a gift to us seminarians who went to that month-long spiritual walk with God.  I believe that Seven Fountains has undergone some renovations since I was there so many years ago, but the people who have returned from there share with me that they loved the place and the experience.  

St Ignatius who wrote The Spiritual Exercises, had a deep and meaningful experience in his search for God in his life.  This book is the foundation of the 30-day Ignatian Retreat, and I don’t intend to ruin the experience of the Retreat for anyone who hasn’t made the retreat himself or herself.  Ultimately, we find out that the dynamic goal of the Spiritual Exercises is to choose.  To choose is to freely unite ourselves with God.  A spiritual person would be deeply interested to join with God in active work in the world.  

God, we are guided to see.  And Ignatian spirituality teaches us to discern the steps that God makes in our lives and in our experience.  The Spiritual Exercises gives us guidance on how to look back on our lives, and to sift through our experiences to see the way that God has been dealing with us over the years.  As Fr Rolheiser once wrote, a great many of us are far too absorbed in efficiency and cannot find time to pray, and this excuse robs us from being in touch with the spiritual experiences in our lives.  The world is mired with too much efficiency and stuff and it ends up making our world an endless search for new and exciting things to look out for.  Those who are internet connected will know that there are an endless number of channels to watch movies, sporting games and variety programmes.  News channels are no longer just the “Nine O’Clock News”, but an endless array of reports bringing the world’s happenings to our homes through the television.  Then there are the magazines that beckon with their glossy covers and distracting reports of sportsmen and celebrities.  After a full day of being stuck in traffic, public transportation, writing endless reports in the office, listening to lectures given to us by our teachers or professors in schools, exhaustive hours of research for our subjects in schools, there is always the attraction of the endless offerings on the internet and the many conversations that we want to be included in by our friends and colleagues.  All these take up our valuable time and they are made up of what the world calls efficiency and productivity.  While they may not be bad in themselves, they can easily rob us from the time that God would want to have us give him in prayer and attention.  This is the task of spirituality.

St Ignatius begins the retreat with the Principle and Foundation.  Ignatius sees the vision of God’s purpose in creating was to share life with us forever.  Besides, the purpose of the things he created was so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more easily.  Added to that, the goal of the retreat, he tells us, is to choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me than the other things.  The daily examen is a method of reflective prayer that to many appear to be a digression from the real business of the retreat.  

Ignatius wanted his Jesuits to make the examen a daily habit.  But the retreat is not only something that Jesuits can make.  The press of work or illness may often make it impossible for Jesuits to have an extended time of daily prayer.  They can end up saying that they are far too ‘busy’.  It was Ignatius’s insistence that the examen is never omitted from their lives.  Usually, one makes the examen twice a day, once at midday and again before retiring, to pause for a while and review the events of the day in prayerful reflection.  

Ignatius outlined that the examen has five points.  1) be grateful for God’s blessings; 2) ask the help of the Spirit; 3) review the day, looking for times when God has been present and times when you have left him out; 4) express sorrow for sin and ask God for his forgiving love; 5) pray for the grace to be more totally available to God who loves us so totally.  There are many versions of the examen written by Jesuits and others, and they are like successive editions of a great textbook.  

Undoubtedly, the word examen indicates a kind of introspection, and St Ignatius tries to emphasise this point by making his first point of the examen prayer one about gratitude to God.  One Jesuit, Fr David L Flemming, outlined the following examen prayer as follows:

The Examen of Consciousness

A Prayer to God

God, thank you.

I thank you, God, for always being with me, but especially I am grateful that you are with me right now.

God, send your Holy Spirit upon me.

God, let the Holy Spirit enlighten my mind and warm my heart that I may know where and how we have been together this day.

God, let me look at my day.

God, where have I felt your presence, seen your face, heard your word this day?

God, where have I ignored you, run from you, perhaps even rejected you this day?

God, let me be grateful and ask forgiveness.

God, I thank you for the times this day we have been together and worked together.

God, I am sorry for the ways that I have offended you by what I have done or what I did not do.

God, stay close.

God, I ask that you draw me ever closer to you this day and tomorrow.

God, you are the God of my life - thank you.

Yes, sometimes prayer can get formal and abstract.  This Daily Examen keeps us humble and our feet firmly on the ground.  It is reflective in nature, and as we are God’s sons and daughters living in the world that he loves and sustains, we can be assured that he hears our voices in this world of noise and busy-ness.

This examen helps us as we will never run out of things to pray about.  It is like a direction finder for our spiritual lives.  If we wonder what to say to God, having this list of examen reflections is a guide that one never gets tired of.  

All of us need to have a reflective spirituality in life, and this is one definitive list.  If it helps some of your readers of my blog to be so constantly reflective in your prayer, the aim of this blog will have been met.  I know many people have been praying for me, and in turn, I will pray for my readers of this blog.  May you have an endless experience of being loved and cared for by the same God who made you and this world, and may you always grow in your love of God in your lives.  

1 comment:

  1. “The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” - Exodus 4:11

    “Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” - Ecclesiastes 7:13