Grace: To ask for the courage and generosity to draw closer to God.
Text for Prayer: Psalm 130
Reflection: Why exercise? The simplest answer might be to say that one exercises in order “to be healthy,” and regular exercise can certainly be a good thing when directed towards physical and mental health. There are many ways that people today strive to achieve what they call their fitness or wellness goals and a plethora of training manuals to go with these many exercise routines.
But focusing on physical exercise only as the sole means to wellness can lead us to forget that it is equally important to focus on our interior lives. St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, offers a training manual for a health that is just as important as physical and mental health, if not even more so, our spiritual health and the care of our souls. The Exercises, as the Saint writes himself, are about “disposing the soul to rid itself of all the disordered tendencies, and after it is rid, to seek and find the Divine Will” (Annotation 1). In other words, the Exercises are about detaching ourselves from all that might hold us from knowing and seeking God’s Will in our own lives, and then helping us to learn how to make better choices that will lead us to God and genuine happiness.
One might be intimidated by the thought of performing spiritual exercises—that is contemplative prayer—as St. Ignatius proposes. The use of the term exercises may be off-putting to the person unfamiliar with contemplative prayer. But we must remember to trust in the work of God, that can at times appear to be rather slow, and that God is always ready to meet us where we are, provided we first acknowledge where it is that God needs to meet us. Sometimes getting to this starting point, asking the challenging questions about where we are with respect to our relationship with God, can take a great deal of courage. We don’t always want to be generous with our time or feel that it might be too difficult to simply allow ourselves to enter into God’s presence with trust. But the one who immerses himself in the Exercises, Ignatius writes, “will come to feel and understand what is best in this life so that he can benefit himself and to gather fruit to help and benefit many others” (Letter to Dr. E. de Miona, November 16, 1536).
To begin to pray according to the method of the exercises, one should prepare a quiet spot, free from any distractions. Preparation here involves more than just finding a chair or arranging a seat cushion, but actually gazing upon the spot as a place where one might encounter the living God by sitting, kneeling, standing, or lying down. Then, one should place himself in this spot, ask for the grace that one is seeking, and then bring to mind the various points for prayer, which might take the form of a passage from scripture followed by some questions for consideration. The prayer period is comprised of the careful consideration of these points. There is no set time limit as it may vary from person to person, depending on how God wishes to move one during prayer and how the person wishes to respond. Of course, one wants to avoid praying too much or too little, and during the course of the exercises, one is able to get a better sense when is the right moment to continue with or walk away from prayer.
Before immersing oneself in the Exercises and the various contemplations contained therein, however, it is often best then to begin by first evaluating one’s relationship with God. The start of Lent is a good time to begin to ask challenging questions and the following questions can serve as a guide.
Questions: How much time do I devote to God on a daily basis? How do I spend this time? Am I easily distracted? If so, by what? Am I willing to give a little more time to God or is something standing in the way? Why do I want to spend this time with God?