by Kevin O’Brien, S.J.
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Jesuit priest Father Kevin O”Brien gives us some added insights into the joys of Ignatian Spirituality. The purpose of the exercises is “to grow in union with God who frees us to make good decisions about our lives and to “help souls”.” O’Brien very clearly and carefully defines terms that we need in order to delve deep into this style of prayer. The author offers us the difference between meditation and contemplation and how we often move from one style of prayer to another. Our frequent engagement in discernment keeps us balanced in our relationship with Christ. We are drawn to the prayer of meditation and contemplation and at the same time discerning how we can assist others on their journey. The book is divided into 36 weeks of prayer. The first section gives us some structure for the Adventure: first we want to compose ourselves using what Ignatius writes: “A step or two away from the place where I will make my contemplation or meditation, I will stand for the length of an Our Father. I will raise my mind and think how God our Lord is looking at me, and other such thoughts. Then I will make an act of reverence or humility.” Secondly, I pray for the grace, it may be a grace to walk with Christ in His suffering or even a grace to want to walk with Him. The section on doing the prayer gives us material to follow the exercises for each day of the calendar week. Our goal is God so we don’t need to worry about missing something, we need to remember God’s presence. When you want to close your prayer, do it in the way that we opened the prayer with a specific time and ending with our favorite prayer. After we review our prayer and ask the question “What were the significant interior movements (that is feelings, reactions, intuitions, desires, emotions, thoughts or insights)?” p.28 and other questions that you might want to journal. In this way we can realize how God speaks to us.
In the Exercises for Week one: God’s unconditional love for me, O’Brien suggests prayer points for each day of the week. These suggestions are just that suggestions and we can adapt them as they work for our relationship with God. We might want to stay with one Scripture passage or move around and figure out the best way for us to listen to God. Each day we ask for the particular grace we need for that day. On the seventh day we savor the graces of the week and review the journal entries. In thinking and praying over the key graces we can thank God for them. We are always in the context of prayer whether it is meditative or affective prayer. We keep a deep reverence for the God who loves us more than we could ever love Him.
The author dwells on the story of Jesus’ life. He helps us to see the big picture. In the contemplation on the Incarnation, we look on the world with the Trinity- with God, the Father, son and Holy Spirit. We get lost in the mystery of the Incarnation. “We marvel at how god works through ordinary people like Mary and Joseph. We are filled with grate gratitude because God wanted to get close to us by becoming human in Jesus of Nazareth. In this way God makes divine love imminently available to all people.”p.130. The prayer for the week becomes a prayer for the following graces: a deeply felt knowledge of God’s dream for this world; awe and wonder at the mystery of the incarnation.
Father O’Brien reminds us in the book to review our prayer material (perhaps the night before). Maintain an environment that calls to prayer, free of distractions Offer your prayer time of prayer to God and be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Pray for the grace you desire, maybe in your own words. “What do you want God to do for you? How do you want God to be present to you?” We should pray about 30-40 minutes a day. Reflect on your prayer in a different place from where you prayed. Pay attention to the consolations, desolations and other significant movements. Pray the examen each day as this leads to a good sense of discernment.
The author’s sense of creating a spiritual inventory is the focus on the future with such questions as: How have I grown in gratitude for the gifts God has given me? How has my understanding of call or vocation evolved over the weeks? Have I made a significant decision during the retreat, or do I need God’s help in making such a decision in the future? How would I like to structure my prayer life in the future? How has my sensitivity to the poor and marginalized deepened over the retreat? In what concrete way can I serve those in need? In the prayer for the week we pray for wisdom and courage as we make and honor significant commitments; gratitude for the abundant fits of God and zeal for the mission that Christ offers me.
This is a great book to use for retreat and for daily reflection. It is well written and very fluent in presenting the way the retreat can be laid out. We read the words of another gifted Jesuit.