Don't Just Pray — Do Something!

A reflection by Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH


“Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words.”                                                                               –Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

As I grappled before God over the horrific and senseless mass shooting in Orlando, Ignatius’ words echoed within me. From centuries ago, Ignatius joins the anguished voices of today, crying, “Don’t just pray, do something!”

Perhaps prayer is most pleasing to God when our relationship with God leads us to see the face of God in another, to be the face of God to another.

Hate terrorizes. Guns kill. Prayer acts.

The act of prayer takes place when we act for justice. We pray when we sign a petition for gun control, or we vote to ban the sale of assault weapons. We pray when we accept and embrace the differences in our faith, in our expression of love, in our gender, and in our culture.

We pray when we recognize mental illness as a disease and provide proper care and funding. We pray when our hearts are free from judgment.

one heartOur hearts are broken. Our prayer is broken. Something tells me that one won’t be healed without the other.

(Image created by and used with permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart)

On "The Way" at Eastern Point*

A Reflection on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

*The title of this post is inspired by the film, “The Way” which is filmed on the Camino in Spain. Each year thousands of pilgrims walk hundreds of miles on the Camino en route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Pilgrims began walking this route in the 9th Century to venerate the tomb of St. James. Many pilgrims now walk the Camino to discover aspects of the mystery of themselves.

Today, July 31, is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We recently celebrated the feast of St. James the Great (July 25). St. James and his brother John were followers of Jesus and were referred to as the Sons of Zebedee in the Gospels. They (or their mother, according to one of the stories) made a request to Jesus that they be granted seats at the right and left of him in the Kingdom. Jesus asks them if they are willing to drink the cup that Jesus will be asked to drink in order to bring about that kingdom. Then Jesus quietly tells them that it is up to the Creator to designate places. Later we learn that James and John are with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is the night before the Crucifixion they cannot even stay awake to keep Jesus company as he struggles in accepting God’s will to go through with the pain and agony that await him the following day. Finally, all of the apostles desert Jesus in his Passion, the risen Jesus meets them in the Upper room, forgives them, bestows the Holy Spirit on them and commissions them to spread the Good News of reconciliation to all.

I reflect on the story of James and John and their relationship with Jesus at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where I am again directing the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I can’t help but be reminded how, like James and John, so many are called to participate with Jesus Christ in renewing the face of the Earth. James’ and John’s story is a metaphor for each of our journeys with the Lord, and how we, too, must learn what it means to be a disciple.

Pilgrims walking the Camino.

The Spiritual Exercises lead retreatants through a series of prayer experiences—“exercises”—that reveal God’s love for all of creation and God’s desire that all of creation be redeemed and charged with grace. Those who enter into the Exercises are invited to take a long, loving look at our broken world—the way that the Trinity would gaze on it—and to get in touch with our deepest desires to live in harmony with all creation. Retreatants discover God’s unconditional love for them in ever deepening ways. They are invited through a series of imaginative exercises to seek a deeper friendship with Jesus and make a commitment to co-labor with Jesus in his on-going work of redemption that restores all creation to his Father.

This summer there are 22 people being directed in the Spiritual Exercises. It is an ecumenical group and includes men and women ranging in age from 30 to 80+ with a wide range of life experience.


Getting in Shape—Spiritually

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius   
By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Almost like clockwork, ads for Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nautilus, Bowflex and other quick and easy weight-loss and physical improvement programs flood the media after the Christmas holidays.  It seems that many people make New Year’s resolutions to look and feel better by spring, even though most of us know that a life-long dedication to regular exercise and attention to diet are necessary to achieve overall good health.

What about our spiritual health and well-being?  Can a simple quick-fix approach deepen our relationship with God?  Spiritual masters tell us that we have to develop “habits of the heart” or practice spiritual disciplines consistently throughout our lifetime if we wish to grow closer to Christ.  One such method was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century.  Based on the reflection of his own conversion experience, he designed a plan to help spiritual seekers learn the art of discernment: seeking and responding to God’s will in the circumstances of one’s particular life.  He called his method the Spiritual Exercises, and the text is considered a unique spiritual classic.

Ignatius intended the Spiritual Exercises to be completed during a month-long retreat or spread out over many months in the midst of everyday life.  In the process of doing the Exercises the “retreatant” learns various ways of prayer and is invited to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ in order to make a serious decision in tune with the mind and heart of Christ.  The most common method of prayer that Ignatius suggests is a form of contemplation in which the person uses the active imagination in praying with certain gospel events in the life of Christ.  At the end of the Exercises the retreatant has developed a habit of prayer that can be nurtured throughout a lifetime.

Many retreat centers and some parishes offer the longer format of the Spiritual Exercises, often between September and the following May.  Retreatants make a commitment to pray one hour a day and to meet in a group once a week (or every other week) to share prayer and experience support from each other.  This format can be particularly helpful for those who want to develop a way to pray and reflect in the midst of professional careers and family life.

Here is one of St. Ignatius’ prayers:

Lord, I freely yield my freedom to you.
Take my memory, my intellect and my entire will.
You have given me anything I am or have;
I give it all back to you to stand under your will alone.
Your love and your grace are enough for me;
I shall ask for nothing more.