Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Purpose of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises & Discernment of Spirits

[39] The overall goal is the removal of obstacles in us to the one certain expression of love for God, our seeking sincerely to find and do his will (Spiritual Exercises, no. 1), and so enabling us to grow toward the ideal of hearts so pure as to experience God's revelation of himself in all things, and to live lives in Christ totally dedicated to thanksgiving, praise, and service, or, in other words, to doing always what is for the greater glory of God (Spiritual Exercises, no. 230). The way to such purity of heart is mainly contemplation of God's love revealed in Jesus as he is seen in the Gospels—contemplating in such a way as to experience his personal love "for me" and so to enter into intimate personal relationship with him, taking on his mind and heart.

Growth into such purity of heart is God's work in us, impossible to achieve merely by our own efforts, but not to be effected by God without our free response and effort. So it is of essential importance to be able to recognize when God is acting on our consciousness and to know when it is not God, but our own selves, or the prodding of the world, or of Satan. Only so, can we by our free choice open ourselves to God's influence and close out anything opposed to it.

The Threefold Purpose of the Rules: to Notice, to Understand, to Accept or Reject

Accordingly, when he comes to write his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, Ignatius states that they are "to help persons get in touch with and understand in some manner the diverse motions which are prompted in them, in order to receive the good ones and expel the evil ones." If we analyze this statement, we can see that [40] it proposes three aims in an ordered series: (1) to help us get in touch with—that is, to become reflectively and discriminatingly aware of—the spiritually significant motions among all those in the whole mass of motions swarming in our consciousness; (2) to help us to a practical "understanding" of these perceived motions; and (3) to enable us intelligently to receive or expel these spiritually significant motions. The first purpose is for the sake of the second and makes it possible; the second in turn is for the sake of the third and makes it possible. The first two are so closely bound together that they can be discussed as one combined purpose. [...]

Ignatius assumes that those who study these rules will truly desire their third and ultimate purpose; they will want to open themselves wide to the movements from God and allow them to influence their lives in whatever way God intends by giving them; they will respond with decision and action when this is called for. On the other hand, he assumes that such persons will be ready to resist the movements from Satan and thrust them out. [...]

[41] An obvious condition for the possibility of understanding the spiritually significant motions within our minds and affectivities is our becoming aware of them. This is, therefore, the first purpose of the rules, to help us become perceptively aware of what is going on within us. This purpose involves more than mere consciousness of the motions; it involves reflective and discriminating attention. All the motions of which Ignatius speaks are conscious acts or feelings, but generally most of them are not attended to reflectively. In fact, when we make the effort to attend to them we find it very difficult to do so.


Source: Fr. Jules J. Toner, S.J., A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for the Discernment of Spirits: A Guide to the Principles and Practice (St. Louis, MO: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1982), 39–41

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