A former Novice Master of the British Province gives us a Reflection on how the experience of the Spiritual Exercises may have give strength to those Jesuits in Exile during the Suppression
Evaluation often follows the experience of the full Spiritual Exercises these days. How would one evaluate the effect the Exercises have on an individual after a significant period of his life. Years ago I organised retreats in daily life in a parish, including a small number of people who did the full Exercises according to the 19th Annotation. I remember one year at visitation the provincial was very pleased which, of course, encouraged me but I remember the wise words he added: “let us see what fruit this bears in 5, 10, even 20 years”. One wonders what strength the Exercises gave to those Jesuits who suffered suppression and exile at the end of the eighteenth century.
As novice director and retreat house team member, I have given the full Exercises many times. Often it is a deeply contemplative time as you experience a person entering deeper and deeper into a relationship with Christ. There is a sense of the difficulties the disciples experienced as Christ’s radical message became clearer but a sense too of the change the risen Christ can work in an individual, as with the apostles in Acts. The faltering disciple is drawn into a deeper love of Christ and goes forth determined to do something practical for the greater glory of God. As a director of the Exercises, I always delighted in hearing accounts of what individuals went on to do. I recall a disabled laywoman who went off to set up a retreat facility for disabled people in Africa; another laywoman who, besides working as a doctor in a poor country, set up part of her house to give retreats to women. Hopefully the Exercises are a source of strength in times of suffering. I think now of one of my novices struggling with the last stages of a nasty and fatal disease. Do the Exercises, our appropriation of the Gospel, aid us in extreme and difficult situations? Did the Exercises aid suppressed and exiled Jesuits?
The Ignatian Exercises of the Second Week, such as the Two Standards and the Three Degrees of Humility are challenging, but the Three Degrees of Humility raises the bar to a very high level: we are invited “to be actually more like him”, “humiliated” , “thought worthless and a fool for Christ”. The director’s task is delicate and best kept simple; to offer the text, perhaps with appropriate scriptural passages. As a young priest I once asked Father Paul Kennedy (tertian master at Saint Beuno’s in North Wales, a Jesuit who did much to promote the renewal of the Spiritual Exercises in the English-speaking world in the 1960’s – 1070’s), if he really thought one could attain the grace of the third degree of humility. He thought for a few moments and then said: “Yes, if only for 10 minutes or so in the 30-days retreat”. Perhaps many of the Jesuits who lived through suppression and exile drew strength from such an experience. Perhaps Saint Joseph Pignatelli was drawing on such a source of strength when he wrote: “All the fathers and brothers have very happy faces. They show themselves true sons of Saint Ignatius and are guided by his spirit …”
Fr Ian Tomlinson SJ