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Fr. Greg: How the Spiritual Exercises Foster Personal Sanctity

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Fr. Greg: How the Spiritual Exercises Foster Personal Sanctity

Note: We’ve been talking recently about Ignatian spirituality, and today we’re bringing you the first in a series by Fr. Greg Cleveland, OMV, the director of the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Denver, Colorado.

The charism of my congregation and our founder, Venerable Bruno Lanteri, is to proclaim the mercy of God, especially through parish missions and retreats. We are graced with the mysticism of St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises, which lead people through the stages of purification, enlightenment, and union in their relationship with the Lord. I have been offering Ignatian retreats for 23 years now, and can attest that that there is no more effective tool to foster personal sanctity than the Spiritual Exercises. 

The Exercises begin by establishing the primacy of God’s love. We are convinced of our eternal destiny and salvation in Christ. We commit to using all created goods insofar as they lead us to God. Realizing we have not lived according to this rule, but instead put created things ahead of God, we experience forgiveness of sins and God’s unfathomable mercy. We then listen for the call of Christ and, in seeking more intimate friendship with him, love and follow him more closely. This sequela Christi, or following of Christ, leads to union with him in his passion, death and resurrection. We emerge from the retreat filled with the Spirit, with a heightened ability to find God in all things, sharing in Christ’s work of building his kingdom. 

What impresses me most about the retreats I’ve been privileged to witness is people’s real and concrete experience of God. People come the retreat with an intellectual knowledge of God and the Catholic faith, perhaps through bible studies, catechism classes and spiritual reading.

Watch Fr. Greg's video on prayer and spirituality

During the retreat, people encounter the consuming fire of God’s presence, as Moses did in the burning bush. God is no longer just a concept, but a real person who is source of life and light. With hearts on fire for the living God, people emerge with an ardent desire to have their souls cleansed and transformed. God not only reveals himself to us, he reveals ourselves in us. We realize not only the depths of our goodness, but also the roots of our sinfulness. Our sins often originate in wounds from our past. The Lord casts his peaceful light into the darkest regions of our hearts. There we discover his healing, acceptance, compassion and faithfulness. We realize we are loved even in the most unlovable parts of ourselves. This experience liberates us to hear the Lord’s call and respond with gratitude and wholehearted service.

Watch Fr. Greg's video on prayer and spirituality

In the Spiritual Exercises, God deals directly with his beloved children. Many of us have been led by others along a spiritual path that has meant progress and fruitfulness in living the Christian life. We certainly need the help and guidance of teachers and spiritual mentors. Combined with these more external guides, we need the inner-directedness of life in the Holy Spirit. The Exercises help one to become sensitive to the Lord’s immediate light and inspiration in our hearts. Ignatius himself was helped by many confessors, spiritual directors, and solid spiritual reading. But he also began to notice that God led and taught him directly, as a schoolmaster teaches a child. Ignatius began by imitating great saints, like Dominic and Francis, but he eventually discovered his own spiritual character based on the way God called him in a unique and personal way. The same can happen with us.

I am filled with joy when I see God inspire the people I direct, and that’s the beauty of the Ignatian retreat!

Fr. Greg Cleveland, OMV

 

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