This new publication by CTS is a reprint, necessarily highly condensed for reasons of space, of Fr Ravier’s earlier book outlining a ‘Do-It-At-Home Retreat’ published in 1989. Both aim to do what the title implies in guiding a person, during the course of their ordinary daily life, through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
We should be aware of course that true prayer is not actually something we ‘do’ ourselves, and nor in reality do we ‘do’ the Spiritual Exercises ourselves. St Ignatius’s text is for the use of the one who gives the Exercises (the ‘director’) rather than the one who receives them (the ‘retreatant’ or ‘directee’), with the true director of any prayer / retreat being the Holy Spirit.
With that caveat in mind, anything which fosters a spirit of prayer in the reader is to be welcomed and this booklet contains very helpful material to enable one to engage with St Ignatius’s insights.
Thus the basic elements of the Spiritual Exercises are there – The Principle & Foundation, the movement from knowing one’s sinfulness to realising the overwhelming love and mercy of God, the response to that love in following the call of Christ our Leader and coming to know, love and serve him as we ponder the reality of God taking flesh for us.
Our call to discipleship, and the implications thereof, is heightened in the key Ignatian exercises of the Two Standards, the Three Classes of Men and the Three Degrees of Humility and, having so fallen in love with Christ, the person follows and accompanies him through his Passion, ultimately to know the joy of his Resurrection.
The final Contemplation to Attain and Live in the Love of God is our sure foundation for life after the retreat as we know God in all things and relish all the gifts that we have come to appreciate have been so generously and gratuitously bestowed on us.
As one who has both made the Spiritual Exercises in daily life and accompanied others through them, I found great value in some of Fr Ravier’s reflections. In particular, he gives many and varied Scripture references to supplement what is often the very sparse text of St Ignatius.
Thus, for example, the Principle & Foundation, an often difficult text to grasp, is given a very useful and rounded context and explanation, as is the Call of Christ our Leader (the ‘Kingdom’ exercise). The references here given would surely be helpful to a director giving the Spiritual Exercises to another.
Of course, given the length of Fr Ravier’s book and the brevity of this new pamphlet, there are certain omissions here. Key contemplations on the Incarnation and early life of Jesus have been omitted, as have some of the Resurrection narratives.
However, the reader could easily refer to Fr Ravier’s book for these themes if further clarification was wanted, and also of course discuss with her spiritual director to whom it is to be hoped she would in any event have frequent recourse.
Fr Ravier’s aim is stated at the conclusion of the booklet, wherein he hopes that this retreat will at least have helped us to recite the Our Father with more faith in our understanding and more love in our heart. This is a simple, yet deeply profound, hope and one that he guides the reader towards as the retreat unfolds.
St Ignatius’s Exercises gently draw the retreatant into a love affair with Jesus, and by the time we reach the contemplations on Christ’s Passion, as Fr Ravier states, ‘everything is love.’
This section of the booklet in particular is deeply contemplative and reflective, so that we come to lose ourselves in the overwhelming current of love within the Trinity, as the closing pages say. One senses a rich life of prayer and love undergirding Fr Ravier’s writing and he does a great service to the reader in sharing that and encouraging others to drink deeply of the same well.