The Ignatian Workout: Daily Exercises for a Healthy Faith

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9780829419795: The Ignatian Workout: Daily Exercises for a Healthy Faith

Get Fit Spiritually We look at the world—and at God—in drastically different ways than our ancestors did, and yet the wisdom of a sixteenth-century Catholic saint perfectly suits our doubtful, antiauthoritarian, pluralistic age. St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that we could know God better by paying attention to his work in our lives, our experiences, our imagination, and our feelings. His Spiritual Exercises, an enduring masterpiece of spiritual insight, teaches us to grow spiritually by learning to respond in concrete, practical ways to this divine presence.
 The Ignatian Workout presents St. Ignatius’s wisdom in today’s language—as a daily program of “workouts” to achieve spiritual fitness, tailored to people with busy schedules. It is a program that shows us how to recognize and respond to a God who is already at work in us, inviting us into a deeper relationship and into richer lives of love and service. “A thoughtful, clever, and very practical introduction to Ignatian spirituality.”
—J. A. Appleyard, S.J., vice president for University Mission and Ministry Boston College “The Ignatian Workout is a valuable contribution to contemporary writing on Ignatian spirituality. Muldoon does a fine job of illustrating just how relevant this spirituality is for today’s young adults.”
—J. Michael Sparough, S.J., director of Charis Ministries Ignatian Spirituality for Young Adults

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About the Author:

Tim Muldoon is a Catholic theologian, author, spiritual director, and professor in the Boston College Honors Program.  He is married with two daughters.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
For many people, the coming of summer is a mix of exhilaration and dread. It’s exhilarating, of course, because it’s the time for vacations, barbecues, visits to the beach, and long nights. But the downside is that suddenly people become preoccupied with having to get into shape! I know that on the college campuses where I’ve been, the gyms fill up sometime before spring break and stay that way until classes end. Men and women flock to the treadmills, bicycles, weights, and (my personal favorite) rowing machines, in the hope that they can burn off the winter pounds and achieve the bodies that magazine editors drool over. Every year I see this, and every year I wonder the same thing: where have these people been over the winter? Maybe I tend to be a little critical. But it seems to me that if someone is really concerned with being fit, muscular, and svelte, that someone ought to be at it year-round. Bottom line: you can’t get a perfect body in one fell swoop, no matter what the latest magazine headline tells you!
My experience as a college athlete helped me to learn something about being in shape. I began rowing as a freshman, having had no prior training, and it was a slow process. I remember watching the Olympic rowers on TV and marveling at how incredible their skills were. When I first got into a boat, I remember wanting to row fast and hard, to feel the wind at my back as our crew cut smoothly through the river. The reality was that we splashed around like a bunch of uncoordinated children. That was the first lesson in patience. We all had to ditch our prior notions of how talented we were and get down to the business of learning slowly if we were ever to make progress. But gradually we did; and by the end of the season, though we were far from Olympic-level rowing, we were able to move a boat reasonably well—and it felt great. I still cherish the memory of that first feeling of rowing well; it was satisfying on a personal level because I had spent a great deal of time working on it. It was also just a lot of fun.
This book takes a look at the practice of spirituality in a way similar to getting in physical shape. We can learn a great deal about “spiritual fitness” from understanding physical fitness. Many people suffer from attitudes toward spirituality similar to their attitudes toward fitness, like those I described earlier: namely, wanting the results without really understanding the process that leads to results. We want to have inner peace, a sense of meaning, a connection to other people, a knowledge of God and the world—and we want it now! Sadly, too often this desire for spirituality happens in the wake of difficult times in people’s lives. Some realize that something is missing, and so they go out looking for it in the hopes of making themselves feel better. But it doesn’t work that way! Just because the warm weather is coming doesn’t mean all of a sudden we can get into shape. Just because I see talented athletes doing their thing and I want to do it too doesn’t all of a sudden make me a great athlete. And in the realm of spirituality, just because I want peace, meaning, and connectedness doesn’t immediately make me a saint. All of these desires require a sense of reality, a sense that things take time, a sense that our work will pay off in the end.
So the first question we must ask if we are to get our spiritual lives in order is a basic one: What is spirituality? If I’m going to take a trip, I’ve got to know where I’m going. But in this case, the question is not so easy. There are so many different ways people out there use the word spirituality that it’s hard to decide who’s right. In this situation, then, we’ve got to use a little discernment. Whom can we trust? Let’s eliminate the obvious: we can’t trust only ourselves. For if we were so sure about what spirituality is, we wouldn’t be asking questions about it. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to think that spirituality is just about themselves—it becomes a “self-help” exercise, yet another kind of consumer product. If spirituality is to have any meaning at all, it must be about God. And when I use the word God, I don’t mean that image that we all had as kids, of the old, old man with a long white beard and sunlight coming out from his head. Instead, I mean that spirituality is what leads us deeper and deeper into the mystery of life, of beauty, of truth, of goodness—in short, into the mystery of the person we name God. And since we can’t trust only ourselves, we must trust those reliable guides who have, in their own lives, manifested beauty, truth, and goodness, and so are most likely able to show us how to move in the right direction. I am speaking about the saints: not the cardboard saints whose names people throw around like baseball cards, but those women and men who have with their very lives shown the very best of what it is to be human. In recent times, names like Mother Teresa and Cardinal Bernardin come to mind. In more distant memory are names like Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, and Ignatius of Loyola.
All of the people I’ve mentioned have written on the spiritual life, and I am inclined to believe them simply because I want my life to be more like theirs. Mother Teresa, as many know, lived an unselfish life ministering to the sick and dying in Calcutta, India. She repeated time and again that everything she did was for Jesus and that she saw herself as “God’s pencil,” simply an instrument of the love of God. Cardinal Bernardin was for many a model of a church leader who led by example; and his book The Gift of Peace stands as one of the finest contemporary spiritual journals, a chronicle of his overcoming great stress and coming to deal with his slow dying of cancer. Francis, Teresa, and Catherine are all examples of people who, in their own times and places, sought to live the gospel by using their talents to give glory to God. In this book, though, I will pay special attention to the example of Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), who wrote an influential work called The Spiritual Exercises that grew out of his own struggles to grow closer to God. It is Ignatius’s sixteenth-century text that is the inspiration for the title of this book. In fact, the very structure of this book is an adaptation of Ignatius’s ideas, which many people have used in their spiritual lives. In particular, the order of brothers and priests that Ignatius founded, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), uses the Spiritual Exercises in its spiritual formation, and on the campuses of many Jesuit high schools, colleges, and retreat centers around the country, this same text provides the basis for retreats that many ordinary Christians undertake.
If we are to understand spirituality, we can begin by taking a look at how Ignatius wrote about it in his text: spirituality is a practice, a regular endeavor through which we come to build our lives on the love of God—to order our lives according to God’s plan for us. Its focus, then, is not primarily ourselves but, rather, God. In naming his spiritual practices “exercises,” Ignatius sought to suggest something about how we ought to approach them: as undertakings we must repeat again and again in order to progress slowly toward a goal. We can see spiritual exercises, then, as a part of regular maintenance for the soul. If we practice them, we will give ourselves the chance to know God more intimately and to know God’s will for us. Why is this important? Because, to paraphrase the theme of Psalm 139, God knows us better than we know ourselves. If God called us into existence and continues to intimately shape our existence every second, then God counts every hair on our heads and wants our good. Too often our lives bring us suffering, which seems so meaningless; and our natural reaction is to fight our suffering—and often God, too—in order to rid ourselves of it. Faith, I think, is the gift that enables us to suspend our judgments so that we might retain the belief that even through our suffering, God seeks our ultimate good.
The key word here is ultimate. Clearly, when I am suffering, I can’t see any good in it. But if my concern is my ultimate good, then there are times when I must inevitably accept suffering. Back to our model, then: if my life were devoted to the elimination of all suffering, then I could never grow strong. I would avoid all exercise because exercise sometimes involves certain levels of pain (no pain, no gain, right?). Taking this a step further, though, let us recognize that the objective is not pain per se—not all pain is acceptable. There is a difference between the pain of my burning lungs after a good hard cardiovascular workout and the pain of a pulled muscle. Athletes must learn to distinguish good pain from bad pain, and in so doing, they learn how to tolerate the good and avoid the bad. Similarly, then, in the spiritual life, we must be concerned with learning how God helps us confront certain kinds of suffering that help us grow and how he helps us avoid the suffering that only breaks us down. Moreover, we can see from this example that the spiritual life must be more than simply avoiding suffering; rather, it must be learning to discern among types of suffering and accepting the kind that leads us to greater spiritual growth.
One of the most memorable experiences I have of my early training is a morning spent doing set after set of leg exercises. By the end of the hour or so we all spent doing this, we were exhausted, and our leg muscles were on fire. Our coach instructed us to do one last exercise, a so-called wall sit, in which people stand holding their backs again...

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