After the consideration of the Principle and Foundation we enter the first week of the Exercises. The aim of the First Week is to have a sense of the reality of being loved in spite of all the times I mess up. As we know – when we experience being loved in spite of our selfishness or our unpleasant character traits , we are moved with gratitude and a sense of unworthiness. This is what we call unconditional love – and for those of us lucky to experience it through friends and family or others, it is the most important thing in our lives! Ignatius aim is for us to consider that unconditional love from a cosmic perspective.
The main graces prayed for are : for a personal shame and confusion for my sins, for mounting and intense sorrow, and tears for my sins leading to a sense of gratitude for a love that is so freely given.
There can be an unhealthy preoccupation with sin and guilt, something that we like to caricature the pre-conciliar church with. However I think there can be an equally unhealthy avoidance of the reality of sin – a smug self satisfaction, a denial of personal resposibility, an ‘anything goes’ delusion that refuses to address the moral complexity of the world and oursleves as free moral agents. So the ideal for this week is that the ‘reality check’ that comes from examining your life, your journey so far is to find a balance between those two unhealthy extremes. Both extremes turn us in on ourselves, whether a neurotic obsession with sins, or the equally narcissistic denial of the brokenness and pain in our lives.
‘You can do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else‘ – seems to be a dominant ethic in the West, and this is called tolerance – but at best it is a lack of interest in the other, a disengagement. Having worked with many youngsters struggling to grow up in a world overloaded with information, this indifference is harmful. In a culture which has relegated the word sin to the packaging of ‘unhealthy’ foods, ‘Go on indulge yourself – its so tasty its sinful’ – the First Week can be quite a culture shock!
Interestingly for Ignatius this was the minimum to be given of the Exercises. In his notes (annotations) to those directing the retreat he acknowledges that for some – should he who is giving the Exercises observe that he who is receiving them has little ability or little natural capacity, from whom not much fruit is to be hoped…. let him not go on into the matter of the Election, or into any other Exercises that are outside the First Week, especially when more progress can be made in other persons and there is not time for every thing. Annotation 18
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