The preaching of the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius have long been a staple of the IVE under Fr. Buela. While the exercises in and of themselves are certainly a great spiritual gift, we have been concerned for some time that their traditional purpose as an opportunity for discernment was being deformed by the IVE practitioners.
Specifically, we have increasingly heard stories where the conscience of those attending the exercises has been influenced both directly and indirectly by the IVE priest with regards to discernment of a vocation. This is contrary to the explicit instructions of St Ignatius:
He who is giving the Exercises ought not to influence him who is receiving them more to poverty or to a promise, than to their opposites, nor more to one state or way of life than to another.Unfortunately, many IVE priests do influence those attending, especially during one on one direction or confession. This was the experience of our friend Laura Monica. It was also the experience of another reader who remarked that during the exercises "it was funny how the only answer seemed to be 'join the order'." These stories have us concerned that the IVE have warped the spiritual exercises into a tool for recruiting vocations.
Thankfully, Ines Pascaul, a previous attendee of the IVE exercises in their weekend form, had the same concerns and asked to share them with the readers of this site. This paragraph from the latter portion of her letter captures perfectly our the concerns regarding discernment:
"With timing, with the emphasis, and with many other subtle methods, the IVE way of conducting the Spiritual Exercises does not conform with Ignatius’ view of the role of the person giving the exercises... the retreat becomes about the teachings of the particular priest rather than allowing the individual to hear whatever it is that God wants to communicate at that time… When individuals viscerally experience their intense brokenness and sinfulness without also simultaneously experiencing God’s love for them… they enter an extremely vulnerable and frightening place… In this tumult, entering the IVE/SSVM can seem like the obvious solution. They are able to run from their selves and their pain and towards the certainty that a life with the IVE/SSVM would seem to provide. This is simply not the freedom to serve God with generosity that Ignatius sought to let others experience. It is positively dangerous especially because individuals who chose to take the risk to go on retreats are often already in a vulnerable place…"
Recently, I was looking for a weekend Spiritual Exercises retreat and happened upon one lead by the IVE/SSVM. The IVE/SSVM claim to model much of their spirituality on the Spiritual Exercises. They frequently offer weekend Spiritual Exercises retreats for laypeople and for people who may be in the first steps of discerning a vocation.
However, this retreat had very little to do with the spirituality of St. Ignatius, but it badly distorted it. This version of the Exercises should be avoided. Far from just being a variant on the Exercises, it presents a spirituality that is self-centered, closed off from the world, and consistently misrepresents St. Ignatius.
As I have previously experienced the Exercises, the point is really to get to know God as made known in love and serve him more. It is not a servile fear, but a questioning of how I can have an ever-deepening relationship with God. In Ignatius' words: “Conocimiento interno de Cristo, para más amarle y seguirle”: “An internal knowledge of God in order to love him more deeply and follow him more closely.”
Ignatius is singularly effective at bringing us to an honest evaluation of ourselves. He makes us focus on ourselves in all of our imperfection and brokenness, preventing us from sugarcoating anything. He wants us to understand ourselves as sinners, with all the depth that this means. Pope Francis’ first response in his recent interview with Antonio Spadaro, SJ, published simultaneously in America and Jesuit magazines around the world, speaks to this: