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A Perspective on Discernment and "Spiritual Exercises" : Universal Apostolic Preference 1

Universal Apostolic Preferences

Amadi Eziokwubundu SJ | Communications Coordinator at ITCJ

I was in company of a group of university students the day after Father General promulgated the Universal Apostolic Preference. Talks on discernment and spiritual exercises, one of the four apostolic preferences, make rare appearances in our conversations. When I informed the group that the Jesuits have elected to give more priority to discernment and the Spiritual Exercises for the next ten years, an eerie silence fell upon the group as though a common judgement has come upon us.

A little moment of soul-searching, I thought. At my request to know the reason for the intruding silence, I was told that their prayer has been so irregular due to the hodgepodge of daily activities.

Immersed in the medley of the hustle and bustle of daily activities, we find it difficult to withdraw for a quiet time with God, becoming puppets at the mercy of the moment. We forget that daily prayer and daily discernment are a kind of daily retreat during which, however brief, we retreat to advance in our knowledge of self as well as in relationship with God and with others.

Furthermore, in the early days of automobiles, when automatic headlight controls had not been added to car features, it was easy to leave the headlights on. If we were in haste or it was bright enough outside that we did not remember we had turned on the lights, we returned to find the car battery dead or weak. To get the car back on again, the battery had to be re-energized. This example of car battery can also be used to understanding our human spiritual life. Our own supply of spiritual energy is not infinite. It has to be renewed through regular prayer and discernment.

Irregular meeting with God in prayer and discernment causes our spiritual perceptions to be distorted and our response to God and makes our response to God invitation anything to be desire. When St Ignatius of Loyola insisted that all Jesuits should do the Examen twice every day, it was to to help them keep tab with the work of God in their spiritual life as well as their participation in the world. The ancient Roman poet, Ovid, urged us to “take rest” because “a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop”. In the same way, a person who prays and discerns better disposes to cooperating with God.

As Jesuits we have a task on our shoulders. While we will not be able to slow down the fast-pace movement of our age, helping people find Christ and to follow Him in the medley of the hustle and bustle of our age will require every creative tact, will and love. While doing this, we must keep to the fore the fluid and dynamic qualities of the Spiritual Exercises, for the glory of God.