"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

14-Day Isolation Retreat: Soul Hygiene and the Discernment of Spirits

Luca Signorelli,
Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist (detail),
1499-1502, fresco, Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto

I remember one time I was watching my six nephews frolicking at the pool under the sun. They were or were trying to play waterpolo. One of them was constantly whining about not being able to get the ball. When the ball was passed to him, his opponent of course would take it, and he whined endlessly. At some point, it was no longer fun watching so I explained, in the wavelength comprehensible to him, what it was like to just enjoy the game. I told him about certain rules that he must accept if he wanted to continue playing. He must either play by the rules or just get out of the pool so that he would not get in the way of the others who would like to enjoy themselves. He followed my instructions and after that I noticed the whining was changed to laughters and consolations.

In the next fourteen days of our online retreat this is the image I would like us to remember. St. Ignatius' "Rules for Discernment of Spirits," which I will give on each of the fourteen days, are the rules of this game of discerning spirits. These are time-honored rules for every spiritual seeker which are sure guides in deepening one's prayer. They are inscribed in his magnum opus—the Spiritual Exercises which is considered the first fruit that came out from the saint's conversion experience five hundred years ago. From this first fruit followed the birth of the Jesuit order as well as the numerous Jesuit-run schools on every continent.

In July 1521, the 29-year-old Basque knight, named IƱigo was recuperating in Loyola castle after he was severely wounded by the onslaught on their bastion by a cannon ball. The wounds on his lower limbs led to the first long lockdown in his life, about nine months, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the Loyola castle afforded. He also killed time by recalling tales of martial valour and by day-dreaming about a great lady who captured his heart. Later in the less precarious stages of his condition, his attention was centred on the saints. This profoundly moved and attracted him that soon after he had barely recovered he resolved to do something about his many sins. To fulfil this he must embark on a journey towards spiritual awakening, this time as Ignatius (Ignacio), the man who followed the holy austerities of the saints, e.g. Francis of Assisi and Dominic, that God sent as his first spiritual guides.

In the next fourteen days until July 31 we are in for an adventure to claim God's spiritual DNA which as His children we all have inherited. This, too, is what the common "enemy of human nature" would like to destroy. After the cannonball wounding, Ignatius claimed his spiritual inheritance and cultivated it. All of us around the world, have been hit by another kind of cannonball, the coronavirus. It has hit the globe and everyone residing in it despite its submicroscopic size. Currently in our experience we are baffled by a lot of fears left and right, uncertainties both present and future, hopelessness and precariousness of the human spirit. Ignatius was not alien to all these and this makes his life worth emulating. This man comes to us as a timely lamp-post along our current journey which Ignatius himself went through when he was in isolation inside Loyola castle for his needed physical and spiritual recovery.

Neil Hanna
Six-ton medieval bombard dubbed Mons Meg, built in 1449, (42 years before St. Ignatius of Loyola was born) is lifted by a crane to have its needed restoration and conservation work. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy gave it as a gift to James II, King of Scots, in 1454.

Fr. JM Manzano, SJ