By Rita Carfagna
For several years now, Ignatian spirituality has formed the framework within which I have lived out my vocation as wife, mother, grandmother, and spiritual director.
My first encounter with the Jesuits, and the Spiritual Exercises in particular, was through my husband’s and sons’ alma mater, Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland. It was while our sons were there that I first made an eight-week adaptation of the Spiritual Exercises through their spirituality program for adults. In this program, parents are given a general introduction to Ignatian spirituality, including the retreat experience. This was a real spiritual awakening for me. I began to make praying with Scripture a part of my daily routine. I noticed how journaling my reflections on that prayer, and then sharing them with others in the group, deepened the experience for me. All this left me wanting more.
So, I proceeded to make the 19th Annotation (a version of the Spiritual Exercises designed for people who cannot be away for 30 days to do the Exercises as they were practiced originally) and the fruits of that year-long retreat were abundant. Probably for the first time in my life—even though I am a lifelong Catholic—I entered into a personal friendship with Jesus Christ, a friendship that continues to this day. Praying the Examen once or twice a day helped me to come to know God as imminent and actively engaged in my life. I learned the tools of discernment and noticed how God does indeed guide me, even when I am making the smallest of decisions. I came to know myself as being continually created and loved by God who wants nothing more than my love in return. And finally, it left me with a great desire to share my experience with others.
I went on to receive training and spiritual direction through the Ignatian Spirituality Institute at John Carroll University. At the completion of this two-year certification program, during the closing liturgy, each of the participants is asked to share a desire they have as they look ahead. When it was my turn to speak, I found myself saying something that really surprised me: I wanted to evangelize. I wanted to help others come to know the Good News of Jesus Christ through the good news of the Spiritual Exercises.
Since that time, I’ve had the great privilege of introducing many others to the Spiritual Exercises through programs offered at Saint Ignatius and the Jesuit Retreat Center in Cleveland. I have witnessed individuals find real joy as they learned to pray with Scripture—some for the first time—as they come to experience God’s personal love for them in a way they hadn’t before. Their hearts are set on fire and they are often most eager to spread that flame by serving others, either in their home parishes or in other service opportunities. I’ve seen these simple retreats change lives, as in many cases their Catholic faith comes alive. Liturgies mean more as they listen to the Scripture readings differently now and as they can imagine Jesus walking among them. And even in these earliest experiences of the Exercises, they begin to practice discernment as they ask,
To me, the Spiritual Exercises are one of the great gifts the Society of Jesus has to offer the world. I feel so blessed to have been given this gift and to share it with others. I am also grateful that Saint Ignatius High School, the Jesuit Retreat Center, and the Ignatian Spirituality Institute will continue to be life-giving resources for me and my family along the journey. And that I am blessed to travel with so many inspiring lay colleagues also energized to the witness the presence of God in their lives. My prayer is that, together, we can continue to share this encounter with Christ with all that we meet.