Spiritual Exercises in Time of Transition

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“. . . we call spiritual exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments and . . . of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.” Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, #1.

With all the brouhaha at the moment about Pope Benedict’s decision to resign and the Vaticanologists already proferring names of who his successor might be, is anybody seriously asking the deeper questions: What kind of pope does today’s world church need? What really are responsible and intelligent criteria for choosing a pope? Who runs the church anyway?

Pope Benedict’s decision, for all the surprise it evoked, is nonetheless an act of wisdom and bravery. Wisdom to recognize his diminishment and act on it. Bravery to step where precious few have trod before him. It raises him, frankly, to greatness.

One doesn’t need a doctorate in theology to appreciate that our church right now is being rent by destructive ideological forces of both right and left. One sometimes wonders if harmony is beyond reach. Yet it is the Holy Spirit who guides the church—a church no longer just European or even “northern,” for the greatest growth is now in Africa and Asia. Indeed, we are already a church of the south.

Some were quite disappointed when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected in 2005; some will no doubt be disappointed at the choice of his successor. But disappointment is a function of expectations. And here is where we would do well to focus some energy. Can we approach the coming conclave with the equanimity of Ignatius? Can we rid ourselves of “all inordinate attachments” of ideology, geography, nationality, theology, etc., and genuinely anticipate that the next pope will be chosen by the Holy Spirit?

Ignatius, don’t forget, had some pretty wretched encounters with Benedict’s predecessors. The depth of his faith, though, led him to “to seek and find the will of God in the disposition of [his] life” for the salvation of his soul. We who bear Ignatius’ name owe him no less.


Simon (Si) E. Smith, S.J is a New England Jesuit with a broad background and varied international experience.  He taught at different levels in Baghdad College, Iraq, Boston College, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley and Nativity schools in Boston and Worcester. His major and preferred areas of instruction are Scripture and liturgy.  He is known as an organizer and administrator, having spent a dozen years based in Washington, as Executive of Jesuit Missions for the U.S. and Canada. Si has published widely, is a popular lecturer, is fluent in French, Spanish and German and has traveled & worked extensively in the third world. And we are grateful that he also serves IVC as a Spiritual Reflector.

3 Responses to “Spiritual Exercises in Time of Transition”

  1. Mary Harrington

    I will try my best Si. But it is a tall order. But you are right, I am going to believe that the Holy Spirit will guide the hearts and minds and consciences of those in the conclave. Nicely written too. This process can be hard for even lifelong Catholics to understand, gratetefully, g

  2. Fran

    Thank you Fr. Smith for putting an Ignatian spin on the recent papal news and the up and coming conclave. I pray that the college of cardinals discern the very questions you raised and truly seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I ask that we, the non-cardinals, enter into this process by praying for Spirit to open their minds and hearts to God’s will.

  3. Kathy Simisky

    Dear Si,
    Thank you very much! That was a beautiful reflection! Yes, so true we must leave it in the Holy Spirit’s hands. We have to keep praying for the spirit of detachment and go with the Holy Spirit’s beautiful flow!


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