Spiritual Exercises - book reviewPATRICIA STEIGER
St. Ignatius did not plan his retreat for children, although it stands to reason that children, too, would benefit from an Ignatian spiritual retreat.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are widely known and admired as an effective method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of discernment, and of prayer. They are an orderly, spiritual search for the will of God and for the salvation of our souls, in order that we may reach heaven. The Exercises are practical. They are meant to cause us to make choices about our lives, our friends, our state in life, in order that all we do will be pleasing to God. Many adults have benefited from a spiritual retreat according to the plan of St. Ignatius.
Path to Heaven: A Young Person's Guide to the Faith
St. Ignatius did not plan his retreat for children, although it stands to reason that children, too, would benefit from a spiritual retreat. For, it is truly when they are young that many first hear the call from God to their vocation, and every vocation implies a mission, a direction and challenge, commitment and risk. Moreover, youth is the time of maturing bodies and minds, when the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil are beginning to be a part of their lives and imaginations temptations which, if given into, will cost them much. Children thus need encouragement, at such a time, from parents and godparents to live a life of faith according to God’s will. So too parents need, as well, special aids of spiritual beauty to foster their children’s inner (and outer) life of virtue.
And now these parents may receive a gift to help them. Geoffrey Bliss, S.J., attentive to the spiritual needs of children and the Lord’s command to “let the children come to me,” wrote, in 1936, A Retreat with Saint Ignatius: In Pictures for Children. Father Bliss edited the Messenger of the Sacred Heart and the Children’s Messenger. The book was written especially for the child Crusaders of the Apostleship of Prayer (or League of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). Sophia Institute Press has now reprinted the book under the title My Path to Heaven: A Young Person’s Guide to the Faith. It is a gem. Father Bliss distills the four weeks of the Exercises into twelve meditations: Made for God; the Best Way of Life; the Three Sins; My Own Sins; the Call of a King; the Incarnation; the Two Standards; the Election; the Agony in the Garden; the Cross of Jesus; Jesus the Consoler; How to Love God. Each meditation is accompanied by an intricate, black and white illustration. The illustrations are by Caryll Houselander, the well-known author of The Reed of God, A Rocking-Horse Catholic, and Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross.
The illustrations and the text have been finely crafted together. The text directs the reader to look closely at the illustrations, and looking into the illustrations the reader is drawn to again read the text with care. For example, the illustrations show a young boy, with a cross on his clothes (a child crusader), making his way in life, making choices that will help him to get to heaven. The devil and his temptations are also in the picture, as they are in life. The illustrations are truly beautiful, so that a child’s attention is immediately drawn into them and thus better focused upon the path the young crusader is taking.
The meditations are followed by questions to be answered “yes” or “no.” These also cause the young reader to consider again thoughtfully, and prayerfully, the text and illustrations of the meditation. Likewise, the appendix, which highlights a selection of small figures from the illustrations, invites the young reader to return to the meditations in order to find these figures in the illustration and to reflect, once more, on their meaning. The charming illustrations and the simple, clear language make the book a spiritual treasure for children, just as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are a treasure for adults.
Order My Path to Heaven: A Young Person's Guide to the Faith here.
Steiger, Patricia. “Spiritual Exercises.” The Catholic Faith 4, no. 2 (March/April 1998): 62.
Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.
Patricia Steiger is responsible for art research for The Catholic Faith magazine.
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