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Pope Francis: The Spiritual Exercises deepen the concept of personal reform

A 17th-century statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Juan Martínez Montañés A 17th-century statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola by Spanish sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés./ Jl FilpoC via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Pope Francis on Monday sent a video message for the launch of a book on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, written by one of the pope’s early spiritual mentors.

The Italian translation of “Buscar y hallar la voluntad de Dios: Comentario prático de los Ejercicios Espirituales de san Ignacio de Loyola” (Seek and Find the Will of God: Practical Guide to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola), by Fr. Miguel Ángel Fiorito, S.J., will be published May 11.

Fiorito, a Jesuit spiritual master who died in 2005, taught Pope Francis during his Jesuit formation in Argentina in the late 1950s.

Pope Francis has previously written about Fiorito’s “passion for the Spiritual Exercises,” and how the priest “taught many to pray and to discern the signs of the times.”

The future Pope Francis first met Fiorito as a seminarian, and Fiorito became Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s spiritual director as he prepared for priestly ordination.

Later, as Jesuit provincial for Argentina, Bergoglio put Fiorito in charge of the last stage of Jesuit seminary formation.

Pope Francis has written a preface to the Italian edition of Fiorito’s guide to the spiritual exercises, which he called “a real treasure trove to enter into the soul of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.”

“We, his disciples, called [Fiorito] ‘the teacher.’ The help he gave us was simple but necessary. This book presents it with an open or, as we would say today, interactive structure,” Francis said in his video message May 9.

The pope drew attention to the prologue of Fiorito’s book, in which the professor of Jesuit spirituality noted the commentary’s usefulness for those who want to practice the Spiritual Exercises and “not limit themselves to studying them.”

“The aim is to give oneself the time to feel the motions of the Spirit, and to seek in the concrete the will of God through the ‘reform’ of one’s life,” Pope Francis said.

He emphasized that the concept of personal reform is expanded and deepened in the Spiritual Exercises, where “the reform is not only in tension with what was previously deformed. Reform is also conforming to what is new, that is, to the life, style, criteria, and choices of the Lord.”

“The reform does not have a functional character, nor a self-improvement one, but rather is aimed at the mission,” he said.

Francis pointed to St. Peter as an example: “Every time he confesses he is a sinner, the Lord immediately calls him to follow him, perfecting him not in everything, but in what it takes to be a fisher of men and to shepherd his sheep.”

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“The Lord will not ask Peter to start reforming all the defects that he brings with him from the past life, but he will invite him to go out of himself to announce the Gospel,” the pope said, “a mission in which the past will reform itself with regard to certain things and not so much with regard to others.”

“According to the model of the Gospel, the flame and the interior form of the Exercises, as Fiorito says, consist in the interior action of knowing -- through discernment -- ‘the divine will on the relevant themes of our spiritual life,’” he concluded.

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