Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 24, 2003
Thirty days with St. Ignatius
Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises of St. Ignatius, by Paul Mariani. Penguin Compass, New York, 2002. 285 pp.
Review by GLEN ARGAN
Author Paul Mariani gets lost on his way to make a 30-day retreat at Gonzaga Retreat House, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Massachusetts. It's a fitting symbol for Mariani's struggles and confusions as he finds his way through the Ignatian Exercises at the beginning of 2000.
This book, a first-person account of the Exercises, was written under contract with the publisher and one may wonder if one is getting the full introspection, no holds barred, that one would expect, even demand, from such a book.
Mariani, an English professor, does not disappoint. One learns about the desperate circumstances of his childhood, his own past sins and his attempts to make God central to his life today. It is Mariani's refusal to hold anything back that makes this a book that anyone with an interest in a mature Catholic spirituality will find hard to put down.
Every day he is given two Scripture passages on which to meditate by his director, Jesuit Father John "JJ" Bresnahan. His meditations often bring him to tears, tears he sometimes doesn't understand, and enable Scripture to truly be God's Word - to get inside a person and force them to an authentic personal reflection.
There is an ebb and flow throughout the book of Mariani's feelings of unworthiness and the consolations he receives from the Father. Bresnahan is the cool spiritual master, holding Mariani when he feels lost, challenging him occasionally and giving him the raw material on which to meditate.
One challenge came when Mariani was meditating on Christ's Passion. "'Is he up on the cross yet, Paul?' he surprised me by asking. The question hit a nerve. Suddenly I realized that I was afraid to let Jesus go. I was still holding back, trying to stay on this side of Jesus' death, for how could I understand what the other side of the cataclysm held for him or myself?"
"Each time I have asked for his help . . . he has come to my aid graciously."
- Paul Mariani
Mariani's book testifies to the power of the Ignatian Exercises, now almost 500 years old, to upset one's world and to bring one face to face with the Creator's overwhelming love.
And, ultimately, that's what Mariani finds - a stupendously loving God, both in his retreat and the events of his life.
"Each time I have asked for his help, especially when I was at a loss as to how to move forward, he has come to my aid graciously."
Mariani's Thirty Days are an adventure. Not an adventure of rock climbing, polar exploration or space travel. But rather a spiritual adventure.
An adventure that brings one closer to God and forces one to ask, "Dare I take the next step?"
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