Rahner's Exercises

Several years ago I discovered a treasure in a used book store, Spiritual Exercises by Karl Rahner, S.J. (NY: Herder and Herder, 1965). This was not written like an ordinary book, as Father Rahner never intended it to be one. Each year, Rahner gave eight-day retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to young candidates to the priesthood. On two of the retreats, the seminarians wrote down his words verbatim—later becoming a mimeograph manuscript and finally a book, which Rahner did not edit or control. In the Foreward he cautions readers that his own words are not the Exercises themselves, but the passages when read give one a feeling of being in the presence of Rahner on retreat, speaking to the future hope of the church. I, like Thomas Merton in The Seven Storey Mountain, found "The Kingdom of Christ" especially captivating and Rahner's words add even more appeal:

In the "first week" the retreatant is supposed to have become mistrustful of his former life, and he is supposed to have aroused within himself the will to make a decision. He is supposed to have prayed for the courage, while being aware of his eternal destiny, to make a right choice on which will depend his salvation or damnation. Now he is supposed to ask himself if he has discovered the major problem in his life, if he is oppressed by a special difficulty that requires a fundamental decision.


St. Ignatius wants the exercitant to stir up in himself the courage to make a binding choice that will truly affect his life, even if it is only in a very small matter. This can be in something relatively small. A choice such as this naturally implies the possibility of other alternatives that are also choosable. The choice here is not between good and evil, but between different means that in themsleves could be used to attain the end. In this situation, it is not at all easy to decide what I should choose here and now.

The Lord we are dealing with remains eternally the same one Who once lived in Palestine. To be sure, He is the King of glory, the Glorified One, the one who is raised to the right hand of the Father. But still, I can only meet Him when I know by means of a real anamesis of an ecclesial-sacramental and contemplative-existential kind that He is the one who lived in Palestine in His own age. I will ask for the grace I desire. Here it will be to ask of our Lord the grace not to be deaf to His call, but prompt and diligent to accomplish His most holy will.

Our God is a God of consuming love. he wants to possess us completely! He gives us no rest and pursues us our whole life long. If we are priests, we will have to share Christ's fate whether we want to or not. But the important thing is that we consciously and lovingly say "Yes" to him--a "Yes" of the whole heart. In this matter, it can be decisive whether or not we have prepared ourselves in this meditation on the Kingdom of Christ as a whole-hearted gift of self.

As always, I find Karl Rahner's words inspiring and this week particularly apt for two reasons. First, he reminds us not only of the small but life-changing responses that are within our power to make; in a world at-times seemingly out-of-control and full of activities we'd like to change but can't, this is no small solace. Second, this book reminds me of the great respect and love which Father Karl Rahner had for his fellow priests. In an unfortunate era where the acts of a small number of priests bring a taint of bias to more than too many others, it is good to hear from a great encourager of the priesthood, Karl Rahner--who is very much like Barnabas was to St. Paul, a Son of Encouragement. If any priests would like a chapter from this book, let me know: ornum@earthlink.net.

William Van Ornum


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Crystal Watson
7 years 11 months ago
I guess one of the most important reasons for doing the Spiritual Exercises (http://ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/) is to learn how to make good decisions (http://ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/).  The Spiritual Exercises text can be found online, and the Jesuits of   Crieghton University have an online retreat that can be made at any time for free  ... http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/cmo-retreat.html
david power
7 years 11 months ago
The Spiritual Exercises remain the supreme gift of the Jesuits to the world. I would love to read this book and thank William for posting on it. One of the most depressing but interesting takes on the exercises was written by Austen Ivereigh and his agony during them.  http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/4260

Well worth a read. It would be nice to read more about the experiences of directors and retreatants here on this Blog.So many insights could be gleaned.

The funny thing is that while Rahner was accused of all sorts at heart he was a faithful and loving disciple of Jesus .


The fact that he was capable of loving a woman is described as "bizarre".

we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago
Thanks, Crystal. I have visited the online site many times. An excellent guide, similar in layout with evocative questions, is MOMENT BY MOMENT: A Retreat in Everyday Life by Sr. Carol Ann Smith and Father Wugwnw F. Merz by Ave Maria Press. It is paperback and his intriguing photos. My coop is falling apart at this point. thanks, bill
we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago
David P.,

As noted the Crystal, the online version is neat. But there is something very powerful that goes on in the real 30-day retreat, which I hope to take some day (have taken the 19th Annotation, which is going through the Exercsises with a Director at a different pace), and it is evident from reading about Mr. Ivereigh that it's important to be doing this with a very experienced and skilled spiritual director. Mr. Ivereigh is obviously a strong person with many personal resources; there might be cautions about someone taking the 30-day exercises who has a more fragile personality and I suspect good directors will screen exercitants before the retreat.
we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago
David S.,

The poet and teacher Paul Mariani has written a nicely readable account of his path on the Exercsises, Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius:


A good translation of the Exercsises themselves with a great deal of helpful commentary and footnotes is Fr. Geroge Ganss, SJ The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius published by Loyola Press in Chicago. amdg, bill
Crystal Watson
7 years 11 months ago
David, you might like the online retreat - it isn't about intellectual stuff at all, it's reallu more about the heart.
we vnornm
7 years 10 months ago

I agree with Crystal...I think you will be surprised...bvo


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