Course Creator's Preface

William M. Watson, S.J.

The Examen and Confession Practice of Ignatius and the First Jesuits

In the early months of his conversion, Ignatius Loyola set off on pilgrimage to the Benedictine monastery of Monserrat. When he arrived, one of the first things he did was make a general confession. He was about 30 years old at the time, and the year was 1522. Ignatius spent three days writing out his confession which was customary in that time.

It was his desire to make the confession on the Feast of the Annunciation. With the detailed Examination of Conscience (Examen) guides written by the Benedictine leader of Monserrat, Abbot Cisneros, every category and shade of sin Ignatius committed in his 30 years could be catalogued, written down, confessed, and forgiven.

This begins a lifelong practice for Ignatius of both reviewing his life with his own unique form of the Examen and his practice of frequent confession. And what St. Ignatius practiced, he made part and parcel of the Society of Jesus’ formation process and daily spiritual regimen for all Jesuits.

Like Ignatius’ method for training Jesuits, pastoral work with the laity did not shy away from the Examen’s focus on sin. However, the Jesuits sought generally to highlight the more positive aspects of spiritual growth and God’s mercy.

The emphasis of Pope Francis’ pontificate on mercy is deeply rooted in his Ignatian formation. This positive, mercy-focused approach matches Ignatius’ own graced experience of God’s love for him as a forgiven sinner. Ignatius said late in his life that he did not think there had been in the history of the Church someone who had sinned as much as he had who had been given so many graces.

The practice of frequent confession that Ignatius may have learned through Cisneros’ writings evolved into a pastoral aid that the early Jesuits widely recommend to all types of people. Its goal was to help an individual “begin to make a new book of one’s life.” Ignatius’ application of the general confession as a review of one’s life to aid in spiritual growth caused its acceptance in the wider stream of Catholic practice.

Jesuits offered most of their spiritual direction in the confessional. Many of these early Jesuits would have brought to their confessional ministry the formative experiences of the Exercises, where even the meditations on sin in the First Week “were contrived to elicit gratitude.”

Learning to Bring Your Whole Life to Reconciliation

The Whole-Life Confession is based on Part One of Forty Weeks: An Ignatian Path to Christ with Sacred Story Prayer. This very dynamic and holistic method helps you integrate your spiritual, intellectual, and psychological/emotional history. Those who have completed it have been amazed how it helped them “see their whole life” as if for the first time.

The WLC method for this course is grounded in Ignatian spirituality. This means it is focused on helping those who take the journey to access areas of their lives where they need God’s healing the most. For some people, this means remembering things they may have pushed out of consciousness. It can create anxiety to encounter experiences from your past. However, if they still have energy that upsets you, it means they can greatly benefit from surfacing and deeper healing by the Divine Physician. 

Since the goal of the WLC journey course is to bring healing, hope, and peace, each person must enter the course with a generosity of heart and spirit.

St. Ignatius’ spirituality rests on the interior freedom of the individual. No one can/should be asked to do that which they don’t want to do.

But this is the balancing act in making a decision whether to engage the WLC journey in the course. You should make a discernment based on a peaceful heart, not an anxious or fearful heart. The enemy of human nature (St. Ignatius’ name for Satan) uses fear to keep us from making choices that bring us closer to God and our own peace. So yes, choose freely, but choose in peacefulness and not from fear. If you proceed with the journey, pay attention to the frequent invitations to say aloud: Be Not Afraid!

To help you make the decision, read the document that says: “Experience of the Whole-Life Confession for Participants and Priests" in the box below. These testimonies will help focus your heart on what you want and desire.

It is my firm conviction that if you learn anew how to make your confession in the method put forth here, and you find a regular confessor for the sacrament (monthly is highly recommended), nearly all the spiritual direction you will need in life will be available to you. Be Not Afraid!

“There are very few

who realize what God would make

of them if they abandoned themselves entirely

to His hands, and let themselves be formed by His grace.

A thick and shapeless tree trunk would never believe

that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture…

and would never consent to submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor who,

as St. Augustine says, sees by his genius what he can make of it.

Many people who, we see, now scarcely live as Christians,

do not understand that they could become saints, if they would

let themselves be formed by the grace of God,

if they did not ruin His plans by resisting

the work which He wants to do.” 

St. Ignatius Loyola

The Treatise of St. John Eudes on the Kingdom of Jesus

The Mystery of Christ in Us and in the Church

We must strive to follow and fulfill in ourselves the various stages of Christ’s plan as well as his mysteries, and frequently beg him to bring them to completion in us and in the whole Church. For the mysteries of Jesus are not yet completely perfected and fulfilled. They are complete, indeed, in the person of Jesus, but not in us, who are his members, nor in the Church, which is his mystical body. The Son of God wills to give us a share in his mysteries and somehow to extend them to us. He wills to continue them in us and in his universal Church. This is brought about first through the graces he has resolved to impart to us and then through the works he wishes to accomplish in us through these mysteries. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us. 

For this reason Saint Paul says that Christ is being brought to fulfillment in his Church and that all of us contribute to this fulfillment, and thus he achieves the fullness of life, that is, the mystical stature that he has in his mystical body, which will reach completion only on judgement day. In another place Paul says: I complete in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. 

This is the plan by which the Son of God completes and fulfils in us all the various stages and mysteries. He desires us to perfect the mystery of his incarnation and birth by forming himself in us and being reborn in our souls through the blessed sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. He fulfils his hidden life in us, hidden with him in God.

He intends to perfect the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection, by causing us to suffer, die and rise again with him and in him. Finally, he wishes to fulfill in us the state of his glorious and immortal life, when he will cause us to live a glorious, eternal life with him and in him in heaven. 

In the same way he would complete and fulfill in us and in his Church his other stages and mysteries. He wants to give us a share in them and to accomplish and continue them in us. So it is that the mysteries of Christ will not be completed until the end of time, because he has arranged that the completion of his mysteries in us and in the Church will only be achieved at the end of time.

NOTE: St. John Eudes was educated by the Jesuits and promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart. This treatise is a powerful testament on how Jesus wants to use us for the work of His Kingdom through our participation in His Mercy through the Whole-Life Confession.

You may find it beneficial to experience the Sacred Story Prayer guided Examen Meditation below.

Do it several time a week or even once a day. You will be blessed by the experience! Peace, Fr. Bill Watson, S.J.

Complete and Continue