America magazine interviewed Kevin O’Brien, SJ, about his mission and ministry work at Georgetown University. The author of The Ignatian Adventure, O’Brien began a new role as the dean of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, CA, this month. When asked about adapting the Spiritual Exercises for university audiences, O’Brien replied:
Ignatius built adaptation into both the Spiritual Exercises and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. This flexibility of approach stems from Ignatius’ own experience of God, whom he described as working with him personally and directly. Ignatius was also very attentive to the world in which he lived, which was animated by various cross currents of culture: the discoveries of science, the adventurous spirit of the age of exploration and the intellectual vibrancy of the Reformation and Renaissance.
In the same way, we must adapt the exercises in our times, amid the cross currents of our day. We strive to accommodate the experience of each person within their context, while preserving the essential components of the exercises. In the spirit of Ignatian adaptation, we first listen carefully to where the person is, noting especially their deep desires, holy longings and present needs. We then offer the exercises accordingly, ready to follow the lead of grace and avoiding the compulsion to follow the director’s predetermined plan. The goal is coming to know God, not coming to know the exercises. The exercises are a privileged and flexible means to this noble end.