The Our Father and Spiritual Exercises

I recently preached a retreat on the Our Father, and it struck me again how the order of the Our Father is virtually the opposite of that of St Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. St Ignatius has one begin by considering one’s sins, and ends with a contemplation of God’s love, whereas the Our Father begins with the Father in heaven and ends with ‘deliver us from evil.’

In his division of the Our Father, St Thomas poses the following objection: “Further, one must withdraw from evil before attaining good. Therefore it seems unfitting for the petitions relating to the attainment of good to be set forth before those relating to the removal of evil.” This could be taken as a positive argument for the order of the Exercises. St Thomas replies as follows:

Since prayer is the interpreter of desire, the order of the petitions corresponds with the order, not of execution, but of desire or intention, where the end precedes the things that are directed to the end, and attainment of good precedes removal of evil.

Thus in the body of the article St Thomas argues that the Our Father looks first to God as final end,

first, by our willing the glory of God [hallowed be Thy name], secondly, by willing to enjoy His glory [Thy kingdom come]. The first belongs to the love whereby we love God in Himself, while the second belongs to the love whereby we love ourselves in God.

Then we pray for that which is immediately ordered to the end, namely that we do God’s will. Then for the things instrumentally ordered to attaining the end (daily bread). And then finally for the removal of sin, temptation, and all evils which hinder us from the perfect possession of the end.

St Ignatius was a man of action, and it makes sense that he takes the opposite order. Nevertheless, before beginning the first exercise he puts “The Principle and Foundation,” which is about the final end.

2 thoughts on “The Our Father and Spiritual Exercises

  1. This reminds me of the advice many wise Carmelites give: when approaching the works of St. John of the Cross, begin with the Spiritual Canticle. Proceed through the Living Flame of Love, and then approach lastly his more intensely ascetical works of The Ascent and The Dark Night. Although this order seems opposite to the order in which one will progress in the spiritual life, nonetheless it serves to awaken our desire for God and our appreciation for all He has awaiting us (Himself!) in order that we may then have the courage to do our little part.

    And Pater Edmund, I wanted to mention that my family had the joy of visiting your family in Ave Maria. Although my husband and I have seen your father and mother a few times over the years, this was the first opportunity (since we knew you all at Notre Dame) that we had for partaking of their hospitality in their home. God is so good! We have great admiration and gratitude for your vocation, and we enjoyed seeing the human source of it again!

    God bless you,
    Suzie and Tony ANdres

    Liked by 1 person

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