By Flickr user robertjoseph - CC-BY-SA

“The Return” by Flickr user robertjoseph – CC-BY-SA

The Spiritual Exercises is a lengthy retreat devised by St Ignatius of Loyola that calls us to conversion. The retreat is divided into four “Weeks” that allow us to encounter the person of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection. Ignatius knew that when we follow the call of Christ and make Jesus our companion, we are sure to be changed. The “Fifth Week” is the rest of our lives.

Whether or not you’ve made the Exercises you may have had a profound encounter with the divine, perhaps through prayer, a retreat, music, worship, or a life-changing event. Often, there is something that brings us to a more mature adult faith, something that deepens our desire for God. When that happens we find ourselves at a pivot point, a threshold between past and future, conversion and a renewed life. We ask, How is my encounter with the divine going to affect how I live my life? This is the question for the Fifth Week.

The Fifth Week is filled with a sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. We’ve come so far yet have so far to go. We yearn for a fuller life of love and service but are afraid of retreating back to the First Week, a place of shadow and sin. The hope comes in the Ignatian idea of magis, living our life always on that edge of dissatisfaction, not in an unhealthy way, but in a way that moves us to the greater good. What more can I do for God?

A retreat director once told me as my retreat was ending that as I went back to daily life the graces I gained on the retreat were mine. I could go back to them any time I wanted. Our encounter with God whether on a retreat or in a moment of prayer is a reality that we can recall any time we feel ourselves slipping backwards. The Fifth Week of our lives is a continual “re-collecting” of the graces given to us before and continuing to deepen our friendship with the divine.

In fact, the best way to begin the rest of our lives is by looking back and reflecting on where we came from, how we’ve grown, how we came to know God, and how God has loved us without ceasing. After the four Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises, one might be invited to review their journal and map out the graces God gave them, to notice the patterns of growth and conversion. In that pattern we’ll often find a call to action—or many calls to action—that defines the Fifth Week. Some may be called to more prayer, others may be called to a career change, or a reconciliation with someone, or to be more self-reflective. If we don’t look back at the first four Weeks (our conversion experience and graces) then we will not know how to live the Fifth Week (the rest of our lives).

You don’t have to make the Exercises in order to find yourself in the Fifth Week. The four Weeks of the Exercises can be a metaphor for your daily prayer or a weekend retreat. When that prayer ends and when that retreat is over, how is God calling you forward?

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