From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Holy Names Sisters’ effort to ‘reclaim’ St. Ignatius’s spiritual exercises is a ‘tremendous gift’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 12, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

Long ago, at the now-closed St. Thomas Seminary in Kenmore, near Seattle, students each year gathered in the Prayer Hall to recite by memory the “Sulpician Method of Mental Prayer.”

Similar to a chapter of a Dickens’ novel, over a period of several weeks, each student could be called upon to recite from memory the definitions of this particular process of mental prayer. Some students would forget and be left standing in silence as the rest of the students prayed for them in their public embarrassment.

Three Holy Names Sisters — Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert — have taken the much longer text of the classic Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and opened it up for contemporary women.

By so doing, they have performed a major task for the whole Church. By the way, many of their critiques and suggestions also would resonate with men.

The title of their book is The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women (Paulist Press, New York, 2001; softcover; $22.95).

As the authors explain in the beginning, their intention is to take the original text of St. Ignatius written in the turbulent 15th Century and look at it from the view of feminist Biblical studies, theology and psychology. This they do throughout the book in a way that constantly comes back to the original writings of Ignatius. They then show how his Spiritual Exercises can be questioned and reinterpreted, particularly for women of the 21st century.

Early in the book they give a history of Ignatius’ conversion and the influence of the women of the time on his life and writings. Then they go through the Spiritual Exercises as given in a 30-day retreat or modified in the eight-month SEEL Program (Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius in Everyday Life).

In each chapter, after explaining the words of Ignatius, they raise questions from contemporary women and give suggestions how the traditional method can open new doors and yet be modified in its style and historical placement for women.

Who is this book for? Well, it is certainly for anyone who has taken part in any form of the Spiritual Exercises. It also may be helpful for anyone interested in participating in the Exercises in the near future. It is written in a very logical, academic style, so it does not read like the fascinating stories of Kathleen Norris in her books Dakota or The Cloister Walk. Nor does it lead directly to prayer, as Sister Joyce Rupp’s books often do, unless you are very familiar with the Spiritual Exercises.

The footnotes after each chapter are very interesting and informative. At the end of the book there is a play that can be put on by a group of people who have participated in the Exercises. The play, called “Any Woman,” in a more contemporary manner uses aspects of the Exercises in a creative, almost medieval mystery play motif.

At several ends of chapters there are actual recent models that modify aspects of the Exercises. For example, there is the outline for “Focusing: A Short Form” that does provide a way of leading directly into prayer and discernment. Such aids are helpful for anyone, whether that person has made the Exercises or not.

Finally, The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed is a tremendous source of help for the spiritual guide, walking with the seeker through whatever form of the Exercises.

Sisters Katherine Dyckman, Mary Garvin and Elizabeth Liebert are to be congratulated on their tremendous gift to the many men and women today seeking to walk the journey to the Risen Christ with new depth and fervor.

(Anyone interested in the SEEL program is invited to call Holy Names Sister Sheila McEvoy at (509) 323-5898.)


Video Review

Each year many an independent or foreign film doesn’t make it to our area. But many of the films that never find their way to the big screen in our part of the world eventually do come out on DVD or video.

Australian director Fred Schepisi’s film Last Orders came out in larger cities last Christmas. But now it is out on video. It is an elegiac visual poem of life and death that cuts to the very core of what it means to be human.

But Last Orders is a complicated film with as many flashbacks as possibly could be included in a film less than two hours long. So one needs to turn the phone off and give full attention to the film.

The second half of the film is much better than the first. So hang in there and treat yourself to a film that has the ability to hit you emotionally in areas you didn’t even know were there.

Last Orders is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Graham Swift. It is a story that sweeps over more than 50 years. It tells the story of four pub-drinking buddies in London who fought with the British forces during World War II.

Jack (Michael Caine) is a butcher who has recently died. His final wish is that his buddies, who are made up of Vic (Tom Courtenay), Ray (Bob Hoskins), and Lenny (David Hemmings), take his ashes to a seaside resort and throw the ashes off the famous pier. Jack’s son Vince (Ray Winstone) is a car dealer who gets a new Mercedes from his showroom to drive the buddies and the ashes to the seacoast.

Jack’s wife Amy (Helen Mirrren) decides to make her weekly visit to their institutionalized handicapped daughter, June, who is 50. So Jack’s wife is not part of the pilgrimage to the coast, a trip that includes a visit to a war memorial, the hop farm where Jack and Amy met, and Canterbury Cathedral.

In the midst of their pilgrimage, each of the buddies and the son see something that brings an evocative moment triggering memories of Jack’s life and his relationships with his friends and family. In the process we see the value of each human life in its dreams, its failures and its joys.

The complicated part of the film comes in trying to understand the timeline of the flashbacks. Don’t get discouraged at first. Stay with the film. Everything becomes clearer and clearer as the story progresses. Also, hang in there with the English accents. It is okay if you don’t get every sentence.

The joy of the film is the layers of connections between the principals as we travel through the days prior to World War II, the war itself, and the post-war period, up until the 1990s. The twists and turns of the plot, tied to the comedic themes, hold your attention.

But it is the last 15 minutes or so of the film that tugs at you heart as everything becomes clear and Jack’s friends and son carefully throw his ashes into the sea.

Michael Caine is wonderful as the friend who has died. We come close to him in flashback after flashback. What can anyone say about the incomparable Helen Mirren? She has done it again. Bob Hoskins is particularly good as the best friend.

There are lots of very competent young British actors and actresses in the roles of the principals as young people.

Last Orders is an evocative film that does take some work to watch, but is well worth the energy.

The film is rated R because of sexuality and some language. The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates Last Orders A-III — adults.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane. His reviews also appear in the Cheney Free Press.)

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