At the conclusion of his classic work on the spiritual life, The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius Loyola encourages his Jesuits and all those who have made a good retreat to continue to live in close union with the Church by providing them with “rules for thinking, judging and feeling with the Church.” Rule Six tells them to “praise frequent attendance at Mass, also chants, Psalmody and long prayers inside and outside the church … the Divine Office and prayers of every kind.” St. Ignatius loved prayer and knew it was the lifeblood of a true disciple of Jesus.
Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, the beloved EWTN host and a son of St. Ignatius, has heeded his founder’s advice and provided a treatise on prayer that distills a lifetime of wisdom and experience on the subject. Father Pacwa packs the eight meaty chapters of his book with all kinds of solid and practical guidance on how to pray, with the emphasis on helping Catholics to listen to God.
Father Pacwa believes that God will communicate his holy love and will to those who take the time to pray and to listen. He shows how God has spoken through the sacred Scriptures, through the Church’s teachings and through the sacraments — and how people from the humblest person in the pew to the greatest saints have all truly grown in their faith by listening to God’s word and by letting it touch their hearts. He wants his readers to have this same experience.
“People who have eaten sugar and butter are disappointed with the lack of authenticity of saccharine and margarine. Similarly, those who have been touched by God’s goodness are aware that the rest of their experience is true and good only insofar as it is like God or fulfills the purposes he sets out for those things,” Father Pacwa writes. “We need God as our counterpoint to the world, the flesh and the devil in order to discern what is of God and what is not.”
In one chapter, after laying down some basic precepts about the Bible — origins, sources and how to read it — Father Pacwa encourages his readers to take up the Scriptures not for intellectual study, but to use them as the basis of their prayer life. He instructs them to read a small passage, let it sink in, allowing the words of Scripture to touch the human heart, and then really pay attention to the feelings and movements of the heart that the passage inspires. It is in this dynamic that one can really hear the word of God and listen to what it says to someone personally.
In another chapter, he provides a very thorough description of St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, whose purpose is “to help people understand these diverse interior movements so as to accept the good ones and reject the bad ones.” As I read this chapter, I thought that it would be helpful to see this material placed in an easy-to-use chart that visually represented the material rather than trying to read through long, descriptive passages of text. Rules-for-discernment materials also seem to be more appropriate for a spiritual director to use with a retreatant than for someone to try to read and follow on their own through this book.
The book, though, is very well written and presented. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for reflection and discussion that help the readers to better become listeners of almighty God. It would make for an excellent study guide for a prayer group or a good selection for a Catholic book club. Pastors and teachers will find it to be a good review of the sources for solid Catholic spirituality.
It is laced with lots of fun and interesting examples from the life and times of Father Pacwa, including on the streets of Chicago, in the halls of academia and under the bright studio lights of EWTN. He shows his reader how he has listened to God and how this listening has deeply influenced his relationship to God and the Church, making it one of love and life.
Catholics should read this book and listen to God — and to Father Mitch’s wisdom.
Register correspondent Father Matthew Gamber writes from Chicago.
HOW TO LISTEN WHEN GOD IS SPEAKING
A Guide for Modern-Day Catholics
By Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J.
The Word Among Us Press, 2011
173 pages, $12.95
To order: bookstore.wau.org