Contemplative Leaders in Action gives young adults chance to develop leadership through an Ignatian lens

Sid Hastings

At the end of the day, when students are ready to clean off their desks and pack their bags, third graders at Incarnate Word School in Chesterfield take a few minutes to reflect on their day.

During Lent, teacher Mary Staten introduced to her students the Examen, a prayer method developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola to review a person's day in the presence of God. The five-step method includes asking for God's grace to see His presence, giving Him thanks, reviewing the day's events, seeking forgiveness for wrongdoing and making a resolution for the next day.

"The Examen brings you closer to God," said student Declan O'Grady. "By telling Him your feelings, you can become more comfortable with Him."

Introducing the prayer method to the third-graders was Staten's capstone project as part of the Contemplative Leaders in Action, a two-year program that cultivates Ignatian spirituality and leadership in young professionals in their 20s and 30s. Participants learn how to polish their communication and leadership skills, build a community of peers in a variety of occupations, learn Ignatian techniques for making decisions, praying and effectiveness, reflect on their role in the world and how they can lead.

The program, offered through the Jesuits' Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces, has existed in other parts of the country for about a decade and is completing its second year in St. Louis, said regional coordinator Tom Auffenberg.

"It's definitely an opportunity to grow spiritually," Auffenberg said. "All of it is done through an Ignatian lens and focusing on the unique qualities of Ignatian leadership."

Each cohort meets monthly from September through June on the campus of Saint Louis University for discussion, spiritual readings and guest speakers. Participants attend a retreat at the beginning of their first year and another at the end of their second year. They also complete a capstone project during their second year, which benefits their church, family, workplace or other community.

Staten learned about the program through a former teacher at Cor Jesu Academy. "I was attracted by the pull of the community setting, faith and leadership growth," she said. The program has helped her better understand discernment, which she said "is a huge part of prayer. I'm learning better to see how God is working in my life."

Rebecca Cunningham, who also finished the program in May, has been working on a doctorate in developmental biology at Washington University in St. Louis. She became involved at St. Francis Xavier "College" Church as a volunteer youth minister. After some discernment and influence through her work at the College Church, Cunningham is applying this summer to study child psychology.

Members of Cunningham's cohort had to write their own First Principle and Foundation, which St. Ignatius originally wrote as a statement of human meaning and purpose and foundation to the spiritual life.

"It was very helpful in honing in on what I actually want to do with my life," Cunningham said. "It focused more on the question, 'Who do I want to be?' and not, 'What do I want to do?' That has been a very good thing I have learned from Ignatian spirituality. And the community of people has been fantastic."

Discernment has been another key learning moment for Cunningham. "It means trying to understand and see how God is moving in daily life, and in the bigger picture, in the past and future and what He is calling me to do," she said. "I am seeing how God is moving, but it is more defined." 

>> The Examen

St. Ignatius Loyola included in his Spiritual Exercises a prayer called the Examen, which comes from the Latin word for examination. These are the five steps of the prayer:

1. Place yourself in God's presence. Give thanks for God's great love for you.

2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.

3. Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.

4. Reflect on what you did, said or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?

5. Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God's plan. Be specific, and conclude with the "Our Father."

Source: The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) 

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