Anh Pham didn’t know what to do. She had reached a point in her nursing career where, in order to continue progressing, she’d need to pursue an advanced degree — but at the same time, the idea of entering religious life tugged at her. She needed help discerning where God was calling her to go. So she signed up for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at St. Peter Chanel Church in Hawaiian Gardens. Though Pham — a parishioner at St. Bonaventure in Huntington Beach — is continuing to discern her vocation, by the time the last Spiritual Exercises class wrapped up on July 19, she knew she had made a good decision in signing up for the program. “I feel like the Holy Spirit is letting me know this is what we should be,” she said. St. Peter Chanel is staffed by priests from the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, an order that has as part of its charism the teaching of the Spiritual Exercises. Oblate of Virgin Mary Father Ed Broom, who launched the 10-week program at St. Peter Chanel, has been teaching the Exercises for 15 years — though for many of those years, he taught individuals one-on-one. That’s how St. Peter Chanel parishioner Jim Martorana first experienced the Exercises. Martorana met Father Broom when someone recommended the layman to the priest as a potential assistant in the parish’s catechetical work. The priest asked Martorana about his prayer life, and Martorana launched into a list of his spiritual activities, including the liturgy of the hours. “Sounds like your prayer life needs to be kicked up a notch,” the priest responded, challenging Martorana to begin the Spiritual Exercises. Martorana and his wife Mary completed the Exercises together, meeting weekly with Father Broom over the course of many months. “People are really looking for holiness of life, and really want to find a school of prayer; they want to arrive at holiness through the intercession of Mary.”—Father Ed BroomDirecting the couple gave Father Broom the idea to offer an adaptation of the Exercises to other married couples in a larger group. By the second time Father Broom offered the Exercises, word of mouth had attracted two dozen single young adults. Now the program — open to anyone who pre-registers — has expanded to five English-language and four Spanish-language time slots, and the 10-week programs are offered four times a year.“Our little idea of where we were going was not where the Holy Spirit said we were going,” quips Martorana, who along with his wife coordinates the program that Father Broom directs. An estimated 4,000 people have completed the Exercises, which lead participants into a deeper prayer life through focused meditations on subjects such as the mysteries of the rosary; death, judgment, heaven, and hell; and the capital sins. The point of the Exercises is best summed up by a quote from St. Augustine, Father Broom tells students: “He who prays well, lives well; he who lives well, dies well; he who dies well — all is well.” “That’s the purpose of these Exercises,” he says. “To get us to heaven, and to bring as many people as we can with us.” Each class meeting is made up of three components: an instructive talk (in addition to Father Broom, Oblate of Virgin Mary Father Craig MacMahon and Martorana also teach); distribution of materials to be used in meditation during the following week; and a small group meeting, in which participants share one of their meditation experiences from the preceding week. (The groups are unique in that they do not encourage discussion among participants; instead, each individual member addresses his comments to the facilitator, and the rest of the group simply listens.) Each day, students complete a Holy Hour, meditating on the subject for that particular day and then writing notes — a “revision,” in Ignatian terms — about their meditation experience. After a couple of weeks, they add a daily Examen of Conscience to their agenda and complete a “general Confession” of all their mortal sins (even if they’d been confessed before). By the end of the course, students have completed a plan for further deepening their spiritual lives and have been invited to attend weekly “perseverance” classes, as well as the annual eight- and four-day retreats. “People are really looking for holiness of life, and really want to find a school of prayer; they want to arrive at holiness through the intercession of Mary — and the Exercises is the answer,” said Father Broom in an interview. “Here, it’s just a winner. People are just so enthusiastic.”Pham is a prime example. “I made a very right decision,” she declared following her last class. “I really thank God for the whole 10 weeks.”The next session of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius begins Aug. 25; classes are offered each week at 11 a.m. Saturday, 1:30 or 4 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, or 9:15 a.m. Thursday. There is no charge to participate; donations are accepted. Pre-registration is required by Aug. 17. For information, contact Jim Martorana, (562) 924-5193 or [email protected]. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0803/spiritualex/{/gallery}