40 Week Spiritual Exercises for Small Groups

Phil and Keri Faba of Calgary, Canada, have been members of Regnum Christi for many years. Recently their locality discovered a book and small group program by Fr. Bill Watson called 40 Weeks. The book takes the elements of the traditional Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and turns them into a 40 week journey of prayer in which the participants meet together once a week and take 15 minutes of private prayer daily, with an assigned reflection.

In writing the 40 weeks program, Fr. William Watson SJ wanted to enable a prayer journey for small groups to travel together, with each person discovering their own sacred story. The 40 weeks website proposes the book and small group program as a way to introduce people to “a heartfelt personal relationship with Jesus in daily prayer, spiritual discernment and a regular and fruitful practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

After 20 years of developing the content in 40 Weeks, the program states that it is “a perfect program of solid, classic spirituality updated for the third millennium to promote the new evangelization first described by Pope John Paul II early in his papacy, continued by Pope Benedict XVI and now strongly proclaimed by Pope Francis.”

Kari and Phil were invited to be a part of the first 40 Weeks small group run by Regnum Christi in Calgary. Kari said that for her “it was an invitation into the depths of romance Christ was offering me.” She learned that “in order to love others, I need to love myself and this is precisely what the 40 week Ignation Journey is about. It is a slow, purposeful walk, with Christ, into the pain of our past to find healing. To witness His fidelity in ways we may have overlooked.

“One learns to embrace the fullness of Creation as gift of the Ultimate Lover, who is continually present, calling us deeper into relationship with Him, and with others. We’re liberated from the fears we carry and encouraged to embrace our Sacred Story in a new life-giving way. 40 weeks in many ways encapsulated everything I had learned through Regnum Christi. The structure of the Program allowed the tools I had in my possession to come alive and I was able to see how, when and where they should be applied more clearly.”

Phil participated in the small group as well, and shares his experience. “When Kari and I were asked if we would like to participate in the Ignatian 40 week program my first reaction was ‘We still have 6 kids at home and a business to run! 40 weeks, are these people crazy?’ The organizers told us it would be ok, and that we did not have to attend every week since the program was set up so that if you missed a meeting you could continue to follow on your own. We stepped out in faith and accepted the challenge. Kari and I had attended many different Catholic conferences, missions and programs in our history as husband and wife, some as a couple, some alone. I have benefited from every event that I have been a part of and so has our marriage. I have to admit because of all I already had, I did not expect to receive the growth in my faith life that I received from the 40 week program. I have attended 3 day Ignatius silent retreats in the past and had seen the benefits of those retreats, but the true effects for me were short lived. It always seemed that there was not enough time to uncover the truth of who I was and who I was called to be in that short amount of a time frame. That was totally opposite with this program.

“The way Father Watson has structured this book helped me to overcome some of my fears in looking deep into myself to uncover who I am and where I am going. It was going into those locked doors of my memories with Christ by my side that I started a journey of healing. It was of great benefit to be in a group setting to discuss our thoughts of the previous week with others, and to gain more insight through the group’s reflections. We are currently starting a women’s and a men’s program in the fall, which I will be a part of and have no doubt that it will be fruitful for the men attending as well as for myself. To sum up, it is a program that I can see myself continuing to participate in as I write my sacred story called life.”

The Fabas said they both learned that it is “necessary to know ourselves, to know our sin, our inability to do anything without the Lord. Yet, there is a danger in focusing only on our faults. True we are sinners, but we are also His bride and through God’s grace capable of being all that He calls us to be, all that He loves, and all that He died for. To focus only on our weakness and our sin, is to miss the opportunity to build.

“God wants us to set out in that adventure of faith where Our Sacred Story takes on a new meaning. We are called to live with purpose, to be fully alive in Christ and in giving our whole self we are able to give Christ to a broken world, in so much need of hope, of encountering Mercy. We were created to live in Christ for all Eternity, helping others to understand this life is but a door, not the end.”

The book, 40 Weeks: An Ignatian Path to Christ with Sacred Story Prayer, and the DVD-discussion program for small groups are available from the Sacred Story Institute, as well as on