The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola: Introduction
With the conversion of Saint Ignatius Loyola came his desire to help others through acts of charity and spiritual guidance. Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises first took form in the notes he kept as he established a method for directing people spiritually, using prayer tactics already existing and newly inspired ways of encountering God and discerning His will. Thus, from the very beginning, his Spiritual Exercises were meant to be read as a manual for spiritual directors and retreat directors, not as an inspirational self-help book for the one seeking personal holiness through prayer.
The Spiritual Exercises are meant to sharpen the facilities needed to open one’s heart to encountering God, discerning His will, and making the decision to carry out that will with enthusiasm. Through guided contemplations on Holy Scripture and meditations on other theological truths, the one on retreat aims to deepen their affection for Christ and desire to follow Him more closely. Saint Ignatius also offers practical rules for achieving that same aim, most of which can be applied even outside of the duration of the retreat.
The contemplations and meditations are divided into four “weeks” of various length that add up to thirty days, although the Exercises can be adapted to shorter or longer time periods. The weeks may be summed up as follows:
First Week - Ponder God the Father and His love for you as part of His creation. Examen your response to that love and God’s call to you.
Second Week - Come to know Jesus as described in the first part of the Gospels, His friends and family, circumstances and teachings. Deepen your love for the person of Jesus.
Third Week - Come to know Christ crucified and deepen your love for Him and your desire to follow Him, fearlessly sharing in His mission.
Fourth Week - Come to know the risen Christ and deepen your hope in the sharing in His glory.
I do not recommend reading the Spiritual Exercises from cover to cover unless you have already experienced the Exercises through a retreat. However, I thought it might be helpful to offer the text of the Exercises in pdf as well as some of my own commentary on certain sections. I hope you find my efforts fruitful.
John Brown, S.J.