The Spiritual Exercises grew out of the spiritual journey of St Ignatius of Loyola. As a young man, he was vain and spiritually weak, yet after a cannonball injury, he began a spiritual pilgrimage to find God in his life and to discern God’s will. During a lengthy convalescence from his injury in his Loyola castle, Ignatius began to notice moments of consolation and desolation within his heart and soul, and realized that God speaks to us from within. As he moved through his life, which included preaching, evangelizing, prayer, and academic studies, Ignatius gained spiritual insight and compiled his spiritual journey into a journal. This journal began to serve as a spiritual guide as he directed others on their spiritual path.
Thus began the Spiritual Exercises, facilitated initially only by Ignatius and then later by his companions, always given to people who sought to deepen their relationship with Jesus and sought to find God in creation, in the world around them. It was first published, after many revisions by Ignatius himself, in 1548. Ignatius always stated that the Spiritual Exercises were for all people who sought to deepener their relationship with God, not only for Jesuits and/or religious.
The Spiritual Exercises are structured in four distinct weeks, with a clear framework that carries the retreatant through a series of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices developed by Ignatius Loyola. Many of the Exercises are based on the experiences of Ignatius' life and spirituality. The weeks allow the retreatant to look deep within, to examine the life of the human Jesus and to see which choices and values are expressed in Jesus' life and the retreatant's own.
There are several ways to experience the Spiritual Exercises, and for centuries, the most common way was to immerse the retreatant into a retreat of 30 days of silence and solitude, with a spiritual director leading the retreatant through the retreat. In recent years, there has been a renewed emphasis on the Spiritual Exercises as a spiritual retreat for laypeople, using different ways to experience it.
19th Annotation: A common way is called the 19th Annotation, where an individual can do the exercises as a retreat in daily life. This would involve committing to a months-long program of daily prayer, meeting regularly with a spiritual director.
18th Annotation: The Exercises have also been adapted in many other ways to meet the needs of people in all walks of life. The 18th annotation is an abridged version of the Exercises with varying lengths. Many of the same themes and individual exercises and meditations are included and it can be a retreat in daily life (for four or six or eight weeks) or even as an eight-day retreat at a Jesuit retreat house. For a list of Jesuit retreat houses in the U.S., see the link below. These retreat houses offer Ignatian retreats of varying lengths.
Ignatius wrote that the Exercises: “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” He wanted individuals to undertake these exercises with the assistance of an experienced spiritual director who would help them shape the retreat and understand what they were experiencing. The book of Spiritual Exercises is a handbook to be used by the director, not by the person making the retreat. (IgnatianSpirituality.com, a service of Loyola Press)
Articles about the Spiritual Exercises: Click HERE >>>
Jesuit Retreat Houses in the United States: Click HERE >>>