“I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it.”—Ignatius Loyola
Spiritual Exercises/Ignatian Spirituality
Ignatius and the Jesuits who followed him believed that the reformation of the
Church had to begin with the conversion of an individual’s heart.
Instead of teaching people that the only way one’s deceitful and desperately wicked heart can be changed is through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Jesuits taught conversion through the Spiritual Exercises, the cornerstone
of Ignatian Spirituality.
Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual Exercises at least 16 years before the Society of Jesus was officially formed in 1540. They were published in Rome
in 1548, with the approval of the pope.
The Exercises, with distinctly Roman Catholic aspects, are a set of meditations, prayers and mental exercises designed to take place in the setting of a secluded retreat for a month. They are intended “to conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”
In current retreats, one undergoes a series of directed meditations on the life of Christ, and usually spends the time in silence, with up to 5 hours of prayer a day. A Jesuit spiritual director helps with the understanding of a call or message “God” had given during the time of meditation.
The importance given to one’s own “discernment” [a Jesuit concept] in deciding their own path to glorify God, results in an emphasis on the mystical experience of the “believer.” Mysticism is a major part of the Spiritual Exercises as the three-step path to mysticism of John Cassian and the Desert Fathers greatly influenced Loyola.
John Cassian’s Path to mysticism, Purgatio–Illuminatio–Unitio
- Purgatio was a struggle through prayer and ascetic practices to gain control and resist the flesh from the “Holy Spirit,” learning to trust peacefully in the Lord for all needs…
In the Illuminatio step, the monk learned the paths to holiness revealed in the “Gospel”…tended the poor as much as meager resources allowed, and continued his life of humility in the Spirit of God with a stoic acceptance
of suffering…Many monks died never having moved past this period.
Lastly, the Unitio, was a period when the soul of the monk and the “Spirit of God” bonded together in a union often described as the marriage of the Song of Solomon. Elderly monks often fled into the deep desert or into remote forests to find the solitude and peace that this level of mystical awareness demanded…
Perhaps it was during this last mystical step when Ignatius Loyola levitated. He is said to have not only raised several feet but became luminous in the process.
Ignatius’ innovation was to make this style of contemplative mysticism available to all people in active life, and to use it as a means of rebuilding the spiritual life of the Church. The Exercises became both the basis for the training of Jesuits themselves and one of the essential ministries of the order: giving the exercises to others in retreats.
The Ignatian ideal has the following characteristics
Excerpts from “Ignatian Spirituality”, Pinard De La Boullaye.
Bible verses and comments added by AYA.
God’s greater glory—The “First Principle and Foundation”
“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord and by this
means to save his soul.” Ignatius declared, “The goal of our life is to live
with God forever…Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into
us without limit…Our only desire and our one choice should be: I want and
I choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.”
We can not save our own soul. If we could, then Jesus didn’t need
to die on the cross and shed His blood. There is nothing good in us.
There is none that understandeth, there is none that
seeketh after God.”—Romans 3:11
Union with Jesus
Ignatius emphasized an ardent love for the Saviour. In his Exercises, he devoted the last weeks to the contemplation of Jesus: from infancy and public ministry,
to his passion and lastly his risen life.
The Spiritual Exercises, in 104, sum this up in a prayer: “Lord, grant that I may see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.”
These are the exact words from a song sung in “Godspell.”
There is a great emphasis on the emotions in Ignatius’ methods, and a call for
the person to be very sensitive to the emotional movements that shape them.
“Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
“And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish…My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all…
“I and my Father are one.”—John 10:25, 27–30
“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”—1 John 5:20
Ignatius recommends the twice daily examen—a guided method of prayerfully reviewing the events of a day to awaken an inner sensitivity to one’s own actions, desires, and spiritual state through each moment reviewed…
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”—Titus 3:5
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”—Matthew 16:24
Meditation and contemplation, and the aforementioned examen, are best guided by an experienced person, according to Ignatius. Jesuits, and those following Ignatian spirituality, meet with their spiritual director on a regular basis (weekly or monthly) to discuss the fruits of their prayer life and be offered guidance…
If the director is a priest, spiritual direction may or may not be connected with the Sacrament of Penance. Ignatius counseled frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance.
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;”—1 Timothy 2:5
“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you…”—1 John 2:27
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”—1 John 1:9
…True and perfect love demands sacrifice, the abandonment of tastes and personal preferences, and the perfect renunciation of self…according to Loyola.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”—John 3:16
“And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.”—Ephesians 5:2
“We love him, because he first loved us.”—1 John 4:19
Ignatius emphasized detachment, or “indifference.”
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know
my thoughts:”—Psalm 139:23
Devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Eucharist, and our Lady
The Jesuits particularly promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart whose modern origins can be traced to nun Marie Alacoque whose spiritual director was Jesuit, Claude de la Colombière.
Influenced by The fourth book on the Eucharist of Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, Ignatius counseled people to receive the Eucharist more often…at least monthly, emphasizing communion not as reward but as spiritual food (“frequent communion” meaning weekly or daily).
The Jesuits were long promoters of the Sodality of Our Lady and encouraged frequent attendance at Mass, reception of communion, daily recitation of the Rosary, and attendance at retreats in the Ignatian tradition of the Spiritual Exercises.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”
“Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.”—John 4:34
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”—John 14:6
Zeal for souls
The purpose of the Order…is “not only to apply one’s self to one’s own salvation and to perfection with the help of divine grace but to employ all one’s strength, for the salvation and perfection of one’s neighbor.”
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”—Acts 4:12
“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”—Matthew 4:19
Finding God in All Things
According to Ignatius, God offers himself to humankind in an absolute way through the Son, and humankind responds in an absolute way by a total self-donation…the Christian will “love God in all things—and all things in God.” Hence, Jesuits have always been active in the graphic and dramatic arts, literature and the sciences.
“But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”—Psalm 115:3
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:”—Romans 7:18
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Service and humility
Part of Jesuit formation is the undertaking of service specifically to the poor and sick in the most humble ways…
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”—Isaiah 64:6
Spiritual Exercises are Popular
Beginning in the 1980s, Protestants have had a growing interest in the Spiritual Exercises. There are recent (2006) adaptations that are specific to Protestants that emphasize the exercises as a school of contemplative prayer.
Spiritual Exercises in both of its main forms are popular also among
lay people in the Catholic Church all over the world, and lay organizations
like the Christian Life Community (CLC) place the Exercises at the center
of their spirituality.
The Exercises usually are undertaken with the help of a trained spiritual guide and can be done individually or in group that meets regularly to discuss how the process is going and various issues.