Ignatius of Loyola was a Basque nobleman and soldier who was wounded in battle in 1521. During his lengthy recovery he experienced a profound conversion which ultimately led to founding the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. In the course of his convalescence Ignatius read, reflected and learned to differentiate his desires that either originated in ego or vanity from those that provided him with true peace and solace. Ultimately he abandoned his former way of life to dedicate his life to God. His lifelong perseverance in leading others to God resulted in a handbook for Spiritual Directors to guide others. He recorded his process of conversion and refined his Spiritual Exercises throughout his life.
The Exercises are not a diary nor instructions to be followed nor sermons to be preached; they are guidelines to lead a person into a deeper relationship with God. They are not an experience reserved for those in religious life but something to be undertaken by all of God’s children.
Although called Exercises, they are not physical in nature but spiritual exercises. There are no writing assignments per se but journaling will guide your process. The Exercises, like all exercise require discipline and commitment. There are no workbooks to complete but there is a commitment to pray each day. The Exercises are guided by Scripture and meditation and are designed to liberate one’s soul so one will discover God’s individual calling. They are privileged moment in conversation between the retreatant and God accompanied by an inner peace because one is in accord with God.
The Exercises also contain two essential tools to employ after completing the retreat. These tools are known as the Discernment of Spirits and an evening prayer known as the Examen.
Ignatius condensed and organized his Exercises into what he called “weeks” but not in the strict calendar sense we might bring to mind. They are loose structures to be adapted by the Spiritual Director leading one through the Exercises.
More appropriately called movements or stages, the weeks are not rigid structures but descriptions of what is occurring within the person who is praying the Exercises. Essentially they form a map for one’s spiritual journey through the Exercises marking one’s progress, awareness and development. Ignatius called them ‘graces’.
The First Week: Ignatius initiates the journey by contemplating what he called the Principle and Foundation – what is one’s ultimate purpose for life? As Christians we ultimately desire to live with God eternally. Thus it follows that everything we do in life should be ordered by what leads us closer rather than farther from God. In the first week we experience God’s deep love for us despite our failings.
The Second Week: Having experienced God’s love we are moved to respond with greater generosity. This leads to an invitation to choose between “Two Standards” – as in battlefield flags – containing the conflicting values of God and the world. The Second Week also addresses distinct ways we respond to the choice – as procrastinators, as compromisers or as wholehearted individuals willing to do whatever is required.
The Third Week: The focus of the Third Week is on the passion and death of Jesus in order for us to deepen the commitment we made to him in the Second Week. Dying to ourselves with Christ enables us to develop strength and courage to do what God asks of us.
The Fourth Week: The Fourth Week focuses on Christ’s appearances following his resurrection just as Christ has triumphed over sin and death, we become empowered to assume our mission.
The Spiritual Exercises may be experienced as either a 30-day silent retreat (20th Annotation) or a 30-week format (19th Annotation). The 19th Annotation is an adaptation that St. Ignatius himself designed. Here, the retreatant does not remove themselves from their daily obligations, but instead, meets weekly with their Spiritual Director and incorporates the Exercises into daily practice.
At Daylesford, we currently offer only the 19th Annotation – the 30-week format. We begin the Spiritual Exercises in the Fall season and culminate around Easter.
The Exercises are designed for you to grow in union with God so you will be configured to Christ. One gains clarity of vision through the Exercises that permeates one’s entire life. You will gain a deeper, more intimate relationship with God who formed you. You will delight in a greater sense of your own life and what God desires of you. We can promise you that your relationship with God will never be the same.
You must meet with your Spiritual Director on a weekly basis and be willing to commit to pray one hour each day. You will also be asked to journal your moments in prayer. Most of all, you want to be willing to accept the challenges God may present as you experience the Exercises.
It is strongly recommended that you be in Spiritual Direction for one year. It is good to have a desire to pray with scripture – your Spiritual Director will assist you with this. It is best to have a desire to grow closer to God. You should be willing to share your life experiences and emotions with a Spiritual Director.
Ignatius states two conditions for everyone who makes the Exercises. First, you must be free enough to discern how God calls you – to devote time and energy for the endeavor. What Ignatius means is ‘interior freedom’ – where one is not bound by false attachments. Secondly, Ignatius demands that one must be generous enough to embrace what God offers them in the Exercises.
Good candidates are firmly committee to praying the Exercises 1 hour a day and have the resolve to complete the (roughly) 30-week process. Good candidates are generous. One does not need to be a theologian but religious practice and education is important. You do not need to be Catholic but you must identify as Christian. One of Ignatius’ last directee’s was illiterate.
You will want to be self-aware, capable of reflection and able to notice the emotional patterns of your day. You will be asked to notice consolations and desolation in your prayer and you will learn how to name the spiritual forces behind these movements.
Many come to the Exercises in order to elect how to spend their life (married, single, religious, priest) or in order to make a serious choice about a career or lifestyle. Some want to make changes in their interior life and are eager to grow in their relationship with God.
The stipend for the Exercises is used to pay modest stipends to each Spiritual Director and to contribute to the support of the Abbey. We offer the 19th annotation on a sliding scale of $1,200 -$1,500 requesting that you contribute according to your circumstances. Special circumstances can be accommodated. If you feel called to participate in the Spiritual Exercises at this time in your life and your application is accepted, we want you to be with us regardless of the offering.
The Fall season is best as the Exercises follow the course of the liturgical year. Times of transition in life can be a particularly worthwhile opportunity to experience the Exercises. The Exercises are a clarifying and motivating experience. The Exercises are always vocational in nature – vocation in the larger sense – the particular mission God has for each of us.