St. Ignatius Loyola, Founder
of the Society of Jesus, underwent a profound experience of God
during his stay in the little town of Manresa in Spain in 1522.
His heart's desire was, as a lay person, to share with other lay
people this same experience. As time went on he wrote a small
book to assist in doing this. He called this book of directions
The Spiritual Exercises. It was intended to help the person
who directed another in a structured thirty-day or even 9-month
long program of prayer and contemplation.
Some of the major themes
normally addressed in the four weeks or phases of the Exercises
The Light of God Surrounds You
(woods around a Manresa bridge)
a watercolor by Joseph C. Gagnier
[click image for other "Manresa" art]
- Week 1
- God's unconditional, ever-faithful love.
- Sin: our failure and the failure of the human family
to respond with love to God's love.
- God's ever-greater love, mercy and forgiveness.
- Week 2
- The person and life of Christ.
- Our call to discipleship, ministry and friendship
- Knowing Christ more intimately, loving Him more
ardently, following him more faithfully.
- Week 3:
- The ultimate expression of God's love.
- The suffering and death of Jesus for us.
- Week 4:
- The victory of Jesus over death.
- His sharing His joy with us.
- Being missioned by Jesus.
- Being empowered by His Spirit.
All Jesuits make the full
thirty-day Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius also provided for
people to make the Exercises over a 9-month period. Over the centuries
the Jesuits have adapted the Exercises into shorter individually-directed
retreats of six to eight days, and into conference
or group retreats of a few days' duration, in which the director
presents various themes of the Spiritual Exercises to a
group of people, who pray on their own over the material presented.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are usually experienced
in these shorter adaptations, but occasionally people are moved
by grace to give themselves to the full Spiritual Exercises in
the form of a Thirty-Day Retreat
or as the 9-month Spiritual
Exercises in Daily Life.