The Discernment Of Spirits
The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola (Latin original: Exercitia spiritualia), composed 1522–1524, are a set of Christian meditations, contemplations, and prayers written by Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th-century Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of 28 to 30 days. They were composed with the intention of helping participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God in their lives, leading to a personal commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost.: 98 Their underlying theology has been found agreeable to other Christian denominations who make use of them and also for addressing problems facing society in the 21st century.
The original, complete form of the Exercises is a retreat of about 30 days in silence and solitude. The Exercises are divided into four “weeks” of varying length with four major themes: sin and God’s mercy, episodes in the life of Jesus, the passion of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus together with a contemplation on God’s love. This last is often seen as the goal of Ignatian spirituality, to find God in all things.: 235 The “weeks” represent stages in a process of wholehearted commitment to the service of God.
First Week: Sin, and God’s mercy
Second Week: Episodes in the life of Jesus
Third Week: The passion of Jesus
Fourth Week: The resurrection of Jesus, and God’s love
Morning, afternoon, and evening will be times of the examinations. The morning is to guard against a particular sin or fault, the afternoon is a fuller examination of the same sin or defect. There will be a visual record with a tally of the frequency of sins or defects during each day. In it, the letter ‘g’ will indicate days, with ‘G’ for Sunday. Three kinds of thoughts: “my own” and two from outside, one from the “good spirit” and the other from the “bad spirit”.
Ignatius’ book is not meant to be used by the retreatant but by a director or spiritual guide. Each day the exercitant uses the material proposed by the director for four or five hour-long periods, each followed by a review of how the period went. The exercitant reports back to the spiritual director who helps interpret the exercitant’s experiences and proposes material for the next day. Ignatius observes that God “deals directly” with the well-disposed person and the director should not give advice to the retreatant that might interfere with God’s workings.: 15
After the first week Ignatius recommends a form of contemplation which he calls “application of the senses.”: 121–126 For this you “place yourself in a scene from the Gospels. Ask yourself, “What do I see? What do I hear? What do I feel, taste and smell?” The purpose of these Exercises is that we might gain the empathy to “follow and imitate more closely our Lord.”: 109 From this comes the widespread use of the Magis concept in Ignatian circles.
Ignatius of Loyola, S.J. (born Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola; Basque: Ignazio Loiolakoa; Spanish: Ignacio de Loyola; Latin: Ignatius de Loyola; c. 23 October 1491 – 31 July 1556), venerated as Saint Ignatius of Loyola, was a Spanish Catholic priest and theologian, who, with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), and became the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus, in Paris, in 1541. He envisioned the purpose of the Society of Jesus to be missionary work and teaching. Unlike members of other religious orders in the church who take the vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, members of the society, Jesuits, also take a fourth vow of obedience to the Pope, to engage in projects ordained by the pontiff. Jesuits were instrumental in leading the charge of the Counter-Reformation.
As a former soldier, Ignatius paid particular attention to the spiritual formation of his recruits and recorded his method in the Spiritual Exercises (1548). In time, the method has become known as Ignatian spirituality.
Ignatius of Loyola was beatified in 1609 and canonized saint, on 12 March 1622. His feast day is celebrated on 31 July. He is the patron saint of the Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa and Biscay as well as of the Society of Jesus. He was declared patron saint of all spiritual retreats by Pope Pius XI in 1922.