Manresa, Spain 1522
Ignatius' Conversion and Legacy
The Dynamics of the Four Weeks
The Fruits of the Spiritual Exercises - The Fifth Week
Three Contemplations (Exercises) from the Spiritual Exercises
Spiritual Exercises 101-109
Spiritual Exercises 136-148
Spiritual Exercises 230-237
The Spiritual Exercises: How They Have Been Changed and Adapted Over Time
How do I pray? The Composition of an Ignatian Contemplation
The Spiritual Exercises and the Final Contemplation to Obtain Divine Love
Much has been written about “The Power and Secret of the Jesuits.” But perhaps not everything is secret, because what constitutes the Jesuits above all is their common spiritual foundation, the Exercises of Saint Ignatius (1491-1556), who founded the Jesuit order.
Every Jesuit makes the so-called “Full Spiritual Exercises” twice in his life, at the beginning and end of his formation. He spends thirty days in silence and prayer, centered on his relation to God and Jesus. He ponders the decisive question: what is God’s will for me and my life? Am I called to be a Jesuit, a companion of Jesus?
Silence is more than mere not-speaking: it opens a man to a new dimension in his life. Extended silence enables one to hear. Forty days before his public appearance, Jesus himself was led into stillness and solitude in the desert. His desert experience with the three temptations is certainly a key event in his life. All three temptations concern the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods beside me! You shall not make for yourself an idol to worship.” For Jesus God alone counts, not the apotheosis of earthly power and whatever accompanies it. A human who can turn stone into bread can also rule the world with “bread and circuses.” Jesus had the ability to do so, but he refused to use it, even for his own hunger. True bread, true security, comes from God alone. Knowing this, Jesus proclaims: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the good news.” People who heed this call and reorient themselves accordingly feel an inner freedom, liberated from every dependence and compulsion.
In the Spiritual Exercises, we share this basic experience of Jesus in the desert. The gift of inner freedom expresses itself as gratitude, kindness, patience, perseverance, generosity, and affability. That inner freedom is the foundation for seeking and finding God in all things. It enables us to work “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” (“For the greater glory of God”) with “indifference,” which means not that everything is of no interest to me, but that everything is of equal interest for me. I meet everything with the same openness. If I lose my soul to something other than God, in the end I lose my inner freedom.
The question of a radical following of Jesus is central for a novice who thinks about entering the Jesuit order. Nevertheless, the Exercises are not only for Jesuits, but are also offered to anyone seeking religious experience. In general, they help us reorient our lives to God. They are no abstract theory, but are grounded in Ignatius’s life experience. In 1521, he was wounded by a cannonball while serving as a soldier in a battle in Pamplona. During his convalescence, he read about the life of Jesus and the lives of saints. After his recovery, he began to lead a strict ascetical life, wanting to imitate Saint Francis and Saint Dominic. He then had an experience that marked and changed his entire life. He now realized that we can find God in all things. His experiences led to an “instruction” for prayer, the “Spiritual Exercises.” They assume that God is immediately accessible to his creatures — not only to a saint, but to everyone. Also new was the type and method of religious experience that they promote: Ignatius calls it “praying with all our senses.” He thus developed further the method of meditative prayer known since the Desert Fathers as the “Lectio Divina.” This method consisted of four steps: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation). After an attentive reading of a Bible passage, we select a verse that especially speaks to us and meditate on it, by reflecting on it repeatedly. For Ignatius, the reflective meditation makes use of all the senses in prayer: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Reflecting on the word of God leads to the prayer, and in the stillness of the contemplation the person praying experiences communion with God.
Christof Wolf, S.J.