Exercises for Soul Building
By Fr. John Felix Raj.
Ignatius of Loyola was one of
those unusual characters of the 16th century. A Basque nobleman, his father
entrusted his education to an official at King Ferdinand’s court. Ignatius
gladly went through the long training and became a brave knight.
In May 1521, at the age of 30,
Ignatius was wounded in both legs in the battle between Francis I, King of
France and the Province of Navarre. In hospital he underwent a painful and
unsuccessful operation. During the long weary weeks of convalescence at home
Ignatius read two books: the life of Christ by Rudolph of Saxony and the Flos
Sanctorum, which transformed his life.
In 1522 he left home and went
to the shrine of Our Lady of Monstserrat near Barcelona, Spain. There he hung up
his sword and dagger as pledge of his new consecration to Christ and His Mother.
For the next year he lived on alms, spending long hours in prayer. There he
wrote his Spiritual Exercises, the most efficient and widely used retreat manual
in the world today.
By Spiritual Exercises he meant every method of examination of conscience, of
meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual
activities. Just as brisk walking, jogging and playing are bodily exercises, the
Spiritual Exercises are ways of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself
from all forms of evil, and barriers between God and man, so as to seek the will
and grace of God in one’s life.
Inherent in this Ignatian
spiritual process is a deep respect for the exercitant as he is and for his
culture, tradition and background. During the Exercises one takes the solid
foundation of facts and reflects on them. In the process something makes them
clearer and he understands them better. This happens either from one’s reasoning
or from the grace of God enlightening the mind. This produces greater spiritual
relish and fruit. It is not knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the
intimate understanding and relish of the truth.
In all his Exercises, Ignatius
gives importance to the acts of the intellect in reasoning, and to the acts of
the will in manifesting one’s love. Four weeks are assigned to the Exercises
which correspond to the four parts into which they are divided, namely: the
first part which is devoted to the consideration and contemplation of one’s
sinfulness, manifested in different ways, and overcoming it; the second part is
taken up with the life of Christ; the third treats the passion of Christ and the
fourth the Resurrection of Christ. It is a spiritual praxis: life - death -
resurrection - new life. Christ is the centre of the exercises. Every retreatant
takes inspiration and strength from the person and life of Christ.
It is profitable for the one
who makes the Exercises to enter upon them with magnanimity and generosity
towards God, and to offer Him his entire will and liberty, so that His Divine
Majesty may dispose of him and all his possession according to His holy will. If
the exercitant is tempted grossly, for example by recalling obstacles to his
advance in the understanding of God, an expert must guide him. It is common that
the enemy of our human nature tempts more under the appearance of good when one
is exercising him in the illuminative way. Jesuits members of the Society of
Jesus, direct people all over the world with these exercises and transform their
Ordinarily, the progress made
in the Exercises will be greater; the more the exercitant withdraws from all
friends and acquaintances, and all worldly cares. There are many advantages
resulting from this separation. For example: one gains much progress before the
divine Majesty; the mind can give its whole attention to God and its spiritual
progress; the more the soul is in solitude and seclusion, the more fit it
renders itself to be united closely with God and the more it disposes itself to
receive graces and gifts from the infinite goodness of the Divine.
The pedagogy of the Exercises
is pedagogy of discernment. It teaches a man to discover for himself where God
is calling him, what God wants him to do: he himself as he is, among his own
people. The Exercises also help people to stand back from spurious absolutes of
competing ideologies, and because of this detachment, they are able to play a
constructive part in the reform of soci-economic, cultural and political
The Exercises have as their
purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of life in such a way that no
decision is made under the influence of an inordinate attachment. The first
exercise is the Principle and Foundation of the human person. “ Man is created
to reverence and serve God and by this means to save himself. The other things
on the earth are created for man to help him to attain the end for which he is
created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the
attainment of his purpose, and must rid himself of them in as far as they prove
a hindrance to him.
Therefore, one must make
oneself indifferent to all created things. Consequently, one should not prefer
health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a
short life. The same holds for all other things. The one desire and choice
should be what is more conducive to the end for which persons are created.