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Exercises for Soul Building
By Fr. John Felix Raj. S.J.


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 lives.

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 structures.

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.

 

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