Pope Benedict with the latest Jesuit General Congregation (GC35)

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The Exercises are the fountain of your spirituality….. but they are also a gift that the Spirit of the Lord has made to the entire Church: it is for you to continue to make it a precious and efficacious instrument for spiritual growth of souls…..” Pope Benedict to the General Meeting of the Jesuit (GC35)

This week in the Tertianship we are focusing on specific preparation for our retreat in November.  We will have 30 days in silence, following the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.  Every Jesuit makes them two times in their life, primarily as Novices (in their first months of being a Jesuit) and secondly as a Tertian ( usually 4-6 years after ordination).  This will be my third time making the full Exercises. Why? unusually,  at my request, I made them twice as a novice (it’s a long story!).

I am excited because my first time ‘making’  the Exercises was a foundational and life-changing experience for me.  But it is no holiday – it is a challenging experience, we withdraw from the world – no phone, no internet, no TV, no newspapers, no texting, just time for God and us, and one daily conversation with our Spiritual Director.  This immersion in silence is challenging – but one of the richest experiences  of our lives, we repeat this for 8 days every year. Last year the BBC commissioned a documentary called ‘The Big Silence’ where 5 ordinary people, not particularly religious, had an experience of a silent Ignatian retreat with surprising results for all of them.  You will have to click on the link to find out more – or you could even stumble upon a clip on youtube if you are lucky!

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Ignatius of Loyola at Manresa

What are the Spiritual Exercises? Based on his religious experiences St Ignatius wrote a ‘manual’ called the Spiritual Exercises, continually adapting them throughout his life.  Ignatius was convinced that when properly disposed the soul could have a direct encounter with God. The framework of the Spiritual Exercises aims to facilitate such experiences. In its original form they are a month-long program of meditations, prayers, considerations, and contemplative practices that help Catholic faith become more fully alive in the everyday life of contemporary people. It is set out in a brief manual or handbook: sparse, taciturn, and practical.

What impact have they had? During Ignatius’ lifetime his Exercises became very influential and were to become a guide for spiritual renewal in the Roman Church during the Counter-Reformation and has been a primary influence in the spiritual life of the church ever since. As the .  These exercises have influenced founders of other religious orders, statesmen, queens, artists, writers, educators, philosophers, saints and countless millions of women and men .

How can I experience them? Ignatius was very keen to stress the flexibility of the Exercises, and so although it is very difficult for many to experience the full ’30 day version’ – many Jesuits and Friends lead people through smaller retreats or even organise retreats in daily life.  For more information take a look at this contacts page – click here.