Main Grounds Building

The Spiritual Exercises

The Origin of the Spiritual Exercises

In this section, we delve into the background of the Spiritual Exercises, a compilation of spiritual practices crafted by Ignatius of Loyola. The exercises draw from Ignatius's personal spiritual journey and the experiences of those he encountered.

These exercises serve as an invitation for the "retreatant" to reflect on fundamental aspects of Christian faith and to immerse themselves imaginatively in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Spiritual Exercises are an organized series of spiritual exercises put together by St. Ignatius of Loyola out of his own personal spiritual experience and that of others to whom he listened.

They invite the "retreatant" or "exercitant" to "meditate" on central aspects of Christian faith (e.g., creation, sin and forgiveness, calling and ministry) and especially to "contemplate" (i.e., imaginatively enter into) the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Handbook for Spiritual Freedom

This section explores Ignatius's motivation for documenting the Spiritual Exercises in a handbook. It outlines how this guide serves those who coach individuals engaged in "making the Exercises."

The objective is to achieve a form of spiritual freedom, enabling individuals to act authentically from the promptings of God's spirit within, liberated from external pressures.

Ignatius set all of this down in the book of the Spiritual Exercises as a handbook to help the guide who coaches a person engaged in "making the Exercises." After listening to that person and getting a sense for where he/she is, the guide selects from material and methods in the book of the Exercises and offers them in a way adapted to that unique individual.

The goal of all this is the attainment of a kind of spiritual freedom, the power to act - not out of social pressure or personal compulsion and fear - but out of the promptings of God's spirit in the deepest, truest core of one's being - to act ultimately out of love.

Main Grounds Building

Adapting the Spiritual Exercises for Modern Life

This section discusses the original design of the "full" Spiritual Exercises, intended to occupy an individual full-time for four weeks.

Recognizing the challenges of contemporary life, Ignatius introduced the concept of the "Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life (SEDL)," making it feasible for individuals to engage part-time over a more extended period. The SEDL involves daily prayer and regular guidance sessions.

As originally designed, the "full" Spiritual Exercises would occupy a person for 30 days full-time, but Ignatius realized that some people could not [today most people cannot] disengage from work and home obligations for that long a time, and so it is possible to make the "full" Exercises part-time over a period of six to nine or ten months - the "Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life (SEDL)."

In that case, the "exercitant," without withdrawing from home or work, devotes about an hour a day to prayer (but this, like nearly everything in the Exercises, is adaptable) and sees a guide every week or two to process what has been happening in prayer and in the rest of his/her life.

Practical Applications: Retreats and Conversations

This section provides insights into how individuals typically engage with the Spiritual Exercises, whether through shorter retreats or daily conversations. It explores the role of personal guidance and group presentations in preparing participants for prayer and spiritual exercises.

Most of the time people make not the "full" Spiritual Exercises but a retreat in the Ignatian spirit that might last anywhere from a weekend to a week. Such a retreat usually includes either a daily individual conversation with a guide or several daily presentations to a group, as preparation for prayer/spiritual exercises.

Main Grounds Building

Evolution and Impact of Ignatius's Work

This section traces the development of St. Ignatius's little book over several decades before its publication in 1548. It highlights subsequent editions and translations, emphasizing the enduring impact of the Spiritual Exercises on education and learning in the Western tradition.

St. Ignatius had composed and revised his little book over a period of twenty-five or more years before it was finally published in 1548. Subsequent editions and translations - according to a plausible estimate - numbered some 4,500 in 1948 or about one a month over four centuries, the total number of copies printed being around 4,500,000.

It is largely on his Exercises - with their implications for teaching and learning in a holistic way - that St. Ignatius' reputation as a major figure in the history of western education rests.


These exercises invite the "retreatant" or "exercitant" to meditate on central aspects of Christian faith, such as creation, sin and forgiveness, calling, and

Main Grounds Building