One of Ignatius’ greatest legacies, besides founding the Jesuit order, is his spiritual exercises. These exercises were developed, “to prepare the soul, and properly dispose it to lay aside all inordinate affection, and then to inspire and discover how God would have it set its life, in order for gaining eternal salvation.” (Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Genelli, S.J.)
They are done by religious and lay people, with different approaches dependent on how long you have to do the exercises. For those who can they can be done over one month away from the world. For those who cannot leave the world they can be done over a longer time period, using the 19th Annotation of the exercises. I find it striking that Ignatius himself saw the need for this option.
There are many books and on-line options for completing the Spiritual Exercises. Ideally, you have a spiritual director to guide you but I have done this with a few trusted friends as well when a director was not available.
The first book I used, and probably my favorite, is For the Greater Glory of God, A Spiritual Retreat with St. Ignatius by Manuel Ruiz Jurado, S.J.
A shorter, simpler version and a great way to discern if the exercises are for you is this book, Praying with Ignatius of Loyola by Jacqueline Syrup Bergan and Marie Schwan. It contains a brief biography of Ignatius and then fifteen meditations, one chapter each which include scripture, prayers and words from Ignatius’ writing as well as questions for journaling and/or pondering.
(Both books are from The Word Among Us Press)
If you prefer an on-line version, there are two sites I’ve used; An Ignatian Prayer Adventure and Creighton University’s Online Retreat. An Ignatian Prayer Adventure is eight weeks while Creighton’s is thirty-four. Both have books available to go along with the what is on the site and Creighton has audio if you prefer to listen rather than read.
I encourage everyone I know to pray the spiritual exercises. The prayer, contemplation and meditation involved strips away so much of what we carry around with us that is not of God. God can then fill us with his purpose. For as Ignatius says, “He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor.”