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"Spiritual Exercises" of Ignatius Loyola: Still Popular after 500 Years

Numerous books have been written about how to develop a deeper relationship with God. Most of these were written during a time of individual crisis, when one person, in struggling with their faith in and relationship to God, writes a work which many others could relate to.

But the book "Spiritual Exercises" is different. Ignatius Loyola (1491 or 1495 – 1556) did not write it because of a personal crisis as much as a spiritual crisis within his Church. He lived during the Protestant Reformation, that time when many people left the Catholic Church. Loyola, also known as the founder of the Jesuits, wrote this manual to aid those who remained in the Catholic Church and were concerned about their faith in God.

Nevertheless, many of his words cut across the lines which divide Christians into Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. In his manual, he devised a four-week program where one drew closer to God by focusing on Jesus. He knew that some would spend longer on one part of the program and others not as much time, therefore some "weeks" will be longer and some shorter; overall he believed it should be finished in thirty days.

The first "week" is spent on preparing oneself; the second "week" is spent focusing on the actions of Jesus from birth to the week before his death; the third "week" is spent focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life plus His death and burial; the last "week" is spent on the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Along the way, Loyola gives advice on other aspects of a Christian’s pilgrimage. The rest of this article quotes from his book.

"Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in [seeking] the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

"The Preparatory Prayer [which begins each day] is to ask grace of God our Lord that all my intentions, actions, and operations may be directed purely to the service and praise of His Divine Majesty.

[On how to make decisions, which he refers to as "election"] "In every good election, as far as it depends on us, the eye of our intention ought to be simple, only looking at what we are created for, namely, the praise of God our Lord and the salvation of our soul. And so I ought to choose whatever I do, that it may help me for the end for which I am created, not ordering or bringing the end to the means, but the means to the end" [In other words, do not focus on the ministry/task which serves God, but the God which the ministry/task serves.]

"It belongs to God our Lord to give consolation to the soul without preceding cause, for it is the property of the Creator to enter, go out, and cause movements in the soul, bringing it all into love of His Divine Majesty. . . . It [belongs to] the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions." [CS Lewis said the same thing 400 years later in "The Screwtape Letters."]

©2005 Mark Nickens

Questions/comments contact Mark at drnickens@triad.rr.com.

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