The Spiritual Exercises
The Casa was founded upon the guiding principles of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and they continue to serve as the primary means by which individuals make their discernment and election. Under the direction of Fr. Jacques Servais, SJ, they are usually offered as a one- to four-week personally-guided retreat.
“The Spiritual Exercises are the best means I can think of in this life both to help a man to benefit himself and to bring help, profit, and advantage to many others.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola
Letter to Manuel Miona, Venice, November 16, 1536
What Are the Exercises?
The "Exercises" refer to a spiritual program based upon the pedagogical principles of St. Ignatius of Loyola. They are, according to Balthasar, "a means of introducing a Christian by way of evangelical 'repentance' into a life of personal discipleship of Christ and of rehearsing him in that life" (H.U. von Balthasar, Elucidations). This then leads to an ordering of one’s life and a discovering or deepening of one's particular vocation within the Church and the world.
Making the Exercises
More than merely a retreat, however, a person "making" the Spiritual Exercises temporarily withdraws from the world (SpEx 20) into a time of silence and intimacy with the Lord. There, with the help of the spiritual director "giving" the exercises, he prepares and disposes his soul to rid itself of all disordered affections so that he can seek (and find!) the Lord's will for the ordering of his life for the salvation of his soul (SpEx 1).
In the Spiritual Exercises, as Pope Francis remarked, "we are placed before Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Creator and Savior (SpEx 6)... the Deus semper maior, the intimior intimo meo, who leads us continuously out of ourselves, to a certain kenosis, 'to come out of our own love, will, and interest' (SpEx 189)." (Homily by Pope Francis at the Church of the Gesù on the Feast of St. Ignatius, 2013).
In the spirit of this kenosis, one should enter into the Exercises with "magnanimity and generosity" (SpEx 5). During the course of the retreat, the director accompanies the retreatant and gives structure to the material and schedule, with the intent of leaving the Creator and Lord to communicate himself freely to the individual (SpEx 15). Given that people come from all walks of life, the way in which the exercises are given is uniquely adapted to each individual (SpEx 18). The Casa offers the Spiritual Exercises as a personally-guided retreat lasting from one to four weeks (SpEx 4), particularly for young people discerning a state of life (marriage, religious life, etc.).
St. Ignatius of Loyola
To better understand the Spiritual Exercises, it helps to look to the Saint who received them in prayer and handed them on. "At the origin of the Exercises stands both St. Ignatius' direct contact with the gospel and his familiarity with the living tradition of the Church, her saints and doctors... As the first Jesuit fathers—intimate friends of Ignatius—have shown, the Exercises were born chiefly from the interior illumination of the Holy Spirit." (Fr. Jacques Servais, Hans Urs Von Balthasar on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: An Anthology).
It should be noted that the magisterium internum impressed into his heart, like that of the greater missions of the Church, came about without any ties to the magisterium externum. Nonetheless, it led back into the service of the Church. When he received this gift at Manresa, he became aware that his conversion led to a Christian mission, one intimately tied to the Church both in his day and for all ages. He knew he wasn’t collecting the Exercises for himself; rather, they were like seeds which were to produce other seeds.