The "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius, though contained in a very small volume, are strictly Exercises, of application and will on the part of him who makes them; and a great measure of discernment and prudence, with a high degree of what the world calls talent, as well as pious fervour, in him who conducts them. They were not completed at once; Ignatius himself said that he wrote them in fragments, as his own experience suggested what was useful for others. He had in this way written the Method of Examination of Conscience; and in the Manner of Election he recalled what had been the contest of the good and evil spirits within himself, while he was lying on his bed at Loyola. not simply meditations or prayers. They require an effort. Whoever would understand these "Exercises" must go through them with a full and docile desire to appropriate them on his own behalf. He will then learn, by God's grace, the wonderful power which they contain under the extremest simplicity of language. They are not to be made in a cut and dried manner; they need a certain adaptation to each one's character or circumstances, and good judgment accompanied with zeal on the part of the director. Besides these qualities, some particular gift seems necessary; for St. Ignatius found only B. Pierre Favre, out of all his associates, completely possessed of it. Next to him he estimated Salmeron; then Villanueva and Domenech; and for the first part, which is designed to inspire repentance in the soul and a horror of sin, he greatly esteemed the eloquence and fervour of Francisco de Strada.
The "Exercises" extended at first over more than four weeks; they are often now condensed into the space of eight days. At the commencement Ignatius has placed the few lines which he meant to be the foundation and the summary of the whole:—
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God, and thus to save his own soul. All other things are created for the sake of man, and to aid him in the attainment of his end; therefore he should use them only with this object, and withdraw himself from them when they would lead him from it. We must then make ourselves indifferent to all created things, where a choice is left us; so that we should not desire health more than sickness, riches more than poverty, honour more than contempt, a long life more than a short one, and so of all the rest; desiring and choosing only what will conduce most surely to the end for which we were made.
When this great primary truth has been grasped, that the one only use of all earthly creatures is to help man on his way to God, we are invited to consider the extreme folly of using them for any other purpose. The nature and dreadful consequences of sin are set before us in the fall of the angels, and of our first parents, and of any single soul overtaken by the just judgment of God, and then we are told to examine and judge our own past lives in the light of this revelation. Contrition, with its included firm resolve to serve our Creator of the first week of the Exercises. The second week starts from this point of efficacious good desires. It also has a fundamental principle. We are not left to find out for ourselves the way of virtue. A perfect model is placed before our eyes. In the opening contemplation of the Kingdom of Christ, the soldier-saint bids us follow our great Captain to the battlefield, and he is careful to let us know from the outset that for generous souls there is within reach and at their choice a higher service and more complete devotion,—the way of the Counsels. The Divine condescension is brought vividly to mind as we dwell upon the great mysteries of the Incarnation and Nativity and Infancy of our Lord; and then in the very famous contemplation of Two Standards, which is said to have peopled monasteries, we are shown on the one hand the clever schemes of Satan for the ruin of souls, and on the other the well-ordered process by which grace works out their sanctification. The whole life of Christ is then passed in review, and definite instruction is derived from His example and words for the most momentous decision, the central point of the Exercises, the choice of a state of life for those who are free to choose, the choice of a more perfect fulfilment of existing duties for those whose sphere of activity is already fixed beyond their power to change it. The practical bent of the mind of St. Ignatius is shown by many little details of advice, but perhaps most of all by the two very remarkable considerations which are meant to test the fulness of sincerity and the degree of generosity with which we mean to give ourselves to the service of our God,—the Three Classes of Men and the Three Degrees of Humility. The third week leads us to the foot of the cross, and in the contemplation of that greatest act of love confirms the resolutions we have made. The fourth week animates us with the prospect of the reward exceeding great, as shown in the risen life of Christ.
The truly sublime Contemplation for obtaining Spiritual Love may be said to gather together and to crown the whole series of the Exercises. It brings us back to the principle from which all started, but it sheds upon it a brighter light from Heaven than our eyes could have endured without the preparation of those intervening weeks. It seemed to us at first that creatures, even if we made a right use of them, could at best only move onward with us, helping instead of hindering; but now we see that they of themselves have the power to bring us into closest communion with God, who lives and moves and is in them and us. The following prayer is the Saint's petition for the love of God :—
Take and receive, O Lord, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I am, and have, Thou hast given me. O Lord, I give it back to Thee: dispose of all according to Thy good pleasure. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
Ignatius, in his rules for the spiritual life, drew largely from the sayings of the Fathers of the Desert, especially of Abbot Serapion. The work of Garcias de Cisneros, who had been Abbot of Montserrat, was probably known to him, but there is no similarity to give any ground for the accusation of plagiarism. The "Exercises" originated in Manresa, and were perfected by the experience of Ignatius when he began to teach. Whoever uses them must own that only Divine inspiration could have shown Ignatius such secrets of the human heart—such remedies, such stimulants, and such aids.
At the end of some editions of the "Spiritual Exercises" are placed some general admonitions, translated by Father André des Freux into Latin verse. We give them here in prose:— Resist no one, however much your inferior; it is better to be the vanquished than the victor. Try to obey blindly in all things, and willingly submit your own judgment to any one.
Do not remark the faults of others, and hide them when they are seen; accuse yourself of your own, and desire them to be known. Whatever you do, say, or think, consider in the first place whether it be for your neighbour's good, and pleasing in the sight of God. Preserve always your liberty of soul; neither allow any person or cause to oppress it. Do not lightly bind yourself in friendship with any man, let faith and reason prove what is best.
Diligently exercise the mind and body in good actions. Be a fool in the opinion of man, and so you will be wise before God. Turn over these things in your mind in the morning and at evening; and when you go to rest, fail not in prayer. Hitherto he had enjoyed great peace of mind and conscience, together with a sense of buoyant exultation which had carried him over all obstacles.
All at once, without any transition or perceptible cause, Ignatius was assailed by terrible trials of more than ordinary debility, he was entering the church in which it was his custom to hear mass, a voice seemed to say to him, "How will you be able to support this for forty years or more?" For the moment a horrible dread came over him; then recognising the source from which the insidious question had proceeded, he replied, "Can you promise me, O wicked one, another single hour of life? And what are forty years of suffering compared with the ages of eternity?" For the time the enemy fled, but only to renew his assault with greater malignity. and temptations. One day when, in a state
Henceforth the Saint was subject to continual and sudden alternations of joy and sadness; sometimes his soul was left in utter gloom and desolation, and then again it was in a glow of happiness and content. So sudden, yet so complete, were the vicissitudes through which he passed, that, to use his own expression, it was like putting off one garment and putting on another; and, astonished at his own experiences, he said to himself, "What is this new phase of existence into which I have entered?"
Link (here) to St. Ignatius Loyola and the early Jesuits By Stewart Rose