The Spiritual Exercises
St. Ignatius Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus, underwent a profound experience of God during his stay in the little town of Manresa in Spain in 1522. His heart's desire was, as a lay person, to share with other lay people this same experience. As time went on he wrote a small book to assist in doing this. He called this book of directions The Spiritual Exercises. It was intended to help the person who directed another in a structured thirty-day or even 9-month long program of prayer and contemplation.
Some of the major themes normally addressed in the four weeks or phases of the Exercises are:
- God's unconditional, ever-faithful love.
- Sin: our failure and the failure of the human family to respond with love to God's love.
- God's ever-greater love, mercy and forgiveness.
- The person and life of Christ.
- Our call to discipleship, ministry and friendship with Jesus.
- Knowing Christ more intimately, loving Him more ardently, following him more faithfully.
- The ultimate expression of God's love.
- The suffering and death of Jesus for us.
- The victory of Jesus over death.
- His sharing His joy with us.
- Being missioned by Jesus.
- Being empowered by His Spirit.
The First Principle & Foundation
A Literal Translation - Elder Mullan, SJ
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 prosecuting 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 to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all
created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free
will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want
not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty,
honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and
so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most
conducive for us to the end for which we are created.
A Contemporary Reading
David Fleming, SJ
The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who
loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows
God’s life to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us
so that we can know God more easily and make a return of
love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if
any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they
displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix
our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty,
success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything
has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to
our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want
and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life
Prayer for Generosity
Lord, teach me to be generous
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To toil and not to seek for rest;
To labor and not to ask for reward;
Save that of knowing that I do your will.
Suscipe (Latin for “receive”)
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.
Fall in Love, Stay in Love
Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
-Pedro Arrupe S.J.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient with everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient with being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability - and that it may take a very long time, And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, Let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
As though you could be today what time will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
Personal Prayer of St Ignatius
May it please the supreme and divine Goodness
to give us all abundant grace
ever to know his most holy will
and perfectly to fulfill it. Amen.
Personal Prayer of Pedro Arrupe, S.J.
Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits that help me read the signs of the times,
to relish the things that are yours,
and to communicate them to others.
Give me the clarity that you gave St. Ignatius.
Personal Prayer of Peter De Smet, S.J.
This is a journey fraught with many dangers,
but God, in whom I put my trust, will guide me,
for it is for his greater glory that I undertake it.
Personal Prayer of James Martin, S.J.
These are prayers to begin and end the day.
Morning prayer: Loving God, I offer you my day: all that I do, think and say, uniting it with what was done by Jesus Christ, your Son.
Evening prayer: Thank you God, for the love you gave me today. Forgive me God, for the love I didn't give to others. Magnify your love in me tomorrow.
Other Favorite Prayers
With regards to prayer, the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton believed, “What I do is live. How I pray is breathe.” Students find a wide variety of prayers helpful, but throughout the course of the year, a few surface frequently. Here are eight prayers that we find helpful.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though,
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon, where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope, where there is darkness, light, where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand, not so much to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.
-St. Francis of Assisi
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Mother Teresa’s Prayer
“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.”
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee,
O Virgin of virgins my Mother;
to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful;
O Mother of thy Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
Hail Holy Queen
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope.
To Thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To Thee do we send up our sighs mourning
and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate,
Thine Eyes of Mercy toward us,
and after this our exile show us the
Blessed Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us O Holy Mother of God
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do great things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for -- but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.
- Found on a wounded Civil War soldier
Prayer for Holiness
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me so, O Holy Spirit,
that I may always be holy.
Students compose the prayers we use to begin and end each day. Prayers are organized by a common theme every month. Here is a collection of eight daily prayers that were written by De Smet Jesuit Students, four morning prayers and four afternoon prayers.
We pray to be men of virtue. Virtues are habits that, when practiced regularly, help us become better people, realizing our God given potential. Virtues are gifts that point us in the direction of becoming who we are called to be, allowing us to flourish as human beings. Today we pray for the virtue of humility. Today on the Feast of Jesuit Saints Paul Miki and his Companions, martyrs killed in 16th Century Japan for preaching and living the Gospel, we pray to live our beliefs with integrity and humility. We pray for the courage to live out our faith and to dedicate ourselves to the relationships that matter most in our lives. We pray that we might put others before ourselves and be aware of our own limitations. Help us to be modest and not be blinded by our selfishness or our own inflated sense of worth. Humility is a gift that enables us to listen to God’s call within each of us, and helps us find our own unique way to live as followers of Christ. God help us today to avoid the sins of pride and presumption. Help us put God first, Others second, and ourselves third.
We look to St. Louis Jesuit, Fr. John Kavanaugh for inspiration. He was a writer, teacher, and philosopher who taught for many years at Saint Louis University. We remember him especially for encouraging people to ask the great questions and inspiring us to seek meaningful answers rooted in the AMDG.
Fr. Kavanaugh believed how we treat each other is matters a great deal. Every single person has dignity and deserves our respect. If we want to change the world, we begin by how we treat the people we interact with on a daily basis. “We change the world by how we live our lives, how are we going to live now with each other. If everything falls apart tomorrow, we still are going to need people who are good in community and family, people who care about each other, and who will keep their promises.” Today we pray to change the world by changing ourselves, to begin with how we treat one another. Amen.
Today’s saint is St. Aloysius Gonzaga, SJ. Born in Italy in 1568, Gonzaga was initially destined to join the military by his father. By age nine, however, he was determined to become a Jesuit, and spent much of his time in prayer and reading about the lives of the saints. He joined the Jesuits at age 18, and when a plague broke out in Rome a few years later, he agreed to work with the plague victims at a hospital run by the Jesuits. Showing compassion and care in the face of an incurable disease, St. Gonzaga passed away at the age of 23 after falling ill while caring for the sick and afflicted. In his short life, St. Gonzaga showed a tireless zeal and passion for Christ, which is why he is named the Patron Saint of youth, as well as Jesuit students.
We pray to St. Gonzaga, Dear Christian youth, you were a faithful follower of Christ in the Society of Jesus. You steadily strove for perfection while generously serving the plague-stricken. Help us today who are faced with a plague of false cults and false gods. Show us how to harness our energies and to use them for our own and others' fulfillment - which will redound to the greater glory of God. Amen.
Let us pray today for the Theological virtue of hope. Hope is a way for us to work creatively and faithfully toward creating a better, more meaningful future. Hope is “Passion for the Possible”. This virtue is important in every one of our lives because it gives us something to believe in and work towards. Hope is a light at the end of the tunnel, a light in the darkness, and a guiding grace toward the deeper reality of God’s love. Hope is believing in a better future.
There are times when we feel helpless and weak, we pray for hope.
As we reflect throughout our day, who or what has been that light at the end of the tunnel, and how can we be someone’s light? How can we help those around us have better lives? Lord, help us to be people of Hope. Amen.
Today’s prayer is by St John XXIII, who was Pope from 1958 to 1963. He is especially known for convening the Second Vatican Council. We pray, “God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances. There is a ‘God-shaped hole’ in each of us, a space our heart that only God can fill. We do this through prayer. I must have an active prayer life. I’ve discovered that it’s easier to experience intimacy with others if I experience intimacy with God in prayer.” May we remember that we are called to saints and may we peacefully and prayerfully be faithful servants of God. Amen.
Today we prayed a favorite prayer of Fr. Peter De Smet that revealed how much he placed his trust in God. This afternoon we pray to have the courage and faith that Fr. De Smet had on his travels. May we live our faith here at school with our friends and teachers, as well as at home with our family. In St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians he writes, “Dare to take the journey that begins where the path ends. For you walk by faith and not by sight.” And today, as always, we dedicate all our thoughts words & actions to the greater glory of God. Amen.
Today, we pray for chastity. Chastity is often stigmatized and misunderstood, but it simply means glorifying God through our decisions we make with our body. All men and women are called to live chastely, no matter if they are single, in a relationship, or married. St Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” but God will do away with both the one and the other. The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Avoid immorality. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
Today, Lord, make us mindful of the way that we use our bodies. Help us recognize our faults, not for the sake of the shame, but rather to recognize our sin, work to fix it, and rejoice at your abundant mercy. Amen.
We pray for the virtue of forgiveness. We pray to look honestly at the past and to ask for forgiveness for our sins. Without forgiveness, our future is overshadowed by the pain of the past, but with forgiveness there is healing of the past, and hope for the future.
St Augustine said, “Forgiveness is the remission of sins. For it is by this that what has been lost, and was found, is saved from being lost again.” By forgiving others, we call upon the Lord to forgive us for our wrongdoings. We ask that today we will not hold resentment towards others in our hearts, but rather release the grudge and allow peace to grow in its place.
This afternoon we pray for the habit of kindness, which enables us to be aware of the needs of others around us and to take action in meeting those needs. It is a virtue that helps us overcome the sin of envy. Kindness is being thoughtful and helpful, even when we would rather selfish, indifferent, or angry. To practice kindness, we should be happy at everyone’s success, even those who we don’t particularly like. Jesuit priest Fr Greg Boyle believes that, “Kindness is the only strength there is.”
We pray today for the strength to be kind, to recognize when those around us are in need of help, and that we will have hearts big enough to reach out to them, even when it might seem difficult. Lord, help us to put others before ourselves. Amen.
We pause each day as a school community to pray the Examen or as St Ignatius called it, the “examination of conscience.” It is a guided reflection that allows us to briefly review our day and see where God was present. Often we do the Examen before the last class period of the day. Here is an explanation, steps that can be used, and some examples of the Examen.
“One of the most popular Ignatian exercises is the Daily Examen. It's a spiritual self-review that involves prayerfully recollecting moments during the day and reflecting on how God was present at those times, followed by a decision to act in some way. The Examen is concrete: It focuses your mind on segments of time (no more than a day, preferably), and the feelings that stirred within you, at those specific moments.”
“God is in it” - The heart of the Examen is the third part: reviewing your day.
"Think of it as a movie playing in your head," writes James Martin, S.J., in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. "Push the play button and run through your day, from start to finish, from your rising in the morning to preparing to go to bed at night. Notice what made you happy, what made you stressed, what confused you, what helped you be more loving. Recall everything: sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, textures, conversations. Thoughts, words, and deeds, as Ignatius says. Each moment offers a window to where God has been in your day."
And remember that no experience is too trivial for spiritual investigation. "Nothing in our lives is so insignificant that it doesn't deserve God's attention," notes Jim Manney in A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, a book about the Examen. "In fact, the mundane and the humdrum parts of our lives give depth and texture to our relationships with God. Washing the windows and cooking dinner are as much a part of the relationship as graduation day. If it's part of our human experience, God is in it."
Ignatius was emphatic about the Examen. He told the early Jesuits that if they for some reason did no other spiritual exercises, they should do this one. Then as now, the Examen is a spiritual tool for sizing up your days — and planting the seeds for a more purposeful life.
How to Pray the Examen
St. Ignatius Loyola included in his Spiritual Exercises a prayer called "the Examen," which derives from the Latin word for examination. Here is a simple rendering of some key elements:
- 1. Place yourself in God's presence. Give thanks for God's great love for you.
- 2. Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
- 3. Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
- 4. Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
- 5. Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God's plan. Be specific, and conclude with the "Our Father."
Some versions of the Examen place a special emphasis on gratitude and feelings.
Example of the Examen
Prayerfully Reviewing Your Day
Stillness: Recalling God's Presence
Relax in God's presence in your favorite prayer place and posture. Be aware of how God shows his love for you in all his gifts to you. Be thankful as you think of God the Father's love, the love of his Son Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and to help you to look honestly at your actions this day and how you have responded in different situations. With the Spirit's inspiration you can recognize what draws you close to God as well as what pulls you away from God.
Gratitude: Expressing Thankfulness
Review your day and give thanks to God for his gifts. Try not to choose what to be thankful for but rather to see what springs to mind as you reflect. Think of the concrete details of your day—the aroma of coffee brewing, a smile from a co-worker, or a beautiful rainbow. Recall the gifts that God has given you that you can share with others—your ability to help in a crisis, your sense of humor, or your patience with children. Pause and express your gratitude to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Reflection: Looking Back on Your Day
Again review the events of the day and notice how you acted in the many situations in which you found yourself. Recall your feelings and motives to see whether you considered all of the possibilities and freely followed God's will. Ask yourself when you were conscious of God's presence. Think about opportunities you had to grow in faith, hope, and charity. When we think about why we did or did not take advantage of these opportunities, we can become aware of how we might change our actions in the future. Be grateful for the occasions when you freely chose a course to help others. Perhaps you let a shopper with a small order go ahead of you in line or did not join in a conversation critical of a co-worker. These are examples of responding freely as God wants us to. When we reflect on the times we did or didn't act with God's grace, we can be more sensitive to developing habits of positive responses.
Sorrow: Asking for Forgiveness
After you have asked for the Holy Spirit's guidance in recalling and reflecting on the actions of your day, spend time talking with God or Jesus. Express sorrow for the times you failed to follow his direction and ask him to be with you the next time you encounter a similar situation. Give thanks to God for the grace that enabled you to follow his will freely. Feel the sorrow and gratitude in your heart as you converse with God.
Hopefulness: Resolving to Grow
Ask God to help you as you look forward to a new day tomorrow. Resolve to cooperate and trust in the loving guidance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Conclude the day's prayerful review with the Lord's Prayer.
By prayerfully reviewing your day, you will experience the difference it can make in the way you live. If you make a habit of practicing the Daily Examen, you will grow closer to God in your thoughts and deeds and will be free to choose to follow him.