Ignatius Loyola (1492-1556) had high ambitions - to be a knight in shining armour and win the hand of a lady of high station. In today's language, he wanted to be the equivalent of a Russell Crowe, and link up with someone like Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman. Instead, in a local squabble between Spain and France at Pamplona, a French cannon ball broke his leg and shattered his dreams.
During a long and painful convalescence Ignatius gradually became aware that his daydreams (the world 'outside') were only part of the story and that his own inner journey and relationship with Jesus (the world 'inside') was more important. For he began to realise that unless he was in touch with himself and his relationship with Jesus, the whole outside story became unreal, no longer a day-dream but a nightmare.
So Ignatius began to invest his energies in discovering and fostering his inner journey as the best way to relate in a free and loving way with Jesus, with a view to following that relationship wherever it might lead him. He kept a record of the stages he went through as he grew in intimacy with Jesus and this record gradually became a little booklet, to be known as the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.
The Spiritual Exercises, then, as a retreat experience, are a way of getting in touch with our inner journey, so that we foster our relationship with Jesus and come to experience the fullness of life He promises.
As a retreat experience, the Spiritual Exercises can be given in many different ways:
An enclosed retreat (20th annotation) over 30 days
A Retreat in Daily Life (19th annotation)
Shorter retreats based on the Spiritual Exercises (18th annotation)
e.g. an 8 days enclosed retreat or a 3 Week Retreat in Daily Life.
The hallmark of an Ignatian retreat, whether we make it in daily life, or go to a retreat house, is that we set up a structure. That is, we work out with our retreat guide:
1. How long the retreat will last
2. How long we will pray for, each day; and how many times
3. What passages from Scripture we will pray from
4. What we want to ask Jesus for
5. How often we will meet with our retreat guide, to talk about what happens in our prayer.
The reason for setting up such a structure is that it helps us focus on our relationship with Jesus, and enables us to 'take a reading' (like a 'spiritual biopsy') as to how the relationship is running, and where it is leading us in line with the stages Ignatius himself experienced.
Patrick O'Sullivan SJ