The Spiritual Exercises: The Pre-work Warm-up

The Purpose
The purpose of The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius are “to help one to discard disordered attachments and through this means to order one’s life toward God, without coming to a decision from some disordered attachment pleasing more to self than to God” (Ignatius in Ganss, 1992). As I have just completed seminary and am looking for a place to engage in full-time ministry, going through the Exercises at this time is opportune.

The Structure
A Jesuit student will go through the Exercises in both their first and final years of study. The Exercises are designed as a 30 day (more or less) meditative and prayerful retreat, divided into four weeks, but there is flexibility in the structure. In Ignatius’ ideal, a person will takes this time as a retreat from normal life. This allows time to focus, and allows the person to go through all or most of the meditations in 30 days. Some of the days have instructions for five different meditations (each an hour long) and some of the weeks have more than seven days. Ignatius also provides an options for those who cannot remove themselves from their regular work, 30 minutes of instruction and an hour of meditation each day. This second method will be my goal. The instructions also indicate that it is not mandatory to complete every meditation, but as this is my first time going through the Exercises, I will try to go through all the meditations. This will probably extend my processes to about 45 days. Since this endeavor will take longer than 30 days and may focus my spirit for impending decisions, I have moved up my start date, and hope to complete the Exercises by the end of July.

When a student (exercitant) is being led through the Exercises, they are not to know what meditation is coming next, so other than reading through the table of contents I have chosen not to read through the whole book before I begin the Exercises on July 1st June 17. I have read through the introduction, foundations, and will read the end notes, so that hopefully I will have less trouble with terminology, as Ignatius sometimes has specific and unique definitions of words.

Without revealing too much, the structure of the four weeksare as follows:

  • Week 1: The purification of the soul with meditations on sin.
  • Week 2: The illumination of Christ and his call to participate in the Kingdom with meditations on the life of Christ.
  • Week 3: Intimate union with God through Christ with meditations on the passion (sufferings) of Christ.
  • Week 4: Intimate union with God through Christ with meditations on the joys (resurrection and ascension) of Christ.

Ganss, George E., S.J. (1992). The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: a Translation and Commentary. Chicago: Loyola University Press.


This is a continuing series as I go through The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

©2012 Paul Tillman

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