Mary’s School of Sanctity
In our last lesson in Mary’s School we took a close look into the life of St. Ignatius. We saw how God chose this wonderful saint to be the founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Company of Jesus [as in a military sense].
The Spiritual Exercises are meant to be done over a period of one month with one retreat master helping one exercitant (which is what St. Ignatius calls the person making the exercises). These Exercises are referred to as a retreat. Through the centuries, priests have found a way to allow working men complete the retreat in as little as one week, by paring down the retreat to certain key exercises.
St. Ignatius divides the Spiritual Exercises into four one-week periods (i.e., one month); yet, the actual speed of progressing through the weeks depends on the abilities of the exercitant. However, the later weeks are more fixed because St. Ignatius intends for the exercitant to spend plenty of time in deeper meditations on the life of Our Lord.
The weeks are broken down generally as follows:
1) The first week corresponds roughly to what is called the purgative way in the spiritual life, which involves purifying the soul and putting one’s life in order. This week reminds the exercitant why he was created, namely, the end for which he must live. The aim of this week is to excite sorrow and contrition as the exercitant sees more clearly how he has failed in working for the end in which he was created. There are meditations about the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of the angels, man’s personal sins, as well as meditations on death, hell, and God’s judgment of man. Therefore, this week is designed to purify the soul, root out inordinate attachments to creatures, and enable one to amend his life through grateful surrender to Christ the Redeemer.
The work of the first week is like removing the weeds from a patch of ground so that we can then plant good plants. This “clearing the ground” is critical preparation for the remaining three positive and beautiful weeks, in which the exercitant gains the main fruits of the retreat. Let us read about those now.
2) The aim of the second week is to persuade the exercitant to an interior knowledge and love of the person of Jesus Christ. In this way he may adapt his life to the model of Christ Himself as the norm of Christian perfection. There are a series of meditations about the private and public life of Christ. Further, there are the four famous meditations: on the Call of Christ to His Kingdom, the distinction of the Two Standards—the standard of Christ vs. the standard of Satan, the Three Classes of Men, and the Three Modes of Humility.
In the Call of Christ the King meditation, St. Ignatius arouses the greatest enthusiasm to follow Christ closely in poverty and humility while trying to prepare one’s soul to spread the Catholic Faith.
The meditation on the Two Standards examines the tricks of the devil in contrast to Christ’s plan for the world. The exercitant is encouraged to dedicate his life to Christ whether in the religious life or as a layman. Further, the tactics that the devil uses to draw people away from Christ are explained, as well as the strategies to use in order to remain faithful to Christ.
In the meditation on The Three Classes of Men, St. Ignatius intends to free the exercitant’s will from the false obstacles and illusions of the devil which would prevent the exercitant from making a generous decision to follow Christ intimately.
The meditation called The Three Modes of Humility or subjection to God is intended to purify the heart so that it might reach the highest degree of humility, thus leading the exercitant to choose only that which best leads to his final end, the possession of God.
3) The third week focuses on the Passion of Our Lord. This week is intended to strengthen the resolutions the exercitant has made to follow Christ more closely. Through the study of Our Lord’s sufferings the exercitant increases his grateful love and his sorrow for his sins.
4) The fourth week focuses on meditations on the Risen Life of Christ. This week is intended to produce unselfish love, joy in Christ’s glory, and an unchanging trust in Christ the Consoler.
The crowning conclusion of the four weeks of meditative exercises is the called the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. This meditation brings together all the aspects of the four weeks into a wonderful whole, that is, that one should live his life exclusively for God, in joyous service, finding God in all things and all things for Him. This we have referred to before as having an Eternal Perspective.
In other words, St. Ignatius desires that the exercitant fully grasp the importance of doing all his actions for the greater honor and glory of God. This idea is embodied in St. Ignatius’s famous motto, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. St. Ignatius wants the exercitant to become a noble and virtuous soldier of Christ with his eternal salvation ever in mind.
The above is a brief overview of the full Spiritual Exercises and the basic format of what is called an Ignatian Retreat. These retreats were traditionally given in an appropriate setting for meditation. The retreatant would withdraw from the world, leaving all worldly concerns for a set period of time. For laymen, this was generally a week. The retreats were silent, meaning that the retreatants kept not only exterior silence and also the more difficult interiorly recollection. There were generally three or four mini-instructions (called conferences) per day. In these conferences the retreat master [usually a priest] would instruct the retreatants about the contents of the next assigned meditation. After an appropriate time of instruction, the retreatants were sent to their rooms or the chapel to do the meditation and end with a period of thanksgiving, often called the ‘colloquy’. After the meditation the retreatant would examine how well he did in his efforts of the meditation. He could write himself some notes containing his thoughts and insights that the Holy Ghost perhaps gave him during the meditation. There was usually an opportunity to see the retreat master at least once a day and discuss any problems the retreatant was having.
However, in our times of Apostasy, the Good Lord has allowed uncompromising Catholics to suffer the additional cross of not having an uncompromising priest available and the cross of not having the opportunity to attend an uncompromising retreat. If one wanted to set time aside to be ‘on retreat’, as it were, to do the Spiritual Exercises by himself or in a small group, it would be best to set aside some days where one could simulate the surroundings most conducive to meditation. Ideally, one would have some simple meals pre-made and make arrangements so one could keep a schedule, keep silence, and do several meditations per day. Of course, there would be time allotted for a morning Rosary and, ideally, an evening one as well. Because the Spiritual Exercises are so powerful against the devil and are so efficacious for the perseverance of the soul, it is crucial that we Catholics should seriously consider making time to do these Spiritual Exercises.
Now we turn to another aspect of the Spiritual Exercises that is crucial for perseverance in grace, that is, The Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits. We will give a brief explanation [introduction] to them here and will treat each of them at length in the upcoming issues of Catholic Candle, before moving on to treat each of the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises themselves.
Because we are living in the Church Militant and are battling against the “powers of darkness”, as St. Paul calls them, it is important to know the difference in the strategies of the evil angels and of the good ones. St. Ignatius, through Divine inspiration, explains how to discern between the spirits. He explains his Rules in two sets, one to be given during the First Week and the other in the Second Week. Yet the Rules are not intended to be limited to the retreat. Rather, they are Rules to be used in the spiritual life in general. Our souls go through continual struggles and the devil is always looking for ways to trap us. We must likewise remember that our Guardian Angels are looking for ways to assist us and they are always faithful in accomplishing God’s Will. Even if we do not cooperate with our dear angels, they do not stop doing their God-given task.
In our next lesson we will begin looking at the fourteen Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits for the First Week. After that, we will discuss the eight Rules for the Second Week in a future issue of Catholic Candle.
 In times outside of the Great Apostasy in which we live, (in which most people do not have an uncompromising priest), a general confession would usually be made in this first week. In fact, St. Ignatius intended that the Exercises be given by an experienced retreat master to those retreatants he was familiar with, and not as something to just be read. In this series of articles in Mary’s School of Sanctity, we at Catholic Candle are attempting to share this classic work with our readers. Some of our readers might not know about them. Likewise, because there is no uncompromising priest available to most of our readers, it is likely that there is nowhere to attend an uncompromising retreat. By this series we attempt to explain the exercises, drawing from the previous blessings of our having had these retreats available. Of course, sharing this treasure with others increases our own love and appreciation of these Providential Exercises. These Exercises, once explained, do lend themselves to being done by the laymen. They are very crucial in our times of the Great Apostasy in order to keep our salvation as our number one goal in life. These explanations of the Exercises will be found together on our website. They will be available in book form at the end of our discussion about the Exercises for uncompromising Catholics to use as a meditation source and/or guide for a self-directed retreat.
 See Catholic Candle’s Objective Truth Series Reflection #18, posted January 1, 2021, at this link: https://catholiccandle.org/category/resources-for-faith-and-practice/on-working-for-holiness/objective-truth-series/
 For the Greater Glory of God
 The method of meditation and colloquy was described in Mary’s School of Sanctity Lesson #2, at this link: https://catholiccandle.org/2021/09/03/lesson-2-meditation-how-why/