WINNIPEG — The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola have been the core of the Jesuit way of life since the Society of Jesus was founded. In the past 40 years, more and more Canadian lay people have been following this regimen of prayer and contemplation. The Spiritual Exercises were designed to be made over 30 - 40 days in a monastic setting; however, St. Ignatius provided for a means of doing them in ordinary life over the course of six or seven months. This is the program that Winnipeg’s St. Ignatius Parish has been offering for some 25 years.
Some of the principal effects people experience from the Spiritual Exercises are: finding God in ordinary daily life; developing a personal relationship with the risen Jesus; learning how to identify and be freed from desires that lead away from God; experiencing the reality of God’s love; and learning how to make decisions that are guided by the Holy Spirit.
Retreatants commit to doing up to an hour per day of contemplative prayer, a method that stresses the engagement of the imagination and the emotions. The focus of the Spiritual Exercises is developing a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, using Gospel stories as inspiration. While praying the exercises, retreatants weekly meet one-on-one with a spiritual director who has been trained in guiding others through the exercises.
The program begins each May with an exploratory “taste” of the Ignatian style of prayer. Candidates then decide whether they wish to continue. In October, the Exercises begin. They conclude in May the following year.
Several of the 2016-17 retreatants offered comments on their experience. One spoke of feeling greater emotion during prayer: “I now have the skills to think about God when I pray, rather than just focusing on myself or the needs of loved ones.”
“I am closer to Jesus,” said another, “and experience him directly sometimes.” Another said: “I now will not make my own decisions without praying on them and talking to God about what he wants for me.” And finally: “I had a life-changing experience.”
The exploratory/introductory sessions occur this year at the St. Ignatius Education centre for five consecutive Tuesday evenings, 7 - 8:30 beginning May 1. For further information contact 204-453-9243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Johnston Smith is a director in the St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises Program.