“God calls us where we are”

Following in the Footsteps of St. Ignatius through the Spiritual Exercises

By Molly Cochran

Maria Williams, M.S. ’11, thought nine months of prayer would be a daunting task. However, participating in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises as a retreatant proved to be a positive experience.

“Ultimately, it was well worth it, and changed my relationship with God, myself, and others, as well as my style of prayer,” said Williams, who has a master’s in counseling psychology from Loyola

What are the Spiritual Exercises?

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are offered either as a 30-day solitary retreat or in the nine-month program in everyday life that Loyola offers to students, alumni, and the Baltimore community. The goal of the nine-month retreat is the same as the 30-day program—to strengthen your relationship with God while participating in daily prayer under the guidance of a spiritual director.

A new group of retreatants will begin their spiritual journey in September through Loyola’s program, which is offered by the University’s Office of Mission Integration. Michael Salvatore, M.A. ’94, and spiritual director for the upcoming retreat, said the objective is to help individuals find their way back to God.

“Don’t think about it so linearly. You aren’t starting here and ending there. It’s to make you aware of your spiritual life,” said Salvatore.

Retreatants should be prepared to put in some serious work while completing the Spiritual Exercises, as daily prayer is expected to last up to an hour. In addition participants meet weekly with their spiritual directors and attend twice-monthly small group sessions.

“It’s a lot to ask a person to sit and pray for 30 minutes. It’s hard to do,” said Salvatore.

A large part of the process incorporates journaling after prayer. Salvatore suggests a few questions to consider, “Where did I find God today?”, “What did I do right?”, and “What can I do better tomorrow?”

Throughout the process, a spiritual director provides guidance and suggestions on how to get the most out of the retreat.

Rev. Dominic Totaro, S.J., spiritual director for 20 years and a Jesuit priest at the Colombiere Jesuit Community in Baltimore, said the objective is to understand and carry out God’s will through practice.

“Repetition is not ‘do it again and do it right this time.’ We do repetition for two reasons, a negative and positive experience. The negative could be a wall or barrier you need to penetrate so it’s no longer a barrier. The other is positive and fruitful,” said Fr. Totaro.

According to Fr. Totaro, the positive experience is a grace from God and should be put into practice.

Totaro says, you must have the drive to complete these exercises.

“Some people have no spiritual knowledge when they come, and it’s very important they have a calling from God to do it,” said Fr. Totaro.

Retreatant Feedback

Rev. Timothy Brown, S.J., assistant to the president for mission integration, says each retreatant should approach the Spiritual Exercises with the goal of completion.

“It’s sort of like a marathon. You might start with a 3k or 5k. People may start with a workshop or retreat and work up to Spiritual Exercises,” said Fr. Brown.

Loyola’s office of mission integration works to spread the Ignatian way through strengthening Jesuit identity and encouraging personal spiritual development. For individuals who are not ready to complete the Spiritual Exercises, Loyola offers a wide range of other programs and retreats.

Rev. Steve Spahn, S.J., assistant to the director of mission integration, says participating in the Spiritual Exercises typically leads to a beneficial experience for all retreatants.

“Even those who don’t make it through the whole retreat still have a meaningful experience. Everyone receives fruitful graces from God,” said Fr. Spahn.

Elaine Ireland, M.A. ’08, a spiritual director for the upcoming retreat, has completed the Spiritual Exercises herself and highly recommends it.

“It’s life-changing, but not in the sense that it changes where you live or what you do, but God calls us where we are. For most, it changes your outlook on life, how you see other people, and your outlook on gratitude.”

More about the Spiritual Exercises

St. Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises, also known as the 19th Annotation, in Manresa. At the time, he was praying every day and working in a hospital in exchange for a place to stay. He directed students to study and pray for 30 days, which inspired part of the Spiritual Exercises. The exercises consider not only intellect but emotions and feelings, which can help people understand the spirit in their lives.

Spiritual Exercises are a combination of meditations and prayers meant to strengthen individuals’ relationship with God. The Spiritual Exercises are often offered as a 30-day intense and secluded retreat with daily prayer and guidance from a spiritual director.

Learn more at an Information Session

The Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life retreat starts in September and lasts through May. The retreat is open to everyone, regardless of beliefs. If you are interested in following in the footsteps of St. Ignatius through the Spiritual Exercises, you are invited to attend information sessions on either Aug. 9 or Sept. 5 from 7 – 8:30 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Chapel at Loyola.

For more information, contact Fr. Spahn at LUMspiritualexercises@gmail.com.


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