An Introduction to the Spiritual Exercises
(in order to maintain readability - the male gender is used throughout)
For an understanding of the Exercises it will help to have clearly in mind their general outline. They are divided into four "weeks" of meditations, but the term "week" is flexible; they may last more than a month; on the other hand, they are often reduced to eight days.
The first week corresponds to what is called the purgative way in the spiritual life, devoted to purifying the soul and putting one’s life in order. In the second and third weeks, the meditations are mostly drawn from the public life and Passion of Christ, and in the fourth week from His risen life.
The Exercises open with a consideration of the principle and foundation on which all else is to rest, which is to put all else in perspective, namely; what is man’s final end? how are all creatures related to this end? and what attitude of soul should a man have to enable him to use creatures effectively for that end?
The aim of the meditations of the first week is to arouse sorrow and contrition in the one making the Exercises as he reflects on the disorder of his life, his sins and how he has failed to move effectively toward his final end. The week is designed to purify the soul, root out inordinate attachments to creatures, and enable one to amend his life through grateful love and surrender to Christ the Redeemer.
The aim of the second week is to persuade the exercitant to an interior knowledge and love of the person of Jesus Christ, so that he may adapt his life to the model, identify himself with Christ as the concrete norm of Christian perfection.
The third week is concerned with the Passion of our Lord and is intended to confirm the exercitant in the options he has taken to follow Christ more closely by increasing his grateful love for Christ and his sorrow for his sins through study of Christ’s sufferings.
The fourth week develops meditations on the Risen Life of Christ and is intended to engender unselfish love, joy in Christ’s glory, and in unchanging trust in Christ the Consoler.
Finally, we have the Contemplation to Obtain
Love, which synthesizes the movement of the four weeks so that one lives one’s
life exclusively for God in joyous service, finding Him in all things and all
things in Him.