“The Spiritual Exercises are the best means that I can think of, experience and understand in this life, both to help a person improve himself and be able to benefit, help and bring profit to many others.”
St Ignacio of Loyola
Perhaps the best reason for doing the Spiritual Exercises is that given by Our Lord Himself, and which St. Ignatius quotes in his book: “What does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but loses his own soul?” (Mk 8:36) It is very easy in this world to lose track of the meaning of our lives—why we were created and how we can find God. Many people have spent their lives working very hard to achieve success, only to find out at the end that they have wasted much of their time. The goal of the Spiritual Exercises is refocus our lives on what is most important, first by correcting our sinful inclinations, and then by pointing us toward the ultimate goal of our lives, which is the glory and praise and service of God, our Creator and Redeemer.
The Institute of the Incarnate Word offers the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola to the laity to help them grow deeper in their spiritual lives. The Spiritual Exercises do this by assisting the exercitants (i.e. those who take the exercises) to, in the words of St. Ignatius, “conquer themselves” and then shows them how to conform their will to the will of God.
Throughout the course of the Spiritual Exercises the exercitants will be given the tools which will help them to discern the Will of God in their own lives. This makes the exercises especially useful for, but in no means restricted to, those who are discerning their vocation.
St. Ignatius composed the Spiritual Exercises over a period of 19 years (1522-1541) and has ever since been one of the most powerful means of sanctifying members of the Church, whether lay or religious. This is most clearly expressed by Pope Pius III when he declared, ” We have found that these Exercises are full of piety and holiness and that they are and will be extremely useful and salutary for the spiritual profit of the faithful….We earnestly exhort all and each of the faithful of both sexes, everywhere to employ instructions and Exercises so pious and to be instructed by them.” (Pastoralis Officii, 31-VII-1548)
The members of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE) take an abbreviated version of the exercises annually and take the full 30 day exercises once every ten years. They are offered for the laity in different parts of the country in both English and Spanish throughout the entire course of the year. Usually the exercises are offered in an abbreviated three day version which contains the essential meditations and rules provided by St. Ignatius. He understood that not all would be able to put their lives on hold for a full month in order to take the exercises and so, even in his life, St. Ignatius made accommodations for shorter retreats.
For more information on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola you can read more about it in the Catholic Encyclopedia.