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Ignatian spirituality is a way of relating to God and to the world that is based on the reflection and prayer experiences of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits.
Ignatius was born in 1491 into a family of minor nobility in the Basque region of Spain. He became a 'man of the world' who enjoyed fast living. At age 26, Ignatius' life changed drastically. While seeking worldly honors and glory, he was struck in the leg by a cannonball in a military battle at Pamplona. After several excruciating surgeries and weeks of fever and delirium, he began a long convalescence.
During his recuperation, he asked for books to read, expecting to be given the romance novels he so enjoyed. To his dismay, the only books available were "The Life of Christ" and a collection of stories about saints. As he read these and reflected on them, he became strangely moved and excited by thoughts of imitating the selfless deeds the saints had done for God.
Ignatius then divested himself of his armor and noble clothes and took on the simple garb and lifestyle of a begging pilgrim. He went to a place called Manresa and lived for eleven months in a cave near a monastery. He spent many hours in prayer and meditation, recording in journals his experiences of God, who gently and powerfully communicated with him and transformed his soul.
During the years that followed, Ignatius edited his journals and devised a month-long retreat program of spiritual exercises, consisting of meditations, contemplations and self-examinations. The retreat was composed of four sections called "weeks." The First Week focused on conversion from sin and worldliness to a life centered on God. During the Second Week, one contemplated Jesus from his Incarnation to the end of his public ministry, seeing Jesus as the model for all true Christian living. The Third and Fourth Weeks were experiences of unitive prayer in which the retreatant accompanies Jesus through his Passion and Resurrection. The retreat ended with the "Contemplation to attain the love of God," which reviews all the gifts and graces of the preceding four weeks. The goal of this contemplation was to help retreatants return to their daily lives ready and able to love as universally and unselfishly as God loves.
The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises are still offered today to people who want to take their Christian life and their relationship to God more seriously. Jesuits sponsor retreat houses all over the world where people can go for silence and communion with God. Retreats vary in length from the traditional full 30 days, to eight days, five days, weekends and single days.
For those who cannot take even a few days out of their lives to go on retreat, Ignatius adapted the exercises to be made over a six to eight month period where one can spend an hour a day in prayer. These popular 19th Annotation retreats allow a person to make the full exercises in a schedule that accommodates his or her needs.