A - Thanks for the question. St. Ignatius of Loyola is the founder of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. He started out his adult life as a soldier, but after being injured by a cannonball in battle, and several unsuccessful surgeries, he was unable to resume his career as a soldier.
During his recovery from his wound, he read the lives of the saints and decided to become a soldier for Christ. Several spiritual experiences after this time lead to him writing his Spiritual Exercises, which has become a classic in spirituality. The exercises are a program designed to help someone discern God's will for their life and then help them to confidently follow God's will in their daily life.
The program usually takes the form of a four week-long retreat, but variations shorten it to different lengths. In the original form it consists of meditations, prayers, readings, reflections, and notes for the person participating in the program. The four weeks consist of the following themes:
- Jesus' life
- The Crucifixion
- The Resurrection
The retreatant generally will pray and meditate on one of the exercises assigned by a spiritual director. After several different times of prayer they meet with the spiritual director to discuss the retreatants internal reactions to how God is guiding them.
The exercises can be done in a group or individual format.
I highly recommend them. While I have never been able to do a four-week retreat, I have used shortened versions in other ways. They have always been valuable.
Here at St. Mary's we incorporate them into the silent retreat which is held during Spring Break.
I hope this helps.