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The Spiritual Exercises as the spiritual foundation of the Jesuits

The Spiritual Exercises as the spiritual foundation of the Jesuits

Contemporary Jesuit priests have participated in two thirty-day-long retreats, one time shortly after entering, before ordination to the priesthood, and the other after ordination to the priesthood. Both these experiences are based on the spiritual textbook called the Spiritual Exercises. This book is thus the spiritual basis of the Jesuit order; at the same time, this book also gives educational directions for schools sponsored by the Jesuits. When someone enters into the spiritual journey suggested by the Exercises, one first considers a meditation called The Principle and Foundation, in which one considers the direction of one's own life; this is followed by meditations about Sin, where one is encouraged to consider and reflect on several related topics.

When one finishes these meditations, one enters into the so-called second week; here one starts with a meditation on The Kingdom of Christ. The persons making the retreat should contemplate Christ and should feel that they are being called to offer themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of God and for participating in the battles against the evils that are everywhere throughout the world. The retreatants will be unable to refuse such an invitation from the Risen Christ. Such a struggle, however, will not be a competition to gain empty praise or material benefits or high places in human society.

This means a choice of the Way of the Cross, being poor with Christ who was poor and being ridiculed with Christ who renounced his ordinary worldly benefits.

This type of ambition was directly in opposition to the thoughts of most of the people who lived during the Renaissance, who were seeking for fame and riches and power. The ambition of Ignatius was to sacrifice himself and to offer his services for others.

The schools administered by the Jesuits have often been criticized, beginning a long time ago, for encouraging their students to achieve good grades, in other words, to be cultivating overly diligent students who only cared about the scores they managed to get in classes and on exams. From outside, such an impression may indeed be justified. For someone who is familiar with the principles of Jesuit education, however, which means for someone who is familiar with the Spiritual Exercises, the motives behind the constant recommendations to study diligently are not for the sake of gaining individual advantages but rather for the sake of educating persons who will be of great use to human society. The idea is that persons who fulfill their academic duties effectively will be of much more use for the building of the Kingdom of God and for the building of a peaceful society than will persons who are allowed to loaf along.


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