Liem Pham, S.J.






















The aim of this paper is shown in the title. It is intended to help someone to understand the Spiritual Exercises in order to give them. It could be simple but basic and necessary. In this paper I will present what the Spiritual Exercises are, who are the subjects receiving the Spiritual Exercises, and how a retreat director presents them.


Those who want to start a business, must know the end of the work is, and what goal they want to reach. So those who intend to do the Spiritual Exercises and help others to do them, must know what the Spiritual Exercises are and their advantage.

Practical exercise/ method/ structure of prayer

What are the Spiritual Exercises? First, the Spiritual Exercises include every method of prayer: “By the term “Spiritual Exercises” is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual activities that will be mentioned later.” (SE.1). The Spiritual Exercises as a method of examination of conscience is shown in (SE. 44); as a method of meditation is seen in some steps (SE. 46-54); as a method of contemplation is found in the exercise of Incarnation (SE. 101-109).

Second, based on this quotation “In all the Spiritual Exercises which follow, we make use of the acts of the intellect in reasoning, and of the acts of the will in manifesting our love…” (SE. 3), the Spiritual Exercises could be simply understood as any prayer where one uses his memory to remember, his intellect to reason, and his will to love.

Third, the Spiritual Exercises are not only methods of prayer and any exercises but also a process, a structure of spiritual exercises: “Four week are assigned to the Spiritual Exercises given below. This corresponds to the four parts into which they are divided, namely: the first part, which is devoted to the consideration and contemplation of sin; the second part, which is taken up with the life of Christ our Lord up to Palm Sunday inclusive…” (SE. 4).

Because of various meanings of the Spiritual Exercises, the Spiritual Exercises can be given to many kinds of people. Someone can only be given the Spiritual Exercises of the first week (SE. 18), but others can be given the total Spiritual Exercises in daily life (SE. 19) or in a place of solitude (SE. 20). All these are called Spiritual Exercises but the meanings differ.

Moreover, each week of the Spiritual Exercises brings its own graces; but the exercitant’s generosity or lack of it can open the exercitant to the grace or close him/her up. In the case where the exercitant is not generous enough to receive the grace needed for the corresponding week, the exercitant doen’t really go through the Spiritual Exercises even though he/she does a 30-day retreat. In this case he is still in the first or second week even though he is in the thirtieth day of a long retreat. In Saint Ignatius’ view, the retreat director should end the retreat at the end of the first week (SE. 18).

For making a decision

In the words of Saint Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises are “every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul” (SE. 1). Thus the Spiritual Exercises have a two fold aim: the first is to remove all inordinate attachments, and the other is to seek and find God’s will in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.

In other words, “Spiritual Exercises have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment” (SE. 21). Thus, the Spiritual Exercises are for not making decisions under inordinate attachment. In those cases, when the decision-making is done, it will be made in an indifferent attitude. The examen of conscience can also be understood as a spiritual exercise to discern and to make a decision in daily life.

According to the above extracts, the Spiritual Exercises are for seeking, finding, and doing God’s will. Election is a very important spiritual exercise, and is set at the end of the second week, but it is not the aim of the Spiritual Exercises. The exercitant expects something more than that.

For training the heart

In Asian countries people recognize dissonance between knowledge and practice “tri hành bất nhất.” The intellect recognizes what is good and better, the will desires it, but in fact one experiences having not practiced it. This is the same reality that Saint Paul experienced and expressed in his letter to Romans in chapter 7. In every Spiritual Exercise Saint Ignatius tells us to ask for what we want and desire. What we ask for is beyond our capacity.

Knowledge is also what an exercitant look for. In the third exercise, an exercitant asks for “a deep knowledge of his sins … , and understanding of the disorder of his actions, …, a knowledge of the world…” (SE. 63). In the second week, an exercitant ask for “an intimate knowledge of our Lord” (SE. 104), “a knowledge of the deceits… and knowledge of the true life…” (SE. 139). However in comparing knowledge and feelings in Spiritual Exercises, feelings are much more insisted upon.

For example in the first week, an exercitant asks for “shame and confusion,” for “a growing and intense sorrow and tears,” for “a deep sense of the pain” (SE. 65).  Even when an exercitant asks for knowledge, it is for knowledge that is to be applied in action; for instance, when he/she asks for “an understanding of the disorder of my actions, it is in order to amend my life;” when he/she asks for “a knowledge of the world,” it is “in order to put it away from me.” In the second week when the retreatant asks “for an intimate knowledge of our Lord,” it is so “that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely” (SE. 104). When asking for a knowledge of the deceits of devils, it is “to guard myself against them” (SE. 139). In the third week an exercitant asks for “sorrow, compassion, and confusion because….” (SE. 193), and “sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief because…” (SE. 203) of the actions of Christ on our behalf. In the fourth week, an exercitant asks “to be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord” (SE. 221). The feelings or emotions of identifying with Christ are what an exercitant asks for. In the Ad Amorem, an exercitant asks for “an intimate knowledge in order to love and serve the Divine Majesty in all things” (SE. 233).

Once again it must be said that the Spiritual Exercises are essentially designed for feeling, doing, and living. The Spiritual Exercises are a school for training one’s heart. In Saint Paul’s language the Spiritual Exercises help us to be conformed to Christ (Phil.3, 10).

In the Spiritual Exercises people learn with God in Jesus Christ to unify their selves which are divided by different tendencies. To be simple in oneself, with God and with others, is one aim of the Spiritual Exercises.

For resting in God with Jesus Christ

The end of the Spiritual Exercises is to live with God through Jesus, to be with God in Jesus, to make the self one with God. This dynamic is in the whole Spiritual Exercises, in each week, in each day, and in each exercise.

The petition of each Spiritual Exercise “asking what I want and desire” is the dynamic of each exercise; however in the colloquy an exercitant searches and finds personal relationships with Jesus and God, concretely seen in “the our Father” in most exercises. Rest in God could be understood as the end of the Spiritual Exercises and of each exercise because as Saint Ignatius says “for it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth” (SE. 2), and “we should pay attention to and dwell upon those points in which we have experienced greater consolation or desolation or greater spiritual appreciation” (SE. 62), and “I will remain quietly upon the point in which I have found what I desire, without any eagerness to go on till I have been satisfied” (SE. 76). To be united with God in colloquy is the end of a meditation and especially of contemplation. The dynamic of each exercise and of the whole Spiritual Exercises is the movement of the whole exercitant with his/her desire toward God. In the Spiritual Exercises, the dialectic of dynamic and rest exists. In the whole Spiritual Exercises, the third and fourth weeks and the Ad Amorem require and express the union and the rest of the exercitant with Jesus and God. In each day the application of senses here is rest with God; and in each spiritual exercise the colloquy is rest with God.

In other words, God is the end of all the movements in the Spiritual Exercises. Whenever the exercitant reaches God, she will rest there calmly.


People of Saint Ignatius’ time and of today are different in their mentality, so to help people today to do the Spiritual Exercises effectively we need to know who people are today.

a. Decentered under the influences of mass media

Many people today are too much influenced by TV, movies, and the Internet. They spend a lot of time on TV shows, movies, and chat on the computer. These have influenced and formed strongly the personalities of people today.

A crisis of trust in others is there. TV shows and movies influence people today not to trust others because in movies and TV shows they recognize all that can happen. Futhermore, in daily life they have very few occasions to trust others because persons who love them and are trustworthy such as their parents and their relatives, go out to work all the day. Therefore they have not enough occasions to experience true love, especially love in the family, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters. This lack is especially acute in families where there is only one child. Blood relations are very important in human relationships. They have not received an education to pay attention to others who love them. They have not enough occasions to share true love in family and friends. Therefore, they focus on themselves, and then on their own personal feelings and experiences.

People today are decentered. People in the USA today are very different from people in Asian countries. For people today in the USA are much more informed and influenced by the mass media than are people in Asian countries. After their school and work they spend much time watching TV shows, movies, and chat on Internet. They are really decentered; they have lost the habit of focusing on a problem at a deep level. Movies make people unrooted in the real world. One focuses on oneself and doesn’t pay enough attention to others. They don’t believe in others but only in self; and as result they don’t believe in authority, whether secular or spiritual. As TV shows change continually, people need to change their concentration.

A crisis of religious truths exists. People have not been taught the truths revealed and transmitted in history. On the contrary, they are unhealthily influenced by TV shows and films about violence, sex, and deformed religious relationships. On religious matters people don’t trust religious authority and have different behavior from the traditional[1]. It isn’t that they are antireligious, but probably it is a consequence of the influences of mass media, and the fact that they have not received enough good religious education. Many of them have not the traditional sense of sin[2]. People today need an adequate education on religious matters.

b. Conservative as a consequence of choosing definitively a system of values as unique

In contrast to the people influenced by mass media, some people have a very conservative vision on religious matters and truths. They believe that the only right and good is tradition.

People of this mindset don’t accept any interpretation of the Bible today. They don’t accept the theory of evolution. They don’t admit salvation for non-Christian people even though Vatican Council II pronounced it. Some of them like to use Latin in the eucharist.

People who believe in a closed system of values do not easily accept others who live in various systems of values, which are expressed in different cultures. It is easy for them to judge that others are wrong and that the only one correct is themselves.

c. Open to reality

Even though most people today are influenced by mass media and then decentered, and even if some others are conservative because of a dogmatic spirit, both kinds of people are always looking for truths. Desiring truth is an intimate and inextinguishable aspiration of human beings. It is a desire that is innate in human being. Homo ordinatur ad Deum.

The human being is to be educated. In all cases and conditions a human being always desires and looks for the truth. For a human being, it is necessary to be educated to become better, more human and more mature. By this supposition the Spiritual Exercises are given to people today, even though they are influenced by all the things of this age.

To recognize the good characteristics of people today such as to believe in oneself, to be open to other cultures and to be willing to receive the good things from different cultures, to learn and accept the knowledge and experiences of those who are in the vanguard, is a characteristic of well educated and open hearted people.

People who have been poorly educated in any tradition are decentered and find it easy to receive what is right and good for them from different cultures. People who believe in a closed system of values transmitted in a culture have difficulty receiving truths that are expressed in different cultures. There are some ways that people today have their own beautiful characteristics. They accept one another even though they are from different cultures. For example people in the United States accept multi-cultural differences more easily than people in only one cultural ambiance.

Human beings of all time are born to look for truth, goodness, and beauty. To be educated is important and necessary to all persons. To accept being educated, that is, to be ready to receive truths from anyone, is a sign of being close to a real and right position. Any person who performs the education ministry and gives the Spiritual Exercises must believe of human beings that if they recognize what is correct, right, and true then they will follow it. Conforming to the truth is a human characteristic. With this persuasion we can practice the ministry of spiritual direction to everyone who comes to us.


How should we present the Spiritual Exercises to people today? Saint Ignatius presented the Spiritual Exercises in a way that suited the people of his time. People today have a mentality that is different from the people in the time of Saint Ignatius. To present the Spiritual Exercises for people today we must understand what Ignatius wanted to do in the Spiritual Exercises, then adapt them, and present them.


Principle and Foundation was not written in the Manresa time. Principle and Foundation is a “consideration” according to Ignatius’s glossary. It is helpful for an exercitant to consider it before carrying out the Spiritual Exercises. Even though it is a consideration, it could be materials to pray for people; for some retreat directors it could also be materials for contemplation.

1. The essentials of the Principle and Foundation

 “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” Saint Ignatius wrote this as a given. God is the Creator; therefore, by justice man must respect and serve God.

Salvation is a gift to man. Here Ignatius presents the creation of man with the aim of praising, reverencing, and serving God, and so saving his soul. “To save his soul,” supposes rescuing someone from dangers that could destroy him. That supposes the state of man before salvation was good and happy; nevertheless Saint Ignatius wrote this in the view of the present condition, man’s fallen situation. In an alternate view, to praise, reverence, and serve God are not hard but truthful acts, which make man joyful and happy.

Man praises, reverences, and serves God and by doing so enjoys and experiences happiness. The man who praises and serves God and then feels happy, is a man who rejoices in his state of life. To feel joyful and happy is very important; it helps one to surpass the secular and limited pleasure of temptation.

“The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.” Ignatius sees man as a lord of the earth, because the earth is created for man to attain his end. The earth is not created for itself but for man. After God, human beings are the most precious creatures.

It is very important for human beings to use the other creatures on the earth. This simply means, to use them in as far as they help man attain his end. Whatever impedes man from his end must be eliminated.

Indifference must be man’s attitude to all things, even to health and sickness, to honor and contempt, long life and short life. An indifferent attitude means that man chooses nothing but God’s will because God wills the best things for man. God always wants man to be mature and plentifully happy.

2. Presenting the Principle and Foundation to people today

An exercitant must believe that God is the Creator. God creates all things. God creates human beings in God’s image.

God loves human beings. God creates human beings as the top of material creation. God’s will is that human beings become completely developed, mature, and happy.

God is love (1Jn.4: 8.16) means that God does everything by love and with love.  God desires all men to be saved and to reach knowledge of the truth (1Tm.2: 4). God loves human beings so much that He gave His beloved Son to them (Jn.3: 16). If God gave us His only Son, then God will refuse us nothing (Rm.8: 32). God loves us so much that when we experience God’s love we will love God in return. One who experiences love will trust the lover and do everything for the lover.

Ask an exercitant to consider the Principle and Foundation in its original text.

3. Spiritual Direction

How does a retreat director help a directee in this phase? First, she should check if the retreatant receives the grace of this phase, that is, experiences God’s love, absolute trust in God, indifference, choosing God and God’s will over all things.

Questions will be proposed to a retreatant in an open way in order to know what happened to the directee in prayer; for example, “How did you feel in your last prayer?” “How is your prayer today?” “What grace do you think you received in this exercise, today?”
Afterwards moving to a second level, she will ask some questions to help the directee to know himself at a more profound level; for instance, “What does the feeling mean?” “What ideas do you have?” “What do these distractions mean?” “What do they reveal?”

And at the third level she should suggest to the directee what he should be asking for, for example, “What do you think would be good for you at this time?” “How do you think it would go if next time you will pray on xxx, with the text yyy?”

The graces of love, trust, indifference, and choosing God and God’s will over all things all go along with each other.

4. Supervision

Supervision[3] is meant to help new retreat directors to be more useful in spiritual direction. In supervision veteran retreat directors pass their experiences on to new spiritual directors.

For example if a retreat director finds no movement in the exercitant, she can ask her supervisor how to behave with her directee. In this sense, Saint Ignatius’ book The Spiritual Exercises is a supervion book. For example, “When the one who is giving the Exercises perceives that the exercitant is not affected by any spiritual experiences, such as consolations or desolations, and that he is not troubled by different spirits, he ought to ply him with questions about the exercises. He should ask him whether he makes…..” (SE. 6). The “Spiritual Exercises” is a book for retreat directors and at the same time for supervisors. The directory published in 1599 at Rome is a supervision book, too.

To present the Principle and Foundation to people today, one could present God as a steadfast lover, and then the text of the Principle and Foundation of Saint Ignatius. One could present it to a retreatant as meditation to help him/her have absolute confidence in God who loves him so much. To trust in God absolutely is a grace of the Principle and Foundation.

Some biblical texts could be suggested such as Jn.3: 16; 17: 23.20; Hos.11: 1-9 for God’s love; Jn.15: 13; 15: 9; 13: 1-17 for Jesus’ love; and Jn.14: 16. 26; 15: 26; 16: 13 for the Holy Spirit’s love. For an attitude of surrender to God: Mt.6: 25-31 might help. For love of others Mt.25: 31-45 is useful. God is over all things as in Gen.22: 1-19; Rm.8: 31-39. “The Our Father” is very good prayer to meditate and pray with (Mt.6: 7-15).

In these first days a retreat director should tell the directee about what the Spiritual Exercises are (SE. 1.4.21), the relationship between directee and director (SE. 22), the way of prayer according to Saint Ignatius, the review of prayer, and the way of examen of conscience. Do not tell all in one day but each day one or two of  these topics.

The exercitant should have the necessary ability to surrender to God, that is, let go of everything and let God take care of his life, at least in these days. Being in tension could be a sign of human effort to do the Spiritual Exercise by one’s own human force, but the right attitude is to give up to God.

The exercitant receives the graces of the Principle and Foundation if he experiences God’s love for him, if he is ready to surrender all his life to God, and if he wants nothing except God and God’s will.


For Saint Ignatius, not all people can do the complete Spiritual Exercises. Some can only do certain exercises of the first week. Therefore, it depends on the condition of each one how much of the spiritual exercises to give (SE. 18).

1. The Essentials of the First Week

a. The meaning of sin

Some affirm that people today have lost the sense of sin. If people have lost the sense of sin, then how can they do the first week? I think people today haven’t lost the sense of sin, but they have a different sense of sin from that of traditional teaching. Thus, what is sin for people today?

Doing freely something wrong or unjust against others, or violating the right of others is sin. The ten commandments are the signs to help persons know that if they transgress one of them, they have violated the rights of others, even of God or human beings, or even of their parents or others.

God creates human beings; God wills human beings to be mature, joyful, and happy; and in justice human beings must respect and try to attain what God desires for themselves. If human beings don’t answer God’s call, that is sin.

The exercitant should recognize the true reality of himself or herself, that is, he/she has done something wrong against others, and hasn’t answered God’s call to be more human.

b. Awareness of one’s own powerlessness for doing good

An exercitant should experience the self’s powerlessness to become better by the self’s own force. He should experience the dissonance within himself having willed the good but having done something wrong as his flesh inclined, so that he could not accomplish what he recognized as good and just.

She is aware of her incapability of repairing what she has done wrongly against others. Just as, though a murderer recognizes that he did wrong in killing another, he could not raise the one killed by himself and repair his wrong doing. He could only say sorry and ask for pardon and forgiveness.

c. Experiencing God’s love and returning to God

In the Principle and Foundation, an exercitant recognizes God’s love, and at a certain level she surrenders herself to God. In the first week, she experiences that God’s love is expressed through forgiveness.

God loves human beings in forgiving all their sins. God always forgives human beings’ sins, but God’s forgivess is free and gratis.

Recognizing God’s love in forgiving, deciding to return to God, not to do anything against God’s will any more, and trying to become better and better with God’s help, is a great grace of the first week.

2. Presenting the First Week for People Today

To help the exercitant to understand what sin is, some of the following texts of scripture are helpful to pray on:
sin of first human beings in Gen. 3;
sin of Cain against Abel (Gen.4);
sin of Israel (Ex.15: 22-17:7);
power of sin (Rm.7);
obstinacy (Mk.2: 1-11).

God expresses forgiveness through Jesus Christ in
forgiving a woman’s sin (Lk.7:36 ff);
forgiving adultery of a woman and forgiving pharisees (Jn.8: 1-11);
Peter’s sin and repentance (Mk.14: 26-31; Lk22: 54-62);
God as the father forgiving (Lk.15:11-35).

Meditations presented by Saint Ignatius are important (SE. 45-71).

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

Recognizing the true reality about himself is a bold sign of the first week graces, that is, recognizing himself as sinful and powerless to realize the goodness by his/her own forces.

Recognizing oneself as sinful, asking God and others for forgiveness, and being ready to forgive those who tresspass against oneself is a sign of having received the graces of the first week. If someone is not ready to forgive those who do wrong against her, then she doesn’t get the complete grace of the first week yet.

The rules of discernment of spirits of the first week are useful for the exercitant to know himself, his temptations and weakness. What is the most tempted is normally the weakest point for an exercitant (SE. 327). “Why have I been tempted so steadfastly and sturdily?” In this case let her examine if she resists strongly against temptation (SE. 325). Don’t lose heart if one has been tempted so hard. Distraction and temptation reveal in certain sense the self of the exercitant. Nobody likes to have distraction and temptation; however they are useful for knowing oneself and helping an exercitant to know the true reality of him/herself.

Normally an exercitant is in consolation, at least, in the sense that he is peaceful (SE. 316). If someone is in desolation, let him examine what the cause is. He should find out the cause. It could be his own faults that cause desolation; in this case an exercitant must correct himself (SE. 322,1). It could be God who likes to train an exercitant in order to help him pray and look for God in prayer but not for consolation; in this case she doesn’t need to do anything except accept this situation in patience and obedience to God (SE. 322, 2). It could be to teach an exercitant a lesson that spiritual consolation is God’s gift, that God is the cause of all spiritual consolation; in this case when recognizing this lesson she will be in consolation (SE. 322, 3).

Generosity is an element to help an exercitant to perform the Spiritual Exercises better (SE. 5). An exercitant’s generosity is expressed through keeping the ten additions. He should always keep in heart what he is meditating or contemplating, all day long (SE. 78) and even when lieing down (SE. 73) and waking up (SE. 74); before praying he should be aware of God’s presence (SE. 75), during prayer he should use whatever position is appropriate to pray (SE. 76), after praying he should practice the review of prayer (SE. 77); all day long he should keep his senses, especially his eyes from being distracted (SE. 81) and his mouth from speaking and smiles (SE. 80); he should keep an exterior ambiance (SE. 79) and do penance (SE. 82).

In an eight day retreat, the Principle and Foundation could take a full day, and the first week can take one day and a half.

It is very helpful to have the sacrament of reconciliation for Catholic exercitants at the end of the first week (SE. 44).


Jesus has died on the cross to save the exercitant from his/her death caused by the sins committed; now Jesus invites her/him to cooperate with Jesus to accomplish the mission God entrusted to Him.

1. The Essentials Of This Meditation

 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn.20: 21). The risen Jesus missioned the apostles, and through the apostles He is missioning me. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Mt.28: 19).

Jesus invites me to evangelize His Good News to the people of my area. What shall I do for Jesus who loves me so much and died for me? In this meditation, “it will be to ask of our Lord the grace not to be deaf to His call, but prompt and diligent to accomplish His most holy will” (SE. 91). What I desire is to be generous, prompt and diligent to accomplish Jesus’ will.

An exercitant is invited to be so generous that she prays with the Lord in the words formulated in the prayer colloquy (SE. 98). She is willing to do all things that make her conformed to her Lord if and only if the Lord admit and choose her to such a state and way of life.

2. Presenting This Meditation To People Today

The following themes could be proposed to an exercitant to pray:
Jesus missioned the apostles in Jn.20: 21; Mt.28: 16-20;
The mission of Paul and Barnabas (Act.13: 1-12);
The call of Abraham (Gen.12: 1-9) and of Moses (Ex.3: 1-12);
The call of the servant of Yahweh (Is.42: 1-7; 43: 1-13; 49: 1-18; 52:13- 53: 12);
The generosity of Abraham to answer the call in sacrifying Isaac (Gen.22: 1-19);
The call of the apostles in Mk.3: 13-19;
The call and generosity of four apostles in Lk.5: 1-11;
The call of Paul (Act.9: 1-31);
The vocation to be holy of all faithfull (Lv.19: 1-2).

Let us use Saint Ignatius’ text in SE.91-98 to pray.

An exercitant prays by meditations or contemplations using the above texts with the graces expressed in SE.91 and prayer colloquy in SE.98.

3. Spiritual Direction And Supervision

This meditation has two parts. The first part is the call of temporal king; the second part is on the call of the eternal king who is Jesus Christ. The first part is to help an exercitant to meditate the second part; however if this parable is no longer useful to an exercitant, then we will not use it or use another one for the advantage of an exercitant.

An exercitant receives the graces of this meditation if she feels ready for any mission that Jesus calls her to, if she desires to be conformed with Jesus Christ in all matters, that is, she wills to labor with Jesus in any condition in case Jesus admits and chooses her. A sign of receiving the grace of this meditation is to pray with the prayer colloquy in SE. 98. Reading carefully the prayer colloquy, understanding it, and praying with it reveals the generous attitude of an exercitant.

It is not easy to pray with this prayer colloquy, so do not press anyone to do it. Suggest and invite the exercitant only. Leave her free to pray with this prayer colloquy or not. We will come back to the spirit of this prayer colloquy later, in the meditation of two standards and of three classes of men and of the third degree of humility.

If an exercitant got deeply the grace of the first week, he could do it more easily. At a certain level this meditation is a test to recognize if an exercitant truly got the grace of the first week. If an exercitant did the prayer colloquy consciously and freely and willingly, he surely and deeply got the grace of the first week.

This meditation will be done twice in a complete retreat. In my opinion it could be done twice even in the eight day retreats.


The second week begins with the incarnation contemplation. However in the first week an exercitant prayed with Jesus nailed on the cross, and in the Call of the eternal King she prayed with Jesus who invites her to collaborate with Him to accomplish the mission given by the Father already. An exercitant can also see the incarnation as the Word realising the mission the Father gave Him.

1. The Essentials Of The Second Week

Except for Ignatius day and the election, the grace in the contemplations of the second week is “to ask for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely” (SE. 104).

An intimate knowledge isn’t the same thing as theological knowledge. This intimate knowledge helps the exercitant love Jesus more and follow Him more closely. In the first letter of Saint John we read “everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1Jn.4: 8).

An exercitant of the second week must believe in Jesus our Lord, who has become man for him. The Christian faith is indispensable to do the second week of the Spiritual Exercises.

2. Presenting The Second Week To People Today

An exercitant can have contemplations in the second week as Saint Ignatius suggested. She can also use other texts of Scripture to pray, such as Jo.1: 1-18 and Gl.4: 4-6 for the incarnation, etc.

In the second week, the most appropriate method of prayer is contemplation. For Saint Ignatius, contemplation is seeing, listening to, and considering persons involved in a scene, then reflecting upon all to draw profit from it. Ignatian contemplation is not creating a fictive story by the imagination, but renewing or reactivating a historical event that will change the person who activates it.

3. A Christological note

Some people forget that Jesus is a human being like every one of us. In truth, Jesus is a human being like us and among us: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hb.2, 17). Jesus is tempted like us: “For we do not have a hight priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin” (Hb.4, 15).

As a human being, Jesus’ knowledge is progressive. Someone said that Jesus knows all things because He is the second person of God incarnate. First, this affirmation is contrary to some scriptural texts, such as:
”No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk.13: 32);
”Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves…” (Mt.21: 18-19).
Second, it is a mistake to understand the second “person” as an independent being, possessing knowledge, that is, a “person” understood as “I” am a person. However, the second “person” of God has not the same meaning as a “person” as people understand it today. Before using the formula God in three persons, theologians had used the formule God in three subsistents, but that wording had made people misunderstand as if there were three Gods, because a subsistent is an independent being. Therefore, theologians have been using the formula God in three persons. “Person” at that time could be understood as a mask (persona) that an artist used to take different roles. By that word some theologians argued and concluded that God is one in different persons; person was used to point to different functions that God took on as roles; then they concluded that God the Father has undergone the passion in Jesus. It is the patripassionism. This patripassionism is heretical. Therefore, let us not understand “person” as only a name which shows the same reality with various names for different functions (patripassionism), nor as an independent reality which leads to being understood as three Gods (tritheism).

Jesus is a human being like every one of us. Human knowledge is progressive, and so was Jesus’ knowledge. In time, He knew more and more about His identity. Finally He was condemned to death when He confessed before the Sanhedrin that He was equal to God.

He was tempted like every one of us. Even on the cross he had to undergo temptation on his faith: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk.15: 34). At some time in our life, we experience something similar to Jesus’ temptation. At one moment we believe surely, and then at a different time we doubt; that was a temptation for Jesus, but He overcame it: “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit” (Lk.23: 46).

4. Spiritual Direction And Supervision

An exercitant could read the second set of discernment rules, especially when a director recognizes that he is tempted under the guise of the good spirit. It is normal that one should be tempted and distracted, but through temptations and distractions one could know truly oneself. Therefore, please discern the temptations and distractions to draw profit from them. Sometime one could be consoled in a review of prayer rather than in prayer.

Peace in one’s soul is a basic sign of consolation (SE. 316). However there could be suggestions that come from the evil spirit under the guise of good (SE. 331-332); if an exercitant follows that suggestion, then he could lose the peace he had before. Whatever “terminates in something evil, or distracting, or less good than the soul had formerly proposed to do, or weakens and disquiets the soul, or destroys the peace, tranquility, and quiet which it had before” (SE. 333), comes from the evil spirit. An exercitant should recognize this trap of the devil to escape it.

Even though Saint Ignatius recommends reading some texts in the Spiritual Exercises[4], an exercitant ought to master himself to keep from reading what is not helpful to his prayer and to be in the atmosphere of the present mystery[5].

An exercitant should keep in her mind the subject and the mysteries of the contemplation not only from the beginning of the day but also all the day long (SE. 130). Moreover, she tries to use the light or the darkness to help her pray and to keep her in the atmosphere of the contemplated mysteries.

Saint Ignatius advises an exercitant to do the particular examination of conscience twice a day, after lunch and after dinner on the faults and negligences with regard to the exercises and on the additional directions (SE. 160). This will help an exercitant to be more generous, to unite with Christ more and more, and to practice a discernment in his daily life. In my view the additional directions and the particular examination of conscience are very important in an Ignatian retreat because they last through all four weeks, and reflect, materialize, and concretize the spiritual. That is the reason why Saint Ignatius said: “Thus all ten Additional Directions are to be observed with great care” (SE. 130).


The ignatian day means including the exercises of the two standards, of the three classes of men, and of the three degrees of humility. They are very important meditations and consideration.

Two standards meditation

This meditation focuses on the knowledge of an exercitant.

1. The essentials of the two standards meditation

The grace a retreatant desires and asks for is “a knowledge of the deceits of the rebel chief and help to guard myself against them; and also to ask for a knowledge of the true life exempified in the sovereign and true Commander, and the grace to imitate Him” (SE. 139).

To understand Satan’s strategy deeply is very important so that an exercitant pays attention and asks for the grace to guard against them. It helps an exercitant to recognize the devil’s strategy of tempting, and to acknowledge our Lord Jesus’ way of behaving. The grace of guarding from Satan’s deceits and the grace of imitating Jesus are a consequence of knowledge asked for. An exercitant is again aware of his powerlessness to resist devils and to follow Jesus by his own forces. She needs to lean on God to live and behave well.

Satan tempts human beings with riches, vain honor, and pride. Money is very powerful in human life. Most people desire to have money, because they think unconsciously that through money a person could do every thing. A person could get all through money. Honor is another element which attracts a human being. Many people desire to choose honor even sacrificing other things. Moreover people respect the rich, even though the rich think they can get honor by money. And then with success upon success the rich think they could do all things. And then they are proud and arrogant.

Our Lord’s way to lead people is very simple. The poor are often disdained and even treated with contempt; however in poverty a person finds it easier to recognize the true reality of oneself; that is, a human being by himself is poor and needs God’s help in all things. And then she recognizes that she must depend upon God in all things. That is the true way, and it is wisdom, and the way our Lord followed when God became man. Recognizing the true value of being poor and desiring to be poor is the great grace of this meditation.

2. Presenting the two standards meditation

People of today and of all times see wealth as a value. It is a kind of common sense to think that the rich are blessed by God. How can we present the poor as the blessed of God? We must distinguish between being poor in spirit and poverty or misery. The poor in spirit are blessed.(Mt.5: 3). Richness is not evil; moreover it can be blessed of God too (Job. 42: 12-17). However, real poverty is truly also blessed of God (Lk. 6: 20) and Jesus’ life is a proof. Saint Francis of Assisi understood distinctly this truth.

That someone has money but is not a slave of money is a great grace. Because money has its own power and chains. Many people look for money and abandon their family and obligations. Many people have a lot of money but commit suicide. Money doesn’t bring happiness to persons, but still binds them and makes them unpeaceful.
A rich man desires to have more money (Lk.12: 13-21);
A way of behaving from an unfaithful staff (Lk.16: 1-8)
To be faithful in small thing (Lk.16: 8-13).

The style of life of our Lord Jesus is shown even in his life:his being born in a manger, having lived in a poor condition, having preached in poor situations, and having died nude on the cross. Some scriptural texts are useful for this meditation:
Jesus’ temptation (Mt. 4: 1-11);
Beatitudes (Mt. 5: 1-11);
Jesus is the absolute profit for Paul (Pl.3: 1- 4:1).

The two standards of Saint Ignatius could be used as material to pray after having prayed some of above scriptural texts. The colloquy is insistently recommended but the exercitant’s freedom is always respected.

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

There is a certain similarity between the prayer in the Call of the eternal King (SE.98) and the colloquy of the two standards. It marks the generosity of an exercitant in desiring to imitate Jesus for love.

If an exercitant freely and willingly asked for the grace suggested in the colloquy, the exercitant has satisfied Saint Ignatius’ expectations.

Be careful to respect an exercitant’s freedom to ask for the graces in the colloquy.

Three classes of men

This meditation insists on the will of an exercitant.

1. The essentials of the three classes of men

“Here it will be to beg for the grace to choose what is more for the glory of His Divine Majesty and the salvation of my soul” (SE.152).

All three classes of men wish to save themselves and to liberate themselves from inordinate attachment to money, but the first class of men uses any means until the hour of death comes, the second class of men doesn’t want to give up the sum of money even though he/she wants to liberate her/himself from the attachment to money. This second kind of men wishes God would change his/her mind so that he/she doesn’t become attached inordinately to money so that he/she can keep it. The third kind wish to rid themselves of the attachment so much that they are ready to give up the sum of money; from now on keeping or giving up the sum of money is not important for them, what is very important for them is to know what God wants them to do about this sum of money. Thus, the first one did nothing until the hour of death came; the second one wanted to be free to keep the sum of money; the third one was ready to abandon all.

Here it reflects what Paul said in his letter to Romans: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing” (Rm.7: 18-19). I experienced my powerlessness to do what I know and recognize as good. I need God’s help to realize what is good.

2. Presenting the three classes of men meditation

Ten thousands ducats in the time of Saint Ignatius is an example. A director can present the original text of Saint Ignatius to pray with following suggestions.
i. What is really ten thousands ducats for me? What is the most precious possession that prevents my going to God? It could be a material, intellectual or spiritual thing.
ii. And once having recognized it, try to recognize what class of men I belong to.
iii. Finally do the colloquy as Saint Ignatius suggested.

Some scriptural texts below could be used as materials to pray in this meditation:
A rich man before Jesus’ call in Mk.10: 17-31
Rm.7: 7-25.

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

The present state of an exercitant is more important than the past. The important thing is that the exercitant knows deeply himself, his generosity, and his attachment, then asks for the corresponding graces.

The note in SE. 157 is useful to an exercitant who feels an attachment opposed to actual poverty or a repugnance to it. A director shows this note to an exercitant, then lets her freely ask for the graces suggested by Saint Ignatius. An exercitant can ask this grace only if she receives the grace to know the real value of poverty in the two standards meditation.

Three degrees of humility

Saint Ignatius invites an exercitant to consider attentively the three kinds of humility followed by the three colloquies from time to time during the whole day.

1. The essentials of the three kinds of humility

A person of the first degree wouldn’t consent to violate a commandment that binds him under pain of mortal sin. A person of the second degree would do whatever promotes more the praise and the glory God; in the case where both are equal in promoting the praise and glory of God he is indifferent. A person of the third degree would do anything which promotes more the praise and the glory of God; however in case both are equal in promoting the praise and glory of God she will choose what makes her similar to Jesus Christ who is poor and despised.

The third kind of humility is the attitude of a person who loves Jesus so much that she desires to imitate and to be similar in all things. There is a logic of love here.

2. Presenting the three kinds of humility

The text of Saint Ignatius could be used. An exercitant would ask himself what kind of humility he has, and then do the colloquy as Saint Ignatius suggested.

The following scriptural texts could be used for this consideration:
Announcements of passion and reactions among the apostles to know who has power after their master’s death (Mk.8: 31-38; Mk.9: 30-37; Mk.10: 32-45)
Conditions to follow Jesus in Mt.16, 21-28
The world hates you (Jn.15:8-16:4)

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

Saint Ignatius wrote: “if one desires to attain this third kind of humility, it will help very much to use the three colloquies at the close of the meditation on the three classes of men mentioned above” (SE. 168). Thus, a director should not press an exercitant to beg for it by any means. Let her be free to ask for it if she is drawn to that love.

If one has attained the second and the third degrees of humility, then he has satisfied all conditions required for doing an election.

Every spiritual moment is the present moment. People in one class of men or in one degree of humility can be shifted to another class of men or another degree of humility, because human beings are free in time. Man can change himself by his choosing. As a director, do not be disappointed by any state of an exercitant. A director is an instrument of God; God loves and is concerned with an exercitant much more than is God’s servant.

This consideration helps an exercitant to be aware of her love for Jesus. Her love for Jesus is very high if she is in the third kind of humility.


Saint Ignatius puts an election at the end of the second week after some meditations and considerations. Saint Ignatius would make sure an exercitant who is doing an election is indifferent. If one is not indifferent before doing an election, it is better not to do it, because doing it in this situation is more harmful than helpful.

An election is for recognizing God’s will. Therefore, doing an election between a bad thing and good thing has no meaning. In other words, the object of an election must be good or an indifferent matter. God always wills us to choose good thing and to keep away from bad thing (SE. 170).

For Saint Ignatius there are three times where an election is made. The first one is when the Lord so moves and attracts to his will that one recognizes God’s will without doubt, without hesitation, and without possibility of hesitation. The second time is when one recognizes God’s will from the light and understanding derived through experience of desolations and consolations and discernment of diverse spirits (SE. 176). The third time is a time of tranquillity where one uses her intelligence to recognize God’s will through weighing the advantages and the disadvantages of both proposed alternatives, and doing the election without being influenced by any sensual inclination. In the third time it is presupposed that God wants the mature and the total development of all human beings, concretely the electant. God always wills the good for the electant. Election made in the third time will be confirmed by experience of consolations in prayer.

In the first rank an election has as a goal choosing “a kind of life or state within the bounds of the Church that will be a help in the service of his Lord and for the salvation of his soul” (SE. 177), but it could also be “to accept or relinquish a benefice, to receive or renounce temporal goods” (Se. 171).

When an exercitant gets an indifferent attitude which is appropriate for doing an election, she can use one of two ways of making a good election in the third time to recognize God’s will if she could not get it in the second and the third time.

There are four rules in the second way of making a correct and good choice of a way of life according to Saint Ignatius’ book “Spiritual Exercises.” The first rule consists in God’s love which draws a person to choose. The second rule consists in following what is the best for electant’s perfection; there is no contradiction between the greater glory of God and the greater perfection of an electant. The third rule consists in following the procedure and norm of action that helps an electant to peace at the moment of death. The fourth rule consists in a good intention and all the electant’s capacity to make an election without blame in the final judgement.

Saint Ignatius’ directives are very helpful to doing an election.

In an election there are two phases, the first is to recognize God’s will, and the second is to choose it, i.e., to decide to carry it out. An electant should ask for the grace to move his intellect to recognize it and his will to choose God’s will. An election is to recognize God’s will and to choose it.

An exercitant’s reformation in his state of life is an act similar to an election for people who don’t need to do an election. She decides to organize her life for the greater praise and glory of God. In this case, an experienced director should advise an exercitant not to make many decisions, but to make one or a few decisions which help her to ameliorate other decisions in daily life.


In the third week of the Spiritual Exercises, an exercitant enters more deeply into an intimate relationship with Christ. An exercitant continues the process of conforming oneself with God.

1. The essentials of the third week

An exercitant asks for “sorrow, compassion, and confusion because the Lord is going to His suffering for my sins” (SE. 193). Jesus is not estranged from me, because He died for me. He redeemed me by His blood for justice which is not required by God the Father but by evils which claims my death for sins I have committed. If I have sorrow, compassion, and confusion, then I am not a stranger to Him any more.

“In the Passion it is proper to ask for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief because of the great affliction Christ endures for me” (SE. 203). Jesus loves me so much. He gave me his life: “greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jo.15: 13). If my lover is going to die for me, what sentiment and feeling I must have for him and with him. An exercitant “asks for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief,” that is, she asks to love Jesus in her actions.

2. Presenting the third week

In the third week, an exercitant uses scriptural texts to pray. We could use the processes Saint Ignatius suggested in the Spiritual Exercises book.

For Saint Ignatius, contemplation is very simple; that is, to see, to listen, to observe the persons involved, and then reflect on oneself, and strive to draw some profit from it. “This is to see the persons…, and to reflect upon myself, and strive to draw some profit from them… This is to listen to their conversation, and likewise seek to draw fruit from it… This is to see what they are doing, and to seek to draw some fruit from it” (SE. 194).

Jesus is similar to us in all except committing sins. He didn’t know his future. Before death human beings experience all in doubt and crisis, even though before they may feel certain and sure. In this spirit we understand the claim of Jesus: “Father, Father, why do you forsake me?” Jesus had to surrender all to God even though He had experienced some time before that He should rise from death: “Father, into your hands I offer my spirit.” With this understanding an exercitant knows why Jesus was in sorrow and anguish.

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

The essential thing for an exercitant in the third week is to be present there with Jesus. Try to understand and experience Jesus’ powerlesness, suffering, and surrender to God.

According to Saint Ignatius, the atmosphere is very important. In the third week an exercitant takes care to keep experiencing the feelings that Christ our Lord is having. In doing so, an exercitant tries to guard the self from pleasing thoughts, even though they are good and holy, for example, of the resurrection and the glory of heaven (SE. 206).

The rule with regard to eating reflects and expresses a state and a desire to be united with Jesus in all, even in eating: “while one is eating, let him imagine he sees Christ our Lord and His disciples at table, and consider how He eats and drinks, how He looks, how He speaks, and then strive to imitate Him” (SE.214). For Ignatius, an exercitant contemplates Christ even in eating.

The particular exmination of conscience should be made of the generosity of an exercitant through keeping the exercises and the additional directions applied to this week (SE. 207). An exercitant’s love will be expressed through concrete actions.

In an eight day retreat, the third week could be done in one day and a half.


The fourth week and the third week are very similar in helping an exercitant to be united with Christ in all situations, but different because of different phases.

1. The essentials of the fourth week

“Here it will be to ask for the grace to be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord” (SE. 221). In the third and fourth week, Jesus Christ is the centre on whom an exercitant depends. Now Christ is in great joy and glory, so an exercitant desires and asks for grace to be glad and rejoice.

All the day long, from the time of waking to the time of sleeping, an exercitant strives to feel joy and happiness at the great joy and happiness of Christ our Lord. She should use exterior ambiance and light to have this feeling (SE. 229).

The joy of the fourth week that an exercitant looks for is deeply spiritual.

2. Presenting the fourth week

For Saint Ignatius the first contemplation is on the apparition of Christ our Lord to our Lady. It is helpful to see, hear, and observe Mary in all her life, to recognize her struggle, her temptation of faith especially in the death of her son before contemplating this apparition. It could be done at the end of the third week.

An exercitant could pray with the mysteries as Saint Ignatius suggested in the Spiritual Exercises.

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

If one does not like to pray on the apparition of Christ to our Lady, let her feel free not to. A director could suggest that she pray with another apparition cited in the Scripture.

The more one is conformed with Jesus Christ in the third week, the more easily he rejoices with Jesus glorified in the fourth week.

Jesus’ resurrection is different from Lazarus’ resurrection. Saint Paul talks about the spiritual body (1Cor.15: 44). “If there is no resurrection,… why do we endanger ourselves every hour” (1Cor.15: 29.30). For Paul, Jesus’ resurrection is not spiritual but real because he encountered Jesus risen (Gal.1: 11-24; Act. 9).

The spirit of the additional directions is important; however, let an exercitant feel free to realize what is helpful to him.

In an eight day retreat, the fourth week could be done in one day, including the contemplation to obtain love.


This contemplation could be a preparation for coming back to daily life because it helps an exercitant to recognize God in all things. Having internalized the spirit of the contemplation to obtain love, one could be a contemplative in action.

1. The essentials of the contemplation to obtain love

In this contemplation, “it will be to ask for an intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty” (SE. 233).

An intimate knowledge of God’s love through many blessings is asked for in this prayer so that an exercitant may love and serve God in all things. An exercitant returns love for love. An exercitant’s love is realized through returning to God all she received from God. She asks for only grace which helps her love God.

Praying this “Take, Lord, and Receive” includes being ready to return all to God, that is, an exercitant is ready to empty himself and let God do any thing for him.

2. Presenting the contemplation to obtain love

Saint Ignatius’ suggestion is still very good for people today to pray. Each point in the contemplation to obtain love could be an hour of prayer.

Some paragraphs in the first letter of Saint John are helpful, too.

3. Spiritual Direction and Supervision

If an exercitant finds some consolations there, let her rest there: “I will remain quietly meditating upon the point in which I have found what I desire, without any  eagerness to go on till I have been satisfied” (SE. 76).



5420 Highway 6
Guelph, On. N1H 6J2
April 17, 2003



Rev. Liem Pham, S.J.
[email protected]  or [email protected]

[1] An illustration of post-modern people I had when I was in Massachussetts. It showed by letting some Christians who belong to different denominations have communion that is forbidden by the Catholic laws. Some student servants of the mass ate the holy bread left after mass speaking and laughing. Probably they believe the holy bread is only symbol of Jesus Christ. They don’t have understood the Eucharist as other people have. The elderly in the University did say nothing, probably because they have the same mentality with the young, or they have no courage to say something contrary to the opinion of a big number of young people.

[2] A young girl is doing the Spiritual Exercises in daily life living with her boyfriend. In the case of a young girl who lives with her boyfriend but is doing the Spiritual Exercises in daily life. Probably because that girl didn’t know that living with boyfriend is not good and then forbidden. If she did so because ignorance, she will change. If she did it even knowing that, that is, she didn’t care about the law. In this case it is very difficult for her to do truthfully the Spiritual Exercises.

[3] Some understand supervision has the only aim to help a spiritual director to improve the skill of directing; however some others understand supervision targets a spiritual director, to help him/her to improve the skill of directing and to be more mature and happier in his/her job.

[4] During the second week and thereafter, it will be very profitable to read some passages from the Following of Christ, or from the Gospels, and from the Lives of the Saints (SE. 100).

[5] Throughout this week and the subsequent weeks, I ought to read only the mystery that I am immediately to contemplate. Hence, I should not read any mystery that is not to be used on that day or at that hour, lest the consideration of one mystery interfere with the contemplation of the other (SE. 127).