Jesuit priests and laypersons of both the Roman Catholic Church and non-Catholic faiths practice meditations devised by the Jesuits' founder, Ignatius Loyola, a 16th-century Spanish soldier and priest. Loyola set out a step-by-step method for using his meditations, called Spiritual Exercises, as part of a spiritual retreat. He believed that meditation rather than the rational mind was the key to a closer relationship with God.

The Purpose of Meditation

The fundamental purpose of Jesuit meditation is to know God better and to increase your ability to see God in all aspects of life. Ignatius Loyola didn't believe that a person needed to wait for a spontaneous revelation, perhaps in the form of a vision, in order to know God. He thought there was a more disciplined approach that, with the help of God's grace, would provide the moments of revelation. The style of meditations he devised are rightly called "Exercises" because their purpose is to discipline the mind and spirit with the same kind of focus an athlete applies to his sport.

Sections of the Spiritual Exercises

Loyola divided his Spiritual Exercises into four sections, which are referred to as "weeks." The meditations of the first week contemplate the ultimate purpose of life and of the universe. A meditator also considers the nature of sin and its effect on his life and society. He contemplates having an attitude of gratitude and love for everything and turning away from his old life. At the end of this first section of meditations, it is hoped the Jesuit or layperson, will be happier in himself and know himself better. It is also hoped he's firmer in his faith. He may continue with the Exercises only if a senior Jesuit considers he has made spiritual progress during the first week.

Finding God's Will

An important aspect of the meditations is fine-tuning the ability to perceive or understand God's will. Loyola recognized that this is a difficult task and that the rational mind and logic aren't much help. He believed that his followers could improve the ability to read the signs of God's will, referred to by Loyola as "discernment of spirits." Improvement in this ability helps with the daily struggle between good and evil within the person, and also helps him access moments of inspiration and revelation.

Experiencing God's Love

The final section of the Spiritual Exercises is a synthesis of all the previous meditations. The hope is that the person on retreat brings together his insights in a way that allows him to make a shift in his spiritual vision that then forms the basis of his daily life. Loyola's wish was that everyone should experience the love of God through following his meditations, and that a Jesuit would see God's love in every aspect of his life.