Who Is The Patron Saint of Retreats?

By Rhen

There is a patron saint for almost everything you can think of, so it comes as no surprise that there is a patron saint of retreats. Do you know who it is?

Here is a hint: his father fought against the Moors, his brother sailed with Columbus, and he had his leg shattered by a cannonball in war.

Do you know now?

It is St. Ignatius of Loyola!

This does not come as a surprise if you are familiar with the popular retreat structure known as the Spiritual Exercises, which St. Ignatius developed.

This saint went through a conversion while lying in bed, recovering from the cannonball hit. He suddenly had a lot of down time, so he read the only two books that were around the house. One was about the life of Christ and the other was about the lives of the saints. He was touched by grace and decided to focus on growing closer to God, rather than continuing to work on becoming a valiant warrior.

During this time of conversion Ignatius’s intent was to detach himself from the interests of the world and focus more on the will of God. This is the basis of the 30 day retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises (it is also offered in shorter durations now).

Next time you are preparing for a retreat, or on a retreat, pause for a moment to ask for the intercession of St. Ignatius to help you to have a prayerful and grace-filled experience.

To read more about the Spiritual Exercises take a look at our previous article about it Here.

The Pope Goes on Retreat Too

By Rhen

On Friday Pope Francis completed his week-long retreat with the curial officials (essentially, the Vatican administrators) at Casa Divin Maestro in Ariccia, about fifteen miles outside of Rome. The five-day retreat was based on the Spiritual Exercises, which is fitting given that the Pope is a Jesuit.

We have not gotten around to listing retreat centers in Italy on CatholicRetreats.net, but we were surprised to find that the retreat center had an English website option. If you want to take a closer look at where the Pope and the Vatican officials spent their week on retreat, the website is Here.



All of the news stories about the retreat focus on Pope Francis riding the bus to the retreat with everybody else last Sunday evening, but the real significance that we should take from this is that the Pope set aside the time to leave for a week on retreat. Pope Francis is a VERY busy man, and he probably spends more time in prayer each day than most of us spend in a week. He still found it important to drop everything for a week and get away, outside of town, for a retreat. And he took all of the Vatican officials with him. This might not be good for productivity, but we certainly want our church leaders in a good spiritual condition.

And hey, if it is important enough for Pope Francis and the curia to drop everything for a week and get away on retreat, what does that mean for you and me?

The Spiritual Exercises

By Rhen

Anybody who spends just a little bit of time researching the offerings of local Catholic retreat centers is bound to come across retreats built around the “Spiritual Exercises.” This can sound a little intimidating, but also intriguing. What are the Spiritual Exercises?

What Are the Spiritual Exercises?

The Spiritual Exercises are a series of prayers and meditations which are usually organized to be given as a long-form retreat. They were developed by St. Ignatius Loyola to help people grow closer to God in their daily lives.

Historically the Spiritual Exercises have been given as a thirty day guided retreat of silence and solitude. Over the past few decades the Spiritual Exercises have grown in popularity as a common devotion for religious and lay people alike, though not necessarily in a setting of silence and solitude.

How to Prepare for the Spiritual Exercises

For those intending to make the thirty day Spiritual Exercises retreat it is suggested that you have experience with shorter silent and guided retreats first. It is also beneficial to have a habit of substantial daily meditation and regular spiritual direction in your life before you attempt such a demanding retreat. A thirty day retreat is a huge commitment of time and energy, both for the retreatant and for the spiritual director, and proper preparation ensures that the experience will be a beneficial one.

The Structure of the Spiritual Exercises

The Spiritual Exercises were carefully designed and meticulously refined by St. Ignatius Loyola as he guided others through retreats. They are divided up into four “weeks,” which are actually more like four phases that do not have concrete duration.

Week 1
The first phase is a reflection on our life, much like a longer version of the daily Examen. We look back and notice the grace of God working in our lives, and how our sin has separated us from God’s love. As we transition through the end of week one and prepare for week two we examine how we are heeding Christ’s call to follow Him and renew our efforts to do so.

Week 2
We spend the second phase of the Exercises meditating on Christ and how to follow Him more closely as a disciple. This Week includes reflections on scripture, especially focusing on Christ’s life. The purpose of this period is to help us re-dedicate our lives to the work of Christ – making Him known in the world and loving Him more deeply.

Week 3
The third period of the Spiritual Exercises has us focus on the final events of Christ’s life: the Last Supper, Passion, and Crucifixion. We must come to more deeply appreciate Jesus’s suffering as a gift of love and see the Eucharist as that expression of love in the present times.

Week 4
The final week focuses on the resurrection of Christ from the dead and His apparitions to the disciples. We end the Exercises by setting out to serve Christ in our daily lives.

The Spiritual Exercises are a beautifully constructed spiritual experience designed to help us see what is really important in life and to help us grow closer to God in prayer. The Exercises utilize basic Ignatian spirituality like meditation, contemplation, discernment of spirits, and the Examen to ground us and re-center our focus on Christ.


The Spiritual Exercises can be found in book form and Kindle form. You can also find adapted online versions for use in your day-to-day life. There is an eight week version from IgnatianSpirituality.com and a 34 week version available in many languages from Creighton University.


The Examen

By Rhen

An integral part of Ignatian spirituality is the Examen, a daily reflection on how we are living our lives and how we are following God’s plan. The Examen is meant to be practiced twice each day, at noon and at the end of the day, and takes about 15 minutes to complete. It is not to be confused with the Examination of Conscience, which is done before confession.

There are five steps to the Examen:

1. Recognize the Presence of God

We are always in the presence of God but we need to become very attentive to His presence, especially when we are in prayer.

1a. Reflect on Your Day With Gratitude
Think back on all of the favors God has granted you during the day, every little positive detail, and be grateful for each of them. Recognize that many of the everyday things that you take for granted – your skills and abilities, your health, the ways you help others – are gifts from God to be grateful for.

2. Pray for the Help of the Holy Spirit

Sometimes referred to as “prayer for the Light,” asking the Holy Spirit for help and wisdom is a pivotal piece of the Examen. We ask for help with discerning movements of the soul and emotions, as well as finding favors from God to be grateful for and shortcomings in our day that need to be remedied.

3. Review the Day

Note your victories and shortcomings, but do not become too absorbed in them. Focus especially on how you have found God today, or how you have failed to do so. Also think about how you have brought others to God today, how others have brought God to you, and how you have recognized the presence of God in the day.

3a. Three popular questions to ponder here are:
1. What have I done for Christ?
2. What am I doing for Christ?
3. What ought I do for Christ?

3b. Pay Attention to Your Emotions
Take note of spiritual consolations (feelings of peace, security, and love from God) and also spiritual desolations (feelings of anxiety, restlessness, doubt, and self-pity that take us away from God). Strong feelings one way or the other may indicate that there is something spiritually important to be aware of.

4. Acknowledge and Reconcile Your Failures

Talk to Jesus. Discuss your failures. The failures that you are looking to reconcile here are “not particularly sinful, but not particularly smart either.” Apologize to God for your shortcoming and allow yourself to feel sorrow for the misstep, but also show gratitude to God for giving you the wisdom to see your failures. If any of our failures were grave sins we would of course head to the sacrament of reconciliation to fully heal the spiritual wounds.

Finally, accept your weaknesses and realize that you are a work in progress, constantly trying to become a better child of God.

5. Look Toward the Next Day

Take what you have learned and remember how you have seen God. Strive to be improving yourself from one day to the next.

Repeating the Examen twice a day allows us to be aware of ourselves, but also to watch how God is working in our lives day to day and in the long term.

If you would like a great guide to take you through the Examen, I recommend “Examen” from Fr. George Aschenbrenner.



Ignatian/Jesuit Spirituality and Retreat Centers

By Rhen

Ignatian spirituality, also known as Jesuit spirituality, started with St. Ignatius of Loyola and his desire to develop practical methods of prayer to help people meet God in everyday life. His spirituality has been adopted all around the world (Pope Francis, of course, is a Jesuit) and Ignatian styles of prayer are used widely in retreat settings.

Getting Started

Prayer in the Ignatian tradition starts with showing reverence to God and choosing a posture that will help you to keep that reverence throughout the prayer. The goal is to speak personally to God and to remind ourselves that He is very great but is also close to us and present in our everyday lives. Once we establish this we can move into deeper prayer such as meditation, contemplation, and discernment of spirits.


When we pray over words, images, and ideas in our mind it is referred to as meditation. We might meditate on stories from scripture and Jesus’ life and ministry, ways we can follow Jesus more closely as His disciple, how we can follow Christ in our everyday life, and so on. Meditation helps us to grow in our knowledge and living of the faith.


Using our senses, emotions, and imaginations to pray the scriptures (rather than “studying” them) is known as contemplation. The style of contemplation popularized by St. Ignatius Loyola is simply known as “Ignatian Contemplation.” This style of contemplation is very significant in Jesuit spirituality and is performed as follows:

  • Use your imagination to enter into a mystery from the life of Jesus
    • Are you in the audience at the feeding of the 5000? Are you on the boat with the disciples in the storm? etc.
  • Use your senses to more fully understand the scene
    • What do you see? Who else is with you? What is the setting like?
    • What do you hear? Are others speaking or is it quiet? Do you hear wind or thunder? Are there animals making noises nearby?
    • What do you smell? Is there a salty ocean breeze? Do you smell perfumes, or oils, flowers, fish, etc?
  • Connect with Jesus through this experience

Discernment of Spirits

Understanding the good and the evil that are battling in a spiritual warfare in our lives gives us a better understanding of God’s will in our lives. One of the most important aspects of Ignatian spirituality is reflection on our lives each day and understanding the “motions of the soul.” As they explain at IgnatianSpirituality.com these motions of the soul are indicated by our “thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Understanding the motions of the soul helps us to see things from God’s point of view and helps us to live out His will in our lives.

What Stands Out About Ignatian Prayer

Ignatian Contemplation and the discernment of spirits are two pieces of Jesuit spirituality that make it stand out from other religious orders. The Examen is the third major component of this spirituality.

These components of prayer are used together with meditations and reflections in the Spiritual Exercises, a long-term retreat in the Ignatian way of spirituality.

If you are interested in learning more about Jesuit prayer I suggest you look through IgnatianSpirituality.com, where you will find many comprehensive resources.

Jesuit Retreat Centers in the United States

California  City Minnesota  City
Vina de Lestonnac Retreat Center Temecula Jesuit Retreat House Lake Elmo
The Jesuit Retreat Center Los Altos Missouri
Colorado White House Retreat St. Louis
Sacred Heart Retreat House Sedalia New Jersey
Florida Loyola House of Retreats Morristown
Juan Pablo II Retreat House Miami
Georgia Ohio
Ignatius House Retreat Center Atlanta Jesuit Spiritual Center Milford
Illinois Jesuit Retreat House Parma
Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House Barrington Pennsylvania
Louisiana Jesuit Center Wernersville
Manresa House of Retreats Convent South Dakota
Jesuit Spirituality Center Grand Coteau Sioux Spiritual Center Howes
Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House Grand Coteau Texas
Maryland Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House Lake Dallas
Loyola Retreat House Faulkner Ignatian Spirituality Center Seattle
Massachusetts Ignatian Spirituality Center Yakima
Campion Renewal Center Weston Wisconsin
Eastern Point Retreat House Gloucester Jesuit Retreat House Oshkosh
Michigan Casa Romero Renewal Center Milwaukee
Manresa Jesuit Retreat House Bloomfield Hills