Consider, with St. Bernard, that it has been in retreat that God has always pleased to signalize His greatest mercies toward men. It was in retreat on Sinai that Moses received the tables of the law; it was in the retreat of Carmel that Elias received the double spirit that animated him; it was in the retreat of the desert that John the Baptist received the plenitude of the Spirit of God; it was in retreat that the Apostles received the gifts of the Holy Ghost; it was in retreat that God converted the most illustrious penitents, that He raised up the most fervent apostles of the new law, that He inspired the founders of religious societies; in fine, it was in the retreat of Nazareth that Mary became the mother of God; and it may be said that all the life of Jesus Christ was a retreat. “Solitude was witness of the vigils of Jesus; solitude heard the prayers of Jesus; solitude saw Him come into the world, preach, be transfigured, die, rise from the dead, ascend into heaven” (P. de Celles).
Believe, then, and rest assured that all the graces of God await you in this retreat. Who are you who this day begins these holy Exercises? Who are you? A soul established in virtue? You need renewing. The most solid virtue is a perfume that evaporates, a mirror that tarnishes, a water that becomes impure in the midst of the world. “Bless the Lord, O my soul . . . who satisfieth thy desire with good things; thy youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 102:1, 5). To you the grace of a retreat will be one of renovation.
Who are you? A soul divided in the service of God? A soul embarrassed by a multitude of human affections? You have now to detach your heart from creatures. “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow Him” (3 Kings 18:21). For you the grace of retreat will be a grace of detachment.
Who are you? A soul given to worldly pleasures? One who does not pray, or prays badly? You must return to yourself and to God. “Return, ye transgressors, to the heart” (Is. 46:8). “We ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1). For you the grace of retreat will be one of recollection and prayer.
Who are you? A soul struggling with long and violent temptations? You need strength to resist. “If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and hope shall your strength be” (Is. 30:15). For you the grace of retreat will be one of firmness and perseverance.
Who are you? Lastly, are you a guilty soul? Perhaps a soul grown old in sin, perhaps an impenitent soul, perhaps a soul struck with blindness and hardness? And if this question alone does not make you tremble, certainly you are a hardened soul. Ah! You require nothing less than all the graces of God; and this retreat offers them to you—the grace of light on your state, on the enormity of your faults, on the greatness of your losses for eternity, on the judgments of God that menace you; the grace of compunction; the grace of firm resolution; the grace of a real and solid conversion.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius by St. Ignatius of Loyola, which is available from TAN Books.