“Ask a Priest: Who should be directing my yearly spiritual exercises?”

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Q: When doing our yearly spiritual exercises, should we only attend retreats that are led by a priest connected with our ecclesial movement? Or can we attend exercises led by a parish priest or by a priest from another movement or religious order? -R.R., Missouri

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The spiritual exercises are basically a retreat comprising a set of meditations, talks, and practices that help people deepen their relationship with God. The exercises were developed by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, and could be led by any qualified priest.

The meditations follow a basic structure of themes, but their exact content is flexible and can be adapted to the particular audience. Thus, a member of an ecclesial movement (e.g., Schoenstatt, Regnum Christi, Focolare) who attends a set of exercises directed by a priest connected to the specific spirituality can expect to hear meditations tailored toward the needs and spirituality of the retreatant.
Movement members who absolutely are unable to attend a retreat led by one of their own affiliated priests could look elsewhere for spiritual exercises. If in doubt, they might want to consult their spiritual director first.

In any retreat, you will want a preacher who adheres to Church teachings. You would also want to avoid retreats that use non-Christian techniques such as yoga and enneagrams. Anything that hints of New Age is to be avoided too. (For further reading on this last point, consider “Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age’,” from the Pontifical Council for Culture.)
Above all, as you enter spiritual exercises, prepare your heart to listen to the Holy Spirit, the real protagonist behind any retreat.

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