Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola is for the Christian who is ready to take their spiritual life and walk with Christ to the next level. Here one will not find drippy sentiment or easy consolation - no, this is a soldier of Christ's field manual designed specifically to help one root out sin, deepen their fidelity to the Church, and grow in holiness and love of Christ.
Rightly considered a spiritual classic, I find it ironic that I am now writing in praise of the work, as it never held much attraction to me in my conversion years. I had been accustomed up to that point to the lives of the saints, the calm voice of St. Thomas Aquinas filtering through the morass of convoluted philosophy, and the Diary of St. Faustina. But when I first encountered the Spiritual Exercises, I was shocked at how blunt it was, how militant, how uncompromisingly harsh it sounded. St. Ignatius leaves no room for the least amount of failure, and yet is an ever-present guide throughout the exercises themselves, always ready to offer a hand to the Christian going through them.
Designed as a systematic series of meditations and exercises, the work acts as a kind of purge or cleansing of the Christian soul, and re-orients it to a life of holiness and devotion to Christ. To be sure, St. Ignatius' writings and spirituality are uncompromising - what we have here is a completely different approach than I think many might be used to - indeed, the Spiritual Exercises is more akin to such classic works as Lorenzo Scupoli's The Spiritual Combat. However, unlike Scupoli's work, it's focus is on the entire Christian life, and not just on the spiritual struggle itself.
In the pages of the Spiritual Exercises, one is taught by an expert saint on prayer, last things, the virtues, and how to combat the devil, amongst many other meditations and advice. Practically everything that the Christian soul needs to devote themselves more fully to our Lord is in the pages of this work.
Despite my being put off at first by the militant nature of the work, it must be noted that it is actually quite similar to St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life, albeit without the more friendly language - to be sure, St. Ignatius cuts to the quick. For St. Ignatius, the Christian life is one of a deadly-serious nature - we are on a battleground, and must choose between serving under the standard of Christ or under the banner of Satan. There is no room for compromise here, no time for lazing about and caring little for one's salvation - this is a war, and we must begin to walk the path of salvation or perish; to me, this is the message of the Spiritual Exercises.
If you don't already own a copy of this classic work, pick up a copy here.