Early in February 1522, a pilgrim set out from his family's home in the rugged Basque mountains of northern Spain. He limped eastwards toward the Holy Land at the start of a journey that continues today.
Inigo Lopez de Loyola became famous as St. Ignatius Loyola and his companions as the Jesuits. The story of how he came to begin his pilgrimage and where it eventually took him has become a model for members of the Catholic religious order he helped found as well as for countless other pilgrims.
Perhaps his most lasting contribution to the Church is the small handbook he wrote to explain his method of leading people through an organized program of prayer and reflection. Today people know this method as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He developed this method of prayer by reflecting on his own experience of God and by speaking with anyone else he could find. These conversations continued throughout his life; through them the experience of many women and men also contributed to the spiritual guide he developed. From these conversations came the carefully worked-out way of trying to discover what God asks of an individual.
Ignatius began taking notes about what he experienced during the year he spent at the small town of Manresa, near the shrine of Montserrat. These careful notes were the earliest stages of what eventually became the handbook called the "Spiritual Exercises." This book has been printed about once a month for 450 years; no one knows how many millions of copies have appeared, nor in how many languages. The text of the Spiritual Exercises constantly evolved from the time Ignatius lived in Manresa around 1522 until he printed them in 1548, although the main lines were almost surely in place by the time he got to Paris in 1528 to begin graduate school.
The Spiritual Exercises are not just Ignatius' experience; they encode the experience of many, many men and women who wanted to understand their experience of God and to respond to that experience.