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Why did a Catholic priest and a Hollywood actor make a religious retreat together?

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Fr. James Martin talks to Aleteia about leading Andrew Garfield through the Ignatian spiritual exercises

As we wrote last week, actors Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield went retreat to prepare for the upcoming Scorsese film, “Silence.” The movie focuses on the efforts of Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan, and Scorsese wanted to add further authenticity to the film by having the actors prepare spiritually for their roles.

Scorsese enlisted the help of Father James Martin SJ, editor-at-large of America magazine, to help the actors immerse themselves into Jesuit spirituality. In particular, Father Martin led Andrew Garfield through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in a process called “Exercises in Daily Life” that spanned a period of six months. Garfield took the preparation very seriously and sincerely wanted to learn more about these spiritual lessons that have changed the lives of so many throughout the centuries.

By the end of it Garfield admitted, “I got totally swept up in all things Jesuit and very taken with Jesuit spirituality.” He was so immersed in Jesuit spirituality that Garfield would stop and make suggestions on the set of the film, saying, “A Jesuit wouldn’t say that.”

More to read: “Silence” explores the mystery of faith

To help us better understand what exactly Garfield went through, Aleteia asked Father Martin share some details of what this process entails and how Saint Ignatius remains relevant today.

Philip Kosloski: What is involved in the “Exercises in Daily Life” retreat and what is it based on?

Father James Martin: The Exercises in Daily Life are one way of doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. In essence, there are two main ways of “making” or “doing” the Exercises. The better-known way is over the course of a 30-day retreat, usually in a retreat house, where you pray several times a day, usually on one meditation at a time. But the other way, for people who cannot take off the full 30 days, is what’s called the “Exercises in Daily Life” or the “19th Annotation Retreat,” named after an important “Annotation” that Ignatius wrote in the original Exercises. The Exercises in Daily Life usually last several months to a year. Rather than having several meditations per day, as on a 30-day retreat, the retreatant has several per week. So it is essentially a stretched-out version. Ignatius knew that not everyone could do it in one month, so he included this format in the Exercises as well. As in the 30-day retreat, you meet regularly with a director, usually once a week (rather than once a day). In Andrew’s case, we met regularly, and then, at one point, he made part of the Exercises in a retreat house in Wales, and we Skyped our direction sessions.

Is this process different than a traditional “preached” retreat that many are familiar with?

The Exercises are, in general, not preached, though sometimes in the past they were. Preached retreats are characterized more by “presentations.” There is usually nothing like that for the Exercises today. Usually, the director gives the retreatant the meditations–which are mainly Gospel passages that take the retreatant through life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the Resurrection, along with other imaginative meditations–and then the two discuss what happened in the person’s prayer. So not much preaching.

What is the most challenging part of the retreat?

That depends on the person. There are four parts of the Exercises, usually called “Weeks,” though in the Exercises in Daily Life a “Week” can last a few weeks or even a few months. The First Week focuses on a person’s giftedness and sinfulness, which leads to an awareness of himself or herself as a “loved sinner.” Gratitude for this leads inevitably and naturally to the Second Week, focused on the life and public ministry of Jesus. That is, out of gratitude for being called in your sinfulness, you want to respond, and follow Christ. The Third Week is on the Passion and Death of Jesus and the Fourth is on the Resurrection. In my experience, though, most people find the First and Third Weeks the most difficult. The Passion is especially hard for most people.

More to read: Spiritual reboot: Why we need to go on a retreat 

It sounds like a profound experience for any Christian to participate in. Is it ever possible for non-Christians to engage in the retreat?

Normally it is not. But in Andrew’s case, without breaking any confidences, it became clear that he was very interested in entering into the dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises.

Why do you think Saint Ignatius remains relevant, hundreds of years after his death?

Because Ignatius’ distinctive way to God, and his way of finding God in all things, is universal. Ignatius’s great gift to the world was the Spiritual Exercises, and as we can see in so many people, the Exercises are a captivating way to encounter Jesus. What’s more he was a genius at human nature. So he knew God and knew human nature. As a result, the Exercises are still incredibly relevant and accessible.

More to read: Understanding Saint Ignatius, Spiritual Father of Pope Francis

What books or resources would you recommend to those interested in learning more about Saint Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises?

You could try my own book The Jesuit Guide, as well as books on the 19th Annotation like Kevin O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure. A good overview of the Exercises is William Barry’s Letting God Come Close. For a good history of St. Ignatius and the Society you can’t do better than John O’Malley’s The First Jesuits. At the end of The Jesuit Guide I have a more complete list of suggestions.

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