The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola are best suited for prayer during a silent retreat. However, Ignatius knew that they could also be effective when employed in a less isolated environment. It is the hope of the authors of this blog that you, the reader, find the meditations that we offer here useful in your own search to encounter Christ in prayer in your daily life. The meditations are intended to be prayed in order, from as close to the beginning as possible, perhaps over the course of a dedicated time such as the season of Lent. (more…)
Grace: To have an interior sense of the pain that the lost suffer. If through repeated faults I find myself forgetful of the love of the Eternal King, may at least the fear of the pains of Hell keep me from falling into more sin.
Prayer: Compose in your mind the closest thing to Hell that you can imagine. Even if we are limited to metaphors that can only approximate the tortures of the loss of eternity with God, our imaginations can still stir up in us abhorrence for that sad fate. It may be helpful to read 1-10 of the 32nd chapter of St. Theresa’s Autobiography.
Reflection: We must always be aware that the love of God should be the motive for our actions. However, as we move through this life we may find ourselves assailed by temptations that confuse and weaken us, leaving us unable to enjoy the solace we once had during times when we were more aware of God’s love for us. It will be during these trying times that a simple fear of Hell (and disgust for that which leads to Hell) may augment our efforts and serve to keep us from the downward spiral of sin.
So, for a time, let our minds wonder at the terribleness of Hell. Imagine what it must be like to be “cast out into the exterior darkness [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12) If Heaven is the choice of God begun in this world and made irrevocable on passing into eternity, the sweetness of beholding God and having all barriers eliminated between us, then Hell must be that much more dreadful! Hell must be the persistent contempt for that which is Good and disdain for the tender mercy God offers us.
Grace: A deep awareness of the pain suffered by those damned to hell, so that if I should forget the love of the Eternal Lord, at least the fear of punishment will help me to avoid sin.
Text for Prayer: Revelation 14:6-11
Reflection: I was away on a retreat this weekend at a retreat center in a rural area where there must be a high mineral content to the water. Disturbingly, for the retreatant who desires to take a shower at this locale, the water has a rather eggy smell and leaves the skin feeling slimy and soapy, even after all the soap has been rinsed away. Other amenities, such as beautiful, peaceful grounds and a lovely chapel tend to compensate for this annoyance and, as far as I know, all of our students had a splendid retreat in spite of the stinky water.
What does any of this have to do with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola? Interestingly enough, in the fifth exercise of the First Week of the Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to spend a little time contemplating the bitter smell of sulphur—using the interior sense of our imagination. This is one of the first instances in the Exercises of the method of prayer that St. Ignatius calls the application of the senses. An application of the senses is when our contemplation takes on a deeper richness through the application of our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and even taste to the material being contemplated. In this case, the application of the senses is employed in order to help us to meditate on hell.
Grace: To feel intensely the pain of those who are eternally separated from God, so that the very thought of eternal separation from Him would cause me so much sorrow that I would cry out to the Lord for strength to avoid sin.
Text for Meditation: Lk 15.25-32
Reflection: A woman writhes and screams in pain as she goes into another excruciating hour of intensive labor. A man gazes helplessly into the alert, tearful eyes of his teenage daughter as she breathes her last breaths. A wounded soldier cowers in the trenches, clenching a photo of his pregnant wife. Parents sitting in the cold courtroom waiting for the verdict that will determine their only son’s future. Children shivering under their blankets as their parents fight through the night.
All of us have experienced hell in one way or another. Hell happens in daily life when love seems to be lacking or losing to a stronger force. Even an apparent lack of love gives us a glimpse of hell. It’s when we have a taste of hell do we realize that we need love like we need oxygen. In realizing how much we need love, we realize how much those around us need our love. Seeing that the fires of hell on earth are beyond the capacity of our love to extinguish, we turn to Christ to increase our capacity to love before we drag those fires with us into the next life.
Grace: To feel the pain of those who are eternally separated from God, so that if I should forget God’s love for me, the fear of eternal separation from Him would keep me from sinning.
Reflection: Just as we have meditated upon the moment of death and its inevitability for us, now we turn to meditate upon a second kind of death: an eternal one. Those who have rejected God’s love have issued their own punishment. That punishment is an eternal separation from God, an eternity of being alone.
The thought of Hell makes us uneasy—and for good reason. It is what we ultimately want to avoid, what eats away at our hopes, and what seems to be creeping into this world every day. In this meditation perhaps we could choose to consider and weigh two kinds of Hells.