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 intimate knowledge of our Lord, Who has become human for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.
Text for prayer: Mt. 2:13-21
Reflection: No sooner has Jesus has been born than he is forced to flee to Egypt, along with Mary and Joseph, to avoid death. The Magi have deceived Herod, and Herod wants him dead, so much that he orders the death of all of the infant boys in Bethlehem. Herod is more concerned about the things of this passing world, rather than things that are divine.
We sense God’s protection of his only son. He leads him through the desert to a place of safety and when it is safe for him to return, he calls him back.
A child, forced to wander in the desert, cared for by God, and called back…
Though the circumstances of our lives might be quite different and we might not be threatened with imminent death, we often wander through deserts in our own lives. Our contemporary culture has little room for God or the eternal questions about truth, goodness, and beauty. Materialism and instant gratification are the norm. Often encouraged by others and our own appetites, we only wander further into these enticing, yet ephemeral deserts where we cannot experience the joy of being called a child of God or be part of the family of God in communion with others. We instead remain restless and become more lonely and isolated.
Yet we cannot forget that, in the midst of our wanderings, God still cares for us and is always calling us back to him. We have only to place our lives fully in his hands, as Mary and Joseph did, when they fled to Egypt. We might be forced to live in the world with its many distractions and because of our human weaknesses succumb to temptations, but we must always keep our eyes firmly fixed on God. Through the many examples of the saints, He alone can show us how to live as his sons and daughters. He always cares for us, despite what the world may want us to think.
Questions: Are there any particular deserts in my own life where I find myself wandering today? Where am I experiencing difficulty in trusting God’s Providence? Where have I experienced Providence in the past? Where has God brought good out of difficulties in my life? Am I willing to trust God now?
Grace: To let go of things both good and bad that hold me back from growing in my relationship with God.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 2:13-15
Reflection: There are many crossroads in our lives where we must leave behind both good and bad things in order to embrace a better future. In Matthew 2, the Holy Family flees into Egypt in order to escape the political persecution of Herod, who seeks the death of the newborn Messiah to eliminate this rival to his power. In a similar fashion, we see many immigrants today who flee from political persecution in Latin American countries for the safety of North American countries. But this month, we might also reflect in a special way on the “flight into Egypt” of Benedict XVI, who has resigned the papacy for the good of the Catholic Church in order to better seek God’s will.
Just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph became a family of immigrants in order to preserve the future of the Church, Benedict XVI has relinquished the papacy for the first time in 600 years to ensure the future of Catholicism in this century. Acknowleding both the joys and sorrows of his papacy, he has boldly given up the highest office in Christendom out of a humble recognition of his own limitations in health and age. With the symbolic closing of the doors at Castel Gandolfo and standing-down of the Swiss Guards, he has definitively elevated the good of God’s people above his own ecclesial positiion, making a very difficult and heroic choice rooted in deep prayer.
Grace: To have an intimate knowledge of the Lord, to love him more devotedly, and to follow him more whole-heartedly.
Text for Prayer: Mt. 2:13-23
Reflection: Joseph should be the patron saint of all dreamers. He is not only warned in a dream not to abandon his pregnant wife-to-be; he is also warned three different times about the dangers that await him and his family after Jesus’s birth. Joseph is a model for Christians of what it means to discern the movements of the spirit, and his shepherding of his wife and the still infant Christ during this time are a testament to the extent to which God provides for those He loves.
During the nativity we have the examples of the shepherds: the first to arrive at the side of the manger after following the star that they saw rise in the sky. These shepherds—accustomed to watching for changes in the weather and signs in the sky that might foretell coming dangers for their flock—were among the first to greet the newborn Christ, and this fortuitous meeting was surely the great reward of their faithful vigilance.
Grace: To have an intimate knowledge of the Lord, to love Him more devotedly, and to follow Him more whole-heartedly.
Text for Prayer: Mt. 2:13-23
Reflection: Exile is a terrible thing, for it means that one cannot live among one’s own people. It entails alienation and the experience of being an outsider, an Other. It brings hardship, uncertainty, and fear. All of these are likely part of the Holy Family’s experience of fleeing Bethlehem shortly after Jesus is born, and they further show the poverty of the God-man who chooses to humble Himself to be born in a manger.
From what is the Holy Family fleeing? Certain death, the extinguishing of the hope of Israel, and the loss of future glory of their nation. But more than these, they are fleeing from the possibility that God’s plan for the salvation of the world might be thwarted. At this moment in the history of the world, great forces were working against God’s plan, and while they were confounded for the time being, these forces left a stream of dead infants and wailing mothers in the Holy Family’s wake. The calls for the death of the newly-born Christ would not stop until they had achieved their aim, and so it is that Jesus’s entire life is circumscribed by the promise of His death on Calvary.
Grace: an intimate knowledge of our Lord, Who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.
Text for Prayer: Mt. 2:13-23
Reflection: We were visited by our king, but did we know him?
Today we pray with Mt 2:13-23, the flight into Egypt. Upon first encountering the story, we mark the obvious connections to Exodus. In the background of our memory is the story of Moses and the Israelites, exiled in a foreign land under the oppressive hand of Pharoah. Israel was God’s helpless child, weakest among all the nations of the world. Yet God chose it and called it out of its place of humiliation in order that it might be a light to the nations. The oppression of outsiders could not thwart the power of God.
Yet how much more poignant is the Flight into Egypt because here Jesus is hounded, not by Egyptians, but by his own people, by the king who is supposed to be his earthly ruler. Wailing and lamentation sound from Israel at the depth of the cruelty. And that is how it has been throughout history to the present day. We, Christ’s own people, exile him anew everyday because he lives in each person who suffers at our hands.
God eventually calls His Son out of Egypt. Before advancing to the resolution, however, we should allow ourselves to linger with the Holy Family on the road to Egypt. The prospect before them seemed little less dire than the certain death which awaited them at home: would they meet the end of their days in an Egyptian wilderness? Would there be nobody to remember them and carry on their memory? Unlike Rachel, whose grave near Bethlehem preserved her life in the memory of her descendents, would the Holy Family sink into anonymous demise like so many through history? It is only when we look squarely into the prospect of this destiny that we understand the true poverty of Christ our King. And it is only then that we begin to understand the radical nature of the trust that God asks us to place in Him.
Perhaps to form your memory and direct your emotions, listen to a recording of the Coventry Carol, one of the most mournful songs we hear at Christmastide. It is based upon the Flight into Egypt. Journey along the path with the Holy Family and feel the uncertainty which follows them. Doesn’t this uncertainty make their trust stand out all the more forcefully? Compare the plight of the Holy Family in comparison to all the other innocent men, women, and children who have been driven from their homes throughout history. Finally, allow yourself to be confronted by the Providence of God, which leads us through death into life.
Questions: Where am I experienceing difficulty trusting God’s Providence? Where have I experienced Providence in the past? Where has God brought good out of difficulties in my life? How does Christ get exiled in my world today?