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 understand the deceits of the Enemy, to guard myself against them, to desire to live the true life exemplified in the sovereign and true Commander, and to imitate Him each day.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises 136-147
Reflection: The text for today’s prayer is known as the meditation upon two standards: two ways that lie open before us, either for death or for life (Dt. 30:15-20). It might seem foolish and illogical that anyone, when given the choice, would choose death. And yet, from our reflection upon our own sinfulness, we realize that this crazy person is in fact me. There must therefore be some real attraction to the wrong way for us, some scheme that tricks us and traps us in something that we do not want for ourselves. Understanding that trick is the whole goal of the meditation on the two standards.
The trick works something like this: There is a military leader, a Dark One, who stands before his terrible armies in the field of battle and commands them to mislead and capture a human soul. First they are to inkindle in us a love of riches, then of honor and the worldly esteem of other men. Finally, they are to lead us to the great rebellion against God, Pride. This is logical enough, for wealth makes us feel self-sufficient, honors and esteem make us believe that we are better than our fellow man, and we become prideful when both of these lies are believed whole-heartedly by a troubled soul.
Grace: To distinguish between the deceitful tactics of the enemy of our human nature and the gentle mastery of Christ our King, and to desire to imitate Christ.
Text for Prayer: Please briefly read Spiritual Exercises 136-147 before reviewing the Reflection below. After reading the Reflection, please review the text from the Exercises, and feel free to repeat this exercise as long as you are drawing fruit from it.
Reflection: What do we mean by the term “standard?” In medieval battle scenes, the two dueling kingdoms would raise their respective standard or banner (flag), representing each kingdom. This was particularly important because in the midst of a heated battle, a soldier would often rely on the positioning of the standard to help gauge if he is amidst his comrades-in-arms or if he has drifted far into the enemy’s camp, with the possibility of having little or no support from his own camp as well as the likelihood of becoming a prisoner of war.
At this point in the Spiritual Exercises, we have consented to desire to know, love and follow Christ more closely. Thus, we are not being called to simply choose Christ’s standard over Satan’s standard, but to remain under Christ’s standard. Everyday we are spiritually in combat. While we seek and desire to follow Christ, we may often drift, as in a canoe or a small boat in the sea, by not recognizing and combating Satan’s current. (more…)
Grace: Knowledge of the tricks of the evil spirit so that we can resist them, knowledge of the life exemplified by Christ so that we can imitate Him.
Reflection: Today Ignatius presents the meditation on the Two Standards, the standard of Satan and the standard of Christ. We are more likely to oppose the evil spirit and to follow the good spirit if we understand the ruses of the devil and the true path to holiness.
Imagine the army camp of Satan—the ugly sights and the revolting smells and the terrifying sounds—as he sends his minions throughout the world to corrupt people and turn them from their happiness in God. Ponder how he lays traps for people to enslave them, by tempting them to covet riches and despise poverty. This greed then leads to a desire for the honors the world. This hunger for honors then leads to a pride that finds no room for God. After enslaving the soul to covetousness, vanity and pride, the evil one leads the soul to all other vices.
Grace: a knowledge of the deceits of the rebel chief and help to guard myself against them, a knowledge of the true life exemplified in the sovereign and true Commander, and the grace to imitate Him.
Reflection: St. Ignatius—the former soldier—was particularly sensitive to the constant battle being waged within the world between the God who created us with dignity and the forces of evil which look to pervert that dignity to selfish ends. Human beings either praise, reverence, and serve God—thus becoming who they were created to be—or they follow a lie and begin to break themselves down in the core of their being. In this meditation we imagine these opposed paths of life as two armies encamped against each other, led by Christ on one hand, and Satan, the prince of lies, on the other. The grace we are seeking is first, a knowledge of Satan’s ways so that we can guard against them, and second, a knowledge of Christ’s so that we can more easily follow His path.
Each army has its own tactics, which St. Ignatius describes in detail. Imagining Satan sending his minions from Babylon throughout the world to ruin lives, he does not threaten people with physical ruin or force. No, he first entices them with the loves of riches. This love of riches and fear of poverty leads to the further station of love of honors, and once honors are loved, it is only a short step to the overweening pride that is the true mark of a soul separated from God. For it is the prideful soul that most readily follows the maxim “Non Serviam!” “I will not Serve!”
Christ, however, sends his apostles and disciples throughout the world from a lowly place on the plains near Jerusalem. And contrary to all worldly expectations, He does not seek to obtain followers through attractive signing bonuses. The ordeals He went through at the beginning of His life bear witness to this. He simply—the word is not chosen lightly—exhorts his followers to spiritual poverty (i.e., total reliance upon the Father in all matters) and even actual poverty if God so chooses. And if poverty isn’t enough to jar comfortable souls, He even encourages them to accept insults and contempt from the world. St. Ignatius believes if we are detached from the world’s approval we will more easily obtain the true root of all virtues: humility. If we possess humility, the Kingdom is ours. Every virtue flows easily into the soul which possesses it.
Poverty, contempt, and humility. These marks of the Standard of Christ are only possible for a human to bear if there is a God above who is completely loving and trustworthy. The “Good News” of the Gospel proclaims that yes, in fact, this God lives and has revealed Himself in Christ. Shall we follow beneath His banner?