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 be humble and to further die to myself so as to be able to live in a state of indifference that will allow me to better hear and follow God’s call in my life.
Text for Prayer: Mk. 10:17-31
Reflection: The second week of the Spiritual Exercises includes several meditations on discerning our state of life, including the Meditation on the Two Standards, the Meditation on the Three Classes of Men, and today’s Meditation on the Three Modes of Humility.
All of these meditations are meant to make us reflect on what it means to follow Jesus and the different ways that we are called to follow Him. We might be led to think that following Jesus is simply a matter of following rules or giving up our possessions. But following Jesus demands a more radical commitment on our part and the cultivation of our interior dispositions.
The rich young man in Mark’s Gospel might seem like someone who is willing to follow some rules and give up some of his possessions to follow Jesus. The disciples, with Peter as their spokesman, are quick to say that they have given up everything. But Jesus reminds them to think about their desire to follow him in terms of humility—it is not only about giving up worldly possessions, thinking that what we are doing is right, and giving ourselves a pat on the back. We must have the humility and courage to die to ourselves so that God can work in and through us to bring about his kingdom.
Grace: To choose what is for God’s greater glory and the salvation of my soul.
Reflection: This meditation on the three forms of humility is an excellent meditation for Lent. At the beginning of Lent we head out to the desert for forty days to pray and prepare spiritually for the coming celebration of Easter. We do this in imitation of Christ who, compelled by the Holy Spirit, went into the desert where he prayed, fasted, and withstood the temptations of the Enemy. In his description of the three forms of humility, St. Ignatius uses language reminiscent of the temptations Christ faced in the desert to describe the temptations that can be withstood by persons who possess the first two forms of humility. Ignatius says that the first form of humility is found in the person who will not consider committing a single mortal sin, not even in exchange for all the created things in the world or to save his earthly life. Likewise, the second form of humility is found in the person who cannot be tempted to commit even a single venial sin—not even if doing so would make him master of all creation or save his life on earth.
In the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, we meditated on mortal and venial sin and the way that sin puts us out of step with God’s plan. We noted that even venial sin enervates our spiritual life and can eventually dispose us to disregard God’s law and commit mortal sin. Finally, we meditated on hell with the goal in mind of cultivating a healthy fear of hell. The idea was that such a fear could help us to avoid sin during those times when we don’t keenly sense God’s love or the times when His commandments seem particularly difficult to us. Certainly sin is such a destructive force that it is worth avoiding at all cost, even if it be through the motivation of fear of punishment rather than out of a motive of love.
Grace: I ask that I may be free enough to choose whatever God’s grace may indicate as his particular call to me.
Reading: John 21:15-19
Reflection: Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times. Each time, I imagine, Peter became more and more uncomfortable:
“Jesus, of course I love you. We’ve been through so much together.”
“Uh, yes . . . yes, I love you. Jesus.”
“(gulp) You keep asking me, Jesus, and I am afraid that all I can say is ‘yes. I do love you.'”
Experiencing the love of Christ propels us to live as Christ. Jesus commanded Peter to “feed my sheep.” Now as most of us today are not shepherds, St. Ignatius offers us another paradigm by which to grow in the love that comes from the life of Christ: the three degrees of humility. Humility serves as a marker of one who has chosen to model his or her life on the example, teaching, and mission of Jesus. It is a virtue which all of us, no matter in what state of life we may be, should seek to develop. Each of the following three “degrees” of humility are meant not so much to be awards of accomplishment in humility as callings to an ever-deepening sense of humility and alignment with Jesus.
Grace: To choose what is for God’s greater glory and the salvation of my soul.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises 165-168
Refection: Yesterday we considered the need to relinquish our attachments in order to follow God’s will more faithfully; today we we contemplate the choices we can make with that freedom. Jesus calls us to the front lines of the battle. Even the Apostles had to learn the hard way that there is no compromise when Jesus turns His face toward His mission, to Jerusalem and to Calvary. His way of battle is a strange way to our eyes, but His Standard is the only one that can lead to victory.
While responding to anyone else might leave us wavering, having considered just how much Christ has done for us (even in our sin!) and how good His way is – we are able to love Him rather than respond out of duty or fear. And it is only love that is willing to make real sacrifice. Nothing can replace love.
Think: The Election, as Saint Ignatius calls it, is the final choice we make based on the encounter with God through the Spiritual Exercises. But first we are encouraged to meditate on the Three Modes of Humility so that we might be properly disposed to receive God’s will with openness and obedience. The Three Modes of Humility are really three attitudes toward the service of God and the use of created things, and they are not to be understood as equally good. In other words, some attitudes are more conducive to making us attentive to Our Lord than others. Remember that an attitude, such as the Modes are here, is not a single act but a habitual mission ever before our eyes. In this way, attention given to the Three Modes of Humility should be more than a simple meditation; it should be something we chew on throughout the day.
Grace: We should beg Christ our King to call us to the third and most perfect Mode of Humility in imitation of Him as He carried His Cross. We should repeat this petition as often as we are able all through the day.
Meditate: The first Mode of Humility is to submit yourself to the will of God enough to avoid deliberately committing any grave sins. This should be the case, even if attempting such sins might carry the promise of riches, honors, health and a long life. You should be just as resolute if avoiding the serious sins might bring about poverty, dishonor in the eyes of the world, sickness and even death. This resolution may seem, at first, to be heroic, but in fact it is the bare minimum if you are to expect any sort of life in Christ and openness to His saving grace. Any attitude relying on less would be, by definition, in opposition to God – or at least apathy toward Him and His saving grace. On the other hand, you should keep in mind that this first Mode of Humility is not inconsistent with an actual serious sin from time to time. As prone to error as we all are, no Mode of Humility guarantees that we will never fall into sin. But the attitude here means that we are aware of the worst sorts of sins and we are disgusted enough by them to avoid them for the most part, with the help of God’s grace. A healthy fear of God, humble prayer, and self control will keep yourself sufficiently in this first Mode.
But while this first mode avoids the worst, by keeping in mind that union with God is one’s ultimate purpose in life, it coexists with a desire for the things of this world. It avoids anything that may appear hard or humiliating. This, unfortunately, is the disposition of many who claim
Christ as Lord.
The second Mode of Humility is one step better than the first. It consists in obedience to the will of God to the degree that even lesser sins are usually avoided. One can find this Mode firmly rooted when a person avoids lesser sins even when the sin promises riches, honors, health and a long life. Of course, avoiding these minor sins may also lead to poverty, dishonor in the eyes of the world, sickness and even death; but the second Mode of Humility keeps one resolved to avoid these evils. Real holy indifference is the key here.
The first two Modes are dispositions of the will rooted in avoiding evil. But the third and best Mode of Humility is a disposition of the will aimed at growing more and more perfectly in obedience to the will of God. The third Mode is a determination to do everything possible to please Him, either in avoiding evil or seeking out and doing good. As far as we can, we choose to be poor with Christ poor, to be insulted with Christ insulted, and to be thought fools as Christ was thought a fool. “He humbled Himself by obedience unto death, yes, death on a cross. (Phil 2:8)” This is how we become truly alive in His Resurrection! This Mode of Humility is out of love for Christ our King that we seek to be like Him in every way that we can. This disposition puts us at a position of advantage, ready at the slightest urging of the Holy Spirit to do whatever
is the will of the Father.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me;
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, inebriate me;
Water from the side of Christ, wash me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O good Jesus, hear me;
Within Thy wounds, hide me;
Permit me not to be separated from Thee;
From the wicked foe, defend me;
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me come to Thee,
That with all Thy saints I may praise Thee
For ever and ever. Amen.