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 know how Jesus experiences the desert as preparation for ministry, to love him and imitate him more closely.
Text for Prayer: Mk. 1:12-13
Reflection: One of my favorite writers is Carlo Carretto, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of desert contemplatives. In his book Letters from the Desert, Carretto recounts the fruitfulness of his ten years in the African Sahara. He relates how he found his vocation to live in the desert, and what this experience meant for his life as a Christian. While working for the Catholic Action movement in Italy, Carretto felt a strong desire to lead a contemplative life and served others in the spirit of Charles de Foucauld. He felt God’s call in the depth of his being, “Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.” As a contemplative, Carretto recognized that the desert was the most challenging experience of his life, but also the most fruitful, for the desert ignites the purification of the senses, thoughts, soul, mind, and heart.
Wandering in the desert, Carretto often pondered on the experience of Jesus in the wilderness, how “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, where he remained forty days and was tempted by Satan” (Mk. 1:12). In the wilderness, both Jesus and Carretto experienced the God of life, the presence always present that stirs us to love and service. Just as it happened to Jesus and to Carretto, the Spirit drives us to retreat to the desert—to our desert. When we think of a desert, our minds might first go to the geographical deserts of the world—long stretches of sand with clumps of date trees in oases scattered here and there. Most of us are not blessed with that experience; we are invited to experience the spiritual desert of our lives. For Jesus, going to the desert was a period of preparation before he began his ministry. There, he faced temptations to power, prestige, and pleasure. For most of us, the desert is a place away from the pace of our busy life where we can connect more deeply with the God of life. The desert is a place to meet God, a place to be vulnerable and powerless, and a place of yearning, silence, and prayer.
Grace: To have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who was tempted in the desert, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Reflection: Jesus passed around thirty years at home in Nazareth. Evidently there came a time when he felt called, or perhaps moved, to leave. Why? Where? Throughout those thirty years in Nazareth he had been maturing and perhaps discerning a number of plans. Jesus did not live in a bubble—he lived amid the great expectation of his people for their messianic liberation (Lk 3:15). We can tell that he wanted to do something to change this situation in which he grew up. He knew the alternatives presented to the Kingdom of his Father: the Essenes (who emphasized a life of prayer and penance in hopeful expectation of the Lord’s Messiah), the Pharisees (whose stress on ritual purity and observance of the Law eclipsed everything else), the Sadducees (who allied themselves with power and shared in the stolen wealth of their own people), and the Zealots (who waged violent guerrilla war against their Roman occupiers). We can imagine that among the various alternatives Jesus hears the message of the Baptist, perceives the mark of the Spirit, and discerns and chooses the way of being holy proposed by John the Baptist. So he decides to join a radical prophetic movement and begins the journey to the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Jesus, although he did not need it, decides to receive John’s baptism. Here is where his mission and identity first start to reveal themselves—he is taking the place of the sinner on the road to judgment. After receiving the Baptism, however, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted.
Grace: To know and imitate Jesus in His unwavering focus on His Mission in order to love and follow Him more closely.
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Reflection: Let’s do a quick recap: Jesus was previously at the Jordan River, seeking to be baptized by his cousin. John is perplexed by Jesus’ desire to be baptized and informed Him that it is He who ought to be baptizing him. While Jesus was in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, the heavens opened and a voice proclaimed, “This is My beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). God the Father revealed the true identity of Jesus. This is a major place of consolation.
The same Spirit that descended upon Jesus in the Jordan led Him to the desert. Jesus had been led from a place of deep consolation to a place of intense purification, fasting for forty days and nights. In His humanity, Jesus became physically, mentally and psychologically weak. At this point, Jesus appears alone, tired and hungry. (more…)
Grace: To know how Jesus prepared Himself for His mission, to love Him more, and to imitate Him more closely.
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Reflection: After His Baptism, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. The desert has been a rich image throughout the history of Christianity. It has symbolized the spiritual difficulties that believers encounter, just as the Israelites struggled for forty years in crossing the desert. It has also symbolized a place of encounter with the Lord, as so many of the Desert Fathers discovered in the early Church.
Jesus is tempted three times. First, He is tempted to turn stones into bread to feed Himself. Second, He is tempted to throw Himself down from a parapet and be saved by angels. Third, He is tempted to worship the tempter in exchange for all earthly power.
Grace: light to know how the Divine King prepares Himself for His mission, to love Him more and to imitate Him more closely
Reflection: Our Lord goes on retreat. Jesus is led into the desert to be shown the difference between what is to be His Kingdom, and what is not. This prevents the Enemy of Our Human Nature from perverting into sin the mission that his evil plans cannot stop.
It is in the wilderness that Christ shows us, His disciples, the virtues that we are to incorporate into ourselves. First, he shows us preparation. Humility, while a great place to start, is not enough; serious preparation is key. This preparation on our part is understood to be the well from
which we will draw spiritual water in the future as we proclaim Jesus’ name. If we are to avoid becoming a “resounding gong or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1) we must prepare ourselves to grow in love by cultivating a spirit of self-recollectedness. Christ’s example is to withdraw from the duties of everyday life while on His retreat. We must do the same from time to time as well as carefully set aside time, even on our busiest days, for prayer and recollection.
It is in this time of preparation that we see the Lord tempted. For us, temptations are the effects of our evil passions and of our corrupt nature, skillfully used by the Enemy. To some extent, they are connected to something evil, though not always evil in themselves. For Christ, we must adjust our understanding somewhat: Satan’s most furious attack on Our Lord was to offer something that might have appeared good while twisting it into sin. But in the quiet of the desert, there was no place to camouflage Satan’s deceit.
Bread isn’t ordinarily bad, but self-serving miracles are. We know that Christ fed thousands with miraculous bread, leading them to salvation through that grain of wheat that would fall for their sakes. The hungry Christ in the desert could not be persuaded to give in to the human desire
for food if it meant acting in disaccord with the Father’s will. Can kingship be bad if the one ruling is truly a king? If kingship comes at the price of bowing before Satan, it is a death sentence for anyone, no matter how deserving one is of the crown. We know Our Lord to be Christ the King. But our King is crowned by His Father when His crown of thorns becomes a crown of golden light. There is no other authority that we should ever look to for the power only God alone can endorse.
What of the proof of God’s love? Doesn’t Jesus’ humble acceptance of death show us that He is willing to put His Father to the test? This is the temptation of the Enemy. Jesus’ obedience to the Father is the clear sign of Jesus’ love and acceptance even in the face of His Passion and Death.
It is in no way motivated by a desire to test His Father.
Our own lessen here is to take note of the terrible tricks of the Enemy of Our Human Nature. This is important for every disciple of Christ: we must imitate Our Lord’s clear example of obedience and readiness in the face of temptations.
And so we draw close to Christ in the desert wilderness. His Kingdom will be based on the resolve to suffer on behalf of our fellow children of God and to love them to the very end. Satan is driven away and the angels who once expelled Adam from the Garden of Eden now minister to the new Adam in the wilderness.
Pray: Oh Lord, You are my divine leader. Teach me to uncover the tricks of the Evil One – the discouragement in the face of difficulties, the attraction of power, the demand for control over our relationship with God. Oh my Jesus, keep me close to you in the quiet and transform my heart to be like Yours, prepared and strong, on fire for the divine plan. Grant me a true love for the sufferings that await and sustain me if I should become unsteady in the face of temptation.