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 feel sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is going to His suffering for my sins.
Text for Prayer: Jn. 6:44-63
Reflection: In his book Life of Christ, Archbishop Sheen notes about Jesus that “every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. He came into it to die.” Socrates also suffered an unjust death, but his death interrupted his life’s teachings. Jesus’ death, on the other hand, was the culmination of His teachings. From the start of the Exercises, we have seen God’s total self-gift to humanity, putting Himself into creation and loving us into existence; entering into the world to save us; walking with us and guiding us on our journeys. Now, as we enter into Holy Week, we prepare to see Jesus give even His very life for us. Absolutely nothing is held back. This is what is needed to accomplish the Father’s will and help us attain salvation. It is the same total giving of self that we see in the Trinity, the perfect community where each of the three Persons gives all to the others, and in the Eucharist, where Jesus offers His body and blood to us.
In John 6, Jesus says that “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him” (v. 56). Here, we will see the sacrifice literally re-presented in the Eucharist at each Mass, where Jesus gives His body and blood over for our sakes. With this, He will abide in us and we in Him, and Jesus will truly become food for our soul as we travel along our lives.
Think: What is the significance of a single act of sacrifice by one man so long ago? Why aren’t the teachings of Jesus hanging over our altars instead of Crucifixes? Why do we pay so much attention to the crucified Christ when He walked among us as resurrected for far longer than he hung upon the cross?
Grace: a feeling of compassion toward Christ as He begins His painful sacrifice for us. We ask for a real sense of the importance of it all.
Reflection: The Passion of our Lord has always been food for the Catholic soul; in the sacrament of the Eucharist, in the image of the Crucifix, and in prayerful contemplation. The Passion is where we find our God’s loving cry and self-offering, from His condemnation before Pontius Pilate to His lifeless body in the tomb. This cry has carried on through nearly two millennia and is discovered anew in the heart of all the forgiven today. We see ourselves in the suffering Jesus, our sins marking His back while our hearts break along with His; we betray Him and are betrayed with Him. We shun Him and we are shunned with Him. We see ourselves in His
crucifiers and we weep with His friends at the sight of Him being taken down from the Cross motionless.
“Behold the Lamb of God, Behold the one who takes away the sins of the world.” In English we understand “takes away” to be something like “removes” or “negates.” This is true that Jesus does this to the sins of the world. But another way to read “takes away” is to see it as “bears away” or “carries away.” When John the Baptist exclaimed “Behold the one who takes away the sins of the world,” he had been calling people to a conversion away from their sins. Now he saw the One who would bear away their sins on His back.
And so we are healed. We have been attacked by sin like deadly serpents in the desert. But when we turn our eyes upon the one held high and suffering death, we find our remedy. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” That is why we turn to look at the Cross. That is why the death of God on the Cross can appear so sweet to us while it is an insult to the Jews. That is why we proudly wear a symbol of the Crucifix around our necks while the pagans laugh at us as if we are mad. We know the truth about all of this and it transforms us: His death is our salvation and so we find hope in it. Nothing clears away the dullness of sin from our eyes like a long hard look at Christ’s suffering body.
This portion of the Spiritual Exercises has us work first on our compassion for Christ. We must allow ourselves to see Christ’s sufferings and we must permit ourselves to long for an end to those sufferings. This exercises that part inside of us that can grow cold if we have become too acquainted with the pleasures of sin. Caring for Christ more readily disposes is to caring for the least of His people. We must recognize His glorious entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as His triumphant entrance into the reality of defeat at the hands of sin that we all suffer. And we must allow ourselves to want to be near Him.
And so the Holy Week grieving really begins now. Should we think it too much to shed a tear for the one who endured so much for us? All of those poor people we see on the television suffering in faraway lands cannot feel our compassion. This can have a chilling effect on us and we can be coldly indifferent without much immediate consequence. But Jesus knows our heart. Will He find us cold? Or will we let ourselves remember and care, feel something deep for our Savior as He suffers for us. Will we look Him in the eye, or think of it all as a distant historical fact? We must apply ourselves to this task. We must take all of the power of our imagination and put it to work on the true object of our love if we are to increase our love. Above all, depend on God’s grace.
Pray: Oh God, help me to consider what compassion I must offer at the foot of the Cross. How can I refuse anything to You, my Lord and my Creator, Who has done and suffered so much for my sake. You have given all that You have to me; You have given your sufferings, Your toil, Your thoughts, Your love, Your life, and the very last drop of Your heart’s blood for me. Let me give You all I have: all my affections, all my love, all my desires, my whole heart, my sufferings, my efforts, my sorrows, my joys, my life, my whole self. Amen.