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: That all my thoughts, words, and actions be directed to the praise and service of the Divine Majesty
Text for Prayer: Genesis 3:1-19
Reflection: From an early age, most Catholics are taught the that there are two different types of sin (mortal and venial) and that a mortal sin leads to the complete destruction of God’s life within the human soul. But what exactly constitutes this sort of sin? And what does it mean to have the divine life completely destroyed within a human soul?
The answer to these questions can be found in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. The first humans are created by God out of love. They are given full knowledge of God, but this does not mean that they see God face to face, for God moves about in the garden during the “breezy time of the day” (3:8). God is unseen but fully present, and the first humans simply enjoy being in His presence. They are still human, but fully living in the presence of God, a God who is the “most concrete reality, whence all that is substantial in the world receives its equally certain and unquestionable rightness, obviousness, and nameability” as the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes. All that Adam and Eve experience in their humanity is viewed through the eyes of God. They are completely in tune with God, even though they are human. Thus, God’s plan is their plan.
Grace: Ask for shame and confusion, seeing how many souls have chosen to live forever separated from God’s love, and for an acute awareness of my own potential of doing the same.
Text for Prayer: Isaiah 55:1-5
1st Point: By placing God at the center and all created things at His service and praise, we have a compass (or an updated GPS) that will help us better direct our intentions and lead us toward greater freedom. Throw this compass out and you throw yourself into the ditch. Our first parents had to learn it the hard way.
There were no mirrors in Eden, at least not the way we know them. God reflected Adam and Eve to themselves. Eve and Adam reflected each other. With their eyes on God, Adam and Eve learned how they were different from the other creatures. With their eyes on each other, they held each other accountable for keeping their eyes on God. Their loving relationship reflected back to God His own image. Then came the serpent. It would be an understatement to say he was like those carnival mirrors that gave everything a little twist. He was more like a smashed up mirror that distorted reality. He cajoled Adam and Eve to turn into themselves, not so they could admire their inner beauty, but to trap them in themselves.
Grace: Shame and confusion about myself, when I see how many people have been banished from heaven for committing a single mortal sin, and how many times I have deserved eternal banishment for my sins.
Text for Prayer: Romans 1:18-25
Reflection: We have pondered and prayed about God’s immense plan for creation: to exist in him and be glorified. God’s very act of creating, his calling things into existence (“Let there be light!”), is at the same time a call to return to Him, their ultimate destination. We have also seen our place within this plan. That is, human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God. By accomplishing this we are saved, we are brought into the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But as we all know, this is much harder than it looks.
There are many seemingly insurmountable obstacles to praising, reverencing, and serving God in our world today. Each day all sorts of distractions bombard us. And those are just the ones that are external to us! There are just as many distractions that come from within us—daydreams, worries, and temptations. These obstacles complicate the task of being a human being created by God for his greater praise, reverence, and service.
Grace: a deepening awareness of my sins, and remorse and shame for having committed them.
Reflection:At the depths of Dante’s journey through hell, he did not see fires burning the skins of its woeful inhabitants. No, that would be too trite a metaphor. Rather, the depth of hell is an icy waste, the external counterpart to hearts that have grown cold in love. The stony hearts of hell’s inhabitants have grown as hard as the ice which holds them bound.
The image of the icy bonds of sin will help introduce us to our meditation topic today: the “first sins.” St. Ignatius has us begin the meditation on sin by imagining our souls as held captive by its effects. This is what he calls a “composition of place,” an imaginative rendition of the subject matter of our contemplation designed to attune our affections and thoughts in a single image that can remain within our memory. Having established the tenor of the meditation, we are to ask for the grace we seek: shame and confusion at our cooperation with the ugliness of sin.
The heart of the meditation consists in applying our memory, intellect and will to three primordial sins. First, we consider the heavenly sin of the angels who rebelled against God’s plan and banished themselves to hell as demons. Then, we turn to our earthly history and meditate upon the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a sin in whose effects we all participate. Third, we consider the sin of a man or woman who has consciously chosen damnation through sin.
The purpose of these meditations is to establish the nature of sin. At the deepest level, sin is a rebellion against the goodness of God. God is all good; so a rebellion against Him is a rebellion against goodness by human beings who are always tempted to think that ultimately, God is just trying to trick them and make them miserable. But look at each of the subjects of these meditations. Who is the miserable one? The one who freely chooses sin. In order to understand why, we should look back at our introductory meditations upon the First Principle and Foundation. The world was created by God out of love. It has a purpose and that purpose leads us more fully toward lasting happiness. Sin purposefully rejects the very thing that is created to lead us toward happiness. It destroys the goodness God created for us. It is self-banishment in icy misery. And we all do it.
Since sin is a rejection of God, it is a rejection of love. The sinner, therefore, should in some sense be pitied. The sinner is a pitiable figure, and not just because he has been punished. The sinner is pitiable because he has chosen to turn inward and lock himself in his own constricted world instead of turning outward and loving the God who loves him. The sinner has chosen—chosen—the icy bonds of self-absorption and self-pity instead of the love which surpasses all understanding. How sad. How very sad.
Questions: What real life hells have I experienced? How have I created real life hells for myself and others? In what ways do I find myself trapped inside my own world? Do I have a desire for someone to break into my world and rescue me?