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 have a felt sense of how sin ruptures my relationship with the God who made me out of love and for love.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 5:1-8
Reflection: In Mass on Sunday, we always pray three times, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” We ask again, in the Gloria, “Lord, God, Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” In the Creed we say, “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Finally, immediately before communion, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
In our most perfect prayer, we are constantly mindful of our sins, both individually and communally. The most important lesson that this focus on our own sinfulness teaches us is that, in every instance, we are not reminding ourselves of our sin in isolation but rather in the context of prayer and acts of faith with other people who are sinful like us. Each mention of sin comes up in the context of our direct dialogue with God the Father, mediated through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Most intimately, our sin is recognized in the immediate anticipation of receiving him most fully in the Eucharist. Our sinfulness, then, is best dealt with out in the open, alongside the other sinners with whom we are praying and before the Lord who is always so eager to restore us to right relationship with Himself.
Grace: Ask for a healthy sense of shame before God as I consider the effects of sin in my life.
Text for Prayer: Romans 5:1-11
Reflection: There are two aspects we need to examine as we ask for a deep-felt knowledge of the consequences of sin in our lives. First, this meditation is an opportunity to be honest with ourselves about what sin does in our lives. We cannot accept the relief of what Jesus did for us in taking our sins on himself without first having to experience the agonizing truth about our sins. Secondly, we need to realize that there is no need to dwell on guilt and shame. The meditation on the consequences of sin in our lives is a meditation on the mercy of God the Father. Sin is a turning away from God and as we meditate on what it does in our lives, we are called to turn to God and fix our eyes on his liberating mercy. We ask for a healthy sense of shame, a heartfelt knowledge of the effects of pride, envy, lust and greed in our lives.
In “The Premature Burial,” Edgar Allan Poe tells the story of the young wife of a prominent member of congress, who is erroneously pronounced dead and buried alive. She revived shortly after her burial and struggled within the coffin in a futile attempt to escape her ghastly prison. Poe features cataleptics – people who fall into death-like trances – who are buried alive in some of his other stories: “Berenice,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Being a narcoleptic – a condition he deemed similar to being a cataleptic – Poe feared being buried alive. As he expressed in the voice of the narrator of “The Premature Burial,” “The true wretchedness is to be buried while alive.”
Grace: A deep knowledge of my sins and my personal responsibility for them.
Text for Prayer: 1 John 1:8 – 2:2
Reflection: It is not easy to pray on sin. We find all kinds of ways to avoid looking it straight in the face. Our minds wander. We keep glancing at our watch, wondering why the time we’ve set aside seems longer than usual. Or else we head straight for the sweet and easy thought of God’s mercy and find shelter there: a far more pleasant way to spend half an hour.
At this point in the retreat, we’ve already spent several days praying on sin, and there is still more to come. Not only that, but as of today, the incline gets a lot steeper and the route rockier. Today we turn from looking at sin in a general way—the sin of the angels, of Adam and Eve, and in the world around me—to the reality of sin in my own life. Not just sin, but my sin.
Grace: To grow in sorrow for my sins, to be overcome with shame and confusion before God for my sinfulness.
Text for Prayer: Lk 5:1-8
Reflection: The graces that St. Ignatius suggests we ask for at this point in the Exercises are shame and confusion, and they can be especially difficult graces for us to ask to receive. However, as we grow in our awareness of our own sinfulness, it is important that we do not conceive of shame and confusion as a lack of clarity that leads us to despise ourselves. Instead, we should come to realize that shame is concerned with justice and that confusion is concerned with understanding. As always, we must begin with an awareness of God’s presence and of His love for us, of the fact that He has created each of us in His image and for His glory. The God whom we seek to know is a loving God, and it is only in the light of this Love and with the help of this God that we are able to consider our own sins for what they truly are: deliberate rejections of God’s love that we know are not for our own good (even as we commit them!). Thus the shame and confusion.
When we pray about our sin, Ignatius recommends that we consider particular periods in our lives: the places where we lived or travelled, our relationships, and what we did with our time. Ask the questions: What were my sins from that period? How do I see them now? Taking one period at a time, we then move through the various periods of our lives, taking account of the number and repetition of particular sins.