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 the mercy of the Father and His unconditional love for me in the midst of my sinfulness.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 15:11-32
Reflection: Jesus’ story of the prodigal son provides a uniquely comprehensive vision of the nature of our own sinfulness, the mercy of our heavenly Father even in light of that sinfulness, and the beauty of the encounter when we finally come home to that mercy.
To start with, it is good to note that for the son to go and ask for his inheritance while his father is still alive is effectively proclaiming to the father that he might as well be dead as far as he is concerned. The radical selfishness that takes over the son’s desires has no room for concern for anyone else, including the one who gave him life itself. The son proceeds to operate unhesitatingly according to this self-centered worldview as he goes to a “far off country”—far from home and far from the source of his life.
Grace: To have a growing intense sorrow and, if God so wishes, even tears for my sins.
Text for Prayer: The Third Exercise of the First Week, Spiritual Exercises no. 62-63
Reflection: Why three colloquies? Every time that St. Ignatius calls for the triple colloquy is one that can be very emotional, and one where significant decisions and commitments are called for. Whenever I was little and very upset, I would run to my mother and tell her the whole story, typically in a very quick and jumbled way. My mother (like most mothers) would tell me to calm down and repeat myself. When I did, things usually became clearer for both of us. In making the colloquy three times, we are given a chance to sort out what it is we are saying. The full meaning of what we are asking can become clearer. We can make connections that we hadn’t made before. Implications to what we are asking can arise that hadn’t occurred to us before, and the gravity of what we are asking has a chance to sink in.
In addition, making three colloquies allows for a surer response. A lot can come up in each of these prayers and potentially overwhelm us. The Evil Spirit is accustomed to extracting promises from us at times when we are emotional and not thinking clearly only to then tell us that we cannot go back. God, on the other hand, allows time for clarity to set in. In making the colloquy three times, we have a chance to obtain that clarity and become more confident in what we are asking, relying less on emotions that are more liable to change. This, in turn, provides a safeguard against the temptations from the Evil Spirit that what we asked for or decided was a hasty decision made in the heat of the moment. If those temptations arise, we can remind ourselves that it was not just a quickly made decision, but one that we were asked to confirm ourselves in by making the colloquy two additional times.
Grace: To have an interior sense of the pain that the lost suffer. If through repeated faults I find myself forgetful of the love of the Eternal King, may at least the fear of the pains of Hell keep me from falling into more sin.
Prayer: Compose in your mind the closest thing to Hell that you can imagine. Even if we are limited to metaphors that can only approximate the tortures of the loss of eternity with God, our imaginations can still stir up in us abhorrence for that sad fate. It may be helpful to read 1-10 of the 32nd chapter of St. Theresa’s Autobiography.
Reflection: We must always be aware that the love of God should be the motive for our actions. However, as we move through this life we may find ourselves assailed by temptations that confuse and weaken us, leaving us unable to enjoy the solace we once had during times when we were more aware of God’s love for us. It will be during these trying times that a simple fear of Hell (and disgust for that which leads to Hell) may augment our efforts and serve to keep us from the downward spiral of sin.
So, for a time, let our minds wonder at the terribleness of Hell. Imagine what it must be like to be “cast out into the exterior darkness [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12) If Heaven is the choice of God begun in this world and made irrevocable on passing into eternity, the sweetness of beholding God and having all barriers eliminated between us, then Hell must be that much more dreadful! Hell must be the persistent contempt for that which is Good and disdain for the tender mercy God offers us.
As we mentioned last Saturday, weekends are a time devoted to the repetition of meditations from the week that is ending. Go back to whichever topic you feel drawn to and spend some time with it to see if there are deeper graces the Lord wants to give you through it. The topic this week has been sinfulness—no easy matter. Praying through the topic of sinfulness, many faults arise within our consciousness—areas large or small where we are not living up to the person we know we should be. Growing up as Catholics, our first reflex is to confess our sin and try to do better. This, while a laudable impulse, slightly misses the dynamic of the Exercises.
At the heart of the Exercises is the encounter with Christ. Where does Christ meet us during the “First Week” of the Exercises? Precisely in our sinfulness. He comes to meet us in order, first, to convict us of our sin, and second to forgive and heal us. That is why Jesus is both a just and a merciful judge. In the face of our sinfulness, our temptation might be quickly to confess our sins and then turn to Jesus for His love. But St. Paul says that while we were sinners Christ loved us. He comes to us and loves us, even in the midst of our own rebelliousness. To experience Christ’s love in this state is truly a transformative experience.
Grace: To desire to reform my life and renew my relationship with Christ, recognizing that life is short and I will be judged by the Lord after death.
Text for Prayer: 1 Thes. 4:13-15
Reflection: When I was an undergrad in Miami, I befriended someone at my parish named Christina. We weren’t super close, but we enjoyed talking and passing the time. She smiled a lot. She was sweet and fun to be with. One day, I woke up to the news that she had died in a car accident. She was twenty years old and so was I. Her death was shocking and heartbreaking. I had never known anyone my own age who died. Even though we weren’t particularly close, her death felt closer than others I had experienced.The sudden end to her life struck a chord inside of me.
It is easy to think that this life we are living is going to last forever. We get caught up in our plans, the bills, time with our loved ones, the busy schedule, the joys, the struggles—all of it. We get so caught up that we forget that life is about more than just today, and that today may be all we have. Every day is an opportunity to take account of our lives and to renew our friendship with Jesus Christ.
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: To see the disorder that sin causes in my heart and recognize the effects of tepidity in my life.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 28:16-20
Reflection: Our vocation as Christians is to draw close to the Heart of Jesus and in that encounter to be transformed in such a way that our hearts become like the Heart of Christ. When we draw near to the Crucified and Risen Lord, we increase in hope, faith, and love. In that encounter, our hearts become like a fire in us. This fire within us is a source of mercy for others, for it can lead them to a personal encounter with the Lord. This fire within is the thrust and dynamism of all evangelization—animated by our encounter with Jesus and strengthened in our faith, we tell others how the Word of God has taken flesh in our lives hoping this Good News inspires others to draw closer to Jesus.
Our hearts were created to live this dynamism, to seek and find God in all things, to share our sightings of God with those who already have been baptized, and to reach out to those who have drifted away from the Church. Sin and self-centeredness make us numb and extinguish the fire within us. Sin makes us lose sight of our vocation to seek and find God in all things. When we forsake our human vocation, our hearts become tepid and dull, for they were created to rest in God alone. The tepidity or dullness our hearts experience when we feel separated from God are contrary to the dynamism we experience when we praise, revere, and serve God. Tepid hearts lose their desire for communion with God and give in to spiritual sloth.
Grace: To feel shame and confusion at myself because of my sins.
Text for Prayer: 1 John 1:8-2:6
Reflection: St. Ignatius of Loyola describes the point of spiritual exercises as follows: they are meant “to conquer oneself and to organize one’s life without the influence in one’s decisions by any inordinate attachment.” Just as God’s first act of creation was drawing order out of chaos, Ignatius invites us to take an unsparing look at our own lives, to see that they have an element of chaos and disorder about them, and to set to work straightening things up.
One of the first steps that we must take as we begin to put our spiritual house in order is to recognize the sheer ugliness of sin. In the City of God, St. Augustine famously describes sin as “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” It should shock us to think that we could ever reach a point where we would love and prefer ourselves so much that we hated or disregarded God. How could such a scenario possibly come to be? The way that we usually arrive at such a spiritual morass is through a slide into what theologians call venial sin, rather than through a willing rejection of God in one fell swoop.
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.
It is not always easy to go back to something we have left behind, but the exercise of returning to a meditation or a grace that we have received during prayer can be immensely helpful. It is also a practice highly regarded by St. Ignatius himself, who says that “it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth.” On Saturdays during Lent, we will give you an opportunity to do precisely this. We invite you to go back over the prayers from the week that is ending in order to see where there is perhaps deeper fruit to be gleaned from the meditations, reflections, passages, and questions of the week. We hope that this is an exercises that will become second nature to you by the end of Lent, and—just like the twice-daily Examen—a weekend repetition can be an excellent way of coming to see more clearly where God has been moving and where we have been standing in his way. Let us then return to one of the meditations below and see what the Lord has to offer us. Again. (more…)