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 heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who wept over his friend Lazarus, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Text for Prayer: John 11: 1-44
Reflection: This past Sunday, we all heard this rather lengthy reading from John’s Gospel, in which Jesus raises his friend, Lazarus, from the dead. At the end of story, we can look back and better understand Jesus’ actions from the beginning. But if we were to insert ourselves into the various scenes of this passage, we cannot help but be like the disciples, Martha and Mary, who wonder why Jesus doesn’t immediately go to cure Lazarus if he considers him such a good friend or what Jesus means when he says that Lazarus is sleeping. Even after Lazarus dies and Jesus finally does come to Bethany, we might wonder if Mary stays at home because she is pouting and Martha’s initial reaction to Jesus is more filled with sarcasm than anything else: “Thanks for caring, Jesus. My brother wouldn’t have died if you had been here.” And finally, we cannot help but cover our noses outside of the tomb and think, “Why does this man want to open the tomb of a man who has been dead for four days?”
With its detailed plot, this passage shows both Jesus’s humanity and divinity in a way that is not always apparent in the Gospels. As Pope Emeritus Benedict said in a 2008 Sunday Angelus blessing:
Christ’s heart is divine-human: in him God and man meet perfectly, without separation and without confusion. He is the image, or rather, the incarnation of God who is love, mercy, paternal and maternal tenderness, of God who is Life. Therefore, he solemnly declared to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” And he adds, “Do you believe this?” It is a question that certainly rises above us, rises above our capacity to understand, and it asks us to entrust ourselves to him as he entrusted himself to the Father.
What would our reply to Jesus’ question be? This passage in John appears to generate confusion for the people around Jesus and it seems difficult to utter a simple yes to the question Jesus poses to Martha. We are human, but we always called to rise above and make that leap of faith entrusting ourselves to the one whose heart is human, aware of our own weaknesses and shortcomings, but divine, infinite and capable of holding all of us within it.
Questions: Who do I most closely resemble in this passage? Are there things that make me doubt that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? What are they? Am I willing to entrust myself completely to Jesus and to be his friend?
Grace: To know the Lord, so that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely, always trusting that He is there to help me through the storms of my life.
Text: Mt. 14: 22-33
In a post featured on this blog a few years ago, David Paternostro, SJ, provides the following words that can be helpful for picturing the scene in this passage and using the passage for prayer:
Jesus is in the storm with the Apostles, walking toward the boat, when He sees that they are even more scared because they think He is a ghost, He calls out to them “Courage! It’s me! Don’t be afraid.” (Mt. 14:27). The Apostles are not given sunshine, calm waters, and a good breeze, but they are given the strength to endure the storm…
Upon seeing Jesus, Peter calls out “Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You across the water” (v. 28). Jesus’ response is simple: “Come”. Peter climbs out of the boat, starts to walk on the water, and things are fine, at first. While Peter is walking on the water, he begins “noticing the wind” and becomes afraid (v. 30). At that moment, what matters most to Peter is not that the Lord is with him, but that the wind is dangerous. So he begins to sink.
Even though Peter failed Jesus and doubted His care for him, and even though Jesus could expect Peter to do so again, He saves Peter from the waters. For Jesus to just say to Peter “Why should I bother with you? I can find another apostle who won’t keep doing this” would be understandable. But this is not the way of Jesus. Instead, He answers Peter’s plea for help by taking Peter by the hand, as one might take a child.
Grace: To grow in an intimate knowledge of the Lord, allowing the Beatitudes to be my way to love and to follow Christ.
Text for Prayer: Mt. 5:1-12
Reflection: After his baptism and the time he spends in the desert, Jesus recognizes that the call to action has come. It is time for him to proclaim and prepare the way of God’s Kingdom. In order to do this, Jesus calls twelve disciples. Right before the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew shows us Jesus selecting the disciples who will be his fellow-workers. If helpers and assistants are to embrace the Kingdom, they must first have instruction.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s instruction of his disciples. In it, Jesus shows the disciples what the Kingdom of God is all about and that the Kingdom of God is here already but not yet fully. One great scholar called the Sermon on the Mount “the ordination address to the Twelve.” It is Jesus’s lesson to the twelve before their time of apprenticeship and companionship with the Lord. The Sermon is the Manifesto of the King, a moment of formal teaching when Jesus opens his heart and pours out his mind to his disciples. In doing so, he teaches the disciples that the Kingdom of God invites us to open our hearts and pour out our lives for the sake of the world.
Grace: An intimate knowledge of our Lord, Who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.
Reflection: We begin the Exercises by contemplating our sins, and how God’s love calls us to reform our ways. But the call does not stop there. From the start of the Second Week, with the call of Christ the King, we have been considering and mulling over in our hearts and minds what more the Father calls us to in the context of Jesus’ example of continually responding to the Father. Now, we see the call of the apostles, the first citizens of the kingdom that Christ is establishing “on earth as it is in heaven.”
As C.S. Lewis was fond of saying about Christianity, “it’s a religion you couldn’t have guessed.” This is certainly true with the call of the apostles. No theological training beyond whatever catechesis any Jew of the day would have gotten, no special eloquence, not even a high success rate at being disciples once they were called. It seems as though half the stories in the gospels about the apostles are about how they were getting things wrong. But with every failure they got back up and continued to follow Christ; eventually even Peter, who out of fear denied knowing Jesus at all, asked out of love for Jesus not to be crucified in the same way Jesus was, as he was not worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord.
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.
A retreat with the Spiritual Exercises is always full of surprises, but this week has been full of challenges as well. Each of the meditations from the week has focused on some area where we can deepen our relationship with Christ through a conscious and firm decision to do something new for the Lord. These invitations are not new; we have all heard that voice of the Lord bidding us come closer to him. But perhaps the way in which these meditations have been presented is new, even surprising. Perhaps this week—just over half way through the joyful and penitential season of Lent—has been a chance for us to recommit ourselves to the sort of reform that God wants to work in our lives before Easter. Let us return with him to the meditations of the past five days, then, and see whether we can give thanks and deepen our commitment to accepting the Lord’s invitation to walk more closely with him each day.
Grace: To have an intimate knowledge of our Lord, Who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.
Reflection: For the past two weeks, Jesus has been preparing. He has come onto the scene, He has gathered His forces, presented His strategy and that of the Enemy. Now, with His baptism, the Divine King begins His campaign to overcome the enemies of His Father, and starts His public ministry.
In starting His public ministry, Jesus announces to the people that the promises that the Father made in the Old Testament to bring good news to the afflicted, set captives free, and give sight to the blind “is being fulfilled today” (Lk. 4:21). The covenant God made with His people is presently coming to fruition, and the hope that it gives is embodied in Jesus. On top of this, the fulfillment of these promises is not a secret to be kept and passed on solely among a select few initiates. Jesus does not hide Himself in some distant place, but goes out to be with us. Jesus begins His public ministry to proclaim the news, and to do so in synagogues, streets, and villages all throughout Judea. He and His apostles will eagerly share this news with anyone willing to listen.
Grace: To sense more deeply the possibility of deep renewal and reform in my life and the desire in God’s heart for that renewal in me.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 9:23-36
Reflection: Over the last few weeks I have given a couple of retreats that dealt in some ways with discernment. During these retreats, I had the opportunity to chat with most of the participants. Many of them pointed out that in terms of remaining faithful to their prayer life, they sometimes lack discipline and willpower, and I often acknowledged that discipline is a great avenue to renewal and reform.
Certainly discipline is an important part of discipleship. Both of those words, along with the word discernment come for the Latin word discere which means to learn. To grow as a disciple—in discipleship and discernment—we need to learn or to discover life-giving ways of finding the strength to remain faithful and committed to them.
Grace: To be humble and to further die to myself so as to be able to live in a state of indifference that will allow me to better hear and follow God’s call in my life.
Text for Prayer: Mk. 10:17-31
Reflection: The second week of the Spiritual Exercises includes several meditations on discerning our state of life, including the Meditation on the Two Standards, the Meditation on the Three Classes of Men, and today’s Meditation on the Three Modes of Humility.
All of these meditations are meant to make us reflect on what it means to follow Jesus and the different ways that we are called to follow Him. We might be led to think that following Jesus is simply a matter of following rules or giving up our possessions. But following Jesus demands a more radical commitment on our part and the cultivation of our interior dispositions.
The rich young man in Mark’s Gospel might seem like someone who is willing to follow some rules and give up some of his possessions to follow Jesus. The disciples, with Peter as their spokesman, are quick to say that they have given up everything. But Jesus reminds them to think about their desire to follow him in terms of humility—it is not only about giving up worldly possessions, thinking that what we are doing is right, and giving ourselves a pat on the back. We must have the humility and courage to die to ourselves so that God can work in and through us to bring about his kingdom.
Grace: To choose what is for God’s greater glory and the salvation of my soul.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 12:35-48
Reflection: Yesterday’s meditation on the Two Standards had us consider what it means to be a follower of Christ, and in this way it gave us a sense of the direction and goal of our entire lives. You might say that the Two Standards is a macro meditation while the meditation for today on the Three Classes is more micro: it deals with the sort of particular choices that we might make in the course of an ordinary day.
Say, for instance, that I come into a fairly large sum of money today. Like most people, I might be very happy to have made this money for myself, and so I might set about thinking through some of the ways in which I could spend it. I might also wonder about what God would have me do with the money and so consider the possibility of giving it to the poor or to the Church. Now, giving the money away might be a good thing to do, and these causes are both worthy of my financial support. But the question remains: Which of these is the one God wants me to help? Or does God want me to save the money? Or invest the money so as to make more money that could help more people? We are not talking about which of these objectively has the most merit (if such a determination were even possible). Instead, we are considering which of these is the particular will of God for me at this moment. How do I come to know God’s will in the midst of this decision-making process?