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 shame and confusion that the Lord enters into His humiliation for my sake.
Text for Prayer: Mt 27:27-31
Reflection: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy,” the Psalmist writes. Jesus mounts His throne on the Cross, revealing to us a new kind of king. There are indeed shouts, but these shouts from the crowd—those which had honored him when he arrived in Jerusalem—now become the shouts of jeering and humiliation from an angry mob. They want blood, and He gives them blood.
This one who is mocked is revealing in a most horrific way. The true source of his power and authority as king is the power of self-emptying love. His Heart—pierced on the Cross and enflamed for love of those who kill him—is the revelation of the depth of God’s love for us.
Grace: To have sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is undergoing His passion for my sins.
Text for Prayer: Jn. 18:12-40
Reflection: What do we hope will vindicate us? When all is said and done, what do we wish to be the justification for our thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions? One often hears people use phrases like “we will be vindicated by history,” meaning that hindsight will show either that they did the pragmatic (though not always honest) thing, or that their behavior will be vindicated by opinions fashionable at some future point. Jesus encounters these ways of thinking and others at His trial, but refuses to be vindicated by anyone or anything beyond Himself.
First, we see Jesus go before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Before Jesus is even arrested, Caiaphas advocates His death by stating that “it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (Jn. 11:50). Caiaphas’ primary preoccupation is not whether Jesus’ claim is true or not, but whether Israel will be destroyed. In the second part of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict observes that
there were certain circles within the Sanhedrin that would have favored the liberation of Israel through political and military means. But the way in which Jesus presented His claim seemed to them clearly unsuited to the effective advancement of their cause.
Grace: To have sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is going to His suffering for my sins.
Reflection: For all the portrayals of the Passions as a violent blood-fest, it was not primarily a test of Jesus’ endurance. It was a sacrifice which only Jesus could make. As He sat in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, this was something He must have been thinking of. The angels could minister to Him, the Father could comfort Him, but only He could carry out this task. Peter, James, and John were fast asleep as He prayed and waited for Judas. Jesus was totally alone.
Then Judas arrives with a group of Roman soldiers. Jesus now goes through an experience many of us know: betrayal by someone we love. After the initial sadness, sometimes we can lessen the pain by saying something like “He was a jerk anyway.” But Jesus never stopped loving Judas, and the pain He felt from the betrayal is only heightened by His knowledge of what this betrayal will do to Judas, and how this will destroy him.
Grace: To suffer with Christ who suffers for my sins.
Text: Mt. 26:36-46
Reflection: “Do you trust me?” That is the question the Father is asking of the Son. Jesus does not know why He must suffer, and so He asks His Father if there is any way He can be spared His Passion. His Father asks Him to trust Him. To undergo extreme physical and spiritual pain when one knows why one must is difficult; to do so when one does not know why is excruciating.
The life of Christ may seem desirable to imitiate when He is healing the infirm, forgiving the sinners, and feeding the multitudes, but what about when He is entering into His Passion? It can be easy to follow Christ when the way is pleasant and comfortable, but are we then loving the God of consolations or the consolations of God? The Father removes His consolations and asks His Son, “Do you still trust me, even though You do not understand why I am asking this of You? Do you trust me?”
Grace: To have a felt sense of Jesus’ desire to give me his whole self, in love.
Text for Prayer: Mt 26:20-35
Reflection: From the moment of the Agony in the Garden, it seems as if Jesus enters into the drama of his betrayal, passion, and death with unflinching determination. This determination is based on his confidence in his communion with the Father.
Early on in the Last Supper, Jesus reveals that one of his beloved will betray him. Still, the meal unfolds. This knowledge of the coming betrayal adds a dimension of dread to what is happening. The full knowledge He has of the ways in which He has been and will continue to be “handed over” is most perfectly signified in the way in which He is “handed over” to us in the Eucharist. Jesus being handed over to the authorities and before being hung upon the Cross is anticipated in this moment of the Passover meal that He celebrates with His disciples. Though this meal is marked by the dread of what is about to happen, it remains indeed a celebration of the love that does not back down in the face of suffering, betrayal, and death.
Grace: A deep desire to have sorrow and compassion for Jesus, to suffer with Him, because He is going to His Passion for me.
Text for Prayer: Mk. 8:31-38
Reflection: At this point in the life of Christ, it is clear that Jesus knows what is coming. The cross is immediately before Him, and His words to His disciples now become the hard words of warning that they just cannot seem to understand or accept. Caught up in their own notions of what the Messiah’s reign will look like and what the Christ will do for them, they lose sight of the fact that Jesus is now speaking to them quite plainly. He is inviting them to the cross.
The cross of Christ is made of wood, but the cross we are invited to bear is likely made up of something quite different: a painful memory, a broken relationship, a physical ailment, a loved one who does not return our love, or some other source of pain and shame. It is characteristic of the cross that it not be desirable or fashionable, that it be immensely difficult to carry, and that it often tempt us to put it down or seek someone else to carry it for us. By its very nature, the cross is hard to bear, and so the invitation of Christ to carry our cross with Him is an invitation to hardship.
Grace: To wonder at Jesus entrance into His kingly glory, that is His suffering, for me.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 19:28-44
Reflection: Today, Palm Sunday, begins in earnest our celebration of Jesus’ Passion. Jesus sets Himself with unshakeable determination toward Jerusalem, toward the ultimate purpose of His coming to earth.
Even though Jesus knows what awaits Him this week, the people of Jerusalem still do not understand. They acclaim Him as the king who will set them free, but Jesus is not the kind of Messiah they imagine. Rather, He is the meek and suffering King of Mercy who enters Jerusalem on a donkey and assumes His throne upon the Cross. All of this He does willingly, for me.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem because she does not recognize her Savior, Who has come in a guise she least expected – come to save her from her sins, not Roman occupation. They remain blind to Jesus’ mission, yet He goes willingly and full of love to die for each of them.
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.
Grace: To stay with Jesus in his suffering and humiliation, borne on behalf of my sins and the sins of humanity.
Text for Prayer: John: 19: 1-5
Reflection: The image of the scourged Christ is often associated with Holy Week and the Passion. Such an image usually portrays Christ, bare from the waist up, a red cloak draped over his shoulders. On his head is a crown of thorns and emanating from the crown streams of blood run down the sides of his face. His torso is also covered with blood, the scars of the beating by the Roman soldiers. His mien reflects sadness, pain, and anguish, all at the same time.
The image of the scourged Christ depicts Christ after his questioning by Pontius Pilate and immediately before his sentencing to death. The Gospel of John recounts how Pilate asked Jesus whether or not he was a king and what is truth, Pilate asked the crowd if it wanted Jesus or Barabbas, a revolutionary, released to them. When the crowd asked for Barabbas, Pilate had Jesus scourged, thinking that this punishment would satisfy the crowd and keep it from rioting. He then brought Jesus out the people proclaiming “Behold the man!” or in Latin, “Ecce Homo!” As we know, the crowd kept clamoring for Barabbas and demanded that Jesus be crucified, so that Pilate acquiesced, and sentenced Jesus to death.
Grace: Ask for the grace of being able to tell God, “not my will but yours be done.”
Text for Prayer: John 18:1-27
Reflection: In these scenes we see the betrayal of Jesus by two of his apostles: Judas who betrays him for money and Peter who denies him for fear of his own life. Judas appears two times in the Gospel of John before the Last Supper. On both occasions (John 6:70-71 & John 12:4) he breaks the general atmosphere of celebration, of community, of solemnity, and sacredness that Jesus had created. On the first occasion John makes sure to show how Judas is a victim to the will of the evil spirit. On the second occasion, when Judas protests the use of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus, John uses the word “pure” to describe the perfume. In Greek this word for “pure” could also be used to express fidelity and authenticity. Perhaps St. John’s use of the word is an invitation to reflect upon Judas’ desire to sell his own fidelity and authenticity, and that divided reality we experience in our own hearts when we sell our identity for much less.
The mystery of evil in Judas as told by St. John is present in more than just the man who betrayed our Lord. It will always be a symbol of a more profound and ancient rupture, at first glance an impassable fissure that even communion with God seemingly cannot mend. The Evangelist perceives that even among Jesus’ closest friends the spirit of evil, of division, and of hate works its way into the communion of the group. For Judas the reality of this evil is too much to bear, the fissure to deep to overcome, and he loses hope. How could he have known that what Jesus was going to undergo and endure would end with his glorious resurrection? Perhaps if Judas only believed in Christ’s words and deeds would things have gone differently?