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: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.
Grace: To be glad and rejoice intensely because of how the Risen Lord transforms our life.
Text: Jn. 20:1-9
Reflection: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, was a pioneer of commercial aviation. He flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. He loved flying. And he loved writing about friendship and love. Because of this, he was nicknamed the ‘winged poet’. In his book Airman’s Odyssey, de Saint-Exupéry wrote about love transforms us – how, when we encounter love, it refashions our lives. Love invites us to contemplate a new horizon – the place where our hearts encounter the heart of the beloved. Love incites us to contemplate and to journey towards that horizon because intimacy is beyond fear. As de Saint-Exupéry states, “Love is more than gazing at each other. It consists in looking outward together in the same direction.”
The biblical accounts of the Resurrection point us toward this reality. The part that love plays in these stories is extraordinary. In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene is the first one to encounter the Risen Lord. He transformed her life. She loved Jesus deeply and became his disciple. At the foot of the cross, she witnessed Jesus’ death. In the garden outside the tomb, she was the first one to behold Christ after the Resurrection. Nobody could visit the tomb on the Sabbath because the journey would be a violation. The Sabbath is our Saturday, so it was on Sunday morning that Mary went to the tomb. She went very early. She went to the tomb as soon as she could. It was still grey dark when she went because she could no longer stay away.
Grace: To be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord
Reflection: We enter the Resurrection through the eyes of Mary. Is it not fitting that the woman who has trusted more than any other person should be the first one consoled? For more than thirty years, Mary has loved and trusted through the bewildering events of her son’s life. In a sense, Mary’s Calvary began from the first moments of the pregnancy which opened her to the scorn and ridicule of her neighbors. She has “kept all these things in her heart,” meditating upon the bizarre working of God, who blesses her with a glorious Son, yet progressively takes that Son away from her. Simeon had told her that a sword would pierce her heart, and did she not feel that sting running into Egyptian exile? Did she not feel it as Jesus told the crowds that the one who does the will of the Father was His real mother? Did she not feel abandoned as Jesus died upon the cross leaving her a defenseless widow without a single living child? Yes, trust in God is good, even commendable, but at some point, doesn’t a person have to admit that enough is enough? What more does God want, and if He does want more, why should she give it? He has taken away her only Son.
Grace: To experience a deeply-felt gratitude for all of the blessings God has given me, that I may thereby become completely devoted to His Divine Majesty in effective love.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises no. 230-237
“Love ought to show itself more in deeds than in words.”
-St. Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises #230
Sin and grace are rooted in the contrary attitudes of selfishness and love, reflecting the fundamental models of Satan and God that the Spiritual Exercises invites us to choose between. This is particularly clear in the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God (or “contemplatio” for short) that concludes the retreat.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1849) defines sin as the “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods.” Sin “turns our hearts away” (#1850) from God’s love. Ignoring the two Great Commandments of Jesus, we hurt others on purpose (damaging our relationships with God, ourselves, and others) because of our inordinate desires for money, sex, and power.
Grace: To rejoice intensely because of the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord.
Text for Prayer: See below.
Reflection: During the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius wants the retreatant to contemplate and reflect upon a number of different appearances of the Risen Lord to his friends and disciples. Over a period of forty days Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:1-11), to Peter (Luke 24:9-12, 33-34,; John 20:1-10), to the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-35), to the apostles (John 20:19-23), to Thomas (John 23:24-29), on the shore of Gennesaret (John 21:1-17), on the mountain of Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20), to more than five hundred Christians at once (1 Corinthians 15:6), and right before he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:1-12).
Ignatius makes two important observations regarding the Resurrection. First, during the Passion the divinity of the Lord seems to be hidden by the cruelty and violence that his humanity suffers. The brutality and gruesomeness are so grave that even his disciples, who had witnessed the Transfiguration only a few weeks before, flee in terror. Yet now, after his Resurrection, Christ’s divinity shines through his humanity, manifesting itself in most glorious manner. Not even the finality of death could veil the divinity of Christ! His Resurrection opens the floodgates of grace, mercy, and love that had been waiting for us ever since our first parents gravely sinned in Eden. At every encounter with the risen Christ, the disciples are overwhelmed with joy, awe, and happiness.
Grace: That I may feel intense joy and gladness for the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord risen from the dead.
Reflection: We now come to the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises and shift our focus to the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord. In this week our goal is to arrive at an intense and lasting joy and gladness characteristic of true consolation.
The basic dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises is that in the First Week we take a brutally honest look at sin and this humbles us. From this point forward we recognize that it is foolish to try set up any rival good to God. We see clearly that if we try to live by our own lights rather than God’s will, we are bound to failure. Therefore, we look to Christ in order that we might imitate Him and model our lives after His: this is the only way out of the abyss. Then, in the Third Week of the Exercises, we try to accompany Christ in His suffering, staying near Him as long as we can bear.
Grace: Gratitude for the many graces and blessings received, and the desire to reciprocate God’s generosity in loving service to Christ the Risen King.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises no. 230-237
Reflection: At the conclusion of Lent and the Spiritual Exercises, we have so much to be grateful for. Let us recall with gratitude the ways we have experienced the Trinity’s Love for us throughout the Four Weeks:
Grace: To be jubilant because my Lord and friend is alive! To see Him standing right before my eyes.
Mary Magdalena weeps outside an empty tomb and mistakes Jesus for a gardener. The fearful disciples lock themselves inside their homes. Thomas doubts and Peter doesn’t recognize Jesus until John points to Him. At this point, it would seem appropriate for Jesus to scream and rip out His hair. These people didn’t get it the first time, and they still don’t get it!
Fortunately for the disciples, and for us, Jesus says “peace” and not “payback!” He asks, “Do you love me?” instead of, “Do you know how you’ve offended me?” He knows it takes us a little while to understand, and He has all eternity to wait. Even so, we don’t have all eternity to respond.
Grace: To know the joy of the resurrection as Mary knows it.
Reading: John 20:1-9
Reflection: Christ is not dead. He has risen. He is alive.
Go ahead, ask Mary of Magdela, or Peter, or the beloved disciple, or the Mother of Jesus. They will tell you the story. Ask them what they saw while in the soft darkness before daybreak. You’ll hardly believe it.
Just imagine . . .
Nothing remained in that cold tomb except a folded up piece of cloth. Friends of theirs had laid Jesus there just a few days earlier after he was given a betrayer’s death. And now, that tomb was empty. The body gone. (more…)
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Lord.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises no. 230-237
The retreat, as Ignatius envisioned it, is a time of receiving many graces. Ignatius, though, was not content simply with receiving graces; he wanted us, after receiving generously from the Lord, to make an offering in return. Ignatius’ ideal was to be a ‘contemplative even in action,’ to allow the knowledge given in prayer to find expression in service. And so the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises is the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God. One of the graces of the retreat is to allow things we all know about God to sink into our hearts, to become ‘felt’ knowledge.
Before entering into this contemplation, Ignatius calls to our attention two points. First, love ought to manifest itself in deeds more than in words. Second, love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, where the lover shares everything with the beloved, just as every good is shared between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.