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.
Dante’s journey in the Divine Comedy mirrors that of the retreatant during the Spiritual Exercises. Assuming the retreatant has devoted himself to meditation and the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit, a transformation has taken place which allows one to see the world anew, because he sees God anew. Like Dante, we struggle to find words adequately to describe this experience. It only opens up to the one who has been transformed. Therefore, we will simply describe the prayer as St. Ignatius outlines it and leave it to the retreatant to experience it individually.
St. Ignatius begins the Contemplatio with two presuppositions concerning love that govern his entire thought. First, love is shown more in deeds than in words. Second, love consists in a mutual sharing, where the lover seeks to gives the good things he possesses to the beloved. Surely one shares material goods like riches, but even more goods of the soul. This, of course, is the love we see in the Blessed Trinity, where every good is shared between the Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. This active sharing of love is revealed to us most fully in Christ’s descent into the world for our salvation.
Keeping in mind the Ignatian teaching on love, we place ourselves in the same place as Dante, in the middle of the heavenly court. Before the glory of this vision we ask to be filled with gratitude that we might love God more and serve Him more faithfully in all things. The Contemplatio then proceeds with four points, each ending with the same prayer, the famous Suscipe.
First, we contemplate the goods we have been given in being created and redeemed. These are the first examples of God actively sharing goods with us out of an entirely disinterested love. In prayer, we allow these goods to pass before our minds and inflame our affections and desires. And then we reflect in our intellect what should be our response to this sharing. St. Ignatius gives us words to help us articulate our response:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to They will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.
This single prayer could occupy the entirety of our day. Remember that one of the chief objectives of the retreat is to take truths which we intellectually know and to allow them to descend into our hearts, becoming “felt knowledge” which we possess in a more profound manner. We could spend a lifetime allowing the profundity of the goodness of creation and redemption to enter our hearts; but St. Ignatius provides three more points to consider.
The next point to reflect upon is the fact that God dwells in all creatures, whether mineral, plant, or animal, giving them gifts particular to their constitution. Most profoundly, the Trinity dwells within the human soul, making us temples of the Holy Spirit. We should reflect upon this point in the same way as above, making the same prayer when we are finished.
The third point is to consider God as a laborer. Christ came down to earth and actually got his hands dirty with the “soil” of human existence. God continues to work within the world, drawing it to completion. Here, we allow the God who labors on our behalf to fill our hearts and lead us the same prayer of offering as above.
The final point is to consider the gifts of heaven—mercy, justice, goodness—as descending from heaven like the dewfall, watering the dryness of our world and making our hearts fertile. During this retreat, we have had ample opportunity to see God’s gifts in our lives. Now, enflamed with gratitude, we once more reflect upon what our response should be to so great a God and offer ourselves wholeheartedly to His service.
This is what it is to be a “contemplative in action”: to know and receive God’s love in such a profound way, that we are filled with a desire to share that love with God and with others. This is what it is to “find God in all things”: to know that God is constantly laboring on my behalf so that in whatever might befall me, I might find God’s will and be quick to obey. Christ emptied Himself on our behalf in order to save us. He now beckons us to receive that grace and cooperate with Him in furthering it to the ends of the earth. Let us always be attentive to his call and be quick to respond.