Grace: a deepening awareness of my sins, and remorse and shame for having committed them.
Reflection:At the depths of Dante’s journey through hell, he did not see fires burning the skins of its woeful inhabitants. No, that would be too trite a metaphor. Rather, the depth of hell is an icy waste, the external counterpart to hearts that have grown cold in love. The stony hearts of hell’s inhabitants have grown as hard as the ice which holds them bound.
The image of the icy bonds of sin will help introduce us to our meditation topic today: the “first sins.” St. Ignatius has us begin the meditation on sin by imagining our souls as held captive by its effects. This is what he calls a “composition of place,” an imaginative rendition of the subject matter of our contemplation designed to attune our affections and thoughts in a single image that can remain within our memory. Having established the tenor of the meditation, we are to ask for the grace we seek: shame and confusion at our cooperation with the ugliness of sin.
The heart of the meditation consists in applying our memory, intellect and will to three primordial sins. First, we consider the heavenly sin of the angels who rebelled against God’s plan and banished themselves to hell as demons. Then, we turn to our earthly history and meditate upon the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a sin in whose effects we all participate. Third, we consider the sin of a man or woman who has consciously chosen damnation through sin.
The purpose of these meditations is to establish the nature of sin. At the deepest level, sin is a rebellion against the goodness of God. God is all good; so a rebellion against Him is a rebellion against goodness by human beings who are always tempted to think that ultimately, God is just trying to trick them and make them miserable. But look at each of the subjects of these meditations. Who is the miserable one? The one who freely chooses sin. In order to understand why, we should look back at our introductory meditations upon the First Principle and Foundation. The world was created by God out of love. It has a purpose and that purpose leads us more fully toward lasting happiness. Sin purposefully rejects the very thing that is created to lead us toward happiness. It destroys the goodness God created for us. It is self-banishment in icy misery. And we all do it.
Since sin is a rejection of God, it is a rejection of love. The sinner, therefore, should in some sense be pitied. The sinner is a pitiable figure, and not just because he has been punished. The sinner is pitiable because he has chosen to turn inward and lock himself in his own constricted world instead of turning outward and loving the God who loves him. The sinner has chosen—chosen—the icy bonds of self-absorption and self-pity instead of the love which surpasses all understanding. How sad. How very sad.
Questions: What real life hells have I experienced? How have I created real life hells for myself and others? In what ways do I find myself trapped inside my own world? Do I have a desire for someone to break into my world and rescue me?