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.
Without a doubt the First and Third Weeks of the Exercises can be (and should be) difficult. They push us to the brink, humiliate us, and teach us patience. But the upshot of the toil of the First and Third Weeks is that it makes the deep and lasting joy of the Fourth Week possible. This is analogously true in the life of Christ as well. We are able to celebrate so many feasts of victory after the Resurrection because prior to the Resurrection Jesus drank the cup of our human suffering to the dregs, even going so far as to descend into Hell, the place of utter desolation and separation from God. We should be heartened by this because it means that our sufferings are never for naught but always expand our capacity for truly Christian joy. Moreover, we should recognize that if we have made these Spiritual Exercises well, we are prepared for a deeper joy than we were capable of before.
As we begin this part of the journey, St. Ignatius recommends that we turn our thoughts first to the Virgin Mary and to Christ’s appearance to His Mother. This is appropriate because no one walked with Jesus farther in His suffering than Mary. Indeed, we might ask if the Passion did not begin for her long before Jesus’ agony in the garden. Certainly she suffered on His behalf and handed Him over completely to God from the very beginning. Now, after the series of public rejections and the long time of keeping Mary at a distance, Jesus finally comes to her in the role of consoler.
As we meditate on this beautiful mystery, St. Ignatius recommends that we compose in our imaginations the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary and see her bedroom and even her oratory (he has in mind a chapel-like space for prayer). Here, it might be useful to keep in mind that, according to Gospel of John, following the crucifixion, Mary was received into the house of the Beloved Disciple. There is strong evidence to suggest that the Beloved Disciple was a man of some means and had been able to provide the upper room for the Last Supper. Thus, you may find it fruitful to imagine that he had a room ready and furnished where he could receive the Virgin Mary from the moment Christ said to him, “Behold your mother!” (Jn. 19:27). What would it be like to think of yourself as the Beloved Disciple and to think of your heart as the space made ready for receiving the Virgin Mary? What if you were to imagine the first meeting between Mary and Jesus as taking place in this prepared “space” in your heart?
However you chose to imagine the encounter between Mary and Jesus, remember the advice given by St. Ignatius in previous meditations and follow this same pattern: (1) visualize the risen Christ appearing to the Virgin Mary (2) listen to what Jesus and Mary say to each other and (3) observe what Jesus and Mary are doing. With each step reflect within yourself and try to draw some spiritual profit from what you see, hear, or observe.