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 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.