No matter what we do, God will always love us. But sinning is not a matter of whether God loves us. It is a matter of whether we will accept His presence in our lives. As with all relationships, we can choose to let ours with God die. An examination of conscience is an opportunity to assess this relationship and the ways we have hurt or killed it. Looking the relationship over, we can see occasions where it is not what it could be, and with God’s help we can then make it stronger than it was, removing the stumbling blocks that keep us from following God and being as close to Him as we could be.
St. Ignatius was aware of all of this as he developed the examination of conscience (called the “Examen” for short) that came to be included in the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius says in the Exercises that the Examen should be prayed twice daily, for a few minutes each time (15 at the most), and at about the same time each day: once around lunchtime and once shortly before going to bed. This practice was so helpful that Ignatius and other early Jesuits usually suggested to people that they continue it even after they leave the retreat setting, and Jesuits everywhere are asked to do it as part of their regular spiritual practice.
March 7th, 2014
Grace: To have light so that I may know the origin of all created things and the reason God has given them to me – and for the grace that I might use them accordingly
Text for Prayer: Genesis 1:26-31
Reflection: “Life is too short! Have fun while you can!” That is the advice of a pagan world where gluttony masquerades as joy and indulgence passes for hope. But even in this foggy world of pitiful approximations, we can see in our natures a yearning for something else and a recognition that we are meant for something eternal. Life is indeed short when compared to the timeless time without end that we are destined for. And our hearts yearn for that stable rock that we rest upon when we rest in God. We are truly pilgrims at heart, every one of us, until we rest in God. The things of this world cannot satisfy our hearts – worthy as they are as faint likenesses of God’s infinite beauty, steps of the ladder which unites earth with heaven and by which we climb to God’s throne.
All things are a means to know God (Rom 1:20). Their goodness testifies to the goodness of the One who created them. They are a means to love Him more. To love God’s creation isn’t sinful; it is sinful only to love them apart from God, stopping before our hearts can be turned toward the Creator. And we must understand the use of things as a means to develop our activities as individuals, as members of a family and of a society. Created things can be part of how we love one another, providing for those who are in need. And finally, created things play their part in the development of our own virtues, practicing stewardship, patience, and self-denial.
March 6th, 2014
Grace: To gain a clearer understanding of the personal relationship that God created me to have with Him.
Text for Prayer: Gen. 1-2
“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.”
-St. Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises no. 23
St. Ignatius does not begin the Spiritual Exercises by talking about God. Instead, he begins by talking about the relationship we are meant to have with God. What is presented is meant to be considered, prayed over, and “savored interiorly” (cf. SpEx 2) in order to help us deepen our relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. Our ongoing relationship with God is always the key in every reflection given and every prayer made.
It is also important to note that St. Ignatius does not say that “man was created”, but that “man is created”. Present tense. God’s creation of us is not some obscure act in the far-distant past. Fr. Joe Tetlow, S.J. uses a great image to describe God’s ongoing creation: that of a light bulb. The electricity must always be present right there in the bulb. The instant that the electricity is taken out of the picture, the light is gone. Similarly, God is always present with us, giving us life and being, even during the worst things we do.
March 5th, 2014
Grace: To have a deep desire to know the will of God for my life and the freedom to be able to do it.
Text for prayer: Ps 139
Reflection: The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are a great treasure for the Church, and those seeking to walk more closely with God have drawn upon their riches for five centuries now. Through the course of St. Ignatius’ conversion, he kept notes about how it was that the Lord was leading him closer to Himself. Over the years, he steadily gave shape to these notes and created a kind of program of prayer for others to follow which would open them up to the grace of conversion and a greater ability to discern the will of God for their lives, as well as the interior freedom required to then respond to that Divine Will in greater generosity.
The Exercises, as the Saint writes himself, are about “disposing the soul to rid itself of all the disordered tendencies, and after it is rid, to seek and find the Divine Will” (Annotation 1). In other words, the Exercises are about detaching ourselves from all that might hold us back from knowing and seeking God’s Will in our own lives and then helping us to learn how to make better choices that will lead us to God and genuine happiness.This overcoming of disordered attachments is a key component of the Exercises. In the course of this retreat then, we come to know the mercy and love of God only by first encountering the nature of our own obstacles that stand in the way of that relationship, whether they be our own sinfulness or attachments to old wounds and forms of slavery in our own life.
March 4th, 2014
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.
April 2nd, 2013
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.
April 1st, 2013
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.
March 31st, 2013
Grace: To stay with Jesus in his suffering and humiliation, borne on behalf of my sins and the sins of humanity.
Text for Prayer: John: 19: 1-5
Reflection: The image of the scourged Christ is often associated with Holy Week and the Passion. Such an image usually portrays Christ, bare from the waist up, a red cloak draped over his shoulders. On his head is a crown of thorns and emanating from the crown streams of blood run down the sides of his face. His torso is also covered with blood, the scars of the beating by the Roman soldiers. His mien reflects sadness, pain, and anguish, all at the same time.
The image of the scourged Christ depicts Christ after his questioning by Pontius Pilate and immediately before his sentencing to death. The Gospel of John recounts how Pilate asked Jesus whether or not he was a king and what is truth, Pilate asked the crowd if it wanted Jesus or Barabbas, a revolutionary, released to them. When the crowd asked for Barabbas, Pilate had Jesus scourged, thinking that this punishment would satisfy the crowd and keep it from rioting. He then brought Jesus out the people proclaiming “Behold the man!” or in Latin, “Ecce Homo!” As we know, the crowd kept clamoring for Barabbas and demanded that Jesus be crucified, so that Pilate acquiesced, and sentenced Jesus to death.
March 30th, 2013
Grace: Sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is undergoing His passion for my sins.
Text for Prayer: John 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.
March 29th, 2013
Grace: Ask for the grace of being able to tell God, “not my will but yours be done.”
Text for Prayer: John 18:1-27
Reflection: In these scenes we see the betrayal of Jesus by two of his apostles: Judas who betrays him for money and Peter who denies him for fear of his own life. Judas appears two times in the Gospel of John before the Last Supper. On both occasions (John 6:70-71 & John 12:4) he breaks the general atmosphere of celebration, of community, of solemnity, and sacredness that Jesus had created. On the first occasion John makes sure to show how Judas is a victim to the will of the evil spirit. On the second occasion, when Judas protests the use of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus, John uses the word “pure” to describe the perfume. In Greek this word for “pure” could also be used to express fidelity and authenticity. Perhaps St. John’s use of the word is an invitation to reflect upon Judas’ desire to sell his own fidelity and authenticity, and that divided reality we experience in our own hearts when we sell our identity for much less.
The mystery of evil in Judas as told by St. John is present in more than just the man who betrayed our Lord. It will always be a symbol of a more profound and ancient rupture, at first glance an impassable fissure that even communion with God seemingly cannot mend. The Evangelist perceives that even among Jesus’ closest friends the spirit of evil, of division, and of hate works its way into the communion of the group. For Judas the reality of this evil is too much to bear, the fissure to deep to overcome, and he loses hope. How could he have known that what Jesus was going to undergo and endure would end with his glorious resurrection? Perhaps if Judas only believed in Christ’s words and deeds would things have gone differently?
March 28th, 2013