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: 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 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: To know the mercy of the Father and His unconditional love for me in the midst of my sinfulness.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 15:11-32
Reflection: Jesus’ story of the prodigal son provides a uniquely comprehensive vision of the nature of our own sinfulness, the mercy of our heavenly Father even in light of that sinfulness, and the beauty of the encounter when we finally come home to that mercy.
To start with, it is good to note that for the son to go and ask for his inheritance while his father is still alive is effectively proclaiming to the father that he might as well be dead as far as he is concerned. The radical selfishness that takes over the son’s desires has no room for concern for anyone else, including the one who gave him life itself. The son proceeds to operate unhesitatingly according to this self-centered worldview as he goes to a “far off country”—far from home and far from the source of his life.
Grace: To have a felt sense of how sin ruptures my relationship with the God who made me out of love and for love.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 5:1-8
Reflection: In Mass on Sunday, we always pray three times, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” We ask again, in the Gloria, “Lord, God, Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” In the Creed we say, “We believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Finally, immediately before communion, we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
In our most perfect prayer, we are constantly mindful of our sins, both individually and communally. The most important lesson that this focus on our own sinfulness teaches us is that, in every instance, we are not reminding ourselves of our sin in isolation but rather in the context of prayer and acts of faith with other people who are sinful like us. Each mention of sin comes up in the context of our direct dialogue with God the Father, mediated through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Most intimately, our sin is recognized in the immediate anticipation of receiving him most fully in the Eucharist. Our sinfulness, then, is best dealt with out in the open, alongside the other sinners with whom we are praying and before the Lord who is always so eager to restore us to right relationship with Himself.
Grace: To wonder at the contradiction of Jesus’ upcoming defeat as well as victory, unfolding simultaneously.
Text for Prayer: Mt. 21:1-11
Reflection: Now continues the contradictions. In a way, the whole of the Christian life and mystery is the way of contradictions. What does not seem to go together, goes together.
Today, we contemplate the juxtaposition of the simultaneous triumph and defeat of Jesus. As the drama unfolds, there is Jesus entering the Holy City, Jerusalem in great triumph- “mounting his throne to shouts of joy” as the psalmist had prophesied.
The people think the revolution is about to begin. They are right- but not in the way they want it. Jesus knows that his triumph is to be preceded by defeat. On the edge of the city, He pauses to weep over Jerusalem, at the infidelity, at the separation of her members from the God who made them, at the depth of the sin in the human heart, at the capacity for evil among His beloved.
As He makes His way into the city, the people greet and pay homage to the one they believe will save them. Before the day is done, however, they will witness him not on the throne of political power, but on the throne of mercy, the Cross, where He will be humiliated and rejected. But it is on this throne where this King will ultimately conquer death itself -by love- for his subjects.
Questions: What is one action I could take these days, which we make me “small”, which would humble myself before another? With Jesus in mind, is there a way I can exercise my true power as a child of God my acting in the eyes of the world as one who is powerless?
Grace: To sense more deeply the possibility of deep renewal and reform in my life and the desire in God’s heart for that renewal of me.
Text for prayer: Lk. 16:19-31
Reflection: The plan of reform for our lives is according to the dynamic of humility and gratitude. If the path to sin and death and destruction was initiated by an act of rebellion, of pride or arrogance, of taking matters into one’s hands, the way back to life and to freedom is by way of obedience, of looking to the Other and placing ourselves back in His Hands- the hands which shaped us and gave us life in the first place.
Our way back to life and freedom from death and slavery to sin is through poverty and humility. “If we had the courage,” Karl Rahner observed in an essay on prayer, “to renounce inwardly what life takes from us anyway- namely everything…we would notice that we possess everything.” This is the source of true reform of our lives- to let go of everything in order to remember in the depths of our hearts that all has been given by God. From that point on, we are able to live in freedom and gratitude.
Not everyone is called to material poverty, but all are called to a spiritual poverty- that is true freedom, wherein we are not ruled by things we falsely think will bring us happiness. Only God satisfies our infinite longing. Nothing else. Try as we might, nothing else satisfies.
Questions: What is an experience of zeal and excitement I have experienced in the past when I made an important change in my life? Can I “taste” that joy and excitement again? What new freedom in abandonment is the Lord calling me to today?
Grace: To deepen the sense of my “open-handedness” and generosity with what the Lord has given me.
Text for prayer: Lk. 12:35-48
Reflection: Still in the context of a kind of pause within the Exercises wherein we consider the state of life that the Lord calls us to and in the immediate wake of the meditation on the Two Standards, we continue the reflection on what it means to follow Christ. What kind of a person does it take? What are we in for in casting our lot with Him. At this point, St. Ignatius proposes a consideration of what he calls the three classes, or kinds of people. This consideration is an aide for our own self-understanding and should be a prompting forward for us to engage head-on where it is that we need conversion in our own lives so that we might be able to follow Christ more freely and whole-heartedly.
The image that St. Ignatius uses to illustrate these three classes of people is that each has acquired great wealth and each knows that he or she must get rid of the money in order to do God’s will. This meditation is not so much about the need to get rid of money, but the money is a simple sign which points to whatever it is that we cling to in our lives which takes our affections away from the Lord who loves us.
The first “class” is comprised of those who postpone, even until death, what they know the call of the Lord to be. They know they must become free of the attachment. They want to become free, but they “never take the means” to accomplish that freedom. They remain attached and bound to what keeps them from the Lord.
The second type of persons to consider is the kind who compromise on what they know to be the desire of the Lord for them. They act in a kind of partial response, but they still hold back something for themselves. Perhaps they will do something good with what they’re attached to and in that sense, might be somehow “of God”, but still, the bottom line is that they cannot let go of what they are attached to and they are implicitly insisting that “God must come to where this person desires” and not the other way around. There is still disorder here, even though some efforts in a good direction are made.
Finally, the third class is made up of those who have become utterly free to respond to the call of the Lord. Characteristic of this group is that “indifference” St. Ignatius described at the beginning of the Exercises in the “Principle and Foundation.” Interestingly enough, this type in St. Ignatius’ illustration doesn’t necessarily get rid of the money. Instead, they are free enough to either keep it or get rid of it, but their attention has shifted entirely to what God wants, and not what he or she wants. They are in a position of receptivity here as to what God desires and they have made their own desire only that which greater serves the Divine Majesty.
Questions for reflection: What might I “let go” of in my life for the sake of greater freedom in following Jesus? What am I clinging to that prevents me from being free and happy in the Lord’s sight? What are the compromises I am currently making in this regard?
Grace: To share in the gratitude of Mary for the Gift given her by the Father.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 2:21-38
Reflection: Mary knew from the very beginning that God acts. That God takes the initiative. She knew that better than anyone ever has. And she trusts His divine action. She said yes at the Annunciation, even though there was reason to fear. She rejoiced and glorified the Lord at what He had done at the Visitation. She stayed focused and confident in the Father’s care throughout the Nativity and the fleeing into Egypt. And that same spirit of humility and trust is operating again in Mary at the Presentation of “her” child at the Temple.
She has known from the beginning this child belongs to God, as every child does. But in a special way she knew that to be the case now. Her focus remains on the goodness and the generosity of the Father and she acknowledges that in offering the child Jesus into the hands of the Father as soon as He was born. She would be there again, later on, at the foot of the cross, when Jesus would freely offer his own life into the hands of his Eternal Father.
The fulfillment of the long awaited promise to Israel is initiated here. Simeon and Anna give beautiful testimonies to this fact. A plan that has its roots deep in history, is coming to fruition here. What is anticipated, what has been hoped for, longed for, is made present now, in the flesh.
Questions: In what way might I be being asked to “present” what is precious in my life to the Lord who has given it to me in the first place? When I have I abandoned myself to the Father’s care in the past? Do I remember the freedom that came with it, even if it felt scary? Do I have enough trust in my heart to present to the Father what I most love and put it all at His service? How can Mary guide me and be model for me in this trust?
As we anticipate the beginning of this season of conversion and turning again in a new way to the Heart of Jesus who has turned Himself to us, we examine our own hearts on this “Fat Tuesday.” As the branches of last Palm Sunday are burned so that we might use the ashes tomorrow to remind us of our need for conversion, we might take a brief look over the past year. Where have I come from? How has the Lord met me and carried me along? How have I wandered? What part of my heart has grown hardened? Where has my heart dried up? For what do I thirst today? And even more importantly, how does Jesus thirst for me- for my freedom from sin, for my life, for my joy, for my love?