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: I ask for a real sense of sorrow, anguish, and even tears because of all that Christ has suffered for me.
Material for contemplation: review the whole Passion
Reflection: Today is a day for remembering, for reflecting on what has happened over these past few days. After the intense experience of Thursday night and Friday, we may be tempted to look ahead to the consolation of Easter Sunday just to get some relief. But we have to resist this temptation. Today, just like the first disciples, all we can see is the ugliness of sin and its wrenching effects: our Lord is dead.
Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness.
– Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday
A friend of mine who converted from atheism to Catholicism several years ago said that the most shocking thing he experienced during his first Triduum was coming into the church on Good Friday and seeing the tabernacle empty, its door wide open. In that moment, it suddenly occurred to him: God is dead. The phrase that he had stood by all those years as an atheist was absolutely true. But now it had taken on a whole new depth of meaning that Nietzsche and the other atheist humanists never understood. Yes, today on Holy Saturday, God really is dead. But his death is not the expression of his impotence and irrelevance. Rather, it is the most glorious expression of his love. (more…)
Grace: Not to be deaf to the Word, but prompt and diligent to welcome him.
Text: Luke 20:19 – 21:4
Reflection: In these final few days before his death, Jesus comes to the Temple every day to teach the people, to communicate to them the Word of the Father. Out of love for us, he continues to labor, even as it has become obvious to everyone that his days are numbered.
The Lord spends much of his last week answering questions. But they are fake questions — which is to say, not really questions at all. The people who pose them have not come to Jesus in search of answers. They come to do combat with him, laying questions like traps. If Jesus answers in one way, they reason to themselves, he will alienate the people. If he answers in another way, it will be possible to convict him of a violation of the Law. Either way, these questions will be the gotcha moment they have been waiting for.
The trouble is, none of the questions succeed in baiting Jesus. The truth of the Word is impervious. The scribes and chief priests send spies to ask him about whether Jews ought to pay taxes to Caesar. If he says yes, he risks looking like the hated Roman puppet-king Herod. If he says no, his enemies will be able to denounce him to Pilate as a dangerous revolutionary. Jesus turns the question on its head: sure, give to Caesar the things that belong to him, but you must also give to God the even more important things that belong to him (genuine praise, reverence, and service). And how often have you paid those “taxes” ? (more…)
Grace: An intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.
Text: Matthew 14: 22-33
Reflection: Today Peter challenges the Lord to prove that he is who says he is. How is this different from Satan’s challenge to Jesus to prove that he is the Son of God? We heard that story at the beginning of Lent, how Satan took Jesus to the parapet of the Temple and said: “If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” (Mt 4:6)
Both Peter and Satan say to Jesus, if you are who you say that you are then prove it. But Peter’s challenge is a topsy-turvy one. He actually puts himself to the test. Peter says to the Lord, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” If it really is you, Lord, make me risk my life. Command me to do something that I can do only if my faith in you is strong enough. What he is really saying is: Lord, put me to the test! (more…)
Grace: To choose what is more for the glory of God and the salvation of my soul.
Text: SpEx #149-157
Reflection: The Exercises are fundamentally geared toward helping us make good decisions, to bring us to that point at which we are properly disposed and can choose the same thing that God himself has already chosen for us. This especially applies to the question about our “state of life,” or in more common language our vocation. What is the Lord asking of me? How am I to serve to him in my own life?
We are coming to the point of the retreat when these sorts of questions come into focus. And it would be good to ask yourself: what is the Lord asking me to discern in the context of this retreat? To come to a final “election” (choice) about your state of life, you’ll want to make the full Exercises with an individual director. But in the context of this retreat, you can certainly begin to ask the question in a serious and structured way, reflecting on what the Lord has been saying to you as you have prayed through these Lenten exercises. For those for whom the question of vocation is already settled or seems still on the distant horizon, the Lord may be inviting you to consider how to reform your life. If this seems to be instead what the Lord is asking you to discern, pay attention to that as we continue with the retreat. In either case, there is a decision to be made. (more…)
Grace: Intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love him more and follow him more closely.
Text: Luke 2: 1-20
Reflection: Here in the middle of Lent, we find ourselves all of a sudden back at the little cave in Bethlehem, waiting for Jesus to be born. Today in our retreat, it’s Christmas. If it seems impossibly strange to celebrate Christmas in the middle of March—no snow, no carols, no gifts—consider this: that first Christmas in Bethlehem was a lot stranger than we often realize. In fact, it was astonishing.
After the meditations we did last week, we are now in a better position to see why. The child lying in the manger is the Eternal King who, having surveyed the face of the earth, has set out on the mission given to him by the Father. This little baby, who is unable to move on account of the swaddling clothes and who sleeps most of the day, is the face of the God who labors. (more…)
Grace: A deep knowledge of my sins and my personal responsibility for them.
Text for Prayer: 1 John 1:8 – 2:2
Reflection: It is not easy to pray on sin. We find all kinds of ways to avoid looking it straight in the face. Our minds wander. We keep glancing at our watch, wondering why the time we’ve set aside seems longer than usual. Or else we head straight for the sweet and easy thought of God’s mercy and find shelter there: a far more pleasant way to spend half an hour.
At this point in the retreat, we’ve already spent several days praying on sin, and there is still more to come. Not only that, but as of today, the incline gets a lot steeper and the route rockier. Today we turn from looking at sin in a general way—the sin of the angels, of Adam and Eve, and in the world around me—to the reality of sin in my own life. Not just sin, but my sin.
Grace: That my intentions, actions, and entire life might be purely ordered to the praise and service of my Creator and Lord.
Text: Ps 117
Reflection: Today we receive ashes on our foreheads and head into the desert for 40 days. What will guide us along the way?
We might be inclined to draw up an itinerary for ourselves: I hope to get this, this, and this out of the Lenten retreat. But even if the things we name are good in themselves, we instantly recognize how artificial it all sounds. We did not decide to go into the desert on our own, but only because our Lord went first. And so we have to follow his lead. Plus, we know from experience how quickly we run up against our own limitations and how often we have abandoned our good intentions in the past. How can I count on myself any more this year than last?
The words we hear as the ashes are being traced on our foreheads point the way forward: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” While we are prone to forget the fact, Lent always reminds us that we are creatures. And if creatures, then not isolated individuals. Our very existence points beyond us to our Creator. He alone is the answer to our questions. He alone establishes the itinerary of our pilgrimage and gives us the grace to complete it. (more…)