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 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.
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?
Grace: To have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who wept over his friend Lazarus, and raised him from the dead, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Text for Prayer: John 11:1-57
Reflection: This scene marks a pivotal point in the Gospel of John and the narrative of Jesus’ public ministry for three reasons. First, it is such a marvelous miracle that many people begin to believe in Jesus’ special identity and mission. This makes the Pharisees and the powers that be uneasy, since they had publicly opposed Jesus. Would the people turn against them on account of Jesus of Nazareth? This miracle instigates the plotting of the Pharisees, which will ultimately end with the decision to have Jesus killed.
Second, it reveals the deep love and affection that Jesus had for Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Throughout the Gospels Jesus stays with these three siblings and is nourished by their warmth and friendship. Bethany, the town where they lived, becomes something of a spiritual oasis for Jesus, where he goes to rest and make merry. When Lazarus dies, Jesus is deeply affected but chooses not to act, deferring to the will of his Father. This is so that more may come to believe that Jesus truly is the “Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (Verse 27). When Jesus sees the tomb, he is moved to tears and openly expresses his sorrow over the loss of his dear friend.
Grace: To have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who was tempted in the desert, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Reflection: Jesus passed around thirty years at home in Nazareth. Evidently there came a time when he felt called, or perhaps moved, to leave. Why? Where? Throughout those thirty years in Nazareth he had been maturing and perhaps discerning a number of plans. Jesus did not live in a bubble—he lived amid the great expectation of his people for their messianic liberation (Lk 3:15). We can tell that he wanted to do something to change this situation in which he grew up. He knew the alternatives presented to the Kingdom of his Father: the Essenes (who emphasized a life of prayer and penance in hopeful expectation of the Lord’s Messiah), the Pharisees (whose stress on ritual purity and observance of the Law eclipsed everything else), the Sadducees (who allied themselves with power and shared in the stolen wealth of their own people), and the Zealots (who waged violent guerrilla war against their Roman occupiers). We can imagine that among the various alternatives Jesus hears the message of the Baptist, perceives the mark of the Spirit, and discerns and chooses the way of being holy proposed by John the Baptist. So he decides to join a radical prophetic movement and begins the journey to the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Jesus, although he did not need it, decides to receive John’s baptism. Here is where his mission and identity first start to reveal themselves—he is taking the place of the sinner on the road to judgment. After receiving the Baptism, however, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted.
Grace: To have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who is the Son of God and my brother, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Text for Prayer: Luke 2:51-52
Reflection: In Jesus’ public ministry, his parables are down to earth and make use of common images and experiences of people at that time. The simplest explanation for how Jesus was able to utilize these scenes from everyday life was that he actually lived them himself. Today’s Gospel text offers us an opportunity to enter into the mystery Jesus’ working life. The fact that he worked most of his life as a poor day laborer, shepherd, carpenter, and/or general handyman should make us reflect on the many good things work has to offer us.
Jesus’ work has two dimensions—the human and the divine. Throughout all of his life both dimensions are active: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working.’” (Jn 5:17). All Jesus does is in relation to the Father—we see this in him already as a twelve-year-old. Let this knowledge guide our imaginative prayer.
Grace: That I hear the call of Christ, and be ready and willing to answer it.
Text for Prayer: Luke 4:14-31
Reflection: Our lives are guided by ideals—we use them to measure our failures and successes, to orient the desires of our hearts, to motivate ourselves or others when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and for a number of other reasons. We have a vision of what a perfect life would be like: a beautiful and virtuous spouse, a number of wonderful children, a beautiful home, financial security, enough material wealth to share with friends and family, being involved in Church, having a meaningful and profound relationship with God, justice and peace in our neighborhood, our city, our state, our country, our world. We can tweak this however we want, but this is what we would ultimately have the world if we were given the power to make it so, right? Daydreams are where these ideals come alive in our imagination, and help to motivate us to take action.
We all know the world needs help. Open a newspaper and read the headlines—tragedy and strife are in great supply. If it were up to us, how would we fix the world? What the world be like? How would we run things if we had the power and authority to make a difference? How would we get others involved? How would we try and inspire others to live better lives, to contribute to our plans for a better, more loving, and peaceful world? How would we endure the hardships that come with great responsibility? How would we share the glory and prestige of making the world better with others?
Grace: to be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord.
Text(s): See below
Reflection: The Gospels and other new testament writings provide many accounts of different encounters between the Risen Christ and His disciples. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:1-11), Mary the mother of James, Salome and Mary Magdalene (Mt 28:8-10), Peter (Luke 24:9-12, 33-34 and John 20:1-10), the disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35), to the disciples (John 20:19-23), to Thomas (John 20:24-29), on the shore of Gennesaret (John 21:1-17), on Mount Tabor (Mt 28:16-20), and forty days after the Resurrection and to St. Paul(1 Cor 15:6-8). After all this, he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-12).
After seeing the pretty extensive list above, perhaps picking one that draws your attention and praying with it would be the best bet. The following considerations should be taken into account during the prayer.
Grace: To suffer with Christ who suffers for my sins.
Text: John 18:1-22
Reflection: In these final days of Lent, we are called to reflect upon Jesus’ final moments with His friends. After praying in agony throughout the night at Gethsemane, and knowing He was to be betrayed, Jesus calmly faces His betrayer. What kinds of emotions must have been coursing through His heart? Here is one of his friends! A man who chose to follow Him for at least three years—sharing in the pain and in the praise as one of Jesus’ disciple. Psalm 55 might help us to understand how Jesus felt: “It is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to hold sweet converse together; within God’s house we walked in fellowship.”
Peter, overcome with righteous rage, draws his sword and strikes in violence. Jesus rebukes him—he still does not understand the type of messiah that Jesus is! Perhaps Peter cannot see past the fact that one of Jesus’ own friends betrayed Him. Perhaps Peter is still angry and ashamed from having fallen asleep while Jesus suffered and prayed alone. Perhaps Peter is still hurting from having been rebuked by Jesus during the Last Supper for not wanting Him to wash his feet. All these emotions surge to the surface. All these emotions end in violence and cowardice. Peter has to learn the hard way that Jesus needs to continue on to Calvary. Only Jesus can do this—only He can confront death. This is a hard lesson for Peter, as well as for us. He is called to follow to Golgotha. We are called as well. Called to follow Jesus and to allow Him to suffer, to let these things come to pass. We must let go.
Grace: To know Jesus more intimately, so that I may follow him with all my heart.
Text: John 11:1-44
Reflection: As we follow Jesus, praying and begging for the grace to know Him in the deepest part of our hearts, we hear that His dear friend Lazarus is sick. Martha and Mary have desperately sent urgent word to Jesus so that He may save Lazarus from an untimely death. And despite the urgency of this news, Jesus chooses to wait, saying, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” There are divine plans at work here, plans that we can only glimpse. Jesus asks for our trust.
Upon deciding to see His cherished friends, Jesus hears the disciples voice their doubts: Hadn’t they just narrowly escaped the wrath of the Jews who tried to stone Jesus to death? Why on earth would He go back? Jesus remains firm. He is walking in the light of God—He is the light of God. This is the light that scatters all fear and sin. We can hear the fear in Thomas’ voice when he says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Grace: For an intimate knowledge of Jesus, who for me was baptized in order that I may be saved.
Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Reflection: There came a point in Jesus’ life when He made the decision to leave His home in order to fulfill His saving mission. Since His public ministry lasted about three years, and He died around the age of thirty-three, it is likely that Jesus stayed home until His late twenties or early thirties. As Luke says after Jesus decided to return to Nazareth with His parents instead of staying in the temple at twelve years old, “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52).
It is generally thought that by this time Joseph had passed away. Mary and Jesus had to fend for themselves. How hard it must have been for Jesus to depart! How much trust and faith He must have had in His Father! When we think of Jesus’ prayer leading up to this point, we can see how His determination to fulfill His mission must have grown with each moment. Jesus’ perfect unity with the Father through the Spirit led Him to this crucial decision: to leave Nazareth and set out for Jordan, where John was baptizing.