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 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 grow in an intimate knowledge of the Lord, allowing the Beatitudes to be my way to love and to follow Christ.
Text for Prayer: Mt. 5:1-12
Reflection: After his baptism and the time he spends in the desert, Jesus recognizes that the call to action has come. It is time for him to proclaim and prepare the way of God’s Kingdom. In order to do this, Jesus calls twelve disciples. Right before the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew shows us Jesus selecting the disciples who will be his fellow-workers. If helpers and assistants are to embrace the Kingdom, they must first have instruction.
The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s instruction of his disciples. In it, Jesus shows the disciples what the Kingdom of God is all about and that the Kingdom of God is here already but not yet fully. One great scholar called the Sermon on the Mount “the ordination address to the Twelve.” It is Jesus’s lesson to the twelve before their time of apprenticeship and companionship with the Lord. The Sermon is the Manifesto of the King, a moment of formal teaching when Jesus opens his heart and pours out his mind to his disciples. In doing so, he teaches the disciples that the Kingdom of God invites us to open our hearts and pour out our lives for the sake of the world.
Grace: To know how Jesus experiences the desert as preparation for ministry, to love him and imitate him more closely.
Text for Prayer: Mk. 1:12-13
Reflection: One of my favorite writers is Carlo Carretto, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of desert contemplatives. In his book Letters from the Desert, Carretto recounts the fruitfulness of his ten years in the African Sahara. He relates how he found his vocation to live in the desert, and what this experience meant for his life as a Christian. While working for the Catholic Action movement in Italy, Carretto felt a strong desire to lead a contemplative life and served others in the spirit of Charles de Foucauld. He felt God’s call in the depth of his being, “Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.” As a contemplative, Carretto recognized that the desert was the most challenging experience of his life, but also the most fruitful, for the desert ignites the purification of the senses, thoughts, soul, mind, and heart.
Wandering in the desert, Carretto often pondered on the experience of Jesus in the wilderness, how “the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, where he remained forty days and was tempted by Satan” (Mk. 1:12). In the wilderness, both Jesus and Carretto experienced the God of life, the presence always present that stirs us to love and service. Just as it happened to Jesus and to Carretto, the Spirit drives us to retreat to the desert—to our desert. When we think of a desert, our minds might first go to the geographical deserts of the world—long stretches of sand with clumps of date trees in oases scattered here and there. Most of us are not blessed with that experience; we are invited to experience the spiritual desert of our lives. For Jesus, going to the desert was a period of preparation before he began his ministry. There, he faced temptations to power, prestige, and pleasure. For most of us, the desert is a place away from the pace of our busy life where we can connect more deeply with the God of life. The desert is a place to meet God, a place to be vulnerable and powerless, and a place of yearning, silence, and prayer.
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 in me.
Text for Prayer: Lk. 9:23-36
Reflection: Over the last few weeks I have given a couple of retreats that dealt in some ways with discernment. During these retreats, I had the opportunity to chat with most of the participants. Many of them pointed out that in terms of remaining faithful to their prayer life, they sometimes lack discipline and willpower, and I often acknowledged that discipline is a great avenue to renewal and reform.
Certainly discipline is an important part of discipleship. Both of those words, along with the word discernment come for the Latin word discere which means to learn. To grow as a disciple—in discipleship and discernment—we need to learn or to discover life-giving ways of finding the strength to remain faithful and committed to them.
Grace: To desire to reform my life and renew my relationship with Christ, recognizing that life is short and I will be judged by the Lord after death.
Text for Prayer: 1 Thes. 4:13-15
Reflection: When I was an undergrad in Miami, I befriended someone at my parish named Christina. We weren’t super close, but we enjoyed talking and passing the time. She smiled a lot. She was sweet and fun to be with. One day, I woke up to the news that she had died in a car accident. She was twenty years old and so was I. Her death was shocking and heartbreaking. I had never known anyone my own age who died. Even though we weren’t particularly close, her death felt closer than others I had experienced.The sudden end to her life struck a chord inside of me.
It is easy to think that this life we are living is going to last forever. We get caught up in our plans, the bills, time with our loved ones, the busy schedule, the joys, the struggles—all of it. We get so caught up that we forget that life is about more than just today, and that today may be all we have. Every day is an opportunity to take account of our lives and to renew our friendship with Jesus Christ.
Grace: To see the disorder that sin causes in my heart and recognize the effects of tepidity in my life.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 28:16-20
Reflection: Our vocation as Christians is to draw close to the Heart of Jesus and in that encounter to be transformed in such a way that our hearts become like the Heart of Christ. When we draw near to the Crucified and Risen Lord, we increase in hope, faith, and love. In that encounter, our hearts become like a fire in us. This fire within us is a source of mercy for others, for it can lead them to a personal encounter with the Lord. This fire within is the thrust and dynamism of all evangelization—animated by our encounter with Jesus and strengthened in our faith, we tell others how the Word of God has taken flesh in our lives hoping this Good News inspires others to draw closer to Jesus.
Our hearts were created to live this dynamism, to seek and find God in all things, to share our sightings of God with those who already have been baptized, and to reach out to those who have drifted away from the Church. Sin and self-centeredness make us numb and extinguish the fire within us. Sin makes us lose sight of our vocation to seek and find God in all things. When we forsake our human vocation, our hearts become tepid and dull, for they were created to rest in God alone. The tepidity or dullness our hearts experience when we feel separated from God are contrary to the dynamism we experience when we praise, revere, and serve God. Tepid hearts lose their desire for communion with God and give in to spiritual sloth.
Grace: Ask for the grace of being able to tell God, “not my will but yours be done.”
Text for Prayer: Luke 22:39-46
Reflection: The Garden of Gethsemane is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Its name comes from the Hebrew word for ‘oil press’. It was in that garden that the events of Good Friday suddenly overtook Jesus. As Pope John XIII said in one of his homilies about the meaning of the cross, the most horrible ‘pressing upon’ experience Jesus had was bearing the heavy weight of all human sin.
Through his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane the eve of his passion, Jesus expressed three aspects of response to the events that would follow. First, he conveyed his sadness and agony. He expressed with the Psalmist, “My soul is very sorrowful” (Ps 43). He felt a deep loneliness. After he had invited three of the apostles to stay with him, watch and pray, they fell asleep and he began to feel the burden of his loneliness. His expression of sorrow and loneliness is echoed on the cross as Jesus prays, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Ps 22; Mk 15:34).
Grace: To know Jesus, who calms our storms and invites us to collaborate on his work, that others may know that he is our shepherd.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 14:22-33
Reflection: One of my favourite films is P. T. Anderson’s Magnolia. In this film, there is a scene where it rains frogs. It is a powerful and striking scene. Most people after watching the film wonder the significance of the amphibian downpour. The scene grabs their attention and, as they focus on it, they missed the effect it had on the characters in the film. The miracle of Jesus walking on water grabs our attention and we need to examine it carefully. In the process, we might miss the significance and effect this powerful moment had on the disciples.
In his account of the story, John tells us that “A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough” (Jn 6:18). Mark and Matthew both comment that the wind was against the boat. In all three accounts, there is a sense that the boat was in rough water. In Mark and Matthew, the wind stopped. In John, even though there is no mention of the wind stopping, once Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, they “arrived at the land to which they were going” (Jn 6:21). Jesus came to their aid. In some ways, this story is similar to Jesus’ stilling of the storm (Mk 4:35-41). Yet, there is something particular to this narrative. In it, (Mk 6:47-52; Mt 14:24-33; Jn 6:16-21) the Evangelists stressed a physical and a spiritual reality within the context of what Jesus tells the disciples when he meets them.
In terms of the physical reality, this story indicates that Jesus is the Son of God who walked on water and calmed the storming wind. He has power over nature. The disciples recognized this, and were astonished and worshipped him. The narrative also points to the spiritual significance this account had for the disciples, and later on it for the Church and for all of us. St. Augustine of Hippo invites us to reflect on this story in this way: “Let us think of the ship as the Church and the faithful soul. The sea is this world. The wind and the waves are persecutions and temptations. When the wind arises, the ship is tossed: but because Christ is there, it cannot sink.”
The author of The Confessions draws us into a reflection of the strong winds that at times affect our Church and our souls. In the midst of great scandals or persecution against the Church, or when we give into temptations or our problems seem too big, we seem overwhelmed by what is happening around us and may begin to wonder where Jesus is in the midst of all of it. And then the unthinkable happens. We recognize Jesus in the midst of the storm, when the winds might be picking up. At first, we might doubt that it is Jesus who comes to our aid. As we struggle with the winds and with our doubts, Jesus’ loving and compelling call draws us close to his Sacred Heart: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27).
One thing is certain, Jesus invites us to take heart, to take courage. He calls us to leave our fears and doubts behind. He is our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want (Ps 23). He will lead us beside still waters and will restore our Church and our souls. Even when I walk in the darkest valley, when I find myself in the midst of a storm, I shall not fear; for he is with me. He is by my side. He gives me courage.
To me, when Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I”, he is also inviting us to take his heart – to get to know him. He is calling us into a deeper relationship with him. He knows that struggles are part of our human condition. There will always be problems, persecutions and temptations. There are no easy solutions or quick fixes for most of them. Thus, he invite us to find courage, wisdom and strength in our relationship with him.
The invitation to take the Heart of Jesus is also a summons to allow our heart to become unto his Heart. It is an invitation to receive the sensus Christi that we may see like Jesus sees, think like Jesus thinks and feel like Jesus feels. It is an invitation to collaborate with Jesus in the work of redemption. As we enter into a deeper relationship with Christ, our sorrows and problems acquire a new perspective. Jesus becomes our very strength and we are drawn closer to those who, like us, are suffering and in need of comfort and peace.
The storms will continue. Many will struggle and doubt that anyone will come to their assistance. Jesus invites us to collaborate in his plan of bringing comfort, peace, justice, beauty, truth and love to those in need. He is calling us to deepen our bond with him so that we might become more like him. He is inviting us to feel with the feelings of his Heart, which are basically love for his Father and love for all women and men. Jesus is calling us to recognize the chaos and the suffering in our Church and in our soul, and in response to learn compassion – to “suffer with” those in need. We are called to be compassionate with the poor, the alienate, the infirm. We are called to help Jesus calm the storms of their lives. We are invited to stand along their side, and to invite them to see that the Lord is our shepherd and there is nothing we shall want.
Questions: What are the storms in my life Jesus wants to calm? Have I ever felt with the feelings of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? How do I feel about feeling in that way? How do I receive Jesus’ invitation to collaborate with him in the work of redemption?
Grace: For an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord who chose to be like us in every way except sin. To be moved with compassion for those in need.
Text of Prayer: Matthew 3:11-17
Reflection: Speaking about the Baptism of Jesus, Maximus of Turin, one of the Church Fathers said: “What sort of a baptism is this, when the one who is dipped is purer than the font … And in which the streams are made pure more than they purify?” The question begs an examination of the meaning and purpose of Jesus’s Baptism.
The importance of this event is manifested in the fact that it is recorded in all four Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—have accounts of the Baptism, while John, rather than having a direct narrative simply bears witness to the event. Throughout the centuries, several aspects have been considered about the moment Jesus went to the Jordan to receive baptism from John the Baptist. Commentary on and exegesis of the Gospels reveal that Jesus’ Baptism is the entrance into his public life. His Baptism is also the moment when Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit and driven into the desert to pray, fast and be tested. In many ways, his Baptism reveals the path of abasement and humility that the Son of God freely chose in order to adhere to the plan of the Father.
Grace: To have an heartfelt knowledge of the Lord, who is the Son of God and my brother. That I may love him and following in the service of the Kingdom
Text for Prayer: Luke 2:41-52
Reflection: A great book or film, invites us to consider the life of character who is searching for purpose and longing for meaning. At some point in that journey of self-discovery, the character has an Eureka moment. He or she discovers a truth so profound and meaningful that, simply by realizing it, his or her life will be forever changed. In other words, the character has an epiphany – an insight about God, the world or his or herself that alters everything.
The passage of the finding of Jesus in the temple is a very important passage in the gospel story. According to the law, every adult Jewish male who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem had to attend the Passover. Every Jewish person should attend it at least once in a lifetime. A Jewish boy became a man when he turned thirteen years of age. At that moment, he became a son of the law. This is what is celebrated in a Bar Mitzvah, the boy becomes to a ‘son of the commandments’ (A girl becomes a ‘daughter of the commandments’ through a Bat Mitzvah). Through the ritual, a boy dies to his childish ways and becomes a subject of the law. Becoming a subject of the law means that he can properly understand the Torah. This coming of age relates to acquiring wisdom.