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 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.
Grace: To love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself
Text for Prayer: Jn 13
Reflection: In Jn 13, Jesus washes his apostles’ feet at the Last Supper, giving them the “mandatum” or great commandment to go and do likewise. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do,” Jesus tells them (Jn 13:15). Today in Rome, Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate Holy Thursday at a juvenile prison, washing the feet of 12 inmates to symbolize this loving gesture of Christ.
Some might take offense at the pope’s choice of inmates for this rite, but we will do well to recall that Jesus himself washed the feet of Judas in John’s gospel, knowing full well Judas would betray him.
Jesus’ action causes strife among the apostles, with Peter at first refusing to allow it, and Judas the traitor leaving early after Jesus declares that someone will betray him.
Meanwhile, the youngest apostle John leans his head against Jesus’ chest, hoping in vain to learn the identity of this traitor.
Only after Judas leaves does Jesus reveal fully his true message. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another,” he tells the 11 apostles, adding: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34).
Jesus then proceeds to give us the Eucharist, the sacramental food of his body and blood, as an offering of thanksgiving for God’s love.
As we draw to the end of Lent during this Holy Week, we might ask ourselves whether we are truly prepared to receive Christ in the Eucharist this Easter. We may wish to ponder whether we have truly shared God’s love with others. And we can perhaps take stock of our desire to serve God by serving others, thereby helping to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
Questions: For what am I most grateful right now? Do I love others the way Jesus loves me? Which apostle resonates most with me in this story of the Last Supper in the cenacle?
Grace: To grow in poverty of spirit as a person of the Beatitudes during this Lenten season.
Text for Prayer: Mt 5:1-12
Reflection: Jesus tells us in his sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” In the sermon at his installation mass yesterday, Pope Francis likewise called on current government and church leaders to “protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important.” For it is in love of the poor that we find heaven on earth.
These are challenging words in a world that revolves economically around capitalist self-interest and socialist materialism, but they are perhaps even more difficult for us to incorporate on a personal level, as we too often assume that “somebody else” should be poor with the poor while we look after ourselves.
Jesus does not say that we should merely help the poor, but be poor in spirit with the poor, to be poor ourselves.
Grace: To reform my own heart during this Lenten season in order to collaborate with Pope Francis in reforming the Church
Text for Prayer: Matthew 16:18 and the “Autobiography of St. Ignatius”
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.”
Reflection: Peter was a mouse who became a lion. And “the rock” today is a 76-year old Jesuit priest who studied chemistry, joined the Society of Jesus at age 22, and taught high school literature as a seminarian before embarking on greater ecclesiastical paths. He is the first Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, and the first Jesuit pope. Leading the faithful in simple prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be) for the retired pope, bowing awkwardly in silence to ask the people’s blessing before giving them his own, and surprisingly ordinary in his vulnerability, he is unmistakably a Jesuit.
As cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lives in a simple dwelling and takes public transportation to work. He visits AIDS patients and the poor. He has only one lung due to a childhood illness. Today he will pray to the Virgin Mary at St. Mary Major.
Grace: To let go of things both good and bad that hold me back from growing in my relationship with God.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 2:13-15
Reflection: There are many crossroads in our lives where we must leave behind both good and bad things in order to embrace a better future. In Matthew 2, the Holy Family flees into Egypt in order to escape the political persecution of Herod, who seeks the death of the newborn Messiah to eliminate this rival to his power. In a similar fashion, we see many immigrants today who flee from political persecution in Latin American countries for the safety of North American countries. But this month, we might also reflect in a special way on the “flight into Egypt” of Benedict XVI, who has resigned the papacy for the good of the Catholic Church in order to better seek God’s will.
Just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph became a family of immigrants in order to preserve the future of the Church, Benedict XVI has relinquished the papacy for the first time in 600 years to ensure the future of Catholicism in this century. Acknowleding both the joys and sorrows of his papacy, he has boldly given up the highest office in Christendom out of a humble recognition of his own limitations in health and age. With the symbolic closing of the doors at Castel Gandolfo and standing-down of the Swiss Guards, he has definitively elevated the good of God’s people above his own ecclesial positiion, making a very difficult and heroic choice rooted in deep prayer.
Grace: To let go of secondary things and focus on what is truly important during this Lenten season.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 7:7-8
Reflection: At the end of several meditations in the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola recommends having a “triple colloquy” (see SpEx #62-63) to conclude the prayer period. Here he invites the retreatant to have a conversation in his imagination with Mary, begging her for the grace to be placed with her son beneath the cross, indifferent to one’s own comfort for the sake of following Christ. Ignatius asks the retreatant to speak to Mary in his or her own words and then conclude with a Hail Mary.
Rather than ending the prayer there, Ignatius then invites the retreatant to have two further conversations about the same topic. He asks the retreatant to repeat the same conversation with Jesus, begging more insistently for the same thing and ending with the Soul of Christ prayer. Finally, he instructs the retreatant to go to the Father Himself, begging with all of the passion one can muster and ending with an Our Father.
Grace: To worship God with my entire heart during this Lenten season, resisting the temptation to be halfhearted in my participation at Sunday liturgy.
Text for Prayer: Revelation 4:8-11
Reflection: Past writers on this blog have described spiritual tepidity as a type of sluggishness, particularly in prayer, that is caused in our souls by an excessive attachment to things other than God. But tepidity in our personal spiritual practices is undoubtedly less scandalous to non-Christians than tepidity in our public worship. For Catholics, one salutary goal during this Lenten season could be to “give up” liturgical tepidity, which manifests itself in many different ways.
In Revelation 4, the Bible offers a vision of heavenly worship that is as striking as lightning and more transcendental than any drug trip. But in Lent, our American parishes may frequently offer a vision of worship that feels more like a living room social, and hardly distinguishable to the casual observer from the liturgical seasons that precede and follow it. Here is matter for self-reflection on the tepidity that we bring, both personally and socially, to our public worship.