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 suffer with Christ who suffers for my sins.
Text: Mt. 26:36-46
Reflection: “Do you trust me?” That is the question the Father is asking of the Son. Jesus does not know why He must suffer, and so He asks His Father if there is any way He can be spared His Passion. His Father asks Him to trust Him. To undergo extreme physical and spiritual pain when one knows why one must is difficult; to do so when one does not know why is excruciating.
The life of Christ may seem desirable to imitiate when He is healing the infirm, forgiving the sinners, and feeding the multitudes, but what about when He is entering into His Passion? It can be easy to follow Christ when the way is pleasant and comfortable, but are we then loving the God of consolations or the consolations of God? The Father removes His consolations and asks His Son, “Do you still trust me, even though You do not understand why I am asking this of You? Do you trust me?”
Grace: Not to be deaf to the Lord’s call, but prompt and diligent to accomplish His most holy will.
Reflection: Today Ignatius calls us to ponder the call of an earthly king. Imagine his stirring speech as he inspires his citizens join him on a noble campaign for a just cause. He promises us that we shall have to go through hardships: going to bed hungry many nights, battling biting cold and fierce heat, arduous marches, doubts about our ability to succeed. We shall suffer much, but on the day of victory we shall share in the victory with the king.
Most of us today do not live under kings but we can still find parallels to what Ignatius is describing. We all have experiences of taking on hardships for the sake of a cause greater than ourselves. Maybe it was being on a sports team in high school. Maybe it is marriage and raising a family. Maybe you felt this after 9/11. Whatever it might be, call to mind a time when you united yourself with others for a good purpose, even though it meant encountering difficulties. Recall what moved you, as you looked at the difficulties and still said “Yes!” Recall how you forgot about yourself and felt your heart on fire with generosity.
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Lord.
Text for Prayer: Spiritual Exercises no. 230-237
The retreat, as Ignatius envisioned it, is a time of receiving many graces. Ignatius, though, was not content simply with receiving graces; he wanted us, after receiving generously from the Lord, to make an offering in return. Ignatius’ ideal was to be a ‘contemplative even in action,’ to allow the knowledge given in prayer to find expression in service. And so the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises is the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God. One of the graces of the retreat is to allow things we all know about God to sink into our hearts, to become ‘felt’ knowledge.
Before entering into this contemplation, Ignatius calls to our attention two points. First, love ought to manifest itself in deeds more than in words. Second, love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, where the lover shares everything with the beloved, just as every good is shared between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Grace: To see Jesus more clearly, to love Him more dearly and to follow Him more nearly.
Text: Matthew 5: 1-20
Reflection: Ignatius recommends praying with three points from the Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes, the exhortation to be the light of the world, and Christ as the fulfillment of the law.
Someone once told me he found it much easier to follow the Ten Commandments than to follow the Beatitudes. I think a lot of people would agree; the commandments are more direct, their expectations clearer. But the flipside is the inexhaustible riches of the Beatitudes (a word that means profound and lasting happiness).
Why do the Beatitudes follow the model of ‘Blessed are…for they shall?’ At first glance, we might expect ‘Blessed will the meek be, for they shall inherit the earth’ or ‘Blessed are the meek, for they have inherited the earth.’ But instead we have a combination of times, the present and the future. The Lord is calling us to let our future happiness flow into our present lives, allowing us to experience a profound happiness now despite the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.
Grace: To know how Jesus prepared Himself for His mission, to love Him more, and to imitate Him more closely.
Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Reflection: After His Baptism, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert. The desert has been a rich image throughout the history of Christianity. It has symbolized the spiritual difficulties that believers encounter, just as the Israelites struggled for forty years in crossing the desert. It has also symbolized a place of encounter with the Lord, as so many of the Desert Fathers discovered in the early Church.
Jesus is tempted three times. First, He is tempted to turn stones into bread to feed Himself. Second, He is tempted to throw Himself down from a parapet and be saved by angels. Third, He is tempted to worship the tempter in exchange for all earthly power.
Grace: Knowledge of the tricks of the evil spirit so that we can resist them, knowledge of the life exemplified by Christ so that we can imitate Him.
Reflection: Today Ignatius presents the meditation on the Two Standards, the standard of Satan and the standard of Christ. We are more likely to oppose the evil spirit and to follow the good spirit if we understand the ruses of the devil and the true path to holiness.
Imagine the army camp of Satan—the ugly sights and the revolting smells and the terrifying sounds—as he sends his minions throughout the world to corrupt people and turn them from their happiness in God. Ponder how he lays traps for people to enslave them, by tempting them to covet riches and despise poverty. This greed then leads to a desire for the honors the world. This hunger for honors then leads to a pride that finds no room for God. After enslaving the soul to covetousness, vanity and pride, the evil one leads the soul to all other vices.
Grace: To understand that I will one day come before the Lord, and to realize how my relationship with Him is able to be strengthened and renewed at every moment of my life.
Text for Prayer: Ezekiel 37: 1-3
Reflection: It has been observed that ours is a culture that does not like to face the reality of death. From Botox to infomercials promising that we will live to be 100 to elaborate euphemisms to speak of death, we often try to deny the inevitability of death.
One reason, I think, for all this effort is the fear that thinking about death makes us feel like little kids again. Invariably, we start to think about things that maybe we thought we had outgrown: judgment, and heaven, and hell. Those are things we were told as children to make us behave, or to make us docile, or to make us nice. Or maybe it was something we were told when things were rough, that there was a better world right around the corner if we could just stay steadfast for a little longer. That’s what Marx was getting at when he declared:
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Grace: That I might see God as the beginning and end of all created things and that I might use and love all things in the Lord.
Text for Prayer: Psalm 19: 1-6
Reflection: A great art critic can look at a painting or sculpture, or hear a musical composition, and tell you that it’s Van Gogh, or Michelangelo, or Mozart. He can do this only because he has learned, over time, to notice the distinctive marks, the telltale traces of the creator that permeate the work.
Creation works the same way. From the earliest days, Christianity has maintained that we can know God through His creation. Paul proclaimed to the Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things He has made.” Creation then is a powerful revelation, disclosing to us, in partial form, the mind of the maker.