Saturday, December 31, 2011

Phase Two, Week Three, Exercise Two: Baby Jesus is Revealed to the World

This exercise should be experienced between January 4 and January 7.

Pray with Matthew 2:1-15. Recall that Matthew is a Jewish Christian writing to a Jewish Christian community. The magi, wise men, come to visit the Christ child. They symbolize Gentiles who have been entering Matthew's community.

Use your imagination to enter the scene. With whom do you identify? Through whose eyes do you see the scene? In a way, we all are strangers to Christ? We can all know him better. In other ways, he is never a stranger to us. Our hearts recognize him as our best friend.

As a stranger and as a friend, how do we see Jesus? When do we recognize him? Are there voices like Herod's inside of us that would like to do away with what Christ reveals to us? Do we have our own inner Joseph and Mary who nurture Christ's revelation inside of us?

The colloquy may continue with Joseph and Mary as we learn of the devotion and care of the two who nurtured the child Jesus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Phase Two, Week Three, Exercise One: Baby Jesus Is Revealed to the World

This exercise should be experienced between January 1 and January 4.

Ask God for the grace that I might have an interior knowledge of Jesus' love for all people especially the poor and of the devotion that Mary had for Jesus.

Pray with Luke 2:15-38. Note the devotion of the poor shepherds. Note verse 19 that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. If you are so moved, allow yourself to contemplate Mary as the most devout disciple.

Note that Mary and Joseph offer a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons out of their poverty.

In your colloquy, converse with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, or whomever else your heart is drawn to. How is Jesus revealed to you? Can you see the baby's face? What other details do you want to share in your colloquy?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Phase Two, Week Two, Exercise Two: Matthew's Account of the Birth of Jesus

This exercise is to be experienced between December 28 and December 31

Ask for the same grace that you asked for when you prayed with Luke's account of the birth of Jesus. If the consolation moves you, add another grace: ask for the gift to imagine the love that Jesus, Mary and Joseph have for each other.

Pray with Matthew 1:18-25. Use your imagination to enter into the scene. Consider the following only if it is helpful: pray to feel the feelings that Joseph has when he finds out that Mary is pregnant. How do those feelings change when the angel appears to him in a dream? Enter into a colloquy with Joseph or Mary. Have we ever found ourselves in a difficult situation that was beyond our control? How did the Holy Spirit helps us out? Can we understand Joseph's situation a little better now?

Have there been dreams that have given us life? If we are parents, how have our children expanded our dreams?

Pray with the passage again. Attempt to take note of all of the details. What is the expression on the face of Joseph when he first holds God's son? What is the expression on the face of Mary?

What gives us insight or peace?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Child my Choice

Fr. Skehan uses the following poem by Robert Southwell, S.J. in his version of phase two of the Exercises in Daily Life (63). It is a beautiful second phase poem.

A Child my Choice

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that child,
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled.
I praise him most, I love him best, all praise and love is his;
While him I love, in him I live, and cannot live amiss.

Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme, man's most desired light,
To love him life, to leave him death, to live in him delight.
He mine by gift, I his by debt, thus each to other due.
First friend he was, best friend he is, all times will try him true.

Though young, yet wise, though small, yet strong; though man,yet
God he is;
As wise he knows, as strong he can, as God he loves to bless.
His knowledge rules, his strength defends, his love doth cherish all;
His birth our joy, his life our light, his death our end of thrall.

Alas! He weeps, he sighs, he pants, yet do his angels sing;
Out of tears, his sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.
Almighty Babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Phase Two, Week Two For Non-Christians: the Gift of Incarnation and Life

For most of the second, third and fourth phases of this retreat, my focus will be on the prayer experience of Christians. I am not discriminating against non-Christians. I am just being realistic about my own training. I pray that non-Christians themselves can learn to adapt the Spiritual Exercises to their own spirituality. Nonetheless,when I sense inter-religious possibilities, I will explore them.

As Christians ponder the birth of Jesus as the birth of the son of God, non-Christians may want to ponder the birth of a great prophet and teacher. There is another possibility: it may profit all people to contemplate the reality of incarnation. As a Christian, I believe that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the person of Jesus. There are Christians whose Christology may use language a little different from my own. I respect that, but let's contemplate the reality of incarnation. We are all incarnate. We have bodies. As a Christian, I believe that the holiness of my incarnate condition is tied in an integral way to the incarnation of Jesus, but incarnation is a reality I share with non-Christians.

If you are not a Christian, it may be profitable to take some time to contemplate what it means that the holy is found in the material. The holy is found in the tender skin and fragility of a baby. It may help to use Ignatius' method of finding God in all things--what Howard Gray describes as attentiveness leading to reverence which leads to devotion. Allow yourself to be attentive to the birth of any child: let the scene become itself. Do not force an identity on the scene. A mother laboring. A child is born. The child lies there. What do you see? What do you hear? When you touch the child, what do you feel? What do you smell? There's nothing like the smell of a baby.

Next, accept and esteem what you are noticing and feeling. Find the good of holding that baby. Accept the experience.

You are then moved to devotion--the way that God is working in the birth of that child.

I hope this helps! May the God we all worship through our acts of prayer and meditation enlighten all of us to respect the beauty, truth, and goodness of human life! May we all respect children and labor to deliver them from warfare, terrorism, famine, injustice, exploitation, and all evils that currently oppress children!

Peace! Namaste! Shalom! As-Salamu Alaykum!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Phase Two, Week Two, Exercise One: Luke's Account of the Birth of Jesus

Merry Christmas! This exercise should be experienced between December 25 and December 28.

As always, find a very quiet place to pray.

Ask God the Father-Mother for "a more intimate knowledge of Jesus who became one of us; a more personal experience of his love for me so that I may love Him more tenderly; and a closer union with Jesus in His mission of bringing salvation to people" (Skehan, 57).

Now prayerfully read Luke 2:1-20. Imagine the Christ child laying in the manger--a symbol of his poverty. If Jesus were to be born today, where would he be born?

Use your imagination to enter into the scene. What resonates with you?

Pray with your imagination one or two more times.

Now enter into a colloquy (conversation) with whomever your heart tells you to converse: perhaps you want to ask Mary what she felt when she first saw her son. Perhaps you want to express words of gratitude to Jesus for becoming one of us. You can converse with any saint or any person of the Trinity you feel drawn to. If the triple colloquy works, then use it.

If you are not Christian and you do not feel like praying with this text, then ponder the literary elements: why is Jesus depicted as laying in a manger? Does it symbolize his solidarity with the poor? I do not want to dictate to non-Christians how to pray or ponder the text so I will leave the rest open.

Peace and joy to you as you contemplate this mystery!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Prayer In Daily Life Phase Two, Week One, Exercise Two: Contemplating The Child Jesus In Mary's Womb

This Exercise should be experienced between December 21 and December 24. It isn't technically in the Spiritual Exercises, but I find it helpful. I hope you do too.

If you are a mother, it may help to recall your own pregnancies during this exercise.

Ask God for the grace to have an intimate knowledge of Jesus as an unborn child so that you may love Him more tenderly. Also ask for a more personal experience of Jesus. Finally, ask for insight into what it means that Mary carried the Messiah in her womb and that, through this mystery, she is able to love all people on the earth as if they were her own children.

Imagine Mary pregnant with Jesus. She is six months along. Jesus is living in the amniotic sack in his mother's womb. He can hear sounds from the outside world. Mary's body is nurturing him. All of the nutrition that his body receives comes from the food that Mary eats and the drink that Mary drinks.

The two are bonded in a sacred union. At times, Mary and Jesus feel together.

The Mothers and Fathers of the Eastern Church taught that Mary was the greatest theologian because she taught Jesus what it meant to be a human being totally in love with God. That process began while Jesus was in her womb. Imagine what Mary felt when Jesus moved in her womb. What tender words did Mary use to comfort her child when she felt him move? How did she gently touch her side so that she could communicate with him? Imagine you are Mary. Apply your senses. What do you feel and see? What words do you want to use to communicate with Jesus in the womb?

Consider the tenderness that Mary feels for Jesus. If your tradition encourages you to do so (and the Catholic and Orthodox traditions do), imagine the tenderness that Mary learned holding Jesus in her womb. She has that tenderness for you right now.

At this point, I would like to introduce a method of prayer that Ignatius called the triple colloquy. I want to introduce it at this point because it involves Mary.

A colloquy is a conversation. It isn't a method of prayer in which a person just recites words. In the colloquy you pray to God or to a saint and then you listen with your heart and imagination. In the triple colloquy, you begin by talking with Mary. You ask Mary to ask Jesus for the specific specific grace that you seek. Then you converse with Mary. You may want to ask her what it was like to feel Jesus inside her. You may then want to ask her if she might show you the joy she felt carrying Jesus. Then after the colloquy with Mary, you converse with Jesus. Ask him to speak with the Father/Mother for the specific grace you seek: to have an intimate knowledge of Jesus as an unborn child so that you may love Him more tenderly. Also ask for a more personal experience of Jesus. Finally, ask for insight into what it means that Mary carried the Messiah in her womb and that, through this mystery, she is able to love all people on the earth as if they were her own children.

The third colloquy is with the Father/Mother. Ask for the same grace we mentioned above and then sit back and listen. You may be given a specific image in your imagination. There may be a sense of freedom around a particular idea. Follow the thoughts and feelings that lead you to be more charitable and/or that give you insights into the love God has for humanity.

Close with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, or another prayer that gives you peace.
Write down your reflections in your journal.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Phase Two, Week One, Exercise One: The Annunciation

This exercise should be experienced between December 18 and 21.

We are now entering into phase 2 of the retreat during which we will contemplate the life of Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, if non-Christians feel moved to do so, you can contemplate the life of Jesus as a great spiritual teacher. Obviously, Christians will contemplate the life of Jesus, the Messiah and God-man.

First, ask God for the grace to feel Mary's courage and joy as she trusts God's invitation to bear God's son.

Read Luke 1:26-38.

Read the passage again using your imagination to enter into the scene. For this prayer period, I will leave the direction open and let the Holy Spirit give you the pointers.

Note moments of insight (consolation) in your prayer journal.

Close with your own prayer.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Phase One, Week Six, Exercise One: A Sinner Loved By God

This exercise should be experienced between December 11 and 14.

Last week we concluded our contemplation of the reality of personal and collective sin and disorder. This week we will devote one exercise to the wonder and healing of the forgiving love that God gives and that God is.

We will be contemplating that surprising and joyful parable of the Prodigal Father (usually called the Prodigal Son). I am borrowing the title "Prodigal Father" from a Jesuit friend of mine named Henry Haske. Henry has a knack for reminding us just how bountiful God's love is. In using the title "Prodigal Father" he is reminding us that our heavenly Father gives without ceasing.

If you find that you have a desire for more prayer this week, then consider praying with Isaiah 40:1-11 (the first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent).

The second exercise this week I will title The Call of the Eternal Coach/Teacher/Leader. I will give more details about this in a few days.

The grace of Exercise One that I seek: Paraphrasing the words of Fr. Skehan, I ask for the gift of experiencing myself as a loved sinner and to purify my mind so well that I may experience a growing desire for conversion, a new insight into the tactics of God's enemy, and a renewed enthusiasm to follow God.

In the parable of the Prodigal Father, the younger son demands his share of
his inheritance. He squanders his share and ends up feeding pigs which symbolizes apostasy--that he has totally rejected his Jewish faith. At the time, the Jewish refusal to eat or deal with pigs was not just a dietary law. It was an important religious boundary. It helps to remember that just 200 years earlier, Jewish martyrs were willing to be killed rather than eat the pig's flesh that the Seleucid Hellenists (the Greeks from Syria) tried to force them to eat. Jesus' audience would have remembered the sacrifices of these Jewish heroes and would have been disgusted by the son's sleeping with prostitutes and rejection of the Torah.

It is in this context that the Father's actions reveal that God's love is unconditional. In the words of Fr. Skehan, "how can we doubt the reality of God's love for the sinner, the God who looks to the horizon day and night longing for the sight of his beloved son returning home?" (44)

Now, use your imagination to enter into Luke 15: 11-32. Can you feel the Father's joy when he sees his son returning? Can you feel the acceptance and joyful surrender when you feel the Father embrace you?

Prayer In Daily Life, Phase 1, Week 6, Exercise 2: The call of the Eternal Coach/Teacher/Leader for Christians.

This exercise can be entered into in three ways. Chose the one most relevant for you. It should be experienced between December 14 and 17.

1. Call of the Eternal Coach. Ask God for the grace that you might respond to his call with generosity.

Recall a good coach who coached one of your sports teams. Recall how he brought out the best in you—athletically and personally. How did he foster teamwork and mutual respect among the people on your team? How successful was he? Why was your team so successful?
Would you allow yourself to be coached by this coach again? Why? Do you feel a sense of devotion to this coach? Has it lasted until the present moment?

Now imagine that coach coaching. What is he doing? How does your heart feel about what he is doing? Now imagine Jesus, the eternal coach. How has he nurtured you? What do you want from him? What has he done to attract people to join his team? What are his greatest successes?
Savoring the devotion you feel toward your temporal coach, ask God for the grace to feel even more devotion to follow Jesus, your eternal coach.

Close with an Our Father or other appropriate prayer.

2. Call of the eternal teacher. Ask God for the grace that you might respond to his call with generosity.

Recall a teacher who made a difference in your life. What qualities did he/she have? What knowledge did the teacher give to you? What skills did you learn? Did the teacher help your thinking to become more critical and more clear? Do you have a desire to learn from him again?

Now consider Jesus. Consider his way of being and teaching. What is it about him that attracts you? What qualities does he have? What spiritual and emotional skills can he teach you? Does his message of unconditional love and justice inspire you? As you felt a desire to learn from the temporal teacher, how much more do you want to learn from Jesus, the eternal teacher? What specific words does he use as he calls you to join in his movement?

Now, in your own words, express whatever feelings of devotion you feel toward Jesus. Are you grateful that he has called you to join his movement, knowing that with Jesus victory is assured? Close with an Our Father or other appropriate prayer.

3. Call of the eternal leader. Ask God for the grace that you might respond to his call with generosity.

Consider a temporal leader who inspires you. Reflect on how he or she takes a stand for freedom and justice. Is he or she charismatic? Does she have a good sense of humor? Is she a good orator? Recall some of the temporal leader's moving speeches. How did you feel listening to those speeches?

Now consider Jesus, the eternal leader. What is it about Jesus' way of being and leading that attracts you? Consider how devoted you are to following the temporal leader. How much stronger should your devotion be to following Jesus, the perfect leader?

Ask the Lord for the grace to be completely devoted to following him. Ask him for the grace to draw insight and inspiration as we contemplate the mysteries of his life. Close with an Our Father or other appropriate prayer.