Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week Seven, Exercise one: The Baptism of Jesus

During the Baptism of Jesus, it is entirely possible that the religious experience that Jesus had was an interior experience. The dove then is a symbol. The dove's hovering over the water helps us recall God's spirit hovering over the waters in the creation account in Genesis. The synoptic evangelists (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)are then saying that God's creativity continues in and through Jesus.

Did others near Jesus hear the voice that came from heaven? Do we definitively know? Please remember that heaven is a symbol for the transcendence and presence of God. Also recall our Ignatian understanding that God is in all things and all situations. Heaven is as present "on earth" as it is "in the sky." The voice from heaven is then a voice Jesus hears in his concrete historical situation of accepting baptism.

What we do know is that Jesus hears the voice "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased." He may have told his disciples about this experience later.

Pray with Luke 3:21-22. Imagine Jesus' hearing the voice of the Father/Mother. What does he feel in his heart?

Now imagine yourself hearing God tell you "You are my beloved son/daughter. With you I am well pleased." Do you believe it?

Ask for the grace that you need.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Week Six, Exercise Two: The Three Types of Persons

This exercise should be experienced between January 25 and January 28.

It is meant to help towards my freedom of choice in relation to God's call to me.

I have borrowed the following from David Fleming's translation of the Exercises (except for the Colloquy which I have adapted myself).

Ask for the grace that I may be free enough to choose to follow wherever God may be inviting me.

The Setting: This prayer period is devoted to a consideration of three types of persons. Each of them has come to have quite a few possessions--not always acquired in the most honest way or with the best of motives. In general, each one is a good person who would like to serve God, even to the extent that if these possessions were to come in the way of being open to God's invitation, each type of person would like to be free of them.

The first type--"a lot of talk but no action.". This person keeps saying: "I would like to stop being so dependent on all the things which I possess and which seem to get in the way of my giving my life unreservedly to God."
This type of person has all kinds of good intentions, but always remains so busy about all the "things" that fill up life that death finds such a one still thinking about making a bigger place for God in life.

The second type--"To do everything but the one thing necessary." This person says: "I certainly would like to be free of all attachments which get in the way of relating to God. I think maybe if I just work harder or I say more prayers or give more money to charity that would do it."
This type of person will just about do anything but face the block that hinders an availability to God's gracious invitation. It is as if this person is negotiating with God, trying to buy God off. So this type may do a number of good things during life, all the time avoiding the honest way of facing the real issue.

The third type--"to do God's will is my desire." This person says: "I would like to be rid of any attachment which gets in the way of God's invitation to a more abundant life. I am not sure what God is asking of me, but I want to be at a point of balance so that I can more easily move in the direction of God's call. My whole effort is to be sensitive to the movements of God's grace in my life and to be ready and willing to follow God's lead."
This type of person makes efforts neither to want to retain possessions nor to want to give them away unless the service and praise of God our Lord is the God given motivation for action. As a result, the graced desire to be better able to serve God becomes clearly the motivating factor for accepting or letting go of anything.

Colloquy: I ask Mary to pray for me, that I might be drawn to spiritual poverty so that I might freely follow God's lead in my life. Another way of saying this is that I am asking for spiritual freedom. Then I speak with Jesus, asking for the same grace.

I reflect and ask myself: what is my most significant attachment? Which type of person do I identify with? I speak honestly to Jesus about my attachments.

Then I turn to God the Father/Mother and speak honestly with God about my attachments. I ask for the grace I need.

I close with a prayer of gratitude for the insight I am gaining.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Week Six, Exercise One: The Strategy of Jesus, A Meditation With Thomas Merton

This exercise should be experienced between January 21 and January 25.

Thomas Merton is a well known American Catholic writer. A good deal of his writing deals with the distinction between the false self and the true self. The false self is created by us so that we can fit in to society, imbibing whatever aberations may exist in society. The true self is our self as we are known by God. This is similar to Ignatius' understanding of the two standards: the Dark Lord attempts to encourage us to labor with him by enticing us with riches, honor and pride, objects which all societies over value in various ways. That is, the Dark Lord encourages us to think that our false self is the only self that exists. Jesus invites us to labor with him by encouraging us to develop our true selves through meditation, prayer and acts of charity and justice. Recall how he does this--by motivating us to accept a spiritual poverty that leads to humility.

The following quotation was originally written by Merton in a book called New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972). I am grateful to have found it in Robert Inchausti's Seeds: Thomas Merton, page 3.

"All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, and love to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface."

Why are we afraid to just be our true selves, the mysterious reality we are before our mysterious God?

Why do we feel the need to construct a false self?

What are my most powerful egocentric desires? Can I feel the presence of the Dark Lord in those desires?

What would it take for me to live from my true self?

Now, what do I want to ask from Jesus?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week Five, Exercise Two: The Strategy of Jesus/"The Two Standards"

This exercise should be experienced between January 18 and January 21. The purpose of the exercise is to engage the whole person of the exercitant (retreatant) and guide the exercitant through a meditation that reveals how the dynamic of Jesus undermines the dynamic of evil. The exercise engages not just our rational minds but also our imaginations as we associate evil personified (Satan) with darkness and terror and Jesus with light and joy.

David Fleming has translated this exercise into modern western terminology. If you have access to his version of the Exercises (Draw Me Into Your Friendship), I highly recommend it.

Pay attention to the strategy of the Dark Lord. He attempts to entice us with riches so that we then bask in glamour and honor. Becoming a slave of honor, we then become ensnared in pride. A person then ends up thinking "I am such and such" or "We are such and such." The strategy of Jesus is the opposite: he attracts us to the highest spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is not necessarily the same as actual poverty although one may ask to actually become poor through spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is the ability and willingness to let go of all possessions if God asks this of us.

Having been given spiritual poverty, one is then attracted to peaceful living in the face of the contempt of others. Once again, it is not exactly desiring contempt, but being willing to face contempt should God ask it of us. In this case, I think in particular of John Lewis and his fellow freedom riders--white and black. Finally, having become spiritually poor and willing to suffer contempt, we become humble. Becoming humble, we become spiritually free. All of this follows the activity of Jesus: laid in a manger, an oppressed carpenter, an itinerant preacher open to all (rich and poor), dying on a cross.

One other note: a standard is a banner

Here is the text of Ignatius:


The one of Christ, our Commander-in-chief and Lord; the other of Lucifer, mortal enemy of our human nature.

Ask for the grace to become spiritually free.

First Prelude. The First Prelude is the narrative. It will be here how Christ calls and wants all under His standard; and Lucifer, on the contrary, under his.

Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see a great field of all that region of Jerusalem, where the supreme Commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord; another field in the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.

Third Prelude. The third, to ask for what I want: and it will be here to ask for knowledge of the deceits of the bad chief and help to guard myself against them, and for knowledge of the true life which the supreme and true Captain shows and grace to imitate Him.

First Point. The first Point is to imagine as if the chief of all the enemy seated himself in that great field of Babylon, as in a great chair of fire and smoke, in shape horrible and terrifying.

Second Point. The second, to consider how he issues a summons to innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to another, and so through all the world, not omitting any provinces, places, states, nor any persons in particular.

Third Point. The third, to consider the discourse which he makes them, and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches -- as he is accustomed to do in most cases -- that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.

So, on the contrary, one has to imagine as to the supreme and true Captain, Who is Christ our Lord.

First Point. The first Point is to consider how Christ our Lord puts Himself in a great field of that region of Jerusalem, in lowly place, beautiful and attractive.

Second Point. The second, to consider how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons -- Apostles, Disciples, etc., -- and sends them through all the world spreading His sacred doctrine through all states and conditions of persons.

Third Point. The third, to consider the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and -- if His Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them -- no less to actual poverty; the second is to be of contumely and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contumely or contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them induce to all the other virtues.

Finish with the triple colloquy (Mary, Jesus, God the Father/Mother) or with another suitable prayer.

If you have time, repeat this exercise on another day. Perhaps you can let yourself daydream about it. Engage all of your senses in imagining Jesus and the Dark Lord.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Week Five, Exercise One: The Hidden Life of Jesus Continued

This exercise should be experienced between January 15 and January 18. It is not technically part of the Exercises of Ignatius, but it is completely consistent with Ignatian Spirituality.

Ask for the grace to know Jesus more fully.

Imagine Jesus as a teenager. He is continuing to learn the trade of carpentry from Joseph. How do they speak to each other? How well do they listen to each other? Can you see the expression on the face of Joseph when Jesus does something well? Can you see the expression on the face of Jesus while he listens to Joseph teach him?

How does Joseph react when Jesus makes a mistake? Remember Jesus learned. Are there any parenting lessons here?

Jesus learned how to speak from Mary and Joseph. He must also have learned how human beings love.

What other lessons did Jesus learn from Mary and Joseph? Imagine Jesus coming home with stories about other people his age. How would Mary and Joseph have responded?

We know from Luke 2 that Jesus sat in the temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Did this conversation continue with the rabbis in Nazareth? Imagine Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth learning Hebrew so that he might read the scriptures. He would have learned Aramaic from his parents and Hebrew from his rabbi.

What is the reaction of his rabbi as he listens to the teenage Jesus' passion for his faith? Is Jesus grateful to his rabbi for the time his rabbi devoted to teaching him?

We all imitate our teachers in certain ways. How did Jesus imitate his Jewish teachers?

Imagine Jesus as he interacts with people in Nazareth. How does he conduct himself in his business relations?

All of Jesus' learning and living prepared him for the enlightenment he received during his Baptism.

We continue to walk with the Lord as we contemplate his life.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Week Four, Exercise Two: Jesus Goes to The Temple at Age 12

This exercise should be experienced between January 11 and 14.

Ask for the grace to know Jesus more fully.

Consider how Jesus grew up. He worked with Joseph as a carpenter and learned from Mary and Joseph about their Jewish faith. In understanding Jesus, it is important to make a distinction between knowledge (scientia) and wisdom (sapentia). He was not born with perfect knowledge of all of the scientific and historical truths of the world. For example, he would not have had knowledge of Einstein's work on relativity theory (E=mc2). However, as the son of God, he would have had wisdom way beyond his chronological years. That is, he would have fully understood that God is love and that he too was constituted by love.

Even so, he grew in this wisdom as Luke 2:52 tells us: "And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man."

Prayerfully read Luke 2:41-52. What occurs to you? Can you imagine yourself in the scene? Imagine being awed by the knowledge of this wise 12 year old. What is it that he is saying. Can you feel his love for God as he speaks? Does it evoke love from you?

If Jesus is totally aware of his eternal origin from God, what does that say of our origins? What does that say our destiny?

What wisdom does God seek to give us?

What questions do you have for Jesus? Did he feel the same wonder and the same insecurities that each of us has felt as a 12 year old?

Pray as you have prayed this whole retreat. Close in a way that reverences our Messiah who grew up and felt what we felt at the age of twelve.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Week Four, Exercise One: Jesus Meets Us Where We Are

This exercise should be experienced between January 8 and 11.

As we continue in Phase Two of the Exercises, we recall how Jesus came to us in the form a vulnerable child. Take a moment to relish those Christmas graces. How amazing for God to come to humanity in the poverty, beauty, and neediness of a human child. It makes us think of the gentle way that God communicates. He does not hit us with the taskmaster's rod. He reveals himself as vulnerable as we are vulnerable. This truth is expressed in a very insightful way by Ignatian spiritual director and author Margaret Silf. In the twelfth chapter of her book Inner Compass, she writes:

My old school had the Gospel words interpreted by Chaucer as its motto: "And trouthe shal set thee free."

I lived with them for some years, emblazoned on my uniform and resounding out of every end-of-term assembly when we sang the school song. Gradually they insinuated themselves into my heart and sat there like an egg waiting for fertilization. It took over thirty years for that egg to come to ripeness, but when that finally happened, it took on a life of its own, as eggs do.

I knew all this when I began to think about these questions, and I knew, too, how central they are to any exploration of our inner landscape. But it was a bleak November evening when something clicked into place that helped me to take hold of the scale of the question, and it had to do with the matter of the gap. Let me explain.

The words that triggered my understanding that evening would have seemed trite, had they not been spoken by someone who had obviously found them in the depths of his own experience.
God comes to us, he said

*not where we should have been if we had made all the right choices in life,
*not where we could have been if we had taken every opportunity that God has offered us,
*not where we wish we were if we didn't have to be in the place where we find ourselves,
*not where we think we are because our minds are out of sync wtih our hearts,
*not where other people think we are or think we ought to be when they are attending to their own agendas.

I had heard this kind of wisdom often enough before. That God meets us where we really are is, after all, commonplace throughout our journeying. We all know that with our heads, but that evening I suddenly grasped the truth of it with my heart, and that moment of truth brought me a new degree of freedom--just as Jesus had said it would! (134-135)

As we contemplate Silf's words and continue along the path of contemplating the life of Christ, let us ask

*Where am I at this point in my life? Am I stuck in any situations that foster unfreedom and attachment? What does Jesus want to say to me in this situation?

Also, let's just soak in the truth that God meets us where we are in the person of Christ (or if we are not Christian, God meets us where we are in my own spiritual tradition). What does it mean that God does not meet us where we wish we were or where other people think we should be? What does it mean that God meets us where we are? Can we feel the freedom of that? Do we need to ask God for the freedom this truth gives?

Spend some time with the Lord. Perhaps just let the Lord put his arm around your shoulders and let him tell you: "I am here with you now, in the situation you are in now. I do not reject you. I accept you as you are, now!"

What do we want to tell the Lord now?

Consider these truths as we move into the hidden years of Jesus and into his public ministry.

Close with a prayer in your tradition.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Continuing Along the Path of Phase Two

According to St. Ignatius, the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises is to help the exercitant (retreatant) to make decisions free from disordered attachment. We reflected upon some of this as we meditated upon sin and mimesis in Phase One. We will find that the same theme reemerges in Phase Two, this time within the context of contemplating the life of Christ.

Attachment occurs in a variety of ways, mimesis being one of the most powerful. The genius of Ignatius was his ability to reflect on the nature of attachment and detachment as he contemplated the way of being and teaching of the one whose living was free from attachment and who liberated others from attachment. Consider the case of Matthew, the tax collector, and how the Lord freed him through fellowship.

In this vein, St. Ignatius developed meditations that are not strictly Biblical: meditations like the Two Standards, the Three Kinds of People, and the Three Kinds of Humility. St. Ignatius also developed rules of discernment for this phase and guidelines for making important life decisions.

In all of these meditations, let us pray for the availability to be open to the Lord's insights and to understanding the movements of consolation and desolation. In all of this the Lord is offering to guides us to make truly intentional decisions.

Finally, each of the great religious traditions has methods for reflecting on attachment and detachment. I trust each of us to find the method that best works for us.