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 rejoice intensely because of the great glory and joy of Christ our Lord.
Text for Prayer: See below.
Reflection: During the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius wants the retreatant to contemplate and reflect upon a number of different appearances of the Risen Lord to his friends and disciples. Over a period of forty days Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:1-11), to Peter (Luke 24:9-12, 33-34,; John 20:1-10), to the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-35), to the apostles (John 20:19-23), to Thomas (John 23:24-29), on the shore of Gennesaret (John 21:1-17), on the mountain of Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20), to more than five hundred Christians at once (1 Corinthians 15:6), and right before he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:1-12).
Ignatius makes two important observations regarding the Resurrection. First, during the Passion the divinity of the Lord seems to be hidden by the cruelty and violence that his humanity suffers. The brutality and gruesomeness are so grave that even his disciples, who had witnessed the Transfiguration only a few weeks before, flee in terror. Yet now, after his Resurrection, Christ’s divinity shines through his humanity, manifesting itself in most glorious manner. Not even the finality of death could veil the divinity of Christ! His Resurrection opens the floodgates of grace, mercy, and love that had been waiting for us ever since our first parents gravely sinned in Eden. At every encounter with the risen Christ, the disciples are overwhelmed with joy, awe, and happiness.
Reflection: We now come to the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises and shift our focus to the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord. In this week our goal is to arrive at an intense and lasting joy and gladness characteristic of true consolation.
The basic dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises is that in the First Week we take a brutally honest look at sin and this humbles us. From this point forward we recognize that it is foolish to try set up any rival good to God. We see clearly that if we try to live by our own lights rather than God’s will, we are bound to failure. Therefore, we look to Christ in order that we might imitate Him and model our lives after His: this is the only way out of the abyss. Then, in the Third Week of the Exercises, we try to accompany Christ in His suffering, staying near Him as long as we can bear.
Reflection: The image of the scourged Christ is often associated with Holy Week and the Passion. Such an image usually portrays Christ, bare from the waist up, a red cloak draped over his shoulders. On his head is a crown of thorns and emanating from the crown streams of blood run down the sides of his face. His torso is also covered with blood, the scars of the beating by the Roman soldiers. His mien reflects sadness, pain, and anguish, all at the same time.
The image of the scourged Christ depicts Christ after his questioning by Pontius Pilate and immediately before his sentencing to death. The Gospel of John recounts how Pilate asked Jesus whether or not he was a king and what is truth, Pilate asked the crowd if it wanted Jesus or Barabbas, a revolutionary, released to them. When the crowd asked for Barabbas, Pilate had Jesus scourged, thinking that this punishment would satisfy the crowd and keep it from rioting. He then brought Jesus out the people proclaiming “Behold the man!” or in Latin, “Ecce Homo!” As we know, the crowd kept clamoring for Barabbas and demanded that Jesus be crucified, so that Pilate acquiesced, and sentenced Jesus to death.
Reflection: What do we hope will vindicate us? When all is said and done, what do we wish to be the justification for our thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions? One often hears people use phrases like “we will be vindicated by history,” meaning that hindsight will show either that they did the pragmatic (though not always honest) thing, or that their behavior will be vindicated by opinions fashionable at some future point. Jesus encounters these ways of thinking and others at His trial, but refuses to be vindicated by anyone or anything beyond Himself.
First, we see Jesus go before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Before Jesus is even arrested, Caiaphas advocates His death by stating that “it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (Jn. 11:50). Caiaphas’ primary preoccupation is not whether Jesus’ claim is true or not, but whether Israel will be destroyed. In the second part of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict observes that
there were certain circles within the Sanhedrin that would have favored the liberation of Israel through political and military means. But the way in which Jesus presented His claim seemed to them clearly unsuited to the effective advancement of their cause.
Reflection: In these scenes we see the betrayal of Jesus by two of his apostles: Judas who betrays him for money and Peter who denies him for fear of his own life. Judas appears two times in the Gospel of John before the Last Supper. On both occasions (John 6:70-71 & John 12:4) he breaks the general atmosphere of celebration, of community, of solemnity, and sacredness that Jesus had created. On the first occasion John makes sure to show how Judas is a victim to the will of the evil spirit. On the second occasion, when Judas protests the use of expensive perfume to anoint Jesus, John uses the word “pure” to describe the perfume. In Greek this word for “pure” could also be used to express fidelity and authenticity. Perhaps St. John’s use of the word is an invitation to reflect upon Judas’ desire to sell his own fidelity and authenticity, and that divided reality we experience in our own hearts when we sell our identity for much less.
The mystery of evil in Judas as told by St. John is present in more than just the man who betrayed our Lord. It will always be a symbol of a more profound and ancient rupture, at first glance an impassable fissure that even communion with God seemingly cannot mend. The Evangelist perceives that even among Jesus’ closest friends the spirit of evil, of division, and of hate works its way into the communion of the group. For Judas the reality of this evil is too much to bear, the fissure to deep to overcome, and he loses hope. How could he have known that what Jesus was going to undergo and endure would end with his glorious resurrection? Perhaps if Judas only believed in Christ’s words and deeds would things have gone differently?
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).
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?
Reflection: We consider two points in this meditation. The first point is that between His entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and His Last Supper, Jesus continues to labor on our behalf by preaching daily in the Temple. The second point is that, due to men’s neglect, there is no one to receive Him in Jerusalem, therefore He goes back to a place where He is loved and welcomed: Bethany.
Regarding the first point, let us note that this passage (Luke 19:47-48) is one of the many instances in the Gospel where the evangelists tell us that Jesus spoke to the crowds and instructed the people; however, the evangelists do not inform us what the specific words were or what lesson Jesus may have taught on these occasions. Instead it is left up to our prayerful imagination to discover what Christian message the Lord desired to convey to His hearers. This allows us to have a deep encounter with the Lord in our own prayer and to discover the lesson that the Lord desires to teach us today in the intimacy of the conversation we will have with Him in our heart through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Whenever He taught the crowds, Jesus desired for His Word to be received with love in the heart of each person who listened and He desired for His Word to abide there. It is the same with us whenever we meditate on His preaching and think about the words he used on these occasions.
All glory, praise, and honor To you, Redeemer, King! To whom the lips of children Made glad hossanas ring.
You are the King of Israel, And David’s royal Son, Who in the Lord’s Name comest, The King and Blessed One…
The above hymn that will be played in many Churches on Palm Sunday helps set the tone as the Church enters into Holy Week and reminds us of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is not difficult to picture Jesus, his fame having spread throughout Judea, riding into the city on a donkey, greeted by the crowds who cry out “Hossana!” as they wave palm branches in their hands.
But the same hymn and the image of the scene cannot help but raise a few questions in our minds. What type of king enters a city riding on a donkey? Why are people so eager to greet Him, especially when a few days later they are no longer crying out “Hossana!” but rather “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” How and why do they have such a quick change of heart?
By the time that Jesus rides into Jerusalem He has already established that He wishes to be a different type of king, one who serves others and is not served. The fact that He would choose to arrive in a Jerusalem on a donkey speaks to that desire of His, and His desire for us is that we follow His example.
The change of heart experienced by the people of Jerusalem is a more complex question to answer. Luke’s account of the entry into Jerusalem, however, can perhaps help us to gain some insight. Luke mentions that Jesus wept over the city as he approached it and lamented “If you only knew what lay before you…” (Luke 19:42) Luke, catering to his audience, might be referencing the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 when the city was destroyed by the Romans. But could it not be, rather, that Luke is reminding us that sometimes we may want to recognize God in places where he cannot truly be found? Could it be that we want to make God into something He cannot be, and rather than seeing Him as He is, we only see Him as we want to see Him?
The people of Jerusalem may have wanted a king, and in Jesus, they weren’t getting the king they expected. But we, too, can sometimes place ridiculous expectations on God. We can think that God exists merely to answer our prayers or make us feel good about ourselves. When our prayers aren’t answered in a way that we prefer or if the good feelings disappear, we turn away. Similar to the change of heart experienced by the people of Jerusalem our cries of “Hossanna!” quickly turn to “Crucify Him!” We can think that God is merely out to get us and judge us or that he places too many rules and regulations on our lives that we can’t keep. We can be tempted to want to have Easter Sunday without Good Friday.
Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week is a call to conversion. It is a call to put aside all of those preconceived notions of what God should be like and simply allow ourselves to be with God, with his Son, Jesus, to follow Him “on the way” that Luke mentions throughout his Gospel and stand beneath the Cross. Only if we make this journey can we fully enjoy Easter Sunday.
Questions: Do I place expectations on God that He cannot fulfill? Do I have any preconceived notions of what God should be like for me and for others? Are these expectations compatible with who it is that Jesus says He is and how He calls us to follow Him? Can I place these expectations aside and allow myself to be with Jesus on his journey to the Cross and allow myself to be with Him at the foot of the Cross?
This daily Spiritual Exercises blog seeks to present meditations in the spirit of Saint Ignatius Loyola. It is brought to you by a group of Jesuits from across the United States and Canada interested in offering Ignatian Spirituality to those seeking Christ through Scripture and prayer.