Grace: To have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who wept over his friend Lazarus, and raised him from the dead, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Text for Prayer: John 11:1-57
Reflection: This scene marks a pivotal point in the Gospel of John and the narrative of Jesus’ public ministry for three reasons. First, it is such a marvelous miracle that many people begin to believe in Jesus’ special identity and mission. This makes the Pharisees and the powers that be uneasy, since they had publicly opposed Jesus. Would the people turn against them on account of Jesus of Nazareth? This miracle instigates the plotting of the Pharisees, which will ultimately end with the decision to have Jesus killed.
Second, it reveals the deep love and affection that Jesus had for Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Throughout the Gospels Jesus stays with these three siblings and is nourished by their warmth and friendship. Bethany, the town where they lived, becomes something of a spiritual oasis for Jesus, where he goes to rest and make merry. When Lazarus dies, Jesus is deeply affected but chooses not to act, deferring to the will of his Father. This is so that more may come to believe that Jesus truly is the “Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” (Verse 27). When Jesus sees the tomb, he is moved to tears and openly expresses his sorrow over the loss of his dear friend.
Grace: To know Jesus, who calms our storms and invites us to collaborate on his work, that others may know that he is our shepherd.
Text for Prayer: Matthew 14:22-33
Reflection: One of my favourite films is P. T. Anderson’s Magnolia. In this film, there is a scene where it rains frogs. It is a powerful and striking scene. Most people after watching the film wonder the significance of the amphibian downpour. The scene grabs their attention and, as they focus on it, they missed the effect it had on the characters in the film. The miracle of Jesus walking on water grabs our attention and we need to examine it carefully. In the process, we might miss the significance and effect this powerful moment had on the disciples.
In his account of the story, John tells us that “A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough” (Jn 6:18). Mark and Matthew both comment that the wind was against the boat. In all three accounts, there is a sense that the boat was in rough water. In Mark and Matthew, the wind stopped. In John, even though there is no mention of the wind stopping, once Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, they “arrived at the land to which they were going” (Jn 6:21). Jesus came to their aid. In some ways, this story is similar to Jesus’ stilling of the storm (Mk 4:35-41). Yet, there is something particular to this narrative. In it, (Mk 6:47-52; Mt 14:24-33; Jn 6:16-21) the Evangelists stressed a physical and a spiritual reality within the context of what Jesus tells the disciples when he meets them.
In terms of the physical reality, this story indicates that Jesus is the Son of God who walked on water and calmed the storming wind. He has power over nature. The disciples recognized this, and were astonished and worshipped him. The narrative also points to the spiritual significance this account had for the disciples, and later on it for the Church and for all of us. St. Augustine of Hippo invites us to reflect on this story in this way: “Let us think of the ship as the Church and the faithful soul. The sea is this world. The wind and the waves are persecutions and temptations. When the wind arises, the ship is tossed: but because Christ is there, it cannot sink.”
The author of The Confessions draws us into a reflection of the strong winds that at times affect our Church and our souls. In the midst of great scandals or persecution against the Church, or when we give into temptations or our problems seem too big, we seem overwhelmed by what is happening around us and may begin to wonder where Jesus is in the midst of all of it. And then the unthinkable happens. We recognize Jesus in the midst of the storm, when the winds might be picking up. At first, we might doubt that it is Jesus who comes to our aid. As we struggle with the winds and with our doubts, Jesus’ loving and compelling call draws us close to his Sacred Heart: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27).
One thing is certain, Jesus invites us to take heart, to take courage. He calls us to leave our fears and doubts behind. He is our shepherd, there is nothing we shall want (Ps 23). He will lead us beside still waters and will restore our Church and our souls. Even when I walk in the darkest valley, when I find myself in the midst of a storm, I shall not fear; for he is with me. He is by my side. He gives me courage.
To me, when Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I”, he is also inviting us to take his heart – to get to know him. He is calling us into a deeper relationship with him. He knows that struggles are part of our human condition. There will always be problems, persecutions and temptations. There are no easy solutions or quick fixes for most of them. Thus, he invite us to find courage, wisdom and strength in our relationship with him.
The invitation to take the Heart of Jesus is also a summons to allow our heart to become unto his Heart. It is an invitation to receive the sensus Christi that we may see like Jesus sees, think like Jesus thinks and feel like Jesus feels. It is an invitation to collaborate with Jesus in the work of redemption. As we enter into a deeper relationship with Christ, our sorrows and problems acquire a new perspective. Jesus becomes our very strength and we are drawn closer to those who, like us, are suffering and in need of comfort and peace.
The storms will continue. Many will struggle and doubt that anyone will come to their assistance. Jesus invites us to collaborate in his plan of bringing comfort, peace, justice, beauty, truth and love to those in need. He is calling us to deepen our bond with him so that we might become more like him. He is inviting us to feel with the feelings of his Heart, which are basically love for his Father and love for all women and men. Jesus is calling us to recognize the chaos and the suffering in our Church and in our soul, and in response to learn compassion – to “suffer with” those in need. We are called to be compassionate with the poor, the alienate, the infirm. We are called to help Jesus calm the storms of their lives. We are invited to stand along their side, and to invite them to see that the Lord is our shepherd and there is nothing we shall want.
Questions: What are the storms in my life Jesus wants to calm? Have I ever felt with the feelings of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? How do I feel about feeling in that way? How do I receive Jesus’ invitation to collaborate with him in the work of redemption?
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: An intimate knowledge of our Lord, Who has called me, that I might love Him more and follow Him more closely.
Text for Prayer: John 1: 31-51
Reflection: The Apostles who were called to follow Jesus are well described by the motto of Pope Francis: miserando atque eligendo (“miserable yet chosen”). None of the Apostles are particularly well-suited to the task prior to Jesus calling them. For that matter, they are not particularly well-suited to the task even after Jesus calls them. On one occasion in Mark’s gospel, they fail to drive out a demon, requiring Jesus to do so for them. When they are uncertain as to why they failed, Jesus responds that “this kind can only be driven out through prayer” (9:29). Evidently, the Apostles did not realize that spiritual warfare required communion with God. Of course, as time goes on we see multiple misunderstandings (one of which caused Jesus to call Simon “Satan” moments after naming him “Peter”) and the Apostles desert Jesus during the Passion. Throughout Jesus’ life, the Apostles have no difficulty living up to the first part of Francis’ motto. Mercifully, the story goes on.
Jesus is persistent in His dealings with the Apostles. Were He a savvy businessman, Jesus would likely have shown the Apostles the door after failing to live up to the corporate mission statement. But these are the people whom He has chosen, and He will not abandon them—even if they do not always return the favor. He constantly forms them, constantly teaches them, constantly strives to help them live up to the glory of their vocation as His followers.
Grace: To have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who was tempted in the desert, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.
Text for Prayer: Luke 4:1-13; Matthew 4:1-11
Reflection: Jesus passed around thirty years at home in Nazareth. Evidently there came a time when he felt called, or perhaps moved, to leave. Why? Where? Throughout those thirty years in Nazareth he had been maturing and perhaps discerning a number of plans. Jesus did not live in a bubble—he lived amid the great expectation of his people for their messianic liberation (Lk 3:15). We can tell that he wanted to do something to change this situation in which he grew up. He knew the alternatives presented to the Kingdom of his Father: the Essenes (who emphasized a life of prayer and penance in hopeful expectation of the Lord’s Messiah), the Pharisees (whose stress on ritual purity and observance of the Law eclipsed everything else), the Sadducees (who allied themselves with power and shared in the stolen wealth of their own people), and the Zealots (who waged violent guerrilla war against their Roman occupiers). We can imagine that among the various alternatives Jesus hears the message of the Baptist, perceives the mark of the Spirit, and discerns and chooses the way of being holy proposed by John the Baptist. So he decides to join a radical prophetic movement and begins the journey to the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Jesus, although he did not need it, decides to receive John’s baptism. Here is where his mission and identity first start to reveal themselves—he is taking the place of the sinner on the road to judgment. After receiving the Baptism, however, the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted.
Grace: To choose always what will allow for a deepening of Christ’s life in me and be a benefit to my own happiness and the good of the Church.
Reflection: This week has clearly been a week that has been marked by choices. The Exercises have been all about setting us up to make choices. The Church and the world witnessed the election of a new Vicar of Christ—a historic choice in itself, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis is a man who has been formed by the Exercises and in his first homily to the College of Cardinals, in what appeared to be a reference to the Two Standards, he spoke about the choice that we must all make to either profess Jesus Christ or the worldliness of the devil.
The foundation of our lives as Christians is an encounter with God through a man named Jesus Christ, both God and man. We can choose to live as His followers or we can adopt the name Christian as a mere identity, treating it as any other identity that we can acquire and discard at whim. We can choose either life, the way of Christ, or death, the result of the ways of a leader who thrives on trickery and deceitful lies. We can choose to be near Christ and walk with Him in all that we do or we can distance ourselves from Him out of fear because of the requirement that we detach ourselves from the world and its ways. We can focus on the fact that we are loved by Christ and allow our spiritual lives dwell there or motivated by love, we can move towards our complete conversion to Christ, a conversion that requires greater sacrifices on our part but leads to sharing in the victory won by Christ on the Cross. We can choose to collaborate in a reform of the Church or not. We can choose to be faithful to our baptismal promises and live a life inspired by the Spirit and compassion for others or we can choose to be unfaithful and apathetic towards those around us.
“Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me,” says Christ (Matthew 16:24). This week we have meditated on what those words of Christ mean. We have begun to know a man who now sits at the head of the Church who has lived these words as a faithful priest and servant of the poor. Whether or not we choose to hear the words spoken by Christ and live them, allowing ourselves to share in the suffering and triumph of Christ – that is the choice we must make. As you look over the week, which meditation stands out as one where you felt closest to Christ and the most willing to follow Him? Revisit this moment, and allow yourself to listen to what it is that Christ has to say to you.
Grace: For an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord who chose to be like us in every way except sin. To be moved with compassion for those in need.
Text of Prayer: Matthew 3:11-17
Reflection: Speaking about the Baptism of Jesus, Maximus of Turin, one of the Church Fathers said: “What sort of a baptism is this, when the one who is dipped is purer than the font … And in which the streams are made pure more than they purify?” The question begs an examination of the meaning and purpose of Jesus’s Baptism.
The importance of this event is manifested in the fact that it is recorded in all four Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—have accounts of the Baptism, while John, rather than having a direct narrative simply bears witness to the event. Throughout the centuries, several aspects have been considered about the moment Jesus went to the Jordan to receive baptism from John the Baptist. Commentary on and exegesis of the Gospels reveal that Jesus’ Baptism is the entrance into his public life. His Baptism is also the moment when Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit and driven into the desert to pray, fast and be tested. In many ways, his Baptism reveals the path of abasement and humility that the Son of God freely chose in order to adhere to the plan of the Father.
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.
From the time of St. Ignatius, there has always been a special relationship between the Holy Father and the Society of Jesus. In one of our founding documents, St. Ignatius invites to be a Jesuit “whosoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross [...] and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, His spouse, under the Roman Pontiff.”
It is thus with great joy that we at The Spiritual Exercises Blog pass along the announcement that a new Roman Pontiff has now been elected, Pope Francis. We offer him our prayers, and earnestly hope that he will teach not only Jesuits, but all Christians, how to better “serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross.”
Ad multos annos, Holy Father!
Grace: To choose what is for God’s greater glory and the salvation of my soul.
Text for Prayer: John 17:24-26 and SpEx on Humility
Reflection: This meditation on the three forms of humility is an excellent meditation for Lent. At the beginning of Lent we head out to the desert for forty days to pray and prepare spiritually for the coming celebration of Easter. We do this in imitation of Christ who, compelled by the Holy Spirit, went into the desert where he prayed, fasted, and withstood the temptations of the Enemy. In his description of the three forms of humility, St. Ignatius uses language reminiscent of the temptations Christ faced in the desert to describe the temptations that can be withstood by persons who possess the first two forms of humility. Ignatius says that the first form of humility is found in the person who will not consider committing a single mortal sin, not even in exchange for all the created things in the world or to save his earthly life. Likewise, the second form of humility is found in the person who cannot be tempted to commit even a single venial sin—not even if doing so would make him master of all creation or save his life on earth.
In the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, we meditated on mortal and venial sin and the way that sin puts us out of step with God’s plan. We noted that even venial sin enervates our spiritual life and can eventually dispose us to disregard God’s law and commit mortal sin. Finally, we meditated on hell with the goal in mind of cultivating a healthy fear of hell. The idea was that such a fear could help us to avoid sin during those times when we don’t keenly sense God’s love or the times when His commandments seem particularly difficult to us. Certainly sin is such a destructive force that it is worth avoiding at all cost, even if it be through the motivation of fear of punishment rather than out of a motive of love.