Reflection: Once we pass the half-way point of Lent, we start to think more and more of Easter, and how it will mean a return to the normal days when we can regularly enjoy the forbidden food or drink that we gave up for Lent. But in the Gospels, as Jesus approaches Easter—and his coming death and resurrection—He begins to remind his followers what it truly means to follow Him and the sacrifices they will be required to make if they are to continue along the path that He has set.
St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, places one of the meditations on following Jesus in the second week of the Exercises and calls it a meditation on three types of men. This is an appropriate mediation to consider within the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, if we imagine a long line of Jesus’ followers split into three separate groups, with Jesus at the head of the line, leading the way.
Reflection: The text for today’s prayer is known as the meditation upon two standards: two ways that lie open before us, either for death or for life (Dt. 30:15-20). It might seem foolish and illogical that anyone, when given the choice, would choose death. And yet, from our reflection upon our own sinfulness, we realize that this crazy person is in fact me. There must therefore be some real attraction to the wrong way for us, some scheme that tricks us and traps us in something that we do not want for ourselves. Understanding that trick is the whole goal of the meditation on the two standards.
The trick works something like this: There is a military leader, a Dark One, who stands before his terrible armies in the field of battle and commands them to mislead and capture a human soul. First they are to inkindle in us a love of riches, then of honor and the worldly esteem of other men. Finally, they are to lead us to the great rebellion against God, Pride. This is logical enough, for wealth makes us feel self-sufficient, honors and esteem make us believe that we are better than our fellow man, and we become prideful when both of these lies are believed whole-heartedly by a troubled soul.
Grace: A heartfelt knowledge of Jesus Christ who became man for me, that I might follow Him more closely and love Him more dearly.
This week we have been praying for a deeper knowledge of the God who became man for us. Specifically, we’ve begged for the grace, “to have heartfelt knowledge of Jesus who is the Son of God and my brother, so that I may love him more fervently and follow him more closely.” Because of the incarnational nature of our faith, we desire more than a mere intellectual knowledge of the Lord. What we seek is a transformation of our entire being—body, soul, and spirit—through an encounter with the living God. As Benedict XVI taught us in his encyclical Deus caritas est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The God whom we adore is not the God of the philosophers but the God of love who took on flesh in order to save us. In the memorable words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesus Christ is “infinity dwindled to infancy.”
St. Ignatius of Loyola would have us to reflect on this marvellous truth by recalling that the Second Person of the Trinity took on so many hardships, perils, and sufferings not only out of a general love for humanity but, in a deeply personal and intimate way, He did it all for you. He lay in a crèche in Bethlehem bound in swaddling clothes out of love for you. He and His mother and father suffered persecution and fled the wrath of Herod out of love for you. And he lived for thirty years laboring as any ordinary man in anonymity in Nazareth out of love for you. All the while, he prepared for the ultimate expression of His love for you in His passion and Cross.
As you look back on the meditations from this week, where was your heart most touched by the love of God? Where were you able to “flesh out” your knowledge of God by encountering the Word Made Flesh as a child or as a man living His hidden life? Return to one of the moments where you found the most fruit in prayer this week and linger there a while with the Lord who, though divine, took on flesh in order to redeem you.
Reflection: In Jesus’ public ministry, his parables are down to earth and make use of common images and experiences of people at that time. The simplest explanation for how Jesus was able to utilize these scenes from everyday life was that he actually lived them himself. Today’s Gospel text offers us an opportunity to enter into the mystery Jesus’ working life. The fact that he worked most of his life as a poor day laborer, shepherd, carpenter, and/or general handyman should make us reflect on the many good things work has to offer us.
Jesus’ work has two dimensions—the human and the divine. Throughout all of his life both dimensions are active: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working.’” (Jn 5:17). All Jesus does is in relation to the Father—we see this in him already as a twelve-year-old. Let this knowledge guide our imaginative prayer.
Reflection: A great book or film, invites us to consider the life of character who is searching for purpose and longing for meaning. At some point in that journey of self-discovery, the character has an Eureka moment. He or she discovers a truth so profound and meaningful that, simply by realizing it, his or her life will be forever changed. In other words, the character has an epiphany – an insight about God, the world or his or herself that alters everything.
The passage of the finding of Jesus in the temple is a very important passage in the gospel story. According to the law, every adult Jewish male who lived within fifteen miles of Jerusalem had to attend the Passover. Every Jewish person should attend it at least once in a lifetime. A Jewish boy became a man when he turned thirteen years of age. At that moment, he became a son of the law. This is what is celebrated in a Bar Mitzvah, the boy becomes to a ‘son of the commandments’ (A girl becomes a ‘daughter of the commandments’ through a Bat Mitzvah). Through the ritual, a boy dies to his childish ways and becomes a subject of the law. Becoming a subject of the law means that he can properly understand the Torah. This coming of age relates to acquiring wisdom.
Reflection: There are many crossroads in our lives where we must leave behind both good and bad things in order to embrace a better future. In Matthew 2, the Holy Family flees into Egypt in order to escape the political persecution of Herod, who seeks the death of the newborn Messiah to eliminate this rival to his power. In a similar fashion, we see many immigrants today who flee from political persecution in Latin American countries for the safety of North American countries. But this month, we might also reflect in a special way on the ”flight into Egypt” of Benedict XVI, who has resigned the papacy for the good of the Catholic Church in order to better seek God’s will.
Just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph became a family of immigrants in order to preserve the future of the Church, Benedict XVI has relinquished the papacy for the first time in 600 years to ensure the future of Catholicism in this century. Acknowleding both the joys and sorrows of his papacy, he has boldly given up the highest office in Christendom out of a humble recognition of his own limitations in health and age. With the symbolic closing of the doors at Castel Gandolfo and standing-down of the Swiss Guards, he has definitively elevated the good of God’s people above his own ecclesial positiion, making a very difficult and heroic choice rooted in deep prayer.
Reflection: Many of you who read this blog may be interested in the Spiritual Exercises because you know the Exercises to be a powerful tool for discernment, for discovering God’s will for your life. Today’s meditation is on the mystery of Our Lady’s purification and the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I think it is a wonderful mystery for helping us to discover the disposition that will allow us to listen to the Lord’s voice and discover His will for our lives: namely one of humility, patience, and self-effacement.
Let’s begin with humility. We note that at this point Mary’s life, she has already completed a major part of her mission: she has said Yes to the angel and has become the Mother of God by bringing the Christ child into the world. What is she to do next? What more does her mission require of her? First, we should consider that Mary does not for an instant become puffed up but remains thoroughly humble (cf. 1 Cor 4:18). She remains humble even to the point of submitting to the purification requirements of the Mosaic Law which held that women were ritually unclean in the week following childbirth (Leviticus 12). Obviously Mary had no need for purification being herself conceived without sin and conceiving Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, but she nevertheless chose to obey the Law, a true mark of her humility before the Lord.
Reflection: Our images of the Nativity are often colored today by idyllic manger scenes set up during the Christmas season, Mary and Joseph looking at the infant Jesus, lying in the manger, surrounded by a whole host of farm animals. Shepherds march in dutifully from one side of the manger scene, bearing their lambs on their shoulders, while the three Wise Men come in from the other side with their gifts, the first one already kneeling and opening up his treasure. Somewhere, off in the corner, stands an angel, in his hands a sign that says “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”…
These scenes can certainly help us enter into the mystery that is the Incarnation and the birth of Christ, but they are far from an accurate depiction of the events as they took place. St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, invites us to take these idyllic depictions and go a step further, to see Mary, Joseph, and those present at the manger after the birth of Christ, and to look at them and serve them in their needs “with all possible respect and reverence” as if we were ourselves present, in order to draw some profit (Annotation 114).
Reflection: In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict, following Origen, describes Jesus as the Kingdom of God personified. Christ Himself is the place where the will of the Father is carried out perfectly, and to be in His presence is to be in the presence of the Kingdom of God. This puts a new twist on parables dealing with the Kingdom, such as that of the mustard seed. In this parable we read that
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard see which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches. (Mt. 13: 31-32)
If the Resurrection is the mustard plant (and Kingdom) fully bloomed, then the Incarnation is the mustard still in seed form. The Son of God comes to Earth, and takes a form which appears totally insignificant. The Word is made flesh in such a way that upon His birth, He cries out for any of His needs to be met (fairly often, for an infant) and as He sleeps, He does so not far from the mess of animals. Smallest of the seeds, indeed.
Reflection: Our lives are guided by ideals—we use them to measure our failures and successes, to orient the desires of our hearts, to motivate ourselves or others when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and for a number of other reasons. We have a vision of what a perfect life would be like: a beautiful and virtuous spouse, a number of wonderful children, a beautiful home, financial security, enough material wealth to share with friends and family, being involved in Church, having a meaningful and profound relationship with God, justice and peace in our neighborhood, our city, our state, our country, our world. We can tweak this however we want, but this is what we would ultimately have the world if we were given the power to make it so, right? Daydreams are where these ideals come alive in our imagination, and help to motivate us to take action.
We all know the world needs help. Open a newspaper and read the headlines—tragedy and strife are in great supply. If it were up to us, how would we fix the world? What the world be like? How would we run things if we had the power and authority to make a difference? How would we get others involved? How would we try and inspire others to live better lives, to contribute to our plans for a better, more loving, and peaceful world? How would we endure the hardships that come with great responsibility? How would we share the glory and prestige of making the world better with others?
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.