An Ignatian Prayer Adventure: Week 5

An Ignatian Prayer AdventureOur prayer this week explores the implications and consequences of following Christ. Ignatius does this by proposing three scenarios or “thought experiments” involving the challenge of being one of Christ’s disciples.

The question hovering over the whole week is: What do I really want?

What do you want? That is, what does your heart say? What do you really want? That is, look honestly at your desires as they are. God is more interested in what you feel than in what you think. And God is interested in your real feelings, not the feelings you think you should have.

Day 1

The Call of Christ, Our King

We begin by contemplating the call of a worldly leader, which then leads us to consider the call of Christ, our King. In considering the call of a worldly leader, Ignatius relies on language and feudal images fitting for his time.

If the medieval imagery is distracting or unhelpful, consider the inspiration of a person of our time who personifies virtue and integrity, fights against injustice, or labors for the oppressed and marginalized. This person may be a civic leader, a modern-day saint or prophet, or a personal friend. Or you may rely on some mythical figure in literature or film. Reflect on anyone who inspires you and summons your zeal to make the world a more just and gentle place.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: to listen more attentively to Christ’s call in my life; to become more ready and eager to do what Christ wants.

The Call of a Worldly Leader

Read through the scene slowly. Pause frequently as you immerse yourself in it.

First, I will place before my mind a human king, chosen by God our Lord himself, whom all Christian princes and all Christian persons reverence and obey. (SE 92)

Second, I will observe how this king speaks to all his people, saying, “My will is to conquer the whole land of the infidels. Hence, whoever wishes to come with me has to be content with the same food I eat, and the drink, and the clothing which I wear, and so forth. So too each one must labor with me during the day, and keep watch in the night, and so on, so that later each may have a part with me in the victory, just as each has shared in the toil.” (SE 93)

Third, I will consider what good subjects ought to respond to a king so generous and kind; and how, consequently, if someone did not answer his call, he would be scorned and upbraided by everyone and accounted as an unworthy knight. (SE 94)

What feelings does this leader stir in you? What do you imagine you could do if you followed such a leader? Make note of your thoughts in your journal.

For Reflection

There are so many world leaders whose words and actions inspire us to service and who can remind us of Christ’s even greater summons. One of my favorite inspirations is from Theodore Roosevelt, who said this in a speech at the Sorbonne in 1910:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

—Kevin O’Brien, SJ

Day 2

The Call of Christ, Our King (Continued)

We now consider the call of Jesus Christ. Note the repeated use of two phrases, the “more” (or “greater”) and “with me.” Christ summons the best from us, calling us to the magis, to greater service and generosity.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: to listen more attentively to Christ’s call in my life; to become more ready and eager to do what Christ wants.

Responding to the Call

You might review your notes from yesterday before reading the meditation.

If we give consideration to such a call from the temporal king to his subjects, how much more worthy of our consideration it is to gaze upon Christ our Lord, the eternal King, and all the world assembled before him. He calls to them all, and to each person in particular he says: “My will is to conquer the whole world and all my enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of my Father. Therefore, whoever wishes to come with me must labor with me, so that through following me in the pain he or she may follow me also in the glory.” (SE 95, emphasis added)

Ignatius suggests two responses. Both are loving responses of a generous disciple. The first response is the offering of a disciple who commits him- or herself wholeheartedly to the work of the kingdom of God:

[I will reflect that] all those who have judgment and reason will offer themselves wholeheartedly for this labor. (SE 96)

This offering is a matter of reason and good judgment: it makes sense that if we are going to follow a noble, worldly leader, we will want to follow Christ all the more.

The second offering suggests an even more generous, more heartfelt response. The disciple devotes him- or herself not simply to laboring for the kingdom but also to being with Christ and imitating more completely his way of living:

Those who desire to show greater devotion and to distinguish themselves in total service to their eternal King and universal Lord, will not only offer their persons for their labor, but go further still. They will work against their human sensitivities and against their carnal and worldly love, and they will make offerings of greater worth and moment, and say (SE 97, emphasis added):

“Eternal Lord of all things, I make my offering, with your favor and help. I make it in the presence of your infinite Goodness, and of your glorious Mother, and of all the holy men and women in your heavenly court. I wish and desire, and it is my deliberate decision, provided only that it is for your greater service and praise, to imitate you in bearing all injuries and affronts, and any poverty, actual as well as spiritual, if your Most Holy Majesty desires to choose and receive me into such a life and state.” (SE 98, emphasis added)

Ask: What desires, dreams, concerns, fears, or hopes does Christ’s invitation stir in me? How am I moved to respond now?

For Reflection

Better Than Your Best? by Jim Manney

Day 3

The Call of the Disciples

God’s call is meant to give us a fuller life of deeper meaning and authentic joy (though not without the sacrifices that accompany a life of discipleship). Far from being imposed from above, God’s will—or God’s desire—for us is found in our own deepest, truest desires.

Allow God’s Spirit to inspire holy desires in you. We don’t have to make any offering or commitment if we’re not ready. For now, we just want to be open enough to hear the call and to get excited about Christ’s engaging vision for us and the world.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: to listen more attentively to Christ’s call in my life; to become more ready and eager to do what Christ wants.

Read

Read Matthew 4:18–25 (call of the disciples).

Consider Jesus’ call and the response of the disciples. Use the techniques of imaginative prayer to reflect on this passage.

For Reflection

Why God Makes Us Wait, from St. Augustine’s homily on the first letter of John

Day 4

Meditation on Two Standards

For the next two days we pray with another key exercise: the Two Standards. Ignatius borrows from his military past to construct this meditation. A standard is a banner or flag under which the followers of a particular leader rally. Ignatius asks us to consider the opposing tactics and values of Christ and Lucifer (also known as the enemy of our human nature, the father of lies, the evil one, the deceiver). We are asked to choose the banner under which we will stand.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: an awareness of the enemy’s deceits and courage in the face of them; an understanding of Christ’s way of living and a desire to live that way.

Stand with Jesus or with the Way of the World

We begin this meditation by imagining the setting of our choice between the two standards. In the end, there is no middle ground: we must choose.

Here it will be to imagine a great plain in the region of Jerusalem, where the supreme commander of the good people is Christ our Lord; then another plain in the region of Babylon, where the leader of the enemy is Lucifer. (SE 138)

In other words, we imagine a place that is peaceful, just, and beautiful, and another place that’s full of corruption. Feel free to imagine places like these in the world today.

Next, we meditate on the two standards, beginning with the standard of the enemy:

Imagine the leader of all the enemy in that great plain of Babylon. He is seated on a throne of fire and smoke, in aspect horrible and terrifying. (SE 140)

Consider how he summons uncountable devils, disperses some to one city and others to another, and thus throughout the whole world, without missing any provinces, places, states, or individual persons. (SE 141)

Consider the address he makes to them: How he admonishes them to set up snares and chains; how first they should tempt people to covet riches (as he usually does, at least in most cases), so that they may more easily come to vain honor from the world, and finally to surging pride. In this way, the first step is riches, the second is honor, and the third is pride; and from these three steps the enemy entices them to all the other vices. (SE 142)

Pay attention to your affective or emotional reactions when praying this meditation.

For Reflection

The Two Standards by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ

Day 5

Meditation on Two Standards (Continued)

We now consider the standard of Christ, who stands in stark contrast to Lucifer. Although the enemy is repulsive, harsh, and seeks only to deceive and enslave people, Christ is inviting, gentle, and desires only to liberate people to love God and serve others. Both want to rule the world, but in different ways and for different reasons.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: an awareness of the enemy’s deceits and courage in the face of them; an understanding of Christ’s way of living and a desire to live that way.

Christ’s Invitation

Listen to Christ’s invitation. Gaze upon him as he speaks to his disciples. Feel free to imagine a modern-day setting for the parable:

In contrast, gaze in imagination on the supreme and true leader, who is Christ our Lord. (SE 143) Consider how Christ our Lord takes his place in that great plain near Jerusalem, in an area which is lowly, beautiful, and attractive. (SE 144)

Consider how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons, apostles, disciples, and the like. He sends them through the whole world, to spread his doctrine among people of every state and condition. (SE 145)

Consider the address that Christ our Lord makes to all his servants and friends whom he is sending on this expedition. He recommends that they endeavor to aid all persons, by attracting them, first, to the most perfect spiritual poverty and also, if the Divine Majesty should be served and should wish to choose them for it, even to no less a degree of actual poverty; and second, by attracting them to a desire of reproaches and contempt, since from these results humility.

In this way there will be three steps: the first, poverty in opposition to riches; the second, reproaches or contempt in opposition to honor from the world; and the third, humility in opposition to pride. Then from these three steps they should induce people to all the other virtues. (SE 146)

For Reflection

Poverty of Spirit by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

Day 6

Meditation on the Three Types of People

The Meditation on Two Standards stirs in us noble desires to serve and follow Christ in his simplicity of life, his humility, and his selflessness. It presents an ideal way of living. Now we do a reality check. With the call of Christ come the demands of discipleship. Do we want to be disciples?

In this meditation, we reflect on concrete choices that three different types of persons may make as they try to live according to their calling in life. In doing so, we experience some tension between the high ideals of Christ’s call and our lack of interior freedom and deeply embedded resistances to Christ’s invitation to us personally.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to grow in interior freedom so that I’m able to respond wholeheartedly to Christ’s invitation in my life.

The Procrastinator, the Compromiser, and the Truly Free Person

Imagine three persons of good will who are trying to serve God and grow in faith. They sincerely want nothing to get in the way of their relationship with God.

Imagine that each acquires something that is very attractive to him or her. Ignatius suggests a large amount of money, but you can imagine something especially attractive to you, such as a certain material possession, a place to live, a high-profile job, or a particular honor. None of these things is intrinsically evil; each one can be used for good. But each of the three typical persons is excessively attached to the possession in some way.

The one who procrastinates. The first person wants to let go of the attachment, but she never gets around to it. Even on her deathbed, she is still thinking about letting go of her attachment.

The one who compromises. The second person sincerely desires to be free of that excessive preoccupation; at the same time, he wants to keep the possession. So he does lots of good things and makes honorable sacrifices, but he fails to do the one thing that he really needs to do: free himself from his disordered attachment. This person is trying to negotiate with God. Rather than conforming his will to God’s will, the compromiser wants God to do what he wants to do.

The one who is truly free. In Ignatius’s words:

The person typical of the third class desires to get rid of the attachment, but in such a way that there remains no inclination either to keep the acquired money or to dispose of it. Instead such a one desires to keep it or reject it solely according to what God our Lord will move one’s will to choose, and also according to what the person himself or herself will judge to be better for the service and praise of the Divine Majesty. (SE 155)

Considering the important choices you have made, how have you resembled the three persons: the procrastinator, the compromiser, and the truly free person?

For Reflection

Note where the third person begins: she is not sure whether or not God is asking her to give up the possession; she simply desires to be free to do what God wants her to do. So she begins by asking God what she should do. She is open to how God directs her through her prayer, her experience, her reasoning through different options, her discernment of consolations and desolations, and the wise counsel of others.

The truly free person checks her motivations, which are often mixed. She tries to choose from a desire to better serve God and others. The third person may feel some attachment to the possession and does not mind waiting to make a decision. But she does not procrastinate. She does make a timely decision (acknowledging that we rarely reach complete indifference).

—Kevin O’Brien, SJ

Day 7

Jesus Calls the Rich Man

End this week by listening to what God is saying to you. Recall your reaction to the meditations on the Call of the King, the Two Standards, and the Three Types of People. Review your journal notes.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to grow in interior freedom so that I’m able to respond wholeheartedly to Christ’s invitation in my life.

Read

Read Mark 10:17–31 (Jesus calls the rich man to follow him).

Read the passage imaginatively, placing yourself in the scene. Notice the rich man’s noble desires but also his lack of interior freedom because of his excessive attachments. Look at Jesus looking upon him with love. Hear Jesus’ words of encouragement to Peter and to you. Ask: What attachments or disordered loves are getting in the way of my responding to Christ’s invitation?

For Reflection

A Loving Disciple’s Offering

Eternal Lord of all things,

I feel your gaze on me.

I sense that Your Mother stands near, watching;

and that with You are all the great beings of heaven—

angels and powers and martyrs and saints.

Lord Jesus, I think You have put a desire in me.

If You will help me, please,

I would like to make my offering:

I want it to be my desire, and my choice,

provided that You want it, too,

to live my life as You lived Yours.

I know that You lived an insignificant person

in a little, despised town;

I know that You rarely tasted luxury and never, privilege,

and that You resolutely refused to accept power.

I know that You suffered rejection by leaders,

abandonment by friends, and failure.

I know. I can hardly bear the thought of it all.

But it seems a toweringly wonderful thing

that You might call me to follow you and stand with You.

I will labor with You to bring God’s reign,

if you will give me the gift to do it.

Amen.

—Joseph Tetlow, SJ, Hearts on Fire

Additional Videos for Week 5

Kevin O’Brien, SJ, on the Call of Christ the King

Kevin O’Brien, SJ, on the Two Standards

Bloggers’ Reflections on These Spiritual Exercises

Reflections by Paul Brian Campbell, SJ, Vinita Hampton Wright, and Jim Manney:

Desire and Decision

Distractions in Prayer

What Does “Magis” Mean?

What Is Worth Your Desire?

What I’m Looking For


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