I often revisit Ignatius’s reflections on the Resurrection in the Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises at this time of year. This year, I am finding myself moved in a particularly unexpected way by Matthew 28 (SE 307):
Meanwhile, the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.
I imagine myself on Mount Tabor with the disciples. We are here in Galilee because Mary Magdalene said Jesus would meet us here. We are exhausted and, because we haven’t been eating much, the steep climb has sapped every last ounce of energy from us. We are hot and sweaty. We are not in good spirits.
Suddenly, Jesus appears before us.
“When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.”
In my contemplation, I am one of those who hesitates.
I step out of the scene and come back to the page. “Of course some hesitated!” I think incredulously as I read the Gospel account.
Returning to the scene, I find myself on the mount thinking, “I can’t believe that Jesus is actually alive. We saw him die! Yes, he did say he would rise again in three days, but I thought he was speaking metaphorically. And if he really is alive right here, and this is not just an illusion, did he even think about how his Death would affect us? We gave up everything to follow him, and then he just let them crucify him? We have been completely consumed by grief! Didn’t Jesus care about how all of this would affect us?”
I examine the Gospel text further: “some hesitated.” This also implies that some did not hesitate. Some did not doubt. They fell down before him. They weren’t held back by anything.
What kind of faith is this? I wish I were one of these disciples. I want the kind of faith that doesn’t hesitate in the presence of the Risen Christ. I want to fall down before him and I want go to him without reservation.
I need grace for this.
As I take another step back from the scene, I also find it comforting. Even the Eleven, whom we often consider the “gold standard” in faith in Jesus, were not perfect. They did not have perfect faith. Yet they were right there at the Resurrection—chosen—imperfect but still chosen. I find that immensely comforting, because it means that we don’t need to be perfect to be near Jesus. The truth is, in our faith journeys, it is nearly impossible to have perfect faith. Yet the Resurrected Christ still calls out to us to join him.
And when he does, will we hesitate in our approach? Will doubts hold us back? Doubts about whether he really rose from the dead? Doubts that he actually forgives all of our sins? Or, perhaps, self-doubts and feelings of unworthiness cause us to pause? Maybe we hesitate due to our inabilities to forgive ourselves for those things for which we have already obtained his pardon? Or do we hesitate in our approach because we are disappointed or angry with God?
Pope Francis notes, “Often people tell me that when they pray they get angry with the Lord…this too is prayer! The Lord likes it when you tell Him to his face what you are feeling.” The goal is to recognize and evaluate honestly those feelings that do arise in prayer. Ignatian contemplation has a way of revealing truths deep within ourselves that we had not previously recognized. Once we are honest with ourselves, we can approach the Risen Christ and ask him to remove those doubts from our hearts. He holds the key—the grace—to overcome our hesitations so that we can approach him steadily with hearts wide open—hearts receptive to the hard-won and overwhelming joy and peace that he’s been dying to give us.