The Contemplation to Attain the Love of God is a kind of capstone of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. Sometimes it is phrased as “The Contemplation on Divine Love,” since God’s love is not something that we “attain” through our own actions. The aim of the meditation is to be aware of the gracious and abundant love of God and to respond in love, generosity, and freedom.
Ignatius asks us to pray for the grace that we desire: “an intimate knowledge of all the goods which God lovingly shares with me” and, from gratitude, to be able to respond totally “in my love and service” (SE 233).
He suggests that we recall two key ideas before beginning: first, “love is shown more in deeds than in words” (230), and second, that “love consists in the mutual sharing of goods” (231). Lovers want to share of their possessions with their beloveds. So too, is the mutual gift between God and me. We give what we have, not out of obligation, but out of immense love for the other.
The Contemplation consists of four points over which I pray, and a sort of repetition of meditating on different aspects of God’s gifts to me, followed by four responses of love on our part. This repetition deepens our gratitude. For me, the repetition also dramatizes the ongoing love and response of love between God and each one of us, one that takes place over and over again, through time.
First, I consider how God creates me out of love: my existence, my natural gifts and talents, through Baptism and Eucharist, and many individual graces given. For example, I might rest in and turn over in my heart the gift of my existence, that God made me out of love, and that my existence is a pure gift of love, for a purpose. How do I want to respond? Ignatius suggests the Suscipe. We give God back all our gifts, not as something we anticipate being taken away, but rather to use in whatever way God wants. Perhaps God will take me in an entirely new direction than I had anticipated. For me, the force of this meditation means holding myself as precious in God’s eyes, and yet also lightly, as a creature here only by grace. How freeing!
In the second focal point, I again meditate on God’s gifts to me, this time considering that God gifts me with “the fullness of divine life in Jesus” (235). Jesus gives me his Body and Blood, his Spirit, and loves me so much that he wants me to become a dwelling place, a home for God. We dwell in God, and God desires to dwell in us (John 15:4). God gives us God’s very self. Again, how do I want to respond in love and generosity?
In the third point, I pay attention to how God tirelessly “labors for me” (SE 236). God enters ordinary human life, its work and struggles. Like a potter with clay, a mother in childbirth, or a mighty force giving life to dead bones, God brings life out of suffering and death and works to create and recreate me. How has God personally been at work in my life? As a gardener, I think of God as the Divine Gardener, planting the seeds, nourishing the soil, and doing the weeding and hard pruning in me. Indeed, God not only gardens but is also the sun, air, rain, soil, and seed, too—in all, working through all. Again, I respond to these gifts in love: “Take, Lord, and receive….”
In the last point, we draw all these previous ideas together and pay attention to how everything comes from God, as rays descend from the sun, or water flows from a fountain, with mercy, justice, love, and so on (237). Everything is a gift—everything.
After each one of these focal points, we offer ourselves, our gifts, our talents—everything—back to God, asking God to do whatever God likes with us. “Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me” (234). (I always end up singing the St. Louis Jesuits’ version of “Take, Lord, Receive”!)
We can return it all to God and even sing it all back to God, because God’s love is trustworthy, and God’s care and generosity for us are beyond measure. For me, praying and recognizing this truth is almost like remembering something that I have always known but sometimes forget. How happy and freeing to “remember.” God invites each one of us to recall our true origin and true home, so that we might remain in love with God and labor with God, in whatever way God calls, today.