An Ignatian Prayer Adventure: Week 4

An Ignatian Prayer AdventureThis week we move into the Second Week or main section of the Spiritual Exercises. In the First Week, we savored the grace of being loved by God in our sinfulness. In the Second Week, we naturally respond to God’s mercy by wanting to get to know this God who is so generous and loving, who calls us by name, just as we are.

In the Second Week, we accompany Jesus in his earthly ministry. We seek not scientific or biographical facts about Jesus, but a knowledge more akin to knowing a friend in mystery and depth—a heartfelt knowledge.

We will reflect on Jesus’ public ministry later in this prayer adventure. This week we will reflect on the Incarnation and Jesus’ birth and early life.

This week uses a technique of Ignatian prayer called imaginative contemplation. This way of praying involves imaginatively placing yourself in the Gospel scene as if you were a participant in the event. The idea is to gain a deep heartfelt connection with Jesus and his work.

Read more about imaginative prayer before you start.

Day 1

Contemplation on the Incarnation

We begin by looking at the big picture. Last week we reflected on sin and its terrible effects on us and our world. Now we contemplate the Incarnation of Jesus—God’s response to sin.

In the Contemplation on the Incarnation, we gaze on the world with the Trinity—with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We get lost in the mystery of the Incarnation. We marvel at how God works through ordinary people like Mary and Joseph. We are filled with great gratitude because God wanted to get close to us by becoming human in Jesus of Nazareth. In this way, God makes divine love imminently available to all people.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: a deeply felt knowledge of God’s dream for the world; awe and wonder at the mystery of the Incarnation.

Contemplate the Incarnation

We begin the contemplation by imagining the three Divine Persons gazing on “the whole surface or circuit of the world, full of people” (SE 102).

Consider what the Divine Persons (and you) see and hear: men and women of different sizes, shapes, and colors; rich and poor; old and young. People speaking different languages. Some being born, others dying; some running and playing, others sick and suffering. Some laughing, others crying. Some screaming and shouting, others praying and singing.

With the gaze of the Trinity, consider how people are treating one another: some loving, others hating; some hugging, others hitting; some helping, others ignoring, hurting, and killing. What do you see and hear?

How do you feel as you imagine the world in this way? How do the three Divine Persons respond to the joys and sufferings of the world? How does the God who is Love respond to us, God’s children, who are lost, aimless, suffering, sinning, confused, and hurting?

Hear the Divine Persons saying, “Let us work the redemption of the human race” (SE 107).

What words do you want to speak to God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

For Reflection

Contemplation on the Incarnation: The Trinity Looks Down from Heaven by Daniel Ruff, SJ

Day 2

The Annunciation

God responds to the “groaning” of creation very concretely. Narrow your imaginative gaze from a broad perspective and focus on the details of how God saves in history: “See in particular the house and rooms of Mary, in the city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee” (SE 103).

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following graces: a deeply felt knowledge of God’s dream for the world; awe and wonder at the mystery of the Incarnation.


Read Luke 1:26-38. (The Annunciation)

Imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the scene, when the angel Gabriel greets the young woman. Listen to their conversation. Notice the expressions on their faces and the movement of their bodies. Conclude by praying a colloquy with Mary.

For Reflection

Mary’s Magnificat

Day 3

The Birth of Jesus

Having rejoiced with Mary in her “yes” to God, we begin to walk with Jesus from his birth, through his hidden life and public ministry, to the foot of the cross at Calvary.

In these weeks, we ask repeatedly for a grace fundamental to the Second Week of the Exercises: “to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely” (SE 104). This idea of the “more”—encapsulated in the Latin word, magis—is vital for Ignatius. The Exercises are intended to tap into a zeal that impels us to more knowledge, love, and service of God and others.

The order of these graces is important. We can rush to find out what our calling in life is, without really knowing the One who calls us. If we focus on first knowing and loving Jesus, then the call to serve becomes clearer and we can approach it with less fear. We really cannot love someone unless we first know him or her on some deeply personal level. Ultimately, it is possible to follow Jesus only if we are rooted in our love for him.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely.


Read Luke 2:1-7. (The Birth of Jesus)

Contemplate the scene of Jesus’ birth. Ignatius suggests placing yourself directly in the scene:

See the persons; that is, to see Our Lady, Joseph, the maidservant, and the infant Jesus after his birth. I will make myself a poor, little, and unworthy slave, gazing at them, contemplating them, and serving them in their needs, just as if I were there, with all possible respect and reverence. (SE 114)

For Reflection

Some Insight into Redemption

Consider a blissfully happy couple finding all they need in one another. For no other reason than generosity and the desire to share their happiness, they decide to adopt children as their own. From then on their life undergoes a profound change. Now they are vulnerable; their happiness is wrapped up in the welfare of the children; things can never be the same again.

If the children choose to alienate themselves and start on the path to ruin, the couple are stricken. They will plead, humble themselves, make huge sacrifices, go out of themselves to get their loved ones to understand that the home is still their home, that the love they have been given is unchanging.

This perhaps, gives us some insight into redemption. In a mystery we cannot fathom, God “empties,” “loses” Himself, in bringing back to Himself His estranged, lost children. And this is all the Father wants. This is the only remedy for His wound. God is no longer pure God, but always God-with-humanity-in-His-heart.

—Ruth Borrows, Essence of Prayer

Day 4

“Glory to God in the Highest”

Continue contemplating the Nativity. Join the shepherds in the countryside and then journey with them to visit the baby Jesus. As you pray through Jesus’ life, you will notice how often he surrounds himself with people like the shepherds—those who are poor and on the margins of society. Rejoicing in the good news of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds become Jesus’ first disciples.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely.


Read Luke 2:8-20. (The Shepherds Visit Jesus)

Accompany the shepherds as they hear the good news and visit the baby Jesus.

For Reflection

3-Minute Retreat: Good News of Great Joy
The Shepherd Girl’s Experience by Elizabeth M. Kelly

Day 5

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

We continue to contemplate the early life of Jesus. We notice how Jesus grows up in a particular social, economic, political, and religious context. Even in the comforting stories of the Nativity, we see the beginnings of opposition against Jesus. We cannot separate the saving work of Christ from the times in which he lived. Salvation does not take place apart from the world, as if God were throwing a lifeline down from heaven and pulling us up. Instead, God saves in the world.

In the Gospel contemplations, Ignatius often instructs us to pray “so as to draw some profit.” This does not mean that we have to be “productive” when we pray, analyzing the text to find some insightful application. The review of prayer (journaling) is a better time to use the intellect to draw real-world applications. In contemplation, we let our prayer affect us and touch our hearts. We allow memories, emotions, desires, and longings to be stirred as God wishes.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely.


Read Luke 2:21-38. (The Presentation in the Temple)

Accompany the Holy Family as Jesus is named and then presented in the temple. Join Simeon and Anna as they wait for Jesus and then as they meet him.

As you marvel at the child Jesus, what hopes spring in your heart? What names do you give the child?

For Reflection

A Sense of Reverence

Ignatius believed that anyone who prayerfully considers the basic truth that we are created out of love by a transcendent God of holiness will grow in a sense of reverence. We will have a deepened sense of the sacredness of all things if we think of everything as continually being called and sustained in being by God. We will stand in awe not just before sunsets and mountains, flowers and trees, but also, and especially, before every person we meet. Reverence is a disposition of a heart that allows us to live before the beauty and goodness of every creature and the God who made them.

—Gerald M. Fagin, SJ, Putting on the Heart of Christ

Day 6

Exile in Egypt

God continues to save us in the details of our lives today, in the beauty and messiness of our world. As we pray in the midst of daily life, we may become more sensitive to the joys and tragedies of our world and to the needs of people around us. In accompanying the Holy Family in their flight to Egypt and their return to Nazareth, how can we not feel deeply the plight of millions of displaced persons in our world? How can we not be more attentive to the supports and the pressures that young families experience today?

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely.


Matthew 2:13-23. (The Flight into Egypt)

Accompany Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as they escape into exile. Spend time with them in Egypt, and join them on their return to Nazareth.

For Reflection

Women of Goodness by Gary Smith, SJ

Day 7

Jesus Teaches in the Temple

The years of Jesus’ boyhood and young adulthood in Nazareth are mentioned only briefly in the Gospels. You will supply many of the details through imaginative prayer. We ask the Spirit to show us what Jesus was like growing up. Accompany him as a friend, relative, or neighbor in Nazareth. Though fully divine, Jesus is also fully human (like us in all things but sin, our tradition teaches). Notice, then, how Jesus grows into his humanity.

It doesn’t matter whether the details you supply are historically accurate. We are not reconstructing history. Instead, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we are coming to know Jesus more intimately so that we can love him more dearly and follow him more closely.

The Grace I Seek

I pray for the following grace: to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely.


Read Luke 2:41-50. (Jesus Teaches in the Temple)

Accompany Jesus on his journey to the temple, where he experiences a deepening sense of his vocation. Be present to Mary and Joseph in their concern. Share with them the experiences of your own youth and how you feel about them now, looking back.

For Reflection

Draw Me into Your Friendship

Lord Jesus, from the start
You invite ordinary people to come to where you live.
When they come, you welcome them
and call them to labor and rejoice with you.
You are the most beautiful among all men,
and I hardly believe you want me for your friend.
You are powerful, Lord.
Draw me more and more into your friendship
and lead me along the way you took with friends.

—Joseph Tetlow, SJ, Hearts on Fire

Bloggers’ Reflections on These Spiritual Exercises

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

Give Up Being Tough on Yourself
If Jesus Were Born Today
Imaginative Prayer
A Twelve-Year-Old, Where?
Friday’s Reflection: Jesus the Child

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