By Daniel Ruff, SJ
The lion’s share of the Spiritual Exercises, perhaps two-thirds, is given over to imaginative contemplation of Gospel episodes from the life of Jesus. The retreatant prays to “see Jesus more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow him more nearly” as a disciple. (St. Ignatius found the prayer where the authors of Godspell found it; it was written by Richard of Chichester in the 1200s.) The Exercises begin at the beginning of the life of Jesus; the first contemplation is of the moment of Jesus’ conception (yes, St. Ignatius was pro-life). The prayer, as Ignatius envisions it, is a diptych. The first “panel” is God’s decision and offer; the second “panel” is Mary’s human response.
The first part of the meditation emerges not from the Gospels, but from Ignatius’s imagination. After collecting him- or herself, becoming aware of God’s presence, and asking for “what he or she desires” (to see more clearly, etc.), the retreatant is invited to enter into God’s viewpoint. Allowing the Spirit to guide, the person praying is asked to imagine the triune God, before the moment of Jesus’ conception:
looking upon our world: men and women being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning. With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing.
(All quotations of the text of the meditation used here are from David L. Fleming, SJ, Draw Me Into Your Friendship: A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996.)
If you try this at home—and I heartily encourage it during this Advent season—try to pay attention to the Trinity’s affective responses to this complicated, messy mass of humanity. Pay attention to your own feelings as well. If you pretend in your imagination to be back in the time before Jesus’ coming, how do you feel looking down “from where God sits” at the mixed, complicated messiness of the unredeemed human condition? Would you respond as the Trinity did?
Then, let the miracle of divine love unfold in your mind’s eye.
The leap of divine joy: God knows that the time has come when the mystery of salvation, hidden from the beginning of the world, will shine into human darkness and confusion. It is as if I can hear the Divine Persons saying, “Let us work the redemption of the whole human race; let us respond to the groaning of all creation.”
The Trinity’s response—O, wonder of wonders!—is to incarnate the Divine Word, the second Person. God the Son will take human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and become Emmanuel, “God with us.” The Trinity’s plan is the mystery of the Incarnation”—the very reason for the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Grab 15 or 20 minutes this week and give this prayer exercise a whirl; walk imaginatively in God’s shoes for a while. See what it does for your heart and your spirit. Fall in love with God and Jesus. Feel free to discuss what you are seeing and feeling in prayer with God—with any or all of the three Persons. Maybe thank Jesus Christ for his willingness to become human. In the next article I’ll look at the other “panel” of the diptych—Mary’s response to God’s initiative in the Lucan scene of the Annunciation.
Originally appeared in the bulletin of Old St. Joseph’s Church in Philadelphia ©2008 Fr. Daniel Ruff, SJ. Used with permission.
Contemplation on the Incarnation Part Two: Mary’s Human Response by Daniel Ruff, SJ