The Great Commandment

staring eyes

St. Ignatius begins the Spiritual Exercises with the essential principle that God’s love is unconditional. Adding two words, “for me,” made it intensely personal. I prayed for the grace to be able to see and was confronted by the memory of an eye exam.

The memory was of my young son’s eye exam that identified lazy eye. The exam was emotional for him, because when his stronger eye was covered, he was blind, trapped, and frightened. Why did the memory of his struggle, as he did everything to avoid the card over his strong eye, return now? All my life I have offered my memories in the Suscipe and never once thought about what God does with them. Now I know. God returns them.

I began the Exercises fiercely struggling against “unconditional,” a word I considered impossible. I thought I had to be perfect to be loved. Now, God was beginning the journey of the Exercises with me with an unrelenting statement of unconditional love for me. Healing my blindness began through the filter of my weaknesses, and there was no place to hide. With patience and gentleness, the Spirit led me to see God’s love in my often rocky history and to feel it, name it, and finally, surrender to the reality that I am God’s beloved child, just as I am.

Reviewing my life at 72 was all the worst parts of creating a resume. Ignatius pushed me to surface more than the facts of degrees or accomplishments. He wanted me to see and internalize the substance of my life, with all the people, places and events, successes and failures that brought me to this moment with Jesus. I wrote journals filled with memories requiring prayerful attention. Then tears of sorrow and relief flowed until I could no longer deny the fact that I was not alone; I was loved. God had supported me through countless people who came just in time. In the face of all that humbling, unconditional love, how could I not live the Great Commandment and love God with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Loving my neighbor as I loved myself was a bigger challenge. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love our neighbor. We can’t give what we don’t have. Humility begins in that moment when we stand defenseless before the intimate completeness of God’s love. Humility allows us to accept being God’s beloved children. Only then can we see through God’s eyes and smile tenderly with loving compassion and acceptance of the dear and imperfect children we are. It is only then that we can do what Jesus asks of us: go; love others; serve others. We can love, because we know we are loved so much it overflows, and we can only truly live by sharing that love humbly and generously. We can love, because we are loved and can’t hide it. We are filled with the graces that flow from Love. We can love our neighbor as ourselves.

Photo by Marina Vitale on Unsplash.


  1. I did not see those “memories”. I offer everyday as “memories” coming back to sustain me. Thank you Mary Ann for giving me that insight.

  2. Mary Ann. God is indeed with us at all times. Witness the timeliness of your message for me. I’m also 72 and that’s what first caught my eye in your writing. I’ve been feeling unease regretting all the wasted time in my life that I didn’t put God first. As you say it’s time to go back and reflect. I’m sure I will find he was the missing footprints as he carried me. Also all the way back to my great grandmother the women in my family have developed dementia later in life and it’s a specter that haunts me. I prayed the Suspice as if I was surrendering all my memory. I find your view that God is saving them to return them as he sees my need very comforting. Thank you for this thoughtful sharing.

    • Oh, Bev, I had tears in my eyes reading this. There were times during the Spiritual Exercises when I was troubled by the “wasted time” you describe. Like you, the Sucipe came so quickly and often and I realized that all our time…even what we think we wasted was in God’s hands and used in ways we will be shown someday. That gave me comfort, too. Thanks.

  3. I made the Exercises in Daily Life for the first time back in 1995 and have always felt that I didn’t make good use of the graces I received at the time but reading your reflection, ( I also pray the Suscipe always ) I now realize that I did profit from them because memories came back to remind me that in a family crisis then, I relied on what I had learned about God’s love and placed my daughter in God’s Hands. I said that prayer in my heart and God heard me.
    That memory came back to remind me that I had taken in St. Ignatius’ teaching that God not only loves us but is present in our lives.
    I just finished making the 19th Annotation this past May and feel a River of Graces washing over me.
    Thank you so much, Mary Ann, for sharing.

    • Elia, enjoy that River…like St. Ignatius by the River Cardener, you are being led by the Holy Spirit. Doesn’t it feel like our past and present are fitting together by that Grace. I’m so happy for you. This reflecting time is precious and gives us what we need to go forward. We have the time and the help we need.

  4. Having recently completed the 19th Annotation, I am realizing that my whole life has been, and still is, an internship with God – I am never alone. Realizing how God still loves me unconditionally no matter what I do, is both humbling and comforting. Each time an unsavoury memory surfaces, I have the courage now to face up to it, ask God for forgiveness and return it to God. Now I too am wondering; What does God do with all the memories I return to Him? Your sharing Mary Ann is inspiring me to reflect more deeply about what God wants me to know about Him and myself. I am reminded of the song “Love it was that made us (me), love it was that saved us (me) …, so I desire to love God. I ask only for the grace to love God with my whole heart, mind, body and strength and to love my neighbour as myself. This is sufficient for me.

  5. Thanks Mary Ann for this wise and powerful sharing. Seeing and internalizing the substance of ones life, with all the people, places and events, successes and failures – is a healthy way to move on with our privileged journey.

  6. “Ignatius pushed me to surface more than the facts of degrees or accomplishments. He wanted me to see and internalize the substance of my life, with all the people, places and events, successes and failures that brought me to this moment with Jesus.”
    This too was a turning point in my life, in my seventies it is humbling to look back at how at times I have treated others, but I’m filled with gratitude when I see the number of times God has gently called me back and guided me.
    Thank you

    • With a long view like ours, there is so much to see, isn’t there? Writing out the life line and all the people sent to help was a big revelation for me. I was never alone even though I often thought I was. It is humbling. Having the help of the Holy Spirit makes all the difference. I remember being offered reassurance in a colloquy with Jesus that I will have all the time I need to do what the Father has planned… and we can sit with Jesus and remember that he keeps his promises. I’m happy for your turning point. Enjoy the next part of the journey, Barbara.

  7. It is a powerful message and so necessary in these days. I’m glad this helped and hope you find memories of your own to guide you.

  8. Mary Ann – that was very powerful and beautiful sharing. Thank you for that. Lately in prayer God keeps ‘telling’ me to love others, it’s not easy but this is inspiring. 🙂


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here