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.