Archive for November, 2011

Reaching Love


At the end of the fourth week – after contemplating various post-resurrection narratives – we reach a beautiful and original Ignatian contemplation – often referred to by Jesuits as just The Contemplatio.  The goal of this is to know how to love as God loves….. wait a second ….. go back and read that last sentence again…..  the goal of this is to know how to love as God loves!  If that is not something worth investigating then what is!

Ignatius starts with 2 suppositions… 

1) Love shows itself in deeds not in words

2)Love is a constant and generous sharing between the lover and the beloved and vice versa.

Let us recall that Ignatius is famous for the gift of tears. Most of his spiritual notes / diaries were burnt at his request before his death, but what survives of his spiritual diary is full of references to ‘tears’.  Tears whislt saying mass, whislt making a discernment, even whilst gazing at the stars.  It seems that he frequently and intensively felt the magnificent sense of Gods love. Some of his contemporaries even claim that his face would be luminous at times as though radiating an inner light. Seomething quickkly notice by children on the streets of Manresa, Paris or Rome.  So he is worth listening to when he talks about Gods love!

After the presuppositions there are four points of consideration that lead into the Contemplation  A) God Gives Gifts

B)You are a guft (God is present in you as well as other gifts)

C) God is dynamic – He is constantly giving and recieving

D) He (She) deisres us to be part of this dynamism – so that we become co-creators  

Love is a powerful word – we are limited in English – but this love of God is close to the agape of the Greeks – self giving love (as opposed to eros - the possesive love that is exhausted, philia - friendship, or storge- affection).  When we experience this self-giving love we are drawn into responding (not compelled)  but this uncondition – self giving love – calls us out of ourselves.

That is definately worth meditating on! How much is this type of love part of my life?


So we have arrived in the fourth and final week of the Exercises…. hopefully still intact!  The Third Week really stretches your compassion as you attempt to accompany Christ through his passion and suffering, not just as an onlooker but as a friend and companion who is suffering too. The third week really plunges you into the mystery of evil.  However after a ‘tomb’ day, now the retreatant can rejoice with Mary and the Disciples as we live through those first history-changing moments of the Resurrection. Ignatius points out how in the third week Christ allows His Divinity to be hidden – now His Divinity is manifested in full glory. And you watch as Jesus brings the consolation of his risen presence to his mother and his friends. Of course sharing in someone’s joy seems a lot easier than sharing in their pain and suffering – but it seems that somehow the depth of this joy is linked to the depth of our compassion.

As Kahlil Gibran once wrote -

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

The rest of this beautiful poem is here

When I was a teacher and chaplain I used to like standing in the school hall and telling startled year groups of 200 boys that if the Resurrection wasn’t a historical fact, i.e. if i didn’t really happen than I was the biggest idiot in the hall. As you can imagine some of them quite liked that! But for me it is true – without the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is a sham.  In the second week we were using our imaginative contemplation to follow Jesus in his ministry so that we could know, love and follow him – or as Richard of Chichester once said ‘ know him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly’ – we arrive at the truth and destiny of His and our lives in the resurrection. A love that destroys death and suffering. A light that cannot be swamped by the darkness.

This Easter Joy is celebrated every year by 2billion+ Christians but here in the Exercises it is experienced with a particular intensity. This Easter Joy is the dynamo of Christianity. It is why at every funeral we place the Easter Candle by the coffin of the deceased.  It is a privelege and a joy to share in the Joy of that first Easter – its what makes life worth living for and death worth dying for too!


There is a phrase I learnt from a US Podcast on the series Lost – ‘it got a little bit dusty in the  living room’ – when you are trying to blink back the tears watching a movie.  I am a real softy when it comes to that – but when my eyes get a bit moist I pretend I have hay fever or something and am trying to get the pollen out! Well in The Passion of the Christ  there is always a moment that gets a bit dusty for me – when Mary is trying to follow the Via Dolorosa of Jesus – as he carries his cross to Golgotha.  Mary is pressing herself against the wall – in horror at how her son is being treated – not being able to watch but also not being able to tear her eyes away. The director, a certain Mr Gibson, masterfully intertwines this with a flashback of Jesus as a little boy.  He falls and grazes his knee – and crying in pain – Mary does what all mothers would do, she drops her washing and runs over to him.  Of course cut back to the present and Jesus – the man – falls under the weight of the cross, at which point Mary appears at his side. “See mother – I make all things new” he croaks as he strains to get up….

The grace of the Third Week that Ignatius instructs us to pray for is to ask for grief with Christ in grief, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and interior pain at such great pain which Christ suffered for me.  It is tough and very difficult to recieve the graces – withouth being voyeuristic in some way. Of course we understand the throry –  focus on the humanity of Jesus by pointing out how his divinity hides itself. Greater love has no one than the person who lays down one’s life for one’s friend…. Jesus does this for us individually to help us overcome our complicity with evil…. This is all fine – but how can we really share in that grief?

For me a key to this week is to witness the passion third hand…. i.e. watching Mary watching her son.  Please keep us all in your prayers – the darkest hour is just before dawn.

Please leave comments – but don’t expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 

The Spiritual Exercises on Coronation Street?


If you have ever sat by the hospital bed of someone you love – as they are dying – you will have experienced the anguish and pain of being helpless in the face of such a trauma.  Even worse accompanyings somebody who has been tortured and is to be executed – violently – especially if you are convinced they are innocent.  Well this is what happens in the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises….

It is all very well following Jesus in the second week, witnessing his miracles, seeing the crowds grow around him, hearing his great parables, soaking in the richness of the sights and sounds of the Second Week.  The real test of discipleship, and friendship, is when the crowds turn on him, his friends disappear – his enemies become more vocal and more violent.  Ignatius challenges to enter in to all of these scenes as well, using our imagination and with an open heart.  This is the cost of discipleship.

There is a real gear change in the third week – for me it has always been a difficult part of the exercises.  The prayer becomes dryer – its difficult to stomach.  In the third week we also enter the mystery and power of evil. And whilst I am writing this I thihnk of the thousands who aer being tortured, or who have been left to rot in some hell hole – thinking the world has forgotten about them.   It may be difficult to understand the violence and the evil, but we believe somehow Love is always stronger – and it will ultimately win – this is our faith.  More of that to come….

Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 

Foolish Devotion


It’s only a flesh wound….

Many alumni from Jesuit schools worldwide should be able to tell you of Ignatius of Loyolas heroic attempt to defend Pamplona from the French.  Rousing the desperate troops into defiant resistance, they held on until a canonball smashed his legs.  What the students might not tell you – is that the whole enterprise was also due to a certain dangerous madness of Ignatius.  According to the excellent book by the Basque historian Idigoras -  the French army advancing on Pamplona had over 12,000 men, with 26 pieces of heavy artillery. The fortress of Pamplona was unfinished, and the commander the Duke of Najera had fled to seek ‘reinforcements’ … of course. At the inquiry afterwards he said that it was better for the captain to be free…….  He left Pedro de Beaumont in command – who also soon fled with his 1000 men. Pamplona had become a ghost town – and Ignatius driven by honour and a kind of chivalric madness stirred teh remnant to defend it.  This commitment to serve his Lord faithfully, even in the face of such odds is outstanding.  But it is also true that men died in the Battle – needlessly – there is a fine line between this commitment and a dangerous fanatacism.

As we know the cannonball didn’t only shatter his knees –  it also shattered his self image. During his long and painful recovery he rebuilt this – but this time he vowed to serve the eternal King.

As we reach the end of the second week Ignatius now proposes that we should consider three types of responses to this Eternal King.   The first class of response is those who would really like to follow Him but they procrastinate, they talk about it, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to follow the King, but try to do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up or changing their way of life. They are kidding themselves – it is a dead form of religion, one which Benedict XVI has identified as empty.  The third class wants to get rid of any attachments  that stop them following. They act on it – now – they dont just talk about it, pretend, procrastinate, they follow their hearts without regard to the consequences – their friends and family think they are mad –  Whatever God wants, they want.

In a word, they are the free ones.  This foolish devotion to the Eternal King is not a path to fanatacisim, or fundamentalism but freedom and joy.

Please leave comments – but don’t expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 



All of the contemplations & meditations of the Second Week are leading up to a climax in the second week – what Ignatius calls an election.  For many Jesuits the election is made about a state of life – i.e. I am prepared to follow Jesus as a Religious, in a vowed life under the obedience of my superiors in the Society of Jesus.  Others make an ‘election’ retreat before a big decision in their life – change of career, marriage etc …

The idea is that how do we make a response in love to all that we discovered about God and ourselves over the past couple of weeks in the Exercises.  This decision making is called Discernment.  Ignatius has some very good practical advice about this – thanks to Warren Sazama SJ.

Seven Practical Discernment Techniques
(Spiritual Exercises, [178-187])

1. Ignatius suggests that we start the decision-making process by putting before our mind what it is we want to decide about. For example, we might be trying to decide whether or nor to enter a specific religious community.

2. He then asks us to pray for the grace to “try to be like a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to either side” (Spiritual Exercises, [179]).  In other words, we should try to the extent possible not to prefer one option to the other but only desire to do God’s will. To help us maintain focus and perspective, he asks us to keep the ultimate end and goal of our existence clearly before us.

3. Then we pray for God to enlighten and move us to seek only what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.

4. One suggestion Ignatius makes is to imagine a person we never met who seeks our help in how to respond to God’s call in the same decision we are considering.  We then observe what advice we give this person and follow it ourselves. This is helpful since most of us are better at giving others advice than at figuring out what we should do.

5.  Another suggestion is that we imagine ourselves at the end of our lives either on our deathbed or after our death standing before Christ our Judge.  How would we feel about our decision then? What would we say to Christ about the decision we have just made?  We should choose now the course of action that would give us happiness and joy in looking back on it from our deathbed and in presenting it to Christ on the day of our judgment.

6. When we do not experience inner clarity about the correct decision to be made, Ignatius suggests that we use our reason to weigh the matter carefully to attempt to come to a decision in line with our living out God’s will in our lives. To do this we should, bearing in mind our ultimate goal, list and weigh the advantages and disadvantages for us of the decision at hand, for example, the reasons for and against entering religious life or a specific religious community. We are then to consider which alternatives seem more reasonable and decide according to the more weighty motives – not from our selfish inclinations. Looking over our list of “pros” and “cons” for the decision at hand, we should notice if any of the reasons listed stand out from the others and why and see which way this might point us. This technique can help us move from inner confusion to greater clarity at least as to the issues that need to be attended to and help separate out which are more significant.

7. Having come to a decision, we turn again to God and beg for signs of God’s confirmation that the decision is leading us toward God’s service and praise.  The usual sign of this confirmation from God is an experience of peacefulness about the decision. The confirmed decision has a feeling of “rightness” about it, and we feel a sense of God’s presence, blessing, and love.  This is a very important step, since the feeling of rightness, peace, and joy about a decision is a positive indicator that we have made the right decision whereas feelings of anxiety, heaviness, sadness, and darkness often indicate the opposite.

Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December.  This post was written and  automatically scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 


For me this has always been one of the key moments in the  Spiritual Exercises.  Towards the start of the Second Week – we have a meditation presented to us by Ignatius of two armies being assembled on a battlefield.  But this is a spiritual battle – in fact a battle that goes on within our hearts.   We have to choose whose standard to line up behind – Christs or The Enemy of Human Nature….. Each of the leaders gives their speech  : over to Ignatius.

To consider the discourse which the Enemy makes them, and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches — as he is accustomed to do in most cases — that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.

This is the strategy of the world – the cult of celebrity / conspicuous consumption / greed is good.  But consider how seductive it is, how powerful it is – how many of us are caught in a cycle of unhappiness because we feel entitled, we feel rage because its ‘unfair’ – the bankers making money from money, the rich avoiding tax …..  then there is the counter-cultural strategy of Christ who realised that paradoxically if you want to really life, you have to lose your life first – your attachments, your enslavement…..

Consider the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and — if His Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them — no less to actual poverty; the second is to be of contumely and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contumely or contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them induce to all the other virtues.

There are many studies now on ‘wellbeing’ that are starting to echo this – maybe not as radically as Ignatius.  Affluenza, by Oliver James talks of a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.  Have you noticed that the most joyful people in life are also the most grateful, generous, openhearted?  This is what lies behind the Logic of Christ the King – Brilliant!  But not easy to put into practice!  You can see why early on the temptation to escape the world – Desert Fathers – and then Monastic Life.  But Jesuits are called to be Contemplatives in Action – in the world but not of the world.

Please leave comments – but don’e expect an instant response – I won’t be on-line till December!  This was scheduled before I entered my month of silence! 


As long as the retreatant has attained the graces of the first week – there is now a change in dynamic as we start the second week with the meditation on the Call of the King.  Note that the term week is misleading here – some people can finish the first week after three or four days, for others it may seem wise and appropriate for the director to keep them in the first week for longer – ten or more days.

The Second Week of the Exercises we are invited to contemplate – using our imagination – many of the scenes from Jesus life – so that we can follow Him as a disciple.  By using our imagination, and applying all our senses we follow Jesus life from the Annunciation of his Birth – to his Capture by the Sanhedrin. We place ourselves in the Biblical Scenes – as a bystander or maybe a participant, listening, watching, and even speaking with Jesus using the Ignatian device of the colloquy. The grace is as Richard of Chichester once said, to know Him more clearly, to love Him more dearly and to follow him more nearly.  So if the Principle and Foundation is a life vision. It asks, “what is life all about?” then in the Sewcond Week Ignatius also offers a work vision. What is our work in this world all about? Why do we do what we do? What values should govern our choices?

As the Jesuit writer David Fleming puts it – In the ‘Call of the King’ Ignatius  proposes that we think about Jesus after the model of a king to whom we owe reverence and obedience. He is a leader with ambitious plans: “I want to overcome all diseases, all poverty, all ignorance, all oppression and slavery—in short all the evils which beset humankind,” he says. He poses a challenge: “Whoever wishes to join me in this undertaking must be content with the same food, drink, clothing, and so on, that comes with following me.” Note two particular features of this work vision. Christ our king calls us to bewith him. The essence of the call is not to do some specific work, but, above all, to be with the One who calls, imaged in the everyday details of living like our king lives. We are to share Christ’s life, to think like him, to do what he does.

The second feature is a call to work with Christ our king. Christ is not a remote ruler commanding his forces through a hierarchy of princes, earls, dukes, lords, and knights. He is “in the trenches.” He is doing the work of evangelizing and healing himself. His call goes out to every person. He wants every one to join with him, and each one receives a personal invitation. The initiative is Christ’s; he asks us to work with him.

Please leave any comments – I will not be able to reply till December though as I am on the retreat – this message was scheduled before November.

The Gift of Tears….


 After the consideration of the Principle and Foundation we enter the first  week of the Exercises. The aim of the First Week is to have a sense of the reality of being loved in spite of all the times I mess up.  As we know –  when we experience being loved in spite of our selfishness or our unpleasant character traits , we are moved with gratitude and a sense of unworthiness.  This is what we call unconditional love – and for those of us lucky to experience it through friends and family or others, it is the most important thing in our lives! Ignatius aim is for us to consider that unconditional love from a cosmic perspective.

The main graces prayed for are :  for a personal shame and confusion for my sins,  for mounting and intense sorrow, and tears for my sins leading to a sense of gratitude for a love that is so freely given.

On Sin 

There can be an unhealthy preoccupation with sin and guilt, something that we like to caricature the pre-conciliar church with. However I think there can be an equally unhealthy avoidance of the reality of sin – a smug self satisfaction, a denial of personal resposibility, an ‘anything goes’ delusion that refuses to address the moral complexity of the world and oursleves as free moral agents.  So the ideal for this week is that the ‘reality check’ that comes from examining your life, your journey so far is to find a balance between those two unhealthy extremes.  Both extremes turn us in on ourselves, whether a neurotic obsession with sins, or the equally narcissistic denial of the brokenness and pain in our lives.

You can do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else‘  – seems to be a dominant ethic in the West, and this is called tolerance – but at best it is a lack of interest in the other, a disengagement. Having worked with many youngsters struggling to grow up in a world overloaded with information, this indifference is harmful. In a culture which has relegated the word sin to the packaging of ‘unhealthy’ foods, ‘Go on indulge yourself – its so tasty its sinful’ – the First Week can be quite a culture shock!

Interestingly for Ignatius this was the minimum to be given of the Exercises. In his notes (annotations) to those directing the retreat he acknowledges that for some – should he who is giving the Exercises observe that he who is receiving them has little ability or little natural capacity, from whom not much fruit is to be hoped….  let him not go on into the matter of the Election, or into any other Exercises that are outside the First Week, especially when more progress can be made in other persons and there is not time for every thing. Annotation 18

Please send your comments – I will be off line till December – so you may have to wait for them to be moderated, but don’t let that put you off!!

We were created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save our soul; and the other things on the face of the earth were created for our sake, and in order to aid us in the prosecution of the end for which we were created. Whence it follows, that we ought to make use of them just so far as they help us to attain this end, and that we ought to withdraw ourselves from them just so far as they hinder us. It is therefore necessary that we should make ourselves indifferent to all created things, in all that is left to the liberty of our free-will, and is not forbidden; in such sort that we do not for our part wish for health rather than sickness, for wealth rather than poverty, for honour rather than dishonour, for a long life rather than a short one, and so in all other things, desiring and choosing only that which leads us more directly to the end for which we were created. Spiritual Exercises  – Principle and Foundation

The Exercises start with a consideration, rather than a meditation or contemplation.  Something to chew over – this is the framework through which the exercises are experienced.  A desire for a joy-filled freedom that comes from desiring and dedicating oneself to Gods glory.  So we do not enter the Exercises ‘neutrally’ but with a positive disposition and a spirit of generosity and openness to God.  Happiness and Joy in life will come when one is oriented in the right direction, it is this search for God’s will with homest and integrity that brings a joy and a peace that does not fade quickly.  Different to quick gratification that may come from sating appetites that are created by a consumerism that ultimately enslaves us, as it stimulates appetites and desire that ultimately cannot be fulfilled.  As was commented on in the recent General Congregation of the Jesuits (GC35) the consumerist cultures in which people live today do not foster passion, but rather addiction and compulsion. They demand resistance (decree 2/21).  The cosmic vision of the Principle and Foundation is to allow us to share in the joy and freedom for which we were created – and in order to do so we must rid ourselves of ‘disordered attachments’.

I am now in silence – so this post was prepared before the retreat and scheduled for posting automatically. 

Please send your comments but they may not be moderated until December! 


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