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!