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!