Friday, April 03, 2009
This is the second of four columns taking up the principal graces of the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
For me at least, one of the graces of this retreat was to follow Christ as the disciples did - without knowing where they were going each day. I had not read the Exercises before embarking (and avoided reading about them). Of course, now that I'm home, my academic side has fully kicked in and I've been reading at length! (One of the novice directors gave me some starting points and I've found a couple of others that have been interesting.)
[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 2 April 2009]
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them. — Eph. 2:10
Early on a Vermont morning, I followed Victor off the ski lift into a snowy fog. Barely visible in the mist ahead of me, my husband led me onto a trail I’d never skied before. Victor has skied the Italian Alps; I can find the Poconos a challenge, but I wasn’t nervous. I trusted him not to take me on a trail that was too steep or icy for me to ski and stayed so focused on the pieces of the trail just ahead that I could not worry about what might be coming.
Half an hour later we were at the bottom of the trail, and I was confident in my ability to do it again. That is, until the next day dawned bright and sunny and I could see just how steep that trail was. If I hadn’t done it already, I would never have thought it possible I could ski it.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius draws us into a similar experience of immediacy and trust. The grace sought of God in the second week is to know Jesus more intimately, to be able to love Him more intensely and so to follow Him more closely. Using the Gospel narratives, we are invited to let God show us His Son through our imagination. What was it like to be at Jesus’ birth? To be present as He healed the Gerasene demoniac?
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that God has created us to walk in Christ. The Greek word he uses is “peripatesomen” which means to walk about, to explore, to make progress. Ignatius asks us to “walk about” with Christ, to explore the landscape of Christ’s mission on earth, that we might progress to a deeper understanding of what God is calling us to do here and now.
What is on offer is not a superficial summary of Christ’s life, but a way to experience it as the first disciples did — one day at a time, without knowing where you were going next or what might happen. Ignatius cautions, “do not read any mystery which is not to be used…at that hour, so that the contemplation of one mystery does not interfere with another.”
Immersing myself in the assigned moment for an hour, five times over was like skiing in the mist — only one little piece of the path was revealed to me, a piece I might with God’s grace be able to traverse. In taking these small steps across ground I had explored so thoroughly, I gained confidence in my ability to walk in Christ’s path, as the first disciples did, looking at what was right in front of them, without knowing what was coming, but trusting that Christ would not lead them on paths they could not walk.
These exercises deepened my awareness of Christ’s presence to us in word as well as in sacrament. The Gospels are not merely holy stories to be listened to but God’s very word alive and at work in me. They ought not to leave us unchanged.
In these last days of Lent, on the doorstep of the celebration of the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, I am taking Ignatius’ advice once again to heart. As I hear the Gospel proclaimed at Mass, I ask God for the grace to be entirely present to the mystery of Christ He chose to reveal in that particular moment.
I consider how God wants me to walk in these good works of Christ, without being distracted by what might come. As the psalmist sings, “Let me know Your love, for I put my trust in You. Make me know the way I should walk.”
O God of justice, hear our cry and save us. Make us heed Your word to the prophets; rouse us to the demand of the Gospel and impel us to carry it out. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. — The Opening Prayer for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.