The Exercises: The 4th Week, or “Now That We’ve Found Love (What Are We Gonna Do With It?)”

The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O'Brien, SJ

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien, SJ, copyright 2011 by Loyola Press.  This is reprinted with permission of Loyola Press. To order copies please call 1-800-621-1008 or go to www.loyolapress.com/obrien.

Thanks for making this a great week at TJP.  We’re happy to cap it off with this fifth and final excerpt from O’Brien’s The Ignatian Adventure.  With this excerpt he takes us to the culmination of the Spiritual Exercises: the famous “Contemplation to Attain Divine Love.”  After spending so much time with God—in reflecting on one’s own life, in accompanying Jesus through His, in asking the question whether or not we can answer the Call—we understand more fully that these prayers are not tasks to be accomplished, but steps into a relationship, one that we have been in since the day we were created.  And like all good relationships, our loving friendship with God is manifested less through our words than it is through our deeds.  How do we go from being all talk to walking the walk?

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Week of Prayer #29: The Contemplation of the Love of God

The final contemplation in the text of the Exercises, the Contemplation of the Love of God (SE 230–237), is the culmination of the weeks of prayer that precede it. In this contemplation, we draw on our experience of God’s overwhelming love in the Exercises to inform and empower our lives going forward. From this vantage point, we see that the whole movement of the retreat has been rooted in and oriented toward love.

In the Principle and Foundation, we considered how we are created to love and serve God, relying on the goods of creation only to the extent that they help us love God and others. In the First Week, we came to see ourselves first as beloved creatures of God, and to know that God’s love for us is not diminished by our sin and weakness. In the Second Week, we heard the call of Jesus and followed him throughout his ministry of love, mercy, and reconciliation. We have stood with the one who has loved us so totally, suffering with him in the Third Week and rejoicing with him in the triumph of the Fourth Week. In the process, something has happened to us. We are not the same as we were. Our eyes are different, and we see the world in light of God’s love. Our hearts are different, too. They are aflame with generosity, freedom, and passion.

German poet Rainer Maria Rilke captures the movement of this Contemplation (indeed the whole Exercises) perfectly: “We are cradled close in your hands—and lavishly flung forth.” We have answered the call to “come and see” (John 1:39), and at this point reach a critical juncture. Now we must take the love and grace that God has given us during this privileged time of retreat and incarnate it in our own lives.

In contemplating the love of God, we ask for the grace to love as God loves. To this end, Ignatius offers two critical insights:

  1. “Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words” (SE 230). Love must be put into action; words are not enough. Having been schooled as disciples these many weeks, we must now do something. Ignatian spirituality is one of mission.
  2. “Love consists in a mutual communication between the two persons” (SE 231). Just as the love between two persons is marked by giving and receiving, the love we share with God enjoys a certain mutuality. God wants our friendship. God wants to be known by us. These divine desires are the source of our desire to know, love, and serve God…

Prayer for the Week

“I ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for interior knowledge of all the great good I have received, in order that, stirred to profound gratitude, I may become able to love and serve the Divine Majesty in all things” (SE 233).

Day 1: The first point of the Contemplation: thanking God for so many gifts.

I will call back into my memory the gifts I have received—my creation, redemption, and other gifts particular to myself. I will ponder with deep affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much he has given me of what he possesses, and consequently how he, the same Lord, desires to give me even his very self, in accordance with his divine design.

Then I will reflect on myself, and consider what I on my part ought in all reason and justice to offer and give to the Divine Majesty, namely, all my possessions, and myself along with them. I will speak as one making an offering with deep affection, and say:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding, and all my will—
all that I have and possess.
You, Lord, have given all that to me.
I now give it back to you, O Lord.
All of it is yours.
Dispose of it according to your will.
Give me love of yourself along with your grace,
for that is enough for me. (SE 234)

The Take, Lord, Receive prayer is an offering made in freedom. We have been praying for indifference throughout the retreat: to become free of disordered loves. Now we focus on why this freedom is necessary: we become free from excessive attachments so that we can love and serve God and others more. Basking in the love of God, we are empowered to love as God loves.