Last year, The Jesuit Post started the “Jesuit 101” series in honor of the Ignatian Year. This year, we want to continue this series and focus on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the heart of the Jesuits. We will explore a different aspect of the Spiritual Exercises each month with an explainer article and reflections or real-world applications for each topic. Our topic for this month is the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises.
The Personal Love of Christ
A loving relationship can transform how one sees the world. Take Disney’s Beauty and the Beast for example. The start of Belle and Beast’s relationship was full of tension and pain. However, as the two spend intentional quality time with one another, they begin to see each other in a new way. They both soften and change.We see this when Belle cares for Beast after he saves her from the wolves. We also see it when Beast gives Belle access to his library. The time they spend with one another forms their vision to see in a different light. The cold castle becomes a place of warmth. Love changes how Belle and the Beast see and what they feel toward one another.
In an analogous fashion, the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises helps us to see the warmth and light of Christ after confronting the darkness of sin during the First Week. While the grace of the First Week was to accept our identity as sinners loved and called by Christ, the core grace of the Second Week is to experience the personal love of Christ. Thus, the person praying the Exercises spends intentional, quality time with Jesus in order to see what he sees, to love as he loves, and to act out of this love. We grow to know and love Jesus through Ignatian Contemplations. This is a specific way of prayer that engages the imagination of the retreatant. Ultimately, the Second Week is about the “imitation of Christ” and choosing to follow him.
There are many aspects to the Second Week, but I will highlight the main points of this section of the retreat: The Kingdom Meditation, Praying with scenes of Jesus’ life in the Gospels, the Two Standards meditation, the Three Kinds of Humility, and the Election.
The Kingdom and Gospel Narrative
The Second Week begins with The Kingdom meditation, otherwise known as “The Call of Christ the King.” It is meant as a preparatory exercise to inflame the person with zeal for following Christ. Ignatius asks that the retreatant imagine a king who makes promises to care for the poor and fight injustice. This ruler is able to accomplish these goals, thus, the retreatant is called to follow after this king in sharing the hardships and sufferings for accomplishing these ends. If we would follow an earthly king for these goals, how much more are we called to follow after Christ?
This image of praying about an earthly king leads to praying with the life of Christ, the ultimate king for whom to suffer and labor. Ignatius presents several scenes to pray over as Ignatian Contemplations. A concrete example of this is seen with the Contemplation of the Incarnation. This prayer period invites a contemplation on how Jesus entered into our reality of suffering and death in order to bring healing and life. The retreatant contemplates the Trinity looking on the world, seeing the reality of sin and the destruction this brings. They choose to act to save the world, leading to the Annunciation.
The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce that she will be the mother of Jesus. Through the Composition of Place, the retreatant imagines being within the story, seeing the house and the room Mary is in at Nazareth. Allowing the story to play out, the retreatant allows the senses to guide the prayer: What does one see, hear, smell and touch? Details are important to notice as the narrative unfolds. The prayer ends with a colloquy, which is a time of conversation either with the Trinity, with Jesus, or with Mary. Ignatius says that the colloquies with Christ, Mary and the saints should be reverent but familiar, “as one friend speaks to another.” Mary appears here as an intercessor, as one to ask for the graces desired. Ignatius believed Mary lived the fullness of imitation of Christ and can impart knowledge of how to follow her Son. The Ignatian Contemplation concludes with an Our Father.
This is just one contemplation that leads to a series of contemplations centered on walking with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. The Second Week offers important scenes from Jesus’ life, from the Nativity through to Palm Sunday. Each moment of Jesus’ life presents the grace to know and love him better. We notice how he treats people and forms relationships. These aspects of the Second Week lead to the process of Election, introduced by the Two Standards meditation and the consideration of the Three Classes of persons.
The Two Standards
The meditation of the Two Standards presents two opposing armies at battle in the world, each fighting under their own “standard” or battle flag. The standard was used to orient an army in the confusion of battle to recognize their own side and know the direction they need to be headed. There is the side of Christ and the side of Satan. Ignatius believed that spiritual forces are at work in our world and are opposed to one another. The choice is between either the way of pride on the side of the “Enemy,” as Ignatius called the Devil, or the way of humility of Christ.
Christ is the one who leads us to live a fully human life, whereas Lucifer leads to the destruction of life. The grace the retreatant asks for in this meditation is knowledge of how Lucifer acts in the world and for knowledge of living in imitation of Christ. The assumption is that anyone undergoing the Spiritual Exercises has chosen the standard of Christ.
Ignatius begins the meditation with the standard of Lucifer in the plain of Babylon. Lucifer first lures people with the promise of wealth. As we see in our world today, rich people are often honored above the crowd. Not only do they have more money. Ironically, they even get more free stuff, better seats at the show, places of honor at the dinner table. Simply put, riches lead to honor. The danger of this kind of honor is that people actually start to believe they’re better than the less fortunate. They’re more special—more loved by God even! Not only do they come to expect the seats of honor, but they feel entitled to them. Pride has corrupted their heart. And this pride is the root of all sin.
Satan’s method of drawing people into his service is contrasted with the standard of Christ on the plain of Jerusalem. Christ calls us into his service through the virtue of spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty does not seek riches and honor as ends in themselves, but sees them as gifts to be used in relation to praising and serving God. This means having possessions without being possessed by them. Spiritual poverty may lead to actual poverty, but not necessarily. What it does do is place us in solidarity with Christ. This kind of solidarity fosters in us humility rather than pride.
It’s not hard to see how riches, honor, and pride can be enticing. How have you witnessed these temptations at work in the world? Can you think of people who have rejected these temptations by living out the standard of Christ?
In order to better understand the steps to grow in living spiritual poverty, Ignatius provides us the “Three Classes of Persons” meditation.
Three Classes of Persons and Three Degrees of Humility
This meditation helps the retreatant to move from the abstraction of the Two Standards meditation to considering more concrete action. Ignatius presents a situation where three different kinds, or classes, of people inherit a large sum of money and each class is an example of how one might respond to receiving this great wealth. They all desire be in right relationship with God and recognize that attachment to this money may be an impediment to that relationship.
The first class wants to be free of attachment to the money itself but they never act on this desire. They postpone making a decision until death, having done nothing with it.
The second class desires to be free of the attachment, but desires to hang on to the wealth. There is a compromise, as the person tries to act with God’s desires, but also hopes that God will meet the person in their desires and attachment. They are unwilling to give up the fortune even if that were the better course.
The third class wants to be rid of the attachment, but to do so in an “indifferent” way. The sole desire is to better serve God through either holding on to the fortune or giving it away. Essentially, this third class is free of attachment to the money itself. They are waiting and trusting for God’s guidance in what they should do with their newly inherited wealth.
As the consideration of the three classes of person helps the retreatant understand the freedom of Christ, the three degrees of humility helps us embrace the way Christ lived in the world. Ignatius shares three levels of humility, which requires handing over one’s self to God in trust. This is both a moment and a process. The maturation of the Christian is to grow into and respond to moments in life with the Third Degree of Humility.
The First Degree is obeying God’s law, no matter the cost. The Second Degree of Humility consists in indifference to riches or poverty, fame or disgrace, desire for a long rather than a short life. This relates directly to the Principle and Foundation. The Third Humility is to want and to choose to suffer and be humiliated for Christ. We see this degree of humility when the apostles could “[rejoice] that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name [of Jesus].”1
According to Fr. Michael Ivens, SJ, the meditations on the Two Standards, Three Classes of Persons, and Three Degrees of Humility can be summed up in three elements: knowledge of Christ’s way, commitment to Christ’s way, and loving commitment to Christ’s person.
The Election on a Way of Life
The Election is a moment of decision making prompted by a loving relationship with the Lord. Ignatius meant this meditation to be especially for those discerning their vocation in life. The Second Week is a time of growing in knowledge and love of Christ, and the Election is meant to help us continue growing in this loving relationship. The primary concern in the Exercises is “What decision is more pleasing to God?”
The First Principle and Foundation gives the proper disposition for making a decision: the person is made to praise, reverence, and serve God, to be indifferent in making decisions, solely for what is most conducive for this end. It is from this disposition that the retreatant may be called to make a choice in the Election.
In the broad sense, the Election means choosing a “state of life.” This includes choosing to enter religious life, to pursue priesthood, or married life. This is a major element of the Exercises, but the Exercises can also be prayed without entering into this kind of major decision making. The Election can be to choose to follow Christ more closely. For someone who already lives a stable state of life, such as living in vowed religious life, the person can deepen a sense of freedom and personal conversion.
The method Ignatius lays out in the Election allows one to give all to God and to let God lead the person to what decision ought to be made. Of course, there are other factors as well when a way of life is being discerned. The Election is not a way of telling the future, and it does not guarantee that others will affirm one’s choice (such as needing approval to enter religious life or the consent of a partner for marriage). Nonetheless, the certitude found in the Election, albeit subjective, should be taken seriously by the retreatant and explored further when they eventually finish the retreat.
Vision of Love
There are many moving parts within the Second Week. Fundamentally, it is all about spending time with Christ. The Second Week fosters friendship with the Lord in order to more closely follow him. The time spent with Jesus in the Second Week helps us to see clearly what God is asking of us and to making a loving response. This is true freedom, a freedom that deepens with entering into the Third Week, which consists of following Jesus into his final moments and to the cross.
- Acts 5:41 ↩