The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola: The Second WeekPrint
It is part of the genius of Ignatius that he was able to recognise a pattern in the stages experienced by one who sincerely enters into the experience of the Spiritual Exercises with generosity and openness.
With the lived experience of the First Week, the retreatant has come to a renewed personal awareness of the love and forgiveness of an infinitely compassionate and merciful God. The new freedom which results from this period of purification is usually felt as a graced determination to order one’s life accordingly and enter into one’s Christian discipleship with renewed enthusiasm and seriousness.
Outline of the text of the Second Week
You will notice that the exercises of the second week are generally of two types: a series of contemplations on the life of Christ, interspersed with four key meditations. All have as their ultimate goal growing in deep friendship with Jesus and conforming our lives to that of Christ.
SpExx 91 -100 Meditation on Christ the King and His Call
SpExx 101-131 First Day: 101-109 First Contemplation: The Incarnation
110-117 Second Contemplation: The Nativity
118-119 Third Contemplation: Repetition
120 Fourth Contemplation: Résumé (deeper repetition)
121-131 Fifth Contemplation: Application of the Senses SpExx 132-133
SpExx 132-133 Second Day: Infancy, two repetitions, application of the senses
SpEx 134 Third Day: Childhood (2). Repetitions, application of senses
SpEx 135 Consideration: Choosing a State of Life
SpExx 136-157 Fourth Day Meditation on the Two Standards (136-148) Meditation on Three Types of Persons (149-157)
SpExx 158-160 Fifth Day Contemplation: Baptism of Jesus
SpEx 161 Sixth Day etc: Contemplation: Public Life, Mission of Jesus
SpExx 162-164 Further notes for the director regarding the ‘Second Week’
SpExx 165-168 Meditation on the Three Kinds of Humility
SpExx 169-189 Discerning the will of God regarding choice of a way of life or renewing one already made
Christ the King and His Call (SpExx 91-100)
This meditation is the preliminary contemplation, or “principle and foundation” of the Second Week. Notice that it has two parts, each with its set of points. The first is an imaginative consideration of a good earthly king who wishes to conquer the world for God, and how a subject might respond to his call to join him in this battle. In the second and more important part, the focus transfers to Christ himself.
For a brief commentary on this meditation, download this YouTube video by Kevin O’Brien SJ, author of An Ignatian Adventure (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2010).
Contemplations on the life of Christ – in general
The person is invited to contemplate the life and mission of Jesus Christ, precisely, in terms of the desired grace of this Week (made popular by the musical Godspell): “that I may know you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly” (Sp.Ex 104).
This prayer has been traced back to St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253AD). It is fascinating that Ignatius had access to this English prayer and incorporated it into the Spiritual Exercises.
How one goes about these Gospel contemplations is explained carefully by Ignatius in SpExx 101-117, adapted by Fleming in his modernised version. The supplementary material of SpExx 261-288 provide suggested relevant Gospel texts.
Essentially, we are invited to enter into a particular scene, place ourselves there, speak with the characters or simply contemplate them in silence, and generally become immersed in the scene as far as possible with our whole being. One of Ignatius’ helps to such immersion is the ‘application of the senses’ where one is invited to ‘see’, ‘hear’, ‘touch’, ‘taste’ and ‘smell’ the particular scene (cf SpExx 121-126).
After the prayer period, during the 10 or so minutes of reflection (and possibly journal-writing), we reflect on what feelings were evoked during our time of contemplation.
- Was it a movement of consolation or desolation?
- In which direction is the Holy Spirit moving me?
Clearly this kind of contemplation draws upon a person’s imagination as well as his/her engagement with the biblical text.
The incarnation, birth and childhood of Jesus (SpExx 101-134)
First Day, First Contemplation: The Incarnation (101-110)
Notice how the three persons of the Trinity, looking down upon the world and its great needs, decide to send the Son as Man to live among the people and show them who God is and how much God loves them and want to share God’s life with them.
God loved the world so much as to send his only Son that all who believe in Him would not perish but would have eternal life. (John 3:16)
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.’ But she was perplexed by his words and wondered what this greeting might be. The angel said, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. You will conceive and bear a son and will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be the Son of the Most High. The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and the child to be born will be holy, he will be called the son of God… And Mary said, ‘Behold the servant of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:26-38)
First Day, Second Contemplation: The Nativity (111-117)
Note: application of the senses
In this phrase, Ignatius is suggesting that as a way of placing ourselves in the Gospel scene, we use not only our imagination but our bodily senses as well.
After preliminary settling down to pray and asking for a particular grace, we try to see the scene we are contemplating (with the eyes of our imagination), hear what the characters are saying, smell and taste the environment, and reverently touch any objects that seem sacred to us in the scene.
Second Day: Infancy (132-133)
Third Day: Childhood (134)
Consideration on Choosing a State of Life (SpExx135)
Between the meditations of the Call of Christ the King and the Two Standards, we are invited to focus on the birth and early life of Jesus. Such contemplation provides a peaceful and gentle lead-in to the discernment of one’s particular vocation and the challenges of accepting such a call to discipleship.
The Two Standards (Exx 136-148)
The first of this pair of meditations is referred to as the Two Standards. It might otherwise be called Two Ways or, in Fleming’s terms, Two Leaders, Two Strategies.
At first the person who has experienced deep conversion of the first week moves into the second in the first flush of renewed commitment and enthusiasm. There is often something of a brief ‘honeymoon’ when prayer seems comparatively easy and nothing is beyond one’s strength. But it is not long before doubts and temptations arise.
Anyone who begins to take seriously the call to discipleship will soon find themselves torn between a deep desire to give themselves entirely to God and, at the same time, an attraction to the ways of the world.
It is this tension between the two ‘ways’, that of Christ on the one hand and Satan (‘the evil spirit’) on the other, which constitutes the meditation on ‘the two standards’. It is not hard to see why a most suitable related biblical text is the experience of Jesus’ being tempted in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).
For a brief commentary on this meditation, return to the YouTube video series by Kevin O’Brien SJ, author, An Ignatian Adventure (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2100)
The Three Types of Persons (Exx 149-157)
This meditation is closely related to the two standards. Here we look at the situation not of the one who calls, but the person who is being called. How am I going to respond? Ignatius suggests that there are one of three ways. None of them is that of the person who simply rejects or ridicules the call. What is at stake is the level of enthusiasm and generosity of the respondent, the disciple in the making.
The three types are well identified in Fleming’s felicitous phrases:
- First type: “all talk and no action”
- Second type: “to do everything but the one thing necessary”
- Third type: “to do God’s will is my desire”
Clearly, we all recognise the desirability of the ideal represented by the third type. But all sorts of un-freedoms get in the way. Ignatius suggests that through grace, we are drawn to move ever more closely to the ideal that is the work of the Exercises overall, and the Second Week in particular.
Jesus’ public life and mission (SpExx 158-161)
Fifth Day Contemplation: Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist
SpEx 161 Sixth – Twelfth Day: Contemplation: the Public Life, Mission of Jesus
From here on, the contemplations of the second week follow the public life of Jesus, his teaching, preaching and healing ministry with the people of 1st century Palestine. Ignatius provides ample suggestions for relevant Gospel passages; but any related readings, icons, music that help our prayer are to be encouraged.
Ignatius stresses the fact that each person’s experience is different, even when seeing or hearing the exactly the same Gospel passage. As Ignatius would say, we should make full use of whatever brings us closer to God.
Three Kinds of Humility (SpExx 165-168)
This fourth meditation is a variant of the third. Since the goal of the Exercises is inner or spiritual freedom, and it is through truth that we reach such freedom (John 8:31), then whatever is most of truth is the shortest road. Ignatius sees truth as intrinsically linked to humility.
It is not a kind of grovelling denial of what God has given us, much less of His work in and through us. But it is an honest and grateful recognition that all is grace, all is from and for God; to live with this kind of detachment from any self-seeking or self-interest is to be most authentically another Christ.
The reason this meditation immediately precedes the last section of the second week is that, at this point, the retreatant is invited to discern his or her vocation in life or some other major decision. For those who are already committed to a state of life, it is the opportunity to renew such a commitment. Now the retreatant is ready to move into the deeper contemplation of the Passion and Death of Jesus.