At the beginning of the “second week” of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, after the one doing the Exercises has made a choice to seek a more intimate relationship with Jesus and to follow him more closely,
the retreatant is directed to contemplate the birth of Jesus, using his/her imagination and even applying his/her senses.
The first step in this contemplation of Jesus’ birth is considering how God observes the human race as it suffers under the power of Evil in the world, and reflecting on God’s desire that all men and women be freed from that power and flourish as God desires.
It is out of love for all men and women that God sends the Word to become a human person and, through him, to save us from this Evil, however and wherever we experience it.
Ignatius then directs the retreatant to imagine him/herself present at Jesus’ birth, and, assuming the role of a servant, to look on Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and to serve them in their needs. The retreatant is to watch what they do and to hear what they say to one another. The retreatant is to note carefully how Jesus was born “in extreme poverty.”
Then, Ignatius says, the retreatant should “reflect on him/herself and draw some spiritual fruit from what he/she has seen and heard.” Ignatius does not presume what “spiritual fruit” a retreatant might experience, but he does want the retreatant to know that God does all this for him/her out of love.
In this Christmas season, even though commercial interests have largely hijacked the holiday, we can hardly avoid at least occasional thoughts of the birth of Jesus. What we might more deliberately and carefully do is to try to “draw some spiritual fruit” from our prayer. We might ask God questions like: God, why did you choose to become one of us and to live among us? Jesus, why did you live and die as you did? God, what are you saying to me in all this? What does it all mean?
I suggest that we not settle for formulaic answers that sound like the Catechism or a theological treatise. Rather, I suggest that we stay out of our heads and move into our hearts where we can be confident that the Lord speaks most reliably and personally. My hope is that God’s words to us, which we will likely feel more than hear, will be more like a poem or a love letter than doctrine.
Fr. Pat, Fr. Rudy, the other Jesuits in Atlanta, the staff of St. Thomas More, and I wish you and your families and other loved ones a heart-felt experience of the loving presence of God in your lives this Christmas. May you know deep in your hearts that God is for you.