Lesson #12 First Exercise on Sin — The Triple Sin

                    Mary’s School of Sanctity                   

Before introducing the material for the first exercise, it is important to know the general framework St. Ignatius uses for his meditations.  Also, it is important to note here that St. Ignatius intends that the exercitant has a scheduled time period for doing the meditations.  In the structure of an Ignatian retreat this is all worked out ahead of time and the exercitant simply follows the schedule.  If doing a “retreat” on one’s own, one can set up a schedule for himself.  However, if one is doing the Ignatian exercises as part of a routine of daily meditations, then one would set aside perhaps 25 minutes or a half hour for the meditation.  Toward the end of the time set aside, one could save at least five minutes for a colloquy [closing prayer].[1]

St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises are basically a series of meditations set out in a particular order.  His series is the method he used to lead the soul on a path by which self-knowledge can be obtained as a means of acquiring humility.  St. Ignatius uses this method because he knows that once the soul, as the intended bride of Christ, knows herself better, she can then more perfectly dedicate herself to the loving service of God.  Consequently, he is teaching a sure way to sanctity.   

In general, each meditation in his Spiritual Exercises, in its turn, has a specified order.  St. Ignatius gives the subject matter of each meditation with a preparatory prayer, preludes, the principal points to consider, and suggests an appropriate colloquy.[2]

St. Ignatius has a preparatory prayer which he wishes every exercitant to use before every meditation.  It goes as follows:

I ask God Our Lord the grace that all my intentions, actions, and works may be directed purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.

The preludes he gives are preliminary steps to get the exercitant ready for the meditation.  The preludes are supposed to prepare the exercitant for the mental prayer ahead.  It is in a way like preparing the soil for the planting.  In fact, he has the exercitant make a mental image in his mind which matches the topic selected for the meditation.  He calls this making of an image the first prelude.

Then, St. Ignatius usually has two or more additional preludes in each of his meditations.  He explains these at the beginning of each meditation.  His second prelude is usually a specific grace which he wants the exercitant to ask for.

Then, he sets forth the particular points that he wants the exercitant to consider.  Although he gives the points to consider, he certainly intends that if the exercitant finds his heart overflowing with things to say to God, by all means, the exercitant should stop the consideration of the points and use the inspiration given and simply talk to God.[3]   One should not worry about using all of the points for consideration because the main reason for the considerations is to foster the colloquy.

In general, one may think that the colloquy [prayer] would happen at the end of the time set aside for the meditation, but in reality, one finds that his heart is full and he longs to speak to God much sooner, so the colloquy often happens sooner. 

St. Ignatius intends that, if the exercitant has not found his heart pouring out to God at any time during the period set aside for the consideration of the points of the meditation, then he should stop making considerations and begin at once to make a colloquy.  As mentioned above there was a planned time set aside for the colloquy toward the end of the meditation time slot.  This colloquy is a prayer of thanksgiving, contrition, adoration, or petition.  

It is a good idea to read through the entire material for each meditation before actually beginning the meditation.  Now let us look at what St. Ignatius gives for the first exercise, and then we will go through it pondering on the crucial consequences of his material and how the consequences apply to our souls.



For this first exercise the usual preparatory prayer is used which is given above. 

The first meditation is on sin.  In this meditation the FIRST PRELUDE is the mental image.  Since this meditation is about sin, which is not visible, St. Ignatius says that:

the mental image will consist in imaging, and considering my soul imprisoned in its corruptible body, and my entire being in this vale of tears as an exile among brute beasts.  By entire being, I mean both body and soul."      

The SECOND PRELUDE is to ask God Our Lord for what I want and desire.  In this present meditation I shall ask for shame and confusion, for I see how any souls have been damned for a single mortal sin, and how often I have deserved to be damned eternally for the many sins I have committed.

The FIRST POINT will be to recall to memory the first sin, which was that of the angels, then to apply the understanding by considering this sin in detail, then the will by seeking to remember and understand all, so that I may be the more ashamed and confounded when I compare the one single sin of the angels to the many that I have committed.  Since they went to hell for one sin, how many times have I deserved it for my many sins.  I will recall to mind the sin of the angels, remembering that they were created in the state of grace, that they refused to make use of their freedom to offer reverence and obedience to their Creator and Lord, and so sinning through pride, they fell from grace into sin and were cast from heaven to hell.  In like manner my understanding is to be used to reason more in detail on the subject matter, and thereby move more deeply my affection through the use of my will.

The SECOND POINT is to employ the three powers of the soul to consider the sin of Adam and Eve.  Recall to mind how they did such long penance for their sin and what corruption fell upon the whole human race, causing so many to go to hell.  I say to recall to mind the second sin, that of our first parents.  Recall that after Adam had been created in the Plain of Damascus and placed in the earthly paradise, and Eve had been formed from his rib, they were forbidden to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and eating it they committed sin.  After their sin, clothed in garments of skin and cast out of paradise, without the original justice which they had lost, they lived all their lives in much travail and great penance. 

The understanding is likewise to be used in considering the subject matter in greater detail and the will is to be employed as already explained.

The THIRD POINT is to recall to mind the third sin.  This is the particular sin of any person who went to hell because of one mortal sin.  Consider also the innumerable others who have gone to hell for fewer sins than I have committed.  I say consider the third particular sin.   Recall to mind the grievousness and malice of sin against our Creator and Lord.  Let the understanding consider how, in sinning and acting against Infinite Goodness, he has justly been condemned forever.  Close with acts of the will, as mentioned above.  (St. Ignatius is referring here to where he mentioned moving one’s affections more deeply through the use of the will.)

COLLOQUY.  Imagine Christ Our Lord before you, hanging upon the cross.  Speak with Him of how, being the Creator He then became man, and now, possessing eternal life, He submitted to temporal death to die for our sins.

Then I shall meditate upon myself and ask “What have I done for Christ? What am I now doing for Christ?  What ought I do for Christ?” As I see Him in this condition, hanging upon the cross, I shall meditate on the thoughts that come to my mind.

The colloquy is made properly by speaking as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant speaks to his master, now asking some favor, now accusing oneself for some wrong deed, or again, making known his affairs to Him and seeking His advice concerning them.  Conclude with the “Our Father.”

In order to firm up our resolution made in the meditation on the Principle and Foundation, namely to praise, revere, and to serve God faithfully, we must consider the gruesome reality of sin.  Sin is truly the opposite of serving God—it is the refusal to serve God.  The world does not take sin seriously and thinks it is nothing to worry about.  Of course the devil encourages this view of sin and wants us to see sin as no big problem.

St. Ignatius, with his meditation material about sin, is now giving us an opportunity to get a thorough knowledge of the malice of sin, a salutary sense of shame while grieving with heartfelt contrition for the sins we have committed, and to form a firm resolve to never commit sins.

St. Ignatius reminds us of our mortality by telling us to imagine our corruptible bodies which we will leave behind at death.  Our souls will go forth to meet our Judge and we will see clearly how we have treated Him.

 The consideration of the points:

I. The Sin of the Angels:

Let us consider how the angels, by nature, are far more perfect creatures than men.  They have no bodies.  They are pure spirits and have intellects and wills.  They have infused knowledge that God gave them when He created them.  Catholic tradition teaches that the angels were created and in the next instant they made their fateful choice of either to serve God or reject Him.  It is thought that they were told about the Incarnation, and the fallen angels did not want to submit to God’s Plan that God the Son would be born of a woman.  Further, they did not want to have to give honor to the Woman, the Mother of God, who is a creature.  They didn’t see Mary as God’s wonderful masterpiece, she, who was fit to be Queen of heaven and of all creation.  They saw her merely as a creature below them in excellence because of her lower nature as man.  Thus, they fell because of pride.  So we can see how Tobias was so wise to advise his son to “Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind, or in thy words: for from it all perdition took its beginning.” [Tobias 4:14]

The fallen angels committed one sin.  Because of the infused knowledge of their nature and the way that their intellects work, they made one irrevocable choice.  They rejected God’s Will and Plan for them and got the punishment they deserved.  Their one sin was mortal and they lost God forever.  The devils did not want to change their nature and become gods because this was impossible and if their nature changed, they would cease to exist.  They didn’t want to serve God the way He intended for them.

Therefore, we see that their punishment is eternal and never can be changed.

Fr. Hurter, S.J., in his book Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat, has these powerful words to say:

Now my soul, what do you say?   What will happen to me?  I am not an angel; I have sinned, not only once, but many times; I have known from revelation the severity of the avenging justice of God; I have been pardoned often; I have repeatedly broken my word and my resolutions after having vowed to amend.  How ashamed must I not be as I stand before the judgment seat of God?  If the angels were punished thus, what do I deserve?  But God has spared me: “the mercies of the Lord that we are not consumed.”  Lamentations, 3:22 [4]


II. The Sin of Our First Parents:

Adam and Eve were created with perfect justice.  Their intellects were very keen, and they had gifted understanding and a rich fund of knowledge.  Their wills were likewise strong and their passions obeyed their wills perfectly.  They had no sickness or pain.  They were free from death. They had no anxiety about anything.  All of their material needs were supplied.  Most wonderful of all was that they were heirs to heaven. 

The devils were envious of Adam and Eve’s happiness, and with their fallen angelic natures, they didn’t want Adam and Eve to have a chance to go to heaven.  They didn’t want Adam and Eve to possess the Supreme Good, Whom the devils can never possess.

Therefore, the devil, knowing that Eve was created with an inferior intellect than Adam’s, and that she was created with a softer heart; the devil set his trap for Adam by fooling Eve first.  Then, with newly-fallen human nature, she convinced Adam to commit sin. 

What were the consequences of this?  The punishments ensued immediately.   Grace is lost and the sonship of God is lost.  Man can no longer go to heaven.  The lower appetites, namely, the passions are made strong and rebellious.  Death and sickness now enter the world.  Now man must toil with great sweat and the woman has much to suffer.  The results do not just affect Adam and Eve, but the entire human race.  What massive consequences for Adam’s fall since he is the head of the entire human race. All of these consequences are attributed to Adam.  And yet the personal sins of all the rest of mankind add to these consequences and misery in the whole world.  Each man feels keenly his personal sins and weakness, even if he would not admit them to others.  In his book Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat, Fr. Hurter says:

How shall I fare who have sinned so often, even after I had known the severity of God’s avenging justice from revelation?  What salutary fear will come over me, and how shall I stand before the tribunal of God’s justice, ashamed in the consciousness of my many sins? What am I to think of sin after such a judgment?  How thankful must I be to God, for I can attribute it only to His mercy that I am not among the lost![5]

III. The Sins of Individuals:

Here St. Ignatius tells us to quake as we think about the sins of so many suffering in hell at this moment who have not committed as many sins as we have.  Think about those souls who have not received as many graces as we have and yet they still damned their souls.  What do we deserve?  What must we expect?  Hence, I must consider sin as the greatest evil that a man can meet with!

St. Ignatius, after giving us such sobering food for thought, tells us to go the Foot of the Cross, with hearts heavy with shame and woefully confounded.  Let us see the price of sin.  Such is the cause of so much anguish and pain for Our Dear Lord.  We owe Him so much!  How have we treated Him? What can I do for Him now?  What can I do for Him from now on?  I must hate sin which is the cause of so much spiritual and physical pain for Our Dear Lord, the cause of such a price to the Eternal Father.  With no hesitation we should tell Our Lord how sorry we are for offending Him so constantly with our selfishness.  We should beg Him to forgive us, to strengthen our hatred for sin and to strengthen our love for Him Who is so loveable.  With hearts full of loving things to say to Our Lord, we pour out our colloquy to His Sacred Heart.  St. Ignatius wants us to end our colloquy with an Our Father.  We could certainly thank Our Lord for allowing us to do this meditation and giving us a better understanding of our poor selves.

In our next lesson, discussing Exercises two, three, and four, St. Ignatius wants us to treat the subject of sin again but with deeper penetration of what sin is.  Hence, we will examine the malice of sin.  We will delve into the many ramifications of the horrifying aspects of sin. So that thus being horrified and filled with a more tender love of Our Lord, we will shun sin with all our heart.

[1]           The basic instruction on how to do “a meditation” was given in Lesson #2 of the School of Sanctity series, in September 2021.  This article can be found here: https://catholiccandle.org/2021/09/03/lesson-2-meditation-how-why/


However, we will include footnotes in this current article to refresh the reader’s mind on some of the key aspects of meditation because not everyone may be aware of how a meditation is done.


[2]           Here St. Ignatius is not intending to limit the exercitant from doing a colloquy whenever he finds his heart is full of things to say to God, or Our Lady, etc.  The colloquy he suggests here is more in a manner of closing the meditation.

[3]           This would be, the exercitant spontaneously going into his colloquy— pouring his heart out to God.  This outpouring of one’s heart is also called affections and these are the result or the fruit of making the considerations.  In Catholic Candle’s Mary’s School of Sanctity Lesson #2, we explained how a meditation in general is done.   The considerations given in the material for the meditation are meant to foster one of the four types of prayer, namely, thanksgiving, adoration, contrition, and petition.  As we explained in Lesson #2, this “talking to God” is the lifting of the heart and mind to God, which is what prayer actually is.  In other words, this colloquy or prayer is the fruit of meditation.

[4]           Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, SJ., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck copyright 1918.; third edition 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, Page 34.

[5]            Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, SJ., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck copyright 1918.; third edition 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, Page 37.