Lesson #20 – On the Incarnation, First Contemplation

                    Mary’s School of Sanctity                   

Lesson #20 – The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – SECOND WEEK – FIRST DAY AND FIRST CONTEMPLATION – THE INCARNATION

Now at this point of the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius changes the method in which he sets up his meditations because he wants us to do our meditations in a slightly different manner.  Because St. Ignatius wants to encourage us to imitate Our Lord, he sets forth a series of meditations which will be an in-depth study of Our Lord’s Life and virtues.  He will take us through the key mysteries of the life of Christ and have us spend some time in pondering each of them.  However, in these meditations he wants us to paint a scene with our imagination and focus on what we see, hear, and observe actions in the given particular scene.  He has us do this so we can draw lessons for our souls which will bring with them many fruits.  One of these fruits is a greater dedication to Our Lord in our service of Him.

First, we will give the text of what St. Ignatius calls the First Contemplation of the Second Week which is on the Incarnation.  Then we will give some further ideas for the present considerations we are making.  Here we are going to study the circumstances surrounding this very important aspect of Our Catholic Faith, the Incarnation— Our Lord becoming Man through the Hypostatic Union, namely, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity uniting to human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The preparatory prayer is the same as usual, 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 FIRST PRELUDE: is to recall to mind the history of the subject I am about to contemplate.  Here it is how the Three Divine Persons were looking upon the whole extent and space of the earth, filled with human beings.  They see that all were going down into hell, and They decreed, in Their eternity, that the Second Person should become man to save the human race.  When the fullness of time had come, They sent the Angel Gabriel to Our Lady.

The SECOND PRELUDE: is a mental representation of the place.  I will see, in imagination the great extent and space of the world, where dwell so many different nations and peoples.  I will then see particularly the city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee, and the house and room where Our Lady dwells.

The THIRD PRELUDE: is to ask for what I desire.  Here I will ask for an intimate knowledge of Our Lord, Who has become man for me, that I may love and follow Him better.

The FIRST POINT: First, I will SEE all the different people on the face of the earth, so varied in dress and in behavior.  Some are white and others black; some at peace and others at war; some weeping and others laughing; some well and others sick; some being born and others dying, etc.

Second, I will SEE and CONSIDER the Three Divine Persons seated on the royal throne of the Divine Majesty.  They behold the entire face and extent of the earth and They behold all nations in such great blindness, dying, and going down into hell.

Third, I will SEE Our Lady and the angel who greets her.  I will reflect that I may draw profit from this scene.

The SECOND POINT: I will HEAR what the people throughout the world are saying, how they converse with one another, how they swear and blaspheme, etc.  I will also listen to what the Three Divine Persons are saying, that is, “Let us work the redemption of mankind,” etc.  I shall then listen to what the angel and Our Lady are saying.  I will then reflect upon what I hear to draw profit from these words.

The THIRD POINT: I will CONSIDER what the people throughout the world ARE DOING; how they are wounding, killing, and going to hell, etc.  I will also consider what the Three Divine Persons are doing, namely, accomplishing the most Holy Incarnation, etc., also what the angel and Our Lady are doing, as the angel fulfills his office of ambassador, and Our Lady humbles herself and gives thanks to the Divine Majesty.  I will then reflect to derive some profit from each of these things. 

The COLLOQUY: I will now think of what I should say to the Three Divine Persons, or the eternal Word Incarnate, or to His Mother, Our Lady.   I will ask help according to the need that I feel within myself, so that I may more closely follow and imitate Our Lord Who has just become Incarnate.  Close with the “Our Father”.

Considerations for the

·         SEE the world before and at the time of the Incarnation;

Let us bring to our minds, dear reader, what the world was like before the Incarnation.  Paganism was everywhere.  The Israelites were sorely tempted by idolatry and often fell into the worship of false gods.  Very few of the Israelites were faithful to the Commandments of God and the belief in the Redeemer to come, both of which were required for salvation in the Old Testament.  We can think about the few just people waiting in anticipation for the promised Redeemer.   Mary and St. Joseph were among them.

The Roman Empire had conquered most of the known world at that time.  The Romans occupied all of the land around the Mediterranean Sea including the entire coastline of northern Africa.  They owned all of Spain, France, the Netherlands and all along the English Channel in the north.  In fact, they owned most of the island we now know as Britain.  Also, in the northeast, they owned up to the Black Sea and of course they occupied the Holy Land in the east.  In this we can see God’s Providence because when Our Redeemer would set up the one true Church, He could establish His Church on the foundation of the Roman civil order.  Yet, consider how the majority of people were living in the darkness of Paganism.  On the other continents of the world where people migrated, there was the even greater emptiness of ignorance and sin.  Worldwide unhappiness prevailed.

·          SEE the Trinity overseeing the world before the Incarnation;

Behold in your mind’s eye, dear reader, how God, in His infinite mercy pitied mankind.  Try to picture the great Council of the Trinity looking down on the entire world.  Remember, Jesus is called the Angel of the Great Council.[1]

·         SEE the scene of the Annunciation:

Picture Our Lady praying in her small home in Nazareth.  The Angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Scripture tells us that she was troubled by his voice and his message.  Does this mean that she was not looking at the vision of the angel?  She, no doubt, had perfect custody of her eyes, so we can imagine that she wasn’t looking at the angel.  Or was it that she already had such a life of contemplation that the visitation of angels was a common occurrence and that it was not the vision of an angel which troubled her soul?


·         HEAR the world in the period before Christ.

Picture the pagan and confused world as St. Ignatius speaks of it in his words given above; let us hear the tumult of the world.  Let us listen to the crowds of the entire world.  The people are going through life completely ignorant regarding the purpose for which they were created. 

As St. Ignatius describes for us in his text above, we can imagine the people as they scream and shout.  They laugh at all types of crude and banal things.  They chatter unceasingly about worthless things.  What a mass of confusing babble!

·         HEAR the Trinity conversing about working out the Incarnation;

As in Genesis God promised to send a Redeemer saying, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” [Gen. 3:15].   God is about to fulfill His promise.  The Trinity, in our imagination, is setting out that now is the time to work the crushing of the head of Satan.  Imagine God the Father saying, “Now let us work the redemption of mankind.  Thou, My Only Begotten Son, Oh Word, shalt take flesh.   Behold Thy Mother, Our Masterpiece, will be told of Our Divine Plan.  We know that she will humbly accept the Plan and will be the Cause of Joy to Our adopted sons and daughters.”

·          HEAR what is occurring between Gabriel and Mary.

The actual Scriptural text is given here: St. Luke 1: 26-56

And in the sixth month, [of St. Elizabeth’s expectancy] the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

 And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.  Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.  And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

 And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.  And therefore, also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.  And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren.  Because no word shall be impossible with God.

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

 And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. 

And she entered into the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth.  And it came to pass that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.  And she cried out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.  And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.  Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, because He that is mighty hath done great things to me: and holy is His name.  And His mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him. He hath shewed might in his arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.  He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble.  He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.  He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy.  As He spoke to our fathers: to Abraham and to his seed forever.  

And Mary abode with her about three months. And she returned to her own house.

Considerations for the THIRD POINT: to consider actions

CONSIDER THE ACTIONS of the people in the world before and at the time of the Incarnation:

In the above sections, we have brought out the sights and sounds of the pagan world before Christ and at the time of the Incarnation; we need now to consider the actions of the people more.

They are living a banal existence.  They do not have any eternal perspective and therefore have no goal or purpose for living.  The people war against each other and the victor enslaves the defeated.  What poor people!  Think of the overall fear that the majority of people are feeling!  They have to fight for survival every day.  Not only do they have to provide for themselves from day to day, but they live in constant fear of being invaded by thieves or some foreign army.  What a terrifying existence for those who do not know God!  The people of most of the nations have no Mosaic Law for guidance and likewise they have no God-given orders about the sacrifices that God wants.  These peoples live for sensual pleasures, riches, pursuit of power.  What an empty existence they must have!  Most of them were working out their damnation and live without any hope of happiness!

They try to tell themselves that they are happy; yet, they know in their hearts that they are not convinced of this.  They commit murders and steal.  They cheat each other and gossip.  They do not trust one another. The Roman soldiers are patrolling the towns and villages.  These soldiers are watching to keep some kind of order. 

CONSIDER THE ACTIONS of the Holy Trinity– the loving providence and compassion that God has for mankind:

As we heard the Council of the Trinity above, we now consider the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Even though the human race was living unmindful of God, He is ever mindful of the human race.   As He said in Jeremiah, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”.  [Jeremias, 31:3]  God shows that He wants the redemption of the world. “God so loved the world that He sent His Only Begotten Son.” [St. John’s Gospel, 3:16]

From all eternity God knew that He would work the Redemption by sending His Son.  He also knew when He would accomplish this task.  God now sends St. Gabriel with the joyful task of conveying to Our Lady the special mission God has for her, namely, to be the Mother of God.

Let us consider how we have not appreciated His loving care of us as we ought.  We could never be thankful enough for the gifts that God has given us.  The Incarnation alone is a wonderful gift to mankind and we must not forget that the purpose of the Incarnation was in order to atone for the sins of man and to open the gates of heaven which had been closed to man ever since the fall of Adam.  Indeed, where would we be without this Great Act of Love? 

The beautiful reality of the Hypostatic Union of God the Son to human flesh is awe-inspiring in Itself.  God the Son became man and will remain so for all eternity.  What condescension!  What a humiliation!  He wanted to give us a chance to save our souls and He wants to be our friend.    He also wanted to be a model for us to follow.

CONSIDER THE ACTIONS: of St. Gabriel and Our Lady

Let us now take some time to consider this beautiful scene of the messenger of God announcing to the Blessed Virgin, God’s Plan for her, and asking for her consent.

The entire text of this scene is given above as well as the wondrous scene of the Visitation and the Sanctification of St. John the Baptist in his mother’s womb.  We include the entire interchange between Mary and St. Elizabeth because we want to get an intimate understanding of Mary, as well as Our Lord.  Mary’s response to St. Elizabeth, which is known as her Magnifcat, shows her very profound humility.

So, the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she is found special in the Eyes of God.  Why is she special?  It is precisely because she is full of grace.  She was full of grace ever since the moment she was conceived because the merits of the Redemption were applied to her long before Our Lord suffered His Passion and Death.  God can make an exception to His decree that all humans contract original sin.  Since He is not limited by the bounds of time, He chose to prevent original sin from ever sullying the soul of the Virgin Mary.

Thus, Mary is a pure vessel of honor and God willed her to be the place where the Hypostatic Union would occur.  Mary has ever been God’s willing handmaid.  Her parents presented her in the Temple when she was three years old.  She was taught in the Temple.  Therefore, she knew the Scriptures very well. 

What did she think when Gabriel announced that she would conceive a son and He would be called Jesus and He would be the Son of the Most High?  And of His kingdom there would be no end?  Her humility was being tested.  She would have known the passage from Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign.  Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel.”

She wondered if Isaiah’s prophesy applied to her.  She was cautious lest the Angel Gabriel’s words were a trap of the devil in order to tempt her to pride.  Her response shows that she did not trust the praise she had been given.  She tests the apparition to see if it is indeed from God.  She knows that she made a vow of perpetual virginity and this vow was done purely out of love for God.  God had showed her that He accepted her vow.   So now, how can this be that she could conceive since she is a virgin and not at all interested in breaking that vow?   So, she inquires of the angel how this conception can take place and indicates to him that she is a consecrated virgin. 

The angel tells her that the Holy Ghost will cause the Conception and therefore the Child so conceived will be called the Son of God.  He also reveals to her the remarkable news that her elderly cousin Elizabeth had conceived a son even though she had been considered barren.  The angel tells her this as his way of proving to her that nothing is impossible with God.

When Mary hears of this extraordinary expectancy of her aged cousin, she is convinced that this apparition is from God.  Therefore, she readily submits her will to God saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.”  She only wants to do the Will of God.  For her His Will is the only thing that matters.  Then, at that moment, the “Word became Flesh.”  Wisdom became incarnate; hence Wisdom became man.

We must remember that Mary was well-schooled in the Scriptures.  She knew that the Messiah was to be the Savior and Redeemer.   She knew that He would suffer a miserable death and be the “Man of Sorrows and the outcast of His people.”

As a mother she would suffer from this future suffering of her Son, and yet, she does not worry about her own future suffering, she only is concerned about doing what God wants.  Again, for her, His Will is the only thing that matters.

She humbles herself and immediately goes to be of assistance to her cousin Elizabeth who must be in need being so old and with child.  Mary’s generosity is “with haste.”

Then we see and hear Mary’s humility again when she sees her cousin and her cousin praises her.  She recites her beautiful canticle giving God all the glory of making her the Mother of God.

We have few words of Mary in the Gospels.  The Magnificat is a masterpiece of eloquent praise of God and giving Him all the credit for the glory and fame which is and will be associated with her.  “He that is mighty hath done great things to me.” 

Concluding thoughts:

Let us be astonished about how God is so loving and merciful to men as to become like unto them.  Ponder the humiliation of the Son of God at His Incarnation.  As St. Paul says, “Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal to God; emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.  He humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” [Phil. 2:6-8]

Think about how Our Lord wanted to become our model so we could imitate His virtues and His love.  “No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his friend.”  What priceless love to not only become man, but to die for the sake of the salvation of men!  When Adam rejected the goodness of God in favor of Eve, Our Lord, the new Adam, reverses this dastardly act by embracing a life of suffering and the most shameful death on the Cross.  He wants us to learn humility, for His whole life was one continuous act of humility.

Think also with wonder about how Mary, the new Eve, rejected anything to do with the serpent – the evil one.  Instead, she exclaims that she owes everything to God.   She proclaims that she wants only to serve God and not act like Eve who wanted to become as a god.

COLLOQUY: How do I begin to thank Thee, O my Supreme Good for Thy mercies in becoming man to save us from hell fire?  O Holy Trinity, how sweet and how loving of Thee to give us an opportunity to share Thy divinity with us!  O, God the Father, how Thou dost provide in the extreme for us by sending Thy beloved Son to be butchered for us wretched sinners!  O, Thou Incarnate Wisdom, our words cannot praise Thee enough for Thine example of a most holy life!  Thou didst become man to be our Model, our Hope, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Friend, and our Beloved Spouse.  What more could we ask for?  Thou hast given all!  O, Holy Ghost, can our lips utter sufficient words to thank Thee for overshadowing Our dear precious Mother Mary and making her the true singular vessel of honor?  Help us, O most Holy Trinity, to love Thee with an ardent love and serve Thee ever more faithfully.  We do not deserve all Thy tender mercies shown towards us.  Help us to humble ourselves ever more and more in Thy Presence and pour forth our hearts in tearful gratitude of love. 

O dear tender Mother Mary, guide us in our homage and love of God.  Help us to imitate Thy virtues, o sweet Virgin Mary.  We, like thee, want to be generous to God and give ourselves completely in His service.  Teach us, O Mary, the countless ways we can sacrifice ourselves for God.

The possibilities for our colloquy are numerous.  The above is only a sample of what could be said.

Now that we have begun our intimate study of Our Lord, we hunger to increase our knowledge of Our Beloved Lord and Redeemer.  We have laid a foundation of desire to imitate the virtues and love of Our Lord.  Hence, in our next lesson we will continue our study of Christ by doing what St. Ignatius refers to as the Contemplation on the Nativity. 

[1]           Taken from the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus