Lesson #6 — Explanation of the First Week Rules for the Discernment of Spirits

Mary’s School of Sanctity

In our last lesson in Mary’s School, we discussed the Spiritual Exercises in general and began to explain the purpose of the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. 

In this lesson we will begin our examination of the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits that pertain especially more to the first week of the Exercises, although these Rules apply to the spiritual life in general.  These Rules are invaluable for everyone engaged in the test of this life and fighting in the Church Militant.  Saints and spiritual writers highly recommend that we Catholics become familiar with these Rules as much as possible and review them often.  By doing so we can see the tactics of the evil one and cooperate with the helps God gives us through His Holy Angels.

St. Ignatius’s Rule #1. In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons, the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.

St. Ignatius’s Rule #2. In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing themselves from their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, each spirit uses a method contrary to the one he used in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good [spirit] to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.

These first two Rules are very crucial in seeing the general ways in which the good spirits act and the way the evil spirits act.  One basic fact to remember is that the good spirit always acts in an opposite way than the evil one.  Of course, the devil hates God and is always opposed to God’s Will and will always try to undo God’s Plan.  

Another basic difference between the good spirit and the evil spirit is the fact that the good spirit always fosters sound reasoning and the evil spirit tries to drag the soul away from sound reasoning.  St. Thomas explains in the Summa that in order for man to have moral behavior, that is, moral actions, man must act according to reason.[1]  Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the devil’s main tactic is to get men to not use their reason properly.

So, in the first Rule, the devil wants the mortal sinner to become complacent in his sin, and therefore, the devil will endeavor to keep the sinner in sin.  Whereas the good spirit will try to wake up the sinner to the gravity of his situation in order to draw him to conversion.

In the second Rule, the devil will try to get the person, who is striving to serve God, to fall into discouragement and to not use his reason.  The devil will basically try to get the faithful soul to the point of despair.  On the other hand, the good spirit will encourage the faithful soul to persevere.

St. Ignatius’s Rule # 3.  Of Spiritual Consolation. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all. Likewise, I call it consolation when the soul sheds tears that move it to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one's sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise.   Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one's soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

In the third Rule, St. Ignatius explains what he means by consolation.  He wants the soul to understand what consolation is so the soul better understands when consolation is happening and know how to recognize consolation as compared to desolation.  Because one must act well, whether in consolation or desolation, he must see the difference between these two movements in order to determine how to act.  Later, St. Ignatius will discuss how to act when one is in consolation.

St. Ignatius’s Rule # 4. Of Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation everything contrary to the consolation explained in the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.

In the fourth Rule, St. Ignatius explains what he means by desolation.   Again, St. Ignatius wants the reader to have a clear distinction between the two movements of the soul so one can more easily act appropriately in these two circumstances.

In the fifth and sixth Rules, St. Ignatius explains how to act during desolation.

St. Ignatius’s Rule # 5. In time of desolation never make a change; but be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination that you had on the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination which you had in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad [spirit], who tries to trick us into making a bad decision.[2]

In the fifth Rule, St. Ignatius clearly is giving a very strict warning to make no change when one is in desolation.  He means that one should continue carrying out the resolutions that one had made when he was in consolation.   As we have explained above, because the devil tries to drive man off the course of sound reasoning, the devil will especially pull on the soul when one is in desolation.  The devil will try to get the poor desolate soul to make a bad choice.

The devil knows when a soul is in desolation – the devil’s tactic goes something like this: he plays with the soul and tires it out.  The devil wants the soul to feel so overwhelmed that the person feels desperate. When a person feels desperate enough, he will often end up doing something without thinking of the long-term consequences.  Thus, it is very likely that the desolate soul will make a bad choice.  Then, of course, the devil will tempt the soul to think that since the decision has already been made, it is too late to change the decision or “fix” the mistake.  The devil preys on fallen human nature and the fact that we humans have a difficult time admitting that we were wrong.

In short, St. Ignatius is telling us that being in desolation is very dangerous for the soul because the soul is especially vulnerable – precisely because the devil will lure the soul into some form of pride.  Of course, the remedy that St. Ignatius gives to counteract the pride is to foster humility with additional prayer, penance, and examinations of conscience. See below: 

St. Ignatius’s Rule # 6. Although in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful to intensify our good efforts against the temptations that come during desolation, by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and more penance.

Thus, knowing that the time of desolation is especially dangerous for souls, St. Ignatius tells us to intensify our strictness against fallen human nature in order to bolster the strength to overcome the evil one’s temptations.

In Rules seven and eight, St. Ignatius gives further considerations which show God’s Mercy and that it is God’s Will that the soul recognizes its weakness.  Not only does one need to see his weakness but also the soul needs to see clearly that one must depend on God.  

St. Ignatius’s Rule # 7. One who is in desolation should consider that our Lord, in order to try him, has left him to his own natural powers to resist the different agitation and temptations of the enemy. He can resist with Divine help, which is always available to him even though he may not clearly perceive it.  Although the Lord has withdrawn from him His great fervor, ardent love, and intense grace, He has nevertheless left him sufficient grace for eternal salvation.

St. Ignatius’s Rule # 8. One who is in desolation must strive to persevere in patience, which is contrary to the vexations that have come upon him.  He should consider, also, that consolation will soon return, and strive diligently against the desolation in the manner explained in the sixth rule.

So, in Rule eight in particular, one must practice trust in God and remind himself that God will not abandon him.  Therefore, St. Ignatius shows the necessity of a person humbling himself in order to persevere in times of desolation.

In our next lesson, we will discuss St. Ignatius’ explanation of why God allows us to be in desolation.  In addition to this, we will look into St. Ignatius’s clear instructions of how to conduct oneself in consolations as well as his three other powerful Rules which help us to know the tactics of the evil one so we can combat him forcefully and conquer.  

In conclusion, we must remember that God wants us to defeat our foes and persevere.  How loving and tender God is to give us the means to cooperate with Him in our salvation!


[1]         Summa, Ia IIae, Q.75, a.2.        

[2]  Bracketed words added for clarity.

Lesson #5 — Introduction to the Spiritual Exercises and Rules for the Discernment of Spirits

Mary’s School of Sanctity

In our last lesson in Mary’s School we took a close look into the life of St. Ignatius.  We saw how God chose this wonderful saint to be the founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Company of Jesus [as in a military sense].

The Spiritual Exercises are meant to be done over a period of one month with one retreat master helping one exercitant (which is what St. Ignatius calls the person making the exercises).  These Exercises are referred to as a retreat.  Through the centuries, priests have found a way to allow working men complete the retreat in as little as one week, by paring down the retreat to certain key exercises.

St. Ignatius divides the Spiritual Exercises into four one-week periods (i.e., one month); yet, the actual speed of progressing through the weeks depends on the abilities of the exercitant.   However, the later weeks are more fixed because St. Ignatius intends for the exercitant to spend plenty of time in deeper meditations on the life of Our Lord.

The weeks are broken down generally as follows:

1) The first week corresponds roughly to what is called the purgative way in the spiritual life, which involves purifying the soul and putting one’s life in order.  This week reminds the exercitant why he was created, namely, the end for which he must live.  The aim of this week is to excite sorrow and contrition as the exercitant sees more clearly how he has failed in working for the end in which he was created.  There are meditations about the sin of Adam and Eve, the sin of the angels, man’s personal sins, as well as meditations on death, hell, and God’s judgment of man.[1]   Therefore, this week is designed to purify the soul, root out inordinate attachments to creatures, and enable one to amend his life through grateful surrender to Christ the Redeemer.  

The work of the first week is like removing the weeds from a patch of ground so that we can then plant good plants.  This “clearing the ground” is critical preparation for the remaining three positive and beautiful weeks, in which the exercitant gains the main fruits of the retreat.  Let us read about those now.

2) The aim of the second week is to persuade the exercitant to an interior knowledge and love of the person of Jesus Christ.  In this way he may adapt his life to the model of Christ Himself as the norm of Christian perfection.  There are a series of meditations about the private and public life of Christ.  Further, there are the four famous meditations: on the Call of Christ to His Kingdom, the distinction of the Two Standards—the standard of Christ vs. the standard of Satan, the Three Classes of Men, and the Three Modes of Humility.

In the Call of Christ the King meditation, St. Ignatius arouses the greatest enthusiasm to follow Christ closely in poverty and humility while trying to prepare one’s soul to spread the Catholic Faith.  

The meditation on the Two Standards examines the tricks of the devil in contrast to Christ’s plan for the world.  The exercitant is encouraged to dedicate his life to Christ whether in the religious life or as a layman.  Further, the tactics that the devil uses to draw people away from Christ are explained, as well as the strategies to use in order to remain faithful to Christ.

In the meditation on The Three Classes of Men, St. Ignatius intends to free the exercitant’s will from the false obstacles and illusions of the devil which would prevent the exercitant from making a generous decision to follow Christ intimately.

The meditation called The Three Modes of Humility or subjection to God is intended to purify the heart so that it might reach the highest degree of humility, thus leading the exercitant to choose only that which best leads to his final end, the possession of God.

3) The third week focuses on the Passion of Our Lord.  This week is intended to strengthen the resolutions the exercitant has made to follow Christ more closely.  Through the study of Our Lord’s sufferings the exercitant increases his grateful love and his sorrow for his sins.

4) The fourth week focuses on meditations on the Risen Life of Christ.  This week is intended to produce unselfish love, joy in Christ’s glory, and an unchanging trust in Christ the Consoler.  

The crowning conclusion of the four weeks of meditative exercises is the called the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love.  This meditation brings together all the aspects of the four weeks into a wonderful whole, that is, that one should live his life exclusively for God, in joyous service, finding God in all things and all things for Him.  This we have referred to before as having an Eternal Perspective.[2]

In other words, St. Ignatius desires that the exercitant fully grasp the importance of doing all his actions for the greater honor and glory of God.  This idea is embodied in St. Ignatius’s famous motto, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.[3]  St. Ignatius wants the exercitant to become a noble and virtuous soldier of Christ with his eternal salvation ever in mind.

The above is a brief overview of the full Spiritual Exercises and the basic format of what is called an Ignatian Retreat.  These retreats were traditionally given in an appropriate setting for meditation.  The retreatant would withdraw from the world, leaving all worldly concerns for a set period of time.  For laymen, this was generally a week.   The retreats were silent, meaning that the retreatants kept not only exterior silence and also the more difficult interiorly recollection.  There were generally three or four mini-instructions (called conferences) per day.  In these conferences the retreat master [usually a priest] would instruct the retreatants about the contents of the next assigned meditation.  After an appropriate time of instruction, the retreatants were sent to their rooms or the chapel to do the meditation and end with a period of thanksgiving, often called the ‘colloquy’.[4] After the meditation the retreatant would examine how well he did in his efforts of the meditation.  He could write himself some notes containing his thoughts and insights that the Holy Ghost perhaps gave him during the meditation.  There was usually an opportunity to see the retreat master at least once a day and discuss any problems the retreatant was having.

However, in our times of Apostasy, the Good Lord has allowed uncompromising Catholics to suffer the additional cross of not having an uncompromising priest available and the cross of not having the opportunity to attend an uncompromising retreat.   If one wanted to set time aside to be ‘on retreat’, as it were, to do the Spiritual Exercises by himself or in a small group, it would be best to set aside some days where one could simulate the surroundings most conducive to meditation.  Ideally, one would have some simple meals pre-made and make arrangements so one could keep a schedule, keep silence, and do several meditations per day.  Of course, there would be time allotted for a morning Rosary and, ideally, an evening one as well.  Because the Spiritual Exercises are so powerful against the devil and are so efficacious for the perseverance of the soul, it is crucial that we Catholics should seriously consider making time to do these Spiritual Exercises.

Now we turn to another aspect of the Spiritual Exercises that is crucial for perseverance in grace, that is, The Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits.  We will give a brief explanation [introduction] to them here and will treat each of them at length in the upcoming issues of Catholic Candle, before moving on to treat each of the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises themselves. 

Because we are living in the Church Militant and are battling against the “powers of darkness”, as St. Paul calls them, it is important to know the difference in the strategies of the evil angels and of the good ones.  St. Ignatius, through Divine inspiration, explains how to discern between the spirits.  He explains his Rules in two sets, one to be given during the First Week and the other in the Second Week.  Yet the Rules are not intended to be limited to the retreat.  Rather, they are Rules to be used in the spiritual life in general.  Our souls go through continual struggles and the devil is always looking for ways to trap us.  We must likewise remember that our Guardian Angels are looking for ways to assist us and they are always faithful in accomplishing God’s Will.  Even if we do not cooperate with our dear angels, they do not stop doing their God-given task.

In our next lesson we will begin looking at the fourteen Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits for the First Week.  After that, we will discuss the eight Rules for the Second Week in a future issue of Catholic Candle.

 

 


[1]          In times outside of the Great Apostasy in which we live, (in which most people do not have an uncompromising priest), a general confession would usually be made in this first week.  In fact, St. Ignatius intended that the Exercises be given by an experienced retreat master to those retreatants he was familiar with, and not as something to just be read.  In this series of articles in Mary’s School of Sanctity, we at Catholic Candle are attempting to share this classic work with our readers.  Some of our readers might not know about them.  Likewise, because there is no uncompromising priest available to most of our readers, it is likely that there is nowhere to attend an uncompromising retreat.  By this series we attempt to explain the exercises, drawing from the previous blessings of our having had these retreats available. Of course, sharing this treasure with others increases our own love and appreciation of these Providential Exercises.  These Exercises, once explained, do lend themselves to being done by the laymen.  They are very crucial in our times of the Great Apostasy in order to keep our salvation as our number one goal in life. These explanations of the Exercises will be found together on our website.  They will be available in book form at the end of our discussion about the Exercises for uncompromising Catholics to use as a meditation source and/or guide for a self-directed retreat.

[2] See Catholic Candle’s Objective Truth Series Reflection #18, posted January 1, 2021, at this link: https://catholiccandle.org/category/resources-for-faith-and-practice/on-working-for-holiness/objective-truth-series/

[3] For the Greater Glory of God

[4] The method of meditation and colloquy was described in Mary’s School of Sanctity Lesson #2, at this link: https://catholiccandle.org/2021/09/03/lesson-2-meditation-how-why/

Lesson #4 – an Intro to St. Ignatius, author of the Spiritual Exercises

Catholic Candle note:  Because we live in a time of great apostasy in which the normal channels to receive the sacraments and spiritual direction are not available to most of us, the team at the Catholic Candle will attempt in a series of articles to pass on the treasure of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Firstly, we will set out a biographical account of St. Ignatius in order to appreciate how God’s providence is manifested in giving us these powerful time-tested exercises through St. Ignatius, His chosen instrument.  Secondly, we will give a brief overview of the exercises including an explanation of St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits.  Thirdly, we will treat individual Spiritual Exercises.

 

 Mary’s School of Sanctity

Before we can study the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, it is important to get to know more about him.[1]

  • His early years

St. Ignatius was born in 1491 in a castle in the Biscay region of Spain.  Both his parents were of royal extraction.  His father Don Bertram, lord of Ognez and Loyola, was head of one of the most ancient and noble families.  His mother was Mary Suez de Balde.  They had three daughters and eight sons.  Their youngest child Ignito [St. Ignatius] was witty and had discretion above his years.  He was sociable and obliging, but had a choleric disposition and an ardent passion for glory.

He was raised in the court of Ferdinand V under the care and protection of his patron and kinsman Antony Manriquez, duke of Najara, a nobleman of first rank in Spain.  Antony saw St. Ignatius’ inclinations, led him to the army, and made sure he was trained to be an accomplished officer.

St. Ignatius, who was aware of his older brothers’ valiant service in the wars of Naples, wanted very much to enter the service.  He behaved with great conduct and valor in the army, especially in the taking of Najara, a small town on the frontier of Biscay.  He generously declined taking any part of the booty.  He detested gambling, was dexterous in the management of financial and other affairs, and had an excellent talent for settling the differences among the soldiers.  He was generous even to the enemy, but was addicted to gallantry, and was full of the maxims of worldly honor, vanity, and pleasures.  

  • His initial conversion    

But God had other plans for St. Ignatius.  It came to be that when Charles V succeeded king Ferdinand and was chosen emperor, he was obliged to go to Germany.  Francis I, king of France, resented this appointment as emperor, and became an enemy to Charles.  Francis declared war against Charles.    Francis wanted to retake Navarre.  Thus, it was in 1521 that Francis sent an army into Spain and laid siege to Pampeluna, the capital of Navarre.  St. Ignatius at this time was stationed in Pampeluna by the viceroy.  He was not given a position to command the garrison but tried in vain to convince the garrison to defend the city against the attack.   When St. Ignatius saw that the garrison opened the gates to the enemy, he and the only officer who would follow him, went up into the citadel.  The garrison of this fortress deliberated whether they should surrender; St. Ignatius persuaded them to hold their ground.  The French attacked the fortress with great fury and made a wide hole in the wall with their artillery and attempted to take the fortress by assault.  St. Ignatius appeared in the breach, at the head of the bravest part of the garrison and, with his sword in hand, endeavored to drive back the enemy.  But in the heat of combat, a shot from a cannon broke a stone from the wall and bruised his left leg.  The cannonball, on the rebound, broke and shattered his right leg.  The garrison surrendered when they saw St. Ignatius fall.

The French used their victory with moderation and treated the prisoners well, especially St. Ignatius, in consideration of his quality and valor.  They carried him to the general’s quarters, and soon after sent him, in a litter carried by two men, to the castle of Loyola, which was not far from Pampeluna.  Upon arriving there, St. Ignatius was in great pain because his bones had been set badly on the battlefield.  The surgeons judged it best to break the bone again, which St. Ignatius suffered without any concern.  But a violent fever followed the second setting, which was attended with dangerous symptoms, and reduced him to an extreme degree of weakness, so that the physicians declared that he could not live many days.  He received the sacraments on the eve of the feast of SS.  Peter and Paul, and it was believed he could not hold out till the next morning.  St. Ignatius always had a singular devotion to St. Peter and implored St. Peter’s intercession in the present distress with great confidence.  In the night St. Ignatius thought he saw in a dream St. Peter touch him and cure him.  When he awoke, he was out of danger and his pains left him and his strength began to return so he always looked upon his recovery as a miracle.  

However, he still retained the spirit of the world.  After the second setting of his leg, the bone stuck out under his knee, which was a visible deformity.  St. Ignatius insisted that the surgeons cut off the protuberance simply so he could fit his stocking and boot on handsomely.  He suffered this cutting without being held or bound or even changing his countenance despite this sawing and cutting part of his bone being extremely painful.  Furthermore, because his right leg was shorter than his left, he was put on a kind of rack, was violently stretched for many days to draw out the leg.  This method did not solve the problem, and he was lame his whole life after.

During the cure of his knee, he was confined to bed, though otherwise he was in perfect health.  He found the time tedious and asked for some of his favorite type of book – fabulous romantic histories with knight-errantry.  The castle only had a book containing the life of Christ and the lives of the saints.  At first, he only read these books to pass the time away, but afterward began to relish them.  He spent whole days reading them.  He admired the love of solitude and the love of the cross displayed in the lives of the saints.  He said to himself: “These men were of the same frame I am.  Why then should not I do what they have done?”

He thought of visiting the Holy Land and becoming a hermit, but these pious notions soon vanished.  His passion for glory, and a secret inclination for a rich lady in Castile, with a view to marriage, again filled his mind with thoughts of the world.  Then, returning to the lives of the saints, he perceived in his own heart the emptiness of all worldly glory, and that only God could content his soul.

  • The turning point of his life

He vacillated between these two inclinations for some time, but he observed a difference.  He found that the thoughts which were from God filled his soul with consolation, peace, and tranquility; whereas the others brought indeed some sensible delight, but left a certain bitterness and heaviness in the heart.  He explains this difference in his book of Spiritual Exercises, as a basis for the rules for the discernment of the Spirit of God, and of the world in all the motions of the soul.

Then at last making a firm resolution to imitate the saints in their heroic practice of virtue, he began to treat his body with all the rigor it was able to bear: he rose at midnight, and spent his retired hours in weeping for his sins.  One night, being prostrate before an image of the Blessed Virgin, in extraordinary sentiments of fervor, he consecrated himself to the service of his Redeemer under her patronage, and vowed an inviolable fidelity.   When he had ended his prayer, he heard a great noise; the house shook, the windows of his chamber were broken, and a rent was made in the wall which remained.  This might have been a sign that God accepted his sacrifice or perhaps it was the effect of the rage of the devil.

Another night, St. Ignatius saw the Mother of God environed with light, holding the Infant Jesus in her arms.  This vision replenished his soul with spiritual delight, and made all sensual pleasure and worldly objects insipid to him ever after.

His eldest brother, at the death of their father, became the lord of Loyola and tried to dissuade St. Ignatius from his intention to quit the world.  But after he was cured of his wounds, St. Ignatius went to Najara under pretence of paying a visit to the duke of Najara.  When he arrived in Najara, he sent his two servants back to Loyola while he turned his course to Montserrat.  

Montserrat was a great abbey of three hundred reformed and austere Benedictine monks.  It was on a mountain of difficult access, about four leagues[2] in circumference and two leagues high, in the diocese of Barcelona.  The monastery was founded for nuns in the year 880 A.D.  but was given to monks in 990 A.D.  At this monastery there lived a very holy old monk named John Chamones who became St. Ignatius’ director and confessor.  After his preparation it took St. Ignatius three days to make his confession because his confession was frequently interrupted by the abundance of his tears.  He made a vow of perpetual chastity, and dedicated himself with great fervor to the divine service.  

St. Ignatius had bought a long coarse coat, a girdle, a pair of sandals, a wallet, and a pilgrim’s staff when he first came to Montserrat in order to disguise himself.  He was intending to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  While he was at the monastery, he remained in this disguise.  He communicated to his director a plan for the austerities he proposed to practice, and was confirmed by his director in his good resolutions.  

St. Ignatius received the Blessed Eucharist early in the morning on the feast of the Annunciation in 1522, and on the same day left Montserrat because he feared to be discovered.  He left his horse at the monastery, and hung up his sword on a pillar near the altar in testimony of his renouncing the secular warfare and entering himself in the warfare of Christ.

He travelled with his staff in hand, bare-headed, and with one foot bare, the other being covered because it was yet tender and swollen.  He was very pleased that he had cast off the dress of the world and had put on that of Christ. He had bestowed his rich clothes on a beggar upon leaving Montserrat; but the poor man was thrown into prison on suspicion of theft.  St. Ignatius was brought back by the magistrates.  He told the truth and cleared the man of the accusation.  However, St. Ignatius did not divulge his own name.  

Three leagues from Montserrat is the village of Manresa.  The village has a Dominican convent and a hospital without walls for pilgrims and sick persons.  He went to this hospital and rejoiced that he was not known and was received among the poor.  He began to fast on bread and water, which he begged for the whole week, except Sundays, when he ate a few boiled herbs, but sprinkled over with ashes.  He wore an iron girdle, a hair shirt, and disciplined himself three times a day.  He slept little and lay on the ground.  He attended the entire divine office and spent seven hours a day on his knees in prayer.  He received the sacraments every Sunday.

In order to add humiliations to his austerities he pretended to act clownish and went begging about the streets with his face covered with dirt, his hair rough, and his beard and nails grown out to a frightful length.  The children threw stones at him and followed him with scornful shouts in the streets.  St. Ignatius suffered these insults without saying one word, rejoicing secretly in his heart to share in the reproaches of the cross.  The more the disgusting was the hospital and the beggars were, the more violence he offered himself, that he might bear them cheerfully.  

The story of the fine clothes given to the beggar at Montserrat got out, and he was soon reverenced as a holy penitent in disguise.  In order to shun this, he hid himself in a dark deep cave in a solitary valley, called the Vale of Paradise, covered with briers, half a mile from the town.  Here he increased in mortifications until they nearly killed him.  He was accidentally discovered and carried back to the hospital in Manresa.

After enjoying peace of mind ever since the time of his conversion, he was now stricken with a terrible trial of scruples.  No amount of prayer, fasting, bodily discipline, and receiving the sacraments gave him any consolation.  His soul was overwhelmed in sadness.  The Dominicans, out of compassion, took him out of the hospital into their convent, and yet his melancholy increased.  He earnestly implored divine assistance, and took no sustenance for seven days until his confessor obliged him to eat.  Soon after this, his tranquility of mind was perfectly restored, and his soul overflowed with spiritual joy.  From this experience he acquired a particular talent for curing scrupulous consciences and a singular light to discern them.

  • Inspiration for the Spiritual Exercises

His prayers were filled with many heavenly raptures.  He began to receive from God a supernatural knowledge and sense of sublime divine mysteries; yet he concealed all from the eyes of men.  He only divulged himself to his two confessors, the pious monk at Montserrat and a Dominican at Manresa.  Nevertheless, the people started to regard him as a living saint to which they particularly testified during violent fevers into which his austerities cast him three times.

It is interesting to note that at this time of St. Ignatius’ life God was preparing him for his great work against the Protestants.[3]  St. Ignatius, by perfect compunction, humility, self-denial, contempt of the world, severe interior trials, and assiduous meditation, was prepared, by the divine grace, to be raised to an extraordinary gift of supernatural prayer.  It is thought that at this time he set down the notes which would eventually become his famous Spiritual Exercises.  Tradition says that Our Lady gave him the substance of these exercises and the Holy Ghost inspired him.  

  • His pilgrimage to the Holy Land   

Because the plague which had been raging in Italy had ceased, St. Ignatius’ long planned pilgrimage to the Holy Land was now possible.  So after ten months in Manresa, St. Ignatius set out for Barcelona.  He boarded a ship in Barcelona.  Five days later, he landed at Gaeta.  He travelled on foot to Rome, Padua, and Venice through villages because the larger towns were shut for fear of the plague.  He spent the Easter at Rome, and sailed from Venice on board the admiral’s vessel, which was carrying the governor to Cyprus.  The sailors were an immoral crew and when St. Ignatius reproved them, they planned to exile him on an island.  However, a gust of wind from the land hindered them from approaching and carrying out their plan.  

He arrived at Cyprus and, by Divine Providence, found a ship with pilgrims about ready to sail to the Holy Land.  He boarded and sailed to Jaffa in August of 1523, after a journey of forty days.  He continued on foot to Jerusalem in four days.  The sight of the holy places filled him with joy, devotion, and compunction.  He desired to stay and to convert the Muslims, yet the provincial in charge over the pilgrims, ordered St. Ignatius to leave Palestine.

  • His seeking an education so he can serve God better

He journeyed back to Europe in winter in extreme cold, poorly clad, and came to Venice at the end of January 1524.  He made his way back to Barcelona.  Because he desired to be able to assist at the altar and help his neighbor spiritually, he began the study of grammar.  However, his mind was so fixed on God that when he tried to conjugate the word amo [which means “I love”], he kept saying “I love God; I am loved by God.” He resisted this as a temptation and persisted in his studies, adding to them contemplation and austerities.  He bore the taunts of the little boys, his schoolfellows, with joy.

One remarkable incident at this period was when St. Ignatius heard that a poor man, Lasano, had hanged himself; St. Ignatius ran to him and cut him down.  To all the bystanders, this man seemed dead.  St. Ignatius prayed next to the man until the man came to himself.  Lasano made his confession, received the sacraments, and soon after expired.  In the city this was considered a miracle.

  • The influence of his good examples on others

After studying in Barcelona, he went to study at the university at Alcala.  He attended lectures in logic, physics, and divinity.  Even though he studied night and day, he learned nothing at all.  He lodged in a chamber of a hospital, lived by begging a small subsistence, and wore a coarse grey habit, in which he was imitated by four companions.  He catechized children, held assemblies of devotion in the hospital, and by his mild reprehensions converted many cowardly people, including one of the richest prelates in Spain.  Some accused him of sorcery, and of a certain heresy which was then prevalent in Spain under the title of the Illuminati or “Men of New Light”.  However, upon being questioned, he was cleared of all the charges.

Because he was teaching the catechism, being a man without learning or authority, he was accused to the bishop’s grand vicar, and thrown into prison for forty-two days.  He was declared innocent on June 1, 1527, but was forbidden to wear any singular habit or to give instruction because he and his companions were illiterate.  St. Ignatius was glad to suffer in prison even though he was innocent.  

He then went about the streets begging money to buy a scholar’s dress and rejoiced at the insults and affronts he was given.  He went to the archbishop of Toledo, who liked him.  The archbishop advised him to go to Salamanca and promised to protect him.

At this time St. Ignatius began to draw many to virtue and many followed him.  This following again exposed him to suspicions of introducing dangerous practices, and the grand vicar of Salamanca imprisoned him.  However, after twenty-two days he declared him innocent and released him.  Upon his release he resolved to leave Spain.

He began to wear shoes from this time on and received money sent to him by his friends.  In the middle of winter, he travelled on foot to Paris and arrived there in the beginning of February, 1528.  He spent two years in perfecting himself in the Latin language.  Then he went through a course of Philosophy.  At first, he lived in Montaigue college but then after being robbed of his money, he lodged at the St. James hospital and begged his bread day to day.  In the vacation time he was obliged to go to Flanders and to England to beg charities from the Spanish merchants that settled there.  From these men and from friends at Barcelona he received sufficient supplies.
 

  • St. Ignatius’ gift of directing souls is recognized

He studied philosophy three and a half years in the college of St. Barbara.  He had convinced many of his schoolfellows to spend the Sundays and holy-days in prayer and to apply themselves more fervently to the practice of good works.  Unfortunately, Pegna, his master at the school, didn’t like these practices, incited Goyea, the principal at the college to have St. Ignatius flogged publicly.  Pegna hoped that this public humiliation would deter others from following St. Ignatius.  The saint offered himself joyfully to suffer all things, and yet, because he didn’t want those he was trying to convert to be scandalized about him being accused of being a corrupter of youth, he went to humbly lay his case privately to the principal of the school.

Goyea took St. Ignatius by the hand and led him out in front of the whole college.  When everybody saw the principal enter, they expected the sign for the punishment, but he threw himself at St. Ignatius’ feet, begging his pardon for having too lightly believed such false reports.  Then rising publicly, he declared that St. Ignatius was a living saint who had no other desire than the salvation of souls, and was ready to suffer joyfully any infamous punishment.  Such a reparation of honor gave St. Ignatius the highest reputation, and even the ancient and experienced doctors asked his advice on spiritual matters.  Pegna himself was ever after his great admirer and friend.  He appointed Peter Faber, a young man of great virtue and gifted intelligence to help St. Ignatius in his school exercises.  With Peter Faber’s help, St. Ignatius finished his philosophy course and his master of arts in three and a half years with high honors.  After this, St. Ignatius took his degree in divinity with the Dominicans.

  • St. Ignatius begins to conquer souls for Christ

This Peter Faber had made a vow of chastity in his childhood.  He kept his vow but was troubled by violent temptations which even rigorous fasting would not alleviate.  He also had temptations to vain-glory and labored under horrific scruples.  St. Ignatius gave him heavenly advice, led Peter through a course of his spiritual exercises, taught him the practices of meditation, how to do a particular examination of his conscience for his predominant fault, and basically through all the means of the interior life.  

Francis Xavier was another conquest of St. Ignatius.  Francis, a young master of philosophy, was full of the vanity of the schools.  St. Ignatius made him sensible that all mortal glory is emptiness; only that which is eternal deserves our regard.  

St. Ignatius was successful in converting many sinners.  One very striking example, was of a particular man who was involved with a woman.  When this young man would not listen to St. Ignatius’ exhortations, the saint stood in a freezing pond up to his neck and yelled to the young man as he was passing by, “Whither are you going?  Do you not hear the thunder of divine justice over your head, ready to break upon you?  Go then; satisfy your brutish passion; here I will suffer for you, to appease heaven.”  The lewd young man, at first frightened, then confounded, turned back and changed his life.

  • The formation of the future Society of Jesus

Four students, all Spaniards and students of divinity at Paris, associated themselves with St. Ignatius in his exercises.  A Portuguese student soon joined them.   These fervent students, who were moved by the pressing instances and exhortations of St. Ignatius, made all together a vow to renounce the world, to go to preach the gospel in Palestine, or if they could not go thither within a year after they had finished their studies, to offer themselves to his Holiness to be employed in the service of God in what manner the Pope would judge best.

They fixed for the end of their studies January 25, 1537 and pronounced their vow aloud in the holy subterranean chapel of Montmartre, after they had all received Holy Communion from Fr. Peter Faber who had recently been ordained a priest. This was done on the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady in 1534.  St. Ignatius continued frequent conferences and joint exercises, to animate his companions in their good purposes, but was soon ordered by the physicians to try his native air, for a cure of a lingering illness.

He left Paris in the beginning of the year 1525 and was honorably received in Guipuscoa by his eldest brother Garcia, his nephews, and by all the clergy.  However, he refused to stay in the castle.  At the sight of the places where he was reminded of his earlier worldliness, he chastised his body with a rough hair shirt, iron chains, disciplines, and watching and praying.  He recovered his health in a short time and catechized and instructed the poor with incredible fruit.  

In his youth he had robbed an orchard and another man was falsely accused of it and had to pay the damages.  St. Ignatius, in his first discourse, accused himself publicly of this crime and declared that the man who was present had been falsely accused.  In reparation, St. Ignatius gave the man two farms which belonged to him and publicly begged this man’s forgiveness, telling the people that this was one of the reasons he had come there.

In the meantime, Fr. Faber exhorted three others, also doctors of divinity, to join the group that was already started in Paris.  So now there were ten in number, including Fr.  Faber and St. Ignatius.  St. Ignatius, after a tedious and dangerous journey both by sea and land, arrived at Venice about the end of the year 1536.  His nine companions from Paris met him there on January 8, 1537.  They employed themselves in the hospitals.  All but St. Ignatius went to Rome, where Pope Paul III received them graciously, and granted those who were not yet priests, permission to be ordained by any Bishop they chose.  They were accordingly ordained at Venice by the bishop of Arbe.  St. Ignatius was included in this number.  

After their ordination, they retired to a cottage near Vicenza, to prepare themselves in solitude by fasting and prayer for the holy ministry of the altar.  The rest said their first Masses in September and October, but St. Ignatius prepared a whole year before saying his first Mass.

  • The Society of Jesus becomes official

After this they dispersed themselves into several places about Verona and Vicenza, preaching penance to the people, and living on a little bread which they begged.  Because the emperor and the Venetians had declared war on the Turks, their pilgrimage to the Holy Land became impracticable.  The year elapsed before St. Ignatius, Fr.  Faber, and Fr. Lainez [one of the Spaniards] threw themselves at the feet of the Pope and offered to do whatever work he judged best for them.  St. Ignatius had told his companions at Vicenza that if anyone should ask the name of their institute, they might answer, “the Society of Jesus” because they were united to fight against heresies and vice under the standard of Christ. On the road from Vicenza to Rome, when he was praying in a little chapel between Sienna and Rome, he, in an ecstasy, seemed to see the eternal Father, who affectionately commended him to His Son.  Jesus Christ appeared at the same time, also shining with an unspeakable light but loaded with a heavy cross, and sweetly said to St. Ignatius: “I will be favorable to you at Rome.”        

The Pope indeed received them graciously.  He appointed Fr. Faber to teach scholastic divinity at the Sapienza at Rome, Fr. Lainez to explain the Holy Scripture, and St. Ignatius to labor to reform the morals of the people by means of his spiritual exercises and instructions.

St. Ignatius, in order to perpetuate the work of God, called to Rome all his companions, and proposed to them his design and motives of forming themselves into a religious order.  After recommending the matter to God by fasting and prayer, all agreed on the proposal, and resolved, first, besides the vows of poverty and chastity, already made by them, to add a third of perpetual obedience, the more perfectly to conform themselves to the Son of God.  They agreed that they should be under a general and then directly under the Pope.  It was further agreed that they should own no real estate property or revenues either in particular or in common.  

Three cardinals opposed the Order, saying that there were already too many orders, but suddenly changed their opinion and Pope Paul III approved the Order under the title, “The Society of Jesus” in a bull issued September 27, 1540.   St. Ignatius was chosen the first general, but agreed only at the urging of his confessor.  He entered upon his office on Easter-day, 1541, and the members all made their religious vows according to the bull of their institution.

St. Ignatius then set himself to write a constitution or rule for this Society.  St. Ignatius set down that the first purpose of the Order is the sanctification of their souls by joining together the active and contemplative life.  Their second purpose is to labor for the salvation and perfection of their neighbor, especially by catechizing the ignorant but also by the instructing the youth.  Their third purpose is the direction of consciences, missions, and similar things.

  • St. Ignatius as General of the Society of Jesus

It is interesting to note the humility of St. Ignatius.  He tried on several occasions to resign as general.  Finally, the Pope forbade him to attempt this.  Thence he was general of the Society for the rest of his life.  As the general he had prudence and charity.  He judged wisely when it was beneficial to defend his institution from the calumnies and violent persecutions.  For example, when Henry II asked for the Society to come into France, the parliament of Paris rebuked the King.  Even the faculty of the Sorbonne virulently opposed the Jesuits coming to France.  The fathers at Rome thought it necessary to answer these censures, but St. Ignatius would have nothing printed about it.  He said that it was better to commit their cause to God and that the slanders about them would fall to pieces.  The result was exactly as St. Ignatius predicted.  On other occasions, he modestly defended his institution.

St. Ignatius always showed the affection of a most tender parent towards his brethren.  He won the hearts of all his religious.   His commands seem rather entreaties.  He was gifted to see everyone’s particular genius.  The mildness with which he tempered his reproofs gave sweetness to his corrections, while at the same time won the affection of others.  

He explained to his religious that when they strictly guarded their exterior actions, it showed how well they guarded their interior actions.  Furthermore, he showed that this means was absolutely necessary for regulating the interior life and governing the senses and the passions.

He was most gentle with the sick and took delight in attending to them himself.

  • Special precautions against worldliness that St. Ignatius set in the Rules of the Society

The virtue of obedience was highly esteemed in the Society.  When they first came, they were told to leave their self-will and private judgment behind them.  St. Ignatius told his members that if they were outdone in fasting or watching, they must yield to none in obedience.  Regarding their vows, the Jesuits took not only vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also a fourth vow of undertaking any missions, whether among the faithful or infidels, if enjoined by the pope.

Also, the virtue of humility was given prime importance.  One of the rules for the Society was the rule of Manifestation, by which everyone was bound to disclose his interior inclinations to his superior.  Another rule was that every Jesuit renounces his right to his own reputation with his superior.  This included every Jesuit giving his fellow Jesuits permission to disclose any of his faults to the superior.

St. Ignatius instructed the members to be careful above all things to preserve modesty and humility, and to shun all contentiousness or empty display of learning.  Likewise, he told them to dedicate their lives to labor for the greater honor and glory of God.

In fact, St. Ignatius was so cautious about the humility of the members that he asked the pope explicitly that the Jesuits be excluded from all ecclesiastical dignities, namely, not be made bishops.  He said that this would be a means to preserve them in a spirit of humility and poverty, which is the very soul and perfection of their state.  He also said that being missionaries, it was more advantageous to the church that they should remain always ready to fly from pole to pole, as the public necessities should require.  Thus, he obliged all professed Jesuits to bind themselves by a simple vow never to seek prelatures, and to refuse them when offered, unless compelled by a precept of the pope to accept them.  

There was an instance of one of his priests trying to convert the royalty in Spain in order to win their favor to his ministry.  St. Ignatius rebuked him sharply telling him to fear damnation through contact with the great ones of the world.  He used to say that prosperity caused in him more fear than joy; that when a persecution ceased, he should be apprehensive lest the Society should somewhat relax in the observance of its regular discipline; that good fortune is never to be trusted; and that we have most to fear when things go according to our own desires.  

St. Ignatius himself was all on fire with an “excess” of charity and had a restless desire of gaining souls to God.  He wore himself out in the service of his neighbor, always laboring to extirpate vice, and to promote virtue in all.
 

  • St. Ignatius’ remarkable virtues were manifested to all

Once when St. Ignatius heard someone explain that the gift of contemplation was given to one who was certainly a man of prayer, St. Ignatius corrected him by saying, “Call him rather a man of the most perfect self-denial.”

It is interesting to note that St. Ignatius himself was this type of man because his heart was emptied of itself.  He had the habitual practice of exterior mortification of his senses, an interior mortification of his will and passions.  He embraced humility with the utmost ardor.

He made it a science to hide his virtues and the favors that God was continually bestowing on him.  Yet, in spite of his modesty in not revealing to others the wonderful things that God had and was doing for him, many testified that he had a light shining from his face.  St. Philip Neri, a friend of St. Ignatius, used assure his friends that he had seen St. Ignatius‘ face shining with bright rays of light.

St. Ignatius had a remarkable grace of devotion.  When he was saying Holy Mass and reciting the divine office, there would be a shower of tears streaming from his eyes.

  • His death and words of advice for those who seek the shortest way to perfection

When St. Ignatius was asked what was the shortest way to perfection, he replied, “to endure for the love of Christ many and grievous afflictions.  Ask this grace of Our Lord; on whosoever He bestoweth it, He does him many other signal favors, that always attend this grace”.

St. Ignatius died on July 31, 1556, at the age of 65.  The people esteemed him a saint both when he was alive and after his death because of the many miracles which were attributed to him.

  • Conclusion

Let us be grateful to God for giving us such a wonderful saint to esteem and imitate.  In our next lesson we will look at an overview of the Spiritual Exercises and begin to discuss St. Ignatius’ Rules for the Discernment of Spirits which are so crucial in the battle we fight in the trenches of the Church Militant.  


[1] The following biographical synopsis is a compilation of the information given in Butlers Lives of the Saints, Vol.  3 under July 31St, copyright 1844.

[2]  A league is any of various units of distance from about 2.4 to 4.6 statute miles.  Webster’s  Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary ; copyright 1987.

[3] Dom Guéranger, in his Liturgical Year, says in his entry for July 31, that “The development of St. Ignatius’ vocation to holiness followed step by step the defection of Luther.  In the spring of 1521 Luther had just quitted Worms, and was defying the world from the Castle of Wartburg, when St. Ignatius received at Pampeluna the wound which was the occasion of his leaving the world and retiring to Manresa.”

Lesson 3: How Does Contemplation Compare with Meditation?

 Mary’s School of Sanctity

In our last lesson we learned what meditation is and the importance of setting aside some time every day to meditate.  In this class we will see the difference between meditation and contemplation and look briefly on why we should beg God to grant us the gift of contemplation because we cannot do this contemplation by ourselves.

In meditation we are doing the considering, with God’s help of course, because without God we can do nothing. The considerations inspire acts of the will or affections, in which we say something to God.

In contemplation our prayer is more God’s work, and He is directing the soul and thereby drawing the soul closer to Him by degrees.  We do not and cannot give ourselves this state of soul.

We can beg for the gift of contemplation.  St. Theresa of Avila mentions in her Autobiography that we should ask for this blessing.


What Mystical Contemplation is not: Contrasting it with Ignatian Contemplation

In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, which we will be discussing in the upcoming months in Mary’s School of Sanctity, St. Ignatius divides the exercises he gives into two types.  He calls the first type meditation and the second contemplation.  However, he does not mean mystical contemplation here, because contemplation, in the mystical sense, is something that God brings a soul to, and not something that we simply turn on and off.  In other words, we can enter into the mental prayer of meditation because we are doing the considering and applying what we consider in order to make acts of our will, namely, pray.  Whereas, in mystical contemplation, God does the action and the soul is passive because God is drawing the soul up to Him.  When St. Ignatius speaks of contemplation, he is directing the person making the Spiritual Exercises [whom St. Ignatius calls the exercitant] to meditate on the life of Our Lord and in these meditations the exercitant is going to consider one mystery of Our Lord’s life, for example, the Annunciation [or Incarnation].

St. Ignatius has the exercitant take this one mystery and makes a picture in his imagination.  Then, in the scene just made, he will consider the event by pondering what he sees in his scene and what he hears going on in the event.  Then he considers what lessons the Holy Ghost wants to show him or maybe he will consider what virtues are being practiced in the event being pondered.  Then the exercitant proceeds through the time set for this type of meditation, making acts of will like he did with the regular meditation, ending his prayer session with some prayers of thanksgiving.

Mystical contemplation, however, is solely God’s work where God directs the soul.  This is a passive prayer.  The mystical doctor St. John of the Cross discusses the stages that the soul goes through as God directs her (viz., the soul) to this higher state of prayer. It is by slow degrees that the power to meditate disappears and a simple affectionate look, (without any scaffolding of considerations or too complicated details) becomes the only prayer possible.  When the soul reaches this higher stage of the spiritual life, where God has drawn her, then she finds she can no longer meditate.  During the prayer of contemplation, the intellect becomes more and more powerless and the will suffers a sort of purification because the will has the desire to love God more and more and wants to tell Him of its love. [1]

St. Theresa of Avila explains she suffered for many years because she found that she could no longer meditate.  In her book The Relations, she says:

The method of prayer I observe at present is this: when I am in prayer, it is very rarely that I can use the understanding because the soul becomes at once recollected, remains in repose, or falls into a trance, so that I cannot in any way have the use of the faculties and the senses, – so much so, that the hearing alone is left; but then it does not help me to understand anything.[2]

St. John of the Cross further explains:

In the third place, the most certain sign of this state is, when the soul delights to be alone, waiting lovingly on God, in interior peace, quiet, and repose, without any particular considerations; without acts and efforts of the intellect, memory, and will, at least in a discursive way, that is without passing by consideration from one subject to another.[3]

St. John of the Cross further explains that after a period of time, the will is fixed on God and a persistent need of a more intimate union with God takes hold of the soul.  There is a longing, like home-sickness, that transforms the soul and the soul finds that it cannot do without God, and would like to be inflamed with divine love – i.e., to possess God because merely to love Him no longer satisfies her, she aspires to union with Him.  

St. John of the Cross teaches that there are moments of quiet union, and once the soul has experienced these, then she wants to return to these moments again and again.  God works with the soul, thus purifying her and is drawing her to closer and closer union with Him, and ultimately, to a mystical marriage.  He explains how our souls are all called to be the brides of Christ in this mystical marriage.[4]  Unfortunately, however, we put obstacles in the way.

It is clear to see how the gift of mystical contemplation is something for which we should beg God.  Contemplation is the life of heaven begun here on earth, and we should desire to have this life.  Let us thank Mary for this invaluable lesson on exactly what contemplation is, and beg Our Queen, Our Mother, and Our heavenly Teacher to intercede for us and obtain for us this stupendous gift for our poor unworthy souls.  In this way we can be intimately united with her Divine Son.  

We now bring Our Mistress our lowly apple of a poem to show our gratitude for being in her classroom.


Mary, Queen of Contemplation

O Mary to us please relate,

What it means to contemplate,

Thou to whom God this gift did give,

 In the first moment thou didst live.

Teach us Mother oh most fair,

To want this precious gift most rare,

That we not throw within our way,

An obstacle to cause delay,

And interferes with God’s desire,

To enkindle us with His Fire,

That leads us to be, His dear bride,

And keep us ever at His side.

Thou understand the lofty heights,

That the Lord giveth with His lights,

Which only when we contemplate,

 Our poor human minds satiate.

So thank you tender Mother true,

For letting us be taught by you,

You are the best teacher by far,

Be thou ever our guiding star!

 


[1]         Summary of the explanation given in the Ways of Mental Prayer, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc. Rockford, Illinois, 1982; third part on Mystical Prayer, chapter 3.

[2]         St. Theresa of Avila, The Relations, ch. 1, line 1.

[3]         St. John of the Cross, Ascent to Mount Carmel, bk. 2; chapter 13.

[4]         Concerning this mystical marriage between Christ and the soul, read these articles: https://catholiccandle.org/2021/07/09/spiritual-nuptials/ & https://catholiccandle.org/2019/06/20/our-souls-should-be-docile-brides-of-christ/

Lesson #2 – Meditation – How & Why

Philosophy Notes

Mary’s School of Sanctity

As Catholics we know that we need to pray.  Our Lord tells us to “pray always.” Perhaps we take it for granted that we know how to pray. Yet, unfortunately, especially in these times of apostasy (since Vatican II), Catholics have not been taught how to pray.  In particular we need to learn how to pray using mental prayer.

Some time ago the Catholic Candle ran an article about how to say the Rosary.   This article explained about prayer and how to meditate.  Let’s review the information given there.

Prayer is the lifting of the heart and mind to God.  Meditation involves bringing some truth to mind and thinking about this truth, or one could call it pondering a truth.  One considers the truth and draws what could be called some “profit, insight, or further conclusion” from “the considering” that one is presently doing. This process of considering might be called the preparation for mental prayer.  The actual mental prayer is simply this, that one says something to God.   This saying something to God is referred to as “an affection” or an “act of the will.”  The consideration can be compared to the tilling of the soil, and the act of the will is like the harvest or fruit of the consideration.  The goal of the consideration is the acts of the will.  If one does not make acts of the will, then one is not lifting both the heart and the mind to God, and thus, one is not praying.  When one is doing a good job making considerations, then the heart seems to overflow with things to say.  This pouring out of the heart is what is also called the colloquy.  These acts are typically of four kinds, namely, thanksgiving, contrition, petition, or adoration, which are the four types of prayer.

In meditation one considers some truth.  One can think and consider about some topic, for example, the fall of the Angels.  Then someone would ponder as many aspects of this topic as he wished, and this would produce many things to say to God, for instance, “Thank-you, Dear Lord, for revealing this truth to mankind”; or “Thank-You, Dear Lord, for saving me from falling into hell”; or “Thank-You for Your mercy to me, etc.”

One can also meditate on a standard Catholic prayer and think about the words of the prayer itself.  This kind of meditation would involve thinking about the meaning of the words (singly, or perhaps, a couple at a time) and dwelling on them in order to appreciate them, and these thoughts would inspire acts of the will.  This might go something like this, maybe taking the Hail Mary

·         One would say Hail (thinking inside himself – this is a greeting to Mary)

·         Then, Mary (this name means “seas”)

·         Then, Full of grace (this means that Mary is completely holy)

These are examples of the considerations one would make, and the following are possible “acts of the will” which the considerations might inspire:

·         Thou are so fair, O sweet Mother, and so pure.

·         I love you, Dear Mary, or, thy sweet name consoles me.

·         Help me, Fair Lady of grace.

Now, in our daily Rosary we practice meditation as we consider the points of the mysteries and make acts of the will, namely, say something to Our Lord, Our Lady, or the saints.  Yet, a separate daily meditation on a particular subject is very efficacious for our salvation and sanctification.  Setting aside 25 minutes or a half hour per day for a meditation time is a way to make sure we actually do a meditation.  It is very important to pick a time in which one will be able to actually get away for this precious quiet time with God. 

But how does one do a meditation?  First, select a topic or a book to read to get some food for thought.  When beginning, we should imagine that we are in the Presence of God.  We could think about how God will judge us when we die, and acknowledge how very sinful we are.  We can make a preparatory prayer offering to God all our actions for His Glory and asking Him to help make our actions for His glory.

After our preparatory prayer, we should set forth our intentions for the meditation we are about to do.  We should ask for what we need, most importantly, our spiritual needs.

When making the considerations described above, we use our intellect.  We can use our imagination to make a mental picture, based on our topic, to construct a sort of backdrop to help us reflect.  At this point, we can read a bit from a spiritual book to get ‘food’ for thought.  We should read slowly and ponder the meaning of the words we are reading.  We should ask ourselves often, “What is the good Lord teaching me in this passage?  How does this apply to my soul?”

When we are struck by something in what we are reading, we should pause and let the Holy Ghost teach us what He wills.  It is often at this point in the considerations that we get many insights.  The insights we get usually inspire us to say something to God, the angels, Our Lady, or perhaps our patron saint.  We should go ahead and say what we are inspired to say.  When we are talking to God, even just inside our head, we are making affections or acts of our will.  This is the praying part of the meditation and is also called the fruit of the meditation.  Even if we use the rest of the time we have set aside for our meditation to continue saying acts of our will, we should not fret because God is allowing us to pray in a manner that pleases Him.

If the “juices” of our acts of the will “dry up”, then we should go back to where we left off in the book and/or topic we were using, continue to ponder and make considerations until we are inclined to say more to God.

When the time slot we have allotted is just about used up, we can wind down this precious time by saying a set prayer, e.g., The Anima Christi, Hail Mary, or a favorite Litany, etc., and close up our Meditation with a prayer of thanksgiving to Our Lord and Our Lady.

After the meditation, preferably directly after, we should take some notes on the insights we received.  This is a good way to help us keep in mind the pearls we have received.   Also, it is a good idea to examine how well we focused during our mental prayer.

Having a meditation schedule is very helpful.  This means we have a plan of what we will meditate on for each day of the whole week.  The plan might go something like this:

Mondays—I will meditate on my particular judgment. (Using such and such a book)

Tuesdays— I will meditate on the writings of my favorite Saint.

Wednesdays – I will meditate on some part of the Gospels.

Thursdays – I will meditate on one of the Psalms.

Fridays – I will meditate on Our Lord’s Passion.

Saturdays – I will meditate on Mary’s Sorrows.

Sundays – I will meditate on the Propers for the Mass of that Sunday.

Having such a plan keeps us looking forward to the topic of the day and keeps us focused on the material we are using for our meditation.  Designing one’s own plan is very fruitful. It is a way to find the time to get in some spiritual reading—which is sometimes difficult to do in our busy lives.

Now that we have learned how to meditate, let us consider why we should do a daily meditation.   The most important reason is because it gives God His just due.  We owe it to Him to do a meditation.  Also, it pleases God and it is the means that God wants us to take to progress to a higher state of perfection.

In the Objective Truth Series we discussed the importance of being objective and trying to learn to acquire more and more objectivity in order to make proper decisions, and to acquire humility, maintain humility, and increase in humility.   A strong prayer life and depending on God are absolutely necessary to keep the proper perspective and for peace of soul.  This is an important reason why a daily meditation is so helpful.  It forces us to step back, reflect more, and seek the help of God.  We need to feel our need for God, and daily meditation makes this really hit home.  Thus, daily meditation helps foster the needed objectivity to acquire humility. “Unless you become humble like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

God is our heavenly Father and wants us to feel like the adopted children that we truly are.  Daily meditation helps us recalibrate our soul and keep in touch with the eternal reality that we must save our souls, namely, be good clay that the Divine Sculptor can mold into the saints He desires us to be. 

Daily meditation helps us take time out of our crazy-busy life for God.  It is, as it were, putting ourselves on the operating table and “holding still” so the Divine Physician can take His Knife and work on our souls.  Likewise, daily meditation is our medicine, our food, our lifeline, and our security which keeps us clear-headed and refreshes our poor, tired souls.  Our daily meditation becomes our daily strengthening, which has a “healing” and “soothing” effect on our souls.  Again, however, most importantly, we owe it to God to pray to Him in daily meditation.

God knows we need these things and Our Lord tells us to “pray always”.  He also taught us the Our Father to help us understand our dependence on Him.  Furthermore, we are called to the life of contemplation and mysticism.  Daily meditation prepares us for this divine friendship.  Daily meditation is the school of sanctity which we must and should desire to attend.  Thus, we really become drawn to our daily meditation and find that we cannot get along without it.

The great medieval commentator, Fr. Cornelius de Lapide, in explaining Our Lord’s words to Mary Magdalene’s sister Martha, that Mary has chosen the better part, says the following things about meditation:

Figuratively, this “one thing” is to be acquired by meditation and prayer, for thus men are brought into communion with God.  Hence, he who would lead a religious life should seek this one thing only, so as to be thereby drawn into union with the Almighty.[1]

St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, also emphasizes how crucial a daily meditation is to spiritual advancement.  Here are his words:

But you will ask what are you to do, that you too may be inflamed with the love of Jesus Christ. Imitate David: "In my meditation a fire shall flame out” (Ps. xxxviii).  Meditation is the blessed furnace in which the holy fire of divine love is kindled.  Make mental prayer every day, meditate on the passion of Jesus Christ, and doubt not but you too shall burn with this blessed flame.[2]

In these words, Cornelius de Lapide and St. Alphonsus de Liguori are telling us how crucial it is to do meditations, showing us that meditation is how we keep our friendship with Christ going and our love of Christ growing.  In fact, meditation is the foundation for the higher life of contemplation which we will study in our next class.

We bring Mary our gratitude poem now, thanking her for allowing us to learn about mental prayer and how it pleases her Son and brings our hearts closer to Him.

Mary, Our Meditation Teacher

 

O Mary, Mother of our school,

May we make it our daily rule,

To meditate a span of time,

In learning truths, which are sublime.

 

Mary, may this be our delight,

To draw closer to, Thy Son’s Light,

To please Him with our mental prayer,

And learning things which are so fair!

 

We thank thee, Mary for these gems,

From which our meditation stems,

Insights given, to help us through,

In trials of life, they are our dew.

 

Mental prayer is the foundation,

To prepare for contemplation,

Wonderful Mother, she invites,

To start the path up to the heights.

 

She wants to unite us this way,

With visits to her Son each day,

Thus, blessed union with her Son,

With meditation we’ve begun!

 



[1]           Fr. Cornelius de Lapide’s commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, 10:42.

[2]           St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Sermons for All Sundays of the Year, Sermon 4, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Lesson #1 Introduction to our teacher– the Blessed Virgin Mary

X Mary’s School of Sanctity X

Catholic Candle note:  This is the beginning of a reflections series which will be placed in the setting of a school where we, along side of our readers, study what Mary Our Mother would like us to learn—namely how to sanctify our souls.

This little schoolhouse, so to speak, will have for the staff of teachers Our Lady herself, St. Joseph, and Our Lord Himself. How can this be done? By following what the Church and saints have written about the topics covered, all of which are geared to instruct us in the sanctification of our souls.

Thus this series is intended to enrich our understanding of many subjects relevant to our spiritual lives, some examples of which are: meditation, the temperaments, and the Spiritual Exercises that Our Lady gave to St. Ignatius of Loyola. 

There are so many topics that Catholics have always needed to study for perfection.  In these times of Apostasy in which we live, we especially need the means that the Catholic Church has taught throughout the centuries, in order to defeat the evil one. Since the best teachers are Our Lord Himself, Our Lady, and good St. Joseph and we learn about them through the writings of the saints of Holy Mother Church, we delight to study and ponder these works along with our readers.

 

Lesson #1 Introduction to our teacher– the Blessed Virgin Mary

Let us enroll in Mary’s School by taking a look at our Mother Mary, after whom this School in named, for she is God’s special gift to us to be our model in sanctity.  Our Lord gave us Mary while He hung on the cross. She is precious to Him but He wanted to give her to us because He knew we need her to gain our salvation.

Mary is a treasure for us. God has blessed Mary with many prerogatives. They are so numerous that we cannot address them all in one article.  Indeed, many books have been written about her prerogatives.  However, in order to appreciate Mary more and more we will look at a few of her prerogatives below:

·         Mary is Immaculate.

·         Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces.

·         Mary IS LOVED BY God more than all the angels and other saints put together.

·         Mary LOVES God more than all the angels and other saints put together.

·         Mary is omnipotent by grace.


Mary is Immaculate.

Mary is God’s masterpiece whom He wants us to follow.  He created her Immaculate. Mary’s Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined in 1854. Because He intended for her to be the Mother of the Incarnate Word, she was conceived immaculately in the womb of St. Anne.  This means that she never had original sin.  She not only was conceived immaculate, she was also preserved from ever committing any actual sin, mortal or venial.  It was fitting that she be always pure.


Mary is the Mediatrix of All Graces.

Mary is not only immaculate; she is also the Mediatrix of All Graces. St. Alphonsus de Liguori, in his book, The Glories of Mary, explains this Catholic dogma by citing several authorities.  He relates what St. Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem says, “Truly was she full; for grace is given to other saints partially, but the whole plenitude of grace poured itself into Mary.”

St. Alphonsus cites St. Basil of Seleucia, saying, “Hail full of grace, mediatress between God and men, by whom heaven and earth are brought together and united.”

St. Alphonsus further cites St. Laurence Justinian, saying, “Otherwise, had not the Blessed Virgin been full of divine grace, how could she have become the ladder to heaven, the advocate of the world, and the most true mediatress between men and God.”

As Mediatrix, Mary is so precious in God’s sight.  St. Alphonsus beautifully explains the connection between God’s plan that Mary was to be the Mother of Our Lord and the Mediatrix for the spiritual children given to her.

If Mary, as the already destined Mother of our common Redeemer, received from the very beginning the office of mediatress of all men, and consequently even of the saints, it was also requisite from the very beginning  [that] she should have a grace exceeding that of all the saints for whom she was to intercede. I will explain myself more clearly. If, by the means of Mary, all men were to render themselves dear to God, necessarily Mary was more holy and more dear to Him than all men together.  Otherwise, how could she have interceded for all others?   That an intercessor may obtain the favor of a prince for all his vassals, it is absolutely necessary that he should be more dear to his prince than all the other vassals.  And therefore St. Anselm concludes that Mary deserved to be made the worthy repairer of the lost world, because she was the most pure of all creatures. ‘The pure sanctity of her heart, surpassing the purity and sanctity of all other creatures, merited for her that she should be made the repairer of the lost world.’[1]

St. Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on the Angelic Salutation:

So full of grace was the Blessed Virgin, that it overflows onto all mankind.  It is, indeed, a great thing that any one saint has so much grace that it is conducive to the salvation of many; but it is most wondrous to have so much grace as to suffice for the salvation of all mankind. Thus, it is in Christ and in the Blessed Virgin.[2]

Hence, we can see plainly that Mary is necessary for our salvation.


Mary IS LOVED BY God more than all the angels and other saints put together.

In addition St. Alphonsus in the above quote hints at the next prerogative that we want to look at, namely, that God loves Mary more than all the angels and saints put together. In fact, St. Alphonsus states:

Let us conclude that our heavenly child [Mary], because she was appointed mediatress of the world, as also because she was destined to be the Mother of the Redeemer, received, at the very beginning of her existence, grace exceeding in greatness that of all the saints together.  Hence, how delightful a sight must the beautiful soul of this happy child have been to heaven and earth, although still enclosed in her mother’s womb!  She was the most amiable creature in the eyes of God, because she was already loaded with grace and merit. …  And she was at the same time the creature above all others that had ever appeared in the world up to that moment, who loved God the most; so much so, that had Mary been born immediately after her most pure conception, she would have come into the world richer in merits, and more holy, than all the saints united.[3]

Also, St. Alphonsus cites St. Vincent Ferrer, saying, “that the Blessed Virgin was sanctified, in her mother’s womb above all saints and angels.”  Thus, God loves her the most.

St. Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on the Angelic Salutation:

She is, therefore, full of grace, surpassing the angels in that plenitude.  For this reason she is rightly called Mary, which signifies that in herself she is enlightened and that she enlightens others throughout the world.  Thus, she is compared to the sun and to the moon.


Mary LOVES God more than all the angels and saints put together.

As St. Alphonsus stated just above, “… And she was at the same time the creature above all others that had ever appeared in the world up to that moment, who loved God the most;[4]

Likewise, St. Alphonsus quotes Richard of St. Victor, saying, “Ah! Well might even the Seraphim have descended from heaven to learn, in the heart of Mary, how to love God.”[5]

St. Bernard, commenting on St. John’s Apocalypse, referring to a woman clothed with the sun, says that this woman must be Mary because, “She was so closely united to God by love, and penetrated so deeply the abyss of divine wisdom, that, without a personal union with God, it would seem impossible for a creature to have a closer union with Him.”[6]

Mary certainly gave herself entirely to God and did all that He wanted her to do in her life.  She never denied anything He asked of her.  Just as she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done to me according Thy Word,” so was her whole life was one loving “Fiat.”  St. Bernardine explains this when he says, “The mind of the Blessed Virgin was always wrapped in the ardor of love,” and “That she never did anything that the divine Wisdom did not show her to be pleasing to Him; and that she loved God as much as she thought He was to be loved by her.”[7]


Mary is omnipotent by grace.

St. Alphonsus explains about this in his The Glories of Mary:

As the mother, then, must have the same power as the Son, justly was Mary made omnipotent by Jesus, who is omnipotent; it being, however, always true, that whereas the Son is omnipotent by nature, the mother is so by grace.

He quotes St. Bonaventure, who says, “Mary has this great privilege that with her Son she above all the saints is most powerful to obtain whatever she wills.”

Further, St. Alphonsus cites St. Peter Damian addressing Mary as follows, “All power is given to thee in heaven and on earth, and nothing is impossible to thee who canst raise those who are in despair to the hope of salvation.” And then adding that, “When the Mother goes to seek a favor for us from Jesus Christ, her Son esteems her prayers so greatly, and is so desirous to satisfy her, that when she prays its seems as if she rather commanded than prayed, and was rather a queen than a handmaid.”

St. Alphonsus gives additional quotes to prove this wonderful truth about Mary.  He tells how St. Germanus addresses Our Lady, “Thou art the Mother of God, and all-powerful to save sinners, and with God thou needest no other recommendation; for thou art the Mother of true life.”

“At the command of Mary, all obey, even God,” says St. Bernardine, as St. Alphonsus also records in The Glories of Mary.  As if these quotes weren’t enough, he supplies these also:

St. Anselm addresses Our Lady: “Our Lord, O most holy Virgin, has exalted thee to such a degree that by His favor all things that are possible to Him should be possible to thee.” And further, “Whatever thou, O Virgin, willest can never be otherwise than accomplished.”

St. Antoninus proclaims, “And thus, God has placed the whole Church, not only under the patronage, but even under the dominion of Mary.”

St. Alphonsus reports that St. Bridget heard Our Lord talking with Mary and telling her, “Ask of Me what thou wilt, for no petition of thine can be void.” And the reason Our Lord gave for this statement was, “Because thou never didst deny Me anything on earth, I will deny thee nothing in heaven.”

St. Alphonsus explains then, “Mary then, is called omnipotent in the sense in which it can be understood of a creature who is incapable of a divine attribute.  She is omnipotent, because by her prayer she obtains whatever she wills.”[8]

These quotes about Mary being omnipotent in grace are very impressive.  Yet, it should not surprise us that the Lord, being so loving as to give us Mary while He was hanging on the cross, would make her such a powerful advocate and intercessor for us while we are exiles in this vale of tears.


Conclusion:

Because Mary is our precious Mother in Heaven and God’s masterpiece whom He gave to us on the Cross, she is the perfect teacher of sanctity.  We delight in studying in her school of sanctity and cover the many topics she has to teach us through the great teachers of the Church.  As a little gift of our appreciation for Mary our teacher, Mediatrix of all graces, let us give Mary a mystical apple— a little poem of gratitude.

Mary, Our Mediatrix

Mary, what thanks do we not owe?

To Our Lord Who hath loved us so,

To give us such a dear sweet Queen,

Whose watch over us is e’er keen.

 

A mother so sweet and so pure,

Helping her children to endure,

  All God’s graces come through her hands,

‘Tis how God obeys her commands.

 

God has bestowed on her great things,

Far beyond one’s imaginings,

 Her love of God is better than,

All the angels and all of man.

 

God loves her most of creatures made,

  We can always count on her aid.

In her power we can e’er trust,

She conquers evil with one thrust.

 

 Thank you, Mary, our teacher dear,

You show us how to truly fear,

To displease God in any way,

Bring us closer to Him each day.

 

To thy school of holiness we,

Gladly come to learn from thee,

Many topics, without an end,

Mary, you are our tender friend.

 

 

 



[1]           The Glories of Mary —discourse #2 the birth of Mary

 

[2]               Of course, St. Thomas is not saying here that all men actually receive grace but he is only expressing Christ’s and Mary’s plenitude of grace.

 

[3]           The Glories of Mary — discourse #2 the birth of Mary (emphasis added).

 

[4]           Quoted from St. Alphonsus’s The Glories of Mary discourse #2, The Birth of Mary.

[5]           Quoted from St. Alphonsus’s The Glories of Mary, part IV, The Virtues of Mary, section 2, The Charity of Mary towards God.

[6]           Quoted from St. Alphonsus’s The Glories of Mary, part IV, The Virtues of Mary, section 2, The Charity of Mary towards God.

[7]           Quoted from St. Alphonsus’s The Glories of Mary, part IV, The Virtues of Mary, section 2, The Charity of Mary towards God.

[8]           All of the quotes regarding Mary’s omnipotence in grace are from St. Alphonsus’s The Glories of Mary, chapter 6, section about Mary our Advocate.