The grace we are asking of God: a deeply felt awareness of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh and how in doing this we enter into a process of healing that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally
Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.
I invite you to read the passage below from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke a couple times. There is a Gospel contemplation on this passage here. In this meditation we will be expanding on the Gospel contemplation, exploring the fruits of your conversation with Jesus and Mary, helping you getting a sense of how Jesus is calling you to follow him more intensely and more closely.
From the Gospel of Luke:
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him (Luke 2:21-38).
This passage that St Ignatius suggests to the person making the Spiritual Exercises can open up, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our own experience of birth, childhood, family, religious upbringing, and midlife.
It isn’t uncommon, in fact it is actually really healthy, that midway through the various periods of our life we stop and evaluate where we have been, where we are going, where we are currently. Wondering if “where we are headed” based on “where we are coming from” is really “where we want to go” is a great spiritual exercise. Certainly it isn’t couched in mystical and spiritual language. Instead it is downright real.
These mid-way moments can happen in our mid-thirties, half-way through our fifties, or as we turn seventy. They are moments of grace.
Read the passage from Luke again and notice how the four main figures that appear in the temple that day—Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna—all have a history.
Anna once was married and has lived as a widow for many decades.
Simeon is an old man and now his one goal is to see the Savior. What were his goals, I wonder, at the beginning of his priestly ministry?
Mary and Joseph had intended to live a virginal life and unexpectedly have been caught up in the mystery of salvation as the Messiah’s mother and foster-father. They now have different responsibilities than they had thought would be theirs. There is joy. There will be sorrow….
- What is your “before, present, and projected future”?
- How has your life been upended by God? By others? By situations outside of your control?
- How have you changed and grown through these transitions?
Ignatius himself had a before and an after. Very simply, we can see that before his conversion he was fascinated by daydreams and fantasies of winning the hand of a beautiful lady by doing great deeds. He desires to serve the ideal lord as a great soldier esteemed by all for his conquests. After his conversion, he was fascinated by daydreams and fantasies of doing great deeds for the Lord Jesus in service of the Divine Majesty.
“In all of us, there are similar energies that give direction, potency and meaning to our lives. They develop through the processes of our own psyches and imaginations which are influenced in a multiplicity of ways: stories we listened to as children, songs we sang, role models we experienced, images we ingested from movies and television, games we played, poetry and stories we read, historical events and movements of our own time. These archetypal energies coalesce into powerful imagery made up with images, dreams, ideologies, visions, etc., which express our heartfelt desires. The expression of these desires in story form or in some other imaginative figure can be called a myth. These myths draw upon unconscious energies fed by our own history. Myths operate predominantly below consciousness. Myths can express the direction of our lives and help us express what is ultimately ineffable — the world of ultimate meaning. Thus, my working definition of myth is a coalescence of values, images, insights, dreams, meanings that give energy and focus to our lives” (John Veltri, S.J.)
Praying with the Passage
I invite you to stand with the four adult figures of this Gospel passage. Which one of them catches your attention the most? As they meet in the Temple that day how do they represent in different ways a participation in the dreams of God for the world? What does this story make you remember or acknowledge about your own life? Your own following of Jesus?
In praying with this passage I was surprised by a few things God helped me to see about myself. I share them to jumpstart your own imagination:
- I entered the convent at 15, at almost the same age as Mary in this passage. We both entered the service of the Lord at a young age.
- I have had sorrows like Anna and have been left bereft and alone as her. Yet I haven’t taken on her stand of “worshipping night and day in the Temple, fasting and praying” so as to attain the mystic vision of seeing the Lord’s presence as he arrives unexpectedly before me.
- I have had a myth in my earlier years of doing, not wasting time, keeping my nose to the ground, propelled by forces outside me. All four of these figures in the Temple live in a stillness out of which they emerge, speak, receive, act. I have noticed that for the last number of years Jesus has gradually been attracting me to this new spiritual space. This prayer is a confirmation and a challenge to make the transition NOW.
Enter the mystery of the story. As you begin to enter the story more deeply, you will begin to see or hear or touch. You will enter into the event and interact with Jesus and Mary, Symeon and Anna more deeply. Little by little you will become more present to the mystery and the mystery will be present to you. You will feel nudged to something new. You will begin to see a thread through the last days or months or years that suddenly is understandable and makes perfect sense. You will face the option of responding or letting the opportunity go.
What is Jesus and Mary, Symeon or Anna saying to you? Continue to reflect and share a conversation with them over the next few days, noting important points in your journal.
What do you want to say to Jesus who asks you to follow him more closely today?
Photo by Dhivakaran S via Pexels