Week 29 Prayer Exercises
Share your feedback with us! Send us a comment on Week #29.
1 I will visualize the week ahead to imagine where and when I can find a place apart—a technology-free zone—for my 15-minute periods of formal prayer.
2 This week, I continue the life-long process of praying meditations one through five in the Sacred Story prayer. I resolve to enter my prayer at least once daily as St. Ignatius suggested.
3 I continue my lessons in spiritual discernment. This week, I will come to understand how the world changed by the rupture of sin, and study God’s plan to help us find our way home.
I will awaken to the present moment.
I will awaken to my spiritual nature.
I will not make any decisions based on fear.
I will practice Sacramental Reconciliation monthly.
I will say this affirmation aloud once daily:
Awakening to Sacred Story Discernment Guidelines
Take time, at your convenience outside of your prayer periods, to read and reflect on this second lesson in discernment. The lesson will examine two elements. First, the consequences of our first parents’ decision to violate the freedom bestowed upon them by displacing God from the center of their lives. Second, God’s rescue plan to redeem us.
Covering Their Nakedness
In Genesis 3: 7, Adam and Eve “see” their nakedness and “cover” themselves. Their seeing and covering demonstrates that their separation from God awakens them to know and feel that they no longer have control over their physical nature. They can objectify each other—use each other—and in their loss of innocence, are shamed by this discovery. Now begins the history of psychological and physical exploitation linked to the very gift God created to give life: human sexuality. The enemy of human nature knew this tragedy would result and relishes the agony it causes. The perfect complementarity of human nature created in the Divine image, male and female, is shattered by narcissism. But God has a plan to rescue us and make all things new. It begins with the miracle of the wine at the Wedding at Cana that signifies the super abundance of grace that God pours out upon the covenant of marriage through Christ’s life. (Jn 2: 1-12).
God desired that we be free and that we use that freedom to remain linked to God, our source of life. The complete unity of our higher spiritual nature with God is what made us human. This complete spiritual unity with God also bestowed balance and control over our lower physical nature. We controlled our bodily appetites. This complete unity of our higher spiritual nature with God also made us, body and soul, immortal. It was Paradise.
The woman and the man silenced God’s voice as the center of their consciences and replaced it with their opinions. In silencing God’s voice, they cut the lifeline of God’s grace. As a result, human nature, as an integrated unity of spirit and body, was shattered. The higher spiritual nature no longer guided the lower physical nature. The immortality of human nature as body and soul is lost. With their appetites cut off from the Divine spiritual compass, paradise was lost.
Before our first parents used free choice to make themselves the center of their own universe—to make themselves gods—spiritual discernment was not necessary. They knew the true God, they knew who they were, and they knew instinctively how to act with integrity and holiness. Truth was instinctive based on the complete harmony they shared with God. Discernment was automatic. Using their freedom to self-assert, harmony with God was broken and so was their human nature. Human nature is now at war with itself and with God. The human heart has difficulty hearing God’s voice. Even when God’s voice is heard, it is difficult to act upon.
We cannot determine at what point in the two hundred thousand year history of modern humans this rupture took place, but we affirm that it did occur. As a result, God’s plan to save humankind and creation began. Our Judeo-Christian faith is a revealed religion. This means that God reveals it to us; we did not create it. In the rupture caused by Original Sin, we lost the ability to instinctively know the truth about God, our human nature and creation. God must reveal the idea of truth, good and evil, to His beloved creatures that are now subject to corruption, disease and death. It is no wonder that the First Commandment states: “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.”
What is Truth?
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
(Jn 18: 37-8)
At the beginning of the Third Millennium, many believe truth is relative. Even before the Third Millennium commenced, many pointed out that the greatest threat to the Faith is not atheism but relativism. Jesus tells Pilate that he was born and came into the world to testify to the truth—the truth about God, the truth about human nature, and the truth about salvation. Truth does exist and discernment’s goal is to help us distinguish truth from falsehood in our Sacred Story.The Ten Commandments reveal the moral truths: about God; about woman and man’s proper relationship to God, and their relationship to each other and to creation. God is revealing the knowledge of truth lost in paradise. God chose the Jewish people for this mission. The whole history of Israel is preparing for the coming of the Messiah who will save us from the devastation caused by Original Sin. Sin closes hearts to the truth and so even the Chosen People rejected God’s messengers, the prophets. Christ fared no better and was executed. The Pharisees, with darkened consciences, even accused Jesus of collaborating with Satan (Mt 12:24).
Sacred Story prayer journey links you to the entire history of salvation. In your prayer and in your discernment, you participate in the holy labor of returning body and soul to God. You join Christ’s great work of Reconciliation by your engagement. It is a labor to be sure, as St. Ignatius learned. He lived for thirty years with his lower appetites in near complete control of his life. His awakening was guided by God and began while recuperating from battle. Ignatius was graced to notice a difference between two sets of fantasies or daydreams.
In the first daydream/fantasy, he imagines himself successful in marrying King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s daughter. He describes this later as a vain fantasy. In the second daydream/fantasy, he imagines himself making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and living like the saints.1 Both daydream/fantasies make him feel good while he entertains them. But on deeper reflection, the afterglow of the first daydream leaves him dry and dissatisfied while the afterglow of the second daydream/fantasy leaves him feeling content and peaceful. With this awakening, he begins a life-long practice of spiritual discernment.
What did he learn in this lesson? That the feelings associated with even imagined actions can reveal the truth about our identity. Learning to pay close attention to our feelings (our affective-emotional life) can reveal the signature of God in our authentic identity and the signature of human nature’s enemy in our false identity. Ignatius was utterly amazed at this discovery. Never before had he noticed this subtle difference in his affective-emotional feelings.
As his Christian conversion deepens, St. Ignatius learns that there are three ways the human person can be “inspired.” Inspirations can come from God, from the enemy of human nature and from oneself. Next week, we will look at these three in more depth.
The first goal of spiritual discernment is to learn truth vs. falsehood about your human nature, your identity as a child of God, and about God and His creation. The second goal of spiritual discernment is to choose thoughts, words and deeds that express your authentic identity as a child of God. You are called to surrender self-assertion in favor of humility so your life’s labor—your Sacred Story—produces fruit that endures to eternity.
Awaken this week to the truth that you are both body and spirit. You have a higher spiritual nature and a lower bodily nature. At one point they were an integrated unity but now, they are divided (Jer 17:9). God desires to heal you spiritually, (Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. Mt 8:8), so that you can be at peace and gain eternal life. The enemy of human nature seeks to keep you spiritually distant from God so that your lower nature (your base appetites) guide your thoughts, words and deeds, robbing you of peace and eternal life.
Both God and the enemy of human nature are working to achieve these very different ends. This is nothing to be afraid of because you have given your heart to Christ. Christ will guide you to safety and holiness just like He did St. Ignatius. All the great teachers of the Church reinforce these central spiritual truths.2
Human Nature and Authentic Identity
Films, songs, books and newspapers often define human nature positively and solely as our lower appetites. How these lower appetites might be divided from our spiritual nature and from Divine influence is usually ignored. Today, many definitions of human nature are influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that sexual drives/desires are the root of all human psychological activity. Being authentic often means discerning one’s identity mainly by expressing one’s sensual appetites. Yet to discern one’s authentic identity requires being spiritually grafted to Christ. Only then can one discern both the higher calling we have as daughters and sons of God, and our true human nature. This “being born from above” reveals the truth about God, our authentic identity and our mission to love as Christ loved.
Ignatius was a great admirer of St. Francis of Assisi and it was the Franciscans who managed the holy sites in Jerusalem. There he could be near the sons of St. Francis and walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
Brothers and sisters: The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among men, who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. Now the natural man does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The one who is spiritual, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2: 10b-16)
A sermon by Pope St Leo the Great: I SHALL PUT MY LAWS WITHIN THEM
Dearly beloved, when our Lord Jesus Christ was preaching the Gospel of the kingdom and healing various illnesses throughout the whole of Galilee, the fame of his mighty works spread into all of Syria, and great crowds from all parts of Judea flocked to the heavenly physician.
Because human ignorance is slow to believe what it does not see, and equally slow to hope for what it does not know, those who were to be instructed in the divine teaching had first to be aroused by bodily benefits and visible miracles so that, once they had experienced his gracious power, they would no longer doubt the wholesome effect of his doctrine. In order, therefore, to transform outward healings into inward remedies, and to cure men’s souls now that he had healed their bodies, our Lord separated himself from the surrounding crowds, climbed to the solitude of a neighboring mountain, and called the apostles to himself.
From the height of this mystical site he then instructed them in the most lofty doctrines, suggesting both by the very nature of the place and by what he was doing that it was he who long ago had honored Moses by speaking to him. At that time, his words showed a terrifying justice, but now they reveal a sacred compassion, in order to fulfill what was promised in the words of the prophet Jeremiah: Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. After those days, says the Lord, I shall put my laws within them and write them on their hearts.
And so it was that he who had spoken to Moses spoke also to the apostles. Writing in the hearts of his disciples, the swift hand of the Word composed the ordinances of the new covenant. And this was not done as formerly, in the midst of dense clouds, amid terrifying sounds and lightning, so that the people were frightened away from approaching the mountain. Instead, there was a tranquil discourse which clearly reached the ears of all who stood nearby so that the harshness of the law might be softened by the gentleness of grace, and the spirit of adoption might dispel the terror of slavery.
Concerning the content of Christ’s teaching, his own sacred words bear witness; thus whoever longs to attain eternal blessedness can now recognize the steps that lead to that high happiness. Blessed, he says, are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It might have been unclear to which poor he was referring, if after the words Blessed are the poor, he had not added anything about the kind of poor he had in mind. For then the poverty that many suffer because of grave and harsh necessity might seem sufficient to merit the kingdom of heaven.
But when he says: Blessed are the poor in spirit, he shows that the kingdom of heaven is to be given to those who are distinguished by their humility of soul rather than by their lack of worldly goods. (Taken from Roman Catholic Office of Readings, Book III, Weeks of the year 6-34)