In his “Spiritual Exercises,” sixteenth-century Basque soldier-turned-religious-seeker Ignatius of Loyola lays out a series of meditative practices focused on the life of Christ and designed to focus a person’s external and internal energies to align with the ultimate desires of God. Following a program of preparatory reflections leading to a realization of oneself as a “loved sinner,” Ignatius poses an exercise known as the “Two Standards.”
Military man that he was, Ignatius suggests that we imagine a vast plain on which a tremendous battle is about to be waged. On one side, under one flag or standard, the terrifying troops of Satan amass. On the other, the battalions of Christ gather under the divine standard. Ignatius encourages us to put ourselves into the drama, to see the vivid details, and to let the scene play out as it will. The aim is not historical reenactment or theological rumination but present and personalized awakening to what in our life resides under each of the flags.
At the heart of the exercise we find discernment and choice, the ability to honestly distinguish what habits, desires, contexts, and forces in our lives align under each standards and to choose deliberately what is of Christ. Ignatius knew the difficulties of such a radical reorientation, no matter how earnestly (yet naively) we might participate. The rest of the exercises confirm our choices and help us contend with the inevitable external and internal oppositions, temptations, and loss of focus that accompany any real spiritual growth.
In today’s reading, Paul writes to the Christian community in Corinth to plead for such a reorientation, the same turning that Ignatius struggled with sixteen centuries later and with which we continue to engage. We can be reconciled to God. Despite hardship and difficulty, we can choose that which is of Christ.
God, uncloud my eyes, open my heart, and quicken my courage to set aside that which keeps me from turning toward you. Amen.
In this first week of Lent, we prepare our hearts for a period of reflection. We think about areas of our lives in which we might be falling short of God’s desires. The problem of sin enters the human story at the very beginning, for Adam and Eve choose to follow their own wisdom rather than guidance from God. The psalmist highlights the importance of recognizing our sin and asking for forgiveness, which God is quick to give. In Romans, Paul argues that we all partake in the broken human condition because we all have sinned as Adam did. The story of Jesus in the desert admonishes us to be on guard against the deception of our fleshly desires and our pride.
Read Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7. How might this story help you turn from superbia to humilitas throughout your Lenten journey?
Read Psalm 32. What seeming dichotomies comprise the full picture of your life of faith?
Read Romans 5:12-19. How do you sense the differences Paul draws between Adam and Christ prompting you to turn toward God?
Read Matthew 4:1-11. What are your own temptations? How does Jesus’ response to his temptations guide you in responding to yours?
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