Transformed by the love of Christ

by
07 April 2017

A military accident led St Ignatius into deep devotion to Christ. Roland Ashby tells of his experiences of the Spiritual Exercises

Seventeenth-century story: Andrew Garfield plays the Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Rodrigues in Silence

Seventeenth-century story: Andrew Garfield plays the Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Rodrigues in Silence

IN A recent interview with America magazine, the actor Andrew Garfield, who takesa lead role as a Jesuit priest in Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Silence (Arts, 6 January), spoke about his experiences of going through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits in 1539.

The approach to Holy Week is a fruitful time to engage with the Ignatian approach. It can be par­ticu­­­­larly valuable at a time when churches seek to enter imaginatively into Christ’s experience of suffering, death, and resurrection.

The Spiritual Exercises are at the core of Jesuit spirituality; and he spoke movingly about how, in spending time going through them, he had had the experience of: “falling in love, and how easy it was to fall in love with Jesus”.

Jesuits are normally required to complete the exercises in a retreat of 30 days, but completing them “part-time” over 30 weeks is another option, particularly for lay people who are working.

This 30-week “Retreat in Daily Life” also seeks to integrate the exercises into normal daily life, and covers the same material as the 30-day retreat, which is divided into four weeks, or segments: God’s love for us despite our sinfulness; Christ’s life and ministry; Christ’s Passion and death; and, finally, the resurrection and life in the Spirit.

 

FALLING in love with Christ, and being utterly transformed by it, was a process that began for St Ignatius when he was recovering from severe injuries sustained in battle. For this dashing young man — who is credited as having had an eye for the ladies and dreams of fame and glory as a soldier — life was to change dramatically when a cannonball shattered one of his legs. In the long recovery period, he read about the lives of the saints, and found that they inspired him in a way that his military heroes could not.

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So began a lifelong and life-changing love for Christ which led him to offer his life in the complete love and service of Christ, and to pray:

 

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
All is yours.
Dispose of it according to your will.
Give me your love and grace;
for this is sufficient for me.

 

He also wrote: “There are very few who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.”

The idea of falling in love with God was explored by St Ignatius’s 20th-century successor as Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr Pedro Arrupe, who wrote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in love in a quite abso­lute, final way. . . Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

 

LAST year, I underwent the Spirit­ual Exercises at the Campion Centre of Ignatian Spirituality in Kew, Melbourne, and discovered that the practicalities of “falling in love with Christ”, for the Jesuit, include:

The Principle and Foundation: recognising that I am created by the God who is love, to love, praise, and serve God: “I am from love, of love, for love,” as one translation puts it.

The Daily Examen, which invites you to reflect on how God has loved you, and to give thanks for the many blessings and graces you have received throughout the day.

The Discernment of Spirits, which includes seeking to discern where you have been loving and generous-hearted, and also where you have failed to love, or have been stony-hearted.

The Imaginative Contemplation, which invites you to place yourself in a Gospel scene as either an observer, or as one of the characters, imagining the sights, sounds, and smells so that you feel physic­ally present, and ending with a colloquy, or conversation, with Christ.

I found this way of engaging with scripture particularly powerful. One of my journal entries reads: “The imaginative contemplations have helped me to experience the physical presence of Christ: to feel his touch and embrace when being held in his arms as one of the children he blesses; to feel his hand holding mine when I was the blind man he led out of the city. Imagin­ing myself as Simeon, I have also experienced the joy of holding him as an infant.

”Through the imaginative con­tem­plations, I have been physically present to witness Christ’s great and healing love for others, and its trans­­­­­forming effects on them.”

 

FALLING in love with Christ is also about experiencing the power of forgiveness — for yourself and for others. It is difficult to love and forgive yourself and others unless you have experienced being loved and forgiven. Jesus said of Mary of Bethany, the “sinful woman” who showed him great love by anointing his feet with perfume, and washing them with her hair, that “he who has been forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7.36-50).

The second great commandment — “love others as yourself” — is also difficult unless we know and experience God’s love for us, despite our sinfulness. This is the love that enabled the founder of the L’Arche Communities for the disabled, Jean Vanier, to say: “Each of us is more beautiful than we can dare to believe [because we] are children of God.” “God has an enormous love for us,” the poet Edwina Gately writes, and all he wants to do is to “look upon [us] with that love”.

One of the most painful but cathartic and liberating moments of the 30 weeks came for me when my director suggested that I write an apology to someone I had wronged nearly 40 years ago, and then give the matter up to Christ. Learning to let go of past mistakes, and see them as “buried in the heart of Christ”, as Brother Roger of Taizé puts it, is a critical part of learning to love and forgive — yourself and others.

This week, as we ponder and enter into Christ’s supreme act of sacrifice on the cross, and the pour­ing out of his life for all humanity — the greatest love the world has ever known — may we, too, be so touched by the power of his love and Christ’s risen life to transform and liberate, that, with Ignatius, we, too, can dedicate our lives to Christ, and pray: “Give me your love and grace, for this is sufficient for me.”

 

www.jesuit.org.uk/tags/ignatian-spirituality Roland Ashby is editor of The Melbourne Anglicanwww.tma.melbourneanglican.org.au

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