The Kingdom of Christ

 

This exercise forms a transition between the First and Second Phase, in fact this meditation returns to the Principle and Foundation in [23] and develops it further placing it in the context of the Kingdom of Christ[1]. We can say that this meditation constitutes the “principle and foundation” for the Second Phase. The “Kingdom” does not refer here to a political or geographical reality, but a spiritual and dynamic one, and it means the life of the Trinity entering humanity and the world through the person of Son incarnated in Jesus Christ, and the growth of this reality throughout our history.

Jesus from this point on becomes the eminent subject matter of the Exercises. While in the First Phase the companions’ main effort was to confront with the reality of sin and destructive tendencies and turning away from these, now the basic dynamics -somewhat analogously to the second stage in the healing from neurotic and addictive conditions- is the “turning toward” life-giving values represented by Jesus Christ[2]. Its purpose is to prepare the companions for the contemplation of the life of Jesus. Through this contemplation they discover their personal call to join the mission of the contemporary present-time Jesus Christ, “to turn toward Christ, to embrace his cause, to labor with him for the realization of his Kingdom”[3] today, in our age and situation, as the way toward psycho-spiritual healing and growth toward a fulfilled, mature humanity.

Before beginning with this exercise, the companions need to read the Note in [99] about how to schedule it.

91-98. The Parable of the King

 

Opening Prayer and Visualization

After the usual opening prayer we use our imagination to see the places where Jesus lived, the towns and villages, the roads and synagogues, the houses and mountains, the lake of Gennesaret, the Temple in Jerusalem and so on. Especially for this meditation we can imagine fruitfully the scene of the living parable of Jesus at his messianic entry in Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-17; Mk 11:1-1; Lk 19:28-38; Jn 12:12-15)[4]

 

“Say to the daughter of Zion,

‘Behold, your king comes to you,

Meek and riding on an ass,

And on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Mt 21:5; cf. Is 62:11; Zec 9:9)

 

Asking what we want

We need to ask in this meditation from God the grace “not to be deaf” (Ignatius’ words) to the call for the mission of Jesus, to be ready and open so later be able to decide for it and work in it. At this point we don’t speak yet of a specific resolution for some action, service or state of life, but of a generous openness. With other words we ask to recognize that the human vocation presented in the “Principle and Foundation” in [23] for us realizes in the service of Christ and the desire to work for the realization of the Kingdom, in the form that God will show us. God who knows and loves us desires for us the best; so we ask that his desires and ours would be in conformity. One main principle of the following exercises is that we will recognize the will of God at the present moment with the help of the contemplation of the life of Jesus. The will of God discovered might be different from what we projected and maybe it will be a relatively small matter, and disappointing respect to our aspirations, requiring a change of mind and heart. This reality is presented to us in the different parables on the Kingdom in Matthew’s gospel: the sower, the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed, the yeast, the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price (Mt 13:1-53).

 

First part of the exercise

92.   We need now to imagine a powerful person, one whom we could absolutely trust, whom we love and share his or her ideals about the good of humankind. This is maybe a hard task for our fantasy, as we don’t abound in examples of such persons. We are dealing with a parable, so it not question if such person exist at all; we simply suppose it. St. Ignatius with all his knightly idealism choose the figure of a king – now we maybe are not too impressed by the image of a monarch, but then the relationship between a feudal king and his vassals or knights was stronger than even family ties.

For scriptural examples we can recall here also how the Old Testament celebrates Yahweh as a king, King of Israel and King of the universe; among other examples let us refer here to the so-called “enthronement” Psalms (Pss 47; 96-99) and Pss 24; 93. The New Testament continues to use figure of the king for God as for example in the scene of the final judgment (Mt 25:31-46). We think it is useful to read these biblical references in preparation for the exercise. For help let us quote here what Karl Rahner says on the question of the figure of the king:

“The historically conditioned characteristics of the parable can actually be reduced to a form that is valid to all men, which we might even call its metaphysical-anthropological background. For man’s existence is essentially a battleground of decision, a risk, a unique history that leads to a final goal; it is not primarily ordered to abstract principles, but to the concrete Thou, and therefore forced by its very nature to ask where the true Lord of the battle is. This kernel of the notion of kingship will always be valid, even when the monarchical state is no longer in existence” [5]

 

If we want to find some contemporary examples of the relationship involved in the parable of the king, maybe we can think of a very intimate friend, who however has also a sort of authority for us; we can also think of the relationship the athletes have with their coach. The good coach has all the qualifications and gifts to do an excellent job with us, leads and protects us and we esteem and trust him or her.

 

93.   We imagine now that this beloved and trusted person - the king of the parable - encourages us participate in a great enterprise that would bring good to many people, efficient help of food, shelter and healthcare to the needy, winning over unjust social structures, ending armed conflicts so to establish a flourishing humane culture of life and peace for the earth. He or she requires our serious commitment to the project, our creativity, endurance of hardships in exchange of his or her total commitment and loyalty until the enterprise achieves its goal and establishes a new world community. The hardships involved might be significant, requiring sacrifices of time, money, personal engagement and also the affront of those who oppose our project and consider our plan foolish, vain and even dangerous.

 

94.               Consider now what would be our answer to such offer. We very probably would not refuse him or her, but happily accept this invitation.

 

Second part of the exercise

95.   The second part of this exercise consists in applying the image we just considered on Jesus. He not only presented himself as the future King, but finally when condemned to death, the main charge against him was that he claimed to be a king[6]. The risen Christ now calls us to work with him in his mission of proclaiming the good news, which means a service of others, “bringing the Kingdom to be in the mutual relationships of all human persons and in the social structures that organize these relationships”[7]. He offers his friendship and promises to be with us and share all the hardships we pass through and assures us the assistance of the Holy Spirit and the final success if we persevere with him.

Christ appears in this meditation as the one who can give ultimate meaning to our life through our involvement in the service of the Kingdom of such values as truth, life, justice, love and peace[8]. In logotherapy Viktor Frankl stresses life’s unconditional meaningfulness, since meaning can be found in every situation also beyond the possibility to work and to love, even in suffering and death. However, “a logotherapist cannot tell a patient what the meaning is, but he at least can show that there is a meaning in life, that it is available to everyone and even more, that life retains its meaning under any conditions”[9]. For the believer – and for the Christotherapist – it is possible to point to the source of meaning in God and in Jesus Christ. Logotherapy is a “therapy through meaning”[10] where “logos” signifies “meaning”, in Christotherapy Christ the incarnate Logos is the source of meaning that heals. The meaning in the life of who joined the cause of Christ is to be discovered in the work for his Kingdom, in the service of others, and in the struggle against sin, sickness, death, social sin, injustice, war and the forces of devil in and around us. In this work also those can participate who are seriously ill of neurosis or addiction through their seeking of healing and also through the endurance of the part of suffering that cannot be removed[11]. The meaning of life as the will of God needs to be recognized in every situation and moment of life by a continuous learning to discern it. To this task we find a powerful means in the Exercises and especially during the Second Phase of it.

 

96.   Now we should consider how attractive is the invitation of Jesus Christ, and everyone “who have judgment and reason” (with the words of Ignatius), would accept it. This step is parallel with the logic of the rule to use things “as far as” they are helpful in our human vocation expressed in the “Principle and Foundation” [23], appealing to common sense.

 

97.               Those who wish to express their desire to accept the invitation of Jesus Christ and engage in his project will want to dedicate themselves entirely for the work also when it would turn to be very costly, hard and requiring serious renounces. This point is a clear expression of the Ignatian spirituality of “more”, similarly as in the “Principle and Foundation” [23] the rule to prefer always what is “more” appropriate to the fulfillment of the human vocation. To the companions who come out of the First Phase with the knowledge of their illnesses and sins, Jesus Christ not only offers healing and forgiveness, but “more”: astonishingly he calls them sinners and sick to work with him in saving the world today. In this mission the choice for the poor and the humble is not optional, but explicitly required, for the Jesus, who is the norm of it is the man of the “Beatitudes”; and the poor, the mourning, the meek are blessed only because God himself feeds them, consoles and protects them through Christ:

 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven because of Christ, the Poor.

Blessed are they who mourn the sins of the world,

for they will be comforted by God in Christ, the Savior.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the land of God with Christ, the Lamb of God.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be satisfied by God through Christ, our Righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy by God, whose Merciful Heart is given to us in Christ.

Blessed are the clean of heart, those who are earnest and  sincere,

for they will see God with Christ, who is the Truth.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God

brothers and sisters of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven in Christ, our Way” (Cf. Mt 5:3-10 paraphrased)

 

98.   The companions at this point can accept the invitation of Jesus Christ for this work with their own prayer. They can formulate this prayer together as a common commitment and they can design also a sort of celebration or “liturgy” a “prophetic” action or sign that symbolizes this step that the companions take.

As for example here we quote how St. Ignatius formulated his prayer of acceptance. This prayer demonstrates well the generosity and open heart he had. This kind of generosity and open heart will stand at the center of the Spiritual Exercises as the main gifts that the companions can achieve. We need to stress that this is St. Ignatius’ personal offering and the companions are not called to repeat this, but to find their own words and way to the service of the Kingdom. We should say only what we really and sincerely feel, not something else or something that seems more “heroic”. The essential is to feel a fundamental desire to do something good for this Kingdom and God will reveal us later what exactly; maybe it will be clear gradually, maybe it will be a simple or seemingly little thing. If the companions hesitate to express this basic commitment then they need to give up the Exercises here, gratefully for the graces already received. Maybe at a later time they will feel the desire to enter again in the Exercises process from the beginning, which they can do freely[12].

 

“Eternal Lord of all things,

in the presence of your infinite goodness,

and of your glorious mother,

and of all saints of your heavenly court,

this is the offering of myself which I make with your favor and help.

I bear witness that it is my earnest desire and deliberate choice,

- provided only it is for your greater service and praise –

to imitate you in bearing all injustice and affront and all poverty

 –both actual and spiritual-

should your most holy majesty want to choose and admit me

to such a state and way of life”.[13]

 

We should note the presence of the spirituality of the “more” in this prayer and the humbleness of the offer. The text totally lacks of the arrogance to pretend wanting to suffer, searching controversy and poverty for its own sake; no, only if the Lord permits these and it is really because of the greater service and praise of God. Only with this condition a suffering might be worth to accept and fruitful spiritually for the good of other people, as to which St. Paul refers:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,

 and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ

 on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24-25)

 

99-100. Notes

99.   If the companions do the exercises in the secluded form, this meditation is to be done twice during one day, once in the morning and repeat it in the afternoon.

If the companions follow the retreat in the everyday life form then they should reserve a period of time they feel as adequate to go through this exercise and then repeat it once. It seems that one prayer session can be spent with the first part then one with the second part, and maybe for the repetition is sufficient one session for the entire exercise. However as usual, we encourage the companions to make the schedule with freedom and use as much time as they want with this exercise, which is an important part of the whole process. Also at the end of this exercise we need to share and take notes in our diary as usual.

100. During the upcoming Second Phase the companions can choose some spiritual reading, from the New Testament or historical books and similar, in line with the main theme that focuses especially on the person of Jesus.

At this juncture of the Exercises the companions need to begin to be acquainted with the “Guidelines for Discernment for the Second Phase” in [328-336] and begin to try them out applying for the understanding of their psycho-spiritual happenings from now on.

The Kingdom of Christ...... 45

91-98. The Parable of the King........... 45

Opening Prayer and Visualization... 45

Asking what we want... 46

First part of the exercise... 46

Second part of the exercise... 47

99-100. Notes. 50

 

 



[1] See in this regard Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 65.

[2] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 160-161.

[3] Ibid., p.161.

[4] Stanley, “A Modern Scriptural Approach to the Spiritual Exercises,” Chapter 8, pp. 79-84 utilizes this scene to present the Kingdom meditation.

[5] Rahner, ”Spiritual Exercises,” pp. 128-129.

[6] As the trial before Pilate (Jn 18:28-19:16), the mocking of the soldiers and the chief priests and elders (Mt 27:27-31.42) and the inscription on the cross of the charge (Mt 27:37 and parallels) shows it. The title “king” has here a shifting meaning between political and messianic reality, the latter being also a reference to God.

[7] Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 51.

[8] Cf. the Preface of the Mass of Christ the King, quoted also in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 162.

[9] Frankl, “The Unheard Cry for Meaning,” p. 41.

[10] Ibid., p. 19.

[11] Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 162-165.

[12] It seems that this basic commitment to the values represented in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ might be possible also for non-Christians in some form, if they are open for it.

[13] Cf. Louis J. Puhl, S.J., The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951) #98. p. 45. We slightly adapted this translation to a more modern language.