200-203. Second Exercise: In the Garden of Gethsemane

 

With this contemplation we enter the next stage of the passion as Jesus after singing the thanksgiving Psalms (Pss 114-118) concluding the Passover meal leaves the place of the Last Supper and goes with his disciples to an orchard with oil press outside the walls of Jerusalem where they used sometimes to pass the nights under the olive trees.

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus during this night lives through the agony of accepting what lies ahead. For the first time Jesus is afflicted by doubts and weakness so much that he tries to receive support from his disciples. The prayerful struggle of Jesus for fidelity to his mission also during the suffering that could be still avoided by changing course might be strongly significant for the companions during this Phase where also they can find themselves in anxiety and pain because of the decision they made previously. This contemplation of fidelity under the pressure of the temptations of “power of darkness” is of great importance for the companions in remaining firm on their chosen way during this retreat and later in similar situations of life.

Opening prayer

We use the same opening prayer as usual.

Visualization of the history

The companions read the text “From the Last Supper to the Gethsemane” in [290]. They see the events from the moment Jesus and the eleven disciples left the “Upper Room” where the Last Supper took place, imagine them descending from Mount Sion in Jerusalem to the dark Valley of Josaphat and up the western slope of Mount of Olives to the orchard. Eight disciples remain sitting and resting there under the trees while Jesus takes along three (the same ones who went with him on Mount Tabor to witness the Transfiguration) deeper in Gethsemane (meaning significantly “oil press”). Jesus goes still further alone to pray and three times goes back to find the disciples asleep.

There is curious and strong moment when the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus fall confused on the ground as they hear his words “I am” (Jn 18:5-6), echoing the divine self designation of Yahweh (Ex 3:14)[1]. Jesus could change or end this situation but does not because staying there means greater love as the “divinity hides itself”. Then Judas greets Jesus with a kiss. Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus, one of the servants of the high priest, but Jesus heals it. At the end they lead Jesus away down the valley again and up in the town to the home of Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law of the present one.

Visualization of the place

We use our imagination to see in detail the road from the old town of Jerusalem down the Valley of Josaphat, the orchard. We try to imagine how it looks like there with the olive trees immersed in the night and silence, see the size of it, if it is big or small, if there is moonlight or not and so on.

Asking what we want

Here as throughout the contemplations of the passion we ask for experiencing compassion sorrow and shame which are “unitive” graces, bringing us in union with Christ also in suffering.

After these three preparatory steps the contemplation will consist of six points similarly to the contemplation on the Last Supper.

 

204- 207 Notes on How to Proceed

 

1.         The structure of the contemplations in the Third Phase will remain the same as in the first exercise, consisting of three preparatory steps and six points for the prayer adapted to the subject of the exercise. The exercises can be divided in more prayer sessions taking one point each time or by splitting up the material for more exercises if the companions feel like to do it so.

In each period there will be two exercises with their repetition followed by the “application of the senses” (as described in the Second Phase at [121]) on the subject matter of the two contemplations which gives long enough time with each to let the movements of the Holy Spirit become relevant.

2.         Usually in a secluded retreat one period is one day while in the everyday life form it might extend to several sessions and last a number of days or even weeks depending on the frequency of the prayer meetings. It is important also in the secluded retreat not to pray all day long, not to have three hours’ long prayer sessions or more than five exercises a day, but stop and take on other activities, unless false tensions or tiredness might arise. St. Ignatius advises to have great freedom in arranging the Third Phase, “as far as age, health and physical condition permit” take five or less exercises a day, but not more as here someone might be tempted to do. There is a proven wisdom of having more or less one hour prayer sessions, followed by sharing, jotting down experiences and do something else like walking or similar.

In a retreat in the everyday life we should remember that not only the prayer sessions but also the entire life is part of the Exercises: each event and encounter can and will bring meaning and progress in this Phase as it we saw it in the precedent ones. During such a retreat the companions learn also to recognize somewhat the patterns of their consolations and desolations as the daily life goes on. Good sharing and keeping a diary can be a very valuable help in this work of understanding and discernment. The wisdom of this type of learning helps to cope better with each situation, since through it they understand the circumstances that make them loose the consolation and the way usually it comes back to them. When the companions learn how to use the time of desolation for getting ready for consolation they arrive to “finding God in all things”; they become contemplatives in action, able to recognize in everything the love of God in which they live immersed all along. This spiritual attitude is a basic goal of the Exercises that is present all along the process as an underlying motive and becomes very explicit in the “Contemplation to Attain Love of God” [230-237]. St Ignatius placed this contemplation at the end of the book of the Spiritual Exercises together with the “Three Methods of Prayer” [238-260] however without mentioning when is the proper time to introduce it in the dynamics of the Exercises process. The most usual interpretation of the “Contemplation” is as the climax of the entire Exercises at the end of the Fourth Phase, while others see it is rather as an important method of praying that is not part of the Exercises process itself, and so it can be introduced in a different moment during the retreat [2] Using this freedom we propose that the companions try to get familiar with the “Contemplation” during the Third Phase since it is already part the unitive stage of spiritual growth and so it teaches to find God in suffering while confirming the choices made for the way of Christ. In any way we will take it up at the Fourth Phase and at the end of the retreat as a powerful final moment and transition to the aftermath when along with discernment and finding God in all things will become hopefully the heart of the everyday spiritual life of the companions.

3.  The companions need to make use of the practical guidelines of the “Additions” [73-90] and of the “Notes” [127-131] also throughout the Third Phase applied of course to the changing thematic of these exercises.

For example the second of the Additions advise to recall what we are going to do and shortly think of the subject matter of the exercise we are occupied with at once as we awake in the morning. In the Third Phase during the morning preparations our thoughts need to be directed to the suffering of Jesus and try to feel sorrow and compassion. Similarly, the guideline regarding the changes established in our lifestyle to help the effectiveness of the exercises will require now trying to avoid reflecting on pleasing subjects. St. Ignatius warns not to meditate during this Phase on the resurrection or on heaven and we can add to it the “normal” pleasures of life as projecting a trip to Hawaii, getting a new sporty car and so on. Rather we need to focus on the hardships that Jesus experienced since his birth until his passion that we are contemplating. This seems to be too restricting if the companions do the exercises in everyday life when the retreat extends to a relatively long time, but the dynamic of this Phase will bring with it a desire to live a somewhat more subdued life. The companions will see that a little effort to change the environment and restrict a bit the entertainments for this time is necessary and helpful. As in everything also in this guidelines for arranging the time outside of the formal prayer sessions the companions should feel free to experiment to find the suitable means for proceeding. Some might find helpful the prayers of devotion like the way of the cross, the rosary and similar for creating an atmosphere for contemplating the passion. It takes the pressure off the companions to remember that the experiences of the Exercises are free gifts from God who decides when and what to give and that we never produce the graces we long for, but only dispose ourselves to receive it. The companions probably for this time of the Exercises learned not to try to create spiritual experiences since the entire retreat brought them toward this inner freedom and openness, but the theme of the passion has the tendency to become sentimental and a certain caution is necessary to avoid fake or false feelings. The companions don’t need to burden themselves to achieve certain sentiments, it is up to God to give these or not, and it is still all right if there are no feelings arising, the success of the Exercises lies in being authentic and trusting in God rather then produce experiences.

For the contemplations it might be helpful to use some artistic representations of the passion if someone is so inclined, with the warning that the attention should not be focused on the physical torments of Jesus even if these cannot be left out. For this reason it is advisable to be cautious with cinematographic representations of the passion that naturally tend to concentrate on the external details of suffering. Far from being sentimental the contemplations represent an indirect way to the internal and essential meaning of the passion to which the companions can associate themselves. Still we need to stress that the grace of the Third Phase comes from God and waiting for it is not wasted time even if one might not enter in the passion now but experiences only the longing for feeling compassion and sorrow.

4.  The companions need to do the examinations of the conscience during this time on the theme of the individual exercises and on the Additions applied to the Third Phase. Some time in this Phase it is necessary to arrange for a review and evaluation session as described in [147]. In this session the companions can decide also on how they want to proceed with the upcoming periods, if they want to lengthen the Phase as described below in the “Note” at [209].

 

 



[1] Other instances in the gospel of John where Jesus designates himself with this expression of divine identity for example in Jn 4:26 and 8:24.28.

[2] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 129 and 133.