190-208. The First Period

 

190-199.    First Exercise: on the Last Supper

 

This contemplation follows immediately the decision made by the companions and as we told before the situation of the companions at this juncture of the Exercises is similar to that of Jesus. Although there is the motive of the betrayal of Judas, the gospels make clear that Jesus freely surrenders himself already during the Last Supper and so confirms everything he did and told before. The suffering that follows is not misfortune but the consciously accepted consequence of the way of Jesus. With this last night his public mission ended, what remains is the “fulfillment” (Jn 19:30) of it [1]. As for Jesus his actions and words meant also steps which put him in conflict with the authorities and so caused inevitably his arrest and death, the decision of the companions brings with it certain consequences. The confirmation process of the decision involves the concrete acceptance of these consequences, as Bernard Tyrrell calls it “a twofold ongoing dying to self”[2], indicating that the decision for a certain direction in life necessarily excludes other pathways and also the chosen option brings with it continuous daily “dying” in form of necessary sacrifices and difficulties. Tyrrell mentions the self-sacrifice required by the commitment to marriage as well as in “religious life” with vows, and points out the analogical position of the person who decides to seek psychological health and recovery from neurosis or addiction. Such person and faces the suffering involved in the detachment from the well-ingrained neurotic tendencies and in the struggle for sobriety and the contemplation of Jesus’ self-oblation and offering might give fruitful additional support during the process of recovery.

Following the opening prayer this exercise consists of the visualization in a global way of the history involved and the historical place it happened, the prayer asking what we want and six points of the contemplation and it ends with a prayerful conversation. For this time of the Exercises the companions are already familiar with the Ignatian contemplation and gained the capability to be enter and stay in the scene spiritually with relative ease. They can do this contemplation with their rhythm and quite flexibly. Similarly to the precedent Phases it is possible to divide the exercises in more prayer sessions taking one point each time or pray through the six points. If the companions decide to do it in six sessions, it is advisable to repeat it in one additional session in the complete form. Another way to lengthen the time devoted to the contemplation of the Last Supper if the companions desire it is the divide the content for more exercises. For example they can have a first contemplation on the washing of the feet, another on the events during the meal, a third on the institution of the Eucharist, a fourth on the last teachings of Jesus during the Last Supper. All the following exercises of the Third Phase can be divided in this manner whenever the companions want to stay longer in the contemplation of the passion.

 

Opening prayer

Also in this Phase we use the same opening prayer as in the First Phase.

Visualization of the history

We read the “Last Supper” in [289] and see Jesus sending two of his disciples from Bethany to Jerusalem to prepare the Passover supper. We imagine Jesus following them there with the other disciples and recall the events of the supper itself. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples and during the meal changes the Jewish Passover supper, the “Seder” which is a remembrance of the liberation from Egypt with traditional sequence of food, prayers and songs, giving a new meaning to it. He uses new prayers over the food in which declares the broken and distributed bread his body and the “cup of salvation”, the third one during the celebration the cup of his blood. During the supper Jesus gives also his last teachings on earth to the disciples. We recall also Judas who went to the chief priests to give up Jesus and they gave him thirty silvers for his betrayal.

Visualization of the place

We turn our attention now to imagine the road from Bethany to Jerusalem, see how it looks like, if it wide or narrow, steep or not and similar observations. We see also the place where the Last Supper takes place, the so-called “upper room” somewhere in Jerusalem; see the dimensions of this place, the furniture, the lights, the festive food and decorations.

Asking what we want

In this contemplation we pray for the grace of compassion, shame and sorrow because of the suffering of Jesus for our sins, to stay with him in the sense as we saw it in the introduction. The companions might notice that this request is similar to the grace of the First Phase when we asked for deep sorrow, shame, confusion and tears because of our sins, with the difference that the focus not primarily on the sorrow because of our sins as they are– although it is present - but first of all compassion with the suffering Jesus [3]. The companions can experience very different feelings during the contemplations of the passion and the experience changes even for the same person in different stages of his or her life. One might feel deep gratitude and even joy for being redeemed others experience confusion or no feelings at all.

While reflecting on the value system of Jesus Christ in the “Two Standards” [136-148] meditation the companions had chosen to follow the same way as him, “to be with him”. Now during the Third Phase they pray that this “being with him” deepen as through contemplating the last days and the death of Jesus they accept the consequences of following this way along with all their own sufferings and death. With these exercises they begin to put in practice the third degree of the love of God or at least arrive to ask to live it. The contemplations may lead to desire for realizing of what St. Paul says of himself: “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). The following six points for the contemplation Ignatius gave for the Third Phase help the companions to let these graces penetrate their minds and hearts.

First point: seeing the persons in the scene

We see the persons who are present at the Last Supper and stay with this image for a while until we feel that this exercise is meaningful. After the contemplation we stop in order to reflect on what we have felt and understood, which graces we received. It would be advisable to write down notes share how it went.

Second point: hearing the persons involved

At this point we use our auditive fantasy to hear the persons to speak and listen to what they say. We do it for a short while and quit it when it does not give any more insights or feelings. Also at this point we stop and recollect the experience,

Third point: observing what the persons do

The same way as in precedent contemplations, we will now imagine the actions of the participants of the Last Supper. Also after this point we stop for a recollection of the graces received.

Fourth point: a consideration the suffering of Jesus

At this point the companions are called to reflect upon the sufferings of Jesus he endured in all his life and particularly what he bears at the contemplated event, the Last Supper. We reflect upon his generosity his mercy and his trust in God’s saving project until the end and so on. The general climate of this consideration is compassion and sorrow; if these reflections bring up tears we need not to stop, but feel free to express all sentiments. The same will be true for the following points.

Fifth point: consideration of how the “divinity hides itself”

We reflect upon the reality that Jesus is also God, the incarnate Word, who enters the passion freely, nobody forces it on him as with words of St. Ignatius the “divinity hides itself”. To explain what the experience of the divinity “hiding itself” meant for Jesus during his agony, John Futrell uses the analogy of the desolation during which we actually don’t feel the grace of God but in reality only by the grace sustains us to act and live through the utter dryness of faith [4].

God in Jesus totally accepts the human condition and weakness, and whatever it will mean to him. Even if he could “call a legion of angels” to save him destroy anybody who opposes him, Jesus does not choose the way of violence and aggression but the way of peace and compassion with the suffering humankind. The companions can reflect here on the striking difference of this attitude from the arrogance and violence humans might choose to make their will prevail, how the whole machinery of hatred and wars derive from the desire to dominate other human beings and how God is far from this attitude. He or she is really Almighty in contrast of the pity self-made gods of history who try to conceal their weakness and bad intentions with overwhelming power-game.

Sixth point: “What ought I to do for Christ?”

The companions need to consider now the saving work of Christ as personally intended for them; that Jesus went through the passion for their sins and try to discover what is the right existential response to this act of love of God toward them. This point recalls the prayer at the end of the first exercise of the First Phase where St. Ignatius raises raise the question: “What ought I to do for Christ?” [53], but now it is more focused since the companions clarified the answer to it through the meditations on the “Kingdom of Christ” [91-99], on the “Two Standards” [136-148], on the “Third degree of the love of God” [165-168] and through their decision which now awaits to be realized even through hardships.

Prayerful conversation, sharing and review

At the end of this exercise the companions turn to Jesus Christ in prayerful dialogue. In this the companions might pray together but silently in their hearts, when they might talk to Jesus over their personal motives and desires. This could be a quite different prayer according to the situation of each companion, who may be in the middle of temptations or perhaps experience a deep consolation and a desire for a change in one’s life and so on. At the end the companions might pray shortly together, asking for what they desire most. Some companions might feel to do the threefold prayer as in the “Three Types” [156] and in the “Two Standards” [147], or the prayer of “paradoxical intention” described in [157] (see also [16] in the “General guidelines to the Exercises”). Close with an Our Father…

 



[1] Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, pp. 116-117.

[2] Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II”, pp. 195-198.

[3] See the first exercise of the First Phase in [45-54]. Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 112 and Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 116 (footnote 17).

[4] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” pp. 113-114.