136-157. The Fourth Period

 

In this period we have two meditations of great importance inserted in the series of contemplations of the life of Jesus, the “Two Standards” [136-148] (with two repetitions) and the “Three Types of Attitudes” [149-157], both aiming to help the companions in the discernment and decision process that is operative through the entire Exercises. The Fourth Period contains altogether four exercises; the first three are the “Two standards” and its repetitions and closes with the “Three Types”. The contemplations of the public life of Jesus will be made already in the light achieved in these meditations and so they will show the norms for discernment while Jesus is “lived with”[1]

136-148. Two Standards[2]: Conflicting Value Systems Defining our Way

 

Earlier the Kingdom meditation and the contemplations on the Incarnation, the Birth, and the “Hidden life” of Jesus already showed the values Christ held and represents for us now and helped to put our life in the perspective of these values. The companions already made a fundamental and general decision for these values in the Kingdom meditation. Now in the meditation on “The Two Standards” the value system of Jesus Christ becomes explicit and the companions are called for a clear choice for the “standard” of Christ.

The reason for this particular meditation is the same as that of the entire Exercises, that we become able to choose freely the life offered by Jesus Christ and turn away from anything else that could be an obstacle for us to achieve the sense of our existence as it was defined in the “Principle and Foundation” [23]. The meditation puts in front of us the opposing value systems represented by Satan and the world on one side and that of Jesus on the other side in order to reject the first and embrace the latter. Through this meditation still is present the dynamics of “turning-away” from evil, but the main thrust in the Second Phase is on the radical “turning-toward” Christ[3].

Although this exercise is not contemplation but meditation, the structure of it is the same as of the preceding ones.

Opening prayer

The companions begin this exercise with the usual prayer.

Visualization of the history

The reality we are to reflect on is the fact that there are two “calls” in our lives drawing us in opposite directions especially when we face decisions. This polarity is present deep in our hearts as well on social, national and multinational levels and it derives from the history preceding us, which is history of sin and salvation at the same time. The opposite sides we identify as one from Satan, “the deadly enemy of our human nature” [136] and the other from Jesus Christ. In consequence of this polarity we constantly need to make choices even when we don’t do it consciously but out of routine or convention. The forces of evil working in our world always influence us but we always remain free through the grace of God to choose what is good and reject the opposite which leads to despair, hatred, less freedom and alienation. Even if usually we seek to forget it in this meditation are we reminded on the need for decisions, but also that there is always at least one right choice in every single situation, which leads to more life and more love for us and our world.

 

“The concern of the flesh is death,

but the concern of the spirit is life and peace” (Rom 8:6)

 

In the New Testament we find first of all in the writings of Paul (as in Gal 5:16-26 and Rom 8:1-13) the antinomy between the “flesh” and the “spirit”, the contrast between the sinful tendencies and weaknesses of the human nature with the faculty that enables us to share in the Holy Spirit[4]. Similarly to the list of the works of the “flesh” and of the fruits of the Spirit in Gal 5:16-26, we find in the Christian spiritual literature numerous examples of descriptions and definition of the destructive and life-giving attitudes, including the so-called “capital sins” and their counterparts called “virtues”[5]. An example from outside Christianity to such a system is the Enneagram, which puts in contrast nine basic passions as the foundation for a typology and their counterpart virtues in order to identify ourselves in these types and so try to avoid the destructive tendencies and cultivate the positive side of each passion[6].

 

“Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom…

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.

Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live…” (Deut 30:15.19)

 

“Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14)

 

The teaching about the “two ways” is an ancient one present in various Jewish texts, as well in the Old Testament as for example in the quote above from the farewell address of Moses (similar “two ways” are found in Jer 21:8) The moral teaching about the way of life and way of death in Christian texts comes from its Jewish roots[7], and is found for example in the New Testament as in Mt 7:13-28 describing the contrast between two kinds of life. The most eminently known presentation of the “two ways” is in the “Didache” an early second century writing in which the first six chapters are usually referred to with this title and begins with this words: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways” (1:1)[8]. Then the text describes the way of life and way of death as a genuine teacher of Christian righteousness would teach it. The Epistle of Barnabas states it this way: “There are two Ways of teaching and power, one of Light and one of Darkness. And there is a great difference between these two ways. For over the one are set the light-bringing angels of God, but over the other angels of Satan. And the one is Lord from eternity and to eternity, and the other is the ruler of the present time of antiquity”. (Epistle of Barnabas 18:1b-2)[9].

Entering in this line of the tradition of the lists of vices and virtues and of the “two ways”, in Christotherapy I Bernard Tyrrell presents a series of fundamentally destructive attitudes with their life-giving counterparts which he calls the “gates of hell and gates of paradise”, with the intent that the recognition of these helps the mind-fasting and spirit-feasting process[10]. Notwithstanding the extremely polarized name, the “gates of hell” are ways of life present in our everyday reality on individual and societal level, as excessively sensualist, emotionalist, possessive, intellectualist attitudes and the idolizing self or other persons. The opposite “gates of paradise” are ways of existence that puts these tendencies in the context of freedom and balance.

The two “standards” in the Spiritual Exercises is presented to us by Satan and by Jesus Christ in a symbolic but very real way. Satan is not only the parable of the destructive forces but he is a personal reality who stands behind every evil in this world. The goal of the exercises of “Finding Our Way” is to learn how to distinguish the two voices that are calling us in different directions on personal on social and national levels. Following the existential diagnosis of the negative tendencies and the consequent fasting of the mind and heart, the discernment leads us to the cultivation of the understood positive ways of thinking and living aided by the Christotherapeutic technique of spirit-feasting. The work of orientation among concurring tendencies in our life traditionally is called searching of God’s will[11], of which we can say also that it is the existential discernment or finding the meaning of every moment in our life regarding the continuous challenges we face.

As we see the “two way” teaching is strongly polarized and antagonistic, it presents an absolute opposition between the two extremes, there is no way in-between. To this stark picture we find a more serene addition in the Didache: “…for, on one hand, if you are able to carry the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but on the other, if you are not able, undertake that which you are able to bear” (Didache 6:2)[12]. In this notion of perfection that calls for constant striving toward “what you can”, which is open to all not only for an elite, we can find a precursor to the Ignatian spirituality, which defines perfection as the constant desire for the “more” and in the discernment recognizes God’s will basically where one finds finally peace.

Visualization of the place

Following the general framework of the exercises also in this meditation we try to see mentally a place that might help us in our reflections. The “Two Standards” meditation aiming to help in choosing the life-giving value system of Christ relies not only on the intellect and will but very vividly also the spontaneous dynamics of imagination that tries to balance threatening images with polar opposites[13]. Here we can form in our imagination the view of a deserted plain with burnt down, destroyed cities where Satan is the chief of a terrifying army; on the other side we can imagine a wonderful green meadow where Jesus waits us to join him as his disciples.

Asking what we want

In this exercise, which is a meditation preparing us to decisions we ask to recognize the traps of the value system of Satan in our personal life and in our society in order to avoid them, and we ask the grace of the existential knowledge of the value system of Jesus and choose it when discerning about our decisions. The companions need to pray for each other’s choices and for the grace that they could help each other in this exercise and later in the decisions.

140-142. First Part: The Standard of Satan, the “values” he uses to deceive and seduce all of us

In this first part we enter the scene of the parable of the Satanic power as we formed it in the visualization. We see Satan as the commander of his horrifying and powerful army ready to attack again on a vast scorched plain.

We imagine how Satan uses all sorts of means, propaganda, and lies to gain power and how he sends his followers to commit all kinds of crimes and deceit everywhere in the world.

We look at the whole system of deceit with which Satan is seeking to lead each of us individually and as entire nations, offering material wealth, power, celebrity status, and world-fame. This is the same old tactics that always worked throughout history and is everywhere operative. Ignatius summarized it so: “The first step, then, will be riches, the second honor, the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all vices” [142]. The three steps of the tactics of Satan aim to bring excess and disorder in the will to possess, in the will to be esteemed, and in the will to exist. These three levels of temptations are of different intensity, as they attack more and more the core of the person[14]. They do not necessarily follow this order in individual cases; someone might have great ambition without too much wealth.  We face choices between things that are in themselves neutral, can be useful or not, and have a certain value. The strategy of Satan is based on this ambivalent character of things and stresses the neutrality of possessing them and increases the desire in individuals and nations to have wealth, success, and spiritual goods and manipulate or abuse others in order to attain these. On the first level the possessed things then turn to identify the person or nation holding them. This existential identification of self involves on the second level the dependence of the esteem of others and finally to the self-sufficiency[15]. Pride or self-sufficiency is an attempt to exist absolutely for self and manifests itself in the personal independence, unconditional self-assertion and in nations, often armed supremacy. The underlying dynamics in this process is the fundamental fear of life, existential unbelief and mistrust, all of which in conclusion lead to a revolt against God.

We can recognize the three levels of temptation in the account of the temptation of Jesus, recorded in slightly different version in the Synoptic gospels (Mt 4:1-11; Mk 1:12-13 and Lk 4:1-13). In the description of Luke the wealth-honor-pride triad is represented by the temptations to turn the stones into bread, to gain power over the world and to show Jesus’ extraordinary status in a spectacular manner by throwing himself down from the Temple. As Robert C. Leslie points out, the temptation story illustrates the internal struggle that is present in every human soul to overcome the forces of demoniac temptations and to establish an integrating principle in order to orient one’s answers to the basic questions with which he or she is confronted[16].

The first temptation of Jesus in this context means to let the pleasure principle prevail, to choose consequently the immediate satisfaction of one’s sensual desires. Although this temptation is obviously present in our lives, the Freudian hypothesis of the dominance of the pleasure principle cannot be held in front of the evidence that the presence of a life task, the commitment to a supreme value can prevail over the law of self-preservation. Viktor Frankl who survived several years in concentration camps asserts that even in the camp environment those who had a hold on spiritual values did not succumb to the degenerating effect of such environment, but there were “plenty of examples – often heroic ones – to prove that even in the camps men… did not have to submit to the apparently almighty concentration camp laws of psychic deformation”[17]. When Jesus answers to Satan, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”, (Lk 4:4 and Mt 4:4, cf. Dt 8:3) it means that he chose to renounce the immediate gratification in order to follow what God’s will was for him. Jesus warned against the lure of wealth and possessions as in the Sermon on the Mount (for example Mt 6:19-21.24-34) and elsewhere (Lk 12:16-21; 16:1-15). Notwithstanding the ever-present temptation to live by the pleasure principle - the deceit of “riches” in Ignatius’ terminology - human existence is guided by the pursuit of higher goals and by the search of God’s will.

The second temptation of Jesus is to let the power principle dominate his life. The search for power, personal prestige and status, the exploitation of others in order to gain these, and the allure of “honor” is so much widespread phenomenon that Alfred Adler in his “individual psychology” asserted it as the basic drive in life. Although a certain level of self-esteem is necessary for a healthy psyche, the temptation of the power drive misleads us to seek status and honor directly, and the price to pay for it is in destroyed relationships, falsity and deceit. This is a way of worshiping the devil, which Satan in fact asked of Jesus in turn for world power. Viktor Frankl pointed out many times that there are several things, like joy and happiness that cannot be willed directly but should come as a by-product of one’s deeds[18]. As the pursuit of happiness does not lead to its fulfillment so is it with the power drive. Status and power should be earned and self-esteem grows though the gratitude of those who have been benefited by our actions. Jesus says to the devil the same thing when he answers him that only from pleasing God and from a life of service comes the honor (cf. Lk 4:8). He repeated this advice several times to his disciples in words (for example in Mt 21:25-28; Mk 10:33-37; Lk 22:24-30, and Mt 18:1-5; Lk 9:46-48) and also in the symbolic gesture of washing their feet at the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-20).

The third temptation of Jesus as Robert C. Leslie points out is to escape from personal responsibility, which is a manifestation of self-sufficiency and pride. Harder to recognize than the other two this temptation is permeating our culture on personal and societal level. It works through the dominance of psychological and sociological determinism. We can excuse our behavior endlessly by past traumas and by what others did or did not. In sharp contrast to the determinism of psychoanalysis, in Logotherapy Frankl stresses with insistence the necessity to assume responsibility. In reality the future does not depend so much on past experiences as on our conscious decisions in the present. Notwithstanding past conditioning influences we are always responsible for our choices. Responsibility is an indelible characteristic of human existence and it means that we ought to give a response or an answer for our acts in front of our conscience. In religious terms, we are created beings and we are not self-sufficient but our life is constant gift from God whose creative love we respond to with our existence, choices and acts. Jesus refuses to throw himself from the top of the temple in a show off his special status and self-sufficiency, he does not want to put God to the test and so does not want to evade responsibility for his acts. He also spoke against the determinism of false pretenses such as to belong to a chosen nation; that being “Abraham’s children” is not enough without “doing the works of Abraham” (Jn 8:39-47). He also warned against the danger of trusting in one’s own righteousness (Lk 18:9-14) or of the hypocrisy and pride to hold a special place in society (see the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees in Mt 23:1-26).

We could summarize these temptations as the choice of a false integrating principle of one’s decisions, the identification of self with possessions and status, and existing absolutely for self which leads inevitably to a loss of meaning of life itself or with the words of Jesus: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” (Lk 9:24-25). In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius asserts the Principle of Freedom [23], which will return here in the Two Standards meditation as the integrating principle supporting one’s decisions and renouncing of the temptations of Satan.

At this point the companions can have a sharing about what they are experiencing personally and also to try to find contemporary examples of how these methods of Satan are working in everyday life, in politics and so on.

143-146. Second Part: The Standard of Christ, the Way of Trust, Hope, and Life

Now we turn our attention to Jesus and the value system of trust in God he offers in stark contrast with the mistrust and unbelief Satan suggests. Basically we will recall the grace of the Kingdom meditation [91-99] in a deeper, more radical and concrete way.

First of all we imagine Jesus in a friendly setting, for example on a green field of the spring with lovely paths among flowers and white rocks. His presence is very attractive and brings peace and calm. Then we imagine how Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers, merciful and perseverant in good. We can read here the Beatitudes as we did in the Kingdom meditation at [97].

Imagine Jesus encouraging those around him, including us, to bring hope to the world as he himself is sent by the Father to heal, liberate, and save with the power of the Holy Spirit (Lk 4,18-19), to learn from him who is “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29) and teach his way to all. Then he calls to recognize him in every human being, mostly in the poor and neglected. Indeed, everybody who does good to an other person for his or her own sake can meet Jesus regardless of knowing him explicitly (Mt 25:31-46).

Jesus calls first of all for a basic and indestructible trust in God and to believe in the goodness of life notwithstanding any adversity. The trust in God who is a real Father is the source of a freedom from the fear of loss of material and other goods if it would happen to us (Mt 6:25-34). This freedom is the meaning of the spiritual or affective poverty that sometimes might be also effective and it is the basis for any Christian spirituality, for any following of Jesus and his mission. The trust in God gives us also freedom from the excessive fear of what people might think about us if we stand for what we believe to be true and if in consequence we should “loose our face” or in other form suffer lack of appreciation, failure, rejection, loneliness, be neglected, abandoned or ridiculed by society as stupid, useless and coward. All these are certain forms of persecution and injustice that necessarily follow our commitment to the way of Jesus; Ignatius called it “insults and contempt” suffered for Christ. Finally Jesus offers the freedom to find our real self through service of God and other people. This is the same freedom we reflected upon in the “Principle and Foundation” [23] and it can be realized in a multiplicity of ways. Our understanding of who we are through service is the source of authentic humility as we see it later in [167]. We can realize that the trust in God Jesus offers leads to a value system opposite of the wealth-honor-pride triad of Satan’s standard. Ignatius summarizes so: “…there will be three steps: the first poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to the honor of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to all other virtues” [146]. The three steps of poverty, persecution and humility are the way of Jesus toward spiritual freedom from our basic fears. We need to hear Jesus saying us to not be afraid (Mt 10:26;28:10; Lk 5:10;12:4;24:36; Jn 6:20) echoing Yahweh’s words to his people (Is 43:1) and the angel’s assurance to Mary and Joseph at the Annunciation (Lk 1:30; Mt 1:20). It was not by accident that John Paul II at the occasion of his election addressed the crowds on St. Peter’s square with the words “Non abbiate paura!” “Don’t be afraid!” making it into the leit-motive of his papacy - sensing the dire need to repeat this reassuring message to the peoples of our age fallen in the traps of so much fears: “The exhortation ‘Be not afraid!’ should be interpreted as having a very broad meaning. In a certain sense it was an exhortation addressed to all people, an exhortation to conquer fear in the present world situation, as much in the East as in the West, as much in the North as in the South. Have no fear of that which you yourselves have created, have no fear of all that man has produced, and that every day is becoming more dangerous for him! Finally, have no fear of yourselves!”[19].

At the end of these reflections, an important warning from Karl Rahner regarding the meditation on the “Two Standards”: “Nevertheless, we must be aware of the fact that the attitudes desired by Christ and the attitudes desired by Lucifer can be mistaken for one another. Greed can hide under the disguise of poverty, and the seeking of insults and contempt can be a refined form of seeking recognition from others. One can be very proud in a shabby suit! These false forms are worlds apart from the poverty and humility Ignatius describes as the characteristics of the standard of Christ” [20]. The standard of Christ, the way of trust and freedom does not mean a law to follow by the letter. It does not mean for example that automatically one needs to choose the lower paying job, it does not give a prefixed rule that is easy to apply mechanically to concrete situations but it is an inner sense, an integrating principle of orientation that supports the discernment process throughout our life (cf. [135]).

 

147. Prayerful conversation, sharing and review

At this juncture of the Exercises process the companions need to stop for a common review and sharing on how things are going. It is advisable to arrange a session when there is common prayer and after it each companion can describe her or her experiences, mainly regarding the last exercise on the “Two Standards”, sharing the feelings and insights emerged during the meditation and what decisions seem necessary, if there is any. We should remember that the companions act also as spiritual guides to each other and it is important that they know what is happening with the other, but they should restrain from forcing each other on concrete decisions in any way. A good guide always should be in reality more someone who encourages the other’s own choices and accompanies him or her along the way (hence our choice of the word “companion”) in an affirmative manner. Companions can act also as a balancing force for each other. It means for example that if one is suffering despair or hopelessness, temptations to “give up” or similar, the companion is there to offer consolation, encouragement, and support until hope returns; on the other side, if one would enter in excitement and feel urged to commit himself or herself hastily to some project, the companion should help to avoid rushed decisions and to find serenity about it.

After this sharing the companions follow with three prayerful conversations. First asking the intercession of Mary[21] for their personal and common situation and end it with a Hail Mary… The second and third prayer is as usual with Jesus Christ (finished by the prayer Soul of Christ…) and with the Father. Conclude with an Our Father…

 

 



[1] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 75.

[2] The word “standard” on one side has the historical meaning of the flag of battle of an army, a remnant of the military language that was natural for Ignatius; on the other side it means a “value system” orienting one’s choices and actions. We use it mainly in this latter meaning here.

[3] Cf. Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” p. 174.

[4] The words “flesh” and “spirit” do not refer to some sort of the body-soul opposition. St. Paul’s view is far from the Neoplatonic or Manicheist dualism seeing body as the principle of evil while the soul as of the good. The lists of the works of the “flesh” eminently include idolatry, hatred, selfishness, greed and malice (Rom 1:29-31, Gal 5:19-21, Col 3:5.8), which are not connected with the body. He is in the line of the Hebrew thinking where “flesh” means the human person or nature in its unity but weaknesses in respect to God (See in this regard Jesus saying: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” in Mt 26:41).

[5] A short study of these attempts of catalogs of vices and virtues is found in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 175-181.

[6] Although Enneagram comes from non-Christian tradition, eminently from the Sufi school of Muslim piety, there are Christian interpretations of the system and it is used as a means to support self-knowledge in spiritual retreats and books. A practical example of such application is Richard Rohr-Andreas Ebert, Discovering the Enneagram. An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey, (New York: Crossroad, 1990).

[7] Cf. John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999) p. 396. Crossan quotes further examples of the “two ways” teaching in the pre-Christian Jewish literature from the “Rule of the Community” (3:17-21) found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and from the “Testament of Asher”(1:3-5) in “The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”, op. cit. p. 396.

[8] Roberts-Donaldson translation; see Alexander Roberts-James Donaldson, The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (New York: Scribner's 1908-11) and many subsequent publishing.

[9] Translation of Lake, quoted in Crossan, “The Birth of Christianity” p. 397, alongside with an other example from the “Teaching of the Apostles” (1:1), which goes back to a common source with the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. Both the Jewish and Christian texts can refer or not to cosmic and angelic dualism as seen from these examples; however the question is open if this intense dualism is an influence from the Zoroastrian theology, from the antagonism between Mithras and Ahriman, light and darkness or not. Referring to the striking parallelism between Christianity and Mithraism, a shocking fact for the early Fathers who thought it a confusing stratagem of Satan (Ahriman), Will Durant writes so: “It is difficult to say which borrowed from the other; perhaps both absorbed ideas current in the religious air of the East” (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ. A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity from their Beginnings to A.D. 325 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944) p. 524).

[10] Tyrrell, “Christotherapy I,” pp.87-96.

[11] “God’s will” should not be considered as something external to us, as a rule to adhere or a program ready to perform, but it is the fruit of our freedom, a decision discovered during the discernment process, in a certainty beyond consolations and desolations, a dynamic and intrinsic reality where we can “meet God”, confirm our relationship with him. Cf. Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, pp. 227-228.

[12] Cf. Crossan, “The Birth of Christianity,” pp. 400-402.

[13] We refer in this regard to the use of a study of Gilbert Durands in the analysis of the dynamics of the “Two Standards” meditation in Tyrrell, “Christotherapy II,” pp. 179-181. Tyrrell’s insight is that this spontaneous balancing function of the imaginative activity is at least partially the source of the classic lists of vices and virtues and that the same function is evoked consciously in the mind-fasting and spirit –feasting techniques. We would add also the “two ways” teaching as an example of the use of the spontaneous dynamics of imagination.

[14] Cf. Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” pp. 173-175.

[15] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 104.

[16] Robert C. Leslie, Jesus as Counselor, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968) I. Exploring Height Psychology The Temptations of Jesus; Lk 4:1-13, pp. 13-23.

[17] Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” p. 78.

[18] For example: “What is called self-actualization is, and must remain, the unintended effect of self-transcendence; it is ruinous and self-defeating to make it the target of intention. And what is true of self-actualization also holds for identity and happiness. It is the very ‘pursuit of happiness’ that obviates happiness. The more we make it a target, the more widely we miss”. (Frankl, “The Unheard Cry for Meaning,” pp. 35-36.)

[19] John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994) p219., see  also pp. 4-6, and pp. 218-224.

[20] Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” p.178.

[21] We propone that protestant companions address this prayer to the Holy Spirit.