218-225.     First Exercise: The Appearance of the Risen Jesus to His Mother


The encounter is not in the Scriptures, but to St. Ignatius it seemed obvious that Christ will appear first to his mother after the resurrection to console her. The companions might want to use a short presentation to aid this contemplation from [299] in the Appendix B “The Mysteries of the Life of Jesus Christ” [289-298]. Although this is an episode most exercitants never considered before, for some it became a very deep experience [1].

Opening prayer

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

Visualization of the history

St. Ignatius invites us at the beginning of this exercise to use our active imagination also on the resurrection, on this unique, “meta-historical” divine event shrouded in ineffable mystery and accessible only to faith. The companions might find their own expression in images and words of this faith in this contemplation. The icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church representing the resurrection might be helpful for the companions if they can access to see one such image. These icons show the moment when the victorious Christ descends into hell, and standing on the broken doors of its entrance reaches out with tenderness to the weak and old Adam and Eve to help them up. Under this central scene, which is dominated by the brilliant figure of Christ the icon usually shows the darkness of hell full of instruments of torture, while on the sides a group of the just and prophets from the Old Testament are waiting for their redemption.

The parallel between this representation and Michelangelo’s fresco of the creation in the Sistine Chapel cannot escape who have seen both, although their style is totally different; there an energetic God reaches out to the inert Adam to give him life while here Christ leads Adam to the new creation ushered by his resurrection from death. Indeed it is a second, new creation as St. Paul pointed out to the Corinthians: “… whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (1Cor 5:17).

This image might be new for those who are used to a more “naturalistic” picture of the moment of resurrection, maybe showing Christ emerging from the tomb, with a couple of terrified soldiers or bright angels on the side. Yet the resurrection itself is an event no one could witness, the icon is theologically correct in representing the faith in what the Apostles’ Creed condenses: “He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again” and it tells something important about the meaning of resurrection to us. Christ elevates our humanity weighed down by weakness, brings us to a new creation and opens the hope for our resurrection that is not only our fate for the future but also a reality that impermeates our present. His resurrection changed the world in which we live definitely through a new and special presence of the Holy Spirit in it.

Following this, the companions turn their imagination to see Jesus returning from the underworld and meeting first of all his mother. The gospels did not say nothing of the appearance of Jesus to Mary, however St. Ignatius supposed that it should have taken place because of the love between mother and son. This contemplation presents an occasion to reflect upon the place and role of Mary in our life as our model, the “perfect redeemed” who became our mother, too.

Visualization of the place

Now we imagine the place of the resurrection, the tomb of Christ in the rock, already empty and then turn our attention to the house where Mary lives. As we recall from the gospel of John, the beloved disciple took Mary with him from under the cross, so this place should be where he stays in Jerusalem. We see the house, its rooms and the place where Mary is on Easter morning.

Asking what we want

“Here it will be to ask for the grace to be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord” [221].

This grace what we ask now is part of the general goal of identification with Christ and with his ideals throughout the Exercises. Besides of this generous joy with Christ we can be glad also for what the resurrection of Jesus means for us, for the hope of our own life now and of our future resurrection.

The first three points of the contemplation

These are the same as the first three points of the contemplation on the “Last Supper” [194], that is to see the persons involved, then to hear them and finally to consider what they do in this episode.

Fourth point: consideration of how the “divinity manifests itself”

At this point the companions consider that in the resurrection Christ’s divinity which was “hidden” during his suffering and death now manifests itself in the resurrection and in its effects. They reflect upon what it means for them personally, for the Church, for the history of the world, and how with the glorified body of the risen Jesus humanity is taken in God’s internal life.

The earthly life, suffering and death of Jesus is not canceled or lost but elevated, brought into the glory of God – as the signs of the wounds on the glorified body witness it. Similarly, everything we lived, suffered and rejoiced for is saved and remains ours forever even if now our final state is still unknown to us. Karl Rahner writes about this reality in his meditation on the resurrection and points out: “As long as we are on this earth, we only have, as it were a small piece of our life in our hand for a moment, and then we lay it down behind us – in fact, it seems to slip from our grasp almost unnoticed. But with Jesus, the situation is very different: He possesses His life completely. Certainly, the fact that we are getting older does not mean that we are getting poorer! What is really questionable is the future which we do not yet have. The past is not lost – it is our final possession. But for us, this finality is, so to speak, hidden; it has fallen into a abyss so that it cannot be reached by our conscious experience” [2].

The same sense of life can be found in Viktor Frankl’s existential analysis of the transitoriness of life [3]. In this view nothing is meaningless or vain, no idea lost, even if in it remained in the secret of one’s heart, but all is saved. As Frankl says, the life of each individual is like a novel containing all the drama lived, and is incomparably greater than any written and published story. In a beautiful passage of “The Doctor and the Soul” Frankl uses the image of a calendar to illustrate this sense of life. The pessimist will be sorry that it gets thinner every day while one who sees past as a safekeeper of everything that has been, will jot a diary on each leaf and put it away gladly over the richness contained in all the pages, of all the work done, love loved and suffering suffered in the life that is realized already much of the possibilities as one gets older. Frankl concludes this view of life: “Thus time, the transitoriness of the years, cannot affect its meaning and value. Having been is also a kind of being – perhaps the surest kind. And all effective action in life may, in this view, appear as a salvaging of possibilities by actualizing them. Through past, these possibilities are now safely ensconced in the past for all eternity, and time can no longer change them”. He adds later: “All that is good and beautiful in the past is safely preserved in the past. On the other hand, so long as life remains, all guilt and all evil is still ‘redeemable’ (Scheler, Wiedergeburt und Reue)… the past – happily – is fixed, is safe, whereas the future – happily – still remains to be shaped; that is, is at the disposal of man’s responsibility” [4].

Fifth point: consideration of the role of Consoler of the risen Jesus

We turn our attention to consider how Jesus in the appearances after his resurrection consoles the persons who meet him. Consolation is the experience through which also we can meet now the living Christ: “What one may hope for this phase is the encounter with the Lord…even if what is here involved is not a direct encounter, but a mediated one through consolation” [5]. We find for example a model of consolation “without any previous cause” [330] in the encounter with Mary Magdalene when she recognizes Jesus from his voice (Jn 20:16).

This consideration might present an occasion for the companions to reflect and share bout the consolation they bring to each other as spouses and friends and how their relationship, mutual love and support is a place of the experience of God.

Prayerful conversation, sharing and review

In the Fourth Phase the companions can end the contemplations with a prayerful dialog or choose the threefold prayer as in the previous phase. After some sharing and jotting in their diary they close with an Our Father…



[1] Cf. Cowan-Futrell, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” p. 132. We encourage also our Protestant companions to take this contemplation.

[2] Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” p. 245.

[3] Cf. Frankl, “The Doctor and the Soul,” pp. 26-27.

[4] Ibid., p.27.

[5] Lefrank – Giuliani, “Freedom for Service”, p. 134.