110-117.   Second Exercise: on the Nativity


Opening prayer

The companions use the usual opening prayer.

Visualization of the history

We read the Scripture, Lk 2:1-14 and [264] and see Mary, nine months pregnant arriving in Bethlehem together with Joseph. We might imagine them Mary riding a donkey, or both of them traveling on foot; both possibility seems feasible for that time and their social status. They come from Nazareth in consequence of an imperial order, subject to the political situation and exposed to the changes in the will of the powerful of their times.

Visualization of the place

We might see here the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, which is probably dusty and winding; we can imagine how it is, wide or narrow, with trees or barren and so on. This road is similar to the roads in our life. We see then Bethlehem, the town full of caravans of travelers and merchants, with their animals; we see the lodges where they stay and the outskirts where the poor live in cave-like dwellings. Or, we can also represent in our imagination “Bethlehem” with one of the towns we know in our country.

Asking what we want

We pray also now for the same grace as before, that is for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for us, that we may love him more and conform ourselves more to him (cf. [104]).

Karl Rahner notes: “From a theological point of view, this meditation is only a repetition of the meditation on the Incarnation of the Word. But here we want to consider more carefully a few traits of the epiphany of grace in Jesus Christ that can give us more help to reach the decision that each of us should make in this retreat”[1]. This decision for some of us might be the choice of a state of life or other major decision regarding the direction of our life; others might make a decision to redirect or to confirm the way on which they are advancing. In all the cases we believe to find orientation, inspiration or motivation, insight or model in the life of Jesus. Hence we have the stress on the contemplation of the major events or mysteries of his life from his conception through the road to Bethlehem and later to Jerusalem.

First point: seeing the persons in the scene

We see the persons present at the birth of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the baby himself, and maybe on good willed woman who helps at the delivery. Later, as the shepherds arrive (read [265] and Lk 2,8-20) we can imagine ourselves to be among them and so contemplate the scene. We try to understand better what the presence of the shepherds means here; maybe we can imagine them as a bunch of homeless guys in the outskirts of one of our big towns, where Mary, Joseph and Jesus finding shelter in some very provisional shaky dwelling as a poor migrant working family. If the companions wish, can go on and imagine also the arrival of the Magi (read [267] and Mt 2,1-12) and consider what their presence means there, what the birth of Jesus should mean for the wealthy and well-educated, how the message of the “good news” should reach out for every social bracket and every nation. We stay there with them for a while and after the contemplation stop to reflect on what we have felt and understood, and to consider which grace we received. It would be advisable to write down notes about the experience and share it without discussing however how it went, only accept each others experience as it was.

Second point: hearing the persons involved

The companions try now to imagine the conversation between Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus born right before. Also at this point we stop and recollect whatever we felt and understood.

Third point: observing what the persons do

The companions now turn their attention to contemplate the actions of Mary, Joseph and others in our scene. We can see the hardships of their journey, of finding a place to stay and so on. We can think about how the Son of God by being born in that place in Bethlehem accepted the conditions of hard work and the poverty of an ordinary life. We consider that all this happened somehow personally for us. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2Cor 8:9)[2]. Also after this point we stop for a recollection of the graces received.

Prayerful conversation, sharing and review

We spend time now in prayer and sharing similarly to the precedent exercise. Then we close it with an Our Father



[1] Rahner, “Spiritual Exercises,” p. 146.

[2] Note in this quote the shifts in the meaning of wealth and poverty, these being now expressions on the one side for the preexistence of Jesus in God as Son (“he was rich”) and his incarnation and death (“he became poor”) and on the other side for the experience of the believer living in intimacy with God as a result of the redemption. St Paul in no way at all refers to material wealth when he says, “you might become rich”.