7. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus

Head of Christ, by Rembrandt7. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus

Jesus once told his disciples that doing the Father’s will was for him his very food, what gave him life and sustenance. Yet, for him as for us, it was no simple or straightforward matter. Let us then fix our eyes on Jesus, as the letter to the Hebrews tells us, as we, like him, seek the Father’s will.

We see Jesus showing his trust in the Father by his total commitment to his mission. He understood this mission as giving life in abundance to all, preaching the Good News to the poor and setting free from all that shackles us. Although he knew all power had been given to him, his style was that of a servant, washing the feet of his friends and asking them to do likewise. He was convinced that he came not to be served but to serve and give his life for all.

While he could easily have chosen to be proclaimed king and attract crowds with spectacular signs, he opted for loving all and befriending especially those who were marginalised by the others. He knew that this radical option for love would inevitably lead him to the cross, but he accepted this lot from the Father in full trust.

This does not mean he did not have to struggle, as he was repeatedly tempted to go for the easier option. His struggle was at its fiercest at the Garden of Gethsemani, with a heart sorrowful unto death, and in his deep anguish his sweat became like drops of blood. Yet he was ready to accept to drink the chalice that the Father presented him with, and on the cross he could say, My mission is now completed. This total faithfulness to the Father’s will was accepted and he was raised to life, never to die again. This is how Jesus is present to us now, as the Risen one.

Ignatius asks us to insist in prayer to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely. Discernment is much more than a technique or a method, it is rather following Jesus as we seek to find and live the Father’s will for us. This journey, like Jesus’, will certainly be overshadowed by the cross we are called to carry every day. But at its end lies life in abundance. And the Risen Jesus is always at our side.

From God’s word:

◦ “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Heb 12:1-3

◦ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke up on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Mt 11:28-30

◦ “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” – Mk 14:35-36

◦ “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – Jn 19:30

 Questions

  • The Gospel is full of titles or metaphors that Jesus used to describe himself and help us understand him better: Lord, teacher, master, shepherd, light, way, truth, door, food… From all these do you have a favourite title yourself? 
  • When we read the Acts of the Apostles we are impressed by the fact that the Apostles preached mostly about the Resurrection of Jesus, the greatest sign of God’s faithfulness to his promises. How important is the Resurrection in my vision of Jesus, in my relationship to him?

More resources:

Listen to Archbishop Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, explain that Jesus’ basic message is trust in his person

The Pope reminds us that Jesus still prays for us:

He trusted in God that he would deliver him’ – from Handel’s Messiah:

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6. In Desolation: Discern and…hang on!

'Lineman pulling rope' by Donie MacManus, Dublin6. In Desolation: Discern and…hang on!

This is Ignatius’ basic advice to those who are passing through a time of desolation. He encourages us to resist the temptation to abandon everything and indulge in a nostalgic pining for the good times. Ignatius learnt from experience that times of desolation can be extremely important as long as they are discerned. The basic question must be, Why am I in desolation? Where is it coming from?

If desolation comes from the bad spirit, it would not be a good idea to give in it to it. The bad spirit is probably attacking our weak spot: I am vain, or anxious, or jealous, or can easily get discouraged, and even a small incident can easily upset me. Trying to find out where the desolation is coming from and resisting it will help me know myself and my vulnerabilities better.

We may be also surprised to discover that desolation comes from the good spirit, from God himself. When things are going well and I am in consolation, it is easy to think that all this is due to my own efforts; then God withdraws his consolation, and I learn to be more humble, gratefully acknowledging consolation as a grace.

I can find that my desolation is after all my fault: I may be passing through a selfish moment, or resisting something God is asking of me. I may be taking prayer for granted, not preparing myself well: how can I expect my prayer to be consoling if my heart is not really open to God?

So Ignatius suggests we examine why we are feeling desolation, and open our heart even more, trusting that this dark time will pass. Even though I feel Him distant, I must remind myself that God is at my side even in the darker times.

Our spiritual life is often a struggle, a struggle that makes us stronger and more discerning. The big mistake would be to remain passive, and change the decisions we have taken when in consolation. This requires some inner strength, and for Ignatius it would be a great help to talk about our desolation to someone we trust. If we manage to talk about it, it somehow becomes less frightening.

Perhaps we would prefer to live always in consolation, but we discover that knowing how to behave in desolation can be an important way to understand how God is present in our lives.

From God’s word:

◦ ‘God is faithful, and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.’ – 1 Corinthians 10:13

◦ ‘And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’ – 2 Corinthians 12:9

◦ ‘Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.’ – James 1:12

◦ ‘When I was secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” Lord, when you showed your favour, you made me stand like a strong mountain; when You hid your face, I was terrified. Lord, I called to you; I sought favour from my Lord. You turned my lament into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, so that I can sing to you and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.’ – Psalm 29: 6-8, 11

Questions

  • Is it your experience that often it is in struggling with difficulties that we grow into mature persons? Does this help you face difficult times?
  • Can you recall times of desolation when you gave up prayer, changed your decisions? And others where you just hung on in the darkness?

More resources:

There are three principal causes why we find ourselves desolate. Listen to Timothy Gallagher discuss this point: 

A contemporary reading of St Ignatius’ Rules for the discernment of spirits http://www.bridgeportvocations.org/your-vocation/discernment-resources/ignatian-rules-for-discernment/

A contemplative audiovisual to support your reflection – A beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’: