Notes: The goal is not to gather facts about Jesus, but “to see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly.” Again, let us not forget the “introductory prayer,” which is the ultimate fruit of the entire experience. In this “second week” Ignatius introduces another kind of prayer: the contemplation of the Gospel mysteries.
Contemplative prayer. Ignatius asks us to “exercise” ourselves in contemplative prayer, a kind of imaginative prayer where all our senses are involved. Here is a little guidance: «Read the text of the story and then leave the text aside. We begin by slowly picturing the scene as completely as we can. Where is it happening? Notice all the things in and around the scene. Who’s there? What is everyone wearing? How hot or cold is it? What smells come to me? I then enter even more into the scene, by becoming a character in it. I might just let myself be a member of the crowd or I might become one of the principal characters in the story. When I feel I’m in the scene, I let the story happen, and go wherever it goes. Once inside the scene, the words and actions are not merely a videotaped replay of the text. Inside the scene, I can back up and fill in how the scene began, I can let what is revealed to me be played out in the words and gestures of the participants, and I can speak or simply experience my own reactions. The details of the text cease to be important as the experience of the story moves my heart. Finally, I would end with a prayer, speaking to Our Lord, heart to heart, friend to friend, in whatever way comes to me, expressing my gratitude for the graces I have just received.”
We begin this type of exercise by contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation. Don’t be disappointed if you find this kind of prayer somewhat difficult: we are asked to pray from our own life, so everyone has their own way to God! But Ignatius finds this kind of prayer very useful, so try it!
Grace: We ask for a lasting appreciation of the miracle of the Incarnation through the person and response of Mary and Joseph; we beg for the grace to believe and accept the almost incredible good news that Jesus is among us and how that good news affects us. A deeper gratitude for the wonder of God being born in human form.
Reflection: Focus today on the miracle of the Incarnation, trying, as the cliché goes, to, “keep it real.” The Nativity crèche in a church typically figures a cherubic Jesus surrounded by clean, smiling at his parents, shepherds and kings. In fact, tradition tells us that Jesus was born after a long, uncomfortable trip in a place that must have been neglected and filthy. His parents, exhausted from travel, likely felt desolate and worried to deliver a child in an unsanitary, unfamiliar place, without the support of relatives. The Prince of Peace has come among us, but not in a way that any of us would have imagined. Feel all the same travails that you do as a pilgrim-traveler: will I get lost? Will something go wrong en route? Will adequate accommodation be available? What if I get sick? But now multiply these a thousand times, imagining yourself alongside a loved one with child.
Ignatius invites us to: «see Our Lady, Joseph and the infant Jesus after his birth. I will make myself a poor, little, unworthy slave, gazing at them, contemplating them, and serving them in their needs, just as if I were there, with all possible respect and reverence… Consider what they are doing: for example, journeying or toiling, in order that the Lord may be born in the greatest poverty; and that after so many hardships of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, injuries, and insults, he may die on the cross! And all this for me!
Matthew 1:18-25. Contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, we enter into the feelings of Joseph and his struggle with law and love.
Luke 2:1-20. She gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Present with inner peace at His birth, I receive Jesus with joy and gratitude as the Father’s gift to me and to His people.
Closing Colloquy: “Finally, I end with a prayer, speaking to Our Lord, heart to heart, friend to friend, in whatever way comes to me, expressing my gratitude for the graces I had just received.” Ending with the Our Father.