"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

[Part 4 of 6] GRACE TO BEG FOR

[Part 2 of 6] PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
[Part 3 of 6] PREPARATORY PRAYER
[Part 4 of 6] GRACE TO BEG FOR
[Part 6 of 6] REVIEW OF PRAYER

T
he first consideration on grace is the desire or what Fr John Veltri SJ calls “anticipated affection.” Desire is a buzzword in Ignatian Spirituality as a whole. The phrase “finding God in all things” from St Ignatius of Loyola is a proactive finding God in all things. In St Ignatius’s Autobiography which was written towards the end of his life, he had such a growing devotion to easily find God in all things. “At whatever time or hour he wanted to find God, he found him” (Autobiography 99). Moreover, St Ignatius wrote that “where I find what I desire, I will there remain quiet and reposed” (SE 76). Finding God in this sense is not only proactive but also a contemplative or reverential searching and seeking—a kind of looking that is internal more than external. It entails listening intently or peering within one’s own heart or within the depths of one’s being with reverence or respect. In the retreat setting, to be able to proactively and contemplatively find God in all things, two practical conditions must be met: reverential silence and restraint from talking.

The second consideration is the need to purify our desires. My novice master Fr Ramon Bautista SJ kept hammering home the fact when we are in touch with our deepest desires, we will also find God’s deepest desire for us. When the two deepest desires meet we then start to fall silent to give space for the Spirit to lead us in such an interior journey sustained by solitude and prayer. This is what St Ignatius also calls the “open door.” The door is discovered by entering it rather than just talking about it. This door has been opened already even before we “knock” because both the knocking and opening happen at the meeting of our desire and God’s. But we have to discover and purify our deepest desire. Restraint, both internal and external, are found at the beginning of the purification process. John the Baptist is a model of purified desire which was his purpose in life. This is reflected in his diet of locusts and wild honey (Mt 3:4) not only for the goal of living a mortified life but to practice his own teachings. He says in Luke’s account, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11). That John would be living on such as these rather than eating the usual and comfortable foods like bread and wine, is a clear expression in the Gospels of his role as precursor or pointer to the coming of the promised Messiah. We talk about “finding God in all things” as no more than lip service, because all too often we just stop at the things. Second, we say we beg God to grant our desires, but, unawares, we are too attached to the impure desires. In both cases, we get the things, but remain stuck; in the end, we lose God in the process and we never get any closer to God. Because of this St Ignatius, in the Jesuit Constitutions, kept reminding about the need for “a thoroughly right and pure intention” through the art of discernment.

The third consideration on grace is the need for courage and magnanimity in desiring God Himself. The original Spanish for “begging for the grace” is “demandar lo que quiero”—demand that which I want. When we go to a restaurant and we would like to complain about something, many of us would normally demand to talk to the manager or to the one in charge. Similarly, this is what we are doing with each “demandar lo que quiero.” St Ignatius urges us to desire, i.e., to demand seeing God Himself and not for anything that is less than God. But we all vary in our degrees of desire for God which demands one’s growth in spiritual maturity and freedom. Like in any human relationship, the desire to be with each other must be allowed to grow first and then a serious relationship will eventually take shape. “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hurries toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it delays, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay long” (Hab 2:3). Therefore constancy in desiring and longing is a great spiritual virtue to cultivate in prayer. St Ignatius holds that it does not matter how short or how long the prayer period will take for as long as the goal is achieved, i.e., “To have God always before one’s eyes.” To fix our gaze solely on one thing would already be a big grace to receive in a single formal prayer period, let alone to find God. But to be able to fix one’s own gaze on God and not only find Him, would be more than enough.

The first chapter of Ecclesiastes says that everything is in flux and every effort we do is just air or wind—“hebel” in Hebrew, without weight. “The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc 1:8-9). In the same vein, the Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius (121-180), also says, “The greatest part of what we say and do is really unnecessary. If you take this to heart, you will have more leisure and less uneasiness.” One basic strength or grace that we are given when we enter a formal prayer period is a kind of freedom from the cut and dried views of reality. A simplistic or immature view of reality will soon grow and expand in one’s prayer. An hour or so of formality will expand and contract. Any single point within a prayer period could change everything which is why St Ignatius’s line “To have God always before one’s eyes” cannot be overstated. In the context of a prolonged silent retreat, it is something extremely important and serious which requires the help of a spiritual guide who could mirror for a retreatant whether or not he or she is doing it properly. The guidance of a seasoned retreat guide or companion is paramount in co-discerning with the retreatant what graces to receive and to beg for.

Grace is likened to an invisible hand that lifts a bird aloft. At first, the bird might start exerting a lot of effort when flying. Even before one could begin a prayer period, there could be a lot of challenges already. Birds experience being dragged down because the wind is not propelled or directed as it should be around the body. It could be a rollercoaster of joy and frustration, especially for the fledglings on their maiden flights. But as the bird matures with more experiences in flying, it gains greater familiarity with the air flowing between its thicker feathers and stronger muscles. All birds go through a lot of adversities before they can traverse a vast expanse of the earth’s horizon. Similarly, a formal prayer period expands by building on the graces that have already been received. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It (II, i, 12) which echoes that of St Teresa of Avila, “Patient endurance attains to all things.” There are two statements in the Spiritual Exercises that should embolden and hearten our desire for God. One is “to ponder how the same Lord desires to give himself to me” (SE 234). The other is: “When a person is seeking God’s will, it is more appropriate and far better that the Creator and Lord Himself should communicate Himself to the devout soul, embracing it into His love and praise… allowing the Creator to deal directly with the creature and the creature with its Creator and Lord” (SE 15). Fr James Martin SJ says, “desire is a key part of spirituality because desire is a key way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. And our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God” (The Jesuit Guide to [Almost] Everything).

According to St Ignatius desire for and of God is already a consolation received at the outset of every prayer encounter. It is a consolation of friendship with, in, and through God’s holy desire that we remember being immersed in during prayer. In the third rule of the discernment of spirits, he says, “I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all” (SE 316).

Grace in its deepest sense is the gift of Godself that awaits our acknowledgement or recognition. There is no place we cannot find God, so wherever we find God, there is grace. We recognize God in freedom and openness such that the awareness grows and takes root in the human heart. Grace, in its fullness, creates the disposition to receive it, the longing and emptiness which grace alone could fill and the over-abundance from which to “gather up the fragments left over” (Jn 6:12). No part of the fullness of grace is earned, it is freely given and freely received. There is nothing we can do except to be open to the grace and be ready to accept it when it reveals itself. Again gratuitously and generously given “for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments

  1. Beautiful sharing... My heart is full of its contents.... As if the Lord is directing me what he wants of me through your words about grace! Eureka! Thank you so much Fr. JM! GBU!

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  2. Thanks for your appreciation! GBU! 😇

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