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

[Part 1 of 6] INTRODUCTION TO IGNATIAN PRAYER AND FOOD


[Part 1 of 6] INTRODUCTION TO IGNATIAN PRAYER AND FOOD
[Part 3 of 6] PREPARATORY PRAYER
[Part 4 of 6] GRACE TO BEG FOR
[Part 6 of 6] REVIEW OF PRAYER

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f St Ignatius of Loyola begins the Spiritual Exercises by praying the Anima Christi, I would like to begin this step by step exposition of what Ignatian prayer is with a gospel passage that brings to light a word of prudence that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus said to the crowds: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works” (Mt 11:16-19).

Florencio Segura SJ considers two dangers that an exercitant or retreatant may face at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, namely, lack of lucidity and lack of an attitude of prayer. He says that lack of lucidity means entering into prayer without problems and, secondly, the lack of an attitude of prayer means entering into prayer without the feeling of powerlessness—not being convinced that one needs absolute trust in God (F Segura SJ, Eight Days of the Spiritual Exercises trans. by Randolph Lumabao SJ, Jesuit Communications Foundation Inc, 2005, p. 4). The passage from Matthew warns about similar dangers not of spiritual blindness and spiritual deafness per se but of lukewarmness and discouragement that block us from "seeing" and "hearing." These are the real threats that the exercitant needs to be aware of at the outset, which requires the graces of courage, humility and magnanimity. “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1).

Let us take inspiration from our Lord Jesus Christ, whose word of prudence is also his invitation and his call to “come and see” (Jn 1:39). The four Gospel narratives very often depict Jesus as always on the move. If we want to see where Jesus is He is often “either going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal” (Robert J Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p. 14). The theme of food in the life of Jesus is also a resonant theme in all periods of prayer. To contemplate the words and actions of Jesus is both to follow Him and to sit at table with Him in these numerous biblical meals. The food that is given to every dining companion is Jesus Himself who comes to us as food and drink through His words, actions, flesh and blood. What Jesus does is a risky endeavor because accusations of being a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, among many others, are hurled against Him. This makes him a notorious transgressor of the Halakha (Jewish law) aka dietary laws.

The element of food is a great symbol of power during Jesus’s time. “The Jewish religious leaders control their food, tithe it, prepare it properly, prepare themselves by ritual washings to eat it properly, and share it with people like themselves. In brief, they control who eats with them and with whom they eat. If we accept the common scholarly model that Jesus lived in a peasant society, then it follows that the few people at the top of the social and political pyramid controlled not only taxes but also food” (Robert J Karris, Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel, p. 100).

Food is so much more powerful when seen, according to the plan of God in saving and transforming the world. Food is like the principle of life because all the food that we eat give strength, health, and joy. Just look at the variety of festivities that many cultures around the world celebrate—almost all are centered on food. Food also is the creative principle because when God created everything He provided food out of living plants and animals. Creation is sustained and renewed through the food web.

Finally, the mystery of the Incarnation is also the greatest tool that God employed to save, to renew His entire creation and to be God-with-us—Emmanuel. “[T]he one whose body and spirit extend to the farthest corners of creation through grace, through life and through matter” (Teilhard de Chardin). From ecclesiastical Latin incarnat—‘made flesh,’ from the verb incarnare, from in—‘into’ and caro or carn—‘flesh,’ the mystery of the Incarnation is to make oneself edible or “eatable.” Jesus came down to become our food, our nourishment, our Bread of Life in Bethlehem—Arabic Bayt Laḥm (“House of Meat”), Hebrew Bet Leḥem (“House of Bread”). But to become food means also a certain death. “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments

  1. A different approach to prayer...Christ our bread, our nourishment...Thank you for introducing the Ignatian prayer...May I ask what food you like that somehow can you relate to your prayer experience, Fr. JM? For me... pesto...blending the olive oil of healing with fragrance of mercy of fresh basil leaves...then added to pasta of my daily interactions with others sprinkled with crushed peanuts of my accepted human weakness and grated cheese of my giftedness ( with some spices of life...) makes me experience the delightful taste of the loving presence of our Triune God whom I know gazing at me lovingly in prayer. : )

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing the recipe of a soulful dining spiritual experience! I am reminded of Babeth's Feast movie which is a favorite of Pope Francis! The food that I like... hmmm... I like being surprised with any food that God accords! GBU!

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    2. Thank you for introducing the Babette's feast... I like it very much!... Touching and Beautiful! I see myself with the General and I find his words meaningful during the dinner... I will watch it again... to savor once again the words, the message conveyed.. witnessing the faith, hope and love in each characters... Muchas gracias mi caro companero de Gesu! Cuidate! Siempre orando por ti!

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    3. Thanks so much for your sharing. General Loewenhielm is the one full of life in the film especially when they were all gathered at table. He knew, as the others did not, what he was eating. There is often a tendency for God graces to be unappreciated, much less, underrated. When the elderly dining mates of the general were gulping a Veuve Cliquot 1860 they thought they were just gulping a bubbly lemonade drink! GBU!

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