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

[Part 6 of 6] REVIEW OF PRAYER

[Part 4 of 6] GRACE TO BEG FOR
[Part 6 of 6] REVIEW OF PRAYER

he first consideration in the Review of Prayer section is that, although it is already outside the first full hour of the main prayer exercise, it bears an invaluable role in connecting the dots that transpired within the period that immediately preceded it. The Review of Prayer culminates every Ignatian formal prayer period. There was one incident in the Gospel of Mark when his disciples failed to connect the dots. For a number of times, the disciples were sternly rebuked by Jesus for their failure to understand—a pattern of events emphasised by Mark that occurred along the busy Lake of Galilee.

The failure of the disciples to understand Jesus is one of the primary features of Mark’s Gospel. After the two accounts of the multiplication of loaves and fishes (Mk 6:31-44; 8:1-10) Jesus tells them, “Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember…?” (Mk 8:17-18). The Greek verb to understand or comprehend is συνίημι “syniēmi”—meaning to put (as it were) the perception with the thing perceived, to set or join these two together mentally. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that “the eye never has enough of seeing” (Ecc 1:8). In a prayer period, experience is never exhausted. Seeing, through experience, is far more than knowing or thinking where the latter is always an every effort to fill our own cup with water from the ocean. Seeing is to let the cup sink into the ocean’s deep. I would like to quote the following lines said by the character Finch Weinberg, played by Tom Hanks, in the 2021 movie entitled “Finch.” Finch says, “You see, you can already tell me how many rivets are in the Golden Gate Bridge. And how many miles of cables were used and how high it is. But it’s not until you actually stand on it and see the beauty, and listen to the suspension cables singing in the wind… That’s experience. That’s human experience.” The true gold that is found in the rusting steel is experience. It is the highest priced commodity behind every technological advancement. It is the élan vital or life principle immanent in every organism which truly satisfies. In the parable of the prodigal son, his experience of eating pig’s food brought him to recall his past when he had enough and was filled (Lk 15:16). Paradoxically speaking, it was chewing pig’s food that became the “enzyme” in order for the spiritual appetite to be satisfied. It was not really for want of food that the prodigal son decided to go back to his father’s house but it was the spiritual food that he previously received and experienced which took time to churn in his system. It is very vital then that a retreatant especially in a retreat setting must not end the allotted time for prayer until it is finished because every second counts in any given experience. The time spent is everything that matters in a retreat setting, this is called καιρός “kairos,” (Greek for “right time,” “season” or “opportunity”). We do not end a series episode until it should end at the right time. This is why, at the preparation, we ask for the basic grace of generosity or magnanimity to be able to give enough space and time for the prayer experience to flower. St Ignatius takes this invaluable advice very seriously such that he even recommends to add more time to the prayer period when the retreatant has been tempted to cut it short in order to recoup the golden opportunity. Never end without a single stone unturned in the world of contemplation.

After the full hour of prayer period has ended, it is always beneficial to make a Review of Prayer allotting another quarter of an hour. We do this by reflecting upon the experience of the prayer exercise just experienced. Following our food metaphor, one image of the Review of Prayer is like a dessert, which we all can look forward to with a smile. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103). For one, we ought to end always with a thankful note to God for the favours received. Like in every meal there is always something to be grateful for even with or without an actual dessert—the companionship, conversations, hospitality, belongingness, among others. This grateful perspective makes even a so-so meal so much delectable and memorable. After each prayer period, it may be helpful to ask the following: What am I thankful for that happened during the prayer period? How did I feel about it? Where was I drawn to dwell and where am I being invited to dwell on more next time? Did I receive the grace I begged for?

The focus of the Review is what the retreatant experienced during the period of prayer itself. We become what we are contemplating and we contemplate what we are becoming. The focus is not so much the astute ideas, but the interior reactions of the heart—what takes place in one’s interior being and becoming within a prayer exercise. Is the heart becoming more and more indifferent or detached from impure desires? Is there a growing sensibility or perceptiveness of God’s presence? It is highly encouraged to journal one’s Review of Prayer. The written record would be very useful in assessing if there is something in the previous prayer period that merits going back to during the second round of meditation or contemplation. There is what we call Repetition which is yet another prayer period, which focuses more on contemplating either what one has already started to become, what one is still becoming in the process, or what one is yet to yearn for becoming using the same prayer material—hence the term Repetition. The written record is important, especially in preparing for the individual sessions that the retreatant will have with his or her spiritual guide in an Ignatian retreat setting.

Finally, connecting the dots will always be humanly limited at any given time. Connecting all the dots in one sitting is impossible because God is always going before us, not just a few steps ahead but a million. That is why when God gives, it overflows in order to meet us where we are. Our time is different from God’s time. God transcends time. Pope Francis uses the image of “overflow” to refer to grace. Everytime there is an overflow of grace Jesus commands us to “gather up the fragments left over so that nothing will be wasted” (Jn 6:12). There were other instructions Jesus gave to his disciples, e.g., not to throw “what is holy to dogs, and… your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Mt 7:6). Through the disciples’ own efforts alone, for sure they were not able to fully account for all of the fragments during that day of the miracle. The disciples were perfectly forgiven by the Lord. What a good retreatant just needs to hear everytime is the voice of the Lord Jesus giving the command in each prayer encounter and guiding him or her where to pick up fragments. Jesus said, “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered him, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mk 8:19-21). The final question can perfectly be like Jesus’s invitation to understand or comprehend with Him or to partake of the fullness of divine powers—the highest divine expression of ἀγάπη, agapē, i.e., divine love—contained in the baskets full of fragments. Fr JM Manzano SJ