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

The Helmet Of Salvation

arlier this month I had my personal 8-day retreat and as I look back I can say that it was a consoling retreat. I noticed that these recent retreats that I had been having were a spiritual warfare of sorts. In today's 1st Reading Paul lists six armor pieces in his letter to the Ephesians (CF Ep 6:10-17) including the helmet of salvation. Someone who enters a silent retreat must put on the armour of God because we will not only go through consolations but also desolations. St Ignatius of Loyola followed the same warfare metaphor to help retreatants recognize and fight against spiritual battles. St Ignatius says it is not enough to resist the enemy. One must be able to defeat and crush him. It sounds violent but Sts Paul and Ignatius do not mince their words especially when it comes to battling against the enemy of human nature.

For my first point, I would like to use St Paul's image of the helmet of salvation. Among all the armory pieces, the helmet of salvation is of utmost importance. When a soldier of the apostle Paul’s day suited up for battle, the helmet was the last piece of the armament to be put in place. In fact, a soldier would be so vulnerable that the rest of what one wears to protect the body parts below the head would be of little use without the helmet.

Every retreatant must keep in mind St Paul’s words to “take the helmet of salvation.” It is like St Ignatius's constant emphasis that in each prayer period we always desire for the grace. The act of desiring in a retreat setting is equivalent to a helmet in the battlefield. For St Ignatius it is non-negotiable to have the desire for God otherwise all the consolations within the retreat would be exposed to the enemy. In fact the enemy could give consolations albeit these are false consolations. For the unwary retreatant this could be dangerous. The spiritual helmet is of paramount importance because it connects us with God, independently of God's consolation or desolation.

For my second point, I would like to ask why is there so much emphasis on desire. Because always it is the heart that prays. God, when he chose David to be his king, he did not look at his external stature but God looked into David's heart. Desire is a buzzword in Ignatian Spirituality as a whole. St Ignatius's phrase “finding God in all things” is a proactive finding and desiring 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, the saint wrote that “where I find what I desire, I will there remain quiet and reposed” (SE 76). 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. Desiring 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. All Ignatian retreats are silent. It is not Ignatian if it is not silent.

St Paul's image of the helmet of salvation is so important because of the great value of what it protects. Do we have this kind of helmet? And if we say that we have it, are we like St Ignatius who wears it so that at whatever time or hour he wanted to find God in the battelfield, he found God? There is an English phrase "wear your heart on your sleeve" which is another way of saying wear your heart on your armour, i.e., to say that we are showing our intimate emotions in an honest and open manner to God. When I was accepted to the Society of Jesus, I believe my examiners saw my own desire and they took the risk of taking me in. But it took me a long time to develop my helmet of desire. Helmets were made of metal and soldiers from the early days of the empire may have had leather ones fortified with pieces of metal. We often hear said that desire is not enough but I would like to look at it this way, our desire for God is never enough, we will never be able to desire God enough on earth. But is my desire for God growing and is it stronger each day?

For my third and last point, is another question "What was the helmet of Jesus whenever he secluded himself in prayer?" I would like to believe it was his heart that loved so much his own Father in heaven. Each time I give the contemplation on the temptations of Jesus in the desert I remind my retreatants to stay inside that helmet that Jesus wore. It was the most powerful helmet that no matter how the evil spirit tried to temp Jesus, he could not succeed. Kudos to the evil spirit for we can see how he really tried to pentrate the helmet of Jesus. But to no avail. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the true helmet to wear. What is that? The mind of Christ, he said "put on the mind of Christ." Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ