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

[3/9] Novena of Grace: "I beg God for the grace of a discerning heart, a heart guided by the truth"

Peter Paul Rubens: Captured by Spanish soldiers, Ignatius thinks of Jesus before Pilate


n a retreat setting, a very often expression that a person will say about his or her prayer is this “In my prayer, nothing seems to be happening.” Almost all the time, even for those who are advanced among us in the spiritual journey will still, from time to time, have the nothing-seems-to-be-happening prayer episode. Some call it spiritual dryness. When this occurs, the retreat guide must be attentive to what I call the ‘murmurs’ of the retreatant. Nothing-seems-to-be-happening is a form of a 'murmur'. It is a way of expressing something that has not yet fully manifested itself. In that sense a murmur is a true mirror or reflection of something that is still unutterable, inexpressible, unfathomable.

The greatest rebellions in history started from a murmer of discontent. A murmer is a sign that someone is not pleased. In itself, a murmer is not right or wrong. What is it then? It is a symptom of something deep. A murmer, grumble or complaint is a smokescreen, sometimes it serves a good purpose but eventually the real cause needs to be faced squarely in the open. In fact to be able to sense or notice the murmer is already grace enough because it is like freeing oneself from a self-imposed prison or blindness.

We heard from yesterday's second reading St Paul's exhortation that "the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" (Rom 8:26). Ignatius was not alien to interior murmers and groanings. Let us quote at length from the book Ignatius of Loyola, LEGEND AND REALITY,
He asked the Franciscan guardian for permission to reside in Jerusalem for devotional purposes—being careful not to mention his intention to help souls lest that be grounds for refusal. Unfortunately, this would hardly be possible: the convent was poor and had to support its actual members; moreover, pilgrims created too many difficulties for the Franciscans at their death or capture by the Turks because friars were expected to pay ransom. Iñigo was not worried: he had decided to remain despite the possible consequences. To combat Iñigo's stubbornness, the Franciscan superior resorted to extreme measures and even threatened him with excommunication. The warning was serious and, in the end, Iñigo complied (Ignatius of Loyola, LEGEND AND REALITY, Pierre Emonet SJ, trans Jerry Ryan and edited by Thomas M McCoog SJ).
The Israelites too were not immune to murmers and groanings. "They complained (murmured) to Moses, “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert" (Ex 14:11-12).

Murmers arise when nothing seems to be happening in the way we want things to be. It is a form of vulnerability that if we are not fully aware we can easily be pushy towards others, towards ourselves and towards God. When no-thing seems to be happening some-thing is, which will be revealed in God's proper time. But God's silence is a big part of the package. It is a necessary stage to experience most especially in one's "honest" prayer to God. Prayer is not about what we do or what we cannot do. Prayer is about the disposition of the heart, in other words, it is about who we are in front of God. “Prayer is the only human action or state where cheating is impossible. As soon as pretense sets in, prayer stops” (M Heher, 2004. The Lost Art of Walking on Water: Reimagining the Priesthood). Being honest with God in prayer is the beginning of discernment.

Today is the third day of our Novena of Grace in honor of St Ignatius of Loyola. We retrace the footsteps of the pilgrim when he embarked on a life-changing, far-reaching and intense journey exactly 500 years ago.

Grace to beg for: "I beg God for the grace of a discerning heart, a heart guided by the truth"

Suggested Scripture passages to ponder: Exodus 14:5-18—"They will know that I am the Lord when I receive glory through Pharaoh"; Romans 8:26–27—"The Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings"

'TODAY, IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE HARDEN NOT YOUR HEARTS'—EVER IN SCRIPTURE, IT IS THE HEART THAT PRAYS. In today's featured reading, what word or phrase from God speaks to me?—PONDER—LISTEN—THANK—SURRENDER. I contemplate God's word and then end with the OUR FATHER...

Repeat this prayer for nine successive days.

Suscipe (Prayer by St Ignatius)

ake, O Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding and my entire will. All I have and call my own. Thou hast given all to me, to Thee, O Lord, I return it. Everything belongs to Thee; do with it as Thou wilt. Give me only the love of Thee and with it Thy grace, that is enough for me. Amen.

With St Ignatius we pray:

oul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.


St Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.