September 18, 2022 Essay: “Do whatever he tells you”: Reflections on Meeting Christ in Prayer
Upon entering the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, we see a stained-glass depiction of St. Ignatius. He holds a book with the inscription Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, “For the Greater Glory of God.” This is Ignatius’ bedrock advice on how we should live our lives as Christians. But how do we grasp the mission that God intends for each of us individually? How do we figure out our unique personal skills to accomplish our mission?
Recently, I came across a Brazilian devotion to Our Lady of Cana. In John’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–11). Knowing that her son can resolve the dilemma of not having wine for the guests, Mary turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever he tells you.” The servants listen and follow Jesus’s instructions, sharing with all the guests a plentiful quantity of wine that is miraculously drawn from the water jugs. Reflecting on Mary’s place in the story, she is the one who recognizes the nature of Jesus most profoundly. Indeed, she nurtured him and brought him to maturity as one fully human. To hear her command is to realize that in Jesus we encounter a loving God who understands our humanity. We can trust God to reveal a plan for our lives. The challenge for disciples in today’s world is to find the voice of Jesus as it speaks to each one of us.
In Ignatius, we have a mystical instructor who teaches us to hear God’s voice. He shows us a Jesus who is at once a relatable human person and a loving God always available to us. Ignatius gives us a roadmap for this task in his Spiritual Exercises. Meeting Christ in Prayer is an abbreviated form of the Exercises for contemporary Christians living out their lives in the world and confronting its challenges. It aims to foster an encounter with God through scriptural contemplation and prayer.
The discernment that the Exercises facilitate—the quest to hear God’s voice speaking to each one individually—relies on Ignatian spiritual techniques. Using the Church’s ancient prayer method of Lectio Divina, holy reading, we read a scriptural passage and then pause and reflect. What is this reading saying on its face? We read again and pause and reflect. What is God saying to me personally in this reading? A third time. What do I want to say to God?
Ignatius was a promoter of imaginative prayer, picturing ourselves in a scriptural scene. If I quietly reflect on the wedding at Cana, which character in the story would I be? Would I be an observer or play an active role? What would I say or do? Would I speak directly to Jesus, and would he address me? Do I feel the Holy Spirit guiding me in the way this imagining unfolds? Do I hear God’s voice in this?
A prayer unique to Ignatian spirituality is the Examen. Similar to the reflections before confession, we ask ourselves at the end of the day, what did I do today that was good? Did I hear God? How might I have failed to listen to God? Did I find God in other people? Did I advance God’s glory?
Meeting Christ in Prayer meets as a small, trusting group and participants share experiences and inspirations with each other. Many times, I have been profoundly moved by the reflections of others, hearing spiritual insights that I would never have uncovered alone. I recall the passage, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20). I believe I have heard the Holy Spirit speaking to me through other retreatants.
If you are interested in participating in Meeting Christ in Prayer, consider tasting the wine of God’s abundant banquet.
For further information and to register for the retreat starting September 28th, please email [email protected].
— Andy Richards, Parishioner & Meeting Christ in Prayer Participant