Letters from a Pastor to His People- July 12, 2020
Just a reminder, I am away currently and will be for the entire month of July making a 30-Day Retreat. I wrote this week’s letter, and the upcoming letters, ahead of time, just to offer a little spiritual reflection on the readings. I would also, however, like to provide some wisdom from St. Ignatius of Loyola. Perhaps you could do a little "30-Day Retreat" with me.
Jesus provides in our Gospel this week the classic parable of the Sower. We are the ground. Jesus sows his grace and his word upon us. The question is, what kind of ground are we? Are we a path, rocky ground, a field with thorn bushes, or rich soil?
In the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius has us meditate more concretely on Christ in the Gospels. We are to follow Christ and imitate him. If the First Week was about self-awareness and purgation, the Second Week is about self-giving and illumination. The Third Week, for those who want to jump ahead, is about self-sacrifice and the Fourth Week about self-understanding.
In the Second Week we pray for spiritual poverty, self-emptying, and humility. We reject any desire for greed, honor, pride or power, and make a resolution to commit our life to serve and be with Christ. All these things help make us into fertile soil if we are not already. Or, they make the fertile soil of our souls even richer.
On the Fourth Day of the Second Week, St. Ignatius provides the "Meditation on the Two Standards." He would have us literally imagine in our minds a battlefield. On one side of the field is the army of Satan. On the other side is the army of Christ. ('Standard' is a flag an army would carry to represent itself.) In our imagining, Ignatius describes how we should hear the Devil, who is seated on a throne of smoke, using tempting words, trying to lure us to be attracted to riches and honor, etc. We then picture Christ, who is beautiful and peaceful, calling us to poverty. Which side do we choose?
Of course we would choose the Standard of Christ, we say to ourselves! Who would be so foolish to choose the Devil and Hell? Yes, we say that, but do we live that way? The choices we make and the life we lead, does that look like we have chosen Christ?
Saint Ignatius is big on desires, which I think is very helpful. If we're not sure we're completely following Christ and not attached to the world, don't panic. Simply ask for the desire to be rich soil and a soldier of God. Ignatius offers these words, which he calls a "Prelude" to the Meditation on the Two Standards:
This is to ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for a knowledge of the deceits of the rebel chief and help to guard myself against them; and also to ask for a knowledge of the true life exemplified in the sovereign and true Commander, and the grace to imitate Him.
The desire shows our heart is in the right place. Our desire also is efficacious. It is a holy desire placed in our heart by God and God, who has put it there, will see it to completion.
So, what kind of soil are you? If you're not rich soil, or you're not sure, don't set out right away to become rich soil by some activity. Simply start with expressing in your heart a genuine desire to be rich soil. God will do the rest.
Yours in Christ,