Prayer under the Gaze of the Crucified Christ

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The Ignatian begins to form himself as a man of prayer by looking long and intently at Christ Crucified. For the crucifix has always been the ignition for all those who would be comrades-in-arms of the Hero.

One of those true comrades was the spiritual son of St. Ignatius Loyola, a seminarian who died heroically on the battlefield, Aloysius Gonzaga. This talented and tough-as-steel Renaissance son of a powerful Italian dynasty, grew up surrounded by intrigue and decadence in an environment that would later see the murder of his own brother Ridolfo and the stabbing of his own mother.He could easily have become a decadent murderous Italian prince.  But he didn’t because he encountered the Crucified Hero.

Paintings rarely do justice to this tough young man but there is one that lets us in on the secret of his heart. In a corner of the Gregorian University there is a painting of Aloysius as a seminarian gazing at the crucifix and holding in his hand the symbol of purity, a lily.  Admiration for the Wounded Hero had led to closeness, closeness had led to love, love had burned within him to a white heat – and exploded in sacred chastity. “For love loves unto purity”(George MacDonald). Aloysius had found in the relationship with Jesus Christ the satisfaction of all the archetypal masculine desires.

The starting point for union with the Lord Jesus Christ and for the strength to live out sacred chastity is a gaze, a long steady gaze frequently repeated, at the Crucified Hero: here lies the fountain of this love, indeed the exclusive fountain. And the gaze has a name: “mental prayer”.

Through prayer the Ignatian’s heart will burn like that of Aloysius and so many others. Then he will we cry out to Christ: “And the fire that breaks from thee, then, a billion times more lovelier, more dangerous, o my Chevalier!” (G.M.Hopkins). Then he will murmur like St. Augustine:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you!  For behold you were within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that you have made.  You were with me and I was not with you.  I was kept from you by those things, yet had they not been in you, they would not have been at all.  You did call and cry to me and break open my deafness: and you did send forth your beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness: You did breath fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and do now pant for you: I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you: You did touch me, and I have burned for your peace”. –St.Augustine

The Ignatian knows that the longer he gazes on Christ Crucified gazing from the Cross on the world in need of salvation the more likely he is to “make a deal” with God:“Da mihi animas et coetera tolle” (“Give me souls and take away all else!”). He will become impassioned to the point that he can say “The love of Christ impels me” (2 Cor 5:14).

With a heart in love, his logic will become that of the saints for whom everything was reasoned about from the principle of Christ’s love. Zeal for souls spontaneously follows since “There is no joy in Heaven over empty churches” (St.Augustine).  Self-forgetfulness becomes natural: “If I were on the doorstep of Heaven and even one sinner were just then to ask me to hear his confession, I would not enter.”( St. Philip Neri).