“In God We Trust.”
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are transformative. After the “Principal and Foundation”, the “Meditation on Two Standards” was for me the second most profound reflection.
The existence of a devil in the world is often brushed over, something that we would sooner not to have to acknowledge. The idea that there is no evil, just mistakes, accomplishes what our mortal enemy would want most – denial or ignorance of his existence.
The Two Standards are an informed decision-making point, where the retreatant must acknowledge what way should be followed.
The following are excerpts from this meditation, the first on Lucifer, the second on Christ:
“The third point is to listen to the harangue which he [the evil chieftain, Lucifer] delivers to [the countless demons], how he spurs them on to ensnare men and to bind them in chains. He bids them first to tempt men with the lust of riches (as he is most accustomed to do) that they may thereby more easily gain the empty honour of the world, and then come to unbounded pride. The first step in his snare is that of riches, the second honour, and the third pride. From these three steps Satan leads on to all other vices.
“The third point is to listen to the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this mission, charging them that they should first seek to help all men; first, by encouraging them to embrace the most perfect spiritual poverty, and if it should please His Divine Majesty, to choose them for it, also to embrace actual poverty. Secondly, by encouraging them to desire insults and contempt, for from these two things comes humility. So then there are three steps: the first, poverty opposed to riches; the second, scorn or contempt, opposed to worldly honour; the third, humility, opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to all virtues.
These two reflections encourage the retreatant to consider and choose Christ our supreme Captain and Lord, versus Lucifer the mortal enemy of our human nature.
This meditation would normally be taken in the context of the journey through the Spiritual Exercises. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, where our entire world has been turned upside down, and a new normal confronts us with a sense of death like a world war, the choice of standard is being played out on a scale that is tragically huge.
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)
We can see all too clearly the desire to continue to support the growth of wealth in the economy, even at a “reasonable cost” of human lives, e.g., of elderly people who should be willing to sacrifice themselves to uphold the country’s economic integrity.
The choice of that standard, with its priority of riches over life, is so readily and easily rationalized by certain political thinking, as if a country is defined by success in wealth, power, and self-sufficiency, rather than in its people.
The truth of science is contradicted by hunches and supposition, yet true Christians never fear the reality of science, the greater knowledge of God’s creation – our world. Pride causes reluctance to accept the correct path, which is the others’ way.
The consequence of the choice of the standard of the mortal enemy results in death, in a greater loss of innocent lives and a devastating toll on the people remaining; and the false hope of a flourishing economy as a result of a “reasonable expenditure” of lives that could have been saved, is proven to be the empty promise of the evil chieftain, as usual.
The consequences of the steps of riches, then honour and finally pride are revealed on a devastating scale.
In contrast, in another country where its leaders cooperate and seek to help all people, they have assumed the spiritual poverty to listen to the Spirit of their hearts. They demonstrate compassion for all their citizens in a manner that is holistic with attention to physical security that includes maintaining physical and mental health.
They try to provide protection from loss of income. They are trying to work with the irony of maintaining a sense of community in the presence of enforced self-isolation.
Here in Canada I feel that none of our politicians are seeking honour, and all have swallowed their pride to listen to our scientific and economic experts, to listen to each other, to make a concerted effort to save us all. That has been impossible, but at least they’re trying, and trying to help us all try.
As a frontline worker, I feel supported to the best of everyone’s ability. It is daunting, but at least I know that someone has my back.
In a telephone conversation with a provincial government employee, we digressed into the topic of Covid-19 and she suggested that God had sent this pandemic to us for what she was sure would prove to be a good reason. I countered that God did not send a pandemic because God is loving and merciful.
The pandemic happened; however, we choose how we meet the challenge of the pandemic. The Two Standards offer us the two choices – the pursuit of wealth or trust in our Lord. It can only be one or the other. I pray that our neighbour will recall it is “In God We Trust.”