Composition of Place – Imagine you see God seated on a throne of majesty and grandeur as Judge, and yourself, guilty sinner that you are, with hands bound standing before the Judge, and an account concerning yourself is read of all the sins that you have committed in the whole course of your life, with all the circumstances of places and persons, with mention of your state in life and your age at the time. You cannot excuse yourself nor deny anything.
Prayer of Petition – My God and Lord, I beg that I may know the number and gravity of my sins, and may be sorry and repentant for having committed them.
The text of Saint Ignatius: “…Recall to mind…the particular sin of any person who went to hell because of one mortal sin. Consider also the countless others who have gone to hell for fewer sins than I have committed…We speak of this as the third particular sin (the first being of Lucifer, the second of Adam and Eve).
Call to mind the grievousness and malice of sin against our Creator and Lord. Let the understanding consider how in sinning and acting against Infinite Goodness, one has justly been condemned forever. End this reflection with acts of the will, as we said above…
“I shall call to mind all the sins of my lifetime, considering them year by year, period by period. Three things will help me to do this: first, I will recall the place and home where I live; secondly, the associations I have had with others; thirdly, the positions I filled.
“The second point is to weigh my sins, considering the loathsomeness and malice which each mortal sin committed has within itself, even if it were not forbidden.
“Next, consider who I am… Let me see myself as a sore and an abscess from which there have come forth so many sins, so many evils and very vile poison.
“…Next consider who is God, against Whom I have sinned, recalling His attributes and comparing them to their contraries in me.”
Explanation – (1) In the very moment in which sin is committed, the soul, from being a likeness of God, becomes transformed into a very horrible monster. It is not possible for a man to comprehend the wonderful beauty with which a soul which enjoys God’s grace, is adorned. When in that state it is a portrait and a copy of the Divine Beauty. For its formation, nothing less is required than Infinite Wisdom and Power.
One day, when God had enabled her to see this beauty, a great saint, Teresa of Avila, declared that she would gladly give a thousand lives and suffer a thousand deaths, to preserve the beauty of a single such soul. But just as grace makes a soul lovely, sin makes it ugly. A soul in sin and a condemned spirit are quite equal in ugliness. Just as a man could not see a demon in any vision that would fairly represent it, without dying of fright, neither could he see a soul that is in sin without dying of terror.
(2) In the moment in which sin is committed, a soul becomes extremely repulsive to God. It is not possible for any intelligence in Heaven or on earth to come to a comprehension of how great the abhorrence is, how profound the hatred is, with which God regards sin. Yes, indeed! God hates sin and necessarily abhors it. Just as it is not possible for Him to cease loving Himself as the Supreme Good, likewise it is not possible that He cease hating sin as the supreme evil.
(3) The moment one sins, his soul, from being a child of God, becomes a slave of the devil. The condition of a possessed person moves us to compassion; for he is compelled to make room day and night within his body, for a demon from hell. But much more pitiful is the condition of someone’s soul who, by sin, becomes a slave of the devil and is constrained to live under his tyrannical power.
Someone possessed may happen to be a child of God and enjoy His grace, having full confidence that he will succeed in enjoying Him forever in Heaven. But one in sin is God’s enemy, is without His grace, and is liable to fall into hell at any time, with the same slave-master accompanying him to torment him there forever.
(4) The moment one sins, his soul falls into the vilest, most deplorable condition. There is nothing more shameful than sin, nothing more blameworthy than the sinner. Imagine, O my soul, that God opened everyone’s eyes so that they could look into your heart clearly and see all your vices, all the sins you have committed during your lifetime by thought, word and deed. Oh God! What embarrassment! What shame you would have!
Would you not first seek a hiding place in the grottos and caves of deserts rather than appear before men? Even in the judgment of the same natural right reason, there is nothing more shameful than sin, nor anything more vile than the sinner. Ah! How much you ought to blush before God, in Whose presence you have committed so many sins and before Whose eyes all the hideous things of your life continually lie bare!
(1) Shame – Oh my God, how many sins I have committed! There is not a faculty of my soul nor a sense in my body that has not offended Thee. O unfortunate memory! How many unworthy recollections you have fed to yourself! O unhappy mind! How many bad thoughts have you not produced! O wretched will! How many bad desires you have entertained!
O unhappy tongue! How many loose words have you not uttered! O unworthy hands! How many forbidden acts have you not performed! O disorderly heart! How many objects have you not wrongfully loved or wrongfully hated!
O my God, if a single sin arouses in Thee a nausea, a horror and an infinite displeasure, how in Thy sight does my soul appear in which nothing else is seen but sin? Where shall I flee to hide myself and conceal my shameful guilt? O sin! How lovable you seem to one who commits you! How bitter and hateful you are after you have been committed! Truly, if everybody knew me as God does, there would not be a saint in Heaven nor a man on earth who would not look away in greatest horror…
(2) Prayer of Petition – O my God, as I consider my madness I am ashamed and completely horrified. Ah, my God! To whom shall I turn but to Thee, O God of Eternal Goodness and Infinite Mercy! In Thy Pity deign to grant me a sorrow that will penetrate my whole heart and will have power to successfully purify my soul of all uncleanness. I cannot have this sorrow without a special help of Thy grace. Grant it to me, O Lord! And Heaven and earth will have another reason to praise and bless Thy Mercy.
The evil of sin is something supreme by reason of the supreme meanness and lowliness of the man who offends God…O my soul, reflect attentively on what you are, and then make your judgment about sin.
(1) You are a creature who possesses, of yourself, nothing good. For, what goodness can a creature possess – a creature which can be called nothingness? A few years ago such a creature was nothing. Now, as to the body, it is a handful of clay. In a little while it will be put in a grave, to change into powdery substance, to serve as food for very disgusting worms, and change back into dust.
Who can have an existence so contemptuous, the low status of which no man can comprehend, and whose nothingness not even sovereign (angelic) intelligence, not even the Blessed Virgin’s intelligence, can fathom and measure? For that is something for God’s intelligence alone to do…And yet this handful of dust, this worm of the earth, this wretched creature, has dared to be bold against God and oppose His Will, and its rashness has gone so far as to treat God lightly and say in deeds, if not in words, “Who is the Lord, that He should want me obedient to His voice? I know no master who is superior to myself…”
(2) You are a creature with whom God has shown Himself to be infinitely generous. O my soul, God has loaded you with countless benefits and in all the course of your life there has not been a single moment in which you have not experienced some new effect of His loving kindness; and (if there is no failure on your part) in the future for all eternity there will not be an instant in which He will not do you some new favor.
He has shown this generosity toward you with an eternal love; for the Lord has not loved Himself at a time before He loved you. He has loved you with a love you did not deserve; for He had no need of you nor your works. He has loved you with a magnanimous love. He could have given the same graces to others who would have used them better than you have.
And in spite of this you have been so rash and ungrateful, O my soul, and have had the boldness to offend a God so kind to you, and offend Him so many times with so much shamelessness! How monstrous it would be for a son, in the sight of his father, to commit every kind of depravity and then spit in his father’s face! Ah! Have you not done something just as bad, O vile creature, against your God Who has shown Himself to be your loving Father?
(3) You are a creature who owes all of himself to God. Indeed, my soul, for all there is in you, you are indebted to your Creator. He it is Who gave it to you and Who preserves it for you. Oh, what impiety, to abuse the benefits and graces received from God and to use them in a way that is bold and outrageous toward His Infinite Majesty!
Would not it be a monstrous thing if someone whose paralyzed hand Jesus Christ had miraculously cured, were to use that very hand later to give Christ a beating? Would it not be a great example of unworthiness, if somebody who had been miraculously cured of muteness by Jesus Christ were to break out later into blasphemies against Him on the Cross? Ah, turn your eyes to yourself, my soul. Who gave you that tongue? those eyes? those ears? those hands and all other members of your body and powers of your soul, which you so often have used to offend your God? Is this how you have paid Him back for such great favors?
(4) You are a creature whom God has drawn from hell by the operation of His Power and Mercy. (“Thy mercy is great towards me: and Thou hast delivered my soul out of the lower hell.” Ps. 85:13) My soul, if you forsake God’s friendship just once, you have deserved hell and are indebted to God’s pure Mercy for not being plunged into hell. Faith teaches you this.
Now does this circumstance not make your sins appear the more grievous? If today God delivered a damned soul from hell and gave it time to do penance, and in spite of this great favor it blasphemed Him again tomorrow, what would you think? God has delivered you from hell, ten, twenty, perhaps more times, and after having such extraordinary Mercy toward you, what have you done? Alas! To the dismay of Heaven, you have sinned!
(1) Humility and sincere confession of guilt before God – My most lovable God, I tremble before Thy Divine Majesty, ranking myself as one belonging to the depths of hell. Indeed a more proper place for me could not be found. Am I any more than dust and ashes? Yet I have dared to treacherously rebel against the Most High God, from Whose Hand I have received all. All that I am, all that I have, all that I can do, is a gift of God, Who, like an immense river, floods me at all hours with ever new benefits. Yes, against God, Who has forgiven me by His overflowing Mercy after a vast number of sins.
O my God! I confess that my conduct has been more than diabolical; for I have deserved not one hell, but a thousand. You, o wretched damned spirits, you are not more wretched than I; for I have been more sinful. Indeed you are so unhappy because God was less merciful with you than He has been with me.
Your chance lasted but a moment; mine has lasted many years. You committed a single sin; I have committed countless sins. To you He gave just one grace. He has given me thousands. God condemned you for one sin, and has been willing to pardon me after many, many sins. In spite of all this, I have continued to offend Him. Ought my eyes not turn into sea of tears and weep all the remaining hours of my life?
(2) Repentance – O my God, Thou dost penetrate all the corners of my heart. My will is to detest, hate, curse sincerely and with all the power of my soul, all the sins I have committed up to this moment. Ah, would that I could put together within my heart all the acts of sorrow and repentance of all the most contrite penitents, in order to deplore and detest my sins, if not as much as they deserve, then at least as much as is possible for me! In compensation I offer Thee the sorrow, the grief, the agony, which Jesus suffered for my sins, which made Him sweat blood in the garden.
The infinite evil of sin is evident on account of the supreme Majesty of God, Whom we offend by sinning. The greater the dignity of the person offended, so much the greater and graver is the offense which He receives.
To give a slap to the face of some high public authority for whom the common good requires great respect – would this not be a graver offense against good order than if this were done a hundred times to a criminal? Natural reason teaches this. According to this principle, my soul, evaluate the gravity of sin.
Who is God?
(1) God is One Who is infinitely good – He is a Being Who contains within Himself all possible perfections. He is Infinite Goodness, Infinite Power, Infinite Wisdom, Infinite Generosity, Infinite Mercy. To sum things up, He possesses Infinite Perfections. Now, as He is Supreme Good in Himself, so is He also the origin and source of all good things that there are in creatures.
There is no power, goodness, holiness, beauty, mercy nor generosity in Heaven or on earth, in angels or in men, nor in any other creature, which does not spring from God as the singular, inexhaustible Source that He is. To offend, to disregard, to dishonor, knowingly and deliberately, a God so great – oh, what malice!
(2) God is Infinite Majesty and Greatness – Raise your gaze to Heaven, my soul, and picture the Lord seated there on a throne with thousands of angels about Him, awestricken before the splendor of His Divinity, and who devote themselves to praising and blessing Him to the fullest extent of their powers. Knowing that they cannot honor Him as much as His Greatness deserves, they prostrate themselves humbly before His Face and confess that He ought to receive infinite love and glory – much more than they are capable of giving.
But, now all the while that this is done in Heaven where all blessed spirits vie in holy competition in praising and glorifying the Great Majesty of God, a vile man rises from the ground to do insult to that same Supreme Majesty, heaping that Majesty with reproach and abuse. Oh, what enormous and incomprehensible malice! Oh my soul, it is beyond explanation! Two reflections will be of use to give you some small idea about its enormity.
(1) Imagine that all angels came down from Heaven and took human bodies, and that all men who have lived from the beginning of the world emerged from their graves, and for a thousand year period all did the most rigorous, frightening penance, and that finally all shed their blood for love of God in the most painful martyrdom. With all this could they satisfy for the offense done to God by a single mortal sin? No. It is not possible; for mortal sin is an infinite evil, and this satisfaction would be limited.
(2) If all the angels of Heaven with all the power of their intelligence were to investigate sin for all eternity, they nevertheless could never fully comprehend the depths of its malice.
(1) Sincere self-accusation – The light Thou givest me enables me to know, O my God, that my malice has reached a high point. I have offended Thee…Who am I? Not a cherub, nor an angel, nor another noble spirit, but a wretched little man, a handful of dust, a worm of the earth. I have offended Thee! Who art Thou? Not a monarch, nor an angel, nor a seraph, but God, Supreme Goodness, Source and Origin of all Good, Supreme Lord of Heaven and earth.
I have offended Thee! And where? Not in secret, nor in Thy absence, but in Thy presence and in the midst of the splendor of Thy Majesty…I have offended Thee! With what? With my eyes, the ears, the tongue, the hands, the heart, which Thou gavest me by Pure Mercy. I have offended Thee! But why? Not out of hope to gain a kingdom, nor from fear of being threatened with death, but for a vile satisfaction of the senses, for fear of some slight embarrassment. I have offended Thee!
When? During the very hour in which Thou were engaged in preserving my bodily health, in giving my soul new benefits, in checking the rage of the demon so that he would not drag me with him to hell. O my God! How enormous is my ingratitude, my folly, my madness, my malice! Still in Thy sight my (mortal) sin is something infinitely greater than what I can know. (“May I know myself, may I know Thee, that I may despise myself and love Thee.” – St. Augustine)
(2) Repentance – This is how I have lived, O my God! And what has been the way I have offended Thee? And what kind of sorrow and repentance have I had after the offenses? From time to time I have made an act of contrition, I have struck my breast, and then continued living, unworried, as though I were now assured of pardon. How so?
After so many offenses against God, will I be content with a repentance so feeble and so hastily formed? Ought my heart not to be in deep continual grief, and should not my eyes shed continuous tears? I have offended the Supreme, Infinite Good. That fact is enough to let me never cease grieving. Ah! Would that I had never offended Thee! O Being Who art infinitely lovable, why did I not rather sacrifice my body and my life a thousand times?
(3) Resolution – The evil has now been done. I have let myself be deceived by my senses and be overcome and led astray by my evil inclinations. Forgive me, O my God, I beg Thee, by Thy Infinite Mercy and by the merits of the Precious Blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ. I turn to Thee with all my heart and in Thy presence resolve to prefer death rather than ever sin again. O holy resolve! O blessed resolution! But is it sincere? Yes, my Jesus; I sincerely resolve it. Lord, Thou hast mastery over life and death. If Thou foresee that I am to commit another sin, I beg Thee to take me with Thee to Heaven before that sad day arrives…
(Pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary)
(Source: The Golden Key to Heaven, An Explanation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by St. Anthony Mary Claret)