Composition of Place – Imagine you see the Eternal Father seated on His throne of majesty and grandeur, Who, as Judge, passes sentence against the rebellious angels, against Adam and Eve, and against Jesus Christ, His Son, Who has assumed the figure of the sinner. Imagine that one of the angels who stands before the Lord’s throne approaches you and says, “Know and understand how evil and bitter it is to have offended your God.” (“…Know thou, and see that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee, to have left the Lord thy God” Jer. 2:19)
Petition – My God and Lord, I beg light and grace to know the malice of sin, to grieve at the faults I have committed, and to firmly resolve to die rather than sin again.
Words of St. Ignatius – “The first point will be to recall to memory the first sin, which was that of the angels, then to apply the understanding by considering this sin in detail, then the will by seeking to remember and understand all, so that I may be the more ashamed and confounded when I compare the one sin of the angels with the many that I have committed. Since they went to hell for one sin, how many times have I deserved it for my many sins. I will recall to mind the sin of the angels, remembering that they were created in the state of grace, that they refused to make use of their freedom to offer reverence and obedience to their Creator and Lord, and so sinning through pride, they fell from grace into sin and were cast from Heaven into hell. In like manner my understanding is to be used to reason more in detail on the subject matter, and thereby move more deeply my affections through the use of the will.
Explanation – From the punishment given the angels, one can gather the infinite malice of sin. Turn back a little in your thought, O my soul, to those marvelous times when God created Heaven and peopled it with angels. Who could ever imagine a happiness greater than what was given those spirits? So remarkable was their beauty that no man could have gazed at it without being overcome with joy. So astonishing was their wisdom that compared to it, Solomon’s could be called pure and genuine ignorance. Their essential blessedness was such that they were not capable of suffering any pain. Their dwelling was as lovely as a paradise could be. In spite of the greatness of their gifts of nature, their gifts of grace were too great to compare. They had a very perfect knowledge of God; a most ardent charity was infused into them; and their friendship and union with God was very intimate. Also they had a certain promise that after a few moments they were to enter into His glory to enjoy it forever.
Then all at once some angels abused this great kindness. They were unwilling to serve God in the way His Majesty wanted. They sinned, and received punishment. (“…I will be like the Most High.” Isaias 14:14)
Reflect, now, with all the powers of your mind, on the circumstances of this punishment.
(1) This punishment deprived them of all good. These very unfortunate angels were transformed in a moment from the extremely beautiful spirits which they were, into horrible demons. From preferred sons of God they became objects of everlasting hatred and were cast like a lightning bolt from the height of Heaven to the depths of hell-fire. (“…I saw Satan like lightning falling from Heaven.” Luke 10:18)
(2) This punishment was the sum-total of all possible misfortunes. In their memory there remained the very distressing recollection of the past. In their minds was extreme storminess. In their wills was supreme despair; and very painful flames afflicted all their powers of perception.
(3) This punishment was without a remedy. More than four thousand years had passed in which these miserable spirits burned in these flames, when Jesus Christ came into the world to destroy sin. But of what help was His coming to them? That merciful Jesus, Who shed so many tears over wicked Jerusalem, shed not one tear for them. That loving Jesus, Who gave all His Blood for His treacherous enemies, offered not a drop to His Eternal Father for them. It took but a single moment to commit the sin, but the punishment will last for all eternity.
Pause here a little while, my soul, and go in thought down into that prison of fire. Picture to yourself the misery of those condemned spirits. Observe what a horrible, terrifying appearance it has, which no mortal man could gaze upon without dying of fright. Their dwelling place is a dreadful prison, confined and blazing all around with fire. The torments which they suffer are so very painful that no mind can grasp it. After you have observed these things, ponder with me as follows:
These monsters were once very beautiful spirits, very dear sons of the Most High God, masterpieces of the Divine, Almighty Power, first occupants and very beautifying sights in the heavenly mansion. What evil have they done, to have fallen into such great misfortune? All their guilt comes down to a single thought, consented to in an instant, a single act of disobedience, one single sin. For this single sin they have been burning for at least six thousand years, and will burn for all eternity. And who is it Who has pronounced this horrifying sentence against them? God. O awesome truth! It is God! We must say, then, either that God is not Infinite Wisdom, Infinite Justice, Infinite Mercy, or that sin is truly an infinite evil. The first is unthinkable. Therefore we must admit the second and declare that sin is an infinite evil.
(1) Admiration – O my God, I know not which I should marvel at more, the strict justice with which Thou treated the rebellious angels, or the greatness of the mercy Thou hast shown me. Those very noble spirits, those beautiful likenesses of Thy Divinity, committed a single sin, and for this sin alone they were damned for all eternity. I, who am a heap of dirt and dust, have committed many sins. And Thou hast borne up with me!...I have abused Thy Mercy, and after I had been pardoned for earlier sins, I committed others. And Thou forgavest me again. Even now at this very moment Thou dost look on me with fatherly eyes and stretch out to me the arms of Thy mercy. O sovereign spirits, O blessed souls who are in Heaven, cast a glance down on me and in me you will see as many evidences of God’s mercy and long suffering as there are sins which I have committed. Ah! Supply for me what I ought to do, but cannot. Praise and bless God, for He is good, and great is the mercy He has had for me.
(2) Repentance – This mercy is what fills my heart with grief. I have offended a God Who has loved me more than so many thousands of millions of very noble spirits, a God Who, at the very time I committed the greatest offenses, clasped me to the bosom of His Mercy; a God Who, in spite of my sins, wants to love me for all eternity. And I, an ungrateful person, how could I make light of such great love and offend such great kindness? How can I now remember such malice without breaking down into sad, bitter tears? O my Jesus, I recognize and admit my sins. I am repentant and hate them all.
Words of St. Ignatius – “The second point is to use the three powers of the soul to consider the sin of Adam and Eve. Call to mind how they did such long penance for their sin and what corruption fell on the human race, causing so many to go to hell. Call to mind the second sin, that of our first parents. Recall that after Adam had been created in the Plain of Damascus and placed in the earthly paradise, and Eve had been formed from his rib, they were forbidden to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and eating it, they committed sin. After their sin, clothed in garments of skin and cast out of paradise, without the original justice which they had lost, they lived all their lives in much travail and much penance.”
“The understanding is likewise to be used in considering the subject matter in greater detail and the will is to be employed as already explained.”
Explanation – Perceive the infinite malice of sin from the punishment imposed on our first parents. Never in the world has a happiness been seen like that in which God created our first parents.
(1) How pleasant their dwelling place was, this earthly paradise! It was not subject to cold, nor to hot, nor rainy nor windy weather, but there was the continuous, peaceful enjoyment of the sight of the sun. Needing no one’s toil, some trees of themselves bore excellent fruit, vines bore tasty grapes, and the soil yielded wonderful sprouts of plants and flowers.
(2) How perfect their dominion was over the animals! At first call, birds would descend from the sky and show them their dependence. At a word, animals would run up and halting at their feet, would give them proof of their obedience. At a signal, fish would come swimming through the water to the bank and show their joy.*
(*NOTE – We have seen these teachings in the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent and in writings of the Holy Fathers. Original sources cited for them were certain profound passages of Scripture and continuous and persistent tradition.)
(3) How marvelous was the condition of their body! It was not subject to exhaustion, nor weariness, nor pain, nor sickness, nor old age, nor even death. In order to always keep the flower of youth, it was enough that they eat fruits from the Tree of Life.
(4) How wonderful was the good condition of their soul! It had perfect control over all the passions. No melancholy, nor envy, nor hatred, nor any other disorderly movement dared rise up against reason. Their soul was endowed with a plentiful knowledge of God, a very ardent love for Him, a tender fondness for His Divine Majesty.
Finally, a promise had been made to our first parents that after a long and happy life, without first undergoing sickness or death, they would be transported body and soul into Heaven, to reign there forever with God. But if God’s generosity to our first parents was enormous, no less was their monstrous ingratitude towards Him. They were unwilling to serve Him in the way He wanted to be served. They sinned and received the punishment. Reflect now on the circumstances of this punishment, and the seriousness of the sin in their case.
(1) For this single sin, Adam was left deprived of all happiness. The ground is under a curse. Henceforth it would produce nothing else but thorns and thistles. The human body is under a curse and condemned to pain, sickness and death, and as God’s enemy, is in this valley of tears as a place of exile from paradise.
(2) For this single sin, all of Adam’s descendants are condemned alike to these misfortunes. Imagine a piece of land, for instance (let us say) one league square and completely piled about half a league high with corpses, and say to yourself: All these thousands of millions of men had to undergo death for this single sin.
(3) For this single sin, a majority of adults are damned for all eternity. Everyone who is damned is damned on account of the uncontrolled passions of his heart which draw him to sin. This vehemence of his bad inclinations is a punishment of that disobedience which our first parents committed. Here is something more frightful: If, by an impossibility, the world were to last forever in the present state, every for all eternity millions of men would fall into the fire of hell on account of this single sin.
(4) For this sin Jesus died on the Cross. Oh, amazing miracle! The Supreme Lord of Heaven and earth, Who by essence is Holiness, and is the Only-Begotten Son of God, was condemned by His own Father to the disgraceful death of the Cross! And this was on account of that sin.
(5) In spite of this death, the Heavenly Father continues to punish us poor men for that sin. *
Thus, having lost paradise, we are pilgrims in a valley of tears with life plentiful in bitter things, with death full of anguish and terror and eternal salvation in doubt, and no other way to enter Heaven except a way of penance and tears.*
*NOTE: Four points in the Traditional Patristic teaching will answer in advance certain difficulties:
1. Sin is truly so terrible as to deserve all these unhappy consequences, and one doubting this while appreciating the good authority for it, would not have this doubt if he appreciated how terrible sin is.
2. In casting aside God’s friendship, Adam lost all title to further protection from Providence and God would have been justified in damning him at once. If God had, we would not be here. But God gave him another chance, and us a chance to exist, on condition that we be earmarked to share with Christ in a reparation wherein, if we would cooperate, we would be rewarded a hundredfold in this life and the next.
3. God does none of this haphazardly but in all things follow principles of wisdom and fitness, which our glimpses often recognize to be beautiful, though their depths stay beyond our grasp.
4. This fitness demands that children inconvenience themselves to practice gratitude to their parents as instruments of their existence which they would not otherwise have. In so inconveniencing ourselves by suffering for Original Sin, we will be rewarded by God many times over sand see ourselves obliged to praise God for His goodness.
(1) Fear – O Holy Faith, how amazing are the truths you bring to my view! The most beautiful angels are cast down to hell! The whole human race is exiled from Heaven! Millions of souls are condemned to hell! Jesus, Son of God, has died on a Cross, and so died by the Will of His Eternal Father! And all this on account of one thing, namely, sin! O sin, how great is the evil hidden within you! If the Eternal Father dealt in such a severe way with His beloved, only-begotten Son on account of sin, with how much rigor will He deal with me, who has committed so many sins? – with me, who, after receiving pardon, has fallen back into sin so many times?
(2) Repentance – I see very well, O my God, that there can be no other way open for me except Thy Infinite Mercy on Thy part, and on my part true and persevering repentance. So I kneel down before Thee, hating with all the powers of my spirit, all the sins I have committed. I have done evil. I know it and confess it. I should never have offended Infinite Goodness. I ought rather to have died, and even given up a thousand lives, than have done so much evil. Ah! Who will give a spring of bitter tears to my eyes and an intense grief to my heart, such as I need?
Reflections on the foregoing truths – Gather your thoughts again, my soul, to comprehend well the following reflections:
(1) If a single sin is so hateful in God’s sight, how hateful should my soul be in His presence? If I have committed one single (mortal) sin, I have sinned as much as one rebel spirit. If I have done a hundred, I have sinned so much that alone I am like a hundred rebel spirits. Again, if I have committed a single (mortal) sin, I have made myself as displeasing to God as each one of the rebel spirits. If I have committed a hundred, I have made myself, taken alone, as displeasing as a hundred of those spirits taken together.
(2) If one who (mortally) sins once, deserves hell, how obliged am I to bless God’s Infinite Mercy! If I have committed a single sin, I have deserved hell, just like all the reprobate spirits. If I have committed more than one, I have deserved it more than any of them. And why do I not find myself where those unhappy creatures are? Ah! That very God Who used all the strictness of His Justice with them, has used with me all the riches of His Infinite Mercy. Oh, what goodness! What love! What long suffering!
(3) If for a single sin God gave such a terrible punishment to angels and men, with what good reason should I not fear His Justice? For just one sin God damned so many thousands of millions of angelic spirits to burn forever in the fire of hell, leaving no remedy, no grace, no period to do penance. If I were to boldly sin again, could He not do, and perhaps will He not do, the same with me? O my God, I see my duty to confess that now I could not sin again without extreme boldness, and that Thou couldst not forgive me now if Thy Mercy were not Infinite.
(1) Repentance – Heaven and earth bear me witness that Thou hast an infinite hatred for sin. Ah! Would that a single drop of that holy hatred would descend into my heart! Unfortunate as I am, what have I done? There is nothing so deserving of my love as Jesus. Nothing ought to be hated be me so much as sin. And I, a fool, have abhorred Jesus and loved sin. By my works I have said: long live sin! Give life to Barrabas and death to Jesus!...Crucify Him! Or rather, I have crucified Him by the sin I have committed. Oh, impiety that deserves to be punished forever in hell! I know it, O my God, and I weep for it! How much better it would have been for me to have rotted under the ground before sinning! But these sighs of regret come very late. I have sinned! I have sinned, oh, so many times! I have sinned enormously! Forgive me, my Jesus. I do repent.
(2) Thanksgiving – But my great malice calls to my mind Thy Mercy. Without fear and trembling I cannot reflect on that unhappy hour in which I sinned for the first time. O wretched hour! Ah! Would it had never come! O God, if Thou hadst treated me then as Thou treated the angels, oh, for how long a time I would have been in hell! Ah! Just the recalling of it makes me tremble – of that great peril in which my precious one and only immortal soul stood at that time. Thou hast had mercy on me and have given me time to do penance. Oh, what praise, what blessing, what thanks I owe Thee!
(3) Prayer of Petition – Have mercy on me, O my God, have mercy! I know now the infinite evil that sin contains. I know it by the hell fire of the rebel spirits. I know it by the fate of man exiled from paradise. I know it by the sufferings and torments Jesus underwent dying on a Cross. O awesome mystery! The Son of God had to die, and die in this way, for my sins! Could I have committed a greater wrong than this, of leading Jesus to the Cross? I am Jesus’ executioner! O sin, O accursed sin! How is it you have seemed sweet and agreeable to me? O Jesus, by the Blood Thou shed for my sins, I beg Thee to grant me the special graces I need in order to bitterly weep over my past sins and avoid them in the future and hate them more than death.
Now 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)