The Retreat that Never Ends Part 4: Whose camp am I in? The Two Standards

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are a retreat taken either in 30 days isolated from the world, or in a 6-9 month period integrated into everyday life. These form us into the character of Christ so that we can live a life of moral virtue formed by love. In the first movement (which Ignatius terms first ‘week’), the retreatant purges known sin from their life. In the process, they develop a desire for deeper friendship with Jesus and to join with Him in His project, that of bringing souls to salvation.

In the second movement (‘week’), the retreatant begins their ‘study’ of the life of Christ. They begin praying with the incarnation and continue all the way through to His being found in the temple with the rabbis (Sp. Ex. 101-135; Luke Ch. 1 & 2). Ignatius then has the retreatant consider how they are living out their current vocation or, if still discerning religious life vs. marriage, what state in life God desires for them. To do so, the retreatant prays on the standard by which Christ lived and calls them to live. They also pray on the standard by which Satan acts within the world today. This meditation, known as The Two Standards, seeks to gain knowledge of Satan’s deceits vs. “the true life exemplified in the sovereign and true Commander (Jesus), and the grace to imitate Him” (Sp. Ex. 139). To know that which is of God we must know what isn’t. By grace, the retreatant is given opportunity and ability for an honest review of his/her own life choices: by whose standard have I lived my life?

As a former soldier, Ignatius often uses battlefield imagery. He originally wanted his community of priests to be known as the Company of Jesus (as in a military unit) rather than the Society of Jesus which became its formal name. In the Exercises, Jesus is the sovereign Commander-in-Chief and Lucifer the chief of the enemies. For our purposes in this article, imagine a battlefield with the opposing forces on either side in their camp. You are either in one camp or the other, either in Jesus’ camp or in Satan’s. As a baptized Christian, you start out in Jesus’ camp. How often, and in what ways, do you step out of His camp being influenced by the wiles of the enemy?

Examination of one’s life choices, past and present, reveals how easily we fall into Satan’s traps little by little. The enemy of human nature tempts us first with riches, then with honor, which then leads us to be fully engulfed in pride (Sp. Ex. 140-142). The retreatant takes an honest look at the worldly things that capture his/her fancy and upon which they have built their identity. In prayer, they are led to consider materialism and all the ‘stuff’ in their life from the honest perspective of how they see themselves with that stuff. In the materials written by Fr. Joseph Tetlow for this meditation, he coins it as: look at my stuff! look at me with this stuff! look at me! Seeing one’s belongings as riches leads to viewing oneself as deserving of some sort of honor for it, which then devolves into full pride.

Not surprisingly, meditation on Jesus’ standard brings the retreatant to the virtues needed to fight our enemy. He gives them the grace to desire spiritual poverty and, “should it please the Divine Majesty, and should He deign to choose them for it, even to actual poverty” (Sp. Ex. 146). The grace received is to have a distaste for things of the world that once were considered important, provide an escape from suffering, or otherwise are an attachment. To do so, the retreatant meditates on why they have given these things importance and the place these things have gained in their self-perceived identity. They are then disposed to the grace to see the actual dishonor in attachments and to despise worldly honors; to no longer live concerned with how others see them. Stepping out of this worldly way of living brings with it insults and contempt spoken or unspoken. This experience is part of the process of purifying the heart and brings true humility. Thus riches, honor, and pride are conquered with the virtues of poverty, fortitude, and humility.

The above may seem impossible but quite the contrary: we have been created to live this way with a human nature designed to receive the grace needed to do so. We can begin to live the Beatitudes here and now in daily life. The Beatitudes aren’t lofty goals that can only be achieved in Heaven. Rather, these are states of existence that our loving Lord desires us to experience in the here-and-now (and fully live them in Eternity). At baptism, our soul received infused virtues and gifts. Cooperating with grace, these come alive giving us the ability to reject riches and honors of the world. Doing so eventually leaves us completely detached from them, which is the experience of being poor in spirit. By commanding our passions and preferences (rather than being commanded by them), one’s heart is pure to see God and His loving action in all things as well as to receive that love. With love comes the desire for justice, that others receive their due, even when the world persecutes them for so doing. All of this builds true humility which comes from love of God. Hence, the Spiritual Exercises are the beginning to a way of life that God intends for all baptized Christians as evidenced in Sacred Scripture:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

–Matthew 5:3


Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

–Matthew 5:8


Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

–Matthew 5:10


Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

–Matthew 5:11

Living this life of grace sounds so appealing. Then reality seeps in, and it seems like an unreachable goal that is only meant for ‘perfect people’! In praying over the Two Standards, Jesus opens the retreatant’s eyes to the truth that this life of grace is meant for them and He desires to bring them into it. All they must do is ask.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.


References to specific sections of the Exercises, are adapted from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Rev. Elder Mullen, transl. (1914) P. J. Kennedy & Sons.

Instructions on the Spiritual Exercises are taken from On Giving the Spiritual Exercises: the early Jesuit manuscript directories and the official directory of 1599. Martin Palmer, ed. (1996) The Institute of Jesuit Sources.

Insights from Fr. Joseph Tetlow are drawn from Choosing Christ in the World (1999) The Institute of Jesuit Sources.

Image: Unsplash+

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