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By Fr. Sylvester Tan, SJ

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

Having completed the Easter octave, we find ourselves in the midst of the mysterious forty days between Christ’s resurrection and his ascension into heaven. Ignatius of Loyola notes that following the resurrection, Jesus appears to his friends – the ones who believed in him during his public ministry, or at least showed some openness to his Word – to strengthen and console them (cf. SpEx 224). The resurrected Jesus does not seek to face off against those whom Ignatius calls his “enemies” (cf. SpEx 196), in order to show them that he has risen victorious. Having refused to believe in him before he died, Jesus does not attempt to force them to believe after he is risen from the dead (cf. Mt 28:11-15). In short, God wants us to be free: free to share in the joy of the risen Christ, and also free to reject it. God does not force our hand.

Whereas during his active ministry, Jesus often took the initiative in guiding and directing his disciples, after the resurrection, he stands back and watches his disciples act out of the freedom for which they have been set free (cf. Gal 5). When the risen Jesus calls out to Mary of Magdala, he does not initially reveal himself or tell her not to cry, but simply asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Whom are you looking for?” (Jn 20). Likewise, after Peter decides to go fishing and other disciples decide to join him, Jesus later looks upon them from the shore and simply asks them: “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” (Jn 21).

In the forty days, Jesus wants to see his disciples make choices on the basis of the freedom that he obtained for them through the exodus he accomplished at Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:31). Jesus does not leave them orphans: once they do take the initiative, he comes to them in ways that they do not recognize and asks questions, after which he often does give directives. He wants them first to show initiative out of love for him, instead of simply waiting for instructions (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

We can become more open to hearing the questions that the Lord asks us concerning the way that we have used our freedom through the practice of the Ignatian Examen, which finds Biblical grounding in a gift that Christ offers the disciples on the Road to Emmaus on the day of his resurrection (Lk 24:13-49). As the disciples on this road walk away from Jerusalem, they review the events of the past days in desolation. Jesus draws near and asks what they are talking about. They are reticent, but after Jesus presses them further, they repeat once again all the things that have happened, but this time in response to Jesus. After listening to what they have to say, Jesus repeats back to them (a third time!) all the events that have happened in the light of faith and the disciples’ hearts begin to burn within them. After arriving at Emmaus, the disciples invite Jesus to remain as their companion (“cum pane” = with bread) that evening, but as soon as they recognize him in the breaking of the bread, he disappears, once again leaving them to their own initiative. They resolve to do what they know they must: they turn around (convert!) and head back to Jerusalem to tell the others all that has happened.

This is the type of encounter Christ offers in every Ignatian examen. Only when Christ enters our review of the day does it truly become a Christian examen: this is why Ignatius invites us to begin the examen with gratitude to God and then ask for the grace to know our sins, to see our day as God himself sees it, and it is the reason why he teaches us to end our examen with a resolution on the basis of what God has shown us, which we entrust to God by praying the “Our Father.” Since Jesus offers us the “first” examen on Easter day, let us ask him to continue to walk and converse with us through our examens, so that they may help us grow into his true companions.