Gospel Contemplation: The Feast of the Holy Family
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the grace of the presence of the Holy Family in your life.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce— so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
In your imagination, can you see the road that leads to Jerusalem? What does it look like?
And can you see the small family headed along it towards the city? The family is made up of a young woman, a man, and a baby. Perhaps they have a mule or donkey to travel with as well. It’s the Holy Family – Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Watch them as they enter the city and head to the temple. Take your time with this – noticing the city but paying more attention to the family. How are they with one another? Notice how Mary and Joseph interact with each other and with the baby.
You are going to the temple too. Do you follow behind, or do you join the family as they walk?
See the temple. For the purposes of this prayer, it does not need to be historically accurate. However you imagine the temple, imagine yourself there, entering as Mary, Joseph, and the baby do.
Watch as Joseph goes to buy the two turtledoves, and then goes with Mary to offer them to the priest for sacrifice and to offer Jesus to be consecrated to the Lord.
As you watch these moments unfold, you notice an elderly man and an elderly woman nearby, also watching intently. You move over closer to them. The man is Simeon and the woman is Anna.
Witness as Simeon moves forward to take the child in his arms, speaking of blessing and salvation. Listen to the prediction he makes to Mary about Jesus’ destiny and her own suffering to come.
Listen also to Anna’s words of gratitude and coming redemption.
What moves you, or troubles you, or consoles you as you witness this little family in these extraordinary moments? How might all this connect to your own life?
How do you react? Do you interact with anyone in the scene? If so, what happens?
Before you close your prayer, spend a few moments in conversation. You might want to talk with Joseph or Mary or Simeon or Anna about your prayer, sharing your thoughts and feelings and listening to what they have to say in response. Or, you might consider talking with God about it all.
When you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?