Gospel Contemplation: Who Do You Say That I Am?
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.
Background to the text
In the passages from the Gospel of Matthew that we've been hearing over the last couple of months, Jesus is often chiding his disciples. They seem to be blind to who he is and their faith is shaky. But this week this changes when Simon Peter names Jesus as the Christ. Jesus names Peter blessed and declares him the foundation of the church.
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 to know and acknowledge Jesus for who he truly is.
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.
Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
As you imagine this scene in your mind, try to lay aside your familiarity with this passage and enter the scene as one who is experiencing it in real time. Jesus is together with his disciples, including you. Where are you all – are you indoors or somewhere or outside?
Imagine the place and everything that you can see.
Notice how warm or cold it is, see what people are wearing, and how they are with one another.
What can you hear, what can you smell?
Where do you find your place in this scene?
There you are, together with the disciples and Jesus, and the conversation has moved to weighty topics, things that matter. Jesus wants to know what the people are saying about him. Listen or join in as disciples repeat what they’ve heard.
Now he gets to the heart of the matter. “But who do you say that I am?”
As silence comes over the disciples, what are you thinking and feeling?
Simon Peter speaks for the group "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
How does Peter’s response affect you?
Jesus responds to Peter with a blessing and a call. Listen as he names Simon Peter the rock on upon whichthe church will be built, and grants power to bind and to loose.
After a while, Jesus turns to you and asks, “And you, who do you say that I am?”
Let your response come from your own center.
And in response to you, Jesus gives you a blessing and the same call to loosen, to forgive and welcome. And the call to bind evil and the forces of death. What might this look like in your life and your faith community?
Continue your conversation with Jesus, sharing your thoughts and feelings with him. And listen to what he has to say in response. And 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?