Praying with the Squirrels — Lesson 1/7

Setting: At Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, there is an old Jesuit who feeds the university squirrels daily with leftover morsels of bread and nut, especially old cookies (their favorite treat). Every day around 6:00pm, he comes out of the side door with a Ziploc full of leftovers from the religious community and university dining halls. Just as he opens the door, immediately squirrels and sparrows from the Jesuit Garden and around the campus congregate to receive their meal from him. They know the exact time range so they would begin to wait patiently for him – squirrels on one side, sparrows on the other. The old Jesuit would go around the Garden to feed all of the squirrels and birds at the different stations and housings of each squirrel and bird families. He knows his animals and they trust him… Thus, I began to follow the holy man as he feeds his squirrels and birds (carefully observing and reflecting while keeping my retreat silence) and befriend the interesting and unique squirrels of Creighton University. As time progressed, they begin to trust in me (to the point of eating right next to me as I meditate) as I learn to see God, His love, and what He has to say through them.

Note: The purpose here is not to analyze behavior and psychology; however, you can use to some main points in the simple “life lessons” for your prayer. Feel free to use these “life lessons” as a tool to help you meditate or contemplate deeper into the ever-present reality of God’s love. This is only a starting point for your meditative prayer so do not be scared of using your prayerful imagination and reflection, He is always waiting and inviting you and I to meet Him at the simple and humble ground of our HEART… It’s up to us to respond and discover what He has to say and teach us (of ourselves, of our sinfulness, of His mercy and love for us, and whatever else He wants to reveal).

Lesson 1

Because of his daily routine and since the old Jesuit has earned their trust – and it took him a long time to build that relationship – the animals of the Jesuit Garden learn to wait for his presence. In his simple daily feeding, he teaches them to trust in humans, to be contented and happy with their given portion (since he knows how much each one needs). They know that he will provide them with what they need as long as they keep their eyes on him. When he looks at them and when they in return look at him, only then will he throw the portion – and they all wait for their turn. Thus, from one generation of animals to the next, they learn how to trust other humans who are at peace and come with goodwill and are cautious of people or things that can harm them or not of good will instinctively.

Reflection

God does the same thing to us if we look and recognize His presence in our lives. When we know and see Him gazing at us lovingly (and others that are from Him or like Him in spirit), we also learn how to trust and love others and approach with caution with things that are not of Him.

Just like the university squirrels, our distorted nature is selfish and distrusting (even to the one who “feeds” and loves us) because we are defensively scared of being hurt, but He continues to feed you and I with loving mercy and compassion, patiently waiting and giving until the right time for us to see and trust in Him. O Lord, your loving patience slowly – but surely – changes my selfish and distrusting tendency altogether.

* It is appropriate now to include the Principle and Foundation with the two sets of Rules for the Discernment of Spirits according to St. Ignatius of Loyola for us to use as a valuable reference on our spiritual journey. Even though it seems to be long for some people, it is extremely useful and practical for our spiritual discernment. Please see the next five pages for the included material…

“Father, please let me see your loving presence in my life.”

Scriptural suggestions: Isaiah 43: 1-7 and/or Psalm 139

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PRINCIPLE AND FOUNDATION: Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created. From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

*** This first set of rules are for understanding to some extent the different movements produced in the souls and for recognizing those that are good to admit them, and those that are bad, to reject them. ***

  • The First Rule: In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.
  • The second: In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, it is the method contrary to that in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.
  • The Third: OF SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all. Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one’s sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.
  • The Fourth: OF SPIRITUAL DESOLATION. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.
  • The Fifth: In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly.
  • The Sixth: Although in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful intensely to change ourselves against the same desolation, as by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.
  • The Seventh: Let him who is in desolation consider how the Lord has left him in trial in his natural powers, in order to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy; since he can with the Divine help, which always remains to him, though he does not clearly perceive it: because the Lord has taken from him his great fervor, great love and intense grace, leaving him, however, grace enough for eternal salvation.
  • The Eighth: Let him who is in desolation labor to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him: and let him think that he will soon be consoled, employing against the desolation the devices, as is said in the sixth Rule.
  • The ninth: There are three principal reasons why we find ourselves desolate. The first is, because of our being tepid, lazy or negligent in our spiritual exercises; and so through our faults, spiritual consolation withdraws from us. The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we let ourselves out in His service and praise without such great pay of consolation and great graces. The third, to give us true acquaintance and knowledge, that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to get or keep great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and that we may not build a nest in a thing not ours, raising our intellect into some pride or vain glory, attributing to us devotion or the other things of the spiritual consolation.
  • The Tenth: Let him who is in consolation think how he will be in the desolation which will come after, taking new strength for then.
  • The Eleventh: Let him who is consoled see to humbling himself and lowering himself as much as he can, thinking how little he is able for in the time of desolation without such grace or consolation. On the contrary, let him who is in desolation think that he can do much with the grace sufficient to resist all his enemies, taking strength in his Creator and Lord.
  • The Twelfth: The enemy acts like a woman, in being weak against vigor and strong of will. Because, as it is the way of the woman when she is quarrelling with some man to lose heart, taking flight when the man shows her much courage: and on the contrary, if the man, losing heart, begins to fly, the wrath, revenge, and ferocity of the woman is very great, and so without bounds; in the same manner, it is the way of the enemy to weaken and lose heart, his temptations taking flight, when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things opposes a bold front against the temptations of the enemy, doing diametrically the opposite. And on the contrary, if the person who is exercising himself commences to have fear and lose heart in suffering the temptations, there is no beast so wild on the face of the earth as the enemy of human nature in following out his damnable intention with so great malice.
  • The Thirteenth: Likewise, he acts as a licentious lover in wanting to be secret and not revealed. For, as the licentious man who, speaking for an evil purpose, solicits a daughter of a good father or a wife of a good husband, wants his words and persuasions to be secret, and the contrary displeases him much, when the daughter reveals to her father or the wife to her husband his licentious words and depraved intention, because he easily gathers that he will not be able to succeed with the undertaking begun: in the same way, when the enemy of human nature brings his wiles and persuasions to the just soul, he wants and desires that they be received and kept in secret; but when one reveals them to his good Confessor or to another spiritual person that knows his deceits and evil ends, it is very grievous to him, because he gathers, from his manifest deceits being discovered, that he will not be able to succeed with his wickedness begun.
  • The Fourteenth: Likewise, he behaves as a chief bent on conquering and robbing what he desires: for, as a captain and chief of the army, pitching his camp, and looking at the forces or defenses of a stronghold, attacks it on the weakest side, in like manner the enemy of human nature, roaming about, looks in turn at all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral; and where he finds us weakest and most in need for our eternal salvation, there he attacks us and aims at taking us.

*** This second set of rules serves for a more accurate discernment of spirit in conjunction with the first set. ***

  • The First: It is proper to God and to His Angels in their movements to give true spiritual gladness and joy, taking away all sadness and disturbance which the enemy brings on. Of this latter it is proper to fight against the spiritual gladness and consolation, bringing apparent reasons, subtleties and continual fallacies.
  • The Second: It belongs to God our Lord to give consolation to the soul without preceding cause, for it is the property of the Creator to enter, go out and cause movements in the soul, bringing it all into love of His Divine Majesty. I say without cause: without any previous sense or knowledge of any object through which such consolation would come, through one’s acts of understanding and will.
  • The Third: With cause, as well the good Angel as the bad can console the soul, for contrary ends: the good Angel for the profit of the soul, that it may grow and rise from good to better, and the evil Angel, for the contrary, and later on to draw it to his damnable intention and wickedness.
  • The Fourth: It is proper to the evil Angel, who forms himself under the appearance of an angel of light, to enter with the devout soul and go out with himself: that is to say, to bring good and holy thoughts, conformable to such just soul, and then little by little he aims at coming out drawing the soul to his covert deceits and perverse intentions.
  • The Fifth: We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquility and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.
  • The Sixth: When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and known by his serpent’s tail and the bad end to which he leads on, it helps the person who was tempted by him, to look immediately at the course of the good thoughts which he brought him at their beginning, and how little by little he aimed at making him descend from the spiritual sweetness and joy in which he was, so far as to bring him to his depraved intention; in order that with this experience, known and noted, the person may be able to guard for the future against his usual deceits.
  • The Seventh: In those who go on from good to better, the good Angel touches such soul sweetly, lightly and gently, like a drop of water which enters into a sponge; and the evil touches it sharply and with noise and disquiet, as when the drop of water falls on the stone. And the above-said spirits touch in a contrary way those who go on from bad to worse. The reason of this is that the disposition of the soul is contrary or like to the said Angels. Because, when it is contrary, they enter perceptibly with clatter and noise; and when it is like, they enter with silence as into their own home, through the open door.
  • The Eighth: When the consolation is without cause, although there be no deceit in it, as being of God our Lord alone, as was said; still the spiritual person to whom God gives such consolation, ought, with much vigilance and attention, to look at and distinguish the time itself of such actual consolation from the following, in which the soul remains warm and favored with the favor and remnants of the consolation past; for often in this second time, through one’s own course of habits and the consequences of the concepts and judgments, or through the good spirit or through the bad, he forms various resolutions and opinions which are not given immediately by God our Lord, and therefore they have need to be very well examined before entire credit is given them, or they are put into effect.
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