Elder Costa’s Ignatian Spirituality #ldsconf

According to Wikipedia, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa grew up in a Catholic family in Brazil. [1] Although his family met LDS missionaries when he was 12, another 15 years passed before he joined the Church. His talk in the Sunday Morning session shows how Elder Costa was able to bring spiritual riches from the faith of his earlier life and use them to enrich Mormon spirituality. Specifically, his talk borrows two practices from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and brings them together in a powerful synthesis of Mormon sacramentalism.

Costa’s first Ignatian practice is to meditate upon scriptural texts by vividly picturing the scenes they depict. Ignatius provides a model in a contemplation on the Nativity:

First Prelude. The first Prelude is the narrative and it will be here how Our Lady went forth from Nazareth, about nine months with child, as can be piously meditated, seated on an ass, and accompanied by Joseph and a maid, taking an ox, to go to Bethlehem to pay the tribute which Caesar imposed on all those lands.

Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see with the sight of the imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem; considering the length and the breadth, and whether such road is level or through valleys or over hills; likewise looking at the place or cave of the Nativity, how large, how small, how low, how high, and how it was prepared.

Third Prelude. The third will be the same, and in the same form, as in the preceding Contemplation.

First Point. The first Point is to see the persons; that is, to see Our Lady and Joseph and the maid, and, after His Birth, the Child Jesus, I making myself a poor creature and a wretch of an unworthy slave, looking at them and serving them in their needs, with all possible respect and reverence, as if I found myself present; and then to reflect on myself in order to draw some profit.

Second Point. The second, to look, mark and contemplate what they are saying, and, reflecting on myself, to draw some profit.

Third Point. The third, to look and consider what they are doing, as going a journey and laboring, that the Lord may be born in the greatest poverty; and as a termination of so many labors — of hunger, of thirst, of heat and of cold, of injuries and affronts — that He may die on the Cross; and all this for me: then reflecting, to draw some spiritual profit.

Ignatius provides a careful structure for the meditation, first establishing the narrative and the setting and then inviting the meditator to insert herself in the scene thus created. This process then creates an occasion for deep reflection and personal application.

Costa describes a similar activity while reflecting on the sacrament:

I read and deeply meditated on the prayers and the ordinance of the sacrament. I began to go over, in my mind and in my heart, the events that are connected to it.

In a spirit of meditation, I reflected upon that day, the first day of the feast of unleavened bread, when He, in response to His disciples’ question about where to prepare for the Passover, answered unto them, saying, “Go into the city unto such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house with my disciples.”

Costa then proceeeds to visualize the events of the Last Supper, from the disciples’ preparations to the institution of the sacrament. His next step follows the pattern established by Ignatius, as he inserts himself into the scene and experiences personal application:

In my mind, I looked at the disciples, one by one, and saw in their eyes their concern for the Master whom they loved greatly. It was as if I was sitting there with them, watching everything. I felt an intense pain in my heart, full of grief and sorrow for what He was about to experience for me.

So immersive was Costa’s meditation that he experiences the Savior’s atonement as future, not past.

The second Ignatian method that Costa borrows is careful meditation on the words of liturgical prayers:

Second Method of Prayer. The Second Method of Prayer is that the person, kneeling or seated, according to the greater disposition in which he finds himself and as more devotion accompanies him, keeping the eyes closed or fixed on one place, without going wandering with them, says FATHER, and is on the consideration of this word as long as he finds meanings, comparisons, relish and consolation in considerations pertaining to such word. And let him do in the same way on each word of the OUR FATHER, or of any other prayer which he wants to say in this way.

Again, Costa hews closely to the Ignatian pattern:

I then pondered about the sacrament we partake every week in remembrance of Him. While doing so, I meditated upon each word of the blessing on the bread and the water. I deeply reflected about the words: “And always remember him,” in the blessing on the bread, and “That they do always remember him,” in the blessing on the water.

Costa proceeds in his talk to unfold the fruits of these meditations, in fifteen bullet points.

In tandem, Costa’s meditative methods invite Latter-day Saints to practice a different kind of sacramental presence that complements the spiritual presence promised by the prayers (emphasized yesterday by Sister Marriott and Elder Lawrence, and reiterated today by President Eyring): he invites us to make ourselves present to the sacrament by attending carefully to the words of the prayer, and by immersing ourselves in the scenes that the prayers’ scriptural intertexts open up.

As Latter-day Saints we often talk about the importance of reading and pondering on the scriptures (a message we’ve heard several times in this conference), but we only rarely talk about methods for making this exercise fruitful. It’s as though we are commanded to fish, handed a fishing rod, and trusted not to go hungry, without anyone telling us how to bait a hook or find a good spot. Elder Costa’s talk provides a welcome exception to this pattern, drawing on useful advice from the Catholic tradition and showing the kinds of fruit it has born in his own personal experience. As such, his talk has useful application well beyond its original context of the sacrament, showing in the process that the spiritual heritages that converts bring with them into the Church really can bless us all.

[1] I haven’t been able to verify this detail elsewhere. Wikipedia’s documentation doesn’t back it up. I welcome corroborative (or corrective) evidence if anyone knows where to find it.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, Jason. This is really insightful.

  2. Great post. This really resonates with me right and I would have missed the connections without you pointing them out.

    His family being Catholic is mentioned at the end of the second paragraph in this article:

    http://media.ldscdn.org/pdf/magazines/new-era-october-2007/2007-10-11-a-testimony-of-prophets-eng.pdf?download=true

  3. Thanks for the source!

  4. Elder Costa’s talk reminded me of Orson F. Whitney’s vision of Gethsemane, and this post sort of makes me see Elder Whitney’s vision in a new light.

  5. YES!!!!! As he was speaking I thought, THIS IS SO CATHOLIC!! Thank you Jason K for this great connection to the Spiritual Exercises. I thought also of the mysteries of the rosary because it is common when meditating on the mysteries to visualize scenes from Jesus’ life and imagine yourself there.
    http://www.catholic-kids.com/picturemysteries.html