Ignatius draws on his military past in an exercise reflecting on what he calls the Two Standards (meaning “flags” or “banners” under which an army would march). One represents the kingdom of Christ; the other represents the dominion of “the enemy of our human nature.” Both desire to rule the world, but they have opposing tactics, values, and motivations. The enemy draws followers through promises of riches, worldly honor, and pride, and he rules by corruption and oppression. Christ calls his followers to poverty, wordly rejection, and humility, and he rules by gentleness and liberation. At first, the choice seems easy, but as Jesus’ own temptation teaches us, the strategies of Satan can be subtle, seductive, and even sound sensible.
Ignaitus says to imagine these kingdoms as two "great plains.” One is ugly, confused, withering, chaotic, and fearful. Satan sits on a high and terrible throne. The other is beautiful, simple, flourishing, peaceful, and free. Christ sits low and humble with his people. Ignatius’ vision is very medieval, but we can update this exercise by imagining nations and regions that are either dominated by riches, violence, and oppression or guided by justice, freedom, and peace. There is no middle ground. With every choice and desire, we align ourselves with one of these kingdoms.
Ignatius also saw that life unfolds in two kinds of seasons (that are somewhat like the two standards): consolation and desolation. He describes them as “movements of the soul.” Consolation describes the state of being in love with God—peaceful, joyful, focused on others, steady in faith and striving for virtue. Desolation describes the state of being restless and cut off from God—miserable, isolated, self-obsessed, full of doubt and drawn to harmful things. Strands of both consolation and desolation are woven throughout the seasons of our life, and God can use them both to draw us closer to him. Just as God himself led Jesus into the desert, we are sometimes led into desolation.
- Read Mark 1:12–13: "At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him."
- Ask God for perseverance in temptation and for purity of heart.
- Why does the Spirit lead him into this? Feel the heat of the desert, tedious dragging on of empty time, the dry and invasive dust, the debilitating hunger. Beneath all of that, feel the push and pull of temptation, the battle between the "two standards.” Feel the impulse to give up, to give in to an easier way.
- Consider the specific temptations (from Matthew and Luke) as they relate to the Standard of Satan: turning stones into bread, making a spectacle by throwing himself off the temple, bowing down to the enemy to receive worldly power. Reflect on Jesus’ endurance, self-denial, and focus.
- Even in the desert, consolation and desolation are both close at hand: “He was with the wild beasts and angels waited on him.” Talk with Jesus in the desert about your life right now. Where do you see wild beasts—patterns of desolation? Where do you see the angels—patterns of consolation? Where do you feel the tension between the kingdoms of good and evil? Commit yourself there in the desert to serve Jesus as your King and his Kingdom as your homeland.