One of the Spiritual Exercises’ key meditations is the Two Standards. We are asked to imagine a vast battlefield with Christ’s forces in one place, Satan’s in another, both asking for our allegiance. St. Ignatius wrote out of a military, medieval worldview, but let’s not allow that to distract us from the importance of the Two Standards. (In this case, standards were flags used to identify armies in battle.) Jim Manney points out the deeper and broader meanings:
Behind the meditation of the Two Standards is a practical theory of vice and virtue. Good and evil aren’t abstractions. They show themselves in concrete actions in the real world. Note a couple of significant details in the meditation. First, the contest between Christ and Satan takes place in this world, not in some spiritual realm. As far as we’re concerned, the power of evil is centered on earth, not in hell, and God’s kingdom is in this world, not in heaven. Note also that both Christ and Satan work through agents. Satan sends out demons; Christ works through apostles, disciples, and other emissaries. Another detail: no part of the earth is left out, “No province, no place, no state of life, no individual is overlooked.” You don’t get a pass if you’re a priest or nun, if you come from a religious family, or if you live in a nation with a strong Christian culture. Everybody’s in this battle and must choose a side. (God Finds Us, 81-82)
It’s important that we ask ourselves a very basic question: Is there evil in the world? And a question that must follow: How does evil work its way into my life? Ignatius explored and developed answers to these questions, and the Christian community through the centuries has remained, more or less, in agreement with him. Evil is real; it is intelligent and seeks our harm. Every day we must make choices that move us either in the direction of evil or in the direction of God’s loving purposes.
- How have you experienced evil?
- How do you know when you are choosing for evil rather than good?