The First Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola offers us an opportunity to reflect on sin in our own lives and in the world. Like the lost sheep, however, we are not left on our own to despair of our sinfulness. God loves us. When I would hear today’s Gospel as a child, I remember thinking that it didn’t make any sense for a shepherd to leave 99 well-behaved and cooperative sheep in order to search for one that had wandered away. Even from this suburban girl’s minimal knowledge of farm animals, it seemed to me that the 99 were more likely to get themselves into trouble without the shepherd there to watch them. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to a greater understanding of what Jesus is saying to us. Rather than thinking of myself as one of the 99, I realize that I am–as we all are–a sinner. I am the lost sheep.

In spite of our sinfulness, and seeks us out when we have wandered away. This love is not a passive love where God waits for us to see the error of our ways and come back to him. Rather, God, like the shepherd, actively seeks us out when we wander, forgives us, and invites us into a deeper relationship with him.

One of the meditations in the First Week invites us to imagine that we are praying to Jesus on the cross. During this time, we ask ourselves:

  • What have I done for Christ?

  • What am I doing for Christ?

  • What ought I do for Christ?

As we enter more deeply into this season of Advent, I find myself drawn to the image of the infant Jesus. I imagine myself sitting and rocking Mary’s baby, just as I have spent so many hours rocking with my own children. As I look down into the face of baby Jesus, embodying peace, hope and promise, I ask myself:

  • What have I done for the infant Jesus?

  • What am I doing for the infant Jesus?

  • What ought I do for the infant Jesus?

—Lauren Gaffey is Director of Programs and Administration at Charis Ministries. Founded in 2000, Charis Ministries reaches those in their 20s and 30s nationwide, nurturing their faith through retreats based in Ignatian spirituality.