During one of my college retreats, I underwent my first Ignatian exercise and imagined myself as the Good Thief. This meant that I imagined myself crucified alongside Jesus. I was hyperventilating and I felt a sharp pain on my back. I could’ve sworn that my hands and feet were pierced because I felt air blowing through them.
When the exercise ended, it felt like I woke up from a very vivid dream. I was still in the dark room, shaking in my seat. And yes, this is a typical experience of the Ignatian Exercises. Proceed with caution because, as someone I met on retreat said, “It’s lot of Jesus coming at you.”
Aside from the overwhelming intensity, there are some things I remember about that particular Ignatian Exercise. When I was imagining myself as the Good Thief, I imagined Jesus’s face, all bloody and beaten. The image of the Crucified Christ has always made me uncomfortable. Images of the wounds on Jesus’s back make me uneasy. Saint Teresa of Avila had a similar experience with the image of the Crucified Christ. But seeing the Crucified Christ isn’t exactly an experience that provokes feelings of rainbows and puppies. It hurts knowing that my sins contributed to Christ’s pain. But at the same time, knowing His suffering nature compels me to offer my pain with His own.
I think that people who are undergoing intense pain and loneliness can find themselves in the Good Thief’s shoes. They can unite their pain with Jesus and find a sense of renewal from that suffering.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.