The expanded treatment of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen that follows is meant to show the richness of this format of prayer for incorporating spiritual / psychological learning and insights for closer union with God through a genuine repentance of our sins and freedom from shame, so that we can “praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord.” For St. Ignatius, that is what life is all about: life to the full for the Glory of God.
Given our linear style of thinking in the West, it can be easy to look at the Examen of St. Ignatius as a set of check boxes. However, it is an ongoing dynamic spiral that moves us closer to perfect freedom and love or moves us away into the realm of shame and darkness.
God has a dream for each of us. As we journey through each day of our lives, we move towards or away from that dream. We move freely into God’s life and dream for us or we move away from God
How can we move freely and fully into God’s life every day? How do we know if we are on track or headed in the right direction? Once again Jesus has shown us the way and even explicitly told us to pray and to listen attentively with our heart, soul, and mind. Becoming aware of God’s activity in our lives, intuitively and consciously, is the act of theological reflection. According to Donald D. St. Louis, the Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola can be a method for theological reflection on one’s ministry. It can also be a method of reflection on one’s daily life that can help us focus on the Way of Jesus, the path of our calling that is God’s Dream for Us.
St. Ignatius shows the way in the five points of the Examen.
“Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from. Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.
Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc. Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took. Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your wellbeing, or side-tracked you. These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best. You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear, and I am much more at peace”
The desire to be closer to God requires letting God tell me what would please him. That sounds very old fashioned and odd. But, there’s no way around it. Knowing God is knowing what is best — best for me and best for the world. I cannot eat sugar and refined carbohydrates and feel good. I just can’t. I love that stuff!! Knowing God and growing in holiness means that I would like to know which actions in my life would help me to be happy. Discernment is the skill with which I can learn to evaluate what is the best choice at any juncture in my road every day, all day long. There are certain feelings and thoughts that characterize good decisions and others which characterize poor decisions.
The End is the Beginning
Certainly, St. Ignatius never intended for the Examen to be a long exercise – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. It was part of his view of being a contemplative in action. We see and experience God all around us every day in everything. The Examen, in my view, was meant to reinforce a fundamental behavior and mindset that action for the Kingdom of Heaven is contemplation. Clearly, prayer and contemplation are prominent in the Spiritual Exercises.
As we move through our daily lives, the Examen offers a quick opportunity to check our direction through the day’s activities. It should not take a long time. It is simply a tool, like a road map, to help us stay on the road, on the Way of Jesus to God’s dream for us.
Spirituality is often seen as something separated from the everyday. It is something for the life beyond according to many. Holiness is sometimes seen as something not related to the physical. It is above the emotions and promises a respite from the messiness of daily life. From the earliest years of Christianity, we have a very different view.
We enter the mystery of God by following the grace and example of Jesus. In one of the earliest songs we have from the Christian community to whom St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, the way of Jesus is complete self-giving in freedom.
Although He existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)
St Irenaeus writes around the year 185 that the human person fully alive is the glory of God. As we grow and develop in our new life in Christ, we become like unto God through the mystery of God’s death and resurrection. We become “divine-ized” or more properly “divinized.” Like Jesus, we become truly human and truly divine in the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The divinity of Christ raises humanity to its highest manifestation in the Word Made Flesh.
Many times, there can be an apparent tension between “human fulfillment” and complete self-giving in freedom. There can be the mistaken notion that we are supposed to be miserable in this world and happy in the next. The more we “deny” ourselves, the holier we become. St. Irenaeus and the early followers of Jesus saw it differently. Our complete human integration in happiness is God’s dream for us. This doesn’t mean that life is without striving, suffering, and confusion. It does mean that being true to the person God intended us to be from all eternity is our purpose. Being “real” or authentic, being the person that we really are at our core, can cause serious problems if we deny it. On the other hand, being true to our calling, to be who we are, can cause serious problems as it did for Jesus.
There are also the negative forces of people not following God’s love and inflicting their pain and hurt on newborns and small children. Despite their best intentions, their hurts and wounds, whether they are parents, grandparents, or caregivers, “infect” the most vulnerable little ones and even strong adults. This is what we call original sin. It helps us to explain or come to terms with a world that is messed up, relationships that are toxic, and why things seem to never work out.
Our baptism is God’s way of pulling us out of this mess through His death and resurrection and placing us squarely in the triune God, that is, the relation of love itself. The Three Persons welcome us to their eternal dance of the Speaker / Creator, the Word / Redeemer, and the Spirit of Infinite, Unconditional Love – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are blessed and anointed in Confirmation in the Trinity and enter into that ever-present joy of Thanksgiving called the Eucharist when we attend Mass and share in the banquet that celebrates and renews all creation.
So, what has psychology got to do with it? All we need to do is to believe, obey the commandments, and say our prayers. Right? Shrinks are for people who are sick and messed up. I don’t need a padded cell! Then again, maybe each of us has built our own custom padded cell to keep away the hurt and pain we suffer.
St Augustine in his study
Often we think of psychology as something secular. Actually, the study of the soul, psychology is a key part of western philosophy from Greek times to the present. St. Augustine (354 – 430) is considered to be one of the great psychologists of the west. His autobiography, The Confessions shows a depth of insight into the conflicts within his own personality. St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) was also known for his spiritual psychology as seen in his Spiritual Exercises. Freud and other 20th century secular psychologists talked about the way we use religion, saying that it is an illusion. Carl Jung and Erick Erickson took psychology in a more spiritual direction. Catholic philosophers and theologians in the 20th century, such as Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner, used many of these insights to give us a deeper insight into the study of the soul. There is an entire area of study in Catholic and secular philosophy that focuses on how we perceive things.
Contemporary psychology – both secular and spiritual – provides a framework for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. These powerful tools can bring physical and mental wellness through profound spiritual insights and healing: “the glory of God is man fully alive.”
Mystagogy is the fourth and last stage in RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). The term comes from the Greek for “secret.” The reason this term is appropriate for Christianity is that the tradition understands much of its focus as being on the supernatural. By definition the supernatural is often not known nor experienced through ordinary reasoning or empirical interaction. During the time of Mystagogy, RCIA neophytes are called to deepen their experience of the Sacraments (or Mysteries) received at Easter and to understand them. The sacraments are a primary encounter of Christians with God and thus events with an ineffable dimension.
This time after the Easter Sacraments therefore includes opportunities for experience, reflection and learning. The most important goal is that neophytes grow in closeness to God. The second goal is that they know the joy of sharing their faith in the community of the Church. Neophytes are then encouraged to reach out eventually to those not part of the church community.
For new Catholics, the Eucharist, a mystery itself, is the model and the means of why and how one can live the life of a new creation. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself to believers in a humble and personal way and models the self-giving and purest kind of love that happened at the Crucifixion. The Eucharist transforms and empowers recipients to live a life that is full of the kind of love we see in Jesus. As they are fed, they can go out and feed others.
This new life is not something one can read about and just do. It is not a skill. It is a relationship. As a living relationship with God, it takes time. This relationship grows through the reception of the sacraments, prayer, and doing service. The period of Mystagogy is the beginning of what St. Paul calls “putting on Christ.” (Romans 13:14)
After the intense months of RCIA, it can be a shock for new Catholics suddenly not to be a part of a group attending the liturgy and practicing prayer, learning, and reflection. Many people involved in RCIA teams, as well as new Catholics, feel that Mystagogy, which usually lasts a month to six weeks, is not nearly long enough. Some parishes have RCIA programs that run one and one half years to two years. Other parishes encourage RCIA graduates to join Bible studies, prayer groups, adult religious education, parish retreats, and ministries within the parish community.
In the end, Mystagogy and the ensuing Christian life are a matter of trust. God lives in our depths and graces us in unseen ways. We often do not know exactly where we are going in life, but we know that Jesus is with us. During Mystagogy, the New Christian is led by the Holy Spirit deeper into God and the life of faith, both a matter of intellectual knowledge and unfathomable mystery. It is the beginning of a great adventure.
“It is time for the Lord to act.” These words proclaimed by the deacon to the priest in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy (known as the Mass in the Roman Catholic church) tell us something important about God’s participation in human life. The word for time used in this statement is “kairos,” meaning the perfect or decisive moment in which conditions are right for something very important to take place — a time when God acts. The beginning of a Eucharistic celebration (Mass or Divine Liturgy) is one such time.
In a very real way, the celebration of the Rite of Initiation of Christian Adults (RCIA), culminating at Easter Vigil with Baptism, Confirmation, and first reception of Communion, is a series of kairos events in the life of believers.
In Roman Catholic tradition, we have baptized infants and children for centuries. Most members of the church have no memory of their baptism. First Communion, around the age of reason, is more commonly remembered. Confirmation, when received in adolescence, is remembered more clearly. Nevertheless, the three Sacraments of Initiation are designed to be received at the same time. In fact, since Vatican II, the Church has asked dioceses around the world to re-unite them, including with the initiation of children. This is the practice in the Eastern churches.
But children are not the only source of new Christians. Adults have always come to the Christian community and asked to be admitted to membership. The process of instructing and welcoming new members has taken many forms over the 2,000 year history of our community. Since Vatican II, returning to the tradition of the early Church, the RCIA has been the way we have welcomed new believers.
This year at Easter Vigil, as we again lit the new fire and blessed the waters of baptism, we welcomed our new sisters and brothers by plunging them into the newly blessed baptismal waters or pouring the water over their heads. We have anointed them with chrism, the oil blessed by the bishop during Holy Week. Chrism is used to anoint the hands of priests, the heads of bishops, the altar and walls of a church, and the newly baptized. In Confirmation, it is also used to anoint and strengthen the new Christian, bringing the wisdom and strength from the Holy Spirit to witness to the presence and activity of God in all creation. Finally, we complete their initiation by sharing the very Body and Blood of our Lord with them as food for the day-to-day journey of faith.
Such a lot happens in a very short time! It’s far too much to fully comprehend in the moment. It will take a lifetime to ponder and experience the growth and flowering of the seed brought to birth at Easter Vigil – the new life of faith and community of travelers on the way in God’s kingdom.
The newly baptized ideally are continuing their journey in a time of sharing and learning known as mystagogy – a time of awakening in the Spirit and entering ever more deeply into the mystery. Common reactions/experiences of those who have newly received these sacraments include a hunger for scripture, a desire to learn more, a longing for community and sharing, an urge to step away to pray and ponder what they have experienced, excitement, wonder, and joy. Eventually, they may also experience a quieting of the initial excitement, a sense of God not being so close anymore, disillusionment upon discovering the “warts” or “clay feet” of other members of the community. All of this is normal. It’s all part of the journey of faith.
Jesus’ disciples and friends did not fully understand what happened in that Kairos moment of Easter and resurrection. Two thousand years later, we still cannot explain it. God acted in a decisive way, defeating the power of death and separation between God-self and humanity by becoming one of us and experiencing human life fully. Now it is our turn to enter, as members of the Christian community, into the life of the Trinity. It is a journey of a lifetime, lived step by step by the baptized.
Welcome, Sisters and Brothers to this amazing journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We look forward to learning from you of the wonders our God is doing in your life and we promise to share with you the wonders we have seen. The Kairos moment has come into our lives. Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen!
Most of us think of liturgy as something that happens inside the Church building. Here’s a short quiz. Don’t worry because we will tell you the answers. It’s easier than making rock sculptures at the beach and there are no smashed thumbs. (Really.)
Question 1: Liturgy is the “work of the people.”
Generally, we look at the Greek word “leitourgia” which referred to a public event or ceremony put on by the local population. People would worship various gods, offer sacrifices, or worship the emperor with parades, games, and feasting. ACTUALLY, our worship happens to us as Christians when we allow ourselves to get caught up in the life of the Trinity.
Question 2: The liturgy is the Mass.
I think that there is something else
Well… Liturgy usually refers to the official worship of the Church. This includes the Mass and the Sacraments, as well as the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the breviary or the office.
Question 3: Everything else is private prayer and is not “officially” Liturgy.
Used to be true
The times they are a’changing
This diagram shows how we generally think of the liturgy and other prayers or ways that we connect with God.
Taking a closer look at Vatican II’s teaching on the liturgy in Sacrosanctum Concilium, we find a broader understanding of Liturgy as something more than the Mass and the Sacraments. Liturgy is more than focusing on all of the little red marking in the margins of the book that tell you how to perform the ceremony. Liturgy is the encounter with God who is the source and summit of our life. This obviously happens in the Mass and the Sacraments. But we also encounter God in our lives and the prayers and devotions we say in church, at home, or in public – like saying the rosary, lighting a candle, or saying grace before meals. We also encounter God in nature and exploring the stars. Since our life in the Trinity is one continuous whole we experience a liturgy of life.
Question 4: Liturgy pervades my life since I am part of the Body of Christ and caught up in the Spirit.
All of the time.
Some of the time.
Not if I am clueless.
Only if I let it.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
Why aren’t people coming to Church? People have always found God in nature, their everyday lives, and their prayer and celebrations at home. Many people now have different maps. They have different ways in which they arrange their lives. Where is worship in today’s society? How is it happening?
We have all kinds of maps. Our homes (blueprints), our communities, the world, and even the known universe. These physical mental maps shape the way we see things and feel about them. So where does worship fit into our map? There is the physical location of the church. But there are other maps. Where do we meet and see God in our lives? What does it mean to be a Catholic Christian in the business world, the entertainment world, the world of social media?
If you’re having a barbeque in your backyard, we can say that it located in your patio by your pool. In another sense, we can say that it is located among your network of family and friends. It is located in your social network. We can say that is is bounded or that its boundaries are your house and your back fence. However, we can also say that the boundaries of your backyard barbeque are the relationships you have with family and friends.
In general, formal liturgy is not in our backyards by the pool. However, liturgy is not only just inside the Church building, because liturgy is how we celebrate what God is doing in our lives. Worship is our response to God’s overflowing, unceasing love and grace. So it happens outside of Church in our wonder at nature and in our personal devotions in our homes, which are also called the “domestic Church.”
Boundaries, Maps, and Boundedness
In his book The Liturgy of Life: The interrelationship of Sunday Eucharist and Everyday Worship Practices, Fr. Ricky Manalo talks about the various physical regions within the church building which are defined by their purposes. They are also related to cognitive and emotional states that are bounded by social and cultural concepts, images, and archetypes. As ministers / administrators of the sacred liturgical space, we are faced with mundane questions at the beginning and sometimes throughout the Sunday liturgy. “Where is everyone?” and “What can we expect from this week’s collection?” These questions might seem unworthy of us, but they can lead us to ask deeper questions about the lack of religious observance and the spiritual needs of those whose hands are not moistened by the holy water font. I believe that looking at boundedness can give new horizons to discover the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
There are cosmic, social, and individual states of boundedness that are physical, cognitive, and emotional. In our homes, we have physical, social, and emotional spaces such as the kitchen, the living room, bedrooms, and the bathroom. These physical boundaries evoke a much deeper sense of boundedness. In our homes and in our lives more broadly, we have public, liminal (transitional), and private spaces. In many respects, “source and summit” can be defined as a state that is bounded. Rahner and Phan expanded Vatican II’s concepts and statements about the “source and summit” of our faith.This expansion gave us a much larger map of “source and summit” beyond the formal celebration of the Eucharist. Rahner gives us the cosmic boundedness of creation held in being and continuously created and healed that echoes the Divine Milieu of Chardin. Phan bridges the divide between formally prescribed liturgical ritual and the messy creativeness of popular religiosity in the awareness of the divine and its celebration primarily, but not exclusively, outside the physical walls of the church building.
Beyond a sense of physical space, boundedness refers to the influence of external conditions. This diagram from the environmental website Inhabitat.com shows various physical and biological states that determine the viability of life on the planet. These are boundary states. For example, genetic diversity has decreased below a safe level. The remaining species might be wiped out by a sudden disease or event because the diversity of these species is lacking. The potato famine in Ireland is a case in point. There was little diversity and when the dominant variety of potatoes was destroyed by a blight in the mid-1800s, thousands of people starved to death. A review of this chart shows which environmental factors are within safe limits and those that are not for life on space ship Earth.
Shifting our focus from the planet to our Life in the Spirit, we can look at three boundary conditions of “source and summit.” We experience God as “source and summit” in our personal mystical experience in nature and everyday life. We also have experiences of God in our prayers and celebrations at home. Of course, we are used to thinking of encountering God in formal services, “cultic behavior” in church buildings. If we look at this diagram as a continuum, we can see that the varying approaches of Fr. Manalo’s study participants focused on various parts of the spectrum relative to their experience of the origin points of their primary experience of meaning (source) and their customary points of their peak experiences of peace-filled transcendence (summit).
Although, each of the participants in the study had an affiliation with St. Agnes Parish, their attendance at Sunday Mass varied extensively despite being deeply spiritual / religious people with rich inner lives and exemplary public lives. Clearly, our place on this transcendental spectrum can change throughout the day, from day to day, and month to month.
If we look at declining rates of Sunday observance by Catholics and devotional practice, we might see them as a shift from public expression to a more interior disposition. American cultural disillusionment with its own civil and religious institutions is shown by the lack of moral leadership these institutions are accorded. The sex abuse crisis has also converted institutional Catholicism into a place of danger and moral indifference in the view of many Catholics.
The other cultural factor facing American Catholicism is the broadening of these states of boundedness or membership since Vatican II, as demonstrated in the thought of Karl Rahner and Peter Phan. Rahner talks about the “anonymous” Christian. This is a person who may never have heard of Christ but is nevertheless touched and guided by the Holy Spirit, since God’s love is never limited by what we do or do not do. Peter Phan has refocused the idea of the source and summit of our lives to be God. He makes the point that God is active in our private devotions and in all of creation. The Second Vatican Council re-asserted the ancient teaching from the Gospels that the Holy Spirit is leading people in a variety of ways. We do not save ourselves. Clearly, the Church emphasizes the dignity of the human person in the sacrosanct inner core of conscience. This effectively encourages an emphasis on the heart as opposed to the false security of merely observing institutional mandates.
Perhaps, the bigger question for us as ministers is why people are finding more meaning in the informal worship (popular religion) of traditional devotions, evangelical churches, or the New Age folks who refer to the Supreme Being as “the Universe.” The boundary conditions for religion and spirituality in our current culture have shifted. To a degree this is the result of bigger social and cultural boundary conditions regarding what it is to be an American. In the past, Americans were defined by their church membership, ethnicity, service clubs, neighborhoods, obedience to authority, and trust in the democratic process. Religious people used to be defined more narrowly by their church attendance and adherence to rules, such as not eating meat on Friday, going to Confession (Reconciliation) on Saturdays, and attending Catholic schools and universities. To be an American is something much broader these days and so is being a Catholic Christian. We are unlikely to change this constellation of economic and social forces in an era of social media.
Perhaps the way for people to find their way to the cultic end of the spectrum and into our churches is to engage people through work for peace and justice. The other is, of course, to be with people and listen to them without an agenda. In today’s boundaries, we find that experiencing and sharing in God, the source and summit, is something we do with others. Heart speaks to heart – Cor ad cor loquitor – as St Augustine said of his own conversion.
Nathan Mitchell, in Meeting Mystery: Liturgy, Worship, Sacraments, explains that the body is the locus of the liturgy, the place where it happens, the means by which it is possible. There can be no ritual. There can be no physical non-verbal language without the body. There can be no metaphor. The soul and the body are oscillations of one dynamic in space-time. They are one in relation to the world and one in relation to each other. Each oscillation of the human entity makes us truly divine and truly human.
In Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas,” the Risen Christ is corporeal and expressed in the early modern language of the color, composition, and sensibility of Naples around 1600.
Interestingly, the apostles are old men, Christ is in his 20’s. This is the language and metaphor of glorification. The bodies — glorified and non-glorified — move in the ritual of question, confusion, epiphany, and awe of Christ and for Christ.
In contrast, John Granville Gregory’s 20th Century English conception of “Still Doubting” employs a more post-modern body in its language.
The lighting is from above and is more photographic. The bodies themselves emanate no light but reflect it, shade it, shape it, ripple it. Although the gesture, the “ritual,” is the same as Caravaggio’s, the language is distinct. The young disciples bring more the boldness of youthful investigative analysis and curiosity. Caravaggio’s disciples bring the befuddlement of age and astonished wonder. Gregory’s Christ is more exuberant, almost playful. Caravaggio’s ritual metaphor is more amazed contemplation and rapture. Gregory’s is energetic discovery and youthful surprise. It almost looks like it could be an album cover from the late 20th century. The metaphor is one of scientific discovery conveyed by the casual irreverence of seekers.
The take away is “no body, no liturgy”. This should really be at the forefront of our consciousness as ministers. How does my entity oscillate in its physical and non-physical manifestations? When we convene as the Body of Christ, how do we convey in our body-language the mystery of the hypostatic union of being truly human and truly divine? Do we dance with the music? Do we sway? Do we move to the beat of what stirs our heart? More importantly, do we physically feel our ministry to the oscillating bodies of those which we convene and by whom we are convened? Are we sexy?
Theologian Nathan Mitchell links Rahner’s view of the glorification of the human body with that of St. Paul. Both the human body and the human world are to be transfigured. “As Karl Rahner likes to say, we Christians are ‘the most sublime of materialists.’”  The end times, eschatology, requires the presence of the body since it involves the completion or fulfillment of humanity. It is anthropological in the sense of Christian theology’s view of the meaning and purpose of human existence.
This return to St Paul’s Jewish conception of the whole human person is at odds with the Greek philosopher Plato who lived about 500 years before Christ. This split view of the human person and the philosophy of Plato influenced the non-Jewish concept of Christianity in the first few centuries of the church. The modern mind body split was advocated by Rene Descartes (1596-1650). The human being is a spirit in a physical, perishable, inglorious container – that mortal coil that we are to shed, to shrug off. Instead, According to St. Paul we are to be glorified in Christ. We will have a post-resurrection body, a post resurrection existence beyond the constraints of space-time. “Rather, Jesus embodied humanity signifies that our flesh belongs forever to the very definition of the Divine.” 
However current neuroscience shows that we cannot separate the mind and the body. One cannot exist without the other. Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain Damasio argues that human emotion is the source of human reason. Generally, emotion has been relegated to the domain of the physical body in the sense that it is subordinate to human reason. In classical Greek thinking, the daimon is that disordered divine fire that challenges the orderly function of society. The daimon is Socrates’ inner light. Even in the modern Freudian construct, the id is a disruptive force that threatens the ego and must be overcome by the superego.
In traditional Christian asceticism (physical and spiritual practices that bring us closer to God), the flesh and its desires are something to be controlled, conquered, and ultimately, denied. Even the traditional Greek notion of contemplation, theorein is to see with the mind, to understand. These unseemly, emotionally, messy parts of our being will somehow be blotted out in our salvation according to this approach. If we are leaving behind the idea that mind and body can be split (dualism), how can our emotions which are key to our relationships be glorified? How can such unwieldy things move into that glorification of the body which is the seat of all relationships and the primary means of our entering into the life of the Trinity – a life that is pure relation?
In the ancient eastern churches, there is a screen between the people and the sanctuary. It is a stand filled with icons. It is called an iconstasis. The doors of the iconstasis are the doors of heaven, how does our emotional physicality allow us to enter the Kingdom as truly human and divine? In the eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions people are saved by entering into the life of the Trinity. Like Christ we a become human and divine in our body and soul. The liturgy takes place in our bodies since we are present and active. How then are we glorified in this emotional physicality in the formal liturgy? Clearly, this is more evident in African and African-American liturgies as well as those of the Charismatic Renewal where there is singing, clapping, dancing, and joyous praise. However, our polite, suburban, middle class rituals are safely sanitized to avoid any possible messiness of profound human expression. We call the Spirit down politely, so we can avoid Divine Fire. Our preaching is flat – a styrofoam balm upon the wounds and disappointment of the week and our lives. We sing hymns of praise, but they do not compare to the shouts of spectator sports or the glee of winning a game show.
When we die our bodies are washed by strangers and filled with liquid preservatives and returned to our loved ones pressed and dry-cleaned. This does not seem to be Rahner’s or St. Paul’s moment of glorification. This does look the climax of the Christian meaning of life and death which is called Christian anthropology. The challenge we face in worship is to bring tangible emotion rippling through our loins and sinews. We are challenged and graced to join the full, active, and conscious union of mind, body, and spirit in the dance of the Trinity. Let’s dance!
 Mitchell, N D, (2006) Meeting the Mystery: Liturgy, Worship, Sacraments, Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 156
Jesus began to address them, once more using parables. “The reign of God may be likened to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the wedding, but they refused to come. … Then he said to his servants: ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were unfit to come. That is why you must to out into the byroads and invite to the wedding anyone you come upon.’ The servants then went out into the byroads and rounded up everyone they met, bad as well as good. This filled the wedding hall with banqueters …” (Mt 22:1-14)
Today’s parable is a potent reminder of God’s relentless pursuit of humanity. A King prepared a banquet for the wedding of his son. Take note: It was the King who invited. When he invites, you are mandated to go. People were invited but they refused. Almost begging, the King sent another invitation and each had their own petty excuses.
Religion, they say, is man’s search for God. But the biblical God is different. He searches for man. He longs for him. He initiates. One of the very first words God said to man in the Scriptures are: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9). Those are not words looking for location and direction, but the words of a lover luring his unfaithful beloved back into the right relationship.
When the English poet Francis Thompson described God as the “Hound of Heaven” (a hound is a dog breed with a strong sense of smell, relentless in pursuing subjects), many were scandalized. But he was right. God is a Divine “hound” whose search for His beloved humanity is relentless and constant.
If the image of God as a hound in pursuit is scandalous, what more is God’s courtesy in His pursuit? He is God. He doesn’t need to ask. Instead, He invites, asks, and proposes. God risks the embarrassment of rejection. If you were in God’s place, I’m sure you would not take that risk.
I once saw a Korean guy who went to the flight attendants, asked for the microphone, and publicly proposed marriage to his girlfriend on the plane. The guy said, “I have something to ask you and you’re free to choose from the four possible answers. You can either say “Yes,” “Of Course,” “Why Not,” and “Absolutely.” So much for freedom, huh? The choices left no room for the possibility of rejection. God took the risk of rejection because that is the way of genuine love. If we were created in a way that we could not say “No” to God, then our “Yes” to Him would be of no value. God longs for our free and genuine “Yes.” For that, He is willing to suffer the embarrassment of an ignorant “No” from a worthless yet arrogant humanity.
God continues to invite us today, through the Holy Eucharist. This is God’s banquet, his wedding reception. That is why all the elements of a party are present in the Eucharist…
For all the beauty of the Eucharist, how many people truly understand the Eucharist so as to be excited to partake of it every week? How many of us who attend are always motivated with real rejoicing in being here?
It happened again the other day. I had gone to the grocery store after dinner to get flour, yeast, and a couple of other things so I could start baking early the next morning. It was time to make the Hot Cross Buns for Holy Week and Easter. I make a very large batch of them in a house that is typically on the cool side, so it can be an all-day process to get the yeast growing fast enough to form and bake the rolls before bedtime.
At any rate, as I was coming out of the store, I crossed the parking lot with my cart of groceries and man approached with a smile. He had just been rebuffed by another woman, but he seemed unfazed by her rebuff. I figured he was going to ask for a handout. It would have been totally consistent with his clothing and general style of approach. It commonly happens in that particular parking lot. I braced myself for his request and prepared to demur.
Rather than ask for money, however, he asked if he could ask me a question. Keeping my distance and continuing towards my car, I told him he could ask, but I didn’t know if I would answer. He again smiled and simply asked if he could give me something. He was carrying five or six long plant leaves similar to palm fronds, but from a different species of plants. When I accepted his offer, he happily began folding and twisting, and turning one of the leaves.
By this point I was nearly to the car. As he busily worked, I opened the trunk and put the bags of groceries inside. (I’d gotten more than I had anticipated — I often remember more things we need once I get to the store.) As I closed the trunk he smiled and said, “Now for the magic.” Holding his creation in one hand, he firmly pressed down on the top of it and twisted it more closely together with the other. Then he took a second leaf and wrapped it quickly beneath the first, tying it by using his teeth to hold it tightly as he worked. When he finished, he stood up straight, bowed slightly, and offered me a flower. I smiled my delight and thanked him, exclaiming, “It’s beautiful.” He happily returned my smile and headed off across the parking lot, head held high, with hands that I now realized were wrapped in protective swaths of white bandage material, looking for someone else willing to accept a gift of beauty in the night from a stranger.
And I knew that I had once again met the Lord in the most unexpected of places and times.
Like many of you, I received a chain email from a friend about the moral imperative to support pro-life candidates. The email was basically an endorsement of Donald Trump including the statement that no Catholic could in good conscience support Hillary Clinton.
There is a good article in the National Catholic Register (a more conservative Catholic publication) about Trump’s pro-life position.
Pope Francis reaffirmed his opposition to abortion in his address before a joint session of Congress while he also re-affirmed immigration, poverty, and gun violence as pro-life issues. These views were also echoed by American archbishops and bishops.
While the Secretary Clinton’s policy is definitely pro-choice (in favor or legalized abortion), Mr Trump’s policies are opposed to Catholic teaching on immigration, income inequality, torture, refugees, and ending the death penalty.
This brings us to our usual election dilemma in which the Democratic Party is generally aligned with then Church’s teaching on social justice issues and the Republican Party is aligned with Church teaching on birth control, abortion, same sex marriage, and euthanasia.
Pope Francis has come out publicly against building a wall between the US and Mexico which is one of Mr. Trump’s signature initiatives.
“When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” (emphasis added)
With regard to reducing and eliminating abortion which should be a major priority for Christians we know that re-criminalizing it forces it underground and leads to the deaths of many young poor women. We also know that increasing education and economic subsidies for women makes it easier to choose life for the unborn. Many pro-life politicians also oppose paid maternity leave and longer term welfare for mothers. The Bill Clinton welfare reform in the 90’s gained bi-partisan support since it was aimed at “welfare mothers.” This decrease in aid tends to push women toward abortion.
Most people, according to many national polls are not happy with either candidate. However, if we are going to safeguard the unborn we need to have policies that support women, child welfare, and the family. While abortion is a tremendous evil, making it illegal will not stop it. We need to change the social incentives which push women toward abortion and create a social safety net that supports mothers and families.
By taking the broader approach that Pope Francis is recommending we can build a political consensus to support and grow a pro-life culture in the United States. The Church’s primary social teaching is the respect for human dignity and self-determination. This comes out of the fundamental Gospel challenge of charity for all. As reflective and prayerful Catholics we should focus on the theological virtues of faith,hope, and love in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds in this political season.
What a delight it was to chat with you by phone a few minutes ago. I’m very proud of you both and your dear family.”
Armand Nigro, S.J.
Society of Jesus, Northwest Province
January 14, 2008
Theologika is a refreshing stream of faith-full and faithful reflection and renewal.
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There's so much more to say, but I would rather let the silence speak more what can't be spoken. Suffice it to say that for you both, I am grateful.
Two By Two Ministries
January 3, 2009
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