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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

Resolving to do Better – Looking Forward – Examen: Fifth Point

Resolving to do Better – Looking Forward – Examen: Fifth Point

This seems like the easy part. I simply tell myself that I will do better next time. That’s okay as far as it goes, but how will I change? How can I change?

It’s all about hope.

Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ is known to Los Angeles gang members as “Father G” or simply “G”.  Fr. Boyle sees all their problems as arising from a “lethal absence of hope”. His response is to provide them with hope and jobs in Homeboy Industries. Terry Gross’s NPR interview with Fr. Boyle tells the story of how empathy renews and restores hope.

In his most recent book Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, Fr. Boyle tells the story of what miracles empathy can work since it confers hope.

 

In God’s Presence, Conquering Addiction through Dance is the title of Elizabeth Delancy’s dissertation. It is a study of how black women have surmounted addiction by moving in God’s presence. Although, it is a little technical, it documents how this works. Resolving to do better is the key dynamic of reconciliation. It is the celebration of a brighter future. It is the combination of hope and optimism.

Hope conveys a certain practicality of steps that can be taken to move forward through crisis. Optimism is more expressive of a personality style. It expresses itself in positive emotions and actions. Hope and optimism are key foundations for our internal dialog, the messages we consciously hear and repeat within ourselves.  Sacramentality in dance, movement, writing, gesturing, and conversing is fundamental to the reunion of friends, the healing of relationships, and our life in God.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

Asking for Pardon / Getting Rid of Shame – Examen: Fourth Point

According to Brené Brown

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

One of the key challenges in even looking at our behavior and our relationships is not guilt, but shame. Our thoughts and feelings can run off the rails and we think, “I did something bad. That means that I am bad.” Guilt becomes confused with shame. That’s why shame is such a big part of addiction, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and bullying. According to Brene Brown, shame for women is, “Do it all. Do it perfectly and never let them see you sweat.” For men, shame is, “Do not be perceived of as weak.”

Shaming is something we see often with pets. When a dog misbehaves we are tempted to say, “Bad dog!” We don’t say,” You chewed my slipper. You did something wrong, but you are a good dog.”  However, that can be very confusing and threatening for the dog. According to animal behavior specialists, it is much clearer if we say, “No chew!” when the dog is chewing a slipper. “Good dog” should be an ongoing message that is conveyed by the way we handle the dog.

Invalidating or shaming others is a fundamentally evil act, since it contravenes God’s view of us and all creation as fundamentally good. For someone to take on the view that they are bad is to identify with evil, to identify with non-being. Some people can reject the notion that they are bad but respond by defining the people who are shaming them as fundamentally bad. Through this fundamental rejection of a person, we make them something completely apart from us. They are the other. This unfortunate behavior in ourselves and other primates makes it possible for us to destroy members of our own species and even our own families. David Eagleman explains in an episode of The Brain how genocide occurs when we turn off our empathy.

Asking for God’s pardon is an acknowledgement that we have not lived up to what we actually are. Yes, we have done something wrong, and we feel bad about what we have done, but we know that we are loved and good because God sees all that he has made and says that it is good.

The important thing in this step is not to get overwhelmed. Pick one area that you would like to work on in consultation with your spiritual director and reflect on it over time – or not.

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Asking for Clarity about my Sins and Feelings – Examen: Third Point

Asking for Clarity about my Sins and Feelings – Examen: Third Point

Pia Mellody, in her post on “Honesty and Accountability in Relationships,” underscores the core dynamic of human relationships that is also the core dynamic for our relationship with God.

If I am honest and accountable, I will keep my word and commitments, accepting responsibility for my behavior without trying to justify it based on another’s behavior. It is, of course, appropriate to confront the other’s behavior and to own our feelings about that behavior. It is very different to say, “When I witnessed this behavior, I had this feeling,” than to say, “Your behavior caused me to feel this or caused me to behave in this manner.” Inappropriate behavior is inappropriate. If my boundary system and self-discipline are so poor that I rage, demean, call names, etc., it is my responsibility to protect you from me. My emotional reaction to you or to a situation does not lessen my responsibility to be appropriate. Blaming and whining are close relatives. It is manipulation if I try to affect the outcome by blaming others or by trying to evoke pity so that I am not held accountable and consequences disappear.

Mellody provides a good check list for personal integrity and healthy relationships. Very often it is easy to look at various “failings.” I was rude. I was impatient. I had too many doughnuts. Yet, what is it that gets in the way of my being the person God made me to be? What keeps me from being whole, happy, and healthy?

Most of the time we focus on our individual actions or failures to act. However, the question is really about the nature of my relationship with myself, others, and God. A few of us can behave “perfectly” in terms of our manners and speech. But what is in our hearts?

Sometimes we focus on the notion of sacrificing our self for others. After all, didn’t Jesus do that? Aren’t we supposed to do that?  As the Divine Word Made Flesh, Jesus has his being in the healthiest of all relationships – pure relation. Jesus gives of himself by having compassion and empathy and serving others because of their own inherent dignity. He set limits and boundaries. Jesus took time for Himself. Jesus did not try to impress or control others. He was at peace within Himself and had close friends.

If we look carefully, we find that our unhappiness has to do with our relationships. Some types of dysfunctional relationships are called codependence. Mellody describes five symptoms of codepedence. They are signs of these unhealthy ways of relating to other people that keep us from realizing God’s Dream for Us.  These types of dysfunction can be very minor in ourselves and our relationships. However, most of our problems in life are all about relationship.

 

Wait a minute! Shouldn’t I be examining my conscience keeping the Ten Commandments and the Laws of the Church? That’s the big difference between going through a checklist of failings and offenses and understanding how I hang onto sin and misery that are the causes of these “listed” sins. I can focus on bad acts or good things left undone. The only problem with that approach is that I am not working on a healthy relationship with God and people in my life.

If we don’t pay attention to the health of our relationship with God and with others, we can become bitter, resentful, holier-than-thou, or worse. We can become self-satisfied and cut ourselves off from love and happiness. This is what Hell is. In the fire of our pain and hurt which we keep receiving and inflicting, all kinds of problems and addictions are rooted. Tragically, we often do this to our children and perpetuate the cycle. How holy, and righteous am I if I observe all the details of the religious law outwardly but all of my relationships are suffering, and I am cold and alone in my self-satisfaction? I am rejecting Christ.

St. Ignatius talks about temptation in the “guise of good.” In other words, people who are living fairly good lives can be tempted to do things that look good. St. Ignatius always advised moderation and encouraged people to take a closer look at their motivations and the effect of their outcomes. It may look like we are doing something good for someone, but are we really? Dysfunctional behavior can be motivated by the best of conscious intentions, but something else can be at work.

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr. Shawn M. Burn lists six signs of dysfunctional or codependent behavior:

  1. Have an excessive and unhealthy tendency to rescue and take responsibility for other people.
  2. Derive a sense of purpose and boost your self-esteem through extreme self-sacrifice to satisfy the needs of others.
  3. Choose to enter and stay in lengthy high-cost caregiving and rescuing relationships, despite the costs to you or others.
  4. Regularly try to engineer the change of troubled, addicted, or under-functioning people whose problems are far bigger than your abilities to fix them.
  5. Seem to attract low-functioning people looking for someone to take care of them so they can avoid adult responsibility or consequences or attract people in perpetual crisis unwilling to change their lives.
  6. Have a pattern of engaging in well-intentioned but ultimately unproductive, unhealthy helping behaviors, such as enabling. (This means helping people by making it easier or possible for them to engage in harmful behaviors such as helping an alcoholic get liquor.)
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Posted by on Jun 13, 2018

Be Grateful – Examen, Second Point

Be Grateful – Examen, Second Point

Being grateful and spreading the message is the 12th step of recovery. If we look at recovery from addiction in its many forms – drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or work – it seems like starting with gratitude is starting at the end and not the beginning. To the extent that the 12 steps are an ongoing process jumping on the recovery wheel at Step 12 not only represents a transformation but also occasions a deeper one. Gratitude connects us with God directly because we can see beyond the world of “want and need” to the riches around us and in our souls. You can’t be grateful without feeling good to some degree about yourself and your sobriety.

Gratitude is the acceptance and return of love’s expression as complete self-giving. Hip Hop is often a style of dancing that can be foreign and off-putting for older generations and yet it is the common world language of youth culture today. “Clean Love” speaks to the dynamic of Love / Gratitude and Gratitude / Love.

It is easy in some ways, to think of the Examen as something for people who already have things figured out. We can think that the Examen is for people without any problems. They always make good choices and it is merely a question of discerning a better choice. Once we have really entered the presence of God, there can only be gratitude. If there isn’t, there is something between us and God. Clearly, that is why the regular sequence of the 12 steps is necessary. For St. Ignatius Loyola, the key problem or sin is ingratitude toward God. “Godspell” the 70’s musical reflects a take on Love / Gratitude and Gratitude / Love that reflects a divine naivete and fearless authenticity.

Since gratitude is a positive socio-emotional-physical experience, it can heal those deep wounds and injuries from early in our lives that pain us into various methods of non-feeling expressed in addiction. It is important to be grateful for ourselves and our talents. Having appropriate self-esteem is to acknowledge that God gave us certain gifts and talents. This is acknowledging the truth and it can help us to affirm other people in their gifts and talents.

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Our thankfulness can take many forms, but it is rooted in God’s love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. From the earliest times we enter the divine presence in song and dance.

Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp.
For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; – Psalm 149: 3-4

 

Responding fully to God’s grace is far from intellectual. It requires a joyful choreography of mind, body, and spirit. What is it like to be fully alive, to be an integrated human being, to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord? These young dancers give us a glimpse of what this feels and looks like. We see the person fully alive. A little too “young” for you? Remember, just sitting in your chair and moving with music evokes all of those wonderful physical and emotional movement of the dancers in your own body and soul. This is the basis of culture, society, and dance therapy.

Okay. So how about something more traditional?

Entering God’s presence is not a “head trip.” It is a leap into the profoundly unknown and unknowable. Come, enter the dance!

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Finding God’s Dream for Us

Finding God’s Dream for Us

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.

The Examen can take on many forms while following this general pattern.  Theologian Susan Mahan presents her own adaptation in Seeking God – Decision Making and the Ignatian 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 core of the Examen is discernment, which is all about growing in awareness and freedom. Susan Mahan provides a succinct over-view into the spiritual psychology of discernment.

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.

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Spirituality

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.

Psychology

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.

Common Ground

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.”

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Posted by on May 14, 2018

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Mystagogy: A Journey with the Holy Spirit into Deeper Faith

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.

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Posted by on May 9, 2018

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

“It is Time for the Lord to Act”

“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!

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2017

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Liturgy – A Flunk Proof Quiz – well almost ;-)

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.”

  • True
  • False
  • Maybe both
  • Don’t know

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.

  • True
  • False
  • I wonder
  • 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.

  • True
  • False
  • 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)

 

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2017

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Why Aren’t People Coming to Mass? – The Socio-Cultural Context of the Liturgy

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.

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Posted by on Dec 7, 2017

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

Liturgy: The Language of the Body

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?

 

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Posted by on Dec 6, 2017

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

The Liturgy of Life – the Summit and Source of the Church’s Liturgy

“The liturgy of life is the summit and source of the church’s liturgy and not the other way around.”  – Peter Phan

Phan’s insight as cited In the introduction to the Liturgy of Life by Fr. Manalo builds on insights into Vatican II’s documents on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium and Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Although, Phan’s insight seems logical, it is startling because it presents a paradigm shift in our notion of divine worship. We are inclined to think of it as something that we do in the realm of the sacred. It is something divorced from the everyday or the profane.

This sacred and profane paradigm derives from pre-Christian religions around the world. In our Judaeo-Christian tradition we tend to focus on the ritual of sacrifice which finds its clearest expression in the Letter to the Hebrews. We hold this in common with most peoples around the globe. we are acknowledging the power of the trans-natural – gods or the One God – in providing for us by responding in some effort of reciprocity or compensation to restore equilibrium in a relationship which we may have damaged.

Of course, there is another, perhaps even more important strain in our Judaeo-Christian heritage that focuses on the true acknowledgment and celebration of our relationship with God by righting the wrongs of our personal and social relationships in terms of justice for the dis-empowered and the dispossessed. In the Hebrew scriptures and the Gospels, ceremonial sacrifices are an affront to God unless we are reconciled to our neighbor.

Perhaps our Tridentine ritual focus on the Mass as the re-enactment of the “unbloody” sacrifice of Calvary tended to reinforce our pre-Christian Mediterranean heritage of the sacred and the profane. However, beginning with the modern liturgical movement in the late 19th century and culminating in the Post Vatican II period of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, we have returned to a more Pauline experience and understanding of Christ as the Lord of the Cosmos. (Col 1:9-20) This refrain is echoed in the patristic writings of the East in god’s self-disclosure in the the book of scripture and the book of nature. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment Laudato Si is also based on this insight.

Chardin’s celebration of this spiritual, mystical experience in his Mass on the World in the early 20th century was seen as confusing and equating God with creation, a heresy called pantheism. As a Jesuit priest and a paleontologist (a scholar of primate and human origins), Chardin, in the fusion of his personal devotion and liturgical life saw all of creation and humanity spiraling upward in the Risen Christ. This was actually an extension of the Aristotelian and Thomistic notion of God as pure being that holds everything that is in existence.

This renewed paradigm situates our personal and and assembled (ecclesial) response to God in Christ as Lord of the cosmos in a creation that is healed and restored as she groans in childbirth. (Rom 8:19)

We are no longer in the realm of the sacred and the profane we are in the Mysterium Tremendum of the Risen Christ as all and in all. (Col 3:11) God’s grace suffuses all and irrupts in all that is truly human everywhere in the Liturgy of Life.

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Posted by on Oct 20, 2017

Psychology, Spirituality, and the Glory of God

God’s Relentless Pursuit of Humanity

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?

October 15, 2017

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Posted by on Mar 23, 2017

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

The Catechumen’s Song

A still gentle voice
rills upon the waves
Laughs in the gulls and
sparkles in the sand

A longing deep and still
beyond believing
Within hope
a throb of love


Late have I loved thee
beauty ever ancient ever new
Let me die in your arms
and rise up anew

Where are those to take
me to you?
How a path upon the stars
your love does trace

Where is this beauty
in the path?
What turn forsakes
all else?

Sweeping low the
the salt breeze calls
My name, my name
across the dunes

Balanced against all else
the stones of life
For a season in a day
guard the path of ocean sway

Across the waves
our hulls delight
Spinnaker buckle and roil
a tack and yaw

Roll and deep
a crash and rise
At harbor’s sunset
across the bar

Day’s lagoon at tide resets
sways the dock
A fire in the mountain
challenges purple

The path a million lighted wings
sweet sage upon the mountain breath
Dawn’s sparkle bubbles
the font of agate

Upon the forest fence
descends the Dove
Beneath the flood
a rush of three

Strong arms my breath
does save anew a light
From the tomb a laugh
as butterfly does dash

Hold the colors of that flame
anointing soothes
A priest a prophet does proclaim
the Spirit of Love comes upon me

A table a gentle fare
so dearly won
The bread the wine
in faith eyes so much more

Risen, one Body
one host divine
Comes at table
in our hearts to recline

Where tells the mystery sweet
upon my ears to dance
Where finds my mind
my heart

Away from lover’s trance
to delight
In my Love’s laughter
steal away, steal away

No more I dwell alone
my loneliness meets its end
Among the lilies
I lay down my head

At one in peace
one Heart
In the one Lord
one Heart

A chance upon the breeze
swings on gossamer wings
A sweet entrance with
nectar a rainbow’s trance

Who calls in sunset’s
green flood
Whose footsteps
bid your path

Come hear the music
and the dance
Come play, steal away
and dance

Leave all else
lose yourself
Upon the even tide
on the shore He sets His Fire

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