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Posted by on Jan 10, 2019

Dancing in the Street – A New Year Filled with Grace Begins

Dancing in the Street – A New Year Filled with Grace Begins

A new year begins. A year that will be filled with grace freely offered, seeking only hearts open to receive it.

People dance in the streets, celebrating this outpouring of divine life into our daily reality. Enemies embrace. The fearful step out with undaunted courage. Young men and women move confidently into their unknown future and old ones see visions of great hope.

What if this were the reality of our transition into this new year? How could it come to be? Dare we ever hope for such a gift? It seems too good to be true, especially as we confront the turmoil and dangers of today’s world.

Yet this is the promise to which we are called. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (Is 61:1), “I come to bring glad news, ….”   He echoes Tobit’s instructions to his son Tobiah (Tob 4:16): “Share your bread, clothe the naked ….” He goes one step further even and tells us that this is the basis on which our faithfulness is to be evaluated. To the degree we do this to the least among us, we do it to him (Mt 25:40).

This is the reality, unseen though it may be, to which we are called. The great mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord has come to pass in our human history. They continue to be a living reality in our Eucharist and in our daily lives. Peter’s words to the crowds on that first Pentecost are a call to each of us. Open your eyes. God is doing something fantastic here. Yes, the empires remain. Yes, powerful people continue to bully and oppress the poor. Yes, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer and greater in number.

But do not lose hope! Grace has burst into our world. It flows into each of us and out into that world. So dance with joy. See the sun, the moon, the flowers, the smiles of children and old ones. Smile with the beggars and give thanks to the Lord for sharing his abundant life with us!

Then roll up your sleeves and move out into this wonderful world. Be the eyes and ears, the voice, hands, and feet of the risen Lord, the Word made flesh, God with us. And let’s get busy caring for our sisters and brothers who need a hand, our Earth, our communities, refugees at our borders, and our families. Let’s do it in joy, peace, cooperation, and hope.

Peace be with you, now and always.

Photo: “Plum Flower” by Dario Sabio – Public Domain Images

 

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

More on the Examen

More on the Examen

Ignatian Spirituality.com offers more information about the Examen.

“The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.”

Prayer of the Examen is characteristic of Ignatian spirituality and is included in the Spiritual Exercises. Members of the Society of Jesus pray this prayer at least twice daily, at noon and at the end of the day.

Steps in praying the Examen include:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

 

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Posted by on Jun 14, 2018

Fun Resources for Learning Serious Psychology

Fun Resources for Learning Serious Psychology

 

Disney Pixar and Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development

Discerning God’s Will – God’s dream for us requires an in-depth knowledge of how people grow and develop. In particular, if we are going to understand ourselves, which is our first step in responding to God’s grace, we need to know where we are in our development. We also need to see what went right and what went wrong in our own growth and development.

James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Formation

Our faith also has stages of development based on our human development. Many adults can reject their faith because they don’t realize that their faith formation is still that of a small child. On the other hand, there are many people who are religious churchgoers that are still clinging to a childhood faith for a variety of reasons that are not healthy.

 

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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 Dec 8, 2017

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

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 Nov 15, 2015

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

Families and Faith: Helping Your Children to be Faith-Filled

woman-and-child-RenoirFamilies today are struggling with the challenge to fit in a day all the things they need to do. School, childcare, meals, commute, work, marriage, parenting, pets, athletics, extended family, finances, church, house, local and broader civic issues, friends, medical needs, and recreation all require thought and planning. Everyone wants their children to be happy and, for parents with faith, this includes wanting their children to be close to God, part of a community of believers, and to have a faith-filled life.

Parenting Styles

Usually families adopt some form of three parenting styles: Authoritarian, Permissive or Dialogue. The style used may vary based on situation and/or age of the child.

Some rules, such as “No running into the street,” start out as authoritarian with a very young child but with older children there can be a dialogue about the reasons. Brushing a two-year-old’s teeth is a decision from the top down (authoritarian). Later on there can be conversations about it. Permissive parenting, in which the children run the house and are allowed to break the rules or to not do the chores is usually never helpful. At times, when a child has exams, she can skip her chores or go to bed late, but that can be decided in a negotiation about the special situation. Going to church for parents with faith will be at the top of the hierarchy of choices about the family schedule. Hopefully the parents know that they need to be there — to hear the Scriptures, the preaching, or to receive the Eucharist. There may be exceptions, but being consistent will make the liturgy a natural and essential part of the rhythm of life. Church can also be a place for other involvements for children, such as religious education, roles in the liturgy, youth group, outreach, or choir. Making the liturgy more meaningful for children by providing a book to read or color can also help them engage in the Mass and enjoy it more.

But all of this will not necessarily help children to have a relationship with God or stay in the Church. A big help in this direction is if the parents have a living relationship with God, can naturally talk about it, and enjoy spending time with their children. The best approach is both organic to the parents’ entire orientation and planned strategies. Parents who know and experience God and the saints in their lives think, feel and do everything out of a spiritual orientation and discernment. In their adult relationships, home/family, work, and the world, everything hopefully is referred to God and what God is loving for them to love (even learning to trust him in little things like losing your keys). Feelings and actions that come from fear can be recognized and given to God (Discernment). If a parent grows in discernment and asks for wisdom and courage, God will give it and everything goes much better. Planning, conversations, and family problems — all are more productive. Everyone in the family can grow in peace, understanding, generosity and trust in God.

Stress and worry are a part of family life. Painful things will happen. Feeling loved by God will not prevent or remove all suffering. It will reduce anxiety and even anger. For the faith-filled family, unavoidable forms of suffering can be understood as a sharing in Jesus’ redemptive work in the world. (Mk. 10:44 ff.) We also know that he never leaves us. He asks us to lean on him and ask him for the grace to bear the heavier loads. Daily prayer — both talking to God and listening to God — can help parents to keep perspective and not take personally the problems that will come. (For work and faith ideas, see: Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, Loyola Press: Chicago, 2005. Excellent, well written.)

Protecting Children, then Letting Them Go

One of the biggest issues that comes up in child-raising is that of control. Parents are responsible for working through the process of protecting their children and then letting go of them. Parents pour love, energy, resources, and sacrifices into family life but do not “own” their children, who in fact are gifts from God. At some point, offspring will start making their own decisions and these may not reflect the values of the parents. They may have abilities and desires that are foreign to the parents. There will be a period of time when children are learning who they are and trying out many experiences available to them. If the child has been exposed to a healthy and holy way of dealing with decisions (e.g. trust in God and discernment) in the family from infancy, they have a very good chance of seeking what God wants for them.

Adults and children can develop an interior life with God in which they recognize when they are doing actions from fear, insecurity, laziness, and/or to impress others. Children encounter many negative things in their lives both in themselves and others. Bullying, cheating, and lying are all around them. There is no harm is letting them know about the influence of the Evil Spirit too when they are older. In middle school they will encounter many forms of social climbing and meanness right next to kindness and generosity. Parents can spend time by both listening to the child and talking about the fact that God will be with them as they make the choice to be friendly to an outcast or to own up to a bad choice.

Understanding the developmental stage of your child is important for both their moral understanding and experience of faith. The work of the religious psychologist Dr. James Fowler is very helpful. His work is summarized in an article entitled “How God Invites Us to Grow: the Six Stages of Faith Development” by Richard J. Sweeney, Franciscan Media, Catholic Update, No. CU1087.

Discernment as Part of Family Life

God dwells within us and will help us sort out destructive feelings from those of courage, strength, hope, and self-worth. If parents are doing this themselves day after day and sharing this at times with their family, the children will share their successes in being strong and discerning too. Listening to our kids, wanting to know their interests and worries, will help them to feel understood. The goal is not control. The goal is that we surrender to God our desires, worries, and problems and let him tell us how best to work with them. The prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen is very helpful in going over each day what is working and not working in my thoughts and behaviors and what I can ask God to help me with. There are many modern versions of this prayer available. Children can be taught to do this little review without dwelling on the mistakes but simply asking Jesus to be there when I am feeling pressure.

It is not by accident that our present Pope Francis speaks constantly of dialogue and seeking understanding. According to Francis, we should never be frightened of being open to understanding those who disagreed with us. (Pope Francis, homily October 4 in the Mass opening the Synod on the family, St. Peter’s Basilica) To the pope that does not mean that we cannot condemn certain philosophies and behaviors, but it does mean that we must understand and love others no matter what. Once we surrender our lives and our children’s lives to God, we can expect and ask God to help us. (E.g. blind Bartimaeus, Mk. 10:46-52) In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis points out that in creating a new human ecology ​​in which we all nurture the Earth, marriage ​and family are a natural base for this kind of universal solidarity. The self-giving of marriage can be taught to children, who can learn to care for the Earth and share its resources with others. Parents and children can forge a strong bond while living these values together. Parents can communicate the ways in which God reveals his love in the beauty, mystery and rhythms of Creation.

Practical Suggestions

Some practical suggestions for family life are to selectively sprinkle in your talk how you react to problems or make decisions out of your relationship with God, find times for family prayer, and ask your kids individually how things are going. One time for prayer is before dinner. Take a little time to ask people at the table if there is someone or something they would like everyone to prayer for. This can also be a bedtime ritual. It is great if parents purchase appropriate lives of the saints and read parts to younger children each night, etc. Acknowledging to a child that you know they have a concern: an exam, tryouts for a sport, a difficult subject at school, a dance coming up and saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is a good thing if it is not constant. Children are very perceptive. If you are sincere and are seeking God, they will be too. But, if God is abstract for you, children will sense this. You might consider seeing if there is a spiritual director in your parish to talk to or a retreat center in the area where you can go on a retreat, spend a few hours, or see a spiritual director. There are also wonderful websites to visit regularly, even for just 10 minutes, that have articles, mini-retreats and music. A wonderful article on prayer,  “Never Lose Heart” by Robert P. Maloney, CM, for example, is found on the America Magazine website.

Discussion (or Reflection) Questions

1. Have I experienced God or the saints ?  In what ways?

2. Do I pray? What kinds of prayer am I familiar with? Speaking and listening?

3. Can I share my faith or thoughts about spiritual things in a natural way or is this difficult?

Image: “Woman and Child” – Renoir – public domain

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2015

Work: Share in the Divine Project or Join the Lemmings

Work: Share in the Divine Project or Join the Lemmings

Tunturisopuli_Lemmus_Lemmus When does getting a job and going to work become a question of “joining the lemmings going over the cliff?” The question arises one night over dinner. A young man who has an independent source of income finds he has no real reason to get out of bed in the morning. He has a new skill and set of training, but he finds himself hesitant to put himself into a situation that would require him to charge for services he would otherwise offer at no charge. He questions whether charging for services means he is joining the lemmings. Yet he feels an urgent need to have recognizable work.

Another person at the table finds such language distressing. This person does not have the luxury of choosing whether to go to work or not and certainly does not feel like a lemming!

The critical question, it seems, regards the value and importance of work. Work in and of itself is neutral. What we do each day to fulfill our responsibilities may be called work. Things we do for relaxation we often call play, despite the fact that some forms of relaxation take more physical and psychic effort than “work.”

Given that both work and play may take significant time and effort on a daily basis, how do we value each? Most commonly, we think of work in negative terms and play in positive ones. When something is hard, we even say, “That’s why we call it work!”

Work is a participation in the divine endeavour, bringing new energies into focus to carry out an ongoing development, whether of something old or new. As such, work can be a positive experience — tiring, yes; repetitive, perhaps; boring, sometimes — yet ultimately of value.

When does work become the province of “lemmings?” Work becomes something negative when it reduces or threatens the human dignity of the person who engages in it. It also becomes lemming-like when performed solely or largely for less-than-human reasons, such as the proverbial “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses.” If the only reason a person has for doing a job he or she hates is in order to buy a mansion, sports car, or other luxury item, then the value of that work is of lemming quality. If, on the other hand, the work keeps a roof over the head of the individual and/or family and food on the table, that work is valuable and not to be disparged.

In our daily lives, as we seek to recognize the presence of God in what we do, whether work or play, we are called to evaluate our actions regularly in terms of how they align with God’s plan for us and for this wonderful world in which we live. Work aligned with God’s activity is not the province of human “lemmings” but rather the path to human fulfillment.

 

Note: The notion that lemmings in nature have a propensity to go “over the cliff” in a mass suicidal wave is not actually correct. Sometimes when the population becomes too dense, they migrate to other areas. Bodies of water that must be crossed may prove too wide for some of them and some will drown. This may be the source of the idea that lemmings deliberately go over the cliff. In fact, lemmings too live according to divine plan, praising God through their daily lives by being lemmings!

Image from Wikipedia Commons – public domain

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2015

St. Ignatius’ Teachings on Creation and Care for Creation

St. Ignatius’ Teachings on Creation and Care for Creation

Vision at River Cardoner - Saenz de Tejada - Jesuit InstituteWe know from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and from his autobiography that the physical world was very important to him. In the opening to the Spiritual Exercises, in the “Principle and Foundation,” Ignatius describes his cosmic understanding of all created things as having as their end the “praise, reverence and service of God.” Nothing in creation including the human has been created as an end in itself but rather for union with God. Humans are to seek involvement with created things to help them know and love God. In this context, humans cannot exploit anything for their own ends. The criteria of how anything created can help us praise, reverence and serve God are the standards by which we choose to be in relationship with them. Ignatius taught this understanding of creation and the point of human life as the only way to happiness. So, human desires and actions are within a cosmic context, not a narrower anthropocentric context. That would be at odds today with many world leaders who see the relationship of humans to the physical world as one of survival of the fittest or as one of “trickle-down” benefits of the exploitation of environmental resources to the least powerful groups in society.

Ignatius was also aware of the goodness of created things (cf. Genesis 1). He whole heartedly supported the Dominican religious community in preaching against the heresy of Albigensianism, which denigrated the human body and earthly creation. From the time of his conversion at Loyola to his later years in Rome, Ignatius often spent time in the evening looking at the sky and the stars, which he found very consoling (A Pilgrim’s Journey, Tylenda, Ch.1, Para. 11). An illuminative experience Ignatius had that lasted eight days took place as he sat and contemplated a river (the Cardoner). He was not a strictly urban person. Growing up in his native Basque Country gave him a soul for God’s beauty in nature.

For Ignatius the mis-use of anything was poor discernment, if not sin. After his extreme fasts and the harm they did to his body, Ignatius began to understand that it was surrender to God’s will that mattered, not showing God how fervent one is. (Prin. and Fdn.) Therefore, harming the body was not proper if it was a distraction and led one away from being able to serve God. Ignatius allowed for martyrdom, but it was not something to seek. He was very careful to observe the devotions of novices to make sure that they were not fasting to a point that they harmed their health or fell into vainglory for doing extreme practices.

In the Spiritual Exercises, in the Call of the King and Two Standards contemplations, Ignatius makes it clear that ego, control, power, greed and status are not part of God’s kingdom. Everything comes from God. And, if we stand under Jesus’ banner we will seek to be like him: generous, humble, obedient, truthful, compassionate, and loving. The contemplations on the Incarnation, the Three Classes of Persons and the Three Degrees of Humility all express a profound sense of gratitude for the goods of the earth and the love of God, who is the divine majesty of all, for us.

Ignatius did not write separately of reverence for the environment. It is part of his vision of God as Creator and we as beloved children who are part of creation. His rejection of manipulation and exploitation of any aspect of creation is a rejection of selfishness with the earth and with each other. Ignatius believed that if one practices the daily Examen (or daily General Examination of Conscience) (Sp. Exer. Sect. 43) s/he will see how time, people and resources are used to praise, reverence and serve God. When people practice the Examen or any process of serious and humble reflection they come to see the need not to impede the proper purpose of any created thing. They can also surrender to God’s will for them and move to become the persons they were born to be.

Image: “The vision at River Cardoner (Manresa)” by Carlos Saenz de Tejada, used with permission

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2015

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

Sacred Heart by David Clayton Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated as a meditation on the love that Jesus has for humanity.  In the 1500s, Jesuits and Franciscans promoted devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus. However, they did not stress the physical bleeding heart of Jesus crowned with thorns that has come down to us. This common  image does not necessarily help people feel closer to Jesus today. Presenting Jesus with a heart with flames of love and a face full of love and light emphasizes his limitless divine love in a very human way.

A Physical Organ or A Symbol of Love?

Sacred Heart - Pompeo BatoniThe devotion to the Sacred Heart has not always  included a focus on the suffering of Jesus and his actual physical heart. During the first ten centuries of Christianity, devotion to the humanity of Christ did not include honoring the wounded Heart of Jesus. From the 1200s to the 1500s devotion to the Sacred Wounds increased. However, it was private, individual, and of a mystical nature. The thorn crowned heart shows the change from honoring Jesus’ love for humanity to humans making reparation for sin. In the 1670s, the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,  moved the devotion into the public life of the Church and it became centered on sorrow for sin. Popular piety continued this emphasis and eventually promoted worship of the physical heart of Jesus to such a point that Pope Pius XII had to correct this. The pope explained that the Sacred Heart belongs to the “Divine Person of the Eternal Word” and is a symbolic image of his love and our redemption. (See Haurietis aquas). Eastern Catholicism promotes some devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However,  the devotion is controversial because of the mixing of the theologies of divine love and human reparation for sin within it. Eastern Catholics do not share the Western preoccupation with the physical heart of Jesus.

Devotion to Love

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to His love. It is a response to the extravagance of Jesus.  His suffering and human sin are important for our consideration in other ways. However, this focus is not suitable for a devotion which focuses on love. This is particularly true today when addressing young people in first world cultures in which few symbols are shared. A heart in flames is a direct and simple symbol.

It is interesting that one of the main resources of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), is anything but human, warm, or loving. The Litany is formal, monarchical and transcendent. There is little sense of the human heart of Jesus reaching out to humanity to give consolation, peace or special graces. The prayer is true to its historical context, a time in the Church of formality and a sense of distance from the divine.

Despite the turn towards human individual experience and emotion in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Catholics do not feel personally close to God or have a warm experience of God’s love for them. Many still relate to God as a judge and an enforcer of rules.  Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels gives us a richer mystical image of the truly divine and truly human Jesus Christ full of warm friendliness, compassion, and humility with a heart full of love.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, by David Clayton – used with permission
Sacred Heart, by Pompeo Batoni –  public domain
Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Fanelli – used with permission

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