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Posted by on May 23, 2012

The Feast of Pentecost, The Holy Spirit and The Seven Gifts: Why it Matters

Today more than ever we dig deep within to center ourselves around calm and inner peace.  We don’t do this to tranquilize ourselves. We do this to be in the best possible position to live fully.  For believers, this includes seeking a real growing relationship with God.  There is a dance going on between our decisions and actions and God’s involvement in our lives, a dance which we call grace.  We have freedom and gifts.  God has insight, power and ingenuity.  If we consent to His involvement in our lives, He can move us into positive places we cannot even imagine.

The person of the Trinity whom we identify as a creative and loving agent of action and change is the Holy Spirit.  This person is believed to be the action of God in the world — both visible and invisible.  One of the names for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  This is an ancient Greek word meaning “one who consoles, uplifts, comforts.”  In the New Testament it also is translated as “helper” and “advocate.”  The Holy Spirit or Paraclete is the divine reality whom we celebrate on Pentecost.  “Pentecost” comes from the word “pente” meaning fifty which refers to 50 days after Easter. At the Last Supper Jesus said he was going to send us the Paraclete.  He let us know that this third person of the Trinity, who expresses the love between the Father and the Son, would be the spirit of Christ operative in the created world — that we would not be alone.

On Pentecost we focus on God as Paraclete in the world of space and time, of the particulars of life.  The Paraclete comforts and uplifts us by working in us and in our lives to give us greater holiness and power for good in the world.  We speak of the work the Paraclete does in us as the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We are going to take a look at all seven in a series of posts.  In the Bible there are a number of lists of  spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. They can be found in Isaiah 11, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. These are all indeed gifts of the Paraclete, but many of the “gifts” in these texts are roles and leadership skills that are gifted by God.  The Seven Gifts on which we will focus are basic qualities that all human persons need no matter what they do in life.  We are given these seven gifts at baptism but the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us to grace to live these fully out in the world of decision and action.

Knowledge is the first gift we will consider.  In the everyday world we use knowledge constantly.  It matters that I know how to get my car fixed or that it is important to check the oil periodically.  A dentist needs to know how to work on my teeth.  Knowledge as a gift of the Paraclete who wants to help us grow fully first includes the knowledge of God.  As we mature we will know God more and will also develop in our images, concepts, and feelings about God.  We will come to know ourselves better and better as well.  To the extent that we are open we will come to more and more realistic and energizing knowledge of God and ourselves.  If we fear God we may learn more positive things about God — maybe from talking to others.  If we are depressed we may find out why.  Much of this knowledge is from God.  We think we are learning on our own.  But, in fact, it is the Paraclete who is offering us knowledge all the time.  We have resistances in us and God is working all the time to help us see the truth, often a positive truth.  God presents ideas to us from different angles constantly and we can consent to be open to these prompts.  My eye may fall on a magazine in the doctor’s office and suddenly I can feel myself slightly more inclined to actually do exercise every day.  The ideas in the article, the knowledge, may have made it easier to see how I can move into a new life skill.

Knowledge of others is also a great gift.  I may not know why a neighbor or relative is so hard for me to get along with and then find out that he is in pain all the time.  I may then find out that the medication he is on has terrible side effects from a commercial on television.  Or, I may find out that an adult school near me has a watercolor class that is very reasonable in price.  I may need that for my emotional life.  The Paraclete is gifting us with knowledge internally and from external sources all the time.  We only need to consent to not try to control what the this Consoler sends our way. God sees us totally and knows what we need.  We can practice a daily Examen or a time of reflection on how things are going and ask to see what we need to see.  In that way we can receive the gift of knowledge and become more fully who we were born to be.

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Posted by on May 1, 2012

Spiritual Growth and Discernment

Spiritual Growth and Discernment

 

We make hundreds of decisions every day.  Over and over we express our desires and choices.  In the process we are literally creating ourselves.  This is a very active and hopeful thing.  In the process of decision-making we may make decisions with reflection, deliberation and conscious intent or we may decide out of habit or in reaction to a feeling, without much thought.

Most people think they choose freely what they will have in their lives and what they will become.  I prove that wrong every time I get near most pastries or warm, newly-baked bread.  I am immediately consumed by an intense desire for these.  I really have to remind myself of my commitment to feeling better rather than to reveling in sugar and all that baked goods symbolize for me.  Simple carbohydrates make me feel terrible physically but they also temporally fill an empty hole inside my psyche.  When I chose not to eat them I feel strong emotional forces pulling me toward that class of foods.

Noticing the different feelings inside me and my thought patterns as I struggle to get past the Cinnamon and Almond Ring at Trader Joe’s is really revealing.  I’m a grown person but I become very little and whiny as I  crawl over to the vegetables and lettuce just beyond the bread and pastries.  After all, I work hard and deserve a treat!  I could just eat a slice and throw the rest away.  I actually could do that  (and I have in the past).

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.

Learning those and applying them seems easy enough.  One of the problems is that most of us have been fooling ourselves for years about what seems best — because we all love a plausible excuse to eat coffee cake or to buy new clothes when we really don’t need any, etc.  And, some of us have been unconsciously choosing what we think other people want for us,  so we do not know how we feel about most things in life.  What if I dislike red sweaters but have been given a number of them because I look good in red?  What if I really dislike a timeshare at Tahoe but almost the whole family loves it? What if I want to go back to school but would have to inconvenience a lot of people?  There are ways to know the truth of what is best and to know the ways I postpone the truth and get in my own way.

Becoming mature in these skills, also called discernment, involves attention to our minds, feelings and imaginations.   I realized many years ago that my imagination can be both helpful and unhelpful.  My imagination can help me image myself as a happy person when I learn new skills or improve relationships.  My imagination can also tell me that facing someone’s anger will destroy me.  That frightening image is probably not true.  Someone’s displeasure at me does not have to harm me.  My imagination does not have to motivate me to do actions that are not necessary or helpful.  My mind can help me get to the truth of how I make decisions.  My mind can also help me slow down as I go through life.  I can become an observer and can use my mind to see what my usual processes in life are.  I can use my mind to consider my feelings and images.  I can recognize if I am peaceful or afraid.  I can also see if frightening images are being thrown up in front of me which are not true but set me back.

This reflection process sounds cold to me but in fact I find it an adventure.  When I know that someone is upset with me I automatically feel that any interaction with that person is going to be frightening.  But, I have found lately that not avoiding a conversation and instead standing my ground has been almost exhilarating.   Nothing bad happened.  The other person may have a point or may be wrong, but either way I am not overwhelmed.  I can listen to his or her words and make decisions in the midst of the confrontation.  I can observe myself wanting to run away and talk myself into being calm.  Wow, what an advance!

Everything so far applies to any situation in which I want to know what my unconscious mind is doing and also when I want to observe what others are doing.  In the midst of worry or upset, I can pray for the peace to see what the influences are: whether feelings, thoughts or images.  I can use this information to make decisions.

Of the three sources of information, our feelings usually provide the most important information for discernment.  Although I have in mind emotional feelings when I say this, I also believe that our bodies provide valuable information in their reactions to thoughts and circumstances.  If I make a decision about my job and do not sleep that night, I want to ask why that reaction happened.  In the morning I may feel terrible physically but still feel I have made the right decision.   It may be that my mind worked during the night to consider all the options once again.  If I decide to move to another city but feel inner turmoil which I try to shut up, I may need to dig deeper, beyond my conscious reasons for moving to see if I am also moving for another reasonable but destructive reason e.g. to please my mother.  The saints are people who became good at distinguishing between inner peace and inner anxiety or deception.

To use the example above, my mother may be lonely.  I may feel guilty for not visiting her or calling her. But, I may have a very good job which I love and so I should not move.  There are ways to work with the circumstances and feelings of guilt without moving.  Doing that work requires facing the truth and the possible displeasure of someone.  But, it would also mean that I am honoring my true self at this time.  I need help to do discernment.  I cannot have detachment from my feelings of fear or attachment to approval on my own.  I pray throughout the day.  I first ask for insight —  that I not be blind.  I want to see if I am avoiding anything.  I prefer to know what my reality is.  Secondly, if I have to decide about something, I ask for help to see what is best and to be able to do it.  This happens a lot with how I use my time.  I usually have a mental or written list of what I want to do in a day.  I ask God to help me know what is most important.  I usually see what is best, but I often argue about it.  I want to do it all.  I want to paint the front door when it is 50 degrees and damp outside.  I want to spend the morning sewing when I need to file paperwork and write.  I want to cook three different recipes when I should just get one done.

The discernment which is going to make me happier is going to be a process in which I see what my feelings, thoughts and images are.  It is going to require that I make a commitment to follow what brings me inner peace.  It is also going to require that I use strategies to counter negative thinking and pressure from others or the Enemy of our human nature.  The more skilled at countering this, the more likely I am to be at peace.  When I am ambivalent, I experience much more pressure than when I am clear that I am not going to be doing actions motivated by emptiness,  fear, or pride.

At some point we have to surrender to the truth if we want to be happy.  We have to follow the footprints of inner peace.  If an option before us brings us peace and joy, then we are on the right path.  If an option brings us turmoil or a feeling of shame, we are operating out of poor motives.  We need to go back to see what is driving us and pray for the strength to make the right decision.

“A Fork in the Path” – Image by K. Pozos

 

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Posted by on Apr 20, 2012

How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?

How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?

A door can still open ...

As we reflect on the Resurrection of Christ we cannot help but wonder how it changed anything.  Christians believe that the triumph of life over death and light over darkness was more than just an isolated event in history.  The Resurrection is understood as a cosmic event in which the entire space-time reality was shot through with God’s presence. The world remained a mix of “wheat and weeds,” but after the Resurrection the indwelling Spirit of God works within that reality to bring about unprecedented healing, growth and holiness.

Abuse and trauma are never acceptable.  I experienced abuse for many years — verbal, physical and sexual.  It hurts and bends the person.  The damage is deep and reaches into all  the dimensions of one’s life.  Psycho-therapeutic experiences are normally necessary for someone to heal from the pain, anger and fear that come from abuse.  Telling the stories of abuse are a key part of healing. Practicing to work with life in new ways in order to avoid negative patterns is also helpful.  Using affirmations to counter self-hatred is important.  Setting boundaries and being firm about values helps the person to feel less vulnerable.

But there is a point when talking it out and new ways of living and communicating fall short of healing.  There is a well of pain that often does not go away.  Underneath all the hard work there is still a raw person who does not feel safe.  It is very hard to trust anyone.

I learned to not-trust any adults.  I also learned not to trust myself because I could not overcome my fear in order to fight back. I learned to criticize everything I thought, said and did.  I betrayed myself over and over out of fear.  What to do?  I knew there was a God out there but was not sure He would be interested in me.  This is a normal reaction from someone who has been regarded as unimportant and worthy of abuse.

If the traumatized person can pray at all, a door can open to safety that starts as the tiniest crack.  Within the mix of inner voices and emotions there is one voice which reaches into the sticky pain and feels or sounds safe.  The traumatized person is uniquely blessed to be able to discern the difference between his own inner voices and the voice of God.  This is because the abused person called out to herself over and over during the horrible times and discovered that at the time she had no power over the abuser.  The personal thoughts and voice of the abused one were complicit with the abuser. The abused person also knows the voice of the culture and the Devil because both of them bring inner chaos, depression and self-abuse.

If such a person can pray, even pray to be able to pray, there will begin the tiniest feeling of longing for love.  This is a miracle, because traumatized people usually do not want to feel anything.  Seeking love and finding authentic love from others and God can heal wounds.   It is a long process, but with the support of a therapist and a spiritual director the person traumatized by abuse can take a chance on attachment.  Abused persons on Ignatian retreats or practicing Ignatian contemplation have experienced amazing experiences of God loving them.  The voice of God within them is telling them that they are his beloved, that they are special.  People who have been abused often do not want to hear that voice because it will open up a floodgate of sadness.  But, after the crying, the voice does not disappear.  They are not talking to themselves.

Contemplative prayer experiences are real.  When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you,” he meant it.  Taking a chance on God doing something with the pain is worthwhile.  There are forms of injury only he can heal.

 Image by Paolo Neo, public domain

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Posted by on Apr 9, 2012

What is Holiness? Is it Wholeness?

People often think that being whole or holy involves being perfect in some way.  “Perfect” of course is defined in a million ways, but we can construct a picture and list of qualities that might encompass what we assume is the saintly person.  So, we would expect to see on this list:  seldom angry, patient, kind, generous, courageous, truthful, trusting, reverent, hopeful, zealous, loving, etc.  In her final year of life, as she was suffering from tuberculosis, Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote in her diary: ” Never leave a knife near a terminally ill person.”   She was a realistic and honest person.  She was not perfect in many ways, but she was a whole and holy person.  Saint Padre Pio yelled at people frequently and then was very gentle and kind with others.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola had a temper, but normally used it after a process of discernment.  Teresa of Avila talked back to Christ and questioned him often.

Behaving in perfect ways and trying to feel only nice feelings is a complete distraction from the real task of life.  Holiness, or even wholeness in the most secular terms, is very simple.  It is the ability to listen in a productive way.  There are a welter of voices within and around us.  The culture, our egos, our pasts, other people, God and evil, however you understand it, are all part of the mix of voices in our lives.  Within ourselves we have many levels that all have a voice.  We have the imprint of our parents within our memories: ” Stand up straight.”  “Eat everything on your plate.”  “Susan is bright.”  “You’ll never grow up.”  We have a frightened voice: “You can’t do that,” or a confident voice: “That’s easy.”  There are the lists inside: “First, go to the Doctor’s; then go to the Drugstore; then get gas; then get the kids; etc.”  And, there is the emotional and spiritual report: “I’m uncomfortable.” ” I’m aware that I am procrastinating.”  “I really want to quit repeating this pattern.”  A friend many years ago told me that we had to get married by the time we were 25 years old because after that we would be “all washed up.”  I believed her and sped around trying to meet more men!  It caused me to join a lot of organizations and waste a number of Sunday afternoons listening to types of Jazz I did not like, hiking in places I did enjoy, not to mention the unusual experiences I had attending psychological “encounter” groups.

These days it is very un-PC to say this, but I believe in personal evil and prefer to use the Ignatian term for this entity: “The enemy of our human nature.”  When someone is not in a state of negative thinking and has every reason either not to feel bad or to feel happy and a random and destructive thought or feeling enters his or her consciousness and destroys his or her peace, the classic response from the Christian tradition is to interpret this as coming from the Enemy. We may be hearing, remembering or seeing something psychological, but the intrusion is not just random.  We are not always just talking to ourselves.  God is constantly communicating and so are the enemy and the other voices as well.  It’s subtle and not superstition.  Why is this complex communication happening?  What are we supposed to do with this?  What has this got to do with holiness and wholeness?

This life on the Planet is a exercise in growth.  In the process of life we make choices and determine what we value.  We  are determined by certain factors but we also determine some of the conditions of our lives.  The process of becoming holy, the process by which the world gets a St. Francis or a Mother Teresa, is a process in which those people work over and over at hearing the better voices inside.  When a voice said: “Compassion feels better than money,” these people felt drawn to that voice.  When an inner voice said: ” Status is nauseating, phony,” these people felt its authenticity and took a chance on goodness.  When a voice says: “eat right, drink less, watch less television” or “read this book,” holy people obey the voice if it carries a feeling of peace or rightness with it.  Sorting out the voices, listening to the voice of God or one’s true self and then obeying these best voices is what makes people holy and truly whole.  Listening and obeying are not easy.  It takes a commitment to my best interests.  It is in my best interest not to play games.  I can spend the rest of my life procrastinating regarding the things I need to do to be happy.  I can also stay in a perpetual program to be defensive or angry, to punish people that have hurt me, or to prove that I am fine just the way I am.

At some point I may progress beyond that and also see how awesome God is.  The reality we call God is immense in His/Her intellect and in love.  Many modern people cannot stand entertaining the concept of God.  It is so uncool to admit the possibility of such a reality in many circles today.  But, if God exists and I know God does, this reality can get me to an authentic life.  I could end up happy and fully realize who I am.  Taking time and quiet to listen and note the voices within is a decision.  Admitting that I prefer a sleazy voice is okay.  I want any excuse not to be a grown up.  If a voice says that I should not eat something, say something, or go somewhere or that I should go to bed at a certain time, By God, I want to ask that voice: “who do you think you are…..?”

The path to holiness, exceptional living, being special in the best sense is a surrender to the wisest voice inside.  It has taken me many years to accept this fully.  This is far harder than parading around trying to be perfect.  The authentic voice within might ask you to be better than you think you are; the author may believe in you more than you do.

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Posted by on Apr 2, 2012

Providence/Grace and Free Will

We live in a world where we often feel pressured to prove that God exists and then we can be at a loss in explaining where God is.  Out in the world of work, everyone is supposed to pretend that they are very objective and scientific.  But, as we have said, empirical data is only one modality of space-time reality.  Experience is a valid category by which we learn and make decisions.  Following my gut feeling about how to approach a worry or a situation with a person can be very useful.  Trying things like prayer and finding out that something new, unexpected and helpful outside my usual “bag of tricks” is happening, can send me down a good path towards surrender to the ways of God.   No one can define exactly how this universe is set up in terms of cause and effect.  No one philosophy or great intellect can tell us definitively a way to control outcomes.  I can be as intelligent, mature, ethical and unselfish as possible and that will not guarantee certain results.

Why is that?  From the secular point of view, we come into our lives with many predetermined factors.  Our physical lives, ethnicity, time in history, birth order, family system, religion, and socio-economic situation dictate a great deal of how we will develop.  There will also be many influences along the way.  The choices parents make, teachers we have, opportunities, illnesses, choices we make, etc. will be part of the mix of who we become.  But, from the spiritual point of view, there are other factors that intervene and open up possibilities.  If one has the perspective of faith, one will see the action of God in his life in varying ways.

Why in “varying ways?”  Therese of Lisieux said that “Everything is a grace.”  Ignatius of Loyola said that we can and should “Find God in all things.”  Everyone will observe and interpret the action of God in the external world and the motions of God within ourselves in different ways.  Many people will be very conservative in believing that God is active at all in their lives.  Others will see God and God’s care in many events big and small throughout the day or week.  The most challenging context in which to affirm the presence of God will be in the experience of suffering.  It can be challenging to see God or any value in any experience of pain or difficulty.   Hurt, inconvenience, failure, addiction, and loss can all seem pointless and to be avoided.

How can suffering be okay or how can God allow it?  How could failure be a grace?  Why aren’t resources that I discover just something I did on my part?  And, further, why see God in my circumstances at all?  If my sister dies at a young age, how can that be okay?  If I spill breakfast cereal on my pants, how can that be a good thing?  Didn’t I figure out which graduate school to go to on my own?  Does God do my tax return?  Isn’t it important to take control of my life?  These questions are at the heart of the daily grind of our lives.  If God is here, what is he doing and why or how is this mess of a world okay?

The theology or meaning of Christ on the cross is at the center of this question.  What Christians believe is really strange but poses a answer that confounds all other interpretations of reality.  How can surrender in obedience and helplessness to a divine Father who loves him, be the apex of salvation — THE solution to the problem of evil and suffering?!  Look at the other solutions.   First, if we believe in God, that is a reality which encompasses and surpasses the immensity of the universe by definition.  So, scientific laws are included within the reality of God who is intelligent and complex beyond anything we can understand.  Second, things we think are bad because they feel painful may not be bad in an objective sense.  If my overall desire is to realize my potential fully, I may not even see what that is.  If I have desires to be happy in a certain way, I may not know  how to get there.  I may not see what is in the way.

With faith, one believes in a Sacred Reality that is close but also beyond my limitations.  I believe that this Reality is loving and personal.   At some point I may take a chance on this God and let him guide me.  My life may take me through suffering.  It may be at the hands of crude, misguided people.  I may get beaten up one way or the other.  I may make bad choices too.  With guidance I could learn to discern better decisions.  From the hurt of the past I can gain several things.  I may see that I am compassionate because I know what hurt is.  I may be an exquisitely good at setting limits and yet being generous.  I may know how to express myself clearly because I have had to protect myself.  I may see through the games of others. The suffering was in no way a waste or distraction — it was all good.

This learning, maturity, holiness is not something I can insert into myself.  It is part of a great mystery.  Something greater has made itself available to me.  The key resources are beyond the components of daily life.  I can go to yoga, the chiropractor, analysis, the health food store, school, have a great job and body, and be rich, and still not be on my true path.    If one is a person of religious faith, the only way to real happiness is surrender to God.  It is that blunt and simple.  This is so totally uncool that saying it is like marketing cat poop.   Okay, so we could say “Higher Power” and it might sound less “Churchy.”  The bottom line is that dependence on any authority figure is totally  unacceptable.  We are supposed to grow into greater and greater independence.  God is a weird old guy wearing white gowns who is out of touch and judges people.  So, that’s for later — when we die.  Admitting that I have a relationship with God, experience his presence on a daily basis and make decisions in relation to the inner motions of the heart is unusual for most people.

Yet somehow, a sizable segment of the Catholic/Christian population does have this experience.  They are middle of the road believers who know that they are being guided by God and still have their free will intact.  They surrender their inclination to demand that God explain it all.  They trust the mystery of how providence and freedom work, but they know the balance is real.  They base this trust on experience.  The care and challenge they feel from this divine reality is consistent, rational, reliable, helpful to them, and beyond their own abilities.  They would have abandoned their faith in God a long time ago if the results had been destructive.    They know when they “bump” into someone they need to see, that it is a gift.  They realize that the thought to travel down a certain road helped them avoid a pileup on the freeway.  When they lose a job they eventually see that it moved them out of a situation which was undermining their health.

Mystery, yes.  Surrender, yes.

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Posted by on Mar 18, 2012

Asceticism and Mysticism: The Two are Linked

The point of all efforts to change and grow is happiness. Happiness  involves becoming more and more conscious of who we are, what we want and need, and how to get these.   A lot of life is spent exploring all of this. We enjoy ourselves and suffer in the journey to try things out, learn new skills, problem solve, experiment.  We also react to phenomena,and defend and harm ourselves and others at times.  In the midst of this we learn to distinguish between gains and satisfactions that are short term vs. long term and things that may feel good and are helpful and things that feel good and are toxic.  I may love ice cream but if I eat a  lot of it I may trade away my joy because it can make me sick.

Identifying how I feel when I do things is important.  If I feel peaceful when I make a decision, the decision is probably going to be beneficial.  If I feel uncomfortable when I make a decision but decide to do the activity or acquire the commodity anyway, the end will probably be harmful for me.  If I do something out of fear it probably will ultimately harm me – i.e. marrying someone so I will not be alone is  not a good reason to marry someone.   Taking a job one loaths because the money is needed is something one should only do as a last resort.  It would be wise to ransack one’s soul, talk to every friend, pray and brainstorm about any weird angle on jobs before just settling for a terrible job.  It is often the case that our lives are forcing us to look at possibilities that up to this point we have had a closed mind about.  These interior markers are very reliable if one learns the art of discernment and is also given the grace of discernment.  The famous historian of religion, Joseph Campbell, was asked by Bill Moyers if he had a sense that he was guided when he made decisions.  Campbell replied that he felt the helping hands of many beings when he had the courage to do what he knew was right.

So, making a commitment to live an honest, non-addictive life – a life in which I can be my true self – requires the skills to discern the right path for me.  That kind of life is surrendered to the truth.  It is a life that is not grasping, fearful or egotistical.  It can be a life that is loving, just, courageous.  This is not an easy thing.  From the Catholic point of view, it is impossible unless one is empowered by a love that keeps one from despair.  The more one seeks love and justice, the more one also sees insensitivity and selfishness. We also become acutely aware of our own entanglement in fear, loneliness, pain, anger and disappointment.  We want to feel safe but we want to be creative and compassionate.  How to do that?

If people are connected to a reality that is larger than themselves – a community or a transcendent being – that person can go beyond his/her fears and trust.  The ability to do this has to be rooted in experience.  Faith/trust in life cannot be totally blind.  It has to be based on an encounter with goodness/love.  In the Catholic context people have experiences all the time of peace, the presence of the Sacred, being blessed and guided.  No one can prove the existence of God.  Experts of all stripes can reduce religious belief to a projection of one’s neurons or psychology.  The scientific method can be paraded out and empiricism presented as the only acceptable measure of whether the spiritual is real.  In the end all of those super respectable criteria are a chimera.  We don’t have to accept the idea that our reality fits itself into an instrument of measurement that we have created if the reality we want to define is greater than the instrument – i.e. if God is infinite yet personal, that Sacred Reality is well beyond the physics of our situation as we know it.

In the normal committed spiritual life people educate themselves and have important insights and growth.  But, within the context of meditation and a reflected upon life people also have periodic religious experiences.  These experiences sustain and guide them.  They are not addictive but energizing, healing and challenging.  These experiences are not just for the Saints.  And, becoming closer to God is not a “crutch.”  It is a break through to the way reality is.  Asceticism and mysticism are brother and sister.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Posted by on Mar 14, 2012

Lent: How Could Asceticism Be Helpful to Me?

Catholics who grew up in the 50′s and 60′s and before often heard: “Offer it up!” We might have blown that idea off but we knew it had a deeper meaning. The heart of the maxim was closeness to the person of Christ – with a being of unconditional love and compassion.  No one wants to just torture oneself to rack up a extra “Brownie Points” with God. But, being with Christ and the poor is another thing. Even minor deprivation reminds us of how blessed and addicted we are.  We are all interconnected, in solidarity with every living thing. Knowing we are blessed and not complaining over the inconveniences of life makes us more compassionate. Being grateful can’t help but contribute to a holier world.

Some people  seek ways to actively promote their spiritual growth and more freedom from attachments by simplifying their lives or cultivating an awareness of what is controlling them  One term for this is “asceticism.”

“Asceticism” comes from the Greek words “Ascetikos” and “Askein” which refer to exercise.  It does not have anything to do with inflicting pain or enduring something just to prove that one is committed or is strong. The point of asceticism is to learn to identify one’s unhelpful attachments or addictions and to then learn ways to not have these rule us – to strengthen our ability to make conscious choices.  So, for example, when I eat I can observe what I want to eat the most and then see if that kind of food is good for me.  It is amazing how often or quickly we can see what is in charge of our lives.  I can at times feel an over whelming need to eat something to tamp down upsetting feelings.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola advised retreatants doing the retreat called the Spiritual Exercises to observe their attachment to things that led to unhappiness in their lives in general through the vehicle of observing their desires at a meal.  He pointed out that we usually want what he called “delicacies” rather than the healthier staple foods of the day (curly fries with cheese sauce as opposed to chicken and salad?)  Our desire can be fierce.  He also pointed out that at meals we may not be interested in being present to the other people.  We may converse but we may not be listening or really care what the other is expressing.  All of this is a potential goldmine for growth.  If we desire to know ourselves and to be of service to the world then we can consciously reflect on our attachments, desires and feelings.  In the Christian context, freedom from denial and negative patterns is not achieved by sheer exercise of one’s will.  Deciding to stop doing something does not necessarily change one’s interior life.  So authentic growth is not just on the surface.  Authentic growth in the Christian context is about moving away from something negative because one is moving towards something positive.  In technical terms asceticism cannot be separated from mysticism (meant as religious experience).  So, knowledge of what is going on at the microcosm of the dinner table which might be very self-centered or destructive can be transformed for even the most helplessly addicted foodaholic  into a victory of freedom.  That freedom though will be effected for the Christian by an encounter with the Sacred – a very positive experience of unconditional love.

Okay, but how does one have these experiences?!  (Stay tuned for more!)

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Posted by on Jul 30, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Contemplation to Attain Love – Ninth Day – July 31

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Contemplation to Attain Love – Ninth Day – July 31

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding” (the last of his Four Quartets)

The Contemplation to Attain Love is the final Exercise of the Spiritual Exercises. In the Third Week of the Exercises, we focus on the passion and death of Christ. In the Fourth Week we focus on living in the Risen Christ. It is important to remember that St. Ignatius is referring to our love for God. He is also referring to something which is not sentimental or poetic but something lived in everyday life.

We began our exploration and pilgrimage with St. Ignatius with “Take Lord Receive” as an impulse of grace that moves into the life of the Holy Trinity. We now complete the cycle and move into the next. Yet we know the place for the first time.

1st Point.

This is to recall to mind the blessings of creation and redemption, and the special favours I have received.

I will ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much He has given me of what He possesses, and finally, how much, as far as He can, the same Lord desires to give Himself to me according to his divine decrees.
Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it. Thus as one would do who is moved by great feeling, I will make this offering of myself: Take, Lord, and Receive…

2nd Point.

This is to reflect how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in human beings, giving understanding. So He dwells in me and gives me being, life, sensation, intelligence; and makes a temple of me, since I am created in the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty.
Then I will reflect upon myself again…

3rd Point.

This is to consider how God works and labours for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labours. Thus in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc., He gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc.
Then I will reflect on myself…

4th Point.

This is to consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above. Thus, my limited power comes from the supreme and infinite power above, and so too, justice, goodness, mercy, etc., descend from above as the rays of light descend from the sun, and as the waters flow from their fountains, etc.
Then I will reflect on myself…

Conclude with a colloquy (The colloquy is made by speaking exactly as one friend speaks to another, or as a servant speaks to a master…) and an Our Father.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action. Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 29, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Applying the Senses – Eighth Day – July 30

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Applying the Senses – Eighth Day – July 30

With Christ in Real Time

For St. Ignatius, the spiritual journey is a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and into the very life of Christ. The application of the sense is a type of prayer that is just the opposite of a “mind trip.” Here are some excerpts from Fr. Bob Gilroy, SJ, a Jesuit priest who is an artist, art therapist, hospital and jail chaplain and his beautiful site Prayer Windows.

Becoming Free for God’s Sake

In many ways, Ignatius helps retreatants paint a picture with the mind and senses. The aim of his manual was to inspire people, so that they could enflesh the Gospel of Jesus Christ and live their lives for God and others. This methodology heightened one’s awareness of personal weaknesses and strengths in order to know how best to serve others. The object is to undergo conversion in order to be free for God’s sake.

Composition of Place: An Example

For example, let us look at a selection from the second phase of the Spiritual Exercises, called “The Blind Beggar.” (Fig.15) As I prayed with Mk 10:46-52, which is the story of Bartimaeus, a blind man, I began to imagine the landscape of the setting. It was dry, hot and dusty as I found myself being Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside. I can smell the animals as they pass by and hear people’s voices in the background. Then I realize from the conversation that Jesus is near, so I cry out to him. I hear the footsteps of someone I believe to be Jesus approach me. I become filled with eager anticipation. Jesus is so close I feel his breath on my face and I hear him say, “I trust you. If there is anything you want to tell me I will listen to you.”

At this point in my life I was wondering whether to consider other job opportunities. As I revealed my fears and hopes in prayer, I felt more freedom to continue looking for confirmation to remain in my present situation. I was asking to see how I could grow spiritually in order to help others by encountering Jesus in a deeper way. This was one example of Jesus restoring my sight in order to follow him.

The revelation of God through the stories of Jesus is made present through imaginative participation. The mind engages the heart. As Hugo Rahner comments, “… the aim of this mode of prayer is to make the events of salvation ‘present’ in the mind, and thus to attain that direct experience.” Ignatian Prayer Windows

Humanitarian Aid

Exercise

What scene in the life of Christ is your favorite. Spend some time there, in the moment, with the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of the instant. What does Christ say and do to you and for you. How do you respond?

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Discernment – Seventh Day – July 29th

Roland Joffe’s 1986 Movie “The Mission” traces and telescopes the Jesuit missionary efforts in Paraguay. In 1995, the Vatican Film List singled out “The Mission” as one of 15 films of special religious significance. In this scene Fr. Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays his oboe to make contact with the Guarani after several of his brothers had been killed in similar attempts. The song is the now famous “Gabriel’s Oboe” by Morricone. Right click on this link to open it in another tab for a symphonic and choral arrangement as a background for your own meditation on this day of the novena.

The Invitation of Christ

St. Ignatius is very clear in his distinction between the Call of Christ and that of Satan. Like Gabriel’s Oboe, the call of Christ is peaceful, inviting, encouraging. The snares of Satan are fear, anxiety, and compulsion. These are the primary ways in which we can begin to discern the source of motions and movements within our soul. The banner of Satan has been called the path of least resistance while the banner of Christ is that of consciousness.

The banner of Christ requires openness, humility, and real courage, as we see in the scene from the movie. In fact, the Jesuit missionary experience in Paraguay would follow the path of the cross as the Portuguese killed the missionaries and enslaved the Guarani. This in turn was only the prelude to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1767 because of its opposition to the absolute power given to kings and emperors during the Enlightenment. The Society was restored in 1814.

A Growing Sensitivity

Wholeheartedness in the service of God demands a constant effort of discernment, a growing sensitivity to the will of God. Without this, generosity can lead only to ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame’…

At all events, Ignatius characterizes Lucifer as a tyrant who drives and compels his subjects (he uses a vocabulary of compulsion and trickery), whereas when describing Christ his vocabulary is one of friendship, persuasion, gentleness…

What I have to see is that my personal option must be made in the light of this universal vision. My choice must integrate me into the great movement of salvation already accomplished in Christ and now being worked out on earth. My choice will be a reproduction in me of the option of Christ who chose the cross, despising its shame. We may note that this idea finds its first development with Origen but is already contained in germ in the phrase of Ignatius of Antioch – ‘Let me be an imitator of the passion of my God’. – William Yeomans (emphasis not in the original)

Mother Teresa

Exercise:

Placing myself in God’s presence, I ask these questions of myself and the Holy Spirit. What is my path of consciousness? What is my path of least resistance?

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness, and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – The Banner of Christ – Sixth Day – July 28th

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – The Banner of Christ – Sixth Day – July 28th

“May Christ our Lord give us his grace so that we may be always sensitive to his will and fulfill it entirely.”

This quotation is the closing salutation St. Ignatius used commonly in his letters and represents the state of openness that is the goal of the Exercises.

The Forces of Good and Evil

The Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises prepares us to make the “Election” or the choice to serve Christ the way he has served us in complete humility by the way of the cross. St. Ignatius takes us through the life of Christ from the Incarnation to the Baptism at the River Jordan.

Before we can get to this election we have to deal with the parts of ourselves that still hold on to sinful ways, attitudes, and tendencies. For St. Ignatius, there are two competing kingdoms symbolized by their own flags or standards. By accepting the banner of Christ and His Kingdom, we reject sin and evil within ourselves and move from a position of self-interest to one of complete surrender to the Divine Will.

The Banner of Christ

“The issue at stake at this stage of the Exercises is not the fact of salvation or of Christ’s victory over Lucifer. That has never been in doubt and the whole theology of the First Week presupposes it. The question is how this victory is to be made a reality for mankind here and now, through my choice. There is no doubt in Ignatius’ mind that the banner of Christ is the Vexilla Regis, the banner of the cross, and the Election is going to be a setting out on the way of the cross.” William Yeomans, “The Two Standards”

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994

Exercise:

What comes to my mind and heart when I say this prayer? What part do I play in God’s plan of salvation here and now: day in and day out?

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost;
to fight and not heed the wounds;
to toil and not seek for rest;
to labor and not ask for reward, except to know
that I am doing your will.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Testimony:

Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather

Reflection:

This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.

Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.

Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.

Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.

people-walking-on-street

Examination of Conscience

Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.

Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.

Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?

Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 25, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Soul of Christ – Day 4 – July 26


Opening Prayer

Anima Christi

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.

Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise thee
Forever and ever.
Amen.

A favorite prayer of St. Ignatius, the Anima Christi has its origins in the 13th century, but the author remains unknown. It may seem a little jarring to juxtapose the exuberant “Worthy Is the Lamb” with the ancient and more subdued Anima Christi. However, they focus on our recognition of the source of our salvation and the compelling power of God’s grace. Across 800 years, the cultural idiom may have changed but not the Holy Spirit.

Foregiveness

Reflection

St. Ignatius focuses the First Week of the Exercises on sin and conversion. The activities concentrate on becoming aware of our sinfulness, our unworthiness, and God’s willing pardon. Sometimes this awareness can be overwhelming in inappropriate ways. The purpose of these actions is to change our hearts. In this regard, St. Ignatius is something of a behaviorist. His approach is to notice particular tendencies or actual sins and to keep a scorecard of our victories and defeats. Clearly, it is not enough to know our failings; it is more important to do something about them.

For those who are newly turned from sinful and self-destructive lifestyles, the First Week is a time of awareness, repentance, and a behavioral change in our awareness of our thoughts and actions. In many ways this mirrors St. Ignatius’ own experience during his conversion and pilgrim years. As a man of his times, he lived in a time of strict and rigid codes of honor, duty, and obligation. Feudal lords could exact terrible consequences from any of their vassals or peasants who breached obligations, whether the breach was real or perceived.

For many people today, Christian conversion is experienced in the intensity of the charismatic experience. The focus is on forgiveness, the terrible price Christ paid for each one of us, and the joy of our salvation. The reformation of our lives is worked out in this broader context.

Regardless of whether we are in the 16th or the 21st centuries, our journey begins with the experience of our salvation and the changing of hearts shown in our actual behavior.

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

When did I first become aware of my sinfulness and God’s forgiving love? Who were the people in my life who showed me their changed hearts by their example? When did I first give or receive forgiveness from someone important in my life? When did I first stop looking at a check list of sins and realize that my actions could hurt and offend God?

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What thoughts and feelings come to my mind and heart when I let God and others down? What do I feel when I see and reflect on the suffering and death of Christ? How do I feel when my love is not returned? Why is God’s love so encompassing?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about the course of your life? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Talk frankly about the things that you are doing wrong in your life. Talk about grudges, bitterness, your regret, your shame. Ask for his healing and make a plan to start changing things, little by little, day by day.

Jesus, your love and your grace are enough for me. Let nothing come between us.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2011

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Prayer for Generosity –  Day 3 – July 25

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Prayer for Generosity – Day 3 – July 25

Opening Prayer:

Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not count the cost;
to fight and not heed the wounds;
to toil and not seek for rest;
to labor and not ask for reward, except to know
that I am doing your will.

– Prayer for Generosity – St. Ignatius Loyola
supernovae
Reflection

If there seems to be a strange resonance between Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream” and St. Ignatius’ Prayer for Generosity, it is because they share the same inspiration.

Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote in two volumes in 1605 and 1615. This classic of western literature was intended as a parody of all the tales of the questing knight. Cervantes hoped his novel would put an end to the genre. St. Ignatius Loyola, who lived from 1491 to 1556, is imbued with this medieval notion of service to one’s lord and the quest for glory in acts of chivalry. Yet, St. Ignatius is also set on the threshold of the modern age. His feudal lord becomes the God of Heaven and he sets out on his quest, laying aside his armor and fine clothes for the homespun garment of the pilgrim.

The 1972 musical, “Man of La Mancha,” takes up the themes of Don Quixote as an assertion of meaning and purpose in the face of the absurdity and pessimism of the mid-20th century. Although it is not a “religious” song, “The Impossible Dream” is a great example of what St. Ignatius asks us to look for as contemplatives in action. God’s word is breaking forth. The book and the musical make it very clear that Don Quixote’s type of delusional world is clearly mad in the cold light of everyday reality. Yet surrendering to the gloom is more insane. Mother Teresa left a challenging but reasonable ministry as a teacher to do the completely impossible task of rescuing the dying in the gutters of Calcutta

The great challenge St. Ignatius gives us is the willingness to dream big – to be unreasonable – to be lifted out of ourselves in the ecstasy of tilting at windmills with God. St. Ignatius is immensely practical in his rules on spiritual guidance and discernment of spirits. However, he assumes that we come with a late medieval passion and desire to do great deeds.

The great problem with the post-modern world is that our vision has shrunk. Let’s get an education to get a job; to pay a mortgage; to buy an RV; to retire with money; to die. “The Impossible Dream” always moves those who hear it because we recognize the truth in its pure foolishness.

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

What passions for making the world better have we received? How good are we at telling jokes; at laughing when we want to cry? When we have been crushed, defeated: who or what got us on our feet to try again? Who were the great people in our lives who taught us to dream; who taught us not to live in fear?

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What impossible dreams and visions come to me? How do I feel about going on a quest? How do I feel about failure, disillusionment, betrayal? What visions and emotions come to me when I look at my life? In good times and bad times what has God been doing in my life?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about the course of your life? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Ask for help on this journey; to see Him in all things; to be more in love everyday.

Jesus, our love and your grace are enough for me.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad” poor in goodness and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and forever. Amen.

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Posted by on Jul 22, 2011

Novena for the Feast of St. Ignatius – Take Lord, Receive – Day 1 – July 23

Novena for the Feast of St. Ignatius – Take Lord, Receive – Day 1 – July 23

Opening Prayer

Take Lord, receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding, and
my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You have given all to me.

Now I return it to you.
All is Yours, dispose of it wholly according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
That’s enough for me.

Your love and your grace are enough for me.
– Ignatius Loyola

Placing Ourselves in God’s Presence

Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale slowly and mindfully.
Relax. Be at peace. Be aware that you are in God’s loving presence wherever you are.

Reviewing Our Lives With Gratitude

Focus on the small and wonderful things in your life this day: the quality of the light, our children at play, the soothing touch of those who love us.

Reflecting on Our Feelings and Spiritual Movements

What am I going through? What feelings and experiences do I encounter? What is good and not so good in my life? Did I reach out in love and consideration? Did I perform my duties well? What do I feel good about? What causes me regret?

Focusing on What Comes to Us

Let your feelings and images well up within you. What strikes you the most about this day? What feeling or images come to you more clearly and peacefully?

Talking With Jesus Our Friend

Converse with Jesus as He is right now, right here – your friend. Share what comes from your heart – in a look, a few words, a smile. Ask for help on this journey; to see Him in all things; to be more in love everyday.

Your love and your grace are enough for me.

IgnatiusConcluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad” poor in goodness and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and forever. Amen.

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