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Posted by on Jul 3, 2012

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

The Seventh Gift: Awe and Wonder (Fear of the Lord)

Baby Galaxies in the Night Sky

When I stare at the night sky, especially if I am out in the country, I get almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the universe.  I am in awe of the beauty of the stars and then amazed at a God who can create and manage such an enormous and complex reality and yet be with me personally.  One billion galaxies!  Possibly two billion.

Even if a person does not believe in God as the reality defined in traditional religious terms, the beauty of the night sky, the roar of water down a canyon, the amazing chatter of birds and animals can take the breath away — almost bring one to tears.

The gift of AWE AND WONDER helps us to know and to feel that God is the fulfillment of everything we desire.  That there exists  perfect love — perfect knowledge, goodness, power, action, discretion, justice, healing.  With this gift we perceive the mystery that God is.  We realize that there is an aspect of the Sacred, the transcendent, that we cannot know on this side of death, but that we get glimpses of such majesty and glory.  We see that God can know, interact with, and sustain billions of people.   It’s amazing.  You either believe it or you don’t.  If you believe in such a possibility then it is mind blowing.  My particularities matter.  I am fully known.  Nothing is impossible.

In 1974 When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it made two inaccessible worlds available to an entirely new audience.  The first world was the natural world known in a scientific way.  All of a sudden cells and their biochemistry, ecosystems, the interdependence of species, and the rhythms of nature were explained in lay terms and could be understood and celebrated.  Secondly, this joy and excitement was not just intellectual but also solidly spiritual.  There was no separation of the secular from the sacred.  The world was whole and we felt whole in it.  How nice!  My body and the whole physical realm was God’s love and creativity writ big in the awesome processes of life in mitochondria,  chloroplasts, T cells, blood, genes, the periodic table, and atomic particles.

Dillard took all the lovely words, images and sounds of a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkinsand showed us the genius of God, down to the most minute details.  Hopkins’ dramatic words: grandeur, greatness, ooze, dearest freshness, dappled, brinded, original, spare, and strange now showed the grandeur of God as Dillard explained the incredible scientific reality of ooze and freshness, dappled and brinded.  She also opened up very wide the whole subject of suffering and death and gave the reader a new perspective on the meaning and purposes of both.  As a spiritually anemic graduate student, I soaked up the theology of Dillard’s book and saw for the first time the consistency of God in the natural and supernatural realms.  How could God have a cycle of growth, disintegration and integration in the natural realm and not have one in the spiritual realm?  What was all that talk of planting, pruning, cultivating and harvesting in the Bible all about if God was not also doing it in society and in my soul? And was God a genius in nature and then mindless and distant in the spiritual world?  No, we can and do find God in the wonder of the universe and in the many parallel things we know in our lives.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of awe when she says, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”  Having Awe and Wonder is not automatic.  It is a gift.  We can be so over-indulged or over-stimulated that we miss beauty or grandeur.  Last Sunday morning I saw a small fox trot by a glass door of a building where I was in a meeting.  It was very close.  The sun was shining through its translucent tail all colorful and fluffy.  What a pointy nose and whiskers!  Wonderful round dark  eyes.  Such a lovely animal.  So light on its feet.  I couldn’t dismiss it.  It made my day.  God is near.

 

Red Fox

The fox looked back at us as he or she trotted on.  I wanted to go with it as it ran into the woods.  In Psalm 139 it says that we are wonderfully made.  Yes, we are.  Sometimes squirrely and difficult;  other times sleek and dolphin-like.  But we are all wonderfully made, “The work of his hands.”   And, awe, wonder and gratitude are our best response.  Hopefully we can at times “Take off our shoes” at the thought of all this splendor.  Maybe we can shake off the darkness of this world a little as we drink in “all this juice and all this joy”!

 

Image of the fox from wpclipart.com – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.

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Posted by on Jun 6, 2012

The Sixth Gift: Reverence

Reverence is rare in American society yet we love to see it.  We are enthralled by dignity in great people.  We appreciate graciousness and care, attention to detail, kindness to the helpless.  We love to gaze on a photo by Ansel Adams of a ray of sunlight coming down on fern beneath redwood trees and ache to be in that very quiet, quiet place.  Many of us love the scent of incense, the intonation of chant, and bowing before the Blessed Sacrament.  All of us, even non-believers feel humbled by special churches or temples.  If I spy a butterfly up close or gaze on a sleeping baby, I feel taken aback by these, I feel reverence.

Reverence is an attitude and feeling of being in the presence of something bigger and more important than we are.  It is not a feeling of unimportance but rather of an encounter with something one admires and wants to honor and respect.  In order to feel reverence for someone or something, I have to have realized that this reality is special and unique.

St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of reverence a number of times in relation to God.  He links reverence to honor or service.  He is not referring to the idea that one should honor or serve God as a duty.  Rather he is stating that one wants to honor and serve because God is so amazing and humble with respect to us that we cannot but want to reverence Him.  Teresa of Avila refers to Jesus as the Divine Majesty who desires only one thing — that of humble closeness to us.  Julian of Norwich speaks of Jesus who is so courteous with us that He will not force any aspect of himself on us.

Reverence requires that I am able to be grateful and humble.  All of these are gifts.  It is only by the grace of God that we are not blind and obtuse all the time with respect to what God has done and is doing for us. Reverence implies that I have deference for God, that I acknowledge the majesty and superiority of God and feel deeply thankful for God’s attention to me.

This kind of admiration and gratitude is not automatic.  Our daily lives and problems are so all-encompassing and often overwhelming that we feel little relief.  God does not seem involved.  Where is He?  We have a difficult time finding God in the discomfort.  I often resent the fact that God could eliminate my problems in the wink of an eye if he wanted to.  He could do that.  So why doesn’t God construct a world in which there is no pain and suffering?  He allows the struggle to go on because he envisions a far better outcome for us than we can imagine.  He allows all the challenges to purify us because he is the best possible parent.  He lets us make choices and learn from them.  He lets us live in a world that presents growth possibilities — controversies, complications, tragedies, opportunities.  He loves us enough to risk our hating him.

When I realized that God was calling me, dragging me, carrying me, and letting me be beaten by the most awful forces so that I could be stronger and surer, I began to admire him.  When I watched Jesus in the Gospels be ridiculed, baited, criticized, and threatened, I really grew in respect for what an awesome and holy opponent he was.  Jesus was smart, humble, strategic, direct, disarming, and kind.  What a special person just on the human level! I feel the desire to bow before him any time.

Reverence also extends to  how we feel about other human beings.  This is much harder for us because we have encountered so many who are arrogant and ignorant, childish and irrational.  But, God sees a spark of himself in each one.  We also cannot imagine ourselves being anything less than perfect.   It is so easy to perceive the insensitivities of everyone else.  We do in fact feel the abrasiveness of being in relationships.  People are very hard on each other — demanding.  Real love though is not about enjoying only the pretty parts of people.  Real love is reverent.  It hopes in my potential and that of others.  Real love is not arrogant or overbearing.  God calls us to love each other as we want to be loved.  This is a very hard thing to do.  It means that I wish for the other the joys  and respect that I want for myself.  It also means that I am not superior.

In the past twenty years we have also begun to appreciate the importance of the natural world and our dependence on it.  We no longer take for granted our environment.  We see the beauty and complexity of every scientific process within our bodies and every element of the universe.  While not wanting to cling to physicality in a literal way, we do want to reverence it.  The entire process of living, developing and getting nurturance is an amazing interplay of resources, influences, choices, and challenges.  Our bodies, the solar system, atomic particles, and plants and animals are all amazing.  Learning about these realities should help us to appreciate them and to reverence them — from wanting clean water to finding a cure for malaria.

This humility before God, each other and the universe is reverence and it is a gift.

Two saints to read about in regard to this gift if you have not already done so are St. Peter Claver, S.J. and St. Solanus Casey, O.F.M. Cap.

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Posted by on May 27, 2012

The Gift of Wisdom: Ancient but Pertinent?

When I think of Wisdom my mind always throws up pictures of Michelangelo-like figures with ponderous looks on their faces.  The scene is very serious and feels absolutely irrelevant to my life.  A second later I am seeing two figures on a canvas mat  struggling to get control of a situation.   Both images are important and both apply to me.  Living in a wise way is very important and serious and this life skill plays out in my life as a pitched battle between my ego or inner child and God.  We are down on the mat wrestling away all day long.  At times the struggle for me to be wise is funny.  I am the child with a Look or Big Hunk candy bar, covered in chocolate who badly needs a bath.  I am wading through my life with a terrific personal coach whom I would like to ignore.  I would like to lay down in my life and be waited upon.  I would like to wave a magic wand and have all my troubles just go away.  Why not?

Wisdom is a gift from God which empowers us to do what is best.  Wisdom is the opposite of impulsiveness, self-indulgence and short-sightedness. In the secular world, wisdom is doing what is best because of fear or because of personal gain.  In the spiritual world, wisdom is sought because it draws us to growth, generosity, inclusivity, justice, love, and heroism.  Wisdom is what God expresses in the world.  When we exercise wisdom, we rise above what we want to consider what is best.  The two might be the same.  In any case, the activity of considering what is best frees us from the possible deception that can come by just following my feelings.  Wisdom asks if a thought or course of action is taking us to a bad place in life where we have been before or if a decision is taking us to a positive place.

One of the greatest deceptions in life is called the Pleasure Principle.  According to this principle, if something feels good it is good and if something feels bad it is bad.  This line of thinking is fallacious.  Obviously heroin may feel good, but it is horribly destructive.  Telling a lie may feel good right now and yet end up causing harm to me and a lot of pain.  Eating french fries may feel good now but the health results later may feel quite bad.  There are many things in life that feel bad, such as asking forgiveness or  letting someone inconvenience us, that when performed cause us to feel good almost immediately.  People who are wise can distinguish between short and long term results.  They are committed to the truth and to wanting to be joyful, not just comfortable.

Wisdom takes knowledge and uses it in the best possible ways.  It thinks broadly rather than just individualistically.  Wisdom perceives the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything in the world, so that when we have the gift of wisdom, we live with the Earth and all it inhabitants in mind.  We understand that what we do affects everything on the Earth.  My thoughtful and healthy living affects everyone.  Wisdom therefore does have discipline as a skill.  Another word for this is restraint.  It can be fun not to waste.  It can be really exciting not to be driven by addictions and obsessions.  I can and often am driven by food and things to which I am attracted that I want to own.  I love cinnamon rolls and designer fabric.  I cannot eat the first nor afford the second.  It is so lovely to feel free of pining for these.  Wisdom is sinking in and I do not feel the pull or deprivation of these anymore.  Wisdom has gifted me with excitement over better health and a good hold on my budget.  This process is bound up with good Discernment.  I am aware of the difference of quality in feelings between immediate gratification versus inner peace.

Another feature of wisdom worth considering is attachment to outcomes.  A relative recently said that he wanted to help someone but did not want to be attached to the outcome. By this he meant that he did not need to be in control of what was best for someone.  He also did not see any value in feeling bad if the other person decided not to take him up on his offer.  Implied in this was the fact that we cannot change or fix other people.  Only they and God can do that.  Wisdom sees the sense in all this.  When we are wise, we realize that may see someone else’s situation as it really is or we may not.  We know that only God sees the whole picture.  I may want someone to save money or be less depressed, but I inevitably do not have all the facts.   In any course of conversation or action I take, I should first put the situation in God’s hands and wait to see if the various options I have are out of my fears, anxieties, or anger or something that is best for everyone concerned.

I know several people who are very activated emotionally by the suffering of others.  They want to help people with problems or obstacles immediately.  That’s very understandable and usually good.  But, sometimes it is good to not help people.  We should be compassionate but may decide not to step in and do things for people.  If this decision is motivated by wisdom it may not be easy but it may be best.  We do wise things because they are correct, not because we feel guilty or because we want people to be dependent on us or approve of us.

Wisdom is cited throughout the Bible.  There are free online concordances which can lead to all the references to wisdom.  Reading these texts and ruminating on them can lead to important ideas and graces.

A very good book on wisdom from a non-Judeo-Christian perspective is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz.

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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 Feb 25, 2012

The Eternal Present –  Living in the Now

The Eternal Present – Living in the Now

Blooming daffodils

Summer-like weather had kissed the coastal city in mid-winter. The warm sun shone brightly, not a cloud in the sky. Birds sang happily, chattering away noisily with their peers while enjoying their southern sojourn. Flowers bloomed merrily in every garden and by the wayside paths. It was the kind of day when no one should be stuck inside. But that was where she had been all day. There were dishes to wash, groceries to purchase, documents to proof-read, checkbooks to be balanced. That was all on top of caring for a small child and keeping him safe as he explored the many nooks and crannies of his world. By the time all was done and they could go outside, it was already time for her to begin dinner preparations, so someone else got to go out with him!

By late evening, as bedtime approached, dinner now having been completed, dishes done, beds ready for their occupants, the little guy decided he didn’t want to stop playing and get ready for bed. She was frustrated and tired — not at all in a mood to be patient and gentle. Fortunately, she recognized the need for a quick break and walked into another room long enough to regain a bit of peace. When she came out, the child ran towards her, his face one big smile from ear to ear. All memory of the battle waged a few moments earlier long gone from his mind. He had a story for bedtime. Could they read it?  Of course, they could, and the rest of the evening ritual proceeded pleasantly. She even got a few minutes of quiet before retiring herself.

The experience of our “heroine” is, I think, all too common for many of us today. There is so much to be done. So many expectations of how quickly we must respond, so many opportunities to be “busy about many things,” that we end up over-stressed and missing the wonders of the present moment. Yet we would be well advised to notice the child’s way of living in each moment. After all, Jesus told his followers that the Kingdom is made of child-like people — people who can be present in the moment.

God exists in the Eternal Present. Every moment is new in that Eternal Present. Nothing carries over except God’s ever outpouring love. God does not hold on to the past — all is new and everything is possible. “Your sins I remember no more.” (Isaiah 43:25)

We, on the other hand, get stuck in the upsets, angers, resentments and disappointments of the past. Our ability to see and respond to love gets paralyzed. We become separated from our loving, ever present God and the wonder of ever new life flowing out as the present moment.

Jesus comes to lead us from that separation, that paralysis of living and re-living the past (aka, our sinfulness). Once we accept that healing, we can once again rise from our mats as did  the paralyzed man in the Gospel (Mark 2:1-12), dancing in the joy of new life in God’s NOW.

Daffodils Bloom – from public-domain-image.com

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Posted by on Dec 19, 2011

The Blessing of Presence

The Blessing of Presence

 

There is a Hindu concept that speaks of Non-action within Action. I believe Non-action refers to being rooted in the silent trust and understanding of Who I Am prior to any doing.

Non-Action within Action is being present to the wellness within; the Constant Harmony within the Constant Change. So when I take a step, there is a leaning into the leg that lands on the ground to provide a slight moment of rest as the other leg lifts off the ground.

Action by itself can be egocentric, chaotic, stress-filled, taxing and overwhelming. In the Breema Bodywork I practice there is a Principle of Harmony called

Single Moment, Single Activity.

Practicing this principle allows me to be present to the simple activity of my body in this moment, even if there are multiple tasks being done. Connected to this moment, my busy mind connects to my body to create a body-mind connection where I am more grounded and available to the natural feelings of life, such as acceptance and gratitude. This is, for me, the contemplative spirit within activism. The practice is to nurture and embody a contemplative silence inherently connected to the power of all things, from which we speak and act and reflect.

For those who are concerned about being overly taxed by the commitment of involvement, perhaps we can support each other in the solidarity that comes from sharing silence, and the opening of our hearts to the wisdom that unites us in service to life and love.

Image courtesy of NASA – In the public domain.

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Posted by on Aug 28, 2011

“I’m on my own now, why should I go to Church?”

“I’m on my own now, why should I go to Church?”

Mass aboard the USS Enterprise

 

A new school year is beginning in the Northern Hemisphere and many students who have always gone to Church with their families now find themselves addressing the question, “Why should I go to Church?”  Some will have been asking it for many years. Others will ask it for the first time in the next few weeks, as other activities and concerns vie for their attention and time.

For those who began questioning their family’s practice early, the answers they received as children may have ranged from “Because” to “That’s what our family does” to “No, God doesn’t need us to go to Church, but we need to go to Church,” to “When you’re grown up, you can decide, but until then, we go to Church on Sunday.” None of these answers satisfies the questioner. If truth be told, they don’t really satisfy the one answering the question either.

So really, why should anyone go to Church? Sometimes Mass is boring. In some parishes liturgy feels rushed; in others it seems to take far too long. Sometimes it seems only to be a matter of completing a ritual in the expectation that then God will have to pay attention to those who perform it. Sermons are sometimes dull and not at all related to questions children and teens face in their daily lives. The same old songs are sung every week.  Young people don’t feel welcomed in the music group – only the “old” people who’ve been singing forever decide what to sing and how to sing it. Pastors sometimes seem more interested in getting everyone to contribute to the collection than to getting everyone involved in parish activities or ministry. The idea of contributing from “Time, Talent, and Treasure” seems to undervalue the Time and Talent of teens and young adults in favor of the Treasure they are perceived to have. In short, there are lots of perfectly justifiable reasons not to go to Mass on Sunday.

As a mother, daughter, aunt, catechist, godmother, grandmother, and friend, I watch family and friends struggle with this issue. I was blessed to grow up during Vatican II and to have had wonderful experiences of liturgy and community as a child, teen, and young adult. It was never an issue for me. I loved it all. Yet many of my siblings, their spouses, and their children have had different experiences and find membership in a worshipping community less essential as part of their daily lives. So I ask myself as well, “Why should anyone go to Church?”

The answers I find range from selfishly pragmatic to possibly theologically justifiable. They are certainly not the only reasons. They are simply reasons I can suggest from my own experience and studies.

1.  Church communities are made up of good people who will generally try to help when problems arise in people’s lives. It’s a good idea to get involved with good people and form mutually supportive relationships before you need them. Things may be going well now, but that won’t last forever. When everything starts crashing down around you, it’s good to have someone who’ll try to help you hold the umbrella to deflect the debris, pick up the pieces to start over again, or simply be with you to hold your hand in support and love when nothing else can be done.

2.  Members of church communities may become lifelong friends who share a culture of belief and values. This doesn’t always happen and sometimes those same friends may break apart for a time over nuances of belief, changing values, or practical questions such as where their children will attend school. Nevertheless, with time, love, patience, and forgiveness, members of a community will find that reconciliation occurs and the bonds deepen in subtle ways. The friendship may not be the same as it was originally, but when the chips are down, the bond remains.

3.  God is Trinity – Three in One yet Undivided Unity. Without each of the members of the Trinity, God would be lacking. Together, God is complete. Jesus counted on His Father for support during His life on Earth. He must have listened to the Spirit in His healing ministry – how else to know which of the many people he met would be open to receive healing? The Father was glorified through Jesus’ teaching and life. The Holy Spirit is our advocate, cheerleader, and helper – the way God is with us in this time following the Resurrection.

If God is, in a sense, a community, who are we to turn our backs on community?

4.  Jesus developed and relied on a community of friends during his lifetime. Some were closer confidants than others, but each played an important role in his life. They worshipped together. They ate together. They traveled together. They laughed and cried together. They did all the kinds of things that Christians have done with each other through the ages. They even fought with each other sometimes and were rebuked by Jesus when they got out of line or totally missed the point of what He was trying to teach them. Some betrayed Him. Some denied him. Some ran away when He was arrested. But He never turned any of them away or refused to forgive and be reconciled with them.

It was out of this experience of community that the Church grew – many different people, from many different lands, languages, and traditions, coming together to encourage and support each other as followers of The Way.

5.  The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Jesus is not physically present here today in the same way He was before His death and resurrection. St. Paul explained the early understanding of the Christian community, that each person has a specific role to play within the Church, just as each part of a physical body has its own function. If any member of the body is missing, the entire body is weakened. That includes everyone who has been baptized into the community – of all ages, sexes, genders, races, interests, gifts, and talents. If anyone is missing, we are all diminished.

6.   We meet Jesus through each other. This draws from the concept of the Mystical Body. It’s not something about which we generally speak. Many times we don’t recognize this reality. However, when a group of tradesmen comes together to add rooms to the home of a member of their parish who has many children and not enough space for them, Jesus has come. When a death occurs in a family, and the ladies of the parish host a reception following the funeral, Jesus has come to that family. When a friend gives an afternoon to help build a cabinet for a family’s new bathroom, Jesus has come. When a much desired pregnancy ends unexpectedly and a child’s teacher stops to visit the grieving mother after school, Jesus has come. When a family gathers to celebrate a wedding or an anniversary and friends come from miles around to join them, Jesus has come, blessing them all.

7.  Christianity is not an easy path to follow. Christians are called to take unpopular positions. To feed the hungry. To clothe the naked. To care for the poor and strangers in the community. To visit those in prison. To care for the sick. To “speak truth to power.”  Following Jesus will inevitably lead to experiences of the cross. It’s not easy to take a stand contrary to that of people who are powerful. It’s not easy to express an opinion that is contrary to that of one’s family and friends. At home, at work, at school, in public life, times will arise when an individual will have to stand firm, refuse to go along with what everyone else is doing or saying, and experience the pain of being unpopular, ridiculed, censured, isolated, or passed over for a promotion. Some have even had to pay the ultimate price in their witness. We call them martyrs, a word that means witnesses.

8.  In gathering for liturgy (Mass or other celebrations), we share in giving thanks for God’s great gifts and we eat the food that Jesus has given to transform us and give us the strength to continue His work in our world. We meet and get to know each other through our companionship at church. Out of this gathering, all the other benefits already mentioned can and will grow, including the neat side-effect of having a community to support us when we need help too!

 

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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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