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Posted by on Oct 15, 2009

“Let Nothing Disturb You” – St. Teresa of Avila

“Let Nothing Disturb You” – St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens

Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove - Peter Paul Rubens

On this feast of St. Teresa of Avila, when all is so uncertain in our world and so many worries seem to plague us all, I offer her reminder of what really matters. This quote is sometimes called her “Bookmark” because after her death in 1582 it was found written on a piece of paper in her prayer book.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away,
God does not change.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone is enough.

In the original Spanish:

Nada te turbe,
Nada te espante;
Todo se pasa.
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta:
sólo Dios basta.

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Posted by on Aug 30, 2009

Act on God’s Word – August 30, 2009

Act on God’s Word – August 30, 2009

Fr. Ron Shirley

Fr. Ron Shirley

The following is today’s homily from Fr. Ron Shirley, pastor of Resurrection Parish in Aptos, CA. Today’s readings are for the 22 Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B. (DT 4:1-2,6-8, JAS 1:17-18,21b-22,27, MK 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

Fr. Ron’s homilies are available every week at

An elderly priest made a retreat. In the course of it he was struck deeply by three things that he’d always been aware of but never had really taken to heart.

First, there are millions of people in the world who are hungry and homeless. Second, he had spent his entire priestly life preaching comfortable sermons to comfortable people. Third, he had bent over backwards to avoid disturbing or alienating people.

In other words, the priest found himself to be much like the priest played by Jack Lemmon in the film “Mass Appeal.” He preached only about those things that didn’t disturb his parishioners and made them feel good.

And now, like the priest in “Mass Appeal,” the old priest suddenly realized that he had been more worried about pleasing his people than about preaching the Gospel. He had been more worried about rocking the boat than about challenging his parishioners to look into their hearts to see if they were satisfied with what they saw there.

The week following his eye-opening retreat, the old priest looked up the Scripture readings to prepare his Sunday homily.

As he read the Gospel, these words of Jesus leaped right off the page: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The priest resolved, then and there, that he was going to share his soul-searching with his parishioners. So he began his homily by saying:

“My homily this morning will be exactly 30 seconds long. That’s the shortest homily that I’ve ever preached in my life, but it’s also the most important homily I’ve ever preached.”

With that attention-grabbing introduction, the priest gave his 30-second homily. He said:

“I want to make just three points. First, millions of people in the world are hungry and homeless. Second, most people in the world don’t give a damn about that. Third, many of you are more disturbed by the fact that I just said damn in the pulpit than by the fact that I said there are millions of hungry and homeless people in the world.”

With that the elderly priest made the sign of the cross and sat down.

That homily did three things that many homilies don’t do.

First, it caught the attention of the people.
Second, it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the gospel.
Third, hopefully it made the people look into their hearts.

The story of this priest and the gospel reading make the same point.

Religion is not something we do on Sunday. It’s not primarily, observing certain laws, saying certain prayers, or performing certain rituals.

That’s what many people in Jesus’ time had turned religion into. To observe these rituals was to please God. Not to observe them was to sin. In short, observing rituals became identified with being religious.

To illustrate the hypocrisy of such legalism, William Barclay tells this story – about a Muslim pursing an enemy to kill him. In the midst of the chase, the Azan, or public call to prayer sounded. Instantly the Muslim got off his horse, unrolled his prayer mat, knelt down, and prayed the required prayers as fast as he could. Then he leaped back on his horse to pursue his enemy in order to kill him.

It was precisely this kind of legalism that Jesus opposed so vigorously in his time.

Jesus made it clear that religion isn’t something you do at certain times on certain days. It’s not saying certain prayers or performing certain rituals. It’s a thing of the heart. It’s a thing of the heart called love – love of God and love of neighbor. Love in action.

Today’s Scripture reading invites us to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves to what extent the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading apply to us: “This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

The Scriptures also invite us to look into our own hearts and ask ourselves to what extent the words of James in today’s second reading apply to us:

Act on (God’s) word.
If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.”

I hope this homily today did 3 things:

First – it caught your attention.
Second – it caught the spirit of Jesus’ words in the Gospel.
Third – it makes all of us look into our hearts!

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Posted by on May 30, 2009

Saint of the Day – St. Joseph Marello – May 30

Saint of the Day – St. Joseph Marello – May 30


St. Joseph Marello was born in Turin on December 26, 1844. While he was still a young child, his mother died and his father moved the family back to San Martino Alfieri where they would be closer to their grandparents and other family members as they grew up.

Joseph was known to be a devout child and was well respected in his community. He entered the seminary for the first time in 1856 and remained until 1862, when he experienced a need to step out and experience life in the broader world. He went to Turin to study and remained there until early 1864, when he decided that his vocation was indeed to the priesthood. So at the age of 18, he returned to the seminary, expecting to spend his life as a parish priest.

In 1868 he was ordained and much to his surprise was assigned to serve as secretary to his bishop. In this role, he attended the First Vatican Council. As the bishop’s secretary, he was in a better position than many to be aware of the great need for outreach to young people and to serve the poor. He also gained much experience as a counselor and advisor to other priests.

Joseph Marello was very drawn to a life of quiet prayer and contemplation, considering entering the Trappists at one point. However, his bishop convinced him to remain in more active work within the church, so he continued his secretarial work.

One interesting characteristic of Joseph Marello was his appreciation of the power of personal communication through written letters. Predictable, reliable, timely mail service was a new thing in his day and he began at an early age to write to his friends. He encouraged them to do the same, so that they would not be isolated or grow apart. I suspect that today he would have his own blog and be an avid user of the Internet, Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites!

The Oblates of St. Joseph began in 1978, with a small group of 4 men who joined Joseph Marello to live together and serve the poor and orphaned at the Michelerio Orphanage in Asti, Italy.

Oblates, according to Webster’s Dictionary, are lay people who attach themselves to a monastery and give all they have over to the monastery. The original group of Oblates were all laymen. Eventually some priests began to join the group and the order expanded to welcome them. Today Oblates include priests, brothers and lay men and women who continue to live in their own homes and communities.

Joseph Marello and his companions chose St. Joseph as their patron and mentor, wishing to follow his example of quiet service to Jesus and his followers. His vision, as conveyed to his fellows, was that they should, “Be Carthusians indoors and Apostles outdoors.” In other words, they were to live intense spiritual lives which would spill over into active lives of service in the community outside their homes.

Eventually, Joseph Marello was called to serve as a bishop in the Church. He was sorry to leave the home he had shared with his companions, but entered fully into his new role as Bishop of Acqui. He served as bishop for 6 years, visiting parishes in his large diocese, writing letters and caring for his people. On May 30, 1895, while on a visit to Savona to celebrate the life and work of St. Philip Neri, he died.

The Oblates of St. Joseph have continued and now serve in 10 countries around the world. They continue to work with the poor, with young people and with the elderly and immigrants. Devotion to St. Joseph and loyalty to the Pope and Church teachings are hallmarks of the order.

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Posted by on Jan 15, 2009

“God speaks in everything … God speaks very, very, very slowly …” Nana

“God speaks in everything … God speaks very, very, very slowly …” Nana

Megan McKenna's Nana

Megan McKenna's Nana

Megan McKenna is a theologian and storyteller who travels the world spreading the good news about God’s love and challenge to us to live out that love. Often her stories are from other cultures or religious traditions and help clarify the lessons of our own Christian faith tradition.

In Playing Poker with Nana, Megan reaches into her own life to share with us the wisdom of her grandmother, her Nana. I received a copy of the book from Megan as an Epiphany gift, and I am savoring it. Part of me wants to race from chapter to chapter (each 2-3 pages long) and devour it in a sitting. The older, and I hope wiser, part of me advises reading it one chapter, one story at a time and pondering the advice and insights her Nana shared with Megan. So most days I read just one at bedtime and let it simmer in my heart and the back of my mind through the next day.

Yesterday I read Chapter 10, “History.” Megan had quoted Martin Buber to her Nana one day in conversation. “God is always speaking, but never repeats himself, like sunrises and sunsets.” Her Nana reflected on the quote and then responded with her own thought, “It’s true. God speaks in everything, people, relationships, even all that dies, but sometimes, I’ve learned, God speaks very, very, very slowly …”

Before she finishes speaking, Nana has explained in beautiful depth her thoughts on the matter, on the very slow way God has of speaking to us most of the time.

The chapter is only three paragraphs long, but it stuck with me all day today. At Mass, the Psalm response was, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” It really struck me that Nana’s words went right along with the admonition of the psalmist. Sometimes we hear God’s voice in bursts of insight or in the wonder of a particularly beautiful sunrise or sunset. But more often we hear God’s voice in the quiet reflective times, when we seek to understand what has been happening in our lives and those of people around us. Nana advises Megan and all of us that sometimes we just have to stake our lives on the hope that, hard as life is, it’s already been redeemed, so we just have to “believe and hang in there.”

As I was walking home past a calm, nearly waveless ocean on a beautiful sunny day, I found words for what I was feeling in my heart and trying to formulate in my mind. Often we as Americans have a sense that only the “hard-nosed” businessperson can be a success. Only the practical, matter-of-fact person will accomplish his or her goals. Only those who set goals and focus single-mindedly on reaching them will find security. Being “soft-hearted” is not a quality that we value very much. It tends to get lumped in with being “simple-minded” or a “bleeding heart liberal” in the minds of many. Yet that is exactly what it seems God is calling us to be. The opposite of a hard heart is a soft one. One that knows that God speaks very, very, very slowly and we might not see the whole picture just now, or be hearing the whole story.

Thank you, Megan, for sharing your Nana’s wisdom with us. May her words help us to keep hanging on, listening for God’s voice, with soft hearts ready to love and be loved.

(Playing Poker with Nana is distributed in the US by Dufour Editions. I highly recommend it.)

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Posted by on Nov 2, 2008

A Prayer for America At Election Time and Beyond

A Prayer for America At Election Time and Beyond

Immaculate Heart of Mary - Artist unknown - U. Dayton

Immaculate Heart of Mary - Artist unknown - U. Dayton

In the days and weeks leading up to the 2008 election in the United States, we’ve seen tons of ink, forests of paper and kilobytes of words on the internet used to address issues of life and freedom that we face as a nation. We at and sister site, offer our prayer for America at this time of the election and as we move into the challenges of the days, weeks and years to come. It is a prayer to Our Lady because she is the patroness of our country.

Most Blessed Virgin, Mary,

Our country is at its most critical crossroads in its history. We entrust it to your loving care.

Most Holy Mother, we beg you and your Son to be with us as we face this crossroads.

Overwhelmed by our problems and sins, we cry from the depths of our pain for your motherly protection and guidance.

Look with mercy on us and touch the hearts of your imperfect people.

Open our minds to the broader responsibilities of caring for your human family, which comes from our divine gift of freedom.

Guide and inform us so we can best deal with the issues of life and death, which have so grievously divided us.

Pray for us that we may receive the wisdom, clarity and openness of thinking we need to make the best choices we can on behalf of our human family, for our common good.

Oh Merciful Mother, intercede for us with your Son, who through the power of the Holy Spirit has entrusted to us the care of your people and creation and is the true source of our cherished rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We ask for this grace in the Name of Your  Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Father in the Unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

May the Lord bless and guide each of us as we vote in accordance with our own individual consciences.

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Posted by on Oct 15, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Teresa of Avila – October 15

Saint of the Day – St. Teresa of Avila – October 15

St. Teresa of Avila - by Peter Paul Rubens

St. Teresa of Avila - by Peter Paul Rubens

St. Teresa of Avila, also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, was a Carmelite nun, reformer of her order, mystic, and writer.  She is one of only three women who have been named “Doctor of the Church.” She had a lively intellect and loved people and parties. She wasn’t afraid to argue with the Lord or to oppose those of her time who believed her reforms unnecessary and even dangerous. She experienced many years of illness, including three of paralysis. She found prayer difficult for many years and even refused to try. It wasn’t until she was middle-aged that she began her great work of prayer, reform and teaching.

Many books and articles have been written about St. Teresa of Avila. I refer you to them and to her own writings for details about her life and contributions.

I also invited Mother Marija of Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania to share a thought with us about St. Teresa. Her response:

The invitation: “What is one thing you would like people to know about St. Teresa of Avila?”  To be true to Teresa one must be faithful to Teresa’s own thought, at least as well as another can understand and convey it. Our Holy Mother St. Teresa, is a Doctor of the Church, so she needs no other “recommendation” in her teaching capacity. Her own mystical life is self-described in her writings: Life, The Way of Perfection (written for her daughters the Carmelite nuns), and the Interior Castle,  which book describes – even maps out – the journey of a soul through seven stages of the inner life to union with God. Again, Teresa had the Carmelite nuns in mind when writing this book, as the epilog expressly tells us. So what would I like people to know about Teresa? Simply that she is a true guide for a life of prayer – a “life”, meaning that prayer for Teresa is the WAY to God. Our Lord is, of course, the WAY and Teresa’s way of prayer is friendship with Jesus. The Way of Perfection, a life of Prayer and finding Jesus as the Way for each of us seems for Teresa  to be identical. After all, she is Teresa of Jesus.

Thank you, Mother, for your contribution. May God bless you and all who seek to serve Him through a life of prayer and friendship with Jesus.

The books of St. Teresa of Avila are still in print today. You can find them listed in our discovery engine at Just enter her name and you’ll get links to her works.

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Posted by on Oct 1, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Therese of Lisieux – October 1

Saint of the Day – St. Therese of Lisieux – October 1

St. Therese 

St. Therese of Lisieux is known as “The Little Flower” because before she died she promised that after her death she would send down a shower of roses on the earth. She is known for her “little way” to God – a way that everyone can follow, doing the smallest everyday things in love as a way to God.

I asked the sisters at several Carmelite monasteries to share their reflections on St. Therese for her feast day and received these gracious responses.

Mother Marija, 0cd of Holy Annunciation Monastery , a Byzantine Carmelite monastery, in Sugarloaf, PA, sent this note:

The invitation: “What is one thing you would like people to know about St. Therese?”  This in turn, led me to ask: “what did Therese want us to know about her life and spirituality?  What did she say?” Before she died Therese spoke  of her desire  to make known to all “little souls” (everyone)  her way of confidence and love.  Therese wanted us to know how much, how very much, we are loved by God and have nothing to fear from Him.  This being true, we might also say that God gave Therese to the Church and world as a “new” expression of the Gospel message: God is Love.

When praying the Novena of Grace in 1897, the very year of her death, Therese asked God to grant her unique request: That her mission to save souls would last until the end of time” So as we honor Therese,  we should  recognize that God wants our love and has sent Therese to us, raised her up in the Church, as a new “invitation” to know Him as Love.

The Sisters at Carmel of Reno were unable to offer a reflection on St. Therese or Carmelite spirituality at this time, but they graciously gave permission to use the icon of St. Therese doing the laundry created by the late Sr. Marie-Celeste, as illustration for this post. They also offered their best wishes and this comment.

We deeply appreciate your interest in Carmelite spirituality and  sharing the riches of theology and religious experience with the broad community on line.

St. Therese is one of my personal favorite saints, as I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. For more about her life and influence, here are some options:

Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love by Patrick Ahern

Saint Therese and the Roses by Helen Walker Homan

St. Therese of Lisieux – Saint of the Day

The Triumph of the Lowly – St. Therese of Lisieux and the Little Way

 Original icon by Sr. Marie-Celeste Fadden, Carmel of Reno – Used with permission

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Posted by on Aug 11, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Clare of Assisi – August 11

Saint of the Day – St. Clare of Assisi – August 11

St. Clare of Assisi was born in 1194. She was one of the early followers of St. Francis of Assisi and with him co-founded the Order of Saint Clare, now commonly known as the Poor Clares.

Clare was from a wealthy family and left it all to lead a life of absolute poverty in a cloistered monastery. She and her sisters passed their days working and praying. The order has continued into our times, with monasteries of sisters in communities around the world.

In celebration of the feast of St. Clare, I invited some of her sisters to share their insights and reflections. I received these responses.

From Sr. Miriam Varney, Abbess of the Monastery of St. Clare in Chesterfield, NJ,

Saint Clare had a great devotion to the Eucharist and it was shown at the time when the town of Assisi was being attacked.  Clare’s response was to go to Jesus in the Eucharist. Here is our prayer Novena for our Feast Day:

Saint Clare, radiant light, Shining in Splendor, help us all to walk, “with swift pace and light step” in the footprints of the “Poor Crucified and His Most Holy Mother.” Through Your presence in the Blessed Sacrament, Protect all life, our homes and cities from crime and violence as you once protected your sisters and the city of Assisi.
Through your powerful intercession obtain many graces for the Church, for each of us, for our Franciscan family and for the whole world. Amen

From the Poor Clare Nuns of Belleville:

13th century St. Clare stands as a 21st century witness of Gospel hope.  She is reminder that human fulfillment is not a matter of power or prestige or possessions, but of discovering the treasure that lies hidden in the field of the world (3rd Letter of St. Clare to St. Agnes of Prague).  Clare bears shining witness that the kingdom of God is within.   She shows the world that a life full of God is a life full of hope.   She confirms this telling observation of Pope Benedict XVI:  Prayer is the language of hope — not a hope which isolates or renders indifferent to the sufferings of the human family, but a hope that gives the individual a heart for the world and thus to all that makes the world truly worthy of its divine destiny.

Each Poor Clare community is called to be an “assembly of hope.”  Hidden and apart, universal and eschatological (Poor Clare Constitutions, art. 44,1), the more deeply, fervently and faithfully we live our enclosed contemplative form of life, the more do we bear witness to Christ, the Life and Hope of the world.  Ours is a life of joy and faith, surrender and self-sacrifice which enables our monasteries to continue to offer to today’s world, with its widespread need for spirituality and prayer, the demanding proposal of a complete and authentic experience of God, One and Triune, radiating His loving and saving Presence.  (Pope John Paul II)

For more information on our community, our Poor Clare vocation and for reflections on various Franciscan/Clarian themes, you are welcome to visit our website.

From Sister Jane Marie Delevan of St. Clare Monastery in Evansville.

We appreciate your efforts to make our Mother St. Clare better known and yes you are in our prayers, God Bless you, Sr. Jane Marie,O.S.C. Happy & Blessed Feast Day!!

And now, a quick trivia question. Why is St. Clare shown with a cat in the first image? The story goes that when she was confined to bed due to illness, she continued to work. One day she dropped the roll of fabric on which she was working and it rolled away out of her reach. The monastery cat brought the fabric back to her, so she could continue working.

One of the California missions, and indeed, an entire city, is named for St. Clare of Assisi. Mission Santa Clara de Asís is located near San Jose, California and was founded in 1777 by Fr. Junipero Serra. Fray Tomás de la Peña and Fray José Murguía were the first to minister at Santa Clara. Today Santa Clara University is located on the site of the mission and the restored mission church is the university chapel.


My thanks to the communities who have shared their thoughts with us and to all Sisters of Saint Clare, for your dedication to serve the Lord and the Christian community through your lives of prayer and sacrifice, as well as through the many types of work you do in service to the community. Happy Feast Day.

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2008

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus – August 6

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus – August 6

The Transfiguration of Jesus was reported in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as in the second letter of Peter. Jesus and three disciples, Peter, James and John, went up a high mountain (traditionally identified as Mt. Tabor) and “He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Two men joined Jesus on the mountain top and spoke with Him there, Moses and Elijah – representing the Law and the Prophets. Peter, ever ready to act, offered to put up three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But just then a cloud overshadowed them all and a voice from the cloud proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples fell down and were terrified when they heard the voice, but Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid. He also told them not to tell anyone else about what they had seen “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1-9)

Following the Transfiguration, Jesus continued on his way to Jerusalem and his eventual death and resurrection. Only following the Resurrection did the experience on the mountain top make sense to Peter, James and John.

While most of us don’t have such dramatic “mountain top experiences,” in the course of our lives as believers we do have special times. It may be our Baptism or First Communion. It may be Confirmation. It may be an experience of healing through Reconciliation or Anointing of the Sick. It may be a homily that particularly spoke to a trouble or concern and gave the hope needed to continue moving forward in faith. Sometimes the mountain top comes during private personal prayer. Sometimes it comes during a group activity.

Mountain top experiences are to be treasured. They don’t happen often. And they are always followed by a return to the ordinary activities of life – activities that seem dull, boring, unimportant, even worthless, in comparison with where we have been and what we have experienced. Yet both are part of life and both move us forward on the path to our ultimate goal, union with the Lord.

When you’ve had a mountain top experience, be patient with yourself and with your family and friends who may or may not have shared it with you. It’s not easy to jump back into the hustle and bustle of daily life. Do what has to be done to keep soul and body together (i.e. prepare meals, get some rest, go to work, “chop wood, carry water”), but do these activities with an awareness that there’s a transcendent reality just beyond your ability to perceive it normally, that gives meaning to all of the day to day activities of life.

As time goes on, you’ll undoubtably have cause to remember the mountain top and draw on the strength and consolation you experienced there. Jesus went from the mountain top to the cross. His followers rarely have to crash quite so dramatically into disgrace and apparent failure as He did, but the hard times will come – no need to go looking for them. And when they come, try to remember the love you experienced on the mountain top. Our God loves you – just as you are – and will be with you in the hard times as well as the good times. Jesus went before us, and He stands with us. On the mountain top and in all the other times as well.

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Posted by on Jul 31, 2008

St. Ignatius Loyola – In the Presence

St. Ignatius Loyola – In the Presence

St. Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, understanding, my entire will and
all that I possess.
You have given all to me.
To You, O Lord, I return it.
All is yours; dispose of it wholly
according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
for this is enough for me.

Every year, July 31 is a special day for me. St. Ignatius continues to play a very pivotal role in my life. What most captivated me as a young man, and still amazes me today, is his vision. His personal, intense love of God and a sense of the Divine Presence that is acutely close, warm, and reassuring all came to me in my journey through the Spiritual Exercises as a Jesuit novice.

I will never forget one of my first meetings with John D. McAnulty, my Master of Novices. He simply began by saying, “Let us place ourselves in the presence of God.” I had not been a stranger to priests or to spiritual direction, but this experience was completely different. The room and the atmosphere changed in an instant. There was a looming presence, an awesome profound silence, and a great peace.

I guess, that is why I tend to chuckle when people refer to the great learning of the Jesuits. It is not what they are about. I also laugh because that is what I thought until that first invitation to enter into the Presence. It was far from intellectual. It was very intense, very real, very soothing. St. Ignatius would say that our prayer can be marked by times of consolation and desolation. What has struck me over the years is that sometimes there are joyful fireworks when entering into the Mystery and sometimes there is a great zen of nothingness – but the Presence remains.

Happy Feast Day Fr. Ignatius.

For more background on the life St. Ignatius and his spirituality see my previous entry.

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Posted by on Jul 15, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Bonaventure – July 15

Saint of the Day: St. Bonaventure – July 15

Faith and reason are often seen as opposites in today’s controversies. Some people say that faith has to be subject to reason and others say that there can be no reason if one has faith. St. Bonaventure shows not only how faith and reason are reconciled but how they are fulfilled in each other and lead us to that transcendent mystical encounter beyond words and comprehension for which we were all created.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clearly summarizes the life and teaching of St. Bonaventure:

Bonaventure of Bagnoregio (ca. 1217 to 15 July 1274), the religious name of Giovanni di Fidanza, was a Franciscan friar, Master of Theology at the University of Paris, Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and Cardinal of the Catholic Church. During his lifetime he rose to become one of the most prominent men in Latin Christianity. His academic career as a theologian was cut short when in 1257 he was put in charge of the Order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.). He steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the “one true master” who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God.

St. Bonaventure was a man of passionate intensity. In the Prologue to his famous Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum – The Mind’s Journey to GodDr. Ambrosio’s translation conveys the Saint’s great feeling and vision:

To begin with, the first principle from Whom all illumination descends as from the Father of Light, by Whom are given all the best and perfect gifts [James, 1,17], the eternal Father do I call upon through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, that by the intercession of the most holy Virgin Mary, mother of God Himself and of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and of the blessed Francis, our father and leader, He may enlighten the eyes of our mind to guide our feet into the way of that peace “which surpasses all understanding, [Eph., 1,17; Luke, 1,79; Phil., 4,7], which peace our Lord Jesus Christ has announced and given to us; which lesson our father Francis always taught, in all of whose preaching was the annunciation of peace both in the beginning and in the end, wishing for peace in every greeting, yearning for ecstatic peace in every moment of contemplation, as a citizen of that Jerusalem of which that man of peace said, with those that hated peace he was peaceable [Ps., 119,7].  

Although the Itinerarium Mentis Ad Deum is a classic of Western philosophy, its brevity and poetic beauty sweeps the reader up into a vision and a search for the Divine while synthesizing major questions about the nature of God, the universe and our existence.

St. Bonaventure has always played a special role in my life, since I grew up in the parish of Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura, California. Mission San Buenaventura was the ninth and last mission founded by Blessed Junipero Serra, who taught philosophy in Majorca, Spain before coming to the new world. These are some pictures of the mission and its gardens.


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Posted by on Jul 11, 2008

Saint Benedict – July 11 – Solitude and Community

Saint Benedict – July 11 – Solitude and Community

Benedict of Nursia is called the founder of Western Monasticism. He was born at Nursia around 480 AD to a noble family. According to tradition, his had a twin sister, Scholastica, who became the founder of a similar form of monasticism for women. As the son of a noble family, he was educated well and lived a comfortable life. The world and all its opportunities were open to him. Presumably he sampled some of its treats as a young man.

Around 500 AD, he decided to leave Rome for a quieter life in the country. He took his childhood nurse along as a servant and moved to a smaller town about 40 miles away. According to St. Gregory, who wrote the first biography of Benedict, his intention was to live a life more in tune with the Gospel than that of a typical young noble in Rome. He didn’t plan to become a hermit or to organize groups of men to live in religious communities or to develop a “Rule” for monastic orders. He simply wanted to have time for prayer and work and a life with a friends who shared the goal of living a Gospel centered life.

From a distance of hundreds of years, we see choices like the one he made as signs of holiness. Up close in our own lives, we often see them as somehow irresponsible or “crazy” – a judgement generally shared by the families of those, including Benedict, who made those choices in the past.

It’s easy to forget/overlook the fact that Benedict never set out to start a religious community. The rules he eventually developed and wrote down were ones that developed out of his experiences in living with other men and by himself. They were developed for lay people. Only later did his followers become priests.

So what were these rules about? They were about how to live a holy life in the world, as a person sharing life with other people. They were written not just for those who left family and jobs to live a life of prayer, but for anyone seeking holiness. They assumed that people would work. That a life of prayer without work is not healthy. And both work and prayer need to be undertaken with the support of other people in a community. We need friends and family to keep us going and to challenge us to continue when it would be easy to cut corners or take the easy way out of a tough situation. And – surprise – there must be time for fun and play in life!

For Benedict, balance was important. Work, prayer, play — all within the framework of a community/family. 

There is a saying from Buddhist tradition, “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”  Benedict’s example and the rule he developed are very much in alignment with this wisdom. Prayer includes deep awareness of the presence of God in all things. So as we work, we pray if we are “present”  in what we are doing and aware of God’s presence in it. When we come together in community to pray, as monks do at regular times in the day and night, or as families do over meals or at bedtime, we pray most deeply when we are again “present” in the moment of prayer. When we have time by ourselves for personal, quiet prayer, and we find ourselves in the presence of God, we are to stay rooted in that experience too. The trick is to stay aware and present to the reality of what we are doing. “Chop wood, carry water.” And when we play, we are to play wholeheartedly as well – like happy children. Not worrying about how we look or who will win or what else we should be doing that would be “holier.”

Benedict’s life was not easy. The lessons he learned came through many twists and turns. He spent time living alone and time living in communities. He started some communities. Lived within others. Was rejected by some. One community even tried to poison him! But through it all he kept his eyes and ears open to God’s presence and call. And the witness of his life drew other people, men and women, who passed on what he learned down through the generations to us. How to find holiness in the balance of a life of work, prayer and play as individuals and as members of families and communities.

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Posted by on Jun 9, 2008

Saint of the Day – St. Ephrem the Syrian, June 9

Saint of the Day – St. Ephrem the Syrian, June 9

The Feast of St. Ephrem the Syrian is celebrated June 9 in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. It is celebrated January 28 in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the 7th Saturday before Easter in the Syriac Orthodox Church. Whatever the day on which the feast is celebrated, he was a remarkable man!

Ephrem was born around 306 in the city of Nibisis, an area currently part of Turkey. His family was part of a thriving Christian community. The persecution of Diocletian had just ended when he was born. The Edict of Milan, proclaimed in 313, provided for religious tolerance in the Roman Empire. However, controversies raged among various groups of believers as the community struggled to understand the mystery of Jesus’ relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Some issues were resolved at the First Council of Nicea in 325. Ephrem probably did not attend that council, but his bishop, Jacob of Nibisis, did attend and was one of those who signed the Council documents.

Ephrem was not one of those people who were “perfect little angels” from childhood. He was not even particularly religious as a child and teen. He described some of his mis-adventures in the story of his conversion.  Following his conversion, he lived as part of a community of people who shared their lives and faith. They were not “monks” in the later sense of the word, but monasticism grew from these types of communities. He became a deacon and teacher within the community.

He wrote hundreds of hymns, prayers, poems, and homilies. Some of the homilies were in poetry and others in prose. The hymns were designed to teach Christian beliefs and to discount the teachings of heretical groups. Many were arranged for choirs of women to sing, accompanied by the lyre. (One of the symbols often seen in pictures of Ephrem is the lyre.) Over 400 of his hymns have survived to the present, with some still in use in the Eastern Church.

Ephrem was also a prolific writer of homilies and Biblical commentaries and reflections. His writings led Pope Benedict XV to name him Doctor of the Church in 1920. His supportive approach to the role of women in the church, his sense of the presence of God in all of creation and of the interconnectedness of all things, the image of “healing” found in many of his reflections and his Eastern sensibility apparent in his poetry and hymns all make his writings relevant to the Christian community today, as we struggle to help bring the Kingdom to life in our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic 21st Century world.

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Posted by on May 28, 2008

What Keeps Me From Seeing?

What Keeps Me From Seeing?


I like to take a walk in late morning each day. It helps clear my mind and stretch my muscles before I plunge into the work and activities of afternoon and evening. Living beside Monterey Bay, I never know what I’ll see on my outing.

Today, when I arrived at the water’s edge (actually at the cliff beside the water!), I got a wonderful surprise. I could see all of Monterey Bay – from the Lighthouse at Point Santa Cruz, around past Santa Cruz, Capitola, Aptos, Moss Landing, to the flatter lands where the Salinas River enters the Bay. Then the Big Sur mountains rise up behind Monterey and go out all the way to the ocean.  The water was calm – very few waves for the surfers. The kelp beds were spreading out to enjoy the sunshine. The sea lions on the rock were chatting among themselves. Sea gulls soared over the water. I could see it all.

In “the olden days,” when I was a girl, I would never have thought that seeing all the way around a bay was anything special. I grew up in Eastern Washington state. We had clouds or sunshine. Sometimes we had fog. But you could always see across the river! And normally, you could see the surrounding mountains too.

Living on the coast, we never know from day to day whether the fog will be in or not. Even on a sunny day, the fog often sits in the middle of the Bay, blocking the view of the other towns and the mountains. But today it is clear. The smoke from the Summit fire is gone from the sky. The clouds we have are high and moving inland. The fog is sitting way off the coast, barely visible from land. And the view is stunning.

It occurs to me that the spiritual life is something like our views of Monterey Bay. Like the Bay, God is always present here – within us, among us, around us. I exist only because God has imagined me, given me breath, breathes through me, loves me continually into being. Yet all too often I don’t notice. I don’t see the beauty all around me. I miss the “love notes” scattered all around me – the flowers, the birds, the native bees in the weeds, the smiles of young mothers and their babies, the laughter of teens and the comfortable togetherness of retired couples out for a walk. I don’t see them for what they are, or worse, I don’t see them at all. I move through my life’s conversation doing all the talking, forgetting to look and listen for the presence of the Divine.

Today I pray that I’ll remember to open my eyes, ears, heart, mind to notice God’s presence. I’ll remember to ask myself, “What keeps me from seeing today?” I’ll remember to be grateful. I invite you to do the same. And maybe while we’re at it, we could also stop gratefully for a moment and ask, “What keeps us as a people from seeing today?”

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Posted by on May 21, 2008

Trinity Suggestions

Trinity Suggestions

I asked our Theologika trustees for recommendations of materials on the Trinity for our readers. Patrick Conway, M.Div., Pastoral Associate at Resurrection Parish in Aptos, CA sent these ideas.

“On the Trinity: Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux) was a contemplative theologian who wrote of his mystical intuition of the Trinity, so anything by him. One of his landmark writings was Saccidananda: A Christian Approach to Advaitic Experience (Delhi: ISPCK Press, 1974). There is also an article, “Abhishiktananda’s Mystical Intuition of the Trinity”, by Wayne Teasdale in Cistercian Studies 18:1 (1983). In fact, I believe that entire issue was dedicated to Abhishiktananda.

“Then there is Rahner’s “Remarks on the Dogmatic Treatise ‘De Trinitate'” in Theological Investigations, Vol. 4, pp. 77-102. In this article he notes that, given the post-modern mentality, the only Christians would have to be mystics, particularly when it comes to faith in the Trinity. Perhaps he had Abhishiktananda in mind.

Also, Catherine LaCugna’s God For Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life. San Francisco: Harper, 1992.”

Some of these materials are easily available. Others are more likely found in libraries. If you come across them online, please let me know so I can tag them for other readers to access.

My thanks to Patrick for his quick and thoughtful response.

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