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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

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

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

 

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

Okay. So how about something more traditional?

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

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Posted by on Apr 4, 2016

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

The Annunciation - Henry Ossaw TannerGabriel’s visit to a very young woman in the small town of Nazareth was a momentous event, though mostly unnoticed at the time. Gabriel is the archangel tasked to serve as special messenger of God. On this visit, the message was actually a request: will you consent to become my mother? It wasn’t exactly phrased this way, according to the narrative we have from St. Luke, but in essence that was the question. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son who would be the Son of the Most High and would sit on the throne of his father David (as in King David), rule over the house of Jacob forever and have an unending kingdom. (Lk 1:26-38)

Now this would be challenging even to a married woman, but this young woman was not married. In her culture, having a child out of wedlock could result in death by stoning. At best, she would be shunned and excluded from polite society. Yet Mary had the courage to ask for more details about how such a thing could happen and to listen with deep faith to the response. Then she answered “yes,” Jesus was conceived, and God’s plan for salvation could go forward.

Christians have celebrated the Annunciation for centuries. Typically, the feast is scheduled for March 25, exactly nine months before the celebration of Christmas. However, in the West, when March 25 falls within Holy Week or the first week of Easter, the feast is moved to Monday following the Second Sunday of Easter (now known as Divine Mercy Sunday).

As adults we celebrate many events such as the Annunciation with prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, the Angelus, etc. However, for children, these ways of celebrating are not always experienced as much fun. So, with that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative way to celebrate: Make Angel cookies!

To make Angel cookies, take any recipe for a cookie that allows rolling out the dough and cutting out a cookie. (Even brownies could be used for making Angel Cookies if time is short.) Use an angel shaped cookie cutter to shape the cookies before baking. Be sure to decorate them with frosting/icing or with some  kind of “sprinkles” of colored sugar to make them festive. Then share them as part of a festive meal. Light a candle, have a special drink, use nicer dishes than normal, have a food that is a treat for your family — any or all of these things will make the day special for the children and family who share them.

As you share this day, keep your ears open for the voice of angels in your life. God’s messenger still comes, though perhaps not as momentously as in the visit to Mary. What is God saying to you and me today?

Peace.

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Posted by on Nov 18, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

A Prayer for Our Times

 

Gift of Flowers

God of Love, whose compassion never fails,
we bring you the griefs and perils of people and nations,
the pains of the sick and injured,
the sighing of prisoners and captives,
the sorrows of the bereaved,
the necessities of the homeless,
the helplessness of the weak,
the despair of the weary,
the failing powers of the aged.
Comfort and relieve them, O merciful Lord.
Amen.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

St. Ignatius’ Teachings on Creation and Care for Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Catholics and Cultures: A new online resource

Plaza-centro Catholics & Cultures is a new program developed by the  Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture of the College of the Holy Cross. Its goal is to encourage comparative study of Catholic life as it is being lived around the world today. In addition to comparative studies of Catholic culture, this site aims to provide resources for teaching about the richness and uniqueness of Catholic life in our world. How do ordinary Catholics live their faith through their daily lives? How is a Catholic life different in Ireland, or Indonesia, or Brazil, or China, or India? What local customs, foods, and activities are enjoyed by Catholics in cultures around the world?

We often think that Catholicism as we experience it in our own community is the way it is everywhere and from all times. Any Catholic who has married another Catholic from a different cultural community, however, will have noticed that sometimes it seems as if the two of them are divided rather than united by the bonds of a common religion. Part of the adventure of such marriages is learning to enjoy the differences and enter into the experience of the divine from another direction or perspective.

As part of Catholics & Culture, a new journal will be produced, the Journal of Global Catholicism. The primary focus of the journal will be “lived Catholicism,” whether examined as comparative studies or specific case studies.

The site already offers wonderful resources. I’m looking forward to checking it out often and hope you will too. We’re a great big community with much to celebrate and share together!

Image by Wesisnay of a Catholic festival sand painting in Tenerife
– GNU Free Documentation License

 

 

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Posted by on Dec 15, 2013

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Rejoice and See God Present

Joy

The prayers for the liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) begin with a command: Rejoice. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” (Phil 4:4) In the prayers and readings we are reminded again and again to be joyful people because our God has come to save the people. And not just the people; Isaiah tells us, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” (Is 1:1-2)

What is the reason for all of this rejoicing? Is it because Christmas is near? Is it that the end of the world is near and God’s justice will burn away all evil? Is it that God will reward good people with abundant gifts of money and material security, while punishing sinners by leaving them poor? Is it that Christian believers will succeed in getting Nativity scenes displayed in more public places? Is it that Christmas shopping is almost over and life can return to a more normal pace?

All of these notions have been expressed at various points through the years, but none of them is the real reason for our rejoicing on this day. The apostle continues his instruction to the Philippians, “Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Phil 4:5)

Isaiah declares:

“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.” (Is 35:3-6)

We rejoice because the Lord cares about us — about each one of us: the rich, the poor, the handsome, the ugly, the smooth talkers and those who struggle to communicate, the wise and the foolish, the clever and those who understand more slowly. We find the Lord present especially among those most often overlooked by the wise and powerful. He came to us and continues to come to us from among ordinary people.

What does he do when he comes? John the Baptist, alone in his prison cell, wanted to know if his cousin truly was the One whose coming he had been sent to announce. Jesus answered the question posed on John’s behalf by his disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Mt 11:4-5)

As promised so long before Jesus’ birth, God comes to protect the poor and weak. Jesus proclaims the good news to all of the people, beginning with those at the bottom and continuing to the very top rungs of social and political power. God cares about all of us. No one is too small or insignificant in God’s eyes.

As we recognize the wonder of God’s coming into human history and live out our own calling to share in the proclamation of good news and God’s care for the poor, we rejoice. “The Lord is near.”

 

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Posted by on Apr 1, 2013

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Rejoice — He is Risen!

Easter_Lily_by_Boston_Public_Library

Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this week. We sing “Alleluia, praise the Lord,” with great gusto. We rejoice in God’s power over death and the promise of new life. We call out to all who will hear, “He is risen.”

In the midst of such celebration, I find myself thinking about the experience of the disciples during the  final hours before Jesus’ passion and the first days following his resurrection. As Catholics, we don’t skip over those experiences in the race to celebrate Easter. Begining with Palm Sunday, we spend an entire week remembering those crucial events of salvation history, as well as the promises and prophecies that were fulfilled during that week so long ago.  From the excitement of seeing Jesus greeted with hosannas and hailed as the one who had been so long expected as he entered Jerusalem in a procession, to the devastation of his death as a condemned criminal in a place of public execution, his followers then and now experience a roller-coaster of emotions. By the time we reach Holy Saturday morning, there is a certain emotional numbness that sets in. What more could there be that will happen?

On Holy Saturday morning, I usually feel a bit detached and quiet. There’s so much to be done before Easter Vigil and then Sunday morning’s celebration. Yet there is that numbness that follows Good Friday’s liturgy and the recognition of what happened to Jesus, as well as what continues to happen to so many who follow his lead in serving the poor and announcing God’s command that we love and care for each other and our world.

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows the numbness that follows. Whether death was the final moment of a long or painful illness, or release from a period of mental/physical decline, or the peaceful final breath of a person who has lived long and well, those who remain experience a certain emotional pain and numbness to other concerns and activities. When death occurs unexpectedly, through violence or accident, the devastation is extraordinarily powerful. We question how God could let something like that happen. We may yell at God or turn away. We may also turn to each other in faith: giving and receiving support.

For the disciples on that Saturday morning, when they couldn’t even hold a proper funeral for Jesus, I suspect “numb” would not begin to describe the way they felt. Their hopes and expectations had been dashed. They feared for their own lives. They didn’t know how they would ever be able to face their families and friends, many of whom had probably warned them against leaving home and jobs to follow an itinerant preacher around the country. Unlike our experience, based as it is on knowledge of the Easter event, there was no hope of redemption in the suffering they were experiencing or that Jesus had endured.

Yet into the midst of this experience, on the first day of the week, the women took spices to the tomb and discovered that death cannot hold the author of life in its snares. The stone had been rolled away; the tomb was empty; angels asked why they sought the living among the dead; Jesus met them in the garden and sent them to tell the others that he was risen and would meet them in Galilee. The news was greeted with disbelief. The women must be mad with grief, maybe a bit hysterical. The men went to see and discovered for themselves that the women had not been mistaken about the tomb: it was definitely empty. Later that day, Jesus came into the locked room where his disciples were gathered: fear and sorrow had by this point been joined by confused concern about the story told by the women and others who claimed to have seen the Lord. He invited them to touch him. He ate with them. He instructed them about the new reality that had burst forth into their world and all of creation. Life does not end with physical death. God is not defeated. We are children of God who will share in new life forever.

The numbness of loss turns to the numb wonder of gain. Could it really be true? Could God really love us that totally? Can all be forgiven? Does life continue unended? Is death really a passage into newer, more abundant life? Are we really the ones who will bring the good news of this reality to our world?

If all of this is true, and with the early Christians we believe it is, then thankful rejoicing is the most appropriate response. So we move from the rejoicing in a promise of earthly power (Palm Sunday processions), through the mandate to serve each other and feast on the Lord’s own Body and Blood (Holy Thursday), into the mystery of death (Good Friday), and out the other side to the assurance of new, more abundant, unlimited life in the Resurrection. For this we shout, Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! The Lord is risen, He is ruly risen!

Happy Easter – all fifty days of it!

 

Easter Lily by Boston Public Library – George Cochran Lambdin 1830-1896 (artist); L. Prang & Co. (publisher)

 

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2012

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Does Immaculate Conception Mean Virgin Birth?

 

The Immaculate Conception – Murillo

Does Immaculate Conception mean Virgin Birth?

No. These two concepts, Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth, are frequently confused. Many assume they are one and the same, leading to the notion that Mary’s conception was the result of the same type of divine intervention as that of her son. In fact, the Church has never believed that Mary was conceived without marital relations occurring between her parents. Normal physical relations between a husband and wife are not seen as sinful. They are, in fact, seen as a source of divine grace, a sharing in God’s life of love, a sacramental experience.

What is the Immaculate Conception?

If Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the notion that our sexual expression is evil, however necessary for the continuation of the species, nor is it some kind of impediment to holiness, then what does the concept mean? To understand the notion, we must start with an ancient story, one of two creation myths found in the Bible: the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This second story of creation begins in the second chapter of the book of Genesis, halfway through the fourth verse. It tells of the creation of a human and then of a garden in Eden in which he would live. The garden was located in the land bordered by four rivers: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. In this garden, there was a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which the man was forbidden to eat the fruit. Knowing the man would be lonesome alone in the garden, God created many animals and birds to accompany him. However, animals and birds were not suitable companions for a human on any long-term scale. So God created another human to be his partner; a human created from the man’s rib to signify equality with him. The man was named Adam (man), a play on words in Hebrew between “man” and “ground.” The new person was called woman because she was formed out of “her man.”

As the story continues, conflict enters. The woman, walking alone in the garden, encounters a serpent who cunningly entices her to taste the forbidden fruit. She gives some to her husband as well, and suddenly they recognize they are naked. They become afraid to see God and hide in the garden from their creator. A separation between God’s overflowing love in creation and the humans created to be part of that creation has occurred. According to the story, the man and woman must leave the garden and now make their way in the great world outside it. The woman was called Eve by her husband “because she became the mother of all the living.”

Enter Original Sin

From this story, told to explain the entry of sin into human experience, the notion of original sin eventually developed. According to this notion, not found in Judaism or Islam, all humans inherit a “fallen nature,” a nature that is not strong enough always to resist sinning (separating from God). We don’t inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve. God’s image is undiminished within us, always calling and helping us to choose life over death. Yet we all fail in the quest to live without sinning through our decisions to act or to fail to act in loving union with God.

How then could God’s Son be born of a human woman without inheriting that fallen nature? It was from this dilemma that the notion of the Immaculate Conception developed. Through the centuries, theologians wrestled with it, especially as the idea of original sin became more and more strongly developed. Originally Mary was seen as like all other humans, a normal woman who played an extraordinary role in salvation history through her total openness to God. By the Middle Ages, however, as we began to focus more on human sinfulness and less on the presence of God within each person, an idea developed that Mary was saved from original sin at the time of her conception to prepare a perfect “new Eve” from whom the long-promised savior would be born. This savior would be the first-born of God’s new creation, of God’s new people.

A Formal Dogma

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the Immaculate Conception became a formal dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. This feast is celebrated nine months before we celebrate the Nativity of Mary (September 8). The readings for the liturgy celebrating the Immaculate Conception include the story of the encounter between God, the serpent, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:9-15), Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describing God’s choice to adopt all of us through Jesus (Eph 1:3-6, 11-12), and the story of the visit of the Angel Gabriel  to Mary in which Mary gives her consent to become Jesus’ mother (Lk 1:26-38). Perhaps the confusion between the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth stems from this traditional selection of readings. They are connected only to the extent that God’s grace is needed by all humans to help them make loving choices and help bring the new creation to birth right here, right now!

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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 Apr 29, 2009

Visited by an Angel – The Annunciation

Emmaus: Pre and Post Christian

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

The supper at Emmaus' (1958) by Ceri Richards (1903-1970)

My favorite story is the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). Michael Traynor of the Lesscoolthanyou Channel captures the experience of the disciple before the Breaking of the Bread in a way that evokes a very current state of affairs.

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