The Examen is always a popular subject here on dotMagis, and today we share a one-minute video produced by Jesuits that introduces the prayer form.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video One Minute on the Examen.

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September 19, 2014

superhero child

On a lark, I forwarded an e-mail quiz entitled “20 Things You Never Knew About Me” to several friends. With 20 questions ranging from “What was your first job?” to “If you could live anywhere on earth, where would it be?,” I hardly expected a spiritual revelation in the replies.

On question 17, “If you could have one super power, what would it be?,” my other friends had answered, “to be invisible so I could sneak onto airplanes and travel the world,” or “the power to read minds so I knew who really liked me.” But Dr. Scott Chadwick, Provost at Xavier University, humbly said, “the power to make others feel loved.”

The answer stopped me in my tracks. First, why had I never thought of love as a super power? And why had I only ever thought of super powers that would benefit me? But I think what scared me the most about his answer was the realization that I could have that power if I really, truly wanted it. In fact, everyone has that power. I’m just not sure it is the power we want the most.

St. Ignatius called retreatants to meditate on the Two Standards: the way of the world vs. the way of Christ. The way of the world begins with “me” as the starting point and seeking to define my identity through the status markers of the world such as money, power, popularity, and pleasure. The way of Christ begins with God as the starting point and seeking to define my identity in response to the love and gifts God has lavishly given me. So, under which standard would desiring the super power of “making others feel loved” fall?

Suddenly I understood Marianne Williamson’s quote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” The toughest question on my quiz should have been, “You have the power to make every person you encounter feel loved. Will you use it?”

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September 18, 2014

St. Robert BellarmineRobert Bellarmine, noted for his intellectual prudence in the case of Galileo and the Counter-Reformation, and his great humility despite his position, is also remembered for his tenderness and devotion to the poor. He wrote, “The school of Christ is the school of charity. On the last day, when the general examination takes place, there will be no question at all on the text of Aristotle, the aphorisms of Hippocrates, or the paragraphs of Justinian. Charity will be the whole syllabus.”

Lord, how are my studies coming for this test?

—Excerpted from 2014: A Book of Grace-Filled Days by Elizabeth M. Kelly

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September 17, 2014

Rossetti-Paolo and Francesca da Rimini

Rod Dreher offers a thoughtful reflection on his first read of Dante’s Divine Comedy in his late 40’s, discovering a wish that he’d read it much earlier in his life. It is, he says, a roadmap to false desire.

What if I had encountered Dante as a young man and taken the lessons the pilgrim learned on his journey to heart back then? Would I have had an easier time staying on the straight path? Perhaps. At least I would have been warned how to avoid the false trails.

Reading the Inferno is especially for the young, he writes, for it is “the book most relevant to young adults, most of whom will not have yet made the errors of passion that landed the middle-aged Dante in the dark wood.” Here he is channelling something that Aristotle observed some 2300 years ago, that young people “live under the guidance of emotion, and pursue above all what is pleasant to themselves and what is immediately before them; but with increasing age their pleasures become different” (Nic. Eth. VIII.3).

What Dreher discovers in Dante is a guide to desire. And what he discovers is illuminating: there is love in hell—but the small, stunted love of those who have never discovered freedom.

The testimonies of the damned reveal precisely the nature of the deceptions to which they fell victim—and to which Dante himself, like all of us, is susceptible. All the damned dwell in eternal punishment because they let their passions overrule their reason and were unrepentant. For Dante, all sin results from disordered desire: either loving the wrong things or loving the right things in the wrong way.

“Follow your constellation.” “Follow paths of excellence and knowledge.” “Love as you will.” These sentiments are, as Ignatius might say, angels of light, appearing good but in reality cacophonous riffs on the melody of the Divine lover. Against the backdrop of these false desires we can understand how Ignatius invited those undertaking the Spiritual Exercises to “overcome themselves” and place all their desires in service to the Divine Majesty.

Image: “Paolo and Francesca da Rimini” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti . Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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September 16, 2014

man balancing on sign - 5 Tips for Discerning Balance in a Busy LifeThis past summer I have spent time in prayer, discerning how to find better balance in my busy life as a mother, wife, teacher, writer, volunteer, and all-around household manager. I can easily overextend myself, partly because I feel genuine enthusiasm for many different kinds of relationships and activities (well, maybe not the housecleaning). Yet I have increasingly felt a call to contemplation, which I understand as not only time spent in the presence of God, but also with family and friends, just for the pure gift of the “being” of another.

It’s helpful to distinguish between being active and being busy. Some forms of activity are restorative; for example, I took up running this summer, and while I am far from being a star athlete, running outdoors boosts my mood, relieves stress, and is a way of taking out some time for myself in nature. Still, some daily time for solitude and silence is essential to resisting the “busy” and walking more closely with God.

Here are a few other guiding principles that I am bringing into my ongoing discernment:

1. When in doubt, choose relationship.

In teaching, relationship to the students and their learning matters more than all the e-mails and administration. At home, playing a game of cards and chatting with the teenagers takes precedence over a perfectly clean house. Even a solitary activity like writing is relational, in choosing to write on a topic close to one’s heart rather than what gains the most prestige or profit.

2. Pray, then go where called.

A spiritual director phrased it beautifully in asking me, “Do you know the difference between being drawn and being driven?” Sometimes God’s call is clear, but it takes courage to “go,” like Abraham, and follow where God calls rather than where we think we are “supposed” to go.

3. Love thyself.

Self-care is not selfish. Jesus reminds us the greatest two commandments are “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29–31). Jesus doesn’t tell us to love neighbor instead of self, but to love neighbor as oneself. Here, Jesus’s initial words are central to his deeper meaning: “The Lord is one.” Loving God and loving others is “one.” Loving others and loving oneself is also “one.”

4. Practice material simplicity.

The less physical “stuff” there is to worry about, the more relationships to God, people, and nature stay at the center.

5. Make room for spontaneity.

If life is too closely scheduled, we won’t have time for a friend who suddenly arrives from out of town, or for a few minutes to lie down on the grass just to watch the clouds. Seeking God in all things includes seeking God in the spaces and margins of the day.

What would you add to this list?

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September 15, 2014

One of the first things a visitor sees when walking into Loyola University Museum of Art’s newest exhibit is two giant globes.

The two wooden spheres are valuable records of the western world from 400 years ago—the only pair of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. But for 100 years, they sat in the living room of a seminary near St. Louis, unseen by the outside world.

Like many of the artifacts in the exhibit, the globes have finally been unearthed and displayed to the general public. Crossings and Dwellings, which marks the 200th anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus, seeks to tell the story that hasn’t been told: the history of the Jesuits and women religious in the Midwestern United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Visitors can view gold vestments and chalices that were hidden in a vault at Holy Family Parish in Chicago (the safe was finally cracked in 2002), or 80 rarely seen detailed drawings of a Jesuit’s travels throughout the Midwest in the mid-1800s.

“I really pushed to have so much of it displayed, because it never gets seen, and people should know it exists,” said Steve Schloesser, curator of the exhibit and a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago.

The exhibit contains 318 artifacts that range from the precious—a first edition of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises—to the curious—a 19th-century taxidermied marmot found in the cupboards of Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago.

In fact, Crossings and Dwellings covers Jesuits’ and religious women’s history in the Midwest from when the Jesuits first came in the 1600s as missionaries, to when they opened parishes and schools in St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Schloesser said museum visitors will be surprised by the storied history of the Midwest—that it’s more than a “flyover zone.”

“This was basically Europe transplanted. And so you’re really seeing a story that retells the 19th century in the Midwest,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten used to thinking of the Midwest as farmland and industrial cities, but at that time it was not.”

A focal figure of the exhibit is Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit known for his missionary work among the Native Americans, and who brought the Blaeu globes over from Belgium. De Smet traveled back to Europe 19 times over his lifetime to raise money for novitiates and to act as an ambassador for Native Americans with European states.

One item of De Smet’s on view is a reliquary he carried on his belt; it’s filled with relics from 32 Jesuit saints and blesseds.

“He’d come to the new world and was doing all this work in an order that went through the Suppression. And [the Jesuits] had only just come back…so he’s sort of carrying the history of the order with him and they’re supporting him,” said Jonathan Canning, senior curator of the Martin D’Arcy, SJ, Collection at the museum.

Also on display are De Smet’s hip flask, a portable crucifix and chalice, a deerskin coat gifted from the Native Americans, and a black funeral cope. De Smet traveled about 180,000 miles over his lifetime and drew detailed maps of his travels to the Rockies and beyond, which are also exhibited.

Visitors will see anti-Jesuit propaganda from the Suppression era and artifacts like an Oscar from a student who attended Mundelein College, a college for women opened by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1930 in Chicago.

“It’s funny, because if you look at them in the cases, everything’s arranged so neatly,” Schloesser said. “The amount of craziness that got them all saved is really something.”

The exhibit leads up to an academic conference October 16–18, which marks the bicentennial of the Jesuit Restoration and a century of women’s education at Loyola-Mundelein.

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September 12, 2014

child in shopping cartVinita Hampton Wright reflects on what mercy looks like in everyday life in a recent article for National Catholic Reporter. Wright realizes that mercy is about small moments in most cases.

For example, mercy gives you his seat on the bus, acting as if he was about to get up anyway rather than making you feel that he is doing you a favor. Mercy does not let out that sigh—you know the one—the wordless disapproval toward the person in the check-out line ahead of you whose card didn’t swipe, or who can’t find her coupons, or whose toddler is having a meltdown. Mercy offers quiet sympathy and does not convey with her body language that this holdup is ruining her day. Sometimes mercy chooses not to send back the food that isn’t just right, simply because the waitress looks overwhelmed.

What moments of mercy can you live out today?

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September 11, 2014

St. Ignatius Loyola and John Legend

For the last week, I’ve had a mash-up of St. Ignatius and R&B singer John Legend stuck in my ear. The Suscipe— “Whatsoever I have or hold, you have given me. I give it all back to you…”—fades into the spare percussive chords of Legend’s “All of Me”: “I’ll give my all to you. You’re my end and my beginning. Even when I lose I’m winning,” and finally winds back to Ignatius and John singing “I give you all of me” in two-part harmony. At odd moments, I find myself humming Legend’s melody or murmuring, “I give it all back to you,” under my breath.

I’m having no trouble decoding my subconscious’s soundtrack. The last two weeks have been all about surrendering what was once entrusted to me, once held within me.

Last Tuesday, I watched my oldest son, Mike, walk to the bus, towing his two carefully weighed duffels behind him. Only a half-block away, his form was already blurred by Philadelphia’s humidity, or perhaps it was my tears. He was off, by bus and train and plane, to Ireland to study at the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin. (I was grateful, at least, that he didn’t have to cram the name into the bag with his Greek books and bed sheets.) And on Sunday, I sat with my husband on a wall outside a dorm in California, as our youngest firmly and gently said good-bye to us. I return it all to you, O Lord.

For many years I’ve begun work with a cup of tea and the Suscipe, offering all I have been given, begging for the grace necessary to the tasks at hand. Then with a brisk “Amen,” I set aside tea cup and prayer and dive into the day. Alas, all too often, 30 minutes later finds my e-mail open and the phone ringing, and me, oblivious to the support both caffeine and grace are offering.

But as this semester starts, bringing it with it the usual stream of small crises—students with scheduling travails, cranky classroom technology, photocopiers that groan under the weight of syllabi—my persistent Ignatian soundtrack keeps me awake to the countless tiny invitations I have to return to God what I have been given in the course of each day, and the myriad ways in which God’s grace billows up in response to each small surrender. In letting go of the big things, I’m learning anew to be alert to the small graces. Even when I lose, I’m winning.

John Legend image by PopTech/Kris Krüg under (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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September 10, 2014

Recently a post written by Glennon Doyle Melton at her blog Momastery spread like wildfire through my Facebook newsfeed. The post, “Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt,” resonated deeply with me and the other women who were sharing it because it spoke straight to the heart about our tendency to want to keep up with trends. Upon going to bed one night, Melton prayed, “I need new eyes.” She awoke the next morning with new eyes that rightly see the multitude of gifts in life that we often take for granted.

abstract art with text: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will.

The morning this blog post flooded my newsfeed, I found myself turning to the Suscipe, a prayer begging God to help us see with “new eyes”—eyes of gratitude, detachment, and indifference. My prayer went something like this as I read and re-read Melton’s post that day:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. All that I have and call my own, you have given it all to me.

Take, Lord, all that I have and possess. Thank you for what you’ve given to me: our home, our clothes, our food, our water, our “stuff,” our jobs, my kids’ education, our education, my memories, my family, my friends, and all that I understand. Give me a heart of gratitude, Lord, for all you have given me.

To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything that I have and possess is yours. Give me eyes that understand that. Lord, keep me from holding on too tightly to anything or anyone. Help me detach from all these things I have and possess.

Everything is yours. Do with it what you will.

Show me how to live and love, Lord. Show me how to spend my money and how to care for my home and my family. Show me how to be unattached from stuff and trends. Help me be indifferent to all that I call my own. Take all that I have, and use it as you see fit.

Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.

I am enough, Lord, because you love me. The trends and things do not define me, nor does my job, nor do my roles as wife or mother. You are what defines me. Who I am in you is who I am, Lord. Give me new eyes.

Amen.

Melton, once given her new eyes, says “I’m insanely lucky and I’m finally FREE.” That, to me, is the stance that St. Ignatius hoped people would achieve after going through the Spiritual Exercises—that we are extremely lucky (graced) to be loved by God and finally free from all the disordered attachments that keep us from fully embracing the love of God. This is the stance of life I need most as a mother—that I am lucky and free. I often forget that, so I return to the Suscipe time and time again, so God can remind me.

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September 9, 2014

Blogger Andy Otto has released a new audio meditation on his God in All Things site. He introduces it this way:

Who am I? Who do I want to become? Who has God made me to be? These are some of the deepest questions we can ask, yet all God calls us to is to be more ourselves, our true selves.

Visit Andy’s site for the full text, or listen to the audio embedded below.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to listen to the Who Am I? meditation.

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September 8, 2014