We’ve highlighted the Ignatian Spirituality Project before on this blog. ISP offers retreats to those who are homeless in cities across the United States. Learn more about their mission in this two-minute video.

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August 22, 2014

What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?

Mercy seems to be a recurring theme in my prayer. But what is mercy really? What does it mean when we say God is merciful? How am I called to be merciful? I am no theologian, but I think there are two words that describe what God’s mercy means—forgiveness and transformation.

Forgiveness: God is a forgiving God. God’s love for us is unconditional and the very foundation upon which we are forgiven. No matter what we have done or how long we have been away, God is going to welcome us back with loving, open arms. As we feel sorry for our sins and acknowledge our sinfulness, we return to God time and time again. In doing so, we are making a decision to allow a radical change in us.

Transformation: God’s forgiveness and love for us are not just for us to receive a warm, fuzzy feeling and a clean slate. God invites us to be transformed by being forgiven. God, then, gives us a task: not just to avoid evil, but to work to overcome evil by doing good.

The idea of mercy is seen in the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. We are invited to meditate on our sins, and we pray for the grace to feel sorrow for our sins. We are looking at our sins, however, through the lens of God’s love for us. As we ask for forgiveness for our sins, we are invited to consider three questions in prayer:

What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I do for Christ?

Through God’s mercy we are welcomed and loved, forgiven and transformed. As the questions from the Exercises show, though, God’s mercy requires action on our part. For us to live out our call to be merciful, we must take up the tasks God asks of us to help bring about transformation in others. How are we welcoming others? Loving others? Forgiving others? Through prayer we come to know how and where God is inviting us to take up these tasks of mercy.

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August 21, 2014

gun triggerWe know that there is too much violence in the world. While he may not have answers for curbing the violence, Jason Downer, SJ, suggests a few ideas for Responding to Violence in a New Way. “It can be something as simple as when reading articles about the violence, to go over them slowly, prayerfully.”

What needs your prayerful response today?

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August 20, 2014

Blessed by Less book coverFewer words make space for quiet listening. Some people pray through meditation, some say memorized prayers, some absorb the wonder of creation and see that “It is good.” Some look at that same creation and are frightened by the power of wind, rain, and fire, wondering about the source of such a destructive force. Finding God in all things is the core of Ignatian spirituality but it can be a challenge and a mystery. Some things look very mundane and ordinary; hardly holy looking. Others look fearsome and confusing. It’s both daunting and awesome. That’s why we need to let go of cheap faith and deepen our faith for the long haul.

I try to recognize God in the traditional ways of worship and then go straight to the source. We talk it over. I figure God came to us in the person of Jesus and continues to touch our lives through the Holy Spirit. I can’t prove it, but I choose to believe it. The home I’ve found for this faith is through the Catholic Church, warts and all. It’s not perfect because the institutional church is all of us who participate, and we are not perfect. Yet, I believe we are guided through the Holy Spirit, who comes to us through prayer and the community of believers.

—Excerpted from Blessed by Less by Susan V. Vogt

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August 19, 2014

In his video series, 10 Things to Know about Jesus, James Martin, SJ, reminds us that Jesus had friends. That’s something to keep in mind when we pray to Jesus as our friend.

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August 18, 2014

The Church celebrates the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary today. On this occasion, we listen to the words of Pope Francis on Mary, “this icon of womanhood.” The reflection is excerpted from The Church of Mercy.

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August 15, 2014

retreat in the real worldIf you are interested in doing the Spiritual Exercises in daily life (also known as the 19th annotation retreat), September brings an opportunity to start in alignment with the liturgical calendar. Retreat houses around the country offer the experience, such as the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, CA—which offers the Exercises in Korean in addition to their English and Spanish programming.

For those unable to participate through a retreat center, the Spiritual Exercises can be done using a book such as The Ignatian Adventure or Retreat in the Real World or with online aids. Creighton University’s Online Ministries offers a 34-week version of the Exercises in nine different languages.

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August 14, 2014

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

It’s hard to pray with your eyes closed in Paris. Every church I set foot in egged me on to open my eyes and take in all its beauty. From the light, heavenly colors at la Chapelle de la Médaille Miraculeuse to the grandness of Notre Dame and Sacré Cœur, I found that I did a fair bit more gawking than praying.

At one point I was really frustrated with myself over this new distraction, and I offered it up in prayer. As I reflected, I began to think about the many workers who put their time and talent into these beautiful houses of God:

  • the architects and builders who outdid themselves to build the biggest, grandest churches, competing for such honors as the tallest building in the world or the greatest dome;
  • the artists whose paintings adorn the walls of churches big and small, their brushstrokes creating scenes that bring visitors right into the moments they depict;
  • the sculptors and stoneworkers whose hands carefully brought to life saints and royals for us all to appreciate.

For many of these people, this was their life’s work. Their pride, their reputation, their delight came from the work they offered up in these amazing churches. Each one contributed their talents for the greater glory of God. What better example of the magis could there be?

Imagine what a beautiful world this would be if we all treated our lives like the many workers in those beautiful old churches. Imagine a world where everyone built his or her life and all within it, led by the single, solitary goal of giving God the greatest glory. Then every decision I make is like a stone placed to build a glorious church to praise and give reverence to God. Every act of compassion I make is like a painting bringing us right into a moment in the life of Jesus. And my work in forming my child to know and love God is a sculpture that will remain standing in faith long after I’m gone.

If we could only live our lives always with this in our sights and on our minds, the world might look very different. It would be a world not of distractions but of endless examples of the glory of God in all things.

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August 13, 2014

Among Ignatius’s insights into the dynamics of spiritual life is that God leads primarily through encouragement. In his rules for the discernment of spirits, Ignatius says that for people who are already trying to live lives of virtue, God leads primarily through “strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace. This He does by making all easy, by removing all obstacles so that the soul goes forward in doing good” (#315). While the good spirit acts differently on souls living from one mortal sin to another, for those attempting to live well, God does not deal with our shortcomings aggressively. Instead, God’s action takes place mostly through attraction.

echinacea close-up

God’s attention to what is good in us is also a helpful model for us to bring to our relationships to others. For example, we can pay attention to the wonderful little gestures of care that our spouses offer daily, or thank a colleague for good work and not only criticize him when a project has gone wrong!

St. Catherine of Siena uses an image that is harmonious with this Ignatian insight. She writes that a good approach to others in the midst of difficulty is not to confront them with their specific sins, but rather to “lovingly and kindly plant the virtues [in their place]” (The Dialogue [ed. S Noffke, OP], 193–194). Her idea is to focus on the cultivation of virtue first by being present to others, and then by focusing on what is already going well with a person’s desires and actions.

This attention to the nurturing of “good seeds” makes sense to me as a gardener. While in late summer, gardening columns advise being vigilant about pulling weeds, I was lately noticing their relative absence in areas of the garden where I’ve planted hardy perennials over the years. Where the hostas, butterfly bush, and echinacea grow, there are fewer weeds to pull. Even the most vigilant weeding cannot replace the effectiveness of cultivating plants through tending to water and soil, and then letting sunshine and God do the rest!

God tends to us like a divine gardener who encourages what is good within. Jesus tells us of the wheat and weeds that must grow up together until harvest; we all have some of each within. Yet Jesus also uses images such as yeast in bread, lilies in the field, and the multiplication of loaves to show God’s desire for us is to keep growing us in Christ.

We, too, can tend to the complexity and sometimes messiness of ourselves and our relationships by cultivating what is already loving and good rather than just avoiding the bad. Then we may find that as we tend to the growth of love, there is less and less room for the weeds.

Image by Bruce Marlin under Creative Commons license.

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August 12, 2014

IHS - Jesuit sealCNN’s Belief blog carried an article by Matt Emerson on “Why the Jesuits (Including Pope Francis) Are on the Frontlines of Faith.” It’s a good overview of the relevance of the Society of Jesus in the modern era. Talking about Ignatian indifference, Emerson says:

That freedom has imbued the Society of Jesus with a spirit of re-creation for five centuries, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to inspire Jesuits for the next 500 years.

One day my children might enjoy a new technology created by a Jesuit who works at Google or a Jesuit whose path to the priesthood was perhaps inspired by a movie starring a certain Hollywood celebrity.

Find out the celebrity in question, and read the rest of Emerson’s article.

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August 11, 2014