Are we there yet? - car trip illustration

Many years ago on a drive to the Story Land amusement park, my three- and five-year-old boys screeched in the back seat with excitement. Every 30 seconds it seemed they would beg in anguish, “Are we there yet?” My husband’s patience grew thin, and his responses became an increasingly terse “No!”

In a moment that we all now laugh about, my husband threatened to stop the car and turn around if the boys asked one more time. The car filled with total silence. Thirty seconds later my three-year-old laid his little head reluctantly on the car window and gazed out, chanting in a whisper to himself, “Are we there yet? NO! Are we there yet? NO! Are we there yet? NO!” My husband and I doubled over in laughter.

This has become my Advent chant. The commercial build-up to Christmas makes it so hard to stay in the “We’re not there yet.” Our office parties and school gift exchanges all come before the celebration of Christmas itself—in my book they should all come afterwards. To stay in Advent, I imagine myself in the back seat of a car on a drive to my Story Land—the moment of sitting alone in that space of prayer with the angels, basking in the fullness of the Incarnation, the moment the chorus at church belts out “Joy to the World” with trumpets and bells, the moment of being with my family—especially that little boy who is now 19 and coming home from college. Are we there yet? No! But if I can keep myself in the back seat, screeching with anticipation for just a few more days, I know I will not allow a single one of those Christmas moments to pass me by unnoticed or unwrapped.

What are the moments you are waiting for with anticipation this season?

{ 0 comments }

December 19, 2014

candle

The modern world, for all its marvels, is simply too noisy for our own good. We cannot think straight with the cacophony of competing values presented by advertisements, the media, politicians, and the people around us. In order to hear the sound of God’s voice, we must turn down the sound of the world.

We must come to a place of stillness within by separating ourselves from the noise outside. Even for an experienced discerner, the movements of the spirits are simply too subtle to detect without quieting down for a little while each day.

It took a cannonball to quiet down Ignatius’s life enough for him to consider an alternative from that of soldier and womanizer. We hope that quieting down ourselves will not require such a drastic event! All we need is a small commitment to pray every day and the internal self-discipline to keep that commitment.

—Excerpted from God’s Voice Within by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ

{ 0 comments }

December 18, 2014

Arts & Faith: Advent - Exploring sacred art during a season of hopeEach week of Advent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Advent.

The video and prayer for the Fourth Week of Advent, Cycle B, are based on Luke 1:26–38.

“All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,’
which means, ‘God is with us.’”

—Matthew 1:22–23

Preparation

As we begin this time of quiet prayer, I invite you to find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your legs planted on the ground. Allow yourself to notice your normal breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Take a few moments and close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this time of prayer. As you sit with your eyes closed, use these or similar words: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am.” When you are ready, open your eyes and pray.

The Visitor

Imagine you’re sitting on the sofa. It’s been a tiring day of meetings and appointments. You decide to sit on the sofa for a half an hour to catch your breath. As you sit there, you pick up your book from the coffee table. It’s about the saints. You’ve been reading one saint story a day during this season of Advent. You’re hoping to gain some insight into how these men and women lived and believed so you can bring that into your own life. But they all seem so heroic in a way you could never be. You open the book and allow it to take you anywhere. You settle in to read the section, but you hear someone at the door. I’m not expecting anyone, you think.

When you open the door, you see a young man standing there. He is looking down at the ground. He is holding his hands gently in front of him, his fingers wrapped around each other. Kids selling candy again, you think. “Can I help you?” you ask.

He looks up at you. A slight smile comes across his face. “I’ve come to share some news with you. Good news. Important news,” he says.

You are puzzled. “Do I know you?” you ask.

“No, you don’t. But I know you.”

This is feeling a little creepy, you think. You begin to back up into the house. “Don’t be afraid. Please.”

You’re not quite sure what’s happening. You want to go inside, but something keeps you standing here. “What do you want to tell me?”

The man continues to look down. Slowly he raises his head, smiles, and says, “God wants you to bring his voice into your world. In the place you work, in your home, wherever you go, God wants you to bring his news of hope to all.”

“Is this a joke?” you ask him. “Who put you up to this? My brother?”

He continues to look down with peace and calm. He raises his face, and your eyes meet. He smiles, turns, and walks away.

“Wait a minute. You didn’t answer my question. Who put you up to this?”

He turns, looks at you and points to his heart, and then disappears into the rows and rows of houses.

Concluding Prayer

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.

Video image: The Annunciation by John Collier. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Hillstream.com

{ 0 comments }

December 17, 2014

Have you ever tried playing the quiet game with a child? The younger the child, the more likely you are to win the game. I know. I’ve had my less-than-stellar parenting moments when I start the game in a vain hope of attaining some peace and quiet after a long day. The trouble with that game, as any parent knows, is that children just can’t stay quiet. It’s too hard, because the world is so new and exciting to them, and they are so busy asking questions about it and sharing their observations that they just can’t contain themselves. In the eyes of a child, the world is moving much too fast to waste any time being silent.

winter trees and snow

As adults, we pride ourselves on thinking we’d win the quiet game any day. I wonder if we would be so successful if the tables were turned on us. Imagine that we take the place of the child, with God the Father inviting us to play the quiet game. But by God’s rules, we don’t just have to stop talking, we are asked to pause and truly be present in the silence. Honestly, I would not fare well at that game most days.

In this society that moves at warp speed and has an opinion on everything and tries to do it all and have it all and record it all on Facebook, it’s just so hard to be quiet. But there is God, smiling down and asking us to play the quiet game, not because God is the tired parent who just needs a break from us, but because God knows the power of silence.

Our most profound moments in life are marked by silence.

  • The anxious silence as parents await their newborn’s first cry.
  • A man’s panicked silence as the woman he loves considers his nervous marriage proposal.
  • The respectful silence as we remember our dead.
  • Our silent presence when we simply have no words to ease someone’s suffering.
  • The silent promises we make when looking into the eyes of someone we love.
  • The silence that stretched across the world when Francis first prayed with us as our new pope.
  • The silent beauty of God’s creation witnessed as we watch winter’s first snowflakes fall gently from the sky.

Yes, the precious moments, the holy moments, are marked by silence.

Elijah found God not in the strong winds, nor earthquakes, nor fire, but in the silence (1 Kings 19:11–12). God is inviting us into the silence; what precious, holy moments await us there this Advent season?

{ 0 comments }

December 16, 2014

four candles

There’s something about Advent and Christmas that stirs my heart. As my semester as a grad student winds down, I anticipate the time to relax into the season. Typically, my interior is not filled with holiday anxiety, but with consolation. Each year Advent stirs up the memory of past Advents—those graces of hopeful anticipation, family time, and even the comfort of purple and pink candles lit on a dark winter evening. St. Ignatius says we ought to remember times of consolation, especially in times of desolation.

After a delightfully fruitful eight-day retreat last year, my director reminded me that the consoling graces I received on that retreat are mine. I can always go back to them. I must always be reminded of them.

This year, after the tragic death of a family friend, I find it hard to fully settle into my normal Advent consolation. Thankfully, those warm memories of Advents past are still there. Those graces are mine to return to. There is never a good time for sorrow to enter our lives, but I feel Ignatius tapping me on my shoulder, reminding me of the memories of consolation, where I felt the grace of God resting upon me. Advent is a time of hopefulness—not just for the birth of Christ, but for the time we will see Christ again, face-to-face.

When I practice re-journeying into those memories of consolation, I find that the ice of desolation slowly melts away, and I rediscover the warmth of a reassuring God who promises to meet us face-to-face on Christmas and at the end of our days. It’s a promise that encapsulates and gives life to the Christian message, one we can rely on during Advent and at every other time of the year.

{ 2 comments }

December 15, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe header from Loyola Press

Today we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. Loyola Press offers An Imaginative Encounter with Juan Diego in English and in Spanish. Enjoy this Ignatian-inspired reflection to draw you into conversation with the humble man to whom Mary appeared.

Right before dawn, when night and morning meet, is the most beautiful time of the day for me. It is a time when sleep is still in one’s eyes. There is a chill in the air that startles you. I awoke before the birds began to greet the morning sun with their music…

{ 0 comments }

December 12, 2014

Pope Francis at Varginha, Brazil

Elisabetta Piqué, author of the biography Pope Francis: Life and Revolution, spent a rainy afternoon with Pope Francis in an exclusive interview for La Nación. A few excerpts:

I don’t like the word “strategy,” I’d much rather speak about the Lord’s pastoral call, otherwise it sounds like an NGO. It’s the Lord’s call, what the Church is asking from us today, not as a strategy, because the Church isn’t into proselytism. The Church doesn’t want to engage in proselytism because the Church does not grow on proselytism, it grows on attraction, as Benedict said. The Church needs to be a field hospital and we need to set out to heal wounds, just as the good Samaritan did.

EP: It was an intense year, with many significant trips, the extraordinary synod, the prayer for peace in the Middle East in the Vatican gardens. What stands out as the best moment and what as the worst?

PF: I wouldn’t know. Every moment has something good and something not quite as good, isn’t that so? (silence). For instance, the meeting with the grandparents, the elderly, there was amazing beauty in that.

As we move toward the end of the year and look to review it, the pope’s example gives great perspective.

Read this full section of the interview: “Pope Francis: ‘God Has Bestowed on Me a Healthy Dose of Unawareness.’

And for a behind-the-scenes peek at the interview, read “Humour, Anecdotes and a Laid-Back Pope on a Rainy Afternoon at the Vatican.”

Image by Tânia Rêgo/ABr (Agência Brasil) under CC-BY-3.0-br.

{ 0 comments }

December 11, 2014

Arts & Faith: Advent - Exploring sacred art during a season of hopeEach week of Advent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Advent.

The video and prayer for the Third Week of Advent, Cycle B, is based on John 1:6–8, 19–28.

“Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

—John 1:26–27

Preparation

As we begin this time of quiet prayer, I invite you to find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your legs planted on the ground. Allow yourself to notice your breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Take a few moments and close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this time of prayer. As you sit with your eyes closed, use these or similar words: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am.” When you are ready, open your eyes and pray.

One Whom You Do Not Recognize

It’s early evening. You are walking downtown in a large city. It’s a few weeks before Christmas, and the streets are filled with people shopping. The sidewalks are so crowded that it’s hard to walk without bumping into someone. Your life has been so busy lately that you haven’t had time to think about Christmas or shopping or anything related to the season. As you walk, you wonder why you even decided to come downtown tonight. You knew it would be crowded. You knew it would be difficult just crossing the street, but something drew you here, something that you felt deep inside.

You decide to sit in a café for a few minutes to let your mind settle. You take your coffee, but even this place is so full there aren’t any seats available. You notice someone sitting at a table alone. “Do you mind if I sit here?” you ask him.

He looks up. You’ve seen his face before, but you can’t remember where. “Not at all,” he says with a smile.

You take off your coat and sit down. The man continues to look at you. At first it makes you feel uncomfortable. Then he asks, “What are you looking for tonight?”

The question strikes you as odd, but there is something about his face and voice that make you want to open up and speak freely. “I’m not shopping, that’s for sure,” you say laughing. “Why do you ask?”

He smiles and says, “I think you know me.”

You look at him and again that feeling that you do know him comes over you. “Your face seems familiar. Perhaps we’ve met before. Are you from around here?”

His eyes seem to look deep inside of you. His smile is warm and inviting. “I am the one you’ve been searching for. I am he.”

His words penetrate deep inside you. You feel a sense of peace and calm, a feeling that he knows all about you and sits there without judgment. “All you need to do is open your eyes. I am here. I am everywhere. Just look.”

It is then you know. It is then you understand. You look down at your coffee unable to speak but feeling more alive than you have in years. When you look up, he is gone. You look around the café, but you don’t see him. You look out the window, and there he is, smiling at you. He points to his eyes and says, “Just look. I am here.”

And then he disappears into the crowd.

Concluding Prayer

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.

{ 0 comments }

December 10, 2014

church bells

I grew up in a small town in Ohio. The focal point of the town and its people was Holy Trinity Church. Thus I was happy to discover, upon entering the Jesuits, that the focal point of Jesuit life and spirituality is the Holy Trinity. This focus dates back to its founder, Saint Ignatius. One day after his conversion, Ignatius was praying. At one point in his prayer, the church’s bells began to ring. Suddenly, he was given to understand how the three Persons in God are one. The three keys of a musical instrument have their own sounds, but, when played together, they form one sound. Throughout his life, Ignatius cherished that moment.

Against this background, the Trinity has always held a special place in my prayer life. One prayer form that I follow is called the 3-Minute Replay. It makes an ideal prayer before bed and is an easy method you can share in helping others kick-start their prayer life.

During the first minute, I pick out a high point in my day, something good, like going out of my way to help someone. I speak to the Father about it and give thanks for the grace to do it. The second minute, I pick out a low point in my day, something bad, like speaking ill of someone. I speak to Jesus about it and ask to be forgiven. The third minute, I look ahead to a critical point I will face tomorrow, like making an important decision. I speak to the Holy Spirit about it and ask for special guidance.

Like three notes that together form one rich, beautiful chord, the 3-Minute Replay can enrich your prayer life by blending together three things—thanksgiving, an examination of conscience, and petition—in a single prayer to the Trinity. The simplicity of the prayer also makes it ideal for those unsure about how to pray. Remember, prayer does not have to be grandiose or complex . . . in fact, it can be as simple as 1, 2, 3.

This article is by Mark Link, SJ, who has written and edited more than 60 books, including Praying the Way Jesus Prayed. He is one of the best-selling Jesuit writers of the modern era.

{ 2 comments }

December 9, 2014

Annunciation

Mary, in the midst of your life, you heard your call. In hearing it, you were told, “Do not be afraid.” (Luke 1:30) In the busyness of your life, God offered you an invitation. On one ordinary evening, you were able to say “yes.”

What about me, Mary? Will I be able to hear God’s call in the midst of my life? Will God utter the same words of comfort delivered through another that the angel offered you? Will I be able to discern God’s voice from all the others offering me invitations? Will I be able to say “yes” to God’s invitation when it appears in the middle of my ordinary life?

Somehow your heart was tuned to the voice of God. Somehow the Holy Spirit enabled you to hear and say “yes” to what God put before you. While I do not understand it all, I do know that your ability to hear God through the angel Gabriel helps me know that I will be able to hear God speaking to me in the middle of my life. Your ability to say “yes” to something that frightened you at first helps me, too, say “yes” to the invitations God puts in my life that frighten me. You show me the way, Mary, to hear God’s voice, to overcome my fears, and to do God’s will.

In this season of Advent, when we celebrate your ability to hear God’s invitation and respond positively, I ask that you pray for us. Pray that we, too, may have hearts tuned to God’s voice. Pray that we might be comforted the way the angel Gabriel comforted you. Pray that we, too, can respond to God’s invitations in our lives so that we might continue to bring light into the world the way you did by offering us the greatest light, Jesus. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

{ 1 comment }

December 8, 2014