In celebration of the upcoming release of Pope Francis’s book, The Church of Mercy, several of our dotMagis bloggers will be sharing reflections this month based on the words of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis - “Let us ask ourselves today: are we open to ‘God’s surprises’?”

In Pope Francis’s 2013 Pentecost homily, he challenged us, “Let us ask ourselves today: are we open to ‘God’s surprises’?” When our hearts are open, and we are able to get beyond the fear of change and submit ourselves to God’s plan—even when it seems to conflict with our own plans—amazing things can happen. Amazing things like my husband finding God.

One of my favorite surprises from God came while I was dating the man who would later become my husband. He had called me one day to set up a date, and in scheduling I mentioned I had to get to Mass that day first. When he responded that he’d love to go with me, I was speechless (I am never speechless, though many of my friends surely wish that I was). We hadn’t been dating long, but I did know this was not a guy who had set foot in a Catholic Church. What on earth was this guy up to? I was suspicious, but something inside me told me to let him come. After all, I couldn’t tell him he couldn’t come to church, right?

My husband will tell you that he just wanted to spend time with me and figured that if that meant having to go to church to do it, then he would endure it. He’ll also tell you what a surprise it was to him that we didn’t just kneel and chant Latin stuff for hours on end. He actually enjoyed it, and he’s been going to Mass with me ever since.

I think God loves a good surprise as much as anyone, and it can be a fun way of revealing His plan for us. I am still amused when I think of how God used my husband’s attempt to get a date with me as a means to bring him into the Church. God is truly a God of wonderful surprises (even the wonderfully scary ones He sometimes sends). Yes, indeed, let’s open our hearts to God’s surprises, because God knows the wonderful places they might take us.

How has God surprised you?

Enter for your chance to win a copy of The Church of Mercy and be one of the first to read Pope Francis’s book!

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April 8, 2014

Jesus faced his suffering with resolve. That’s the message this week in our Ignatian Workout for Lent. Listen to Tim Muldoon’s reflection below. If you’d like, share some of your own reflections in the comments.

Prayer

Lord, you know my fears and you yourself knew what it was to be afraid in the face of suffering. Send me the consolation of your Holy Spirit, so that I, too, can face my fears with resolve, knowing that I seek only to do what you ask. Grant me your grace even in those times when I cannot feel you near, and when I walk blindly in the hope that what I do is right.

Action

Identify a goal in your life that has been on the “to do” list but which, perhaps out of fear or some other kind of resistance, you’ve been avoiding. Resolve to face it with courage. Do it today.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to listen to Tim’s audio reflection for the Fifth Week of Lent. Learn more about the book that inspired this retreat.

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April 7, 2014

Arts & Faith: Lent logoEach week of Lent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Lent. The video and prayer for the Fifth Week of Lent, Cycle A, are based on John 11:1–45.

“Jesus wept.”

—John 11:35

Preparation

As you 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. Take a few moments to breathe in and breathe out.

Spend this time centering yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this time of prayer, to listen to what rises up in your heart. Close your eyes for a few moments. 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.

Jesus Weeps

Imagine you are walking on a small and narrow path through a forest. There are trees and plants on each side of the path. You stop and look up, but you can barely see the sky through the tree limbs heavy with leaves. There is the sound of crows squawking, but you cannot see them. You are walking because you needed time alone, time to think about what is next in your life. You feel like there is something you are supposed to be doing, but you cannot figure it out. If I give myself some time alone, you think, maybe I will begin to understand what’s next.

You are looking down at the narrow path so that you can see the rocks and roots on the path and not trip. As you walk, you hear a sound that makes you stop. You look around, but it’s hard to see through all the foliage. You continue on the path, but the sound gets louder. As you look ahead, you see someone sitting on a large rock under one of the trees that line the path. He is holding his head in his hands and seems to be crying. As you approach him, you realize he is not just crying, but weeping so hard that his body is shaking. He looks up at you with a tear-stained face. You see that he is Jesus. What do you say to him?

You stand there in front of Jesus, wanting to reach out but unsure how to do that. You want to comfort Jesus, but that seems so opposite to what you’ve been taught. He is the one to comfort me, you think. He stands up and says, “My friend has died, and I must go to him.” What do you say to Jesus?

Jesus starts to walk towards the path, but he turns around and beckons you to come with him. He reaches out his hand, and you take it. You walk along the path with Jesus and feel at peace. You don’t know where you are going, but you know that wherever it is, Jesus will be beside you. Jesus looks over at you and smiles a small, knowing smile. What do you want to say to Jesus? What do you want him to know about you?

Is there a decision you are wrestling with that you want to bring to Jesus?
How would you comfort Jesus as he weeps for his friend?

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.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Arts & Faith: Fifth Sunday of Lent.

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April 5, 2014

Way of the Cross, courtesy Bernard Gallagher via Picturing GodThe Jesuit Refugee Service/USA offers an online Way of the Cross (also available as a PDF), with reflections and photographs from worldwide JRS projects.

“By prayerfully accompanying Jesus on his way of suffering and death, our gratitude for God’s gift of redemption grows stronger. And in this gratitude, we become more interested in assisting our sisters and brothers who suffer so terribly today,” said Fr. Kevin White, SJ, coordinator of Mission and Identity for JRS/USA.

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April 4, 2014

This post is based on Week Five of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

knotsIn Ignatius’s day a “standard” was another name for a military banner or flag. Therefore, the Two Standards meditation was a way of testing the retreatant’s allegiance. The overwhelming question was: Whose flag will you wave? I asked bluntly, “What kind of question is that? Who would ever intentionally choose to be on Team Satan?”

It seemed like a no-brainer. But when it came time for my prayer, it was much more difficult than choosing Christ over the evil one.

I entered what appeared to be a desert. It was dark and gloomy, and the wind had a distinct chill. Walking into the scene, I saw my friend and rabbi, Jesus, in the distance. As I looked closer, he had a cloth tied around his mouth and was tied up with heavy rope around his hands and waist. As soon as I saw this I ran to untie him, but I remembered that the choice wasn’t supposed to be this easy—it was a choice between the two greatest loves of my life.

It was then that I noticed something on the opposite side of Jesus. I saw an office desk, cluttered with countless books and magazines, and it, too, was tied up with rope. I was confused until I noticed that the books on the desk were my own—this was my future work desk. There were countless books and articles that I had written. I came closer and began to read title after title with my name on the bottom in an aesthetic font, “JURELL G. SISON.” Some even read, “New York Times Bestseller.”

These were my two standards. I was being forced to choose, and it wasn’t as simple as choosing between “Team Jesus” or “Team Satan.” These were the two greatest loves of my life. I always dreamed of publishing a book that would bring life to people, one that would help them discover faith at its finest. But this passion was taking over like a cancer. It was killing me, so I had to kill it. Needless to say, I chose Team Jesus, but it wasn’t without internal struggle and reflection about my priorities.

When we forget to hold God as the center, something else will surely take God’s place. When we take our focus off of God—shoving love, humility, and service to the side—something insidious creeps into us, turning our passion into poison. Sometimes we create our own demons without even knowing it.

The Two Standards meditation isn’t a choice between the good and evil that’s out in the world—it’s a choice that lies within one’s own heart. So whose flag are you waving?

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April 3, 2014

In celebration of the upcoming release of Pope Francis’s book, The Church of Mercy, several of our dotMagis bloggers will be sharing reflections this month based on the words of Pope Francis.

“True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice; it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer.” - Pope Francis

Pope Francis has shared with the world his own inner Dr. Seuss. It’s not that he is speaking in rhyme or teaching children to count, but he is using his words to paint images of a world previously beyond imagination, a world of belief in something not only beyond us, but within us—each and every one of us.

Pope Francis and Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) both believe in this fantastical world in which each person truly has unlimited potential. I can almost hear a homily from the papal balcony including the Dr. Seuss line, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.” Rich or poor it makes no difference. The world is waiting to be graced by your brilliance. In their view, every person has within him- or herself the capacity to thrive and gifts to share with the world.

But what if you really don’t have any shoes on your feet? What if you are living in a refugee camp with no school to engage that brain in your head?

Well, in Francis’ fantastical world, you see, there are other creatures too, who simply wouldn’t let this be.

The pope believes all people have within them the call to share the mercy of God. This mercy is not just about forgiving people or being compassionate and charitable. Mercy also means demanding justice for those whose potential is blocked, clearing that pathway for them to fully thrive. Through direct service, accompaniment of the poor, and defending human rights, this “fantastical” world of mercy can be realized. In the words of the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Both Pope Francis and Dr. Seuss make us all want to believe not only in the sacredness of every life, but in our own capacity to serve it.

And so I ask you, Is this fantastical world really so odd? Or is it just another vision of the Kingdom of God?

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April 2, 2014

A friend of mine is one of those people who is always cheerful and positive even though it seems as though she encounters more than her fair share of rotten luck in her life. As a result of all of her lousy luck, she has some pretty interesting stories to share. My favorite is the story of the night she woke up to two police officers standing at the foot of her bed in her home as she slept. By some odd set of circumstances, the front door of her house had been left wide open late at night. Her neighbor worried about her and her family and called the police, who immediately went to the house and searched every room prior to waking my friend to tell her everything was OK (and to please, lock her door next time). I think I would have had a heart attack to wake up to two police officers standing over my bed in the middle of the night! Indeed, God was watching out for my friend that night and sent help in the form of a concerned neighbor and the policemen.

police car

Sometimes Jesus sends help when we don’t even realize we need it. I’m reminded that sometimes our prayers are answered before we ever pray them. Recently I heard someone speaking of “unanswered prayers,” and it occurred to me that while we seem to notice those a lot (or at least what we may perceive to be unanswered prayers), we sometimes miss the “un-prayed-for answers.”

One of the things that I love about praying the Examen is that, as I am reviewing my day with God, I get a glimpse of those moments where God was present, helping me along through the day—moments that perhaps I missed at the time they occurred. In those moments where God turns the tables on me and shows me where He lovingly stepped in, I am humbled and grateful.

How wonderful it is to remember that God is always watching over us and sends help before we even know that we need it. God keeps faith forever and is always eager to show that to us. Did you find any “un-prayed-for answers” in your day today?

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April 1, 2014

The story of Jesus calming the storm is the starting point this week in the Ignatian Workout for Lent. Listen to Tim Muldoon’s reflection below. If you’d like, share some of your own reflections in the comments.

Prayer

Speak to God of the storms in your life: the experiences that make it difficult to remain faithful to the call Jesus has given you. Bring what is secret before Jesus and ask him to drive the storms away.

Action

Use an experience of a “storm” as an opportunity to give thanks to God. Become aware of your natural desire to react negatively, to lash out in anger or hurt. Take time to invite God into the experience, and see it the way Jesus saw the storm.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to listen to Tim’s audio reflection for the Fourth Week of Lent. Learn more about the book that inspired this retreat.

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March 31, 2014

Arts & Faith: Lent logoEach week of Lent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Lent. The video and prayer for the Fourth Week of Lent, Cycle A, are based on John 9:1–41.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

—John 9:35–38

Preparation

As you 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. Take a few moments to breathe in and breathe out.

Spend this time centering yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this time of prayer, to listen to what rises up in your heart. Close your eyes for a few moments. 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.

You Have Seen Him

Imagine you are standing outside on a busy, congested street. There are small crowds of people milling about and talking. You have decided to take a walk, because the day is so clear and bright. As you are walking along, you notice two groups of people standing and looking at a man in the center of the group. He is talking, but you cannot hear what he is saying. One of the groups of people is questioning him. You move closer so you can hear. You stand next to a man who is quietly listening to the group. You glance over at him, and he looks at you with eyes that seem to understand what’s happening. As you look closer, you realize it is Jesus standing beside you. What do you say to him? How does Jesus respond to you?

The group continues to question the man in the center of the group. He answers their questions with confidence and assurance. You wonder what might have happened here. Why are these people questioning this man so intently? Jesus motions to you to follow him away from the crowd. You are tentative at first, but you follow him. He walks to a place where it is quiet. He stops by the wall and waits for you. When you come up to him, he asks you a question. What does Jesus ask you? How do you respond?

As the crowd disperses, you hear one of the questioners say, “He cannot be of God. He must be a sinner.” Jesus looks at you and shakes his head. He looks as if this statement makes him sad. You wonder if Jesus had something to do with what just happened to this man. You think, Is he the one who they say is a sinner? Jesus looks at you and asks, “Do you see me? Do you know me?” How do you respond to Jesus?

Where am I blind in my life and need the healing touch of Jesus?
The blind man responds to Jesus, “I believe.” Can I respond with the same conviction and faith?

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.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Arts & Faith: Fourth Sunday of Lent.

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March 29, 2014

The Jesuit Post bookThe Jesuit Post is taking a light-hearted look at the lives of Jesuit saints in Jesuit Madness 2014. First round voting ends tonight, with 16 contenders for the title. Read the “scouting reports” for brief bios that in many cases include sports nicknames for each saint.

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March 28, 2014