garden bench

With only a few weeks of Lent remaining, I want to offer a suggestion for our faith journeys that will carry us beyond Lent: reclaiming Sabbath. Despite the promise of technology to make us more efficient and give us more free time, we are busier than ever, and it is becoming more of a challenge to disengage and find time for rest, renewal, silence, quiet, and time simply to be with God. Not only have we lost the spirit of Sabbath, but we, as a society, have lost the value of rest that renews. Instead, we proudly wear our busy-ness as badges of honor.

It seems we have gotten away from the practice of Sabbath in our lives. Sometimes our institutions do not help this practice of Sabbath by hosting non-faith related events on Sundays, such as sporting games, meetings, or fundraisers. All of these are good things and can be meaningful activities for us to participate in. However, if we never take a day or even a shorter time period to give our time to Christ, Sunday becomes like every other day where the fullness of our schedules keeps us from doing what the Sabbath is meant to do: open our time to God so he might renew us and guide us.

Let us embrace St. John Paul II’s words on Sabbath rest:

I would strongly urge everyone to rediscover Sunday: Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Yes, let us open our time to Christ, that he may cast light upon it and give it direction. He is the One who knows the secret of time and the secret of eternity, and he gives us “his day” as an ever new gift of his love. The rediscovery of this day is a grace which we must implore, not only so that we may live the demands of faith to the full, but also so that we may respond concretely to the deepest human yearnings. Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human. (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy)

I invite us to turn to Jesus and ask him to help us answer:

  • How might we reclaim the practice of the Sabbath in our personal lives?
  • How might we reclaim the Sabbath within our Catholic institutions so that we can help each other embrace Sabbath moments in our lives?

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March 13, 2015

St. Ignatius lays down his sword at Montserrat

Many of us give up something as part of a Lenten fast. Fasting helps us in our almsgiving in having more to give away to others, serves as a penitential offer for past wrongdoing, and unites us in solidarity to those who are hungry. Fasting is good, especially if we keep in mind it is a means and not an end in itself. But as we move through these days and weeks of Lent, we are called to give even more deeply: to give up aspects of our lives and even our selves to God.

Ignatius famously hung up his sword and dagger at Montserrat, near the altar of the blessed Virgin; soon afterwards, he gave away his clothes to a beggar. Ignatius’s autobiographical account has both serious and self-aware comedic tones at points. On the one hand, his sacrifices arise from a sincere heart. On the other hand, they are highly romantic. Although Ignatius lived a century before Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, one cannot help but notice certain parallels. In the autobiography, we see a knight so eager to give away his clothes that he nearly gets a poor beggar arrested. We see a man who considers whether or not to chase after a Moor on the basis of which path his donkey walks and who for a time refuses to cut his hair or his fingernails for the greater glory of God. Ignatius was perfectly willing to poke a little fun at himself and his youthful ardor. However, what becomes clear is that it is the everyday sacrifices of his life that matter more: enduring others’ opinions of him as a fool or heretic, having to send his friend Francis Xavier to the East for the sake of mission, or spending his last years working as a paper-pushing administrator so that the Society of Jesus could thrive as an organization.

In Lent, we are being asked to consider where we have not yet surrendered our lives to God, not so much by way of great, romantic gestures, but rather in concrete and practical ways. For example:

  • Do I seek to make my family’s everyday life happier rather than putting my own desires first?
  • Can I make do without some material goods, so that I can share with others who lack even the basics?
  • Can I stop dwelling on past hurts so that I can give generously here and now?
  • Do I listen when I want to speak and make room for others’ voices and dissenting opinions?
  • Am I willing to let teenage or adult children, friends, or my spouse grow in new directions, even when that means certain kinds of losses for myself?
  • Am I able to let go of any desire that exists to prop up my own sense of self, and trust that there is a deeper self beneath whose joy lies in self-gift?

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March 12, 2015

Lenten Meditations: God's Vulnerability

In Jesus, God saves us by becoming so vulnerable that we are able to kill him in a vile and humiliating way. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus assure us that God’s offer of friendship will never be withdrawn, no matter what we do. If the cross did not result in a withdrawal of the offer, then nothing we do will lead to a change of God’s heart. We can, however, refuse the offer. Friendship is a mutual relationship, and a person has to accept the offer; he or she cannot be coerced or tricked into it. And any human being’s final refusal of God’s friendship breaks God’s heart. Still, God does not turn away from such a person in anger and rage. God lives eternally with a broken heart. That’s how vulnerable God wants to be.

Loving God, I pray for the wisdom to never turn away from your friendship or take advantage of your love for me.

—William A. Barry, SJ, in Lenten Meditations:
Growing in Friendship with God

As parents, we can relate to God’s vulnerability as described in this meditation. There is a saying that having a child is like putting limbs on your heart and setting it free in the world. We have this intense love for our children—no matter what—that indeed makes us vulnerable.

In my family’s experience, we have had many a talk with our teenaged daughter about the extent of our love for her. Afraid that in these delicate years ahead she might lose her way at some point, make some mistake she thinks is unforgivable, or something awful might happen that tears her away from us, we have tried to make it perfectly clear that we will ALWAYS love her, and that she is welcome home under absolutely any circumstances. We probably give her that speech more often than necessary, but we’re doing all we can to drill it deep into her psyche. You are always loved, you are always welcome, and nothing will ever change that. There is a lot that can happen in this world—sometimes by one’s own choices and sometimes by force—and nothing terrifies us more than losing our daughter. Indeed, if she ever turns her back on us we would be completely heartbroken, but we wouldn’t give up on her. Ever.

Imagine that love we have as parents is merely a small reflection of the vulnerable, all-invested love that God has for us all. God’s heart walks this earth by the billions. He carries a perfect love, even greater than that of a parent for a child, for each and every one of us. For me, that’s unfathomable. Jesus tries to give us a sense of it in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but as we know, Jesus used parables to give people a glimpse of understanding into something far greater than they could possibly comprehend. Thus, that parable shows us that the love of the forgiving father is just the beginning.

Now here’s the challenge. The all-invested, life-changing love that a parent has for a child is also just the beginning. We are called to be disciples on this earth, to serve others and to treat others as Jesus would. Does that not mean that the intense love between a parent and child should be the same love we offer every child of God?

Father of us all, teach us to love all of your children as we love our own, so that everyone of this earth may glimpse the unfathomable love you have for us. Amen.

Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian SpiritualityThis is part four of a seven-part series. Join us each Wednesday for Growing in Friendship with God This Lent.

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March 11, 2015

dancing - illustration

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

In the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to imagine looking at the world with God’s-eye view—to gaze upon the whole of humanity in the moment before the Incarnation. We are invited to pay attention to what affectively arises when we observe the triune God gazing at the world and responding in love. This week, I connected most fully with this contemplation not during my structured prayer time, but instead in the experience of observing a dance floor.

My husband and I were asked to serve as the (very amateur!) DJs for the annual dance with our local L’Arche community. (L’Arche is an international organization in which adults with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.) Armed with our must-play song list, we joined our L’Arche friends in the basement of a church hall decked with crepe paper hearts and banners, a potluck, and a punch bowl.

From my vantage point behind the DJ table, I could see the entirety of the dance floor: people of all ages, all intellects, and all abilities together. It was a crowded, loud, exuberant, messy place to be, with limbs and wheels and grins every which way. Seeing this perspective of the dance floor embodied this week’s prayer for me.

I imagined looking upon the world—one where brokenness and wholeness, burden and joy, exist together—and I experienced a heartfelt knowledge of God’s love for this complicated muddle of humanity. As I observed the dance floor, I experienced a felt-sense of also being seen, being observed, and being cared for by a relational God who has chosen to enter into the mess with us. Unlike a DJ, God does not watch from the perimeter of the dance floor; God joins in the dance.

From this vantage point—God’s-eye view—we too are moved with love and called to participate in God’s redemptive work.

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March 10, 2015

Arts & Faith: Lent logo

Each 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 B, are based on John 3:14–21.

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light…For all who do evil hate the light…But those who do what is true come to the light.”

—John 3:19–21

Preparation

The union in openness of body and mind and heart that is prayer begins with attention to each.

First your body: Sit upright, legs crossed or not, feet on the floor or not, lower back pressed against the chair. Or not. Breathe.

Now the mind: As you are able, let these words spill through the mind and down your spine into the earth. Let your thoughts puff away with each breath. As new ones come—knotted as they are with joy or pain—hold them like wounded birds. Set them aside to heal. Breathe.

And the heart: Vulnerability means able to be wounded. Of course there is resistance. Notice it. With your breath and with energy, pull back the vines and push open the gates. Breathe.

Tilt your chin up to the heavens and, with eyes open or closed, look back at the One who gazes at you with great affection.

Breathe.

Demanding Depth

Nicodemus is an influential man, a ruler amongst his people. He has something to lose by coming to Jesus, the man who overturned the tables in the Temple, a man who brings miracles and causes conflict wherever he goes. Not yet ready to risk coming to see Jesus in the light of day, Nicodemus instead comes at night.

  • What is it that makes Nicodemus take the risk of coming to see Jesus?
  • Have you been fascinated by someone, drawn to them despite consequences?
  • How do you imagine Nicodemus feels as he walks familiar roads in darkness on his way to Jesus’ house? Is he nervous or excited?
  • How does the night air feel to him? Can he see the stars? Does it take courage to announce his presence as he arrives at Jesus’ home?
  • How does he feel as he walks into the room? Is he expected? Welcomed?
  • What is Jesus like as he slips off his sandals and steps forward on the mat?

Having begun the conversation with Jesus by proclaiming what he knows of him—that he is “a teacher who has come from God”—the last words we hear Nicodemus speak take the form of a quiet question: “How can this be?”

  • Alone in the lamplight, seated next to him, what questions would you like to ask Jesus?
  • Does he listen to your questions? Does he hear?
  • In words or gestures, in imaginations or memories that bubble up within you, in feelings that stir in your heart—in any of these ways—does he respond?
  • Does he reach out to take your hands? Is there an image that arises in response to your question? In a moment of quiet, trust the response that comes.

The Jesus we come to know in John’s Gospel is unsatisfied with shallow relationships. He demands depth from us would-be disciples. It’s this desire for depth and this endless desire of the Lord for friendship with us that lead him to speak so clearly of light and dark and of judgment in the words of Scripture we hear today.

  • How does Nicodemus respond as Jesus asks for more from him? How do his whispered responses sound?
  • Is he grateful for such an invitation? Excited that the one with whom he is fascinated desires depth of friendship with him?
  • Or is it fear that leaks from Nicodemus into the shadowed room? Coming to the light will have consequences, and he is a man with responsibilities. Is Nicodemus afraid of what will happen, what will be asked of him, if he accepts this invitation to love?
  • What of you? What stirs inside you as you speak with this Jesus who is unsatisfied with simply being an acquaintance? How do you react to his relentless love?

Speak with him. Speak with him about any hesitations, any joys you feel. Speak with honesty about what has happened in your prayer. You were invited into his home during the night, so speak with him as close friends do in the darkness.

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. If your parish is celebrating the RCIA scrutinies, see the video and reflection for Cycle A here.

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March 9, 2015

Jesus on the cross

We are all standing in front of a life-size image of Christ on the cross. For most of my life, the stations in churches I’ve visited have been small paintings or wall carvings placed at intervals, but at Xavier they’re much larger panels, and I find myself connecting with the scenes in a new way. In the spirit of St. Ignatius, I imagine all of us as extensions of the image before us, truly present at the foot of the cross, standing beside those depicted in the scene, wondering what it means and what is in store. We are all at different places in our journeys, but united somehow, true companions. The stations of the cross no longer seem like boring repetition but like something closer to a journey. Perhaps what’s always frustrated me about the stations is that they cut too close to some of the struggles in my own spiritual life: the desire to keep moving forward rather than be still; the desire to skip the process and try to jump straight to the end, to that resurrection moment, where we get to celebrate; the desire to ignore or avoid the suffering along the way.

At the fourteenth station, the image of Jesus being placed in the tomb, my eyes are drawn up, to a separate image high above the stations. It is one of dozens of people being crucified, stretched out along a road toward the horizon. It is the first time I’ve noticed it, as I rarely stand in this part of the church. The juxtaposition of these images is striking. As Christ is being taken down from the cross, below, in the image above, those who have chosen to follow him continue to suffer. They are taking up his work, taking on the cross. And as we stand there, our own group is included in that tradition, all of us part of a long line of people in love with, pained by, suffering for, and taking part in the church. There can be a strange beauty in suffering, but, more important, there is beauty in having a community that helps us overcome it, to move forward toward that resurrection.

—Excerpted from Mercy in the City by Kerry Weber

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March 6, 2015

This summer Saint Louis University and the Jesuits of the U.S. Central and Southern province will host the triennial Ignatian Spirituality Conference. The conference theme is “Ignatian Silence: Heart of Mission.” Early registration closes March 31, 2015.

See what Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, the Jesuit Superior General, said about silence in a 2013 interview.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video for this post Ignatian Spirituality Conference.

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March 5, 2015

Lenten Meditations: Contemplating the Gospels

In contemplating the Gospels during Lent, take this advice to heart: Be sure to take Jesus’ humanity seriously even as you reflect on his divine attributes. God took humanity seriously enough to become one of us, and we do God a disservice if we downplay what God has done in becoming human. When we use our imagination in contemplating Jesus, we trust that God’s Spirit will use it to reveal something about Jesus that is important for us so that we will love him and want to follow him. The only way we can get to know another person is through revelation; the other must reveal him- or herself to us. In contemplating the Gospels, we are asking Jesus to reveal himself to us.

Jesus, as I pray with Scripture this Lent, help me to be open to the revelation of your Spirit.

—William A. Barry, SJ, in Lenten Meditations:
Growing in Friendship with God

I’m not sure why I’m surprised every time I encounter someone who seems to forget Jesus’ humanity. I suppose it’s hard not to focus on his miracles and Resurrection. Many, though, think Jesus, since he’s God incarnate, would know everything. But I believe Jesus would have had to learn his ABC’s. He would have had to learn about his religious tradition just as he would have had to learn a trade from Joseph. He likely grew into a full understanding of his divine vocation.

What William Barry, SJ, is getting at in his meditation is that we must allow ourselves to encounter our God with skin—that is, in a very human way. God becoming human means our relationship truly got physical. There is no doubt that God understands my human struggles. And when I contemplate Jesus in my imagination, his humanity reveals something about my humanity. When I witness his care for the outcast, I see my own potential to love more. When I see Jesus not giving in to temptation in the desert, I discover that I too have the power not to give in to temptation.

Revelation is not angelic hosts descending upon clouds. Revelation is about discovery. As I spend time with my wife, I allow her to share herself with me and in turn I discover more about who she is. In the same way, the more time I spend with Jesus in prayer and acknowledge not just his divinity but also his humanness, Jesus will reveal more of himself to me. Our relationship will grow and deepen. This is the entire crux of the Spiritual Exercises—not to mention prayer in general! St. Ignatius knew that if we could truly see Jesus for who he was (and is), our lives would be changed. Lent is a perfect time for that to happen. Every Sunday of Lent offers Gospel readings that reveal something about Jesus and, therefore, something about us.

Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian SpiritualityThis is part three of a seven-part series. Join us each Wednesday for Growing in Friendship with God This Lent.

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March 4, 2015

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

Return of the Prodigal Son (detail) by James Tissot

“While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

I imagine the father squinting towards the horizon, daring to whisper, “Could it be my child has returned?” Although his son is still far away, the father cannot help but break into a run. I imagine an unruly, wild kind of running. Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God runs to us—even when the distance seems vast and impossible to cross, no matter how far we have strayed from home.

In my work as a therapist, I listen to the stories clients tell themselves about their own mistakes, regrets, and imperfections. I have noticed that these stories tend to fall in two categories. Either we tend to underemphasize the negative effects of our choices, dismissing or justifying hurtful actions, or we grip too tightly to our sins and get stuck in unworthiness, disgrace, and shame. Like us, the prodigal son makes both of these mistakes; there is both more sin and more grace than we realize. Still, God runs to us.

The First Week of the Spiritual Exercises invites us to take a look at the ways we leave home. Acknowledging our sins is difficult, but it opens us to God’s embrace. This week as we review our patterns of sinfulness, may we grow in awareness of a loving God who runs wildly towards us to welcome us home.

Image: Detail of “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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March 3, 2015

Arts & Faith: Lent logo

Each 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 Third Week of Lent, Cycle B, are based on John 2:13–25.

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.

…he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

—John 2:15, 24–25

Preparation

The union in openness of body and mind and heart that is prayer begins with attention to each.

First your body: Sit upright, legs crossed or not, feet on the floor or not, lower back pressed against the chair. Or not. Breathe.

Now the mind: As you are able, let these words spill through the mind and down your spine into the earth. Let your thoughts puff away with each breath. As new ones come—knotted as they are with joy or pain—hold them like wounded birds. Set them aside to heal. Breathe.

And the heart: Vulnerability means able to be wounded. Of course there is resistance. Notice it. With your breath and with energy, pull back the vines and push open your heartgate. Breathe.

Tilt your chin up to the heavens and, with eyes open or closed, look back at the One who looks at you with great affection.

Breathe.

Jesus Understood Human Nature

Jesus did not need anyone to tell him about human nature, because he understood it well. Look to the painting. The reactions of the nine figures surrounding Jesus belie the passivity painted on his face. There is fear and sadness and certainly anger here. Let the scene unfold in your imagination. Let the chaos play as people flee from Jesus; let the conflicting emotions buffet one another back and forth.

  • Where is your attention drawn? To any face in particular? To any emotion?
  • Do you notice any sympathies arising for a Jesus who has grown so angry? Any resistances?
  • Notice your reaction to the merchants and the Temple worshippers. How do you feel about their response to Jesus?
  • Do they say anything to him? Does he respond?

Jesus did not need anyone to tell him about human nature, because he understood it well.

He understood what it was to want to run, what it was to have his heart crushed like tinfoil. He knew how it felt to be surprised unto bursting, filled unto tears with joy. And Jesus was a man who understood anger.

Pause for a moment and notice the state of your heart at that idea.

  • How do you feel thinking of a Jesus who knew the anger of others?
  • How do you feel about a Jesus who knew his own anger?
  • How does it feel to consider a Jesus who knows you in your own anger, both the just anger you have felt and the less-than-just?
  • Do you notice any resistance? Any relief?

Anger—real anger—only accompanies things and people we care about. It’s when something is out of joint with would-be recipients of our love that anger arises.

  • What is it that makes you angry enough to make a whip of cords?
  • Can you tell God about that anger?
  • Are there times you have been angry with God? With Jesus? Can you let yourself feel that anger?
  • Can you tell the Lord about it? How does he respond?
  • Can you let him tell you about what makes him angry?

Speak with the Lord now about what has happened in your prayer. Speak with him as with a trusted friend, one with whom you can grow angry and still be loved.

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: Third Sunday of Lent. If your parish is celebrating the RCIA scrutinies, see the video and reflection for Cycle A here.

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March 2, 2015