Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hillary Clinton's Family Values

As we begin to consider who might run for president in 2016, I have to say that I have a lot of respect for Hillary Clinton. She was an excellent Secretary of State. She also exemplifies important values. I don't think that there is a politician alive who values the family as much as Secretary Clinton. Her husband cheated on her many times, but she forgave him. Why did she forgive him? Because she loves him and because she values her family. She was humiliated by her husband's behavior, but her love for him was deeper than her wound. Love, forgiveness, understanding, and commitment to one's spouse--those are real family values.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lessons and Carols Reflection

I had the honor of offering a reflection at The Festival of Lessons and Carols at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Akron. There are nine Scripture Lessons in the festival. It was consoling to reflect on each one of them. I have posted the reflection below. I apologize that the formatting is all messed up. I haven't posted to this blog in almost two years, and blogger has changed. I don't have the time to figure it out. I have to clean our house, Christmas shop, host a party for my son, and take care of a few other things. The reflection still works. I think you can figure out where the natural breaks occur. In the beginning* was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.a 2He was in the beginning with God. 3* All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.b What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; What does God’s word reveal to us through this Lessons and Carols service? Let us ponder each of the readings. Genesis 3 tells the story of humanity’s fall from grace. To understand it we need some context. We need to take a look at the chapter that precedes it. At the end of Genesis 2, the man and the woman are naked and feel no shame. This symbolizes a relationship of intimacy and equality. There are no barriers to love. This is what God wants, open and healthy relationship. How then do the man and woman end up ashamed of their nakedness, ashamed of their intimacy? They are misled by their desires. They selfishly want God's power. They anxiously and selfishly grasp for the forbidden fruit. They try to make themselves into gods. Sin is like this—it is born from disordered desire. And sin snowballs. No sooner have Adam and Eve sinned then Cain kills Abel, and humanity’s wickedness gets so out of hand that only a flood can wash the earth clean. Humanity needs a savior . . . . This need for a savior is further seen in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived during the reign of evil kings. The good King Josiah had sought to reform Judah, but the kings that followed him plunged Judah back into pagan practices, including the abhorrent practice of human sacrifice. The people of Judah also began to neglect the legal program of caring for the poor and marginal. It is in this context that God speaks through Jeremiah: he will raise up a messianic king who will do what is right and just in the land. He will give justice to the poor. Isaiah also was a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah. He lived during a time of conflict and injustice. In his lifetime, the northern kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Syria waged war against the kingdom of Judah. Judah then turned to the brutal, pagan kingdom of Assyria for assistance. Judah survived that war, but then became a vassal of Assyria. Years later when Judah fought a war of independence against Assyria, Assyria destroyed every Judean city except Jerusalem. It is in this context that Isaiah prophesies. He passionately cries out for justice for the poor. In Isaiah 3:15, he asks "What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding down the faces of the poor? says The Lord God of Hosts." Isaiah also prophesies the coming of a messianic ruler who will bring peace and justice—the “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” We next move to the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1: In this passage, the angel promises Mary that Jesus will be a king different from other kings. He will have the spirit of wisdom that Isaiah and Jeremiah spoke about. His kingdom will be a kingdom of peace. Let us ask ourselves, "What is it about the way that Jesus guides us that gives us peace? In what ways is Jesus calling us to peace now? Whom do we need to forgive? What resentments do we need to let go of? In Luke Chapter 2 we witness the birth of Jesus, the messianic king. I am now going to ask you to do something different. I am going to ask you to contemplate the Gospel scene with your imagination. Just pause for a moment and free up your imagination. Listen to yourself breathe. Relax. There is no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. They come to a barn. There Mary gives birth to her child and she lays him in a manger. Look upon that child. What do you see? Pick up the Christ child. Hold the Christ child. Breathe in the new baby smell. Feel the soft skin. What does that do to your heart? Feel the baby breathe. Can you feel how fragile and how vulnerable this baby is? Our messianic king comes to us as a fragile child. What does this tell us about God's will? St. Ignatius tells us that we find God's will in our deepest desires. What does the infant Jesus tell us about our deepest desires? Do we really crave power over others or do we really want communities that allow us to be vulnerable to each other? In our heart of hearts, do we value success above all else or do we value family and friendship? Come before the Christ child and ask "show me my heart. What do I really want?" In the Gospel of John, we are told that Jesus is God’s word made flesh. The Greek word for word that John uses is logos, but the Hebrew word that Jesus knew is Dabar. Dabar is the Hebrew word for word. Dabar is active and living, it acts in history. Dabar does not mean “idea” or “concept.” In Isaiah, Dabar is like the rain fertilizing the ground making plants grow Jesus is God's all-powerful dabar, acting in history and society, bringing about growth. And what does Jesus grow? A society of inclusion, not exclusion. And this inclusion is found in Matthew 2. The Gentile nations, represented by the three magi are included in the saving mission of the Christ child. The final scripture passage that we have heard tonight is Matthew 28. Interestingly, it is a story about the risen Christ, not the infant Christ, but it has much to teach us. The most interesting part of Matthew 28 is the verse "They worshipped but they doubted". Even seeing the risen Christ, they doubt. These are the apostles, the heroes of the early Church, and they are filled with doubt. Why? I think it is because the risen Christ is so far beyond what they can imagine humanity to be. The risen life, full of grace and forgiveness, absent anxiety and aggressiveness, free from resentment and fearlessly open to the future. Try to imagine a society based on the reality of the risen life. A society that provides justice for the poor. A society of inclusion. At times, we have our doubts about this society, but the Christ child has no doubts about us. He entrusts himself to us over and over again. And he commissions us to go forth and proclaim his good news. In the beginning* was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.a What is amazing is that God’s all-powerful word, active in history, bringing about a society in which desires are not disordered, but flow from our heart of hearts. God’s all-powerful word, transforming societies, reversing the cycles of sin and decline, overcoming collective violence, healing divisions between nations, and sowing justice for the poor, God’s all-powerful word was a fragile, little baby. May the peace of the Christ child be with you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Week 14, Exercise 2: The Confirmation of Our Election

This exercise should be experienced between March 21 and 24.

Let us use this time to review the decision we have made during this phase of the Exercises. First, using your prayer journal, review the moments of consolation you have experienced during this second phase. Then consider the exercise about the two leaders. Recall that Christ called you to spiritual poverty. One who is spiritually poor is willing to become actually poor if it is for the greater glory of God. How did you react to this call then? How do you react now? What values inform your reaction? Are they motivated by a love for human freedom and justice? How are your values formed?

Now review the exercise from Phase Two, Week Six on the Three Kinds of Persons. What kind of person are you? Is there room for growth?

After all of that, consider the choice you made during Phase Two, Week Eleven. Now imagine that you only have one year to live. What decision do you make?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Week 14, Exercise 1: Jesus Challenges Me (The Story of the Rich Young Man)

This exercise should be experienced between March 18 and 21.

First, I would like to take a moment to encourage you to read through the rules of discernment for the second phase of the Spiritual Exercises. You can find them here. Please focus on #329-336. There is one rule that is particularly helpful--the seventh rule (#335). David Fleming's translation of the seventh rule of the second phase reads as follows: "As we continue to make progress in the spiritual life, the movement of the good spirit is very delicate, gentle, and often delightful. The good spirit touches us in the way that a drop of water penetrates a sponge. When the evil spirit tries to interrupt our progress, the movement is violent, disturbing, and confusing. The way that the evil spirit touches into our lives is more like water hitting hard upon a stone."

As we pray, let us focus on the movements of the good and evil spirits (the movements of our thoughts and feelings). If in prayer, we find ourselves caught up in noisy inner turmoil that works against the heart's tendency to move toward charity, we can conclude that the evil spirit is attempting to disrupt our prayer. If it is possible, ignore this noise. Relish and follow interior movements that give delight and that come upon us gently (like a drop of water penetrating a sponge). If we master this skill in prayer, we will find that it will aid us in all aspects of life.

Now, for the specific prayer of this particular post, use your imagination to enter into the scene of Mark 10:17-31 (the story of the rich young man). Focus on verse 21. Can we feel the love that Jesus has? As we pray with verses 21-22, let's examine what our "possessions" are. They may very well be physical things. They could also be other attachments--to power, to a particular group of people, to an ideology, to a plan. The term "possessions" in this story means anything that keeps us from totally surrendering to charity and justice. What are my possessions/attachments?

As we continue in prayer, do we feel hope when we read verse 27? What can God do for me as I struggle with my own attachments?

Let us really ask ourselves: for what or for whom am I living?

Let the colloquy begin with the disciples in their incredulity and with the knowledge they have now. Let us finish with a conversation with Jesus and God the Father.

Finally, let's remember to review our prayer period in our journals and ask "Where was the good spirit consoling and the evil spirit distracting us?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Week 13, Exercise 2: Jesus Challenges Me

This exercise should be experienced between March 14 and 17.

Use your imagination to pray with Luke 10: 25-37 (The Story of the Good Samaritan).

Recall that at the time, Jews and Samaritans hated each other. When the Jewish community returned from the Babylonian exile in the 530s BC, the Samaritans tried to prevent them from rebuilding the Jerusalem temple. Jews of Jesus' day also considered Samaritans unclean because they were the descendants of the northern tribes of Israel who had inter-married with non-Israelites. For Jesus' Jewish audience, listening to how a Jewish priest and a Jewish levite ignored the Jewish man in need while the Samaritan loved him as a neighbor would have been shocking.

What does the story mean for us today? If you are a Democrat, consider the following: a Democrat was walking from a bus stop to a rally for President Obama. While he was still a distance from the rally, a group of men beat him severely, took his wallet and left him in an alley half dead. No one saw this occur so no one knew the man was wounded. A little later, a group of Democrats walked down the street near the alley. They were very loudly debating whether President Obama's stimulus package was effective. Because of the loudness of their voices, they could not hear the agonizing moans of the man in the alley. They walked right on by.

A few minutes later, a right-wing Republican walked by. He passed by the alley way and happened to hear the wounded Democrat's cries. Immediately he ran to the man. He could tell the man was a Democrat from the political buttons the man had fastened to his coat. The Republican took out his cell phone and called 911. When the ambulance arrived, he asked the ambulance drivers which hospital they would take the man to. He then took a cab to the hospital so that he could be of further assitance to the wounded man.

If you are a Republican, consider the following: a Republican was walking from a bus stop to a Republican presidential debate. While he was still a distance from the hall that was hosting the debate, a group of men beat him severely, took his wallet and left him in an alley half dead. No one saw this occur so no one knew the man was wounded. A little later, a group of Republicans walked down the street near the alley. They were very loudly debating whether Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum was the best candidate. Because of the loudness of their voices, they could not hear the agonizing moans of the man in the alley. They walked right on by.

A few minutes later, a left-wing Democrat walked by. He passed by the alley way and happened to hear the wounded Republican's cries. Immediately, he ran to the man. He could tell that the man was a Republican from the political buttons he had fastened to his coat. The Democrat took out his cell phone and called 911. When the ambulance arrived, he asked the ambulance drivers which hospital they would take the man to. He then took a cab to the hospital so that he could be of further assitance to the wounded man.

Perhaps you know and even better way to retell the story of the Good Samaritan. One of the points to the story is that all people are our neighbors. The other point is that we need to examine our consciousness to be aware of the "purity codes" and power structures that we construct. Whom do we consider to be an outsider and why?

In prayer, speak to Jesus in whatever way works for you. We may want to begin our colloquy with the wounded man (whomever he is in our lives). We may want to ask the Samaritan "What did you feel in your heart for the wounded man?"

It would be helpful to speak with Jesus about who it is that we exclude. Ask for the courage and the grace to love all outsiders.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Week 13, Exercise 1: Jesus Heals Me

This exercise is to be experienced between March 11 and March 14.

Pray with Luke 13:10-17. Use your imagination to enter the scene. Imagine yourself as the crippled woman. You are unable to look other people in the eyes because you have been bent over for 18 years. How does that feel? Do you feel like a human being?

Imagine the heart of Jesus. What does he feel toward this woman? Why does he want to cure her?

Why does he want to cure me? What holds me in bondage? Spiritual wounds? Psychological wounds? Physical wounds? Where do I need healing?

Let your colloquy begin with the crippled woman and let it then move to Jesus.

Close with an Our Father or other suitable prayer.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Week 12, Exercise Two: Jesus Teaches Me to Love the Poor and Outcast

This exercise should be experienced between March 8 and March 10.

Pray with Matthew 25: 31-46, The Judgment of Nations.

As always, use your imagination to enter into the parable. Can you see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned? What does your heart tell you?

Can you see Christ in the suffering? Is Christ calling you in and through the suffering?

In your heart, let your colloquy be with the poor and suffering. If it helps, recall a scene of poverty and suffering from the media. What do the poor and suffering want? What can we do for them?

Now, converse with Jesus. Listen to Jesus. What does he tell you?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A brief break from our retreat: a Response to Larry Doyle

The following deals with the Eucharist, which we will experience in prayer in a few weeks. In this way, it is not completely outside the current flow of this blog.

Larry Doyle of the Huffington Post has written a recent satirical piece entitled “The Jesus-Eating Cult of Rick Santorum.” Yes, yes it is satire, but what is the point of satire? It is a literary device intended to “expose folly, vice or stupidity” (Webster’s). In Doyle’s case, no doubt, it was intended to also make headlines. I considered just letting the whole thing go, but the title of the piece strikes at the Eucharist--what is essential to my faith. The nature of the Eucharist is so misunderstood among Catholics and non-Catholics that I have to take the time to clarify a few things.

First, Catholics are not “Jesus-eaters.” The Eucharist is not cannibalistic. In the middle ages, the Catholic Church rejected the teachings of Paschasius Radbertus and endorsed the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas teaches that, during the consecration, transubstantiation occurs. There is a change that takes place, a substantial change, not a literal change. Radbertus had taught that the substantial change was a literal change and because of this, he thought that at the Eucharist, we literally chewed on the muscles, hair, sinews etc of Christ. The Church rejected what Radbertus taught. What the Church endorsed was, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, that at the Eucharist, we take into ourselves the substance of the risen Christ, the risen Christ, whose body has been glorified. We do not chew on the muscles and sinews of a body the way that Radbertus taught. Something’s substance is invisible to the senses and can only be perceived through an act of the intellect. That is, through the gift of faith, your mind understands that Christ is present. Thomas also wrote that the act of transubstantiation was a miracle brought about by the Holy Spirit.

There is even more insightful study of the Eucharist in our current day, but I do not have time to go into all of that that. It is important to write, in a non-satirical way, what is true. If I had more time, I would write a little about modern and post-modern applications and extensions of what Thomas Aquinas taught, but, as a Catholic father, my Church teaches me to take care of my children. I have one who is ill and I really need to get back to cleaning the kitchen and doing her laundry.
Nevertheless, I have two more things to write about Mr. Doyle’s satire of the Eucharist:

1) Mother Teresa believed that transubstantiation occurs during mass and she lived from this. Her nuns adored and still adore the Eucharist. This belief in the real presence of Christ has enabled them to care for people who have been left to die in the streets of this world, people with communicable diseases, people Mr. Doyle probably doesn’t spend a lot of time around. If our belief in the Eucharist is so bankrupt, then why are so many Catholics, especially the Missionaries of Charity, so faithful about caring for the world’s scapegoats and poor?

2) Rick Santorum and I belong to the same Church, but my political positions are very different from his. I am a progressive Catholic and my progressive politics flows from my belief in the real presence of Christ at the Mass. Why do I believe that Christ becomes present at the consecration? Simply because Jesus said it did. It is present in the synoptic Gospels and the Pauline epistles. Using the criterion that historians call multiple attestation, we can conclude that these words really come from the historical Jesus. To add even more weight to my argument, there is a Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of John.

I believe that in Jesus—the rejected one, the abandoned one, the impoverished one-- God has revealed that God is present in a reality transforming way in scapegoats—in the rejected and the hated. When I come before the Eucharistic minister, lay or priestly, the minister holds the host before me and tells me “the Body of Christ.” I say “Amen”—“Truly, it is so.” The Eucharistic ritual says “you are becoming one with the glorified body of the crucified and risen one. Now, live as if this is so. Care for the poor, feed the hungry, spread and strengthen democracy, accept the empowerment of women who resist exploitation, allow the empowerment of women to empower men, nurture children, educate the ignorant, stop crucifying the environment, heal the ill, embrace and transform a suffering world.”
Amen, may it be so.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Week 12, Exercise 1: Unity Differentiates

This exercise should be experienced between March 4 and March 7.

A month ago we pondered Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's explanation of how we can follow Christ within an evolutionary view of the universe. As you recall, Teilhard realized that even the most mundane tasks can help human societies to progress. Within the context of Jesus' teaching us to love, we will develop Teilhard's insights even more.

As Teilhard studied the universe, he noticed that as the process of evolution moved along, matter became spirit. We see this especially in the development of primates and the development of hominids. As species evolved, more matter in the animals' body was located in the brain. The brain to body ratio grew. He also speaks of this when he claims that as different life forms develop, life forms become more complex.

Teilhard also noticed that as living entities came into existence, they abided by the principle that "unity differentiates." What Teilhard meant by this is that, as organisms develop, they develop harmonious wholes that unify previously disparate elements. These unities are new. They have evolved. These unities came into being by uniting previously disparate elements, but the structures that are formed in the new unity are not melted into each other. These new structures within the unity are differentiated. The harmonious wholes differentiate and individuate their component parts. Consider how cells first came into existence. In Teilhard's Mysticism of Knowing, Teilhard scholar Tom King explains:

"At some moment billions of years ago inert elements came together and formed the first living cell, 'a cell is born.' All of the separate elements were there before the cell appeared, the unity itself was new. And this unity was more than the sum of its parts. In forming the cell the elements have not lost their original character to 'become blurred and confused together.' Rather, that which is distinctive about every one of the elements is accentuated, 'their own nature is reinforced' (AE, 116). 'True unity does not fuse the elements it brings together,' rather, 'by mutual fertilization' it renews them (HE, 63), or as Teilhard would often repeat, 'Unity differentiates'. . . .
The living unity 'super-differentiates' the elements that it unites . . . .the living cell has a unity wherein the particular quality of each element--its form--is further intensified. The living organism does not dissolve the specific character of its elements, it needs this character, it accentuates it, and draws it into a more complex whole." (Teilhard's Mysticism of Knowing, 32)

Teilhard claims that billions of years later, the same type differentiating process occurred when thought evolved in the development of human beings. As Teilhard sees it, a new theory unites previously disparate elements. Each part of the theory contributes to the theory and maintains its existence. The theory unifies and differentiates component parts. The human mind organizes experiences, sensations and feelings into a theory while at the same time respecting the integrity of each component part.

Finally, unity differentiates in the unity of all things in God. Tom King again comments:

"Perhaps the moment of living faith comes upon us suddenly--like a breeze passing in the night. 'God reveals himself everywhere' . . . All things possess a deep brilliance, yet their individuality is 'accented in meaning' (D, 130). The divine illumination has retained and exalted 'all that is most specific' (D, 118) All things are united in God, but at the same time God 'pushes to its furthest possible limit the differentiation among the creatures he concentrates in himself' (D, 116). Thus for the final time 'unity differentiates.' First, this characterized the unity formed by life, then the unity formed by thought; now it is true of the unity of all things in God." (King, 52)

The same is true of the organization of human societies, especially of societies influenced by the Gospel: a real unity in the society differentiates the people within the society. You do not build a society up by breaking the people within it down. Yes, it is true that certain forms of collectivism have sacrificed the individuality of the people they rule, but that is not a real unity in Teilhard's sense.

Now consider:

1. When have I experienced the truth that unity differentiates? Does it give me insight into the charity Jesus preaches about?

2. When have I accepted the evolutionary task of forming differentiating unities--organizations that respect the freedom of the people who live in them? Did I feel the consolation of doing so?

3. What other insights occur to me?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Week 11, Exercise 2: The Election

This exercise should be experienced between February 29 and March 3.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius were designed to help a person make a healthy, well-ordered decision (election). We can say that if we let the love of our Mother/Father God flow through us, we will make well-ordered decisions. Ignatius was keenly aware of this and so he designed certain methods for making good decisions. To learn these ways, it is helpful to read through Spiritual Exercises 169 to 189. Please click on this link for the text

The language is a little different from that of our own time. If you want a contemporary translation, then read David Fleming's translation of the ways to make an election.

The election may consist of a significant decision such as whether to marry a particular person or whether to enter religious life. It also may consist of the renewal of or recommitment to a particular state of life such as marriage or religious ife. Finally, it is helpful to employ Ignatius' method in making less significant decisions such as whether to work for a particular firm or whether to choose a particular college major.

The goal of the Exercises is to help us make decisions in freedom, for the Greater Glory of God, not from some kind of compulsion or fear. Consider whether there are some choices that you need to make at this point of your life, relish the grace that has been given to you during this retreat in daily life, and then use one of the methods of Ignatius. May you know God's joy as you reflect on these important issues of your life.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week 11, Exercise 1: Jesus Teaches Me to Love (the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount)

This exercise should be experienced between February 26 and February 29.

Pray with Matthew 5: 21-48.

When it is time for the colloquy, let it begin with the disciples. If you have always connected with one of the disciples more than others, let your conversation begin with him or her. Ask the disciples what it was like hearing the Lord teach them. If there is a part of the sermon that troubles you, then be honest about that. Speak freely and from your heart.

Then turn to Jesus. Ask him for the freedom that he has in his heart. Once again, if there is a part of the sermon that troubles you, then be honest about that. Thank him for his words of wisdom and ask him for the grace to live by them--in freedom, for charity, for justice--for the Kingdom.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Week 10, Exercise 2: Jesus Teaches Me To Love (The Sermon on the Mount, Part One)

This exercise should be experienced between February 22 and February 25.

Having contemplated how love can transform the process of becoming a leader and the process of training leaders, we return to Scripture to be led more deeply into Jesus' understanding of love.

Jesus preached about a society of inclusive love and justice which he called the Kingdom of God (Matthew's Jesus uses the phrase kingdom of heaven, which is a different name for the same reality). The Kingdom was and is the central theme of his preaching. How does one participate in the building of the Kingdom? Let your imagination be free as you contemplate Matthew 5:1-20. Please recall that those who are poor in spirit are those who are willing to accept actual poverty if it helps build the Kingdom.

Consider: when have I been open and when have I been closed due to fear, anger or rivalry? What is Jesus saying to me about those moments and about my future?

Let the colloquy begin with Jesus' disciples. Did they understand the Lord? What questions did they have? Did they struggle with spiritual poverty?

Let the colloquy end with Jesus. What do you want to ask him?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Week 10, Exercise 1: Love-based Leadership

This exercise should be experienced between February 19 and 22.

Chris Lowney lived as a Jesuit for seven years before leaving the Society of Jesus for a career with the investment banking firm J.P. Morgan. He worked for J.P. Morgan for seventeen years before writing the book Heroic Leadership. In this text, he contends that the values which guided Ignatius Loyola as he formed recruits into Jesuits should guide corporate managers and other leaders as they build their leadership teams. (Once again, I will encourage the readers of this blog to buy the entire text. It is an excellent book.)

The four core values which Lowney distills from Jesuit practice--self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism--are very relevant to today's world. We will meditate on Lowney's analysis of love:

Leaders face the world with a confident, healthy sense of themselves as endowed with talent, dignity, and the potential to lead. They find exactly these same attributes in others and passionately commit to honoring and unlocking the potential they find in themselves and in others. They create environments bound and energized by loyalty, affection, and mutual support.

Machiavelli counseled leaders that "to be feared is safer than to be loved." Unsurprising advice from a man convinced that humanity was "ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain."

Ignatius Loyola was his polar opposite, counseling Jesuit managers to govern using "all the love and modesty and charity possible" so that teams could thrive in environments of "greater love than fear."

This starkly contrasting Jesuit approach stemmed from their starkly contrasting world view. Whereas Machiavelli beheld a world peopled with fearful, ungrateful deceivers, Jesuits viewed the world through a very different lens: they saw each person as uniquely endowed with talent and dignity. The Jesuits' behavior flowed from their vision, as Machiavelli's advice did from his. Love driven Jesuits worked with passion and courage, whether teaching teenagers or confronting colonialists who abused indigenous peoples in Latin America.

Jesuits remained committed to this vision because it worked. They were energized by working with and for colleagues who valued trusted, and supported them. Teams were bound by loyalty and affection, not riddled with backstabbing and second-guessing. The company's pioneer in Asia, Francis Xavier, eloquently exemplified the depth and far-reaching power of these ties. Crisscrossing Asia, thousands of miles and some years removed from his cofounder colleagues, he drew energy from mere scraps of paper he carried bearing each one's signature. Why? Their signatures alone reminded him of "the great love which [colleagues] always showed and are still showing toward me." It's hard to imagine today's corporate road warriors snapping open briefcases to draw similar energy from the latest memo from headquarters.

Their egalitarian, world-embracing vision enabled Jesuits to create teams that seamlessly blended recruits from European nobility, the world's poorest families, and most everything in between. Jesuits working in China included nationals from half a dozen countries, all this centuries before the term multinational teams entered the corporate lexicon.

Everyone knows that organizations, armies, sports teams, and companies perform best when team members respect, value, and trust one another and sacrifice narrow self-interest to support team goals and their colleagues' success. Individuals perform best when they are respected, valued, and trusted by someone who genuinely cares for their well-being. Loyola was unafraid to call this bundle of winning attitudes "love" and to tap its energizing, unifying power for his Jesuit team. Effective leaders tap its power today as well.

Ask yourself:

What is consoling about Ignatius' method of love-based leadership? What is consoling about Jesus' method of love-based leadership?

Have I ever been led in a loving manner? Was I respected, valued, and trusted by my leader? Have I ever been led by one who valued fear more than love? What is the difference between the two experiences?

Do I want to be a leader? How can love guide my leadership? Am I afraid to love?

Do I support my colleagues' success? Do we live in a relationship of mutual support or do we live in rivalry with each other?

Now engage in a colloquy with Ignatius, Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. Ask them for the grace to lead as Ignatius and Jesus led. Tell them your fears and speak from your heart.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Week Nine, Exercise Two: Jesus Teaches Me To Love (1 Corinthians 13)

This exercise should be experienced between February 15 and February 18.

Jesus teaches us to love God, neighbor and self. Many have pointed out that it is not possible to love others without loving myself. This is true, but there is a prior question to ask: what does it mean to love?

If we contemplate Jesus' way of being and teaching, we will understand love. Jesus respects the freedom of those he teaches. He does not impose anything on anyone. He healed a leper in Mark 1:40-45 and gave him specific instructions to tell no one. When the leper disobeyed him, Jesus did not retaliate.

Jesus taught publicly and crowds followed him, but when he was arrested he did not encourage any kind of violent reprisal.

Jesus meets people where they are in their lives and loves them as they are (I am using the present tense deliberately). In this vein, he dined with Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-20). We will see many other examples of this in the coming weeks.

Jesus' way of being and teaching is further clarified by reading 1 Corinthians 13. Although Jesus did not speak these words, the Spirit of Jesus inspired St. Paul to write them. There are few more accurate or more beautiful expressions of the meaning and characteristics of love. Prayerfully read 1 Corinthians 13-- the way of love. It may be of merit to just say a few of the words out loud and ponder that phrase or sentence. Non-Christians may be able to enter into this exercise just by pondering the passage's insight into love.

After you read, ask yourself "Have I personally felt the difference between acting from love and acting from enlightened self interest? Between acting from love and acting from egoism? When has my interior state affected me the way a clashing cymbal affects my ears? What spirit was guiding me at that time?"

Dwell on the characteristics of love and ask for the grace to be patient, kind, humble, gracious, detached, and free from resentment. Ask for the grace to bear all things.

Ask for the gift to believe that love never fails.

Speak with the Lord, asking for the grace to follow the loving thoughts that flow from his spirit. What else comes to mind? Let the Lord know. . . and listen as he speaks to your heart.

Close with a prayer.

Make sure you are communicating with your spiritual director or prayer group.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Week Nine, Exercise One: Jesus Teaches Me To Love

This exercise should be experienced between February 13 and February 15.

Love is the heart of Jesus' teaching for Jesus himself is love incarnate. In the following passage from Matthew, Jesus, a pious Jew, quotes the Hebrew Scriptures. He teaches us to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Ask the Lord for the grace to love God, neighbor, and self and then prayerfully read Matthew 22: 34-40.

As you pray, ask yourself:

When have I loved God with heart, soul and mind? What obstacles to loving God have existed in my heart? In my soul? In my mind?

Do I love myself? How do I feel toward myself? How do I feel toward others? Do I discern well before I act on these feelings?

If we want to know what it means to love, we need to study the life of Jesus. And so our journey continues.

Close with the Our Father or other suitable prayer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Week 8, Exercise 2: The Raising of Lazarus

This exercise should be experienced between February 8 and February 11.

Pray with John 11: 1-44.

Please remember that John's Gospel reflects an antagonism between Jews and Christians that was present during the time the evangelist was writing the Gospel. It was not present when Jesus performed this great work. For this reason, every time you read the phrase "the Jews" you should translate it as "the authorities," "the crowd," or "the community." In verse 8, you should translate it as "the authorities." In all the other places, you should read it as "the community" or "the crowd." For more analysis of this issue please see my essay on November 10, 2009 of this blog.

As you pray, use your imagination. Can you imagine yourself as Lazarus in the tomb. What areas of your life are dead to God? What attachments bind you? Can you hear Jesus call your name? What does it mean to you that Jesus commands that you be untied? What freedom do you feel when the Lord calls your name?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Week Eight: Jesus Calls Me By Name

Week Eight, Exercise One: Jesus calls Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Luke 19:1-10)

This exercise should be experienced between February 5 and February 8.

In week seven, we learned that we can be called to build the Kingdom of God whatever our station in life. As Teilhard reminds us, God is present in all secular activities. Along these lines, in the story about Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus the tax collector is called by Jesus. He responds by promising Jesus that he will give half of his possessions to the poor and he will correct any previous injustice he has committed.

Use your imagination to pray with Luke 19:1-10. What is it about Zacchaeus that attracts Jesus? Zacchaeus was a sinner and the Jewish public considered him to be unclean (it is somewhat understandable that they thought this way because he was collecting taxes for the Roman occupiers and most tax collectors were known to overtax their neighbors and line their pockets with the unjust profits). What did Jesus see in Zacchaeus?

What did Zacchaeus see in Jesus? He must have had strong feelings about Jesus since he was willing to climb a sycamore tree to see him. What is in Zacchaeus' heart? Does it resonate with your heart?

Imagine yourself as Zacchaeus. Is there something in your life that obstructs your relationship with God? What does it mean to you that Jesus would like to spend the afternoon with you at your house? Are you willing to let go of the obstacle that gets in the way of living a more God-centered life? Will letting go of this obstacle improve your working relationships? Your relationship with the poor?

Pray with the passage again. Can you hear Jesus call your name?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Week Seven, Exercise Two: Reflecting On Our Mission To Follow Christ Using The Insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

This exercise should be experienced between February 1 and February 4.

Having experienced the grace given by meditating on the baptism of Jesus, we now consider how Jesus calls us to a life-giving mission. The life that Jesus calls us to involves healing, teaching, trusting, loving and risking. Are we up to the task? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the twenty-first century? Does it mean rejecting the material world and living as an ascetical hermit? Or does it mean discerning the promptings of the spirit of Christ in our everyday world, whether we be teachers or investment bankers, preachers or politicians, ministers or members of a labor union?

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin found that he could find Christ in the secular pursuits of scientific research. He writes that we are all called to build the kingdom of God, whatever our secular vocation. As a matter of fact, Teilhard taught that it was very possible to find God in any secular pursuit. An excellent analysis of and presentation of the writings of Teilhard is found in Ronald Modras' book Ignatian Humanism. I recommend the whole book. Here is Modras' explanation of Teilhard's wisdom:

"[Teilhard's book] The Divine Milieu was completed in China in 1927 and directed, he wrote, not only to believers but also to those who waver in their faith or who think they have grown beyond it. Teilhard tried to convince them of the intellectual validity of Christian faith in the modern age. He assured his readers that those who listen to the "voices of the earth" have reason to follow the gospel path of Christianity.

The Divine Milieu specifically addresses readers who are aware that "the physical sciences are endlessly extending the abyss of space and time" (13). Confronted by such immensity, many question whether human beings still matter, or whether the Christ of the Gospels and his ancient Jewish God have not been eclipsed by a universe grown dazzlingly vast. Teilhard understood their feelings of anxiety or fascination, but he also felt he could teach them "how to see God everywhere," including in all that is most hidden, most solid, and most ultimate in the world" (15).

Like Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises, Teilhard encouraged his readers "to see things as they are and to see them really and intensely." He calls it a "salutary exercise" to realize that the roots of our spiritual being go back into an unfathomable past. It has required the entire history of the universe for matter to become spirit, a spiritual history reflected in each one of us. Creation was not completed in the distant past but continues today in our work and actions. For those who see aright, nothing we do is devoid of spiritual significance. Our most natural and human labors are continuing creation and building the Kingdom of God (35).

God can be found in the most profane activity--and in our passivity as well. Another "salutary exercise" is to plumb the abyss that is our self and realize the depth and universality of our dependence. Teilhard drew here from his Ignatian spirituality, specifically the contemplation to attain love: all we are and have in life is a gift. What lies at the core of our being, the power to will and to love, is not of our making. Even before the long decades of discussion over nature versus nurture, whether genes or cultural upbringing affect us more, Teilhard insisted to his readers that our identities, who we are, depend less on the work of our own hands than on what has been given to us (49). None of us is self-made. But then he went on to assure his readers that our receiving, be it from nature or nurture, does not imply passive resignation, whether to suffering or evil in the world.

Teilhard argued strenuously that Christian asceticism has nothing to do with detachment or flight from the world. Jesus revealed a kingdom within us, here and now, slowly transforming and unifying the hearts of humankind (107). The enchantments of earth do us no harm, any more than human endeavor and progress compete with God (137). Rather, God's presence and action in the world occur in us and through us. (Modras, Ignatian Humanism, 191-193)

Now consider: 1) How can I continue God's creative activity in my work or my studies? 2) What does it mean to build the Kingdom of God? 3) Consider examples of actions of peace and progress that have transformed and unified human hearts. What made them peaceful? Progressive? 4) Can I remain detached from worldly anxiety while I help transform a beautiful but suffering world into a world with even more beauty and even more justice? 5) How is Jesus calling me now?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Week Seven, Exercise one: The Baptism of Jesus

During the Baptism of Jesus, it is entirely possible that the religious experience that Jesus had was an interior experience. The dove then is a symbol. The dove's hovering over the water helps us recall God's spirit hovering over the waters in the creation account in Genesis. The synoptic evangelists (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)are then saying that God's creativity continues in and through Jesus.

Did others near Jesus hear the voice that came from heaven? Do we definitively know? Please remember that heaven is a symbol for the transcendence and presence of God. Also recall our Ignatian understanding that God is in all things and all situations. Heaven is as present "on earth" as it is "in the sky." The voice from heaven is then a voice Jesus hears in his concrete historical situation of accepting baptism.

What we do know is that Jesus hears the voice "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased." He may have told his disciples about this experience later.

Pray with Luke 3:21-22. Imagine Jesus' hearing the voice of the Father/Mother. What does he feel in his heart?

Now imagine yourself hearing God tell you "You are my beloved son/daughter. With you I am well pleased." Do you believe it?

Ask for the grace that you need.