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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Week Six, Exercise Two: The Three Types of Persons

This exercise should be experienced between January 25 and January 28.

It is meant to help towards my freedom of choice in relation to God's call to me.

I have borrowed the following from David Fleming's translation of the Exercises (except for the Colloquy which I have adapted myself).

Ask for the grace that I may be free enough to choose to follow wherever God may be inviting me.

The Setting: This prayer period is devoted to a consideration of three types of persons. Each of them has come to have quite a few possessions--not always acquired in the most honest way or with the best of motives. In general, each one is a good person who would like to serve God, even to the extent that if these possessions were to come in the way of being open to God's invitation, each type of person would like to be free of them.

The first type--"a lot of talk but no action.". This person keeps saying: "I would like to stop being so dependent on all the things which I possess and which seem to get in the way of my giving my life unreservedly to God."
This type of person has all kinds of good intentions, but always remains so busy about all the "things" that fill up life that death finds such a one still thinking about making a bigger place for God in life.

The second type--"To do everything but the one thing necessary." This person says: "I certainly would like to be free of all attachments which get in the way of relating to God. I think maybe if I just work harder or I say more prayers or give more money to charity that would do it."
This type of person will just about do anything but face the block that hinders an availability to God's gracious invitation. It is as if this person is negotiating with God, trying to buy God off. So this type may do a number of good things during life, all the time avoiding the honest way of facing the real issue.

The third type--"to do God's will is my desire." This person says: "I would like to be rid of any attachment which gets in the way of God's invitation to a more abundant life. I am not sure what God is asking of me, but I want to be at a point of balance so that I can more easily move in the direction of God's call. My whole effort is to be sensitive to the movements of God's grace in my life and to be ready and willing to follow God's lead."
This type of person makes efforts neither to want to retain possessions nor to want to give them away unless the service and praise of God our Lord is the God given motivation for action. As a result, the graced desire to be better able to serve God becomes clearly the motivating factor for accepting or letting go of anything.

Colloquy: I ask Mary to pray for me, that I might be drawn to spiritual poverty so that I might freely follow God's lead in my life. Another way of saying this is that I am asking for spiritual freedom. Then I speak with Jesus, asking for the same grace.

I reflect and ask myself: what is my most significant attachment? Which type of person do I identify with? I speak honestly to Jesus about my attachments.

Then I turn to God the Father/Mother and speak honestly with God about my attachments. I ask for the grace I need.

I close with a prayer of gratitude for the insight I am gaining.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Week Six, Exercise One: The Strategy of Jesus, A Meditation With Thomas Merton

This exercise should be experienced between January 21 and January 25.

Thomas Merton is a well known American Catholic writer. A good deal of his writing deals with the distinction between the false self and the true self. The false self is created by us so that we can fit in to society, imbibing whatever aberations may exist in society. The true self is our self as we are known by God. This is similar to Ignatius' understanding of the two standards: the Dark Lord attempts to encourage us to labor with him by enticing us with riches, honor and pride, objects which all societies over value in various ways. That is, the Dark Lord encourages us to think that our false self is the only self that exists. Jesus invites us to labor with him by encouraging us to develop our true selves through meditation, prayer and acts of charity and justice. Recall how he does this--by motivating us to accept a spiritual poverty that leads to humility.

The following quotation was originally written by Merton in a book called New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972). I am grateful to have found it in Robert Inchausti's Seeds: Thomas Merton, page 3.

"All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, and love to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface."

Why are we afraid to just be our true selves, the mysterious reality we are before our mysterious God?

Why do we feel the need to construct a false self?

What are my most powerful egocentric desires? Can I feel the presence of the Dark Lord in those desires?

What would it take for me to live from my true self?

Now, what do I want to ask from Jesus?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Week Five, Exercise Two: The Strategy of Jesus/"The Two Standards"

This exercise should be experienced between January 18 and January 21. The purpose of the exercise is to engage the whole person of the exercitant (retreatant) and guide the exercitant through a meditation that reveals how the dynamic of Jesus undermines the dynamic of evil. The exercise engages not just our rational minds but also our imaginations as we associate evil personified (Satan) with darkness and terror and Jesus with light and joy.

David Fleming has translated this exercise into modern western terminology. If you have access to his version of the Exercises (Draw Me Into Your Friendship), I highly recommend it.

Pay attention to the strategy of the Dark Lord. He attempts to entice us with riches so that we then bask in glamour and honor. Becoming a slave of honor, we then become ensnared in pride. A person then ends up thinking "I am such and such" or "We are such and such." The strategy of Jesus is the opposite: he attracts us to the highest spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is not necessarily the same as actual poverty although one may ask to actually become poor through spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty is the ability and willingness to let go of all possessions if God asks this of us.

Having been given spiritual poverty, one is then attracted to peaceful living in the face of the contempt of others. Once again, it is not exactly desiring contempt, but being willing to face contempt should God ask it of us. In this case, I think in particular of John Lewis and his fellow freedom riders--white and black. Finally, having become spiritually poor and willing to suffer contempt, we become humble. Becoming humble, we become spiritually free. All of this follows the activity of Jesus: laid in a manger, an oppressed carpenter, an itinerant preacher open to all (rich and poor), dying on a cross.

One other note: a standard is a banner

Here is the text of Ignatius:


The one of Christ, our Commander-in-chief and Lord; the other of Lucifer, mortal enemy of our human nature.

Ask for the grace to become spiritually free.

First Prelude. The First Prelude is the narrative. It will be here how Christ calls and wants all under His standard; and Lucifer, on the contrary, under his.

Second Prelude. The second, a composition, seeing the place. It will be here to see a great field of all that region of Jerusalem, where the supreme Commander-in-chief of the good is Christ our Lord; another field in the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.

Third Prelude. The third, to ask for what I want: and it will be here to ask for knowledge of the deceits of the bad chief and help to guard myself against them, and for knowledge of the true life which the supreme and true Captain shows and grace to imitate Him.

First Point. The first Point is to imagine as if the chief of all the enemy seated himself in that great field of Babylon, as in a great chair of fire and smoke, in shape horrible and terrifying.

Second Point. The second, to consider how he issues a summons to innumerable demons and how he scatters them, some to one city and others to another, and so through all the world, not omitting any provinces, places, states, nor any persons in particular.

Third Point. The third, to consider the discourse which he makes them, and how he tells them to cast out nets and chains; that they have first to tempt with a longing for riches -- as he is accustomed to do in most cases -- that men may more easily come to vain honor of the world, and then to vast pride. So that the first step shall be that of riches; the second, that of honor; the third, that of pride; and from these three steps he draws on to all the other vices.

So, on the contrary, one has to imagine as to the supreme and true Captain, Who is Christ our Lord.

First Point. The first Point is to consider how Christ our Lord puts Himself in a great field of that region of Jerusalem, in lowly place, beautiful and attractive.

Second Point. The second, to consider how the Lord of all the world chooses so many persons -- Apostles, Disciples, etc., -- and sends them through all the world spreading His sacred doctrine through all states and conditions of persons.

Third Point. The third, to consider the discourse which Christ our Lord makes to all His servants and friends whom He sends on this expedition, recommending them to want to help all, by bringing them first to the highest spiritual poverty, and -- if His Divine Majesty would be served and would want to choose them -- no less to actual poverty; the second is to be of contumely and contempt; because from these two things humility follows. So that there are to be three steps; the first, poverty against riches; the second, contumely or contempt against worldly honor; the third, humility against pride. And from these three steps let them induce to all the other virtues.

Finish with the triple colloquy (Mary, Jesus, God the Father/Mother) or with another suitable prayer.

If you have time, repeat this exercise on another day. Perhaps you can let yourself daydream about it. Engage all of your senses in imagining Jesus and the Dark Lord.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Week Five, Exercise One: The Hidden Life of Jesus Continued

This exercise should be experienced between January 15 and January 18. It is not technically part of the Exercises of Ignatius, but it is completely consistent with Ignatian Spirituality.

Ask for the grace to know Jesus more fully.

Imagine Jesus as a teenager. He is continuing to learn the trade of carpentry from Joseph. How do they speak to each other? How well do they listen to each other? Can you see the expression on the face of Joseph when Jesus does something well? Can you see the expression on the face of Jesus while he listens to Joseph teach him?

How does Joseph react when Jesus makes a mistake? Remember Jesus learned. Are there any parenting lessons here?

Jesus learned how to speak from Mary and Joseph. He must also have learned how human beings love.

What other lessons did Jesus learn from Mary and Joseph? Imagine Jesus coming home with stories about other people his age. How would Mary and Joseph have responded?

We know from Luke 2 that Jesus sat in the temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Did this conversation continue with the rabbis in Nazareth? Imagine Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth learning Hebrew so that he might read the scriptures. He would have learned Aramaic from his parents and Hebrew from his rabbi.

What is the reaction of his rabbi as he listens to the teenage Jesus' passion for his faith? Is Jesus grateful to his rabbi for the time his rabbi devoted to teaching him?

We all imitate our teachers in certain ways. How did Jesus imitate his Jewish teachers?

Imagine Jesus as he interacts with people in Nazareth. How does he conduct himself in his business relations?

All of Jesus' learning and living prepared him for the enlightenment he received during his Baptism.

We continue to walk with the Lord as we contemplate his life.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Week Four, Exercise Two: Jesus Goes to The Temple at Age 12

This exercise should be experienced between January 11 and 14.

Ask for the grace to know Jesus more fully.

Consider how Jesus grew up. He worked with Joseph as a carpenter and learned from Mary and Joseph about their Jewish faith. In understanding Jesus, it is important to make a distinction between knowledge (scientia) and wisdom (sapentia). He was not born with perfect knowledge of all of the scientific and historical truths of the world. For example, he would not have had knowledge of Einstein's work on relativity theory (E=mc2). However, as the son of God, he would have had wisdom way beyond his chronological years. That is, he would have fully understood that God is love and that he too was constituted by love.

Even so, he grew in this wisdom as Luke 2:52 tells us: "And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man."

Prayerfully read Luke 2:41-52. What occurs to you? Can you imagine yourself in the scene? Imagine being awed by the knowledge of this wise 12 year old. What is it that he is saying. Can you feel his love for God as he speaks? Does it evoke love from you?

If Jesus is totally aware of his eternal origin from God, what does that say of our origins? What does that say our destiny?

What wisdom does God seek to give us?

What questions do you have for Jesus? Did he feel the same wonder and the same insecurities that each of us has felt as a 12 year old?

Pray as you have prayed this whole retreat. Close in a way that reverences our Messiah who grew up and felt what we felt at the age of twelve.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Week Four, Exercise One: Jesus Meets Us Where We Are

This exercise should be experienced between January 8 and 11.

As we continue in Phase Two of the Exercises, we recall how Jesus came to us in the form a vulnerable child. Take a moment to relish those Christmas graces. How amazing for God to come to humanity in the poverty, beauty, and neediness of a human child. It makes us think of the gentle way that God communicates. He does not hit us with the taskmaster's rod. He reveals himself as vulnerable as we are vulnerable. This truth is expressed in a very insightful way by Ignatian spiritual director and author Margaret Silf. In the twelfth chapter of her book Inner Compass, she writes:

My old school had the Gospel words interpreted by Chaucer as its motto: "And trouthe shal set thee free."

I lived with them for some years, emblazoned on my uniform and resounding out of every end-of-term assembly when we sang the school song. Gradually they insinuated themselves into my heart and sat there like an egg waiting for fertilization. It took over thirty years for that egg to come to ripeness, but when that finally happened, it took on a life of its own, as eggs do.

I knew all this when I began to think about these questions, and I knew, too, how central they are to any exploration of our inner landscape. But it was a bleak November evening when something clicked into place that helped me to take hold of the scale of the question, and it had to do with the matter of the gap. Let me explain.

The words that triggered my understanding that evening would have seemed trite, had they not been spoken by someone who had obviously found them in the depths of his own experience.
God comes to us, he said

*not where we should have been if we had made all the right choices in life,
*not where we could have been if we had taken every opportunity that God has offered us,
*not where we wish we were if we didn't have to be in the place where we find ourselves,
*not where we think we are because our minds are out of sync wtih our hearts,
*not where other people think we are or think we ought to be when they are attending to their own agendas.

I had heard this kind of wisdom often enough before. That God meets us where we really are is, after all, commonplace throughout our journeying. We all know that with our heads, but that evening I suddenly grasped the truth of it with my heart, and that moment of truth brought me a new degree of freedom--just as Jesus had said it would! (134-135)

As we contemplate Silf's words and continue along the path of contemplating the life of Christ, let us ask

*Where am I at this point in my life? Am I stuck in any situations that foster unfreedom and attachment? What does Jesus want to say to me in this situation?

Also, let's just soak in the truth that God meets us where we are in the person of Christ (or if we are not Christian, God meets us where we are in my own spiritual tradition). What does it mean that God does not meet us where we wish we were or where other people think we should be? What does it mean that God meets us where we are? Can we feel the freedom of that? Do we need to ask God for the freedom this truth gives?

Spend some time with the Lord. Perhaps just let the Lord put his arm around your shoulders and let him tell you: "I am here with you now, in the situation you are in now. I do not reject you. I accept you as you are, now!"

What do we want to tell the Lord now?

Consider these truths as we move into the hidden years of Jesus and into his public ministry.

Close with a prayer in your tradition.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Continuing Along the Path of Phase Two

According to St. Ignatius, the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises is to help the exercitant (retreatant) to make decisions free from disordered attachment. We reflected upon some of this as we meditated upon sin and mimesis in Phase One. We will find that the same theme reemerges in Phase Two, this time within the context of contemplating the life of Christ.

Attachment occurs in a variety of ways, mimesis being one of the most powerful. The genius of Ignatius was his ability to reflect on the nature of attachment and detachment as he contemplated the way of being and teaching of the one whose living was free from attachment and who liberated others from attachment. Consider the case of Matthew, the tax collector, and how the Lord freed him through fellowship.

In this vein, St. Ignatius developed meditations that are not strictly Biblical: meditations like the Two Standards, the Three Kinds of People, and the Three Kinds of Humility. St. Ignatius also developed rules of discernment for this phase and guidelines for making important life decisions.

In all of these meditations, let us pray for the availability to be open to the Lord's insights and to understanding the movements of consolation and desolation. In all of this the Lord is offering to guides us to make truly intentional decisions.

Finally, each of the great religious traditions has methods for reflecting on attachment and detachment. I trust each of us to find the method that best works for us.