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?