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?