Monday, September 18, 2017

Searching for God in Daily Prayer and Work

Let's keep the people affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma in our thoughts and prayers and lend a helping hand by a donation to a relief agency.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Peter asks Jesus if he has to forgive a person who's wronged him “as many as seven times.” Jesus responds with “seventy-seven times” and makes his point with a parable. The lesson: God forgives us so much, yet we can’t forgive one another for so little.

Forgiveness, in the final analysis, is a decision to will the good of the other even though we may still harbor negative feelings. It's a decision to let go of wrongs done to us and move on with our lives.

Bernini's Teresa in Ecstasy
I have been reflecting on the guidance of some holy men and women in Christianity these past few weeks.  Today I would like to highlight two Carmelite spiritual icons.

In 16th century Spain, at a time of dramatic exploration and religious upheaval, Teresa of Avila, along with fellow Carmelite John of the Cross, became an energetic reformer. They traveled to  monasteries and established numerous discalced--“barefoot”—communities emphasizing the contemplative aspects of their Rule.

Teresa’s writings had great influence. “Interior Castle” illustrates the individual's ascent to God in the imagery of a castle where the triune God dwells in seven mansions or chambers. These are comparable to the classic stages of prayer: the purgative way (trying to please God), the illuminative way (being pleasing to God), and the unitive way (ecstatic experience of God).
St. Therese of Lisieux

I love this prayerful reflection of Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing upset you, Let nothing startle you, all things pass; God does not change. Patience wins all it seeks. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone is enough.”

Therese of Lisieux, another Carmelite icon, lived and died in the late 19th century in Normandy, France. We know about her through the remarkable autobiography she was asked to write, “The Story of a Soul.” At 15, Therese joined two of her sisters at the discalced Carmelite monastery, and pursued a spiritual path that she came to call the “little way.” She died at 24, still struggling with doubts about God and yet holding a crucifix tenderly as she spoke her dying words, “My God, I love You.”

So, what is Therese’s “little way” that anyone can follow? For me, it includes three ingredients. First, Therese realized our insignificance; and yet God gave us significance.  God who is love created us in love so that God could be one with us. Therese personified humility: gratitude to God that she even existed.

Second, Therese recognized that God loved her unconditionally. She had a childlike trust, always receptive to whatever gifts God bestowed upon her.

Finally, Therese loved God unconditionally, even though she often wondered where God was in her life. She did small things extraordinarily well. She accepted the will of God in the daily routine of cloistered life. In every situation, Therese willed the good of the other.

Yes, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, Doctors of the Church, challenge us to integrate prayer into our daily lives so that we can "journey" into the awesome light of God forever.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Seeking God In All Things

Ignatius of Loyola
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Christian community in Rome, wrote, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Yes, we love God to the extent we care for one another. And who is my neighbor? The person next to me at home, in the workplace, in the shopping mall, in the parish community. Simply look around. Paul may ask us: do we offer a helping hand to others?

I have been reflecting on the guidance of some of the great movers and shakers in Christianity. Today I highlight Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. His “Spiritual Exercises,” the masterpiece of his own search for God in all things, can guide us, in stormy times and even in the midst of a hurricane.

Ignatius and his companions vowed to live in the midst of the world with their eyes focused on God, with Jesus as their companion, and with a mission to dedicate themselves “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam.” (to the greater glory of God).

Jesuit spirituality emphasizes discernment of the presence of God within our own selves, and also analyzing social situations in light of Gospel values. Deepening our life with God through the Spiritual Exercises, we can become missionary disciples to others, bearers of the good news, transforming this universe into a new heaven and a new earth.

The Exercises themselves are an organized process of spiritual growth with a variety of tools: rules for discernment of the Spirit and for “thinking with the Church,” an examination of conscience, meditations, and various prayer forms. Their purpose is to free us from earthly worries so as to find God in all things and recommit ourselves to Jesus and to service.

The meditations in the first stage aim to free us from self-centered attitudes and behaviors that get in the way of following Jesus. The second stage meditates on the life of Jesus, so that we can model ourselves after Jesus. The third stage focuses on the last supper, the passion and death of Jesus, signs of his tremendous love for us. The fourth stage concentrates on the risen Jesus so that we can become his hands and feet and voice and eyes in the world, finding God in all things.

A seasoned guide is indispensable in this process. I close with a prayer of Ignatius that could well be our own:
Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me; to you, O Lord, I return it. All is yours; dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me your love and your grace; for this is enough for me. Amen.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Labor Day Weekend-Gratitude For Our Life's Work

Thomas Aquinas
Labor Day Weekend is an invitation to take pride in and be grateful for our work.  Whatever your life’s work, do it well! Isn’t that what holiness is all about. Each of us has a mission. Look at the news about people pitching in to help hurricane and flood victims in Texas and Louisiana.

Today I would like to highlight a stellar 13th-century thinker whose work as a spiritual guide remains relevant. Thomas Aquinas can mentor us: about our true purpose, our spiritual life and our relationship with God.

Born in 1226, Thomas joined the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, completed his studies at the University of Paris, became a renowned professor and preacher, and constructed a “Summa Theologiae,” a comprehensive study of the Christian faith. Faith is a gift from God; it's also a risk but a reasonable one, Thomas argued. Yes, faith and reason, Thomas contended, are compatible.

Thomas’s monumental summary examines 512 questions, many of which we ourselves might ask. His process (the so-called article) is rigorous: the question (for example, whether there's a God); arguments against and for; the author's own point of view; and a reply to arguments with which the author disagrees. Colleges and universities today would be well served with a process like Thomas’s in debates about important issues.

Sacraments especially, for Thomas, are tangible encounters with the living Christ. By tangible, he means involving our senses. And by encounter, Thomas means a meeting in which the living Christ communicates with us personally: as he did with people centuries before. The sacraments may be grouped as follows:
Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist);
Healing (Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick); and
Commitment (Marriage and Holy Orders).

Thomas died in 1274, but his work endures. A theologian par excellence, his writings demonstrate that there are reasonable arguments for believing in God. Thomas was also a mystic who experienced God in prayer, and a poet whose hymns are still sung today, for example, “O salutaris Hostia and “Tantum ergo Sacramentum.”

Yes, St. Thomas Aquinas invites us to discipline our lives so that we can nurture and appreciate our faith. I offer for your consideration this prayer of his:
“Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and
a hope of finally embracing you.”

Sunday, August 27, 2017

St. Benedict's "Rule" as a Spiritual Guide

Benedict as a Spiritual Guide
Our global faith community has many heroes and heroines who teach us about true purpose, spiritual life and our relationship with God.

Today, I highlight Benedict of Nursia, whose 6th century life has inspired hundreds of thousands to commit themselves to seeking God together, especially in common liturgical prayer and in service to their fellow human beings.

Benedict crystallized the best of the monastic tradition in his Rule of Life. His initial followers gathered eight times a day for liturgical prayer. They ate meals together, often in silence. The “Rule of Benedict” can be summed up in a Latin motto: Ora et labora. (Pray and work)

Benedict established a monastic community at Monte Cassino, now a UNESCO world heritage site, near Naples in Italy. His style of monastic life spread so rapidly throughout Europe that the sixth and seventh centuries became known to some as the Benedictine centuries.

Today’s Benedictine abbeys continue the essential features of the Rule of Benedict. Benedictine spirituality in particular invites us to enter more fully into the liturgical life of the Church by participating in the Eucharist, praying the psalms and re-experiencing the story of our salvation in the liturgical year.

Benedictine spirituality invites us to enter more deeply into the Eucharist. Jesus gives his body and blood, his life, as a sacrifice of reconciliation between God and us and as proof of God’s love for us. Jesus then commands us to renew this sacred action by making present this once-and-for-all sacrifice in the bread and wine.

Jesus wanted to be with us until the end-time, through the presence of his Spirit and also through his transformed body. Bread and wine mystically become the living Christ. How can this be?  It is a mystery of faith.

But what is the purpose of the Eucharist? To form us into one faith community. Paul wrote: “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Cor 10:17) The Eucharist empowers us to reach out compassionately to people.  We "go forth" to “wash the feet” of our brothers and sisters in daily life.

Benedictine spirituality invites us to pray the psalms: songs and prayers mostly attributed to King David and formed into a biblical collection of five books in the 2nd century before Jesus. These 150 poems express a range of human emotions: hymns of praise to God, laments in light of national disasters such as hurricanes, royal psalms for a special occasion, individual laments and thanksgivings.

Benedictine spirituality invites us to re-experience the story of our salvation through the liturgical calendar: which begins with Advent, where we re-experience the hope of our forebears for a Messiah, then moves to Christmas, the birth of the Messiah, then through lent to the dying and rising of Jesus at Easter, and finally to the end of the liturgical year where Jesus Christ comes in glory.

Yes, Saint Benedict inspires us to seek God, especially in liturgy and in service, so that we, re-energized in the life of God, may become the "hands and feet and voice and ears" of the living Christ in our everyday lives.