A Summer Day

On this summer morning, how to you answer the questions Mary Oliver asks in her poem The Summer Day?

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the saints who holds a very special place in my heart. When I visualize the Communion of Saints, Ignatius is one of those who stand front and center.

St. Ignatius has been a very influential figure in my spiritual growth. One of my most life-changing experiences was doing his Spiritual Exercises.

A foundational element of the Spiritual Exercises is a reflection called the Principle and Foundation, which is prayed with very early in the Exercises. There is little better I can offer you on this day than an invitation to spend some time reflecting on wha Ignatius considered to be the key to the spiritual life; for Ignatius the Principle and Foundation epitomizes the entire message of the Spiritual Exercises and contains a skeletal summary of the inner journey.

Here is David Fleming’s translation of the Principle and Foundation:

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.

Happy Feast Day to all of my Jesuit friends and all of us formed by Ignatius’ vision.

In several Gospel readings this week, Jesus tries to convey a sense of the Kingdom of heaven by analogy. The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field…the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls…the Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown in the sea…the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household…and so on.

Jesus uses a lot of real world analogies. That he does serves as an important reminder to us. While there is an other-worldly aspect to Kingdom – true and actual union with God, “heaven” – it is also the case, as Jesus says from time to time, that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now.

In the words of Beatrice Bruteau in The Holy Thursday Revolution, “The kingdom of God is not something in the far future that is going suddenly to come down from heaven and settle on you and magically turn everything right. You yourselves are It. It’s in you and among you; you have to do It or It will never come.”

That realization is one that ought to inspire us to action right here and right now.

Even Now I Know

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus. We all know Martha, of “Martha and Mary,” sisters of Lazarus. Usually when we think of Martha, we think of the exchange between her and Jesus when Martha is bustling around working while her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus feet. Martha complains, and Jesus admonishes her that “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” That scene seems to diminish Martha (notwithstanding the fact that Martha took care of necessary tasks and the world could not survive without its Marthas).

What most draws me to Martha, however, is her expression of faith that hear in today’s Gospel from John.

Martha’s beloved brother Lazarus had been ill and Martha had been expecting Jesus to show up to heal him, as he had healed so many others. She is bitterly disappointed and more than a bit upset with Jesus when he finally arrives. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she accuses.

But she doesn’t stop there, adding, “even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” And when Jesus asks if she believes that he is the resurrection and the life, that anyone who lives and believes in him will never die, Martha affirms, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

This is Martha’s shining moment. She demonstrates enormous faith, even as she is mourning her brother’s death. We don’t know what significance Martha’s affirmation had for Jesus at that moment, but in his humanness, her affirmation surely meant something to Him. It is an affirmation that reveals the glory of God.

In terms of our own lives, the Women’s Bible Commentary frames the question Martha faced this way: “Can I let go of the limits that one places on what is possible in order to embrace the limitless possibilities offered by Jesus?” Can we?

Several years ago, I gave a short post-communion reflection at a retreat house on the feast of St. Martha. You can listen to the podcast of that reflection here:

Johann Sebastian Bach died on this day in 1750. A devout Lutheran, Bach recognized his musical abilities as a gift from God. Music was, for him, an act of praise and devotion and most of his compositions were written for use in church.

Two days before his death, and virtually blind, Bach dictated from his deathbed his final work, a chorale Before Thy Throne I Come. It is a prayer we might all pray.

Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit
O Gott, und dich demfctig bitt
Wend dein genadig Angesicht
Von mir, dem armem Sunder nicht.

Before your throne I now appear,
O God, and bid you humbly,
Turn not your gracious face From me,
a poor sinner.

Ein selig end emir bescher,
am jugsten Tag etwecke mich,
Herr, dabich dich schau ewiglich;
Amen, amen, erhore mich.

Confer on me a blessed end,
On the last day awaken me,
Lord, that I may see you eternally;
Amen, amen, hear me.

In today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Kings, God appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”

This is a little like finding the lamp with the genie: “Your wish is my command. Ask anything.”

ANYTHING! What would you ask for?

It is so tempting to think small, to ask for things that satisfy our immediate material needs and causes of pain and anxiety. My current house has been on the market for a couple of months and we don’t yet have a buyer. Since we have already closed on the purchase of another one, this is no small source of anxiety for me. How tempting to say, “Lord, please, just let someone make an offer on my house today.”

But in our hearts, we know that that sort of wish would not be worthy of the gift God offered Solomon.

Solomon knew that. He doesn’t ask “for a long life for [himself], nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies.” Instead, Solomon asks for wisdom: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”

I sat with the passage this morning, and with Solomon’s response. What would I ask for? My first thought, not surprisingly given the level of conflict in Gaza and elsewhere was for an end to conflict, an end to war and violence.

And for myself? What if I could wish for something for myself? I know the answer to that; it is part of my prayer often. Let me love more, Lord. Let me love like you.

What would you ask for?

P.S. In full disclosure, I do also pray that someone soon makes an offer to buy my house. :)

The responsorial psalm for today’s Mass is from Psalm 84, a psalm described by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr as a pilgrim song.

In the most powerful lines for me in that psalm, the psalmist shares, “I had rather one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I had rather lie at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

When I read those words this morning, I was reminded of Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem Psalm. It harkens back to a different psalm but conveys the same longing and desire expressed in today’s psalm. The poem always touches me. Perhaps it will touch you also.

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in the first light.


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