A Tiny Whispering Sound

Today’s first Mass reading was a perfect one for the final Mass of the Ignatian Colleagues Program retreat I’ve been on the directing team for this week.  Elijah is told to go and stand on the mountain and the Lord will be passing by.  Then we read

A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Fr. Jack Trealor reminded the retreatants as they leave here of how important it is that they find a way to incorporate some silence in their lives.  It is easy to hear God at a retreat house, where for the most part the only sounds are birds and water lapping on the shore of Lake Winnebago.  But making space to hear God in a world that is filled with noise – internal as well as external – takes intentionality.

It has been a wonderful week here.  I am always deeply moved by seeing how much God can accomplish with the retreatants in such a short period of time.  I pray as they leave here tomorrow morning that they can bring some of the silence of this place home with them.


How We Live, Not What We Force

I am reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wonderful book, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.  I could write a month of posts based simply on reflections prompted by what he has written.

Today, however, let me share this one simple observation Rabbi Sacks makes in talking about Abraham.

Abraham does not seek to impose his views on others.  Yet his contemporaries sense that there is something special, Godly, about him.  Melchizedek, king of Salem, salutes him with the words, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth’ (14:19).  The Hittites say to him, ‘You are a prince of God among us’ (23:6).  Abraham impresses his contemporaries by the way he lives, not by the way he forces, or even urges, others to live.  He seeks to be true to his faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith.  That seems to me a truth for the twenty-first century.

Abraham and his relationship to God provides inspiration for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  But, as Rabbi Sacks goes on to remind us “all who embrace Abraham must aspire to live like Abraham.”  And living like Abraham requires being “open to the divine presence wherever it reveals itself” and “never [believing] that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. God is larger than any nation, language, culture or creed.  He lives within our group, but he also lives beyond.”

What Does Offering Hospitality Look Like?

Yesterday afternoon I gave the reflection on the readings at Mass here at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, where I am one of the directors on an Ignatian Colleagues Program retreat.

The reading that prompted my reflection was from the first book of Kings, where Elijah travels to Zarapeth and asks a widow for a cupful of water.  Here is Elijah, showing up after traveling from the cave in which he has been hiding – I imagine him hungry, thirsty and probably looking a bit worse for the wear after his trek.

When Elijah asks for water, the widow doesn’t run from him in fright.  She doesn’t turn up her nose in disgust at his appearance.  She doesn’t tell him to get his own water. She doesn’t say the water is only for the good people of the town.

She brings him water.  And then she feeds him.

Hospitality is about welcoming everyone.  The Jewish people are constantly told in the Hebrew scripture to welcome the stranger; that just as they were once sojourners in a foreign land, so they should care for the sojourners among them.  Jesus took up the same theme in the judgment passage in Matthew 25 – “when I was a stranger you welcomed me.”

In my reflection, I talked about some of my own experiences of what the offer of hospitality looks like, and encouraged folks to consider what does it mean to offer hospitality – for each of them as individuals, for the universities of which they are a part, for their faith communities, and for our country.

It seems pretty clear to me what hospitality doesn’t look like:

It doesn’t look like separating young children from their parents at the border and putting the children into cages.

It doesn’t look like Attorney General Sessions announcing that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence will no longer qualify for asylum.

It doesn’t look like order guards destroying bottles of water left for migrants in the desert.  (To be clear re these last examples, I am not saying US immigration laws wouldn’t benefit from some systematic reform, but these actions are not that.)

Hospitality doesn’t look like Islamophobia or anti-semitism – both of which are on the rise in the US.

And hospitality doesn’t look like accosting random people who are not white on the streets and telling them that they should go back to Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

How do we promote a spirit of hospitality?  Individually and communally.


I Heard My Father Call My Name

Today’s Gospel is the familiar passage in Luke that we often refer to as Finding Jesus in the Temple.  Twelve-year old Jesus and his family have been in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  When the group from Nazareth begins to return home, Jesus is not among them.  When Mary and Joseph retrace their steps, the ultimately find him in the temple with the teachers.

In the typical translation, Jesus response to his parents’ when they tell him they have been looking for him with great anxiety is “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Louis Savary, in his book The New Spiritual Exercises, offers a different translation.  Savary reports that among the Aramaic- speaking people in Palestine, the phrase Jesus used would more accurately have been understood as “I heard my Father call my name, and how could I not respond.”   Savary goes on to say that that translation

Showed that Jesus’ reply to his parents was announcing three things: (1) the fact that, during the Passover time, Jesus had received his divine calling; (2) that he knows who his true Father is; and (3) that he has responded to his father’s call…  He had said “yes to that call, just as his mother had said “yes” to the divine call in her youth, and just as Joseph had said “yes” to the call he had received in a dream…

And, for Jesus, that yes changed everything: The next time we see him in the Gospels, he has the powerful experience of his father as he is baptized in the River Jordan.

Jesus heard the call of his father and he said yes.

When I read this passage, and when I reflect on Jesus’ response to his parents, I pray: let me always hear your voice and let me always respond as Jesus did.

Love Takes Work

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  While traditional depictions of the Sacred Heart have never moved me, the essence of this feast day does.  Fr. James Martin’s tweet this morning expresses why:

On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we are reminded that Jesus’s love is a sacrificial love. He reveals this most of all on the Cross. Love takes work; love is often not rewarded; and many times love is hard. The asceticism of love is the most important spiritual discipline.

The love we celebrate today is not the warm fuzzy feeling we have toward those we feel close to, not a tender emotion.  Rather, the agapic love we are reminded of today is, in Aquinas’ words, “the effective willing of the good of the other.” Agapic love is a choice we make – it is to will the good of another in such as way that we effect that good for the other.  It is willing the good of the other person and acting to make that good real for him.   It is really a choice, rather than a feeling.  It is the choice to see other people as God sees them.

It is not great challenge to feel love toward those who are good to us.  But the love we celebrate today – the self-sacrificial love for the sake of the other, a love that is not necessarily returned or rewarded in any other way – is not easy and takes work.

Like a Little Child

Walking home from the gym this morning, I found myself walking behind a mother and her toddler.  I actually heard the mother before I noticed the two of them them; it was hard not to as the woman was speaking quite loudly, way more loudly than necessary, especially at 8:00am on a Saturday morning.

The mom had a large Slurpee in one hand (that I assume came from the gas station store on the corner) and her phone in the other, the latter of which occupied most of her attention.  I watched the child stop periodically to point at a particularly beautiful flower or to look at something on a lawn, or something else that caught its interest.  The only response that yielded from the mother was to loudly tell the child to keep moving or walk straight.  No attention to what the child was noticing, no encouragement of the child’s curiosity, no smile.

Perhaps they really had to get somewhere, although the women was not walking particularly quickly.

I was deeply saddened by the scene.  How long, I wondered, before the child’s natural curiosity would be dampened.  What effect on the child of being consistently discouraged  from stopping to notice what was around it?

And what came to mind was: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

James and John or Solomon?

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, James and John approach Jesus as they are traveling toward Jerusalem.  They (somewhat boldly) tell Jesus they want him to do whatever they ask of him.  Jesus replies by asking, as he asks people so often, “What do you wish me to do for you?”

And what is the response of James and John? “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” The response is particularly jarring because this passage in Mark follows immediately after one of Jesus’ predictions of his passion. James and John don’t seem particularly anxious to be at Jesus’ left and right during his suffering, but only in his glory.

What always comes to mind when I hear this passage and the response of James and John is the passage in the Second Book of Chronicles, where God appears to Solomon and says “Whatever you ask, I will give you.”  Salomon could ask for riches, for power, for glory – anything!  What Salomon asks for, however, is “wisdom and knowledge” to govern God’s people.

The contrast is striking. James and John want to be rewarded with the choicest seats in the house; Solomon asks for the grace he needs to carry out the task to which God as appointed him.

Jesus asks the same of you and I: What do you wish me to do for you?

How do you reply?

Does your response sound more like James and John’s or like Solomon’s?