Who Are The Meek That Are Blessed?

One more follow-up from the retreat I gave this past weekend.

During one of my talks, I spoke about the Beatitudes, which included sharing some thoughts on what it means to be “meek.” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth is one of the difficult Beatitudes, because we tend to confuse meekness with weakness.

Yesterday, one of the retreatants sent me this poem by Mary Karr, titled Who the Meek Are Not. It is a different way of understanding weakness than some I had suggested, and I love the image the poem conveys.

Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
in the rice-paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.


I Accept the Sign of the Cross

During the retreat I gave this past weekend, I spoke in one of my talks about what it signifies when we make the sign of the cross. At one level, it signifies our belief in the Trinity. But, I suggested, it also signifies that we choose to follow Jesus fully and completely – all the way to the cross, something that has consequences for how we live our lives.

At the end of the retreat, one of the women gave me a card from her parish’s recent Lenten mission. The card read:

I accept the Sign of the Cross

…on my forehead – to learn to follow Jesus;

…on my ears – that I may hear the voice of God;

…on my eyes – that I may see the glory of God;

…on my lips – that I may respond to the word of God;

…on my heart – that Christ may dwell there by faith;

…on my shoulders – that I may bear the gentle yoke of Christ;

…on my hands – that Christ may be known in my work;

…on my feet – that I may walk in the way of Christ.

I Make the Sign of the Cross, the promise of eternal life to all who are faithful to Christ.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I share this, in part, as a reminder that we ought to think seriously about what we do when we make the sing of the cross. I fear that we often do it almost automatically, a quick swipe of our hands from somewhere in the area of our forehead, to somewhere in the area of our chest, to a swing from shoulder to shoulder, with no thought to our action.

Signing ourselves with the cross means something. What does it mean to you?

I Am Yours, What Do You Want of Me?

I spent the last several days at Christ the King Retreat House in Buffalo, MN, leading 52 women on a retreat organized around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It was a blessed time and I am enormously grateful for all that God gave us over these days.

At the end of a talk focused on Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, I shared with the participants a poem by Teresa of Avila, that I think expresses beautifully a central aspect of the attitude Ignatius is hoping we will develop through our prayer with his Exercises. Here it is; perhaps you will find it a moving prayer to pray:

I am Yours and born for you,
What do You want of me?

Majestic Sovereign, Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What do You want of me?

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do you want of me?

Good Lord, what do you want of me?
What is this wretch to do?
What work is this,
This sinful slave to do?
Look at me, Sweet Love,
Sweet Love, look at me,
What do you want of me?

In your hand I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse – Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do you want of me?

Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness, Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What do you want of me?

Give me wealth or want,
Delight or distress,
Happiness or gloominess,
Heaven or hell,
Sweet life, sun unveiled,
To you I give all.
What do you want of me?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?

Give me then wisdom.
Or for love, ignorance,
Years of abundance,
Or hunger and famine.
Darkness or sunlight,
Move me here or there:
What do you want of me?

If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor, I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert or fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will:
What do you want of me?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
Davie pained or exalted high,
Jonas drowned, or Jonas freed:
What do you want of me?

Silent or speaking,
Fruitbearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting.
You alone live in me:
What do you want of me?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me.

Divine Mercy

This Second Sunday of Easter is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. We celebrate God’s great mercy in giving us a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As today is also the day of the canonization of Pope John Paul II, I thought I’d share some of his words on divine mercy.

Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ’s own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of his mission as Messiah….

Christ proclaims by his actions even more than by his words that call to mercy which is one of the essential elements of the Gospel ethos. In this instance it is not just a case of fulfilling a commandment or an obligation of an ethical nature; it is also a case of satisfying a condition of major importance for God to reveal himself in his mercy to [humans]….

All the subtleties of love become manifest in the Lord’s mercy towards those who are his own: he is their Father…Mercy is the content of intimacy with their Lord, the content of their dialogue with him…

Mercy is in a certain sense contrasted with God’s justice, and in many cases is shown to be not only more powerful than that justice but also more profound….Love is “greater” than justice: greater in the sense that it is primary and fundamental. Love, so to speak, conditions justice and, in the final analysis, justice serves love. The primacy and superiority of love vis-a-vis justice [is] revealed precisely through mercy. This seemed so obvious to the psalmists and prophets that the very term justice ended up by meaning the salvation accomplished by the Lord and his mercy. Mercy differs from justice, but is not in opposition to it.

Blessings on this Divine Mercy Sunday on which we also celebrate the canonoizations of both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

As for me, I will be leaving Christ the King Retreat House later today, filled with gratitude for all of the blessings God has bestowed upon me and the retreatants this weekend.

It Is Impossible For Us Not to Speak

The Lineamenta for last year’s Synod of Bishops (for those who may be unfamiliar with that term, a limeamenta is a text written in preparation for a General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops) reminds us that we can transmit the Gospel to others only on the basis of our own personal encounter with Christ. In simple terms, we can’t share what we don’t have. We can’t effectively evangelize others unless we ourselves have been touched by Christ.

And if we have been touched by Christ, we can’t help but share it. That truth is illustrated in today’s first Mass reading, which is taken from the early part of The Acts of the Apostles, a book from which we hear each year in the Easter season. In today’s reading, the leaders, elders and scribes are upset at the boldness of Peter and John in proclaiming the Gospel and they want to put an end to the spread of the message of Christ. So they bring Peter and John before the Sanhedrin and order them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. However, Peter and John, in no uncertain terms, proclaim: “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.

When I read those lines, I think of the feeling I have at the end of a retreat (and that I hope the women here with me this weekend feel by the end of our time together tomorrow). I come to the end of a retreat, filled with all of the blessings of the experience, overflowing with joy, and marveling about how great God has been to me. And I have the burning desire to climb to the highest mountain and yell out to all the world, Hey, don’t you know what is going on here? Can’t you see that (in the words of the Hopkins poem) all the world is charged with the grandeur of God?

That is the urge that I think Peter and John are expressing. Once we’ve experienced God, we can’t not share what we have seen and heard. For me, that urge prompted me to become a spiritual director and retreat leader. For others, it plays out in a different way. But however it plays out, it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard. When we experience God, we are changed and I think it is impossible for us to sound any way other than passionate about a deep experience of God.

Making Space

I am at Christ the King Retreat House in Buffalo, MN, where I am giving a weekend women’s Ignatian retreat that began last night.

The women who are journeying with me this weekend understand something that Judy Brown expresses so well in her poem Fire: that we need to make space for God. Brown writes:

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
require attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

I recognize that not everyone can get away for a retreat that runs from Thursday evening through Sunday early afternoon. But we can all take some time – we can all make some space – so that we can hear God speaking to us.

How will you do that today?

Helping in the Face of Maybes

As I pulled out of the parking lot near the law school into a stream of heavy traffic late yesterday afternoon, I saw a man walking down the line of cars begging, carrying a sign in his hands. I immediately opened the car window and pulled out of my bag a $10 gift card for Davanni’s, located a few blocks away, and waited to drive near enough to the man to give it to him.

As slowly I neared him (traffic was quite bad), I noticed the man behaving strangely. He would sometimes be walking toward the cars begging (without any success) and other times be standing looking off yelling. I first thought he might be talking to someone, but it then seemed he was directing his apparent anger to a nearby lamp post. As he turned again toward the line of cars and began to move closer to my car, I considered whether I should just close my window and look away, wondering if he might pose any danger. I actually did momentarily close it, but almost immediately opened it again.

The man walked toward me with his sign, which read “Homeless. Anything would help.” I motioned him over and handed him the gift card, smiling and saying, “Here. There is $10 on this for the Davanni’s that is just over on the next street, on the corner of 12th and Hennepin. Go over there and get yourself something to eat.” As I spoke, he was looking directly at me with clear eyes, and when I finished he said, “Okay. Thank you.” And he walked directly over to where his bag was, picked it up and began walking in the direction of Davanni’s.

Maybe the man was a con artist trying to get what he could from people. Maybe he was so crazy that he would drop the gift card on the steet or into the gutter.

But maybe he was just a tired and hungry man without a home, and mine were the first kind words he heard spoken to him all day. And maybe sitting inside of a restaurant with a sandwich or pizza and a soft drink in front of him on the table would go a little way toward filling his body and soul.

I’ll never know which of a long list of maybes was actually the case. But I know I would have deeply regretted it if I had closed my window and looked away. In a situation like that, I’d much rather risk being “taken” than not take a chance that might make a real difference to someone.

Praying With the Resurrection Through Poetry

In addition to praying with the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, you might consider reflecting on some poems with resurrection themes as a way to deepen your prayer during this Easter season.

I often encourage people to pray with poetry. Pope Benedict expressed well why poetry can be so moving in our prayer in one of his general audiences. He spoke to the people that day about artistic expression as the “way of beauty,” saying

Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another – before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music – to have experienced a deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter – a piece of marble, or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds – but something far greater, something that “speaks,” something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul….

Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, opened to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward….

[T]here are artistic experssions that are true roads to God, the supreme Beauty – indeed, they are a help to us in growing in our relationship with Him in prayer.

You may have some of your own favorite prayers with resurrection themes, but here are a couple you might reflect on:

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection, Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Resurrection, John Donne

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in Thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day.

The Death of Death, Scott Cairns

Put fear aside. Now
that He has entered
into death on our behalf,
all who live
no longer die
as men once died.
That ephemeral occasion
has met its utter end.
As seeds cast to the earth, we
will not perish,
but like those seeds
shall rise again—the shroud
of death itself having been
burst to tatters
by love’s immensity.

Remember: it is still Easter!

Personal Encounter with the Risen One

During these days following Easter, we listen to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. These are scenes I love praying with. And never listen to me when I say that one or another is my favorite (which I have at times claimed of Emmaus, of the scene of Jesus and the disciple on the beach, and of ….); each one of the accounts touches me deeply, albeit in different ways.

Today’s Gospel gives us St. John’s account of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Christ. Mary, who obviously has deep love for Jesus, stands weeping outside of his empty tomb, sad and confused. Not only is Jesus dead, but his body is gone – stolen, she fears.

But then she sees a man that she mistakes for a gardener. “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you have ladi him, and I will take him.” And then the man speaks her name. “Mary.” And with that one word, everything changes. Grief turns to joy as Mary recognizes Jesus and runs to him and embraces him.

In the words of one commentator,

The encounter was deeply personal. By speaking her name, Jesus touched her at the center of her heart, the place where all her fears lurked, the place where the struggle between the darkness of sin and the light of God’s love was the fiercest. There, in the depth of her heart, Mary received the love of God, and her sadness was turned into a joy that moved her to tell the other disciples: “I have seen the Lord.”

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis invites “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” And that encounter is essential to our growth in discipleship. Quoting Pope Benedict, Francis writes, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Jesus seeks the same personal encounter with each of us that Mary and his disciples experienced. All we need to do is accept his invitation

What Difference Does Easter Make to You?

My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle in Minneapolis, writes a reflection for his community each week. This past week, he reported that he asked those who would be entering the Church at the Easter Vigil this year to reflect on the question: What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different for you this time around?

He went on to invite all of us to reflect on the same question. Bill writes:

Churches across the world welcome new members to the faith every Easter. They can easily become – and rightly so – the sacramental focus of the vigil celebration. But precisely because of what they are doing in professing a communal faith and becoming part of a faith community, their actions should be an invitation to us to do more than simply watch it happen. Their profession of faith, their coming to the water, their joining us at the table should also be an invitation to renew our own faith and to ask ourselves the same questions that we ask them.

What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different for you this time around? What inspires you to embrace your faith so deeply this Easter?

Conversion is not a singular event. It is ongoing. It is repetitive in some ways, yes, in that the liturgical year cycles through the same stories. But if we take our faith seriously, those stories should never be heard exactly the same way twice. The mystery of the Incarnation, God entering human history in our image and likeness, should be entered into more deeply each time we share it. How much more so the mystery of the Resurrection? How great the invitation to ponder more deeply the messages of the empty tomb: light is greater than darkness; love is more powerful than apathy; life is stronger than death.

So…What difference does Easter make to you this year? How is The Story different to you this time around? What inspires you to embrace your faith so deeply this Easter? As you come to the life giving water, as you make your profession of faith, as you come to the table of love…What difference does it make?

We’ve finished participating in our Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter liturgies. We’ve had our big Easter dinner. This might be a good time for you to reflect on Bill’s question. What difference does Easter make to you this year?