The Dalai Lama on Compassion

This morning’s Keynote at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies featured the Dalai Lama. After some opening remarks, he responded to questions by two panelists about the ongoing dialogue between Buddhists and scientists.

In discussing the value of science, one of the points the Dalai Lama made repeatedly is one he has made before: the need to ground compassion in something other than religion. Starting from the premise that all people desire happiness, he argues that, both because many people are “nonbelievers” and because religious faith sometimes leads to suffering, the way to grow compassion is to help people understand that a more compassionate mind leads to greater well-being, whereas anger and fear are bad for health and happiness. Therein lies the value of science in his view: to demonstrate without resort to religion why compassion is beneficial.

The problem with that approach from the point of view of a Christian is that it treats as the ultimate goal happiness in this life. Although I appreciate the desire to find a language all can speak, for me it is far too small a goal to seek happiness in this life, a life that is only a speck when measured against eternity.

The Dalai Lama addressed those who believe in God by asking a challenging question: If one seriously believes everyone is created by one God (or Allah – or whatever name one gives God), then how can one ever give harm to others? If one truly believes one God created us all, then we are all brothers and sisters, and how can one bring harm to one’s brother or sister?

Rarely does the Dalai Lama say something that I find bordering on insulting, but he did so today. Referencing his conversations with the late Wayne Teasdale, a Christian monk, he said that when Teasdale asked him to explain emptiness, the Dalai Lama declined, expressing concern that hearing about emptiness might adversely affect Teasdale’s faith in God. Immediately thereafter, he talked about another Christian who tried to convince him that God exists. Since Buddhism has no concept of a creator God, he listened with respect, but found the explanation “useless.” The idea that a Buddhist could hear about God without his Buddhist beliefs being shaken but that a Christian’s faith would be brought into doubt by hearing about emptiness was strange to say the least.

Notwithstanding that one comment, as usual I found much in the Dalai Lama’s talk I will ponder.


Fostering An Interdisciplinary Field of Contemplative Studies

I’m in Boston, where I am attending International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, sponsored by the Mind & Life Institute, an organization that aims to learn from the “pairing the oldest wisdom traditions with cutting-edge scientific research, contemplative science uncovers groundbreaking and holistic insights into the human mind and condition.” The Symposium “seeks to encourage and help shape a cohesive interdisciplinary field of contemplative studies.”

I’ll be speaking Sunday morning, delivering a talk titled A Comparison of the Thematic Unfolding of Experiences in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Tibetan Buddhist Lam.rim Meditations. It’s a handful of a title, I know, but I couldn’t come up with a shorter one. In the meantime, I have an amazing array of sessions to choose from over the next two days, supplemented by various meditation sessions.

Tonight was the opening keynote, delivered by Diana Chapman Walsh, former president of Wellesley College. She gave an inspiring talk on Education for Ethical and Compassionate Leadership, focusing on the need for higher education (and society as a whole) to shift from emphasizing independence and competition to emphasizing connection, mutuality and interdependence.

Tomorrow morning opens with a Keynote by the Dalai Lama. I always enjoy his talks and am looking forward to it.

I’ll try to share some other thoughts about the symposium tomorrow or Saturday.

Where is the Invitation?

Our speaker at Weekly Manna yesterday was my friend Martha (Marty) Storz, the Bernhard M. Christensen Chair in Religion and Vocation at Augsburg College. Marty’s talk was titled, “The Big Questions.” She used the questions posed by God in Chapters 3 and 4 of Genesis as her frame for talking about discernment.

Marty began her talk by sharing a conversation she had had with a student who was trying to decide whether to accept a prestigious internship in another city or stay home, where her beloved grandmother was ailing and on her way to death. The student, torn between an internship that could have an enormous impact on her career and the ability to spend precious time with her grandmother, asked, “What should I do?” Marty’s reply was “Where is the invitation?”

The reframing of the question, she observed, made an enormous difference to the student. The two questions are very different.

“What should I do” implies I am the moving agent, free to choose unrestrictedly. “Where is the invitaion? reminds us that we are always responding to God’s call, trying to discern where God is calling us. Changing the question, completely changes how one approaches discerning between various options.

Sometime the best answer to a question is another question.

Santiago de Compostela

One year ago today, I walked into Santiago. As this anniversary has been approaching, I have been feeling my desire to walk my next Camino increasing. God willing, I’ll walk either the Norte or the Portuguese routes in the next year.

For today, though, I just smile as I remember the gratitude and joy of that day. I remember and say a prayer for all of my fellow peregrinos.

Here is what I wrote last year on the evening of my arrival in Santiago:

I arrived at the central square in front of the cathedral in Santiago at ten o’clock this morning. I walked the last 10.5 kilometers, as I did much of yesterday, with my friend Beth, Jack (from Ireland), Hans (from the Netherlands) and Jed (from Seattle). As we stood taking in the sight of the cathedral, there was not a dry eye among us.

After we simply stood there a while, someone took this picture for us:


After a brief visit to the Cathedral to say a prayer of thanksgiving, we went to the pilgrim reception office to pick up our Compostela signifying our completion of the Camino. (As I went to the counter and handed my pilgrim credentials to the person behind the counter, I burst into tears.). After securing a place to stay, we went to the noon pilgrim mass.

Imagine my delight when the celebrants processed in and I recognized one of them. George Witt, SJ, one of my former spiritual directors and the person who guided me through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, had led a NY group that walked the last 100 kilometers of the route I walked and they arrived in Santiago yesterday afternoon.

It was incredibly special to (quite unexpectedly) be here in Santiago with someone who has played such a vital role in my spiritual journey. What a gift!

Here are George, Noelle (a long-time friend from St. Ignatian retreat house), and me at lunch after mass:


Tomorrow I will wander around Santiago, go again to the pilgrim mass and spend some more time at the cathedral. Thursday I will put my hiking shoes and pack on again for another 4-5 days of walking to Finisterre and Muxia. Although some are content to end their walking here in Santiago, I feel the need (as do many others) to walk to the ocean. So that is what I will do. (Heck- what is another 115-120 kilometers after you’ve already walked 790?)

Discerning My Place in the World: Identifying and Prioritizing My Values

This afternoon was the third session of an 8-session program series I am offering at UST Law School over the course of this academic year on Discerning My Place in the World.

I began by sharing an exercise we do with students on our semi-annual vocation retreats that asks them to identify and rank values that are important to them. I gave them a few minutes to consider their own feelings about the values listed. I then posited the question whether many of the values listed are primary or secondary values. The bulk of my talk centered around St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, which seeks to place the things the things of this world in the context of our deepest vocation: choosing what deepens our life in God, helping us develop as loving persons.

After my talk, I gave the participants time for silent reflection, after which we had time for sharing both in small groups and in the larger group.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:04 and there is a short pause early on.) A copy of the two handouts I distributed and which are mentioned in the talk are here and here.

Salvation as Transfiguration

As part of our Adult Faith Formation program at Our Lady of Lourdes, we are watching the Robert Barron Catholicism video series. This morning’s segment was the fourth in the series, Mary, the Mother of God.

I thought the video was quite good and the discussion we had afterward was very fruitful.

Among the things in the video that stuck with me was Fr. Barron’s description of salvation in the context of his discussion of the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption, which refers to the fact that Mary, through the power of God, is present in body and soul in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Fr. Barron described salvation as “the transfiguration of the body and soul into Heaven,” the perfection and elevation of the whole self. Not an escape from the world or the body, but the perfection and elevation of the entire person into the dimension of God.

With respect to Mary, he asked, what would it be like to face death sinless? Many of us approach death with fear because our sin alienates us from God. But for a sinless person, one utterly responsive to God’s will, death is like falling asleep. (We generally speak o Mary’s dormition, rather than death.)

The image of salvation as transfiguration is a powerful one to me. Perhaps it will be for you also.

God Keeps Working on Us

Not infrequently parents whose children are in their late teens or early twenties come to me concerned about the fact that their children are not actively practicing their faith. Some have stopped going to Mass or other worship services, others have toyed with atheism or at least expressed serious reservations about the faith in which they were raised.

Usually my counsel to parents in that situation is patience. If nothing else, the twists and turns of my own faith journey have convinced me that God has got it covered, that God is with each of those young people every step of the way and will help them find their way.

A book I’ve been reading shared two quotes, one by C.S. Lewis and the other by Karl Marx. One of the quotes, which could have been written by one of the young people whose parents have expressed concern to me, read like this:

You know, I think that I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention – Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn’t understand….Thus religions, that is to say mythology, grew up. Often, too, great men were regarded as Gods after their death – such as Heracles or Odin: thus after the death of a Hebrew philosopher Yeshua (whose name we have corrupted into Jesus) he became regarded as a God, a cult sprang up, which was afterwards connected with the ancient Hebrew Yahweh-worship, and so Christianity came into being – one mythology among many.

Although many might guess that was the quote written by Karl Marx, in reality it was written by a young C.S. Lewis, in a letter he wrote when he was eighteen.

Clearly something happened that radically changed Lewis’ worldview. The truth is that God never stops trying and God will use all means at God’s disposal to help change our hearts.

Living in a Manner Worthy of Our Call

At Mass earlier today at Our Lady of Lourdes, I was privileged to proclaim today’s beautiful first reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. In that reading, Paul urges the Ephesians to “live in a manner worthy of the call” they have received. He goes on to spell out what that means: living

with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace;
one Body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

In his homily, Fr. Dan Griffith stressed Paul’s call to unity; we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”

Unity does not mean lock-step agreement with each other on everything. The Church is a church of diverse people and our diversity is to be celebrated. Unity in diversity is an important part of a catholic identity. And that means that no small part of living in a manner worthy of our call is promoting unity.

We might each ask: Am I a force for unity or division? And in what ways might I better promote unity in diversity?

Please Support Spiritual Listening to People on the Margins

I just came from a breakfast program sponsored by City House, a non-profit organization on whose board I sit.

I’ve written about City House once before. Its core mission is to provide spiritual listening to people on the margins – including those experiencing poverty, addiction, and imprisonment. Trained volunteer Spiritual Companions meet one-on-one or in groups with participants at social service agency sites where they live or are receiving services. City House also offers a spiritual friendship program and leadership development for people in the mainstream who want to deepen their relationship with those experiencing life at the margins.

We were excited to announce this morning that one of our benefactors has offered a matching gift – matching the gifts of new donors and existing donors who increase their contribution amounts. That makes this a wonderful time to consider making a donation to City House.

As someone who has been a spiritual director and a retreat leader for many years, I have seen the difference it makes in people’s lives to have someone to whom they can tell their story, someone who will listen fully to them without judgment and with an open heart, someone who can help them find the incidents of grace in their lives. Imagine how much that means to the people City House serves!

Please consider supporting our work. A donation in any size would make an enormous difference to the work we can do – especially given the matching gift challenge. You can make a donation on-line or by check. If you prefer an on-line donation, please visit the City House website and click on the Donate button at the bottom of the home page. Alternatively, you can send a check payable to City House and mail it to City House at 1730 New Brighton Blvd #253, Minneapolis MN 55413-1248.

Thank you for considering this. And if you do not have the financial means to donate (and even if you do), please keep our work in your prayers.

A Blessed Weekend Away

This weekend I was at Koinonia Retreat Center with members of UST Camous Ministry giving a retreat for UST undergraduates.

The subject of the retreat was the Ten Commandments. Our goal was to help students see the commandments as a roadmap to growth of love of God and one another and to broaden their understanding of what the commandments ask of us.

The retreat was silent and I am enormously impressed at how well the students entered into that silence. The fact that we were in such beautiful surroundings on a gorgeous fall weekend may have helped.

I think all of us spent time between the retreat talks giving thanks for the beauty of creation.
I arise today with tremendous gratitude for the blessings of this time away with the students.