Judas and Peter

Today’s Gospel from John is of Jesus and his friends at the Last Supper.  In today’s segment, Jesus predicts both Judas’ betrayal of him and Peter’s denial of him.

As I read the passage, I was reminded of a reflection offered on Palm Sunday as part of the UST Lent Reflection Series by Robert Kennedy, Professor and Chair of UST’s Catholic Studies Department.  He observed that the “principal actors” in the story of Jesus’ passion “all act out of very human motives, or perhaps one ought to say human weaknesses. These weaknesses are envy, fear and distrust.”

Speaking of Judas and Peter, Professor Kennedy wrote

Judas certainly did not trust, did not have faith in, Jesus. Regardless of what he had witnessed, he doubted the faithfulness and power of God and took things into his own hands. And Peter, who had more reason than anyone to have faith, was overcome by fear and adamant in his distrust.

How characteristic these weaknesses are, not only of these men, but of all of us. How many of us would act differently if we had been in their places? Envy, fear and distrust are such common drivers of human failing. But the story of Jesus’ Passion and death is, among other things, the story of his humility, his courage and his ultimate confidence in the wisdom and power of God. The real remedy for these weaknesses and not a bad lesson for us.

You can read the entirety of Professor Kennedy’s reflection here.


A Weekend with Ignatius

I spent this past weekend at Villa Maria Retreat House in Frontenac, leading a weekend Ignatian retreat for members of the St. Catherine’s University community.  It was a wonderful and grace-filled weekend.

As I told the retreatants at the outset of the weekend, there is never a good/convenient time to do retreat. We have busy lives and what Ignatius would call the enemy spirit does everything possible to dissuade people from heeding Jesus’ invitation to “come away and rest awhile.”  The enemy spirit encourages you to think about all the things you need to or could be doing if you weren’t on a weekend retreat. Your job…the kids…the house…your extended family…your pets. Other ways you could productively use your time.  More so this particular weekend: It was, after all, Palm Sunday weekend, the week before Easter. How could anyone possibly, says the enemy spirit, take a long weekend to do retreat at this time of year!

But the individuals with whom I spent the weekend did not listen to the voice of the evil spirit. They accepted the invitation for time with God.

A fundamental premise of Ignatian Spirituality and of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is that God can and will speak to you. The key question is: will you let God do that? Will you give over some of your control over your time and agenda  to let God be God?

Last week I sent in the registration form for my 8-day summer retreat.  (For the first time, I’ll do retreat this summer at the Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, Colorado.)  If you haven’t already planned a retreat for 2015, why not think about doing so?  If you can’t do 8-days, do a weekend.  If you can’t do a weekend, how about at least an overnight.  If you can’t do that, perhaps you could at least do a “hermitage day” at a nearby retreat house.

Find some time to accept the invitation to spend some time with God.



Jesus Enters Jerusalem

At the Procession of Palms that begins the Palm Sunday Mass, we listen to Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

It is noteworthy that, despite the fact that he knows the end is coming, Jesus makes a public entry into Jerusalem.  He doesn’t steal into the city during the night; rather, he comes in publicly and with acclamations of Hosanna! He comes in publicly, showing he was not afraid of the power and malice of his enemies in Jerusalem.  In the words of one commentator, “Though he was now but taking the field, and girding on the harness, yet, being fully assured of a complete victory, he thus triumphs as though he had put it off.”

The image of Jesus entering Jerusalem “fully assured of a complete victory” is one we need to take to heart. We do and we will have tough times and it makes an enormous difference how we approach those times. This passage reminds us that Jesus’ death and resurrection mean that victory has already been won for us. So we can do all we do in confidence and joy. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem fully assured of a complete victory, we can face all we need to face in exactly the same way.

As we go through the events of Holy Week, even as we pray with Jesus’ final hours, let us not lose sight of the fact that victory has already been won for us

The Holiest Days of the Church Year

As we enter into Holy Week, I thought I would share the piece Fr. Dan Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, wrote for this week’s bulletin.  It does a nice job of explaining the significance of Triduum we will celebrate later in the week.  As does he, I encourage all who can to participate fully in the liturgies from Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil.

Here is what Fr. Dan wrote:

“The three days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday are regarded by the Catholic Church as the holiest days of the Church year. These days are called the Sacred Triduum, which means the “Great Three Days.” The Triduum is one feast and one continuous liturgy that takes place at the beginning of Holy Thursday and culminates with the Easter Vigil. These days are meant to be experienced together as continuous. Therefore, I invite the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes to come and experience the profound mysteries that are central to our Catholic faith. If you have never experienced the entire Triduum, I encourage you to come and celebrate the life-giving grace poured forth through the death and resurrection of Christ. For those who have experienced the Triduum, the joy of Easter takes on a new meaning when we have journeyed from the upper room, to the foot of the cross to the empty tomb on Sunday morning.

“Beginning on Holy Thursday we are invited to commemorate the Lord’s Supper where Christ instituted the great gift of his body and blood, the Holy Eucharist. This day is also referred to as “Maundy Thursday” because this is the day when Christ gave his Church two commands. The word command is derived from the Latin, maundatum. On this Holy night, Christ told his apostles and all of us in the Church that if we are to be his disciples we must “do this in memory of me” (celebrate the Holy Eucharist) and we must “love one another as I have loved you” (follow Christ’s example of service and sacrificial love). On Good Friday Christ teaches his followers by showing them the measure of God’s love for humanity. On Good Friday, Christians everywhere journey to the foot of the cross. Paradoxically, we recall this terrible and yet great day when Jesus Christ, sacrificial love incarnate, poured his life out on a cross for our salvation. Is there any greater sign of God’s love for us, His children, than the death of His son on the wood of the cross?

“As Christians, we not only proclaim the death of the Lord, but we also proclaim Christ’s resurrection. Our late and beloved St. John Paul II used to remind Christians that we are a people of resurrection and alleluia is our song. As Christians, we know that death is not the end of our story of salvation. The darkness of Good Friday gives way to the light and glory of Easter. At the Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday all Christians triumph in the saving reality that Christ is alive. This God-Man who took our flesh and was crucified has been raised from the dead. And as Christians who believe in Christ and follow his path from suffering to new life we are assured that we too will share Christ’s resurrection.

” From the upper room, to Calvary, to the empty tomb, we as Christians are invited to enter into the paschal mystery of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Come and experience the glory and the grace of the “Great Three Days.” Please check your bulletin for the Triduum schedule. All are welcome!”

Discerning Among Particular Options

Yesterday was the the seventh session of the program I am offering at UST Law School during this academic year on Discerning my Place in the World. In our prior sessions we’ve addressed a number aspects of discerning vocation, including getting in touch with our giftedness, identifying what brings us joy, prioritizing our values,  reflecting on our deepest desires, growing in our appreciation that we are each individually called by God, and gauging the internal freedom with which we approach discernment.

Yesterday’s session focused on how we discern among particular options. In my talk I shared with the participants some tools from Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that are a help in discerning among various options.   I distinguished between different types of life decisions we might be discerning with respect to, talked about how Ignatius helps us frame our choices and to come to a decision with God as to the best path.  Following my talk the participants had some time for individual reflection, after which I invited sharing about some “big” decisions they have made and how they have approached those decisions.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 25:06.) You can find a copy of the handout I distributed for the participants’ individual reflection time here.

I will be leaving this afternoon for a weekend retreat I am giving for members of the St. Catherine’s University community.  Please keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.

A Parable, A Ballad, and some Metta

Yesterday was an embarrassment of riches.  At noon I attended our Weekly Manna gathering where two students were the presenters.  That was followed by a talk on G.K. Chesterton sponsored by the law school’s St. Thomas More Society. Later in the afternoon I had a productive meeting with some members of the Project of Mindfulness and Contemplation, on whose advisory board I sit and which sponsors the lovingkindness (metta) meditation I lead biweekly on the St. Paul campus.

At Weekly Manna, the students opened their talk with the Parable of the Flood, with which many people are doubtless familiar.  (It it reproduced at the end of this post.)  They sued the parable as a jumping off point for talking about the surprising ways we encounter God – and how important is it not to have preconceived notions of how God may appear to us.  In fact, God is often present to us in the form of other people – as we are the face of God to others.

The parable is also an important reminder that faith in God does not mean sitting back and allowing God to do all of the heavy lifting.  Rather, God expects us to participate in his work as well – to grab the ropes and climb the ladders he gives us.

Our Chesterton speaker spoke about many of the themes of Chesterton’s writings, particularly using his Ballad of the White Horse as a way to explore those themes. I found much in the talk worthwhile, including the speaker’s discussion of what it means to talk about cultivating a culture of life.  But what I most was drawn to was his discussion of the eyes with which Chesterson saw the world.  Like anyone to whom we give the label mystic, Chesterton had an acute awareness of God and of God’s gifts.

In an essay on Chesterton, Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, wrote

Chesterton tells us the things we already know, only we did not know that we knew them. The difference between him and us is that he is trying to give us the same vision he has, what Father Wild calls his “contagious happiness and inner peace…he was imbued with a kind of unpretentious beatitude that tended to convey itself to those around him.” He is trying to share his sense of wonder, his thankfulness, his joy. And the source of all these things is God.

I think our speaker did a wonderful job of conveying what it means to see as Chesterton did, using the example of the wonder with which the speaker’s six-month old views everything he sees.

All in all, a lot to reflect on – including my gratitude at working in a place where we have such varied opportunities for reflection.


Here is the Parable of the Flood:

A man was trapped in his house during a flood. He began praying to God to rescue him. He had a vision in his head of God’s hand reaching down from heaven and lifting him to safety. The water started to rise in his house. His neighbour urged him to leave and offered him a ride to safety. The man yelled back, “I am waiting for God to save me.” The neighbour drove off in his pick-up truck.

The man continued to pray and hold on to his vision. As the water began rising in his house, he had to climb up to the roof. A boat came by with some people heading for safe ground. They yelled at the man to grab a rope they were ready to throw and take him to safety. He told them that he was waiting for God to save him. They shook their heads and moved on.

The man continued to pray, believing with all his heart that he would be saved by God. The flood waters continued to rise. A helicopter flew by and a voice came over a loudspeaker offering to lower a ladder and take him off the roof. The man waved the helicopter away, shouting back that he was waiting for God to save him. The helicopter left. The flooding water came over the roof and caught him up and swept him away. He drowned.

When he reached heaven and asked, “God, why did you not save me? I believed in you with all my heart. Why did you let me drown?” God replied, “I sent you a pick-up truck, a boat and a helicopter and you refused all of them. What else could I possibly do for you?”

God Asks

On this feast of the Annunciation, I prayed with morning with Luke’s account of Gabriel’s encounter with Mary. It is a scene I pray with often.

Usually my focus is Mary’s yes, about which I have written on numerous occasions.

What I sat with this morning, however, was God’s request for human participation in his plan of salvation.  God asks.

If you think about it, that is pretty amazing.  God did, after all, create us.  God could have created us with no will to do anything other than that which he demanded.  But God didn’t.  Instead, God created human beings capable of consenting to or deviating from God’s plan for salvation.  And while God desires our consent and cooperation, he will not force it.

And so God asks – not just to Mary, but to each of us: Will you consent to your part in my plan?  Will you act with me?

It is your choice.  What do you say?

At Her Consent The Mystery Was Wrought

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation.  At Mass today we hear Luke’s account of the Annunciation.  Here is St. John’s of the Cross’ poetic description in his poem The Incarnation.

Then he called
and sent him to
the virgin Mary,
at whose consent
the mystery was wrought,
in whom the Trinity
clothed the Word with flesh.
and though Three work this,
it is wrought in the One;
and the Word lived incarnate
in the womb of Mary.
And he who had only a Father
now had a Mother too,
but she was not like others
who conceive by man.
From her own flesh
he received his flesh,
so he is called
Son of God and of man.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Music and Liturgy

We have a new organist at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, where I teach RCIA and Adult Faith Formation.  One of the things Chris has done since his arrival is change the format of the worship aid that provides the music for Sunday Masses.

For the Voluntary he plays on the organ before and after the Mass each week, rather than simply identify the composer and name of the piece, Chris includes a brief explanation of the music.  For example, this past weekend, he opened with Herbert Howells’ Master Tallis’s Testament, and the aide included this:

Nineteenth-century English organist and composer Herbert Howells based this piece on a melody by Thomas Tallis, hence the reference to “Master Tallis,” in the title. That same melody is the basis for the choir’s anthem at the 11:00 mass.  Its somber, melancholy nature fits well with the text for the anthem, with the overall ethos of the season of Lent, and with the foreshadowing of Jesus’s death in today’s Gospel. Eventually the piece builds to a loud climax, which parallels the Second Reading’s description of Jesus offering “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” (Cf. Hebrews 5:7)  The quiet, plaintive end to the piece connects with Jesus’s humble acceptance of his fate.

Is any of this necessary?  No, of course not.  I can participate fully in the sacrifice of the Mass without reading any of it.

But we know that music has the ability to greatly enhance the worship experience.  And for me, reading the explanation beforehand allowed me to enter into Jesus’ experience as I listened to the piece – to feel both his “loud cries and tears” and his “humble acceptance.”  It was a wonderful preparation for entering into the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Neither Do I Condemn You

Today’s Gospel is the familiar story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  It is a passage I have always found powerful and even more so ever since I played that woman in the Trial of Christ (something I wrote about here).

Here is one video version of the scene:

“Neither do I condemn you,” says Jesus to the woman.  Notice Jesus does not say he condones her acts.  Quite the opposite; “Go, and sin no more,” he tells her, acknowledges the wrongfulness of her prior way of life.

But while Jesus disapproves of her sin, he does not condemn her, he does not pronounce her as deserving the ultimate punishment the Pharisees were willing to impose on her.

Who do we condemn?  Who do we write off?  And, in so doing, do we forget our own failings?