God in the Rain

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain. It turns out the forecast is for rain all day today in the vicinity of the retreat house.

My first thought was one of disappointment that the retreatants would not be able to wander over to the Sacred Heart chapel (one of my favorite spots; I wrote about it here), sit out on the dock that juts into Lake Winnebago, walk on the nature trail, or pray the outdoors stations of the cross.

But then I began to settle into the cocoon of silence the rain enhances. The retreatants are already in the silence of not speaking (and I hope also refraining checking e-mails or surfing the net).

Somehow the rain seems to intensify the silence of my surroundings. As I sit here writing this, the only sounds I hear are the quiet movements of the chefs preparing breakfast (the staff here does a better job of respecting the silence of retreats than any other retreat house I’ve been to) and the rain falling against the window of my room.

I also remind myself that God always gives people on retreat exactly what they need. And that the retreatants can and will find God in the rain just as they would have found God at the lake, the trail, the chapel or the stations.

Please keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.


Retreat in 2016 Anyone?

I am en route to the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I will be giving a weekend Ignatian retreat to the faculty and staff of Marquette University.

While I don’t really have time to write a thoughtful post this morning, since I am grinning with anticipation at my impending arrival in OshKosh, I thought it useful to let people know that the retreat house now has its 2016 schedule of retreats – both preached retreats and summer directed retreats on their website (here).

As I often tell my directees, there is never a good time to do retreat. But the benefits of taking time to get away are enormous.

This particular retreat house is one of my “happy places,” whether I’m giving a retreat or being a retreatant. For those who haven’t been there, here is a picture of the new Annunciation chapel:
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The retreat house is on the shore of Lake Winnebago.
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Check out the schedule. Maybe put aside a weekend or a week for some retreat.

Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Forgiveness

Today we had the first of our Mid-Day Dialogues for this academic year at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The idea behind these dialogues is to take an issue that is approached differently by Catholics and Protestant or Christians or Jews and explore them from those different faith traditions.

Our topic for today was forgiveness and I was joined for that my my friend and colleague Mitchell Gordon. Because most of our audience was Christian, Mitchell spoke at great length about the Jewish perspective, after which I made some quick responses to his talk from a Christian perspective before inviting our audience to comment. Helpfully, he began with a broader look at the differences between how Jews and Christians see the world and their relationship with God, before speaking directly to the issue of forgiveness.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 38:01.) I am not attaching the handout Mitchell distributed, as most people have easy access to a Bible; he referenced Deuteronomy 30. Although the discussion following our talks was rich, as usually, I turned off the recording before opening the floor to the participants.

Look at the Throw-Away Lines

Reacting to my post of yesterday about Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak, my friend John wrote me a brief e-mail this morning commenting on how much he loves these “throw away lines,” which are often so rich. I replied that I was amazed I had missed the line about which I wrote so many times in my reading and prayer with that Gospel passage, to which he responded that he has had that experience so many time that now he almost looks for those throw away lines.

That seemed to me a practice worth sharing.

You know what I mean by throw-away lines: the lines that are part of the descriptive detail of the narrative story that we tend to gloss over in out haste to get to what seems to be the central encounter. So in yesterday’s Gospel: What will Jesus say to, or do for, Bartimaeus. And so it is easy to pass over Bartimaeus’ throwing aside his cloak.

I think there is a particular danger with passages we have heard so many times to glaze over until we get to “the good part” – the central part, the place where all the action is. If we do that, we can miss an awful lot.

I’m reminded as I write this of a morning where I was praying with the passage in John’s Gospel in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I got to the first line of the passage: There was a man named Lazarus who will ill, and I never got any further. I had a very powerful experience that took off only from that one line – I never got to the “good part,” the big action. I didn’t even get to the powerful exchange between Jesus and Mary, let alone the raising of Lazarus. Yet the prayer I had taught me an enormous amount. Something I would have missed if I skipped over the “throw away” line.

So, consider adopting my friend John’s practice: Look for the throw away lines.

He Threw Aside His Cloak

I woke up this morning still thinking about a line in yesterday’s Gospel, the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man Bartimaeus. It is a passage I have read and prayed with often.

What struck me when I listened to the reading at Mass yesterday was the description of Bartimaeus’ action when people told him Jesus was calling him. “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” And that is the phrase that I woke up with this morning. He “threw aside his cloak.”

A begging blind man has very few possessions. And if you’ve seen homeless beggars on the street, you know that they guard their few possessions very carefully, keeping them close and carrying or pushing them around with them when they move from place to place.

But Bartimaeus was so anxious to meet Jesus, so excited to know that he had been called, that he threw aside what was probably one of his only possessions.

That the phrase stayed with me, suggests it is one worth praying with. Are we willing to drop everything when Jesus calls? Are we so excited for him and his healing touch that we can drop our need to control and guard our plans, our possessions, our everything?

May Nothing Distract Me

As I spend some time today doing final preparation for a retreat I’m giving for Marquette University Faculty and Staff next weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, I thought I’d share a prayer written by Sr. Marie Schwann CSJ, who was associated for many years with that retreat house and who died last year. The prayer beautifully conveys the essence of the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius (one of the subjects on which I will speak next weekend).

Lord, my God, when Your love spilled over into creation,
You thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my hearts, O God, always recognize, cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all of creation.
Direct all that is me to your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
Lord God, may nothing ever distract me from your love…
neither health nor sickness
wealth nor poverty
honor nor dishonor
long life nor short life.
May I never seek nor choose to be other than you intend me to be.

Lord’s Prayer for Justice

I just finished facilitating a book discussion series at Our Lady of Lourdes on Ron Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, a classic of Christian spirituality. The participants and I had a great series of discussions over our sessions together.

In the fourth part of the book, Rolheiser describes several “key spiritualities within a [Christian] spirituality. One of those is a spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking. The chapter ends with “A Lord’s Prayer for Justice,” which some of you may already be familiar with. Given the contrast between the way of the world (survival of the fittest) and the rule of God – where God always stands on the side of the weak, Rolheiser suggests we might occasionally pray the Lord’s Prayer in this way.

Our Father … who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the aged, the very young, the unborn, and those who, by victim of circumstance, bear the heat of the day.

Who art in heaven … where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being will be well.

Hallowed by thy name … may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards. May the reverence we give your name pull us out of the narcissism, selfishness, and paranoia that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbour.

Your kingdom come … help us to create a world where, beyond our own needs and hurts, we will do justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with you and each other.

Your will be done … open our freedom to let you in so that the complete mutuality that characterizes your life might flow through our veins and thus the life that we help generate may radiate your equal love for all and your special love for the poor.

On earth as in heaven … may the work of our hands, the temples and structures we build in this world, reflect the temple and the structure of your glory so that the joy, graciousness, tenderness, and justice of heaven will show forth within all of our structures on earth.

Give … life and love to us and help us to see always everything as gift. Help us to know that nothing comes to us by right and that we must give because we have been given to. Help us realize that we must give to the poor, not because they need it, but because our own health depends upon our giving to them.

Us … the truly plural us. Give not just to our own but to everyone, including those who are very different than the narrow us. Give your gifts to all of us equally.

This day … not tomorrow. Do not let us push things off into some indefinite future so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice because we can use present philosophical, political, economic, logistic, and practical difficulties as an excuse for inactivity.

Our daily bread … so that each person in the world my have enough food, enough clean water, enough clean air, adequate health care, and sufficient access to education so as to have the sustenance for a healthy life. Teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus.

And forgive us our trespasses … forgive us our blindness towards our neighbour, our obsessive self-preoccupation, our racism, our sexism, and our incurable propensity to worry only about ourselves and our own. Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it.

As we forgive those who trespass against us … help us to forgive those who victimize us. Help us to mellow out in spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect parents and systems that wounded, cursed, and ignored us.

And do not put us to the test … do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothing to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor. Spare us this test for none of us can stand before this gospel scrutiny. Give us, instead, more days to mend our ways, our selfishness, and our systems.

But deliver us from evil … that is, from the blindness that lets us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.


Rather than recite the entire prayer in one sitting, it would be worthwhile to take one line each day and let that be the focus of our prayer and the intention for our day.

Of Bucket Lists

What’s on your bucket list? That is the question that Deacon Thom Winninger opened the sermon with at Mass this past Sunday.

It is a good question. I googled “bucket list” yesterday afternoon and clicked on the entry for “most popular bucket list ideas.” The list included items such as: stay in the Ice Hotel in Sweden, air boat across an alligator invested swamp, walk on the Great Wall of China, gallop a horse along the beach, ride an elephant in Thailand, visit NYC at Christmas time, write a book and get it published, and dye my hair blonde.

The list also included: knit and donate 100 scarves for the homeless, donate my hair to locks of love, and volunteer abroad.

What is on your bucket list?

Is your list full of things you want to acquire, exciting experiences you want to have, and places you want to see? That is what most people tend to put on their bucket list.

Or does your list reflect your discipleship in Christ? Does it suggest your embrace of Jesus call to serve rather than be served, his invitation to labor with him on behalf of God’s plan?

If you have a bucket list, you might want to reflect a bit on what is one it. If you don’t, you might ask yourself, what is on your list? And what does it say about your priorities?

So Much For Which to Give Thanks

Yesterday, I saw a fabulous production of Shakespeare’s Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Like the MetLive productions of NY Metropolitan Opera performances, a film of a live performance of the play was showing in a local theater. I was enthralled while watching and my husband and I continued to talk about it as we traveled home afterward.

As I sat this morning reflecting back on my day yesterday: morning Mass at the parish at which I direct RCIA, an afternoon seeing this powerful play, a lovely dinner at home with my husband (accompanied by a nice red wine), and then watching the Mets win the second game of the playoffs against the Cubs – I was struck by a wave of gratitude.

The practice of gratitude is always part of my daily Examen, but some days I feel the waves of gratitude more strongly than others. This morning I thought of all the people in the world who spend the bulk of their day trying to find food to feed themselves, people for whom a day of leisure must seem like a dream. I thought of all the people who barely have enough money to pay their bills and could not think of spending $20 to see a production of a Shakespeare play or the cost of a nice bottle of wine with their dinner (assuming they have dinner). And, of course, the people who don’t have a choice of at least several parishes within 10 minutes of their home to go to Mass. Those thoughts and more flooded my mind and I felt a profound sense of gratitude.

If you have not done so already today, take a few minutes to notice all of things for which you are grateful. And find some way to express that gratitude to God.

What Do You Wish Me to Do For You?

In today’s Gospel, James and John approach Jesus and tell him they want him to do whatever he asks of them. 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.

What came to mind as I reflected on their response was the passage in the Second Book of Chronicles, where God appears to Solomon and says “Whatever you ask, I will give you.” Salomon asks for “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?