What Do We Notice (Or Not)

This morning’s reflection in Give Us This Day, was titled Attentive and Grateful.  in It, the author, C. Vanessa White, explained an exercise she uses to help her students focus on God’s grace.  Reminiscent of the moonwalking bear awareness test, she asks them to look around the classroom and focus on one particular color (e.g., items that are red).  She then asks them to close their eyes and quietly recall those red items.  With their eyes still closed, she asks them to name all the blue items they saw.  Not surprisingly, because of their focus on red, they missed the blue.

Where do we put our attention?  What do we notice?  White writes that “we focus on the negative and tend to notice all that is going wrong in our world, and we miss God’s grace and presence before us.  What we focus on is what we give power to! ”

Many of us engage in a daily Examen, which encourages us to take time each day to reflect on where we noticed God’s grace.  Whether through the Examen or otherwise, it is good to be reminded that “what we focus on is what we give power to.”

The Shephards Have Been Pasturing Themselves

With all the news about Cardinal McCarrick and the Pittsburgh grand jury report, the harsh criticism in today’s first Mass reading from Ezekiel seems perfectly directed against Church officials:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick not bind the injured [nor we might add – protect the children]… Thus says the Lord God:  I am coming against these shepherds.  I will… put a stop to their shepherding so that they may no longer pasture themselves.

The time for simple apologies and promises to do better have long past.

Convening a panel of bishops is not an adequate response.

Nor is it an answer to say that the laity should pray and fast in reparation, as I have heard a number of people suggest.  I’d be happy to hear that the bishops are all fasting and praying in reparation for their sins.  But all I have heard is suggestions that the laity do so.  Don’t get me wrong.  I already pray for the church and its victims every day.  But the reparation has to be on the part of those who committed the wrongdoing.

Only a real structural change that removes the conditions that invite and allow the shepherds to pasture themselves rather than act for the good of God’s people will restore the credibility of the Church.



Coming Up This Fall

Can it really be that summer is almost over!  In between walks, visits to the farmers market, and a few pottery classes,  I’ve been spending time getting ready for a busy fall.  Here are some of the places I’ll be; depending on where you are, perhaps you can join us!

September 28-30 I’ll be giving a preached Ignatian Retreat at Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington Illinois.  (Registration information here.)

Saturday October 6 will find me giving a Day of Retreat and Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer at First Presbyterian Church of Neenah.  I’ll also be preaching at both services the following day.  If you live anywhere in the Fox Cities area of Wisconsin, you know this is a great community of folks.

October 11-14 I’ll be giving a preached Ignatian Retreat at my home away from home, the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh.  That one has had a waitlist for quite some time, but perhaps some of you are already signed up.

October 18-21 I’ll be giving at Christ the King Retreat House in Buffalo, MN, giving an Ignatian Women’s Silent Retreat, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Catholic Community.

December 7-9 I’ll be back at Christ the King Retreat House, giving a weekend Advent retreat.  (Registration information here.)

And locally in the Twin Cities:

October 24  – Evening talk on Week 1 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, giving a Church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul.

October 30 – Evening of Reflection, “We Dare to Hope”, Benedictine Center at St. Paul Monastery.

November 4 – Adult Faith Formation Talk on the Beatitudes and the Saints, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis.

November 8 – Women’s Retreat evening, “Recognizing and Respecting the Giftedness of Women”, St. Pascal Baylon Catholic Church, St. Paul.

December 2 – Advent talk at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis

Last, but not least, Christine Luna Munger and I will again run our monthly Deepening program – this year Deepening Our Experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, on the second Monday of every month, commencing in October.

If you have any questions about any of these, don’t hesitate to contact me!

We Are Creatures of a Higher Order

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Cohen, and have found myself listening to a lot of his music lately.  I’d be hard put to pick a favorite, but one that sticks in my mind is his If It Be Your Will.

Cohen introduced the song at a life performance in 1985 with these words, words it is good for us to remember in these times:

I don’t know which side everybody’s on any more, and …I don’t really care. There is a moment when we have to transcend the side we’re on and understand that we are creatures of a higher order. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wish you courage in your struggle. There is on both sides of this struggle men of good will. That is important to remember… on both sides of this struggle. Some struggling for freedom, some struggling for safety. In solemn testimony of that unbroken faith which binds a generation one to another, I sing this song: “If it be your will”.

Here is the song:

Edith Stein

Today is the feast day of Edith Stein, one of the most well-known and revered German women of the last century.  She was an internationally celebrated author, philosopher, lecturer and women’s advocate.

Edith was born into an Orthodox Jewish family , but decided in her early teens she no longer believed in God.  Later, at a time when she was suffering from depression, she picked up the autobiography of Teresa of Avila.  She was enthralled by Teresa’s insights about love and truth and Teresa’s witness to the possible depths of interior prayer.  This was a life-changing experience for Edith.  She purchased a catechism and a missal and asked a parish priest if she could join the Catholic Church.  On New Year’s Day in 1922, she was baptized.

Like all those we label mystics, Edith was drawn to prayer and yet her interior prayer life was inseparably connected with her exterior work.  She wrote that after her morning prayer:

My soul…will be filled with holy joy, courage, and energy.  Because my soul has left itself and entered into divine life, it has become great and expansive.  Love burns in it like a composed flame which the Lord has enkindled, and which urges my soul to render love and inflame love in others.

When Edith was 42, she fulfilled her dream of entering the Carmelite order, becoming Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  After the intensification of the persecution of Jews in Germany, she was transferred to the Carmelite convent in Holland, where she began writing a book on John of the Cross and the mystery, suffering and victory of the cross.  When the Nazi’s invaded Holland, she was given permission to transfer to Switzerland, but did not want to leave her sister, who was still in Holland.

On July 26, 1942, in a pastoral letter read from every pulpit in the country, the Catholic Bishops of Holland denounced the Nazis, asking for justice and peace for the Jewish people.  One week later, the SS arrested Edith, her sister and all other Jewish Catholics.

Eyewitness accounts of Edith’s final days recount that her Carmelite habit, emblazoned with the Star of David, and her calm exterior distinguished her from other detainees.  She was seen comforting and consoling the anxious women and ministering to the needs of the children. She was among hundreds put to death on August 9, 1942.  She was canonized in 1998 and designated by Pope John Paul II as a co-patroness of Europe, in recognition of her widespread influence throughout the European continent.

Today we remember this extraordinary woman.

Note: You can find my friend Maria Scaperlanda’s wonderful blog post on Edith Stein here .  Maria has also written a book on Edith, which is reference in her blog post.

Come Away and Rest Awhile

I always write a post like this at some point during the summer: The post I write when I get back from retreat and encourage folks to heed the invitation to come away a rest a while.

I just returned from five days private retreat in a hermitage that is part of Wellspring Farms, the only Community Supported Retreat model I know of.  It was a blessed experience.

After a busy first part of the summer: two weddings in different parts of the country, directing at two Ignatian directed retreats, helping my daughter with her move from Knoxville, and teaching a graduate course in World Spiritualities, it was time for me to take some time away – to just be with God with no distractions.

My hermitage was comfortable, the forest path gave me my favorite environment for walking, with the possible exception of the labyrinth (which is always a powerful experience for me), a paddle boat on the lake allowed me to float contentedly, and the weather was generally glorious.  (Even the hailstorm was an occasion for giving glory to God.)

Here are some pictures.  I share them with the hope they will inspire those who can, but have not yet done so, to take some time for just you and God.