A Hermitage Stay

I just got back from three nights in a hermitage at Wellsprings Farm, a little mini-retreat.  The owners have a wonderful model of community supported retreat: as with a CSA, they sell shares that entitle the holder to a certain number of nights in one of the three hermitages on the site.  My share entitled me to 20 nights for the year, more than enough for my personal use and to give away nights to friends.

I stayed in the Dome, pictured here.

Hermitage dome copy

I had perfect weather for three days of sitting reading or contemplating, and walking in the forest or on the labyrinth.

I confess the forest path is my favorite.  There is not much I love more than a solitary morning walk on a forest path.  I’ve been there when the trees have been full; this weekend I walked in the aftermath of last week’s snowfall.

hermitage forest copy

At one end of the forest path is a perfect spot for looking over the lake.  Although both of the other two hermitages were also occupied while I was there, no one seemed to use the forest path other than me, so this chair was always waiting for me when I got there.

hermitage lake chair copy

My other favorite chair was the one in the center of the labyrinth, which is cut into wild marsh grass.

Hermitage labyrinth copy

It was a restoring couple of days.  I recommend (as I always do after returning from retreat) finding a way to “come away and rest awhile).



The Resurrection and Transformation

We are now two plus weeks into the Easter season – you do remember it is still the Easter season, right?  Consider this a reminder if not!

I gave a talk last week at St. Thomas More church on Week 4 of the Spiritual Exercises, which focuses on the Resurrection and invites us into the joy of the resurrected Christ.

For St. Ignatius it is imperative that we experience the joy of the Resurrection.  Why?  Joseph Tetlow says this:

In his humanness, Jesus triumphed over death.  He had embraced everything human without ever acting unfaithful to his Father, to Himself, or to his friends.  He had lived his life in uprightness and in joy.  Now, He is confirmed eternally in His own joy – to be with the children of humankind….

This is the Jesus Christ who lives now.  If you do not come to know Him both full of joy and exuberantly sharing his happiness, then you will not really know Him at all.  You have asked in [in W2 and W3 of the SE] to know Jesus and to love Him and to follow where he goes.  It is into fullness of life and complete human joy that he goes!  If you do not follow him into his joy, you will ultimately find it hard to believe that you are following him at all.

“If you do not come to know Him both full of joy and exuberantly sharing his happiness, then you will not really know him at all.”  “If you do not follow him into his joy, you will ultimately find it hard to believe that you are following him at all.”

As Tetlow’s comments suggest, we cannot be the Resurrection people we are meant to be in the world if we do not internalize that joy. The joy we are talking about here is not a bells and whistles joy.  If I have been with Jesus at Calvary, I can never again leave the cross and tomb behind.  I carry the cross with me (as the risen Jesus carries his physical wounds on his body).  Resurrection is happiness in the midst of the empty tomb, in the midst of grief, loneliness, and the sense that things are not the way things are supposed to be.

So, if you have not been doing so, I encourage you to take some time during these Easter weeks to pray with the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, to spend time with the resurrected Christ.

There Was No Needy Person Among Them

Each year, the first Mass readings following Easter come from Acts; following our celebration of the Resurrection, we hear about the development of the early Church.

Today’s first Mass reading offers us a lesson on caring for those in need.  The early Christian community, we are told,

was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common….There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the Apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

Imagine that!  No needy person among them.  Contrast it with our world today, or even the communities in which we live.  You don’t have to go far from the church in which I worship each week to find people who don’t have enough food to eat, or a safe place to live.  And there is nothing unique about my church in that regard.  I suspect there are very few, if any places, where we can say that “there was no needy person among them.”

I am not suggesting that we all sell all of our property and put the proceeds at anyone’s feet (or that what we have be forcibly taken from us).  But the reading from Acts does invite us to reflect on our attitudes about what we have and toward those who lack.

Do we view our property as our own, to do with as we will, or do we appreciate that our possessions are a gift from God that we hold (in Aquinas’ words) for the purpose of “perfecting [our] own nature and [using] them for the benefit of others”?

Do we view it as a fundamental part of who we are as Christians to care for those who have less than we do?

What steps are we taking, to move us to a world where there is no needy person among us?

What We Have Seen and Heard

Today’s first Mass reading from Acts (which we hear each year in the Easter season) is one of my favorite readings in that book.  We read today that 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.

It is Peter and John’s response that I find so powerful.  In no uncertain terms, they 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.”

If we have been touched by Christ, we can’t help but share it.   When we experience God in a deep way, we are changed.

The flip side is that we can’t effectively evangelize others unless we ourselves have been touched by Christ.  We are all called to proclaim the Gospel.  But the reality is that we can transmit the Gospel to others only on the basis of our own personal encounter.  Anything else will lack authenticity.

St. Ignatius understood this well.  This is why we spend so much time in the Spiritual Exercises being with Jesus, walking with him, getting to know him, learning to love him so deeply we can’t imagine being anywhere else.  And it is why we spend time in the final Week of the Exercises being with the Resurrected Christ.  For it if do, it will be impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.

As I Have Done…

Today is Holy Thursday, the day on which we commemorate the Last Supper – the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his friends on the night before he was crucified.

Tonight, many of us will attend the beginning of the Triduum liturgy: the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper. During that Mass, two related things will happen. First, we will hear St. Paul’s account of the institution of the Eucharist. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he will pass on to the people of Corinth what he “received from that Lord,” that

the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

But it is clear that “Do this in remembrance of me,” is not satisfied simply by listening to the priest recite these words each week during the Eucharistic Prayer, followed by our receipt of the Eucharist.   During the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper we will also listen and then participate in a reenactment of the scene in John’s Gospel where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

John’s Gospel contains no account of the institution of the Eucharist, as do the synoptic Gospels and Paul. Instead, Jesus washes his disciples’s feet, a menial act that would normally be performed by a slave. And, just as he says in the reading we hear from Paul, “Do this in memory of me,” he says here, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” Jesus says, I am your servant; in my memory, be a servant to each other.

The command in John’s Gospel is a challenging one. It instructs us that “do this in memory of me” is not satisfied solely by our Eucharistic celebration at Mass, as important as that is. Rather, we are asked to follow Jesus’ model in how we live and interact with all of our brothers and sisters.

Hosanna or Crucify Him?

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  At our masses this morning, many of us will process with palms, as we celebrate today Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As he rides down the street on a donkey, people shout “Hosanna” and lay palm branches before his path.

In one respect, the scene seems like a cruel mockery to us because as we know what awaits Jesus. Many of the same people who should “Hosanna” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem will, in only a few days, scream out, “Crucify Him.”

This morning, during our Palm Sunday Mass, we will have a chance to reflect on the juxtaposition of these two events. We will march into our churches, waving our palms and crying out, just as the people of Jerusalem did, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then, as we will again on Good Friday, we will listen to a gospel account of The Passion of our Lord, in our turn, crying out Crucify Him.

We could treat it all as playacting, with us simply playing the roles of the crowds in the two scenes. Or we could use it for an opportunity for serious reflection, recognizing that our words and deeds always either give glory to Jesus or contribute toward his suffering.

Some questions to consider:

When am I like one or another of those crowds?

Do I recognize and celebrate Jesus when I encounter Him?

Are there times when my words or actions are the equivalent of the crowds crying for Jesus’ crucifixion?

Joseph: An Unsung Hero

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

I had no particular devotion to Joseph growing up nor, for that matter, in the early years after my return to Catholicism in my early 40s. He was simply a figure hovering in the background at events like the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, a (literal) figure I placed near the crib when we put out our creche every Christmas.

But over the years, he has come to be one of the saints who figure prominently when I visualize the communion of saints.

Joseph reminds us that one doesn’t have to have the starting role to play an important part.

Joseph reminds us that we can trust God, even when the world seems turned upside down.

Joseph reminds us to give people the benefit of the doubt even when their stories seem strange (read: completely unbelievable).

Joseph reminds us of the value of loyalty and fidelity even when they are hard.

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!