Walking With Jesus During Lent

Tonight was the opening session of the Lenten Ignatian Retreat at St. Thomas More.  After this initial large group meeting, small retreat groups will meet weekly, and participants will pray each day with materials we provide to them that are based on Weeks 2 and 3 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

I gave the opening talk this evening to introduce the retreat.  I spoke first about a central characteristic of Ignatian Spirituality – one that underlies the approach of the Spiritual Exercises – and that is, the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus.  I then offered a general sense of the overall flow of the retreat, highlighting in particular the idea of our call to labor with Christ on behalf of building God’s kingdom.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for just under 30:00 minutes.)

Women of the Bible: Rachel and Leah

Today was the second session of the Fall Reflection Series that Jennifer Wright and I are offering at the University of St. Thomas (on the Minneapolis campus) this year.  The theme for this five week series is Women of the Bible.

In last week’s opening session, Jennifer spoke about Sarah and Hagar.  (You can find her talk here.)  Today’s subjects were the two daughters of Laban: Rachel and Leah.  Two sisters married to the same man at the same time, making for a story of jealousy, envy and competition.

In my reflection I told the story of Rachel and Leah and then shared some of the lessons I think their story has for us.  Those lessons include that reality the envy never solves our problems and gets us what we want, the certainty that God sees our suffering, and that God uses what we give him.  I also spoke about the difference between the desire that is helpful – our deep desires that accord with God’s – and the desires that are inimical to our spiritual growth.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 24:23 and ends at the point at which we invited the participants into a period of silent reflection)

You can find a copy of the prayer materials we distributed to participants here.  It contains excerpts from Genesis 29-31 and some questions for reflection.

Women of the Bible: Sarah and Hagar

Monday was the first session of the Fall Reflection Series that Jennifer Wright and I are offering at the University of St. Thomas (on the Minneapolis campus) this year.  Our theme for the five week series is Women of the Bible.

Monday I briefly introduced the series and Jennifer spoke our our first subjects: Sarah and Hagar.  Their story begins in Genesis 11, and it is a story that raises many issues – surrogate motherhood…the Arab-Israeli conflict…the oppression of the underclass ..male domination and so forth.  In her talk Jennifer raised some wonderful questions for reflection (some of which are on the prayer handout).

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for about 27:00 and ends at the point at which we invited the participants into a period of silent reflection) With apologies, the quality of the recording is not as good as usual; I forgot to bring my digital recorder and we relied on the room recording system – which also contributed to the delay in posting this.

You can find a copy of the prayer materials we distributed to participants here.

Praying with Jesus’ Parables: The Pharisee and Tax Collector and the Widow and the Judge

Yesterday was the fourth session of the Lent Reflection Series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on the theme Praying with Jesus’ Parables. Our subjects this week were two parables unique to the Gospel of Luke: the parables of the Widow and the Judge and of the Pharisee and Tax Collector.

I shared some thoughts with the participants about both parables, encouraging fresh consideration of questions such as which of the characters in each parable we are meant to identify with, what do we learn about God (and about ourselves) from each, and how Jesus’ audience would have heard the parable.

As with all parables, these two are meant to challenge us and so we need to get beyond a reading of the Parable of the Widow and the Judge that simply says, “pray insistently,” and a reading of the Pharisee and the Tax collector that simply contrasts pride with humility.

Hopefully something in either my reflection at the session or your own prayer with the parable will challenge you.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:15) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.

Promoting a Consistent Ethic of Life

Today we held one of our “Mid-Day Dialogues” at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  The topic was Promoting a Consistent Ethic of Life.  

The phrase “consistent ethic of life” was coined in 1983 by then Cardinal Joseph Bernadin to express an ideology based on the premise that all human life is sacred and should be protected by law.

The genesis of today’s program was a conversation I had with my friend and colleague Mark Osler last semester.  He commented that it doesn’t make sense that anti-capital punishment folks and pro-life folks often most often talk to different audiences, and that what was needed was to bring the two audiences together.

To further that goal, I invited Mark and another friend and colleague, Teresa Collett to engage in today’s conversation.  Mark is actively involved in matters of criminal justice, notably death penalty and clemency, and Teresa is actively involved in the pro-life abortion arena.

Each of the two spoke for about 12 minutes, after which we had a wonderful dialogue with the audience.  As is my usual practice, I only recorded the comments by our two speakers.

You can access a recording of todays talks here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 23:54.)

Advent Retreat In Daily Living: Calls and Responses to Invitations

Yesterday was the final session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I offered at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. The theme of our first session was Creation and Fall, and in our second session last week we considered Promise in the Old Testament. The subject of today’s session was God’s Invitation and Responses to that Invitation.

After giving the participants time to share about their prayer with the reflection material I had distributed this week, I offered a reflection on God’s invitation for us to participate in his plan for salvation. I talked about God’s calls to Abraham, Moses, and other Old Testament figures. Then I talked about the God’s invitation for human participation in God’s entry into human form, addressing Joseph, Mary and Elizabeth.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:59.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.

I hope some of you have been able to participate in our retreat as we have gone along. If not, you can always return to the podcasts and/or the posted prayer material. And remember that if you go to the Podcast link at the top, you can find other Advent podcasts and prayer material.

Many blessings to all during this holy season.

Advent Retreat in Daily Living: Promise in the Old Testament

Yesterday was the second session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. As always, we began by giving the participants time to share some of the fruits of their prayer this week with the material I distributed after our first session (Creation and Fall).

The subject of this second session was Promise in the Old Testament. In my reflection, I talked about the writings of three of the prophets – Isaiah, Micah and Malachi, although I spent the most time talking about Isaiah, one of the great prophets of Advent.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:06.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.

Advent Retreat in Daily Living: Creation and Fall

Yesterday was the first session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. As I’ve shared before, Advent is my favorite time of the liturgical year, and it is an important season that often gets slighted as so many seem to move directly from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Thus, I always offer some kind of Advent reflection series at the law school, even if it is a busy time of the semester for students. (End of classes, reading period, exams.)

The subject of our first session was Creation and Fall. In my reflection, I talked about the creation story, the entry of sin into the world (including how we might understand the nature of that first sin), and God’s plan for salvation. We ended with a guided meditation on creation.

You can access a recording of my talk, which includes the guided meditation at the end, here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:09.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here. Note that before I began the recording, I asked the participants to introduce themselves and say a few words about what Advent means to them; that is what I am referring to in the opening lines of the podcast.

I opened the session with Henri Nouwen’s Advent Prayer. Since it is not on the podcast, I share it here:

Lord Jesus,
Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Jesus Speaks: The Great Commissioning

Yesterday was the final session of the Fall Reflection Series I am offering this fall at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  As I’ve already shared in my posts following the first three sessions, the reflection series is titled Jesus Speaks and it is designed to deepen our appreciation of fundamental Christian teachings drawn from the words of Christ. Each session includes a talk, time for individual reflection and some sharing of the prayer experience. In earlier sessions we considered the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes, the Eucharist, and the Great Commandment.

Today our focus was on what we refer to as the Great Commissioning: Jesus’ command to his disciples to “proclaim the gospel to all creation,” a charge found (using slightly different words) in at least two Gospels and in Acts.

In his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici, Pope John Paul II wrote: “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and the command of Jesus Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” …and lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age”…. “To evangelize,” writes Paul VI, “is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her most profound identity.””

That raises for us the question: what does it look like for us to evangelize today? How do we proclaim the Gospel in the world in which we live today? In my reflection, I shared some thoughts on those questions.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 28:21.) Although this was the final session of the series, I did give participants some prayer material; you can find it here.

Jesus Speaks: The Great Commandment

Yesterday was the fourth (and penultimate) session of the Fall Reflection Series I am offering this fall at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  As I’ve already shared in my posts following the first three sessions, the reflection series is titled Jesus Speaks and it is designed to deepen our appreciation of fundamental Christian teachings drawn from the words of Christ. Each session includes a talk, time for individual reflection and some sharing of the prayer experience. In the first three weeks we focused on the Lord’s Prayer, the Beatitudes and the Eucharist. (And we began our session today, as we usually do, by inviting the participants to share about their experience this past week reflecting on the Eucharist.

Today our focus was on Jesus’ response when he is asked which commandment is the greatest. Jesus responded,

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.

I began my talk by pointing out that neither aspect of this twofold commandment was new to the people of Jesus’ time; both are rooted in the Torah. I then offered some thoughts about each of the two aspects, including what is challenging to them in us. I ended by talking about a precondition to our ability to grow in our adherence of the command to love God and love one another: our embrace of God’s unconditional love for us.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:01.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants for their prayer this week is here.

Our series ends next week with a focus on our commissioning to proclaim the Gospel.