Getting in Touch With Our Deepest Desires

Today was the second session of the five-week series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas this fall on Discerning My Place in the World.  The theme for today’s session was Getting in Touch With My Deepest Desires.

I began by talking about an important antecedent to any meaningful discussion of discernment: embracing the gift of freedom of choice, which included distinguishing between a secular and a Christian understanding of freedom.

I then talked about the role of desire in discernment, focusing on an Ignatian view of desire.  After my remarks, the participants spend some time doing an exercise designed to help them get in touch with their deepest desires.

You can access a recording of my talk at today’s session here or stream it from the icon below.  You can find the prayer material I distributed today here.


Jesus As Our Model for Encountering Others

We opened the year of Adult Faith Formation at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Minneapolis this morning with the first of a seven session series on Creating a Culture of Encounter.  I had the enjoyable task of kicking off the series.

I opened by briefly talking about what we mean by a “culture of encounter” and why we picked the theme for the year.  I then focused for the bulk of the session on what we learn from the Gospels about encounter.  Specifically, what do we learn about how we encounter others from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ encounters with others?

During my talk, I suggested five lessons we learn from Jesus about encounter, each of which would make a great deal of difference to how we encounter others if we took the lessons to heart.  For each I shared some Gospel passages that illustrate the lesson.  With the hope that it might provoke some useful meditation for you, in summary form, here are the five lessons I shared in my talk, along with the scripture passages I referenced for illustrative purposes and the questions we might ask ourselves.

Lesson 1: Jesus models compassion first, without regard to whether it is earned.

Illustration: Jesus encounter with Zacchaeus the tax collector

Question for reflection:  Can I offer love and compassion without regard to whether it is deserved?  Can I make the first move, giving the other an opportunity to respond with grace.

Lesson 2: Jesus models speaking the truth with love.

Illustration: Jesus’ encounters with the woman caught in adultery and with the Samaritan Woman at the well.

Question for reflection: Can I find ways to encourage others in a more positive fashion?  Do I lead with their shortcomings or begin with connection?

Lesson 3: Jesus models acceptance of what the other is capable of giving.

Illustration: Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man and with Peter at the beach at the end of John’s Gospel.

Question for reflection:  Do I accept what others are able to offer or do I create unreasonable expectations of others and then resent when they don’t meet my expectations?

Lesson 4: Jesus models an openness to learning from others.

Illustration: Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman who asks him to heal her daughter.

Question for reflection: Am I open to allowing others to expand my understanding?  Or do I think I already have all of the answers?

Lesson 5: Jesus shows us that true encounter means opening ourselves to vulnerability.

Illustration: Jesus’ crying at the death of Lazarus; Jesus asking his apostles to be with him in the garden.

Question for reflection:  Am I willing to show vulnerability before others?  Or do I feel the need to hide behind a mask of strength?

The Universal Call to Heal the World

Today was the first session of the five-week series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas this fall on Discerning My Place in the World.  My talk at today’s session both introduced the series and focused on God’s invitation to all of us to participate in his plan for the world.

I used St. Ignatius’ opening prayer of Week 2 of his Spiritual Exercises, the Kingdom Exercise, as a way to talk about our invitation to labor with Christ for building God’s Kingdom.  Most of the talk, however, was aimed at helping people embrace the reality that each of them individually is called by God.

After my talk, we had some time for silent reflection on the participant’s experience of being called by God, an exercise I encouraged them to continue to pray with after the session.

You can access a recording of my talk at today’s session here or stream it from the icon below.  You can find the prayer material I distributed today here.

What Does it Mean to Honor the Sabbath?

In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath, and he notices a man with a withered hand.  As they often do, the Pharisees and scribes watch Jesus closely, hoping to catch him in an act that would allow them to accuse him of wrongdoing.  In this case: will he cure the man in violation of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath?

Jesus, knowing their intent, calls the man up to stand before them, and he says to the scribes and Pharisees, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?

How do we answer that question?  I think the answer is suggested by a simple comment on the Sabbath once made by Rabbi Jacob Neusner: “Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God.”  Therefore, he suggests that keeping the Sabbath is not just about not doing something, but of celebrating creation.

Jesus question seems to me the right one.  To use Rabbi Nedusner’s language, the question is: does this act honor the Sabbath? Does it imitate God? Does it celebrate creation?  Restoring the man’s hand to health, as Jesus did that day, did exactly that.

Martin Luther, Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa Avila Walked into A Bar…

Well, no, they didn’t, and I don’t have any funny joke to tell about them. Nor is putting them together in the title my brainstorm.  For that, I credit Susanna Bertelsen, another spiritual director here in the Twin Cities.  Susanna wrote a reflection for the blog of the Loyola Spirituality Center, sharing some thoughts that arose from a trip she took this summer.

Speaking of Luther, Ignatius and Teresa, Susanna wrote:

What common wisdom might Martin Luther (1483-1546), Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) have acquired that could inspire us today?  They were all influenced by the political and religious challenges of their time. They exhibited leadership. They were challenged by dark periods and emboldened by periods of clarity and light. Each one struggled with their God until they surrendered to the Divine Mystery in their lives. They intentionally created time for study of and silent prayer with Scripture. Each had a passion to share the teachings of the Gospels to all people, regardless of class.  It seemed that their spiritual practices led them to “listen” more deeply to the stirrings of the Spirit within them.  Through their study, prayer and lived experiences each one encountered the Presence of God to inspire, to heal, to reach out.  They developed relationship through encounter with the Holy One who moved them to become aware of and to reform the inequalities and abuses of their time, in the places and spaces around them.  I see here Divine synchronicity!  Luther in Germany and Ignatius and Teresa in Spain discovered and developed contemplative life styles.  Contemplation, for each of them, led to action, within their respective worldly situations.

And, as Susanna recognized in her reflection, what is central is what all of this means for us today.  The challenge, she suggests, is to ask ourselves:

To whom and to what must I LISTEN more attentively?… What REFORMATION or change or transformation in myself must occur in order to ENCOUNTER the “good” in myself and others?

You can read the entirety of Susanna’s reflection here.


On Harvey and Other Experiences of Suffering

Neil Willard, formerly rector of an Episcopal church here in the Twin Cities, is now rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston.  He and his family (whose home was not flooded) have been working tirelessly in aid of those who have lost so much.  (The amount of food his wife Carrie has been cooking nonstop could probably fill a barn by now.)

On Sunday, Neil preached his first sermon after the flooding.   Rejecting some of the things we often hear after some natural disaster, Neil said

The storm that killed those whose bodies have completely filled the city morgue, and whom we’ll remember in our prayers today, isn’t divine retribution. And it isn’t part of some divine plan, as a few streams of Christian theology might suggest, in which someone’s pain is required to show forth the glory of God. We aren’t better people because tragedy of one kind or another didn’t befall us. And we most certainly aren’t better Christians when we stand at a distance and affirm that “everything happens for a reason.”…

He went on to say

At the center of our faith stands the cross. So it should come as no surprise that right in the middle of the Nicene Creed we declare that Jesus Christ “was crucified under Pontius Pilate . . . suffered death and was buried.”

This statement anchors our faith not only in the pages of history but also in every experience of God-forsakenness. It brings our faith into the suffering of the world, where God himself has led the way. Perhaps to the surprise of many, we stand beside those who raise their fists to heaven in moral outrage over innocent suffering. That’s because what they protest isn’t God but things that are the enemy of God….

God isn’t the source of discord — the chaos in the world and within us. And God is not pleased with such freedom abused. Yet God is able to create anew, bringing good out of evil and the chaos to an end.

You can read the entirety of Neil’s sermon here.

Carrie Willard’s blog lists some local organizations that could put donations to good use.

Who Has Made Thee?

On this feast of St. Augustine, here are some words from his Sermon 241:

Ask the loveliness of the earth, ask the loveliness of the sea, ask the loveliness of the wide airy spaces, ask the loveliness of the sky, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun making the day light with its beams, ask the moon tempering the darkness of the night that follows, ask the living things which move in the waters, which tarry on the land, which fly in the air; ask the souls that are hidden, the bodies that are perceptive; the visible things which must be governed, the invisible things which govern – ask all these things, and they will all answer thee, Lo, see we are lovely. Their loveliness is their confession. And these lovely but mutable things, who has made them, save beauty immutable?