Today’s Gospel is the familiar story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  It is a passage I have always found powerful and even more so ever since I played that woman in the Trial of Christ (something I wrote about here).

Here is one video version of the scene:

“Neither do I condemn you,” says Jesus to the woman.  Notice Jesus does not say he condones her acts.  Quite the opposite; “Go, and sin no more,” he tells her, acknowledges the wrongfulness of her prior way of life.

But while Jesus disapproves of her sin, he does not condemn her, he does not pronounce her as deserving the ultimate punishment the Pharisees were willing to impose on her.

Who do we condemn?  Who do we write off?  And, in so doing, do we forget our own failings?


Yesterday morning I co-presented a retreat on the theme Loving Our Brothers and Sisters with Vincent and Ignatius as our Guides.  The retreat was sponsored by City House, a nonprofit entity whose core mission is to provide spiritual listening to people on the margins, including those experiencing poverty, imprisonment, homelessness and addiction.  Both Janice Andersen, my co-presenter, and I serve on City House’s Board of Directors.

The theme for the day emerges from the fact that City House’s work incorporates elements of both the Vincentian and Ignatian spiritual traditions.  We divided the day into two segments – one devoted to St. Vincent de Paul and Vincentian spirituality and the other devoted to St. Ignatius and Ignatian tradition. For each, I shared a little about the man and the spirituality that flowed from his work and then Janice shared from her own experience how the elements of the two spiritualities are reflected in her ministry. After each of the sets of talks, we gave the participants time to engage in individual prayer, followed by small group sharing and large group discussion.  We ended the day with a beautiful closing ritual Janice prepared.

I only recorded the first part of the day – my discussion of Vincent de Paul and on the five virtues that are characteristic of his spirituality: simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification and zeal.  You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:26.) A copy of the the handout we gave participants to reflect on is here.

P.S.  You can learn more about City House here.  As I’ve said before, any financial support you can give to support the ministry of City House would be greatly appreciated.  If you’ve benefitted from this podcast or any others of the many I’ve posted on this site, please consider a donation.

Wait With Me

I’ve twice recently recommended Mary Oliver’s poem Gethsemane to others and so was prompted to share it here.  It is a wonderful poem anytime, but seems particularly worth a read during this season of Lent.

Here it is:

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
maybe the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.


More Endo

A couple of weeks ago I shared some reactions to Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, the story of a Jesuit missionary in 17th Century Japan.  Let me now add to my recommendations of Endo’s work, his book of short stories (better described as spiritual narratives), The Final Martyrs.

For Endo, the short story form was a way to try out ideas and characters that would later take shape in a novels.  So while some authors settle on one genre or anohter, Endo believed that “the best way to give concrete embodiment” to his themes was to alternate between the writing of short stories and novels.

All of Endo’s characters reflect, in his words, “portions of myself.” And his stories contain many biographical elements – his early family life in Dalien, the impact of his parent’s fractious relationship and ultimate divorce, the life of a Japanese student studying abroad, the questions of religion so central to his being and writing.  The themes of exile and alienation are almost always present.

Endo’s characters often find themselves facing complex moral dilemmas. How his characters resolve those dilemmas often reminds us of our frail humanness.  In Life, the same boy who reaches out in kindness to a young soldier billeted in his families home for a few days (the soldier had been mistreated by his superiors and the boy tried to gift him with one of his most valuable treasures) allows the Manchurian houseboy who had treated him always with kindness and goodness to be wrongly punished for an act of theft the boy himself had committed.  In The Final Martyrs, reminding us of one of the characters in Silence, a weak man apostatizes but can’t completely give up his faith.

But his characters also remind us of the good we are capable of.  In The Box, a woman who had been treated badly by the military police during the war refuses to witness against them after the war, preferring instead to report that they had given her potatoes and milk when she and her father lacked food.  In A Sixty-year-old Man, the old man does not give in to his temptation toward a young girl willing to trade relationship with him for some clothes and music, remembering the painting of paradise the appeared in the dream of a character in a Dostoevsky novel.

Another good choice for some Lent reading (which I say recognizing that the end of Lent is closing in on us).

As many people have doubtless already heard, during a penance service this past Friday afternoon, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to Divine Mercy.  In his homily during that service, he explained

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call anextraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”

This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.

I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.

He also stressed in his homily that “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one.  Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness.  The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.”

Although the Year of Mercy will not begin for many months, there are already plenty of people commenting on what it might mean – or what it should mean given the commentator’s particular leanings.  E.g., mercy must mean more widespread annulments or dispensations for divorced and remarried Catholics. Or mercy can’t mean a change in the Church’s position on homosexuality.  Etc, etc.

My own view is that the best use of our time in these months leading up the Year of Mercy, as well is during it, is to reflect on the role of mercy in our own lives, considering such questions as:

Where have I not shown mercy?  What are the debts/wrongs I have not forgiven – financial, emotional or otherwise?

In what areas of my life have I not availed myself of God’s mercy or not trusted in God’s mercy?

How does the abundant mercy God has shown to me affect the mercy I show to others?

We might also remind ourselves that God’s abundant mercy does not mean we are not sinners, but that we are loved sinners.  It doesn’t mean we need not seek forgiveness, but that God is always standing (like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son) ready to welcome us home.

Yesterday was the third session of the four-session Lent Reflection Series I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year.  During our first session, my talk focused on the traditional Lenten observances of fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  Last week our subject was sin: our need to acknowledge both our own personal sins and our participation in social sin, and to recongize our need for God’s help and open ourself to God’s love and grace.

This week our subject was Walking with Jesus in His Passion.  As I said to the participants at the outset of my talk, praying with the passion of Jesus has a long tradition. Although the practice predates them, both St. Francis and St. Bernard had tremendous devotion to the idea of entering into the suffering of Jesus.  For St. Ignatius of Loyola, praying with the passion and death of Jesus is an importnat part of the Spiritual Exercises.  (That is Week 3 of the Exercises.)  Pope John Paul II, in one of his Lenten messages, spoke of following Jesus to Calvary and the Cross so as to share with him in the glory of the resurrection.

Most Catholic parishes include praying with the passion in the form of Stations of the Cross as part of their Lenten observation (usually preceding or following a Friday night Fish Fry.)

In my talk, I reflected on what we seek to do in praying with the passion and how participants might do so in the coming days.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:43.) A copy of the the handout I distributed to participants, which I talk about near the end of my talk is here.


One of the sessions I attended at the UST Gaudium et Spes conference that I wrote about the other day was titled Evaluating Progress.  In that panel, Professor Philip Rolnick of the UST Theology Department gave a talk titled The Paradox of Progress.

In his paper, Rolnick distinguished between change and progress, something we don’t always do.  he called change “the meretricious cousin of progress,” suggesting that “one of the great challenges of our age is to let the Gospel heal the hyperactive pursuit of change-for-the-sake of change.”

Change means simply that something (or someone) is different.  Change, by itself, is not a good, although many people tend to treat it that way.  Progress, unlike change, has “a clear sense of direction.”

It goes without saying that one can’t speak of “progress” apart from a vision of what we are seeking.  I thought Rolnick nicely articulated that vision from the standpoint of Catholicism: “In relationship to God, progress occurs in the individual as sanctification; in the Church as a sanctified consolidation; and throughout the earth as a movement toward becoming the human family of God.

Others might articulate the vision differently.  But whether one would or would not frame the vision as he does, it struck me as I listened to his talk that, as a general matter, insufficient attention is paid to how we evaluate progress, that is, how we distinguish between change for its own sake and change that moves us to a place we want to be.


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