Today a new Shrine to Saint Thomas More was blessed during Mass at the Church that bears that saint’s name in St Paul. (You can watch a video about the painting that adorns the new shrine here.)
During his homily, Fr. Joe Weiss referenced the final line of the Prayer of Saint Thomas More: “O Lord, give us the grace to work for the things we pray for.”
It is not enough, suggested Fr. Joe to simply pray for what we want. To pray, for example, that our Church grow, or that the Church have good leadership and so forth. Rather, we need to join our prayer with action. We need to work for the things we pray for – in big ways and in small.
Fr. Joe is a Jesuit and his comment reflects Ignatius’ belief that we are called to labor with Christ. God does not leave us alone to bear the full load, but neither does God do it all for us. We are called to labor with.
So we need to pray, of course. (And I head off mid-week to direct another retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh.) But prayer alone is not enough. That is a reminder we need now and then.
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OK – I borrowed the title of today’s post from a David Brooks column in today’s New York Times. But since he borrowed the phrase “edge of the inside” from Richard Rohr, I’m sure he won’t mind my using it here.
One of the core principles of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation is perspective, which he defines as meaning that “Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures.”
Rather simply insiders and outsiders (a view fostered by our tendency toward binary thinking), one can identify in any group, institution or culture also possesses people at the edge. As described by Brooks in his piece, these are people who are within an organization “but not subsumed by group think. They work at the boundaries, bridges and entranceways. Rohr adds that those at the edge of a group “are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.
Several thoughts strike me as I read this. First, all institutions need people at the edges. Without them it is not only very difficult to build bridges with other groups, but virtually impossible for an institution to grow.
Second, people at the edges run the risk of being criticized by both those insiders at the center of an institution and by those outside it. By definition, anyone who doesn’t fit cleanly into one category or another runs the risk of vilification.
Third, notwithstanding the second point, there are some of us who are most comfortable living at the edge of inside. I have a lot of thoughts about this third, but none formulated enough to share here. But you might find it interesting to look at where you find yourself in the institutions and groups to which you belong.
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Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew is a familiar one. In a line familiar to even many without deep scriptural knowledge Jesus tells his disciples that they can only serve one master, that one cannot serve God and mammon. The passage goes on to remind us of the birds in the sky and the flowers of the field, all cared for by God, who will provide all we need.
Seven years ago, I delivered a reflection at a Red Mass at St. Thomas More University Parish in Norman, Oklahoma. (For those not familiar with it, the annual Red Mass offers an opportunity for lawyers, judges and others engaged in public service to reflect on their responsibilities as members of the legal profession.) The Gospel that evening was the same as today’s.
In my reflection, I suggested that Jesus was not asking his disciples to forsake the world and all their goods, but rather to have a proper relationship to the things of this world. Serving God and not mammon means not letting our attachment and desire for things of this world to get out of balance. I spent most of the talk considering those things that run the risk of becoming “mammon” for legal and other professionals.
You can stream the podcast (which runs for 16:16) from the icon below or can download it from here. (Remember that you can also subscribe to Creo en Dios! podcasts on iTunes.)
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I confess that traditional depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus leave me cold. While they may be meaningful to some people, pictures of a pierced and bleeding heart don’t appeal much to me.
Yes, as the Jesuit James Kubicki observes,
let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are not the actual Heart of Christ – the divine and human heart that loves us as no one else can. …Whatever our taste in images, we do not have to miss the deeper reality of the Heart of Jesus.
At the Jesuit Retreat House in Osh Kosh, where I have been since this past Sunday, there is an image of the Sacred Heart I love. There is a Chapel of the Sacred Heart on the grounds, and when you enter it, this is what you see.
To this image I can pray, “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in thee.”
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I leave today for the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I will be part of the team directing retreatants for a five-day silent directed retreat that will end Friday evening.
I always love my time at the retreat house. Located on the shore of Lake Winnebago, it offers a beautiful place to “come away and rest awhile.” The Chapel of the Sacred Heart, the “lightening” tree, the Chapel of the Annunciation, the nature trail, all offer balm to my soul. As with my old retreat house in New York, I feel my entire being both relax and lift in joy as soon as I drive onto the grounds.
And then there is the silence. The blessed silence. In the context of a Taize service, someone once shared this about silence:
When we try to express communion with God in words, our minds quickly come up short. But, in the depths of our being, through the Holy Spirit, Christ is praying far more than we imagine.
Although God never stops trying to communicate with us, this is never in order to impose. The voice of God is often heard only in a whisper, in a breath of silence. Remaining in silence in God’s presence, open to the Holy Spirit, is already prayer.
The road to contemplation is not one of achieving inner silence at all costs by following some technique that creates a kind of emptiness within. If, instead, with a childlike trust we let Christ pray silently within us, then one day we shall discover that the depths of our being are inhabited by a Presence.
Whether on retreat or not, find a way to give yourself the gift of silence.
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I wrote last week about the talk I gave at St. Thomas Apostle on the relationship between wisdom and mercy, part of the parish’s four-part series on the Year of Mercy. In my earlier post, I talked of wisdom as seeing as God sees, one element of which is seeing everyone as the beloved of God.
My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle, reflected on that part of my talk in his weekly parish column. He wrote
This is hardly a foreign concept in our faith tradition. In the beginning, God made humankind in the divine image, the writer of Genesis tells us. We are the very image of God, in our humanity. Thus, to see the other as also being the image of God ought to be the most authentically human experience in the world.
So…it ought to be an equally authentically human experience to say and believe the following:
Bernie Sanders, you are the beloved of God… Hillary Clinton, you are the beloved of God… Donald Trump, you are the beloved of God…
Neighbor who fails to clean up what his dog left in my yard, you are the beloved of God… Driver who believes the stop sign at the corner is merely a suggestion, you are the beloved of God… Shopper who takes the last item off the shelf that was my sole purpose for going to the grocery store, you are the beloved of God…
Archbishop Weakland, you are the beloved of God… Cardinal Law, you are the beloved of God… Archbishop Nienstedt, you are the beloved of God…
I have to be honest. I’m not sure I can say and believe all those statements. Does this mean I am lacking in the wisdom that leads to mercy? Well…in a word…yes.
But it doesn’t mean I quit trying. It doesn’t mean I give up on trying to separate what a person does from who a person is. The wisdom that leads to mercy does not condone sin; it acknowledges the sinner as beloved of God. The wisdom that leads to mercy does not mean that I should ignore the evil that is done in the world; it calls me to see every human person as capable of redemption, precisely because they are the beloved of God. The wisdom that leads to mercy does not ask me to turn a blind eye; it calls me to turn the other cheek.
Can I say and believe all those statements as well? I don’t know. But I can keep trying.
As Bill says, and as we discussed in the dialogue that followed my talk, this is not easy. It is a process. And our failure to always see as God sees “doesn’t mean I quit trying.”
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Today’s first Mass reading from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, is one that never fails to move me. In it, Paul reminds Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have.” For, as Paul says, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”
I absolutely love the image of stirring into flame the gifts we have been given. I imagine leaning over a campfire blowing into a small fire, coaxing it along until it until bursts into flames. Or kneeling in front of the fireplace, blowing on the embers underneath a new log, hoping they are enough to get that log going. As anyone who has ever built a fire knows, the process requires patience and persistence.
God gives us amazing gifts, but doesn’t give them to us full-blown. God expects us to develop the the gifts we have been given and make them grow so that we can fulfill our mission to proclaim the Word.
The task is not always an easy one. We face hardships and we face temptations; Jesus never promised otherwise. (In fact he was pretty clear difficulties would arise.)
But as with everything else, we don’t do the stirring on our own. Rather, we have “the strength that comes from God” and we have been given a spirit, not of cowardice, “but rather of power and love and self-control.”
So go out and stir into flame the gifts you have been given!
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