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Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

Our second Mass reading, from the Letter to the Philippians reminds us that we are to have the same mindset of Jesus Christ, who

though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Our veneration of the cross is more than simply gazing on what God has done for us through Jesus. It means more than merely reciting our prayers of adoration before the cross. Truly exalting the cross means putting on the mind of Jesus. It means taking up our own crosses and living lives in imitation of Christ. It means being Christ in the world.

Kneeling in front of the cross or processing with the cross singing praise is the easy part. Living in the light of the cross is the challenge.

Last night was the first session of the monthly “Deepening” series Christine Luna Munger and I facilitate at St. Catherine University.  This is our third series: Two years ago we focused on deepening our experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. ignatius and last year we deepened our experience of the Christian Mystics.  This year our focus is on Christian prayers and practices.

In our first session last night, the practice I shared about is Gratitude and the prayer, the Examen.

We started with gratitude because it is such a foundational practice.  Ron Rolheiser speaks of gratitude as the “ultimate virtue.”  Gratitude, even more so than love, makes us saints, Rolheiser claims, “because love is only real when it’s fueled by gratitude. If it’s fueled by resentment or duty, it’s going to cause resentment or be manipulative. If someone asks, ‘Who’s the most saintly person you know?’ I would say the most grateful person.”

During my talk I spoke about the values and benefits of practicing gratitude and shared some practices for growing to the point where gratitude becomes the natural stance out of which we operate.

One of the practices we talked about was keeping a gratitude journal, of getting into the habit of recording three to five things for which you’re grateful every day. It may be something big or something as little as an unexpected smile or greeting from another person.

The idea of keeping a gratitude journal is not a new one. One of the earliest advocates of a daily gratitude practice was Dutch philosopher Rabbi Baruch Spinoza. In the seventeenth century, he suggested that each day for a month, we ask ourselves the following three questions:

  1. Who or what inspired me today?
  2. What brought me happiness today?
  3. What brought me comfort and deep peace today?

This practice, wrote Spinoza, would help us find more meaning and joy in our lives and would lead to profound inner transformation.

If this is not a current practice of yours, you might it and see what difference it makes in your outlook.

Fifteen Years Ago

Is it really fifteen years since I sat in an office at Cardozo Law School (which had given me office space during my sabbatical from St. John’s University) and heard more sirens than seemed normal for a Tuesday morning?  “Gosh, Manhattan is louder than I had remembered,” I thought to myself, just before someone knocked on my door to see if I had heard about the plane that had flown into the World Trade Center.

Fifteen years since I wandered the streets trying to get home to my husband and daughter, only to travel back into Manhattan a few days later to try to find information about missing persons, my Uncle Mike among them.

Fifteen years since I learned we lost, not only Mike, but my friend Clarin, my law school classmate Chris, the brother of a dear friend, the lover of another friend’s brother, and so many more.

It really was fifteen years ago.  And fifteen years later, I still can’t bring myself to visit the memorial that stands on the site where the Twin Towers stood.

Fifteen years later, and I can still close my eyes and see the white ash covering fire trucks and the signs posted all over Manhattan seeking information of loved ones, and feel the tears the covered my face as I touched one or another makeshift marker.

Fifteen years later, and I can still remember the abject fear I experienced in the months following 9/11 every time I was a bridge or tunnel away from Dave and Elena.  (It was months before I could drive across a bridge without thinking,”Should I keep my seat belt on or off?  Should I keep the window open or closed?  If a bomb hits the bridge, which will make it most likely I can escape my car if I end up in the water?”)

It was all pretty horrible, and my pain today is deep – as it is each year on this anniversary.

Yet, today is a good day to remind ourselves that there are people who live every day of their lives wondering if a bomb will hit them on the way to school or work.

That there are people who every day face the potential loss of mother, father, sister, brother, friend to senseless acts of war and terrorism.

People every day who mourn actual deaths of those they love to violence of one sort or another.

And that means that today is a good day to ask ourselves: What are we doing to promote peace?  What are we doing to be forces of love, unity and peace, rather than hatred, division and conflict?

 

In a short essay in this month’s Give Us This Day, Richard Gaillardetz asks whether we have ever considered by Jesus didn’t write his own Gospel.  It is a reasonable question: why didn’t Jesus write a manual of instruction for his followers.

Gaillardetz hazards this guess:

Perhaps [Jesus] thought it more important to create a living community of faith than a written manual.  Those Jesus gathered around him were those willing to learn together the ways of God’s reign; in them the Church was established as a kind of “school of discipleship.” As member of this school of discipleship we are all invited into the risky practices of learning and teaching….

Our discipleship calls us to learn the ways of God’s reign.  By God’s grace we are to cultivate the practices of justice and mercy.  Christian learning is thus more than the simple acquisition of knowledge; it calls for the pursuit of a particular way of life.

The simple question is this: Are we willing to be members of the “school of discipleship”?  That is, are we willing to live as Jesus did, as Jesus invited his disciples to live?  Are we willing, not to simply acquire knowledge about what Jesus taught, but to pursue the way of life he taught and modeled?

Today is Labor Day, a day on which Americans pay tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.  In actuality, while some may go to a parade, and some may go to a Mass that will mention workers, most people will simply enjoy the extra day added to their weekend.

From a Catholic perspective, the day is a reminder of the dignity of labor.   In his Encyclical Laborem Exercens, Pope John Paul II described work as one of the central characteristics that distinguishes humans from other creatures.  He wrote

Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.

Work is thus a fundamental dimension of [human] existence on earth.

The source of the view of work as fundamental to human existence is our creation in the image of God. Created in the image of God, human participate in the act of creation through our work.  From the standpoint of Catholic thought, all work, no matter how ordinary or mundane it seems, is an act of cooperation with God’s creative work. This might be a useful thing for us to keep in mind, both as we contemplate those aspects of our own work that may at times seem less than exhilarating and as we encounter those working in jobs we do not’ typically value.

On this Labor Day, let us pray not only for all who labor, but that we may each  develop and use the gifts God has given us to do the work to which He has called us.

God on The Trail

After convalescing from a war injury, St. Ignatius spent some time at the Benedictine Monastery in Montserrat and then went to nearby Manresa, where he took up residence at a hospice for the poor. While there he discovered a small cave in the hills on the outskirts of town. It became his second home; he spent countless hours and even days at a time, withdrawn, secluded, praying. Near the cave was a swift-flowing stream called the River Cardoner, where Igntaius would spend hours by the water, observing nature and starting to see God’s creative hand in everything around him.

I think of Ignatius sometimes when I spend some days hiking, as I am doing this weekend. It is impossible to walk the trails I have been walking without being acutely aware of God’s presence – at the moment of creation and in every moment thereafter.  Impossible not to be filled with gratitude at the beauty of God’s handiwork.

LDV8

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God’s Co-Workers

In today’s first Mass reading, Paul reminds the people of Corinth that we are God’s co-workers and that, while we may plant and water, it is God who causes the growth.

When I read the passage, I was reminded of the prayer sometimes attributed to Oscar Romero, but which was written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw in honor of Romero.  It came to mind easily, as we used it recently as the opening prayer for a professional staff day in our offices.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

God is the master builder, we are workers.  We do our individual pieces, knowing that the whole is in God’s hands.

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