I spent a good part of one of the days of my retreat praying with Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom, and felt I came away with a much deeper understanding than I had before of some of what Jesus was trying to convey in those parables. But I also came away with something more than that.
On a walk I took on the beach after some sessions praying with the parables, I started singing the David Haas Blest Are They song that we’ve sometimes sung at Mass. As I over and over sang “Blest are they” and “the Kingdom of God is theirs”, and as those words melded with my meditations on the parables, I had a deepened realization that Jesus was not giving a promise about the future when he spoke about the Kingdom. That when he said the Kingdom of God is at hand he was not making a promise about what would happen to us when we die, but was speaking about the here and now. (Doubtless the strength of the realization was aided by the fact that the book I was reading on retreat in between my meditations on Savary’s New Spiritual Exercises is Gerhard Lohfink’s Jesus of Nazareth; I’ll write more about that book at a future time.)
This is something St. Ignatius totally got, hence his stress about being contemplatives in action and on God’s plan for the world. Ignatius is not about doing some good things here so you can enjoy eternity in God’s kingdom in another world, it is about manifesting God’s kingdom in this world.
Once we understand that we can see that there are two fundamental mistakes people can make. The first is a non-spiritual view that thinks this life is just about enjoying oneself, getting as much as one can, living only for oneself.
The second is a mistake some religious folks make – to think that that the Kingdom is all about the afterlife (although we will have that also). That view causes some to think it is an acceptable option to simply write off this world as corrupt and worry about the next one. But what we do in this life is not simply the price for something that comes after death, but is a fundamental part of God’s plan.
When I hear some people these days talk about the “Benedict option,” I fear they may suffer from this mistake. If the Benedict option means withdraw from the mainstream and become a beacon of light for all to see, a model for Kingdom (in the way I think God intended the Israelites to be) that is one thing. But the way I hear some people talk, it is more about circling the wagons and protecting themselves from the big bad world. And that option is a fundamental mistake that abandons God’s plan for the world.
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At the Mass I attended yesterday morning at St. Thomas More church in St. Paul, a baby was baptized. As we watched the celebrant bless the water with which the baby would be baptized, I was reminded of an experience I had one day during my retreat.
Earlier in that day, I had been praying with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist (itself a powerful prayer experience). That afternoon, as I was standing on the sand at the ocean’s edge and, reviewing the scene, I said to Jesus, “Baptize me, Lord.” And I saw Jesus held out his arm over the ocean and said, “I baptize you with the water of my father’s creation.” And I stood with my eyes closed as the waves rolled in, feeling the spray of the water (and a lot more than spray up to my knees).
In that moment, I had a deep realization that all is blessed. That all is already holy. That all of God’s creation is already sanctified by the divine touch, divine breath.
There is no need to bless the water with which we are baptized. The act of blessing the water that we call “holy water” doesn’t itself bless the water. The words of blessing are merely an outward sign of the blessing that already exists.
All is blessed by God.
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I was largely “off-grid” for the week of my retreat and am now catching up with the events of the world. An awful lot happened in that one week!
Some of it was exciting: the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment gallops first to mind. I’ll refrain from any specific comments until I’ve had a chance to read the entire document, but I know there will be much there that can and should affect our relationship with the world.
Some of the news was tragic: the shooting in the Charleston church. That one broke through my silence – I heard it in the petitions at Mass the morning after it happened. It remained in my prayers throughout that day.
Some of the news was a source of both sadness and relief: the resignation of the Archbishop of the Minneapolis-St. Paul diocese. I am saddened by so much that has to do with this entire story, but also relieved since I believe it signals the beginning of much needed healing in this diocese.
Through all the news, good and bad, I hear God’s voice: Trust in me. I am with you always. Good or bad, do not be afraid.
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I don’t know how many times I said “thank you, God” during my last walk along the beach at San Alphonso this morning. I didn’t count, but I know it was a lot. (I also gave thanks for my friend Maria, who recommended this retreat house to me.)
This week of retreat has been filled with so many blessings! And as is always the case, some I never could have anticipated.
I will share some reflections from my retreat experience over the coming days. For now it is enough to say: Thanks Be To God!
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It was my friend Maria Scaperlanda who recommended San Alphonso retreat house to me. She also told me about a particular sculpture of Mary and Jesus that she loved and that I should be sure to see. I am glad she did; the sculpture completely changed how I heard something Jesus says in Luke’s gospel.
First, here is a picture of the sculpture:
I have no idea what the sculptor’s intent was, but as soon as I saw this, what I heard was Jesus saying to Mary in the temple, “don’t you know I must be about my father’s business.”
In the past, I always heard those words as an admonishment, almost harshly critical of Mary’s lack of understanding. The words were distancing.
But as I stood before the sculpture I heard the words very differently. I heard “don’t you know” the way I might say to Elena when she is hurt, “don’t you know how much I love you” – that is, knowing of course that she does. So what I heard Jesus saying to his mother was “(don’t) you know that I must be about my fathers business. That is exactly what you did when you said yes to my father’s plan. You risked problems with your family, the scorn of friends, even death to be about my father’s business. Surely you – more than anyone else – understand that I must do the same.” (And, although Joseph is not in the sculpture, I heard Jesus’ similar words to him.)
And far from distancing (and I observed that Jesus is not straining against Mary’s arm around him and that while one of his hands points off, the other reaches toward her) I found the words uniting: Jesus says I must be about my father’s business, as must you.
As must we all. As must we all.
I am structuring my retreat time using Louis Savary’s The New Spuritual Exercises in the Spirit of Teilhard de Chardin. My reflection in front of the sculpture is a perfect fit with what God has been doing with me through that vehicle.
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Here is one of the places I have been spending a lot of time since my arrival here at San Alphonsi Retreat House on Friday.
And also taking long walks along the shore. It occurred to me that the last time I spent time gazing at the Atlantic Ocean, it was from Finisterre in Spain, at the end of my Camino. It is good to be back at the ocean.
So grateful for this time of retreat. God’s blessings flow.
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I am sitting on a New Jersey Transit train en route to San Alphonso Retreat House in Long Branch NJ. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post I will be on retreat there for the next week.
I smiled when I realized I begin my retreat later today on this feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Among other things it provides a beautiful link between my recent days at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh and these upcoming days.
On the grounds of theOshKosh Retreat House is a Shrine of the Sacred Heart. It is a small round building. When you enter, you face a quarter-circle brick wall to the opening of the shrine area to the statue representing the Sacred Heart.
I am not someone moved by traditional depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus standing there holding a heart in His hand is not an image that touches me. But I remember thinking, the first time I saw this statue: this is truly the Sacred Heart of Jesus!
The statue is of Jesus sitting with a small boy standing at his side. Jesus’ right arm is around the boy, whose eyes are closed and whose head leans in, resting on Jesus. The boy’s right hand is holding Jesus’ left hand resting on Jesus’ knee and the boy’s other hand rests gently on Jesus’ forearm. Jesus’ gazes intently at the boy, as though there is no one else in the world. Total love and compassion pouring out of Jesus. And the child resting in total trust and comfort.
And that, to me, seems a wonderful image with which to begin my retreat: resting on total trust and comfort in the arms of my God. That doesn’t mean the retreat will necessarily be easy; retreats often raise challenges or bring to the surface pains that need healing. But whatever this time will bring, I will not be alone.
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