As I begin preparation for several Advent programs I will be giving in various places in December, I pulled out a folder from my file cabinet labeled “Advent Resources.”  Among the items in the folder was the Advent 2010 letter written by the Vincentian Superior General, Fr. Greg Gay.

Gay’s letter included a prayer that had been created for the celebration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  It was titled The Beatitudes of Social Engagement.

As we continue through a sad (and maddening) election season, and as the world around us continues to groan in suffering, I thought it was worth sharing this prayer.

Happy are you, when you remain available, sharing in simplicity what you possess.

Happy are you, when you weep over the absence of happiness around you, and throughout the world.

Happy are you, when you opt for gentleness and dialogue even when this seems long and difficult.

Happy are you, when you creatively devise new ways of donating your time, your tenderness and gems of hope.

Happy are you, when you listen with your heart to detect what is gift in others.

Happy are you, when you strive to take the first step, the necessary one to attain peace with brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Happy are you, when you keep in your heart wonderment, openness and free questioning of life.

Happy are you, when you take seriously your faith in the Risen Christ.

May we strive to live in the spirit of these beatitudes.

Yesterday was the third session of the Fall Reflection Series that Jennifer Wright and I are co-facilitating at the University of St. Thomas (on the Minneapolis campus) this year.  The theme for this five week series is Women of the Bible.

Yesterday’s subjects were the two women whose story is told in the Book of Ruth: Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.  Unlike the two pairs we considered in the first two segments of our series – Sarah and Hagar and Rachel and Leah, Ruth and Naomi present a model of a beautiful, graced relationship between two women.

In my talk I conveyed the basic story told in the Book of Ruth and then shared some of the interesting elements of the story, including the fact that Ruth  tells the story of the relationship between two women from their own perspective, that it is the only biblical text where the Hebrew word hesed, or “steadfast love” is used to define the relationship between two women, and that the story is actually quite subversive in casting a Moabite as the hero of a biblical story, one who ends up providing offspring who will be important to the future of the Israelites.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 23:20 and ends at the point at which I opened the session up for comments and questions by the participants.)

You can find a copy of the prayer materials we distributed to participants here.  It contains the text of the Book of Ruth, divided as Joan Chittister does in her book The Story of Ruth (which I reference in my talk), as well as some questions for reflection.

Today’s Gospel is Luke’s account of a parable Jesus told the Pharisees, the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

The parable is familiar to us.  A rich man “who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day,” ignored the plight of a poor man named Lazarus.  Given that Lazarus lay at the man’s door, the rich man must have practically had to step over him each day.  Yet the man did nothing to help him.

When both men died, Lazarus “was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham” and the rich man ended up in “the netherworld, where he was in torment.”

Fr. Warren Sazama asked in his sermon at Mass this morning: what did this rich man do to deserve eternal torment?  He didn’t affirmatively do anything bad; the implication from the fact that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees is that he was not a sinful man.  Like the Pharisees, he likely broke none of the ten commandments.

Why did the rich man end up in torment in the netherworld?  Not for something he did, but for what he did not do.  He did nothing.  He ignored the needs of his brother Lazarus.  Indeed, he didn’t recognize Lazarus as his brother.  “I have five brothers,” he tells Abraham, not counting Lazarus among them.  And that was the cause of his separation from God upon his death.

It is not enough to say we love God.  We demonstrate our love for God by our love for one another.  And we demonstrate it most profoundly when we take care of the needs of those who suffer.

Two incidents in the last two days prompt this post.

First, yesterday I learned that someone I had shared some news with confidentially had shared the news with at least one other person.  He knew what I shared was confidential, he knew why I did not want him sharing it, and he agreed to keep the news quiet.  Yet, from the timing of when the person he told turned around and shared the news with a third person, it appears he wasted no time in breaching trust.  When I confronted him yesterday, telling him I was angry, all he said was “You have a right to be angry.”  No hint of apology.

Second, we have a group of students for whom it is extremely difficult to find times to schedule meetings given their varied schedules.  Having found two time blocks that work for everyone, we have told the group (multiple times) to keep those two blocks free until they received an actual schedule of meetings.  A meeting was scheduled for Friday (yesterday) afternoon and notice of that sent out earlier in the week.  On Thursday late afternoon one of the students rushed in to me to say she had, several weeks ago, planned to be away this weekend and was leaving Friday morning.  The most I got, after reminding her that she was told to keep the block open was “I probably should have told you this earlier.”  Ya think?   No “sorry for causing you all wasted time and energy” or “I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

We get this sort of thing all the time in the public realm.  Public officials who can’t get any further in acknowledging their wrongdoing than “mistakes were made”, as though those pesky little mistakes created themselves.  The words “I’m sorry” rarely pass their lips.

But I guess I don’t expect that same inability to apologize in personal relations.  I never liked the line in Love Story that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  It matters to say “I’m sorry.”  It matters both for the person who messed up – intentionally or not – to take ownership of the impact of their action or inaction on the person they affected. And it matters to the person harmed to hear the words.

The First Letter of John asks if we don’t love the people we can see, how can we love the God we cannot see.  I wonder if we might ask: If we can’t express contrition to those we can see, how much do we really mean it when we express our contrition to the God we cannot see.

Update: I just received an e-mail apology from one of the two people described above.  Whether it was a result  of reading my post, or just having had time to reflect, the apology is appreciated.

Today was the second session of the Fall Reflection Series that Jennifer Wright and I are offering at the University of St. Thomas (on the Minneapolis campus) this year.  The theme for this five week series is Women of the Bible.

In last week’s opening session, Jennifer spoke about Sarah and Hagar.  (You can find her talk here.)  Today’s subjects were the two daughters of Laban: Rachel and Leah.  Two sisters married to the same man at the same time, making for a story of jealousy, envy and competition.

In my reflection I told the story of Rachel and Leah and then shared some of the lessons I think their story has for us.  Those lessons include that reality the envy never solves our problems and gets us what we want, the certainty that God sees our suffering, and that God uses what we give him.  I also spoke about the difference between the desire that is helpful – our deep desires that accord with God’s – and the desires that are inimical to our spiritual growth.

You can access a recording of the session here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 24:23 and ends at the point at which we invited the participants into a period of silent reflection)

You can find a copy of the prayer materials we distributed to participants here.  It contains excerpts from Genesis 29-31 and some questions for reflection.

Invite God In

Invite God In.  That is the theme of the overnight University of St. Thomas Freshman Retreat this weekend I am helping to facilitate this weekend.   Our retreat team and the freshmen are at Camp Wapo in Amery Wisconsin.

The theme seemed to me a suitable one for students beginning a new adventure.  For many, this is the first time they are living on their own, and college is very different from high school.  The question I put to them is: Where will God be for you in all of this/  How will you make sure you are walking with God – walking with grace – during this incredibly important time in your lives?

Yesterday we talked about the Igntian theme of Finding God in All Things, and several of the upper class members of the team shared some of their experiences of God outside of “formal” prayer settings – finding God in nature, poetry, music, weakness.  In another segment we talked about beginning and ending our day in prayer, and again, several students talked about their morning and evening prayer.  We will continue to explore our theme today, before heading back to campus later this afternoon.

One of the things I hope the students come away from the weekend with is an increased awareness, not only of the ways they can experience God, but of God’s desire for them to do so.  I shared with them this quote from Vinita Hampton Wright.

I can say, with no reservations, that everyone experiences God.
We might not all use the same language for the experience.
We might not recognize the experience as having anything to do with God.
We might not share that experience with others, because it is deeply private or because we’re not sure how to communicate it.
But the Divine seeks us, desires us, and waits for the opportunity to meet us. Fortunately for us, God meets us where we are and in ways we are able to perceive the encounter.

May not only our students, but all of us, know how much God desires to meet us and may we be open to that encounter.

I’m just back from having given a Day of Reflection today for the Twin Cities Ignatian Volunteer Corp.  For those not familiar with the organization, the IVC (in the words of its mission) “provides mature men and women the opportunity to serve the needs of people who are poor, to work for a more just society, and to grow deeper in Christian faith by reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition.”  IVC volunteers are placed in prisons, schools, and other sites where they provide a variety of services.

Because their theme for the year is Ignatian Spirituality and Social Justice, and given the current climate in the Twin Cities and other parts of the United States, I spent some time in the morning talking about “othering,” a term used to refer to the process by which individuals and society view and label people who are different in a way that devalues them.  Othering comes in many forms, and appears as racism, misogyny, homophobia, religious and ethnic hatred, and so on.  (Later in our time together, I spoke about some of the basic elements of the Catholic social tradition that help combat this tendency to “other” others.)

After my talk on othering, I invited the participants to take some time examining their own attitudes toward those who are not like them.  I thought I’d share the questions I asked them to consider; you may find them useful to reflect on.

How do I define myself?

          What kind of categories or groupings do I put myself in?

          In what ways do those categories exclude others?

How do I define others?

          What are the bases on which I “other” others?

           Are there certain peoples who I view as “not me” in ways that makes it difficult for me to open my heart to them?



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