In his address to the College of Cardinals on the occasion of the Public Consistory for the Creation of New Cardinals on Saturday morning over which he presided, Pope Francis spoke about charity.  It is not the first time he spoke of the words of St. Paul’s “hymn to charity” in 1 Corinthians, but I think his words are worth reflecting on by all of us, not just the new cardinals.

Here is an excerpt, although I encourage you to read the entirety.

Saint Paul tells us that charity is, above all, “patient” and “kind”.  … “Patience” – “forbearance” – is in some sense synonymous with catholicity.  It means being able to love without limits, but also to be faithful in particular situations and with practical gestures.  It means loving what is great without neglecting what is small; loving the little things within the horizon of the great things, since “non coerceri a maximo, contineri tamen a minimo divinum est”.  To know how to love through acts of kindness.  “Kindness” – benevolence –means the firm and persevering intention to always will the good of others, even those unfriendly to us….

[C]harity “is not jealous or boastful, it is not puffed up with pride”.  This is surely a miracle of love, since we humans – all of us, at every stage of our lives – are inclined to jealousy and pride, since our nature is wounded by sin.  …

[C]harity “is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way”.  These two characteristics show that those who abide in charity are not self-centred.  The self-centred inevitably become disrespectful; very often they do not even notice this, since “respect” is precisely the ability to acknowledge others, to acknowledge their dignity, their condition, their needs.  The self-centred person inevitably seeks his own interests; he thinks this is normal, even necessary.  Those “interests” can even be cloaked in noble appearances, but underlying them all is always “self-interest”.  Charity, however, makes us draw back from the centre in order to set ourselves in the real centre, which is Christ alone. …

Charity… “is not irritable, it is not resentful”.  …[Charity] frees us from the risk of reacting impulsively, of saying or doing the wrong thing; above all it frees us from the mortal danger of pent-up anger, of that smouldering anger which makes us brood over wrongs we have received.  …

Finally, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.  Here, in four words, is a spiritual and pastoral programme of life.  The love of Christ, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, enables us to live like this, to be like this: as persons always ready to forgive; always ready to trust, because we are full of faith in God; always ready to inspire hope, because we ourselves are full of hope in God; persons ready to bear patiently every situation and each of our brothers and sisters, in union with Christ, who bore with love the burden of our sins…

With thanks to my friend Richard, who forwarded the address to me.

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus encounters a woman who asks him to heal her daughter, who was being tormented by an unclean spirit. Mark tells us that the woman “was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth.”

Jesus response to the woman is harsh: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Matthew’s version of this encounter embellishes the response, with Jesus explaining,”I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The woman, however, does not accept no for an answer. She argues, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Her argument prevails and Jesus heals her daughter.

Jesus was open to growing into a wider understanding of his mission – an understanding that would lead him to later tell his disciples to go not only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world.

This encounter provides a good lesson for us. When we are so sure that we have it right, it is good to remember that even Jesus needed to grow into an understanding of his mission. It was not fully clear to him from the get-go. Fully human as well as fully divine, Jesus had to grow in knowledge and understanding.

And if he had to grow, surely we do as well.

I had a wonderful weekend at the Cenacle Retreat House in Ronkonkoma NY leading a retreat on Learning to Love Like God. It was a blessed time for the woman on the retreat as well as for me.

I posted on Saturday the talk I gave Friday evening on the qualities of the God’s love, the characteristics of the love we are asked to imitate. On Saturday, in two talks I addressed some of the challenges to our loving like God, things that interfere with our ability to be fully open channels of God’s love.

In the morning session I addressed three challenges: difficulty accepting God’s unconditional love of us, difficulty loving oneself, and the difficulty we often have in forgiving others for the wrongs (or perceived wrongs) they have done to us. In the afternoon session I discussed several additional challenges: our overemphasis on justice and meritocracy, our self-cherishing, our lack of humility, our busyness and our confusing the love we are asked to give with emotion.

You can access a recording of my talks here and here or stream them from the icon below. (The first podcast runs for 34:29 and the second for 33:37.)

Challenges Part I:

Challenges Part II:

As I mentioned at the end of my post yesterday, I’m at the Cenacle Retreat House in Ronkokoma, NY, where I’m giving a weekend retreat on the theme of Learning to Love Like God. I was delighted to see so many familiar faces among the retreatants, including several of the women who regularly attended the Women’s Lent weekend retreat I offered for a number of years at St. Ignatius Retreat House.

We began our opening session last night with an introduction by retreat house staff members of the history of the house and of the Cenacle order, after which each of the retreatants introduced themselves. That was followed by our opening prayer, for which I included Daniel Ladinsky’s poem, To See As God Sees. Not wanting to keep the retreatants up too late, since many come tired after a week of work, I then spoke briefly about what it means to love like God. What does this love we are asked to imitate look like? What are its qualities? It doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to be talking about learning to love like God without understanding that what asks of us. Fortunately, our Scripture gives us a good explanation.

I spoke about several qualities of the love we are asked to give – the love we are asked to be in the world: We are asked to give love that is unconditional, love that is universal, and love that is manifest in service, humility and self-sacrifice.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 30:19.)

Some Great Questions

My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle church in Minneapolis returned earlier this week from a silent retreat. In his weekly bulletin letter to parishioners, he shared that during this retreat he looked back over his prayer journal from prior retreats. He noted that what the journal contains is mostly questions, “spiritually significant questions” that he has kept coming back to over the years.

In his letter he shared those questions. I share them here because I think they are a great set of questions for retreat and for the spiritual life in general. Bill asks himself

Am I here to make a retreat, or just so that I can tell people I went on retreat? Why can’t I seem to let Jesus in? Who is Jesus for me? Do I believe all of this? What kind of father am I going to make? Is my job my profession or my vocation? Why does love hurt so much sometimes? What kind of husband am I? Is the church something convenient to hide behind so I don’t have to face God directly? How might my feelings of drifting be a gift? How might my feelings of loss be a gift? Why is it so hard for me to accept joy as a gift? Am I here to make a retreat, or just so that I can tell people I went on retreat? Do I know Jesus or just know about him? What kind of a father have I become? I know God loves me; do I believe God likes me? How can I be a spiritual leader for others if I can’t get it right myself? How can others be so sure they hear God’s voice while some days I’m not even sure God exits? Why do I find it so hard to listen to this guy? Why do I find it so easy to listen to this guy? Am I here to make a retreat, or just so that I can tell people I went on retreat?

I just arrived at the Cenacle Retreat House in Ronkokoma, New York, where I’m giving a weekend retreat on the theme Learning to Love Like God. Some of Bill’s questions will certainly be surfacing for my retreatants and I ask you to keep them, and me, in your prayers.

I just finished reading Charles Marsh’s recent biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I had seen a review of it this fall and so was happy to find a wrapped copy under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.

Bonhoeffer has always been a figure I admire and I included him as one of the figures we discussed in the Heroes and Heroism undergraduate honors seminar I offered during this J-term that just ended. I have benefitted from many of his writings and often use some of that material in retreats I offer.

I found Marsh’s biography a worthwhile read – albeit a hefty one (400 or so pages, not including the endnotes). It paints a fuller picture of Bonhoeffer than I have read before.

So many things in this book struck me. But what most sticks with me are some of the questions Bonhoeffer asked himself, questions that in one form or another were his focus throughout his life.

In one of his dissertations, he asked: How might social existence be transformed if this ideal of the body of Christ became the aspiration of every Christian? (A good – and exciting – question to put to ourselves.)

While serving in a parish in Barcelona “the question then forming in his mind was whether Christianity – despite the bland outward cast it had assumed – could still become a vital and meaningful reality for people who had found better ways to spend a Sunday morning.”

In more simple terms, the question he explored over and over again in his own mind, with his students, with those with whom he corresponded, What does it mean to be a Christian with a lived devotion to Jesus?

Such questions reflect Bonhoeffer’s understanding, shared in one of his lectures,

that we understand Christ only if we commit to Him in an abrupt either-or. He was not nailed to the cross as ornament or decoration for our lives. If we would have Him, we must recognize that He makes fundamental claims on our entire being. We scarcely understand Him if we make room for Him in merely one region of our spiritual life, bur rather only if our life takes its orientation from him alone or, otherwise, if we speak a straightforward no. Of course, there are those not concerned with seriously considering the claims Christ makes on us with His question: Do you wish to make a complete commitment, or not? They should rather not get mixed up with Christianity at all; that would be better for Christianity, since such people no longer have anything in common with Christ. The religion of Christ is not the tidbit after the bread; it is the bread itself, or it is nothing.

The claim Bonhoeffer makes here is a bold and hard one, but I believe it is the correct one: Even if we can’t embody it fully, as least in aspiration and in effort, it has to be all or nothing.

Today we held one of our Mid-Day Dialogues of Faith at UST School of Law. Each of these dialogues focuses on some issue on which there is divergence of view between Catholicism and other Christian denominations or between Christians and non-Christians. The topic of today’s dialogue was Scripture and Authority.

I moderated the dialogue, which involved two of my friends and colleagues, Joel Nichols, currently the law school’s Associate Dean, and Fr. Dan Griffith, a fellow of the Murphy Institute here and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. Fr. Dan spoke from a Catholic perspective and Joel from an Evangelical one. Each of them made some opening remarks, after which we had a lively discussion. Rather than summarize the session, let me simply encourage you to listen to the podcast.

You can access a recording of the dialogue here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 30:19.) As I usually do, I recorded only the comments of the speakers, not the dialogue with the other participants.


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