A Minute Would Be Good Enough

The tradition at the Jesuit Retreat House is that the director who offers the reflection at Mass is responsible for leading the prayer at the following day’s staff meeting.  Since I offered the reflection at Mass on Monday, I had responsibility for the prayer at our final staff meeting yesterday.  (The retreat ends this morning with Mass and breakfast.)

After the opening song I selected, I read Stuart Kestenbaum’s poem Psalm, which I came across several years ago.  Here is the poem:

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn’t forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me even a minute entering
the House would be good enough for me,
even a hand on the door or dropping today’s
newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows
that are reflecting this morning’s clouds in the first light.

I then invited the others to reflect on a time when when “a minute” or “a hand on the door” was enough for them, a situation where something small, momentary, was enough to give them deep consolation, to give them exactly what they needed from God.  The sharing was deep and beautiful.

You might consider the same invitation.  Reflect on a time when a minute…a hand on the door was “good enough” for you.

We leave the retreat house this morning, each of us in awe and gratitude for the graces given by God during these days.

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Consoling and Being Consoled

Yesterday’s Gospel was Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, a reading paired with a passage from The Book of Job.

There were many things in Fr. Dale’s sermon at Christ the King that were compelling, particularly his suggestion that the the appropriate response to the existence of suffering is not “why” (a question debated from the beginning of time) but “what can I do to alleviate the suffering or console the sufferer.”

But it was the framing of the body of his sermon that had the most impact on me, and quite a powerful one at that.

Fr. Dale began his sermon by observing that there are two kinds of people in a faith community – those who suffer and those who console – and that on any given day, we are each one or the other. He end his sermon by repeating that there are two kinds of people in a faith community – those who suffer and those who console – adding the question: which are you today?

What blasted in my mind when Fr. Dale asked that final question was the realization that being part of a faith community (and perhaps other communities as well) means accepting consolation in one’s own suffering as well as consoling others.

For many of us, consoling others is a whole lot easier than accepting consolation. We are comfortable being with others in their suffering, supporting with our words or presence, doing things to take care of others. But for many of us, letting others into our suffering, being willing to put ourselves into the hands of another, letting them take care of us, is much less comfortable. Oh, most of us can do that with one or two of our closest friends, but accepting it from others beyond that seems to make us more vulnerable than we quite like.

It is hard for me to explain this realization other than in conclusory terms, but Fr. Dale’s question helped me to clearly see that if I view myself only in the role of consoler, I’m not fully part of the faith community. Not being willing to accept the consolation of others in my suffering keeps me removed, withholds a part of myself and places me, apart from and, in a sense, above those whom I console. If I am apart from and above, I’m not fully with, not totally in the community.

In a sense, then, the question with which Fr. Dale ended his sermon – “which are you today?” – impliedly also asks: Are you willing to really be part of this faith community?

I know the answer to that question.

Discipleship and Consolation

Each year when the Conference of Catholic Legal Thought gathers, we take some time for spiritual reflection in addition to our daily celebrations of Mass. This year I led the session, which invited us to reflect a bit on our discipleship and our experiences of consolation during the past year. The period included a brief talk, time for individual reflection and then some small group sharing of our prayer experience.

This podcast is based on the talk I gave during the session. I start by talking a little about our motivation for discipleship – what it was that prompted the disciples to give up everything to follow Jesus and what prompts us to accept God’s invitation to co-labor with him. Then, using examples from the writing of Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis, I talk about the characteristics of consolation, which St. Ignatius describes as an interior movement aroused int he soul “by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all.” The last part of the podcast is an invitation to your own individual reflection on your experiences of consolation.

You can stream the podcast (which runs for 17:07) from the icon below or can download it from here. (Remember that you can now also subscribe to Creo en Dios! podcasts on iTunes.)

Touched By The Word of God

During a recent gathering which included sharing of the participants’ prayer experience over the previous week, someone spoke about the depth of the experience of hearing Jesus invite his disciples to “Come away and rest awhile.” That line is one to which I also react strongly. I hear Jesus say those words and I immediately feel something release inside of me. No matter how stressed or tense I am, I hear the words and my whole being begins to relax into Jesus. Hearing the words changes everything.

As I read the first reading for this morning from Isaiah, I realized I have a similar depth of reaction when I hear God say, “Come, now, let us set things right.” It is the feeling a young child has when his or her mother says, “It’s OK, Mommy is here now and will make it all better.” The feeling that no matter how bad things seem, God will work with us to make it all right…all better. I hear the invitation in those words and I know that there is nothing that will cause God to turn away from me, nothing that God and I will not be able to work our way through. Hearing the words I am filled with consolation.

Different people will obviously react strongly to different parts of God’s word. It may be that neither of those two lines causes in you the same depth of reaction they cause in me. But there is value in taking note of which lines of Scripture do create that response in you. What words of God brings you incredible consolation? Identify them and keep them close at hand. And by all means go to them and hear God say the words to you when you need to hear them. Don’t just read them – but really hear God saying them directly to you.