Discerning My Place in the World

Yesterday was the the final session of the program I offered at UST Law School during this academic year on Discerning my Place in the World. In our prior sessions we’ve addressed a number aspects of discerning vocation, including getting in touch with our giftedness, identifying what brings us joy, prioritizing our values,  reflecting on our deepest desires, growing in our appreciation that we are each individually called by God, and gauging the internal freedom with which we approach discernment.

In our final session yesterday, our topic was What Happens When Things Don’t Go the Way I Thought They Would.  That is, despite our best efforts to discern among options presented to us, it is sometimes the case that things don’t turn out as we expect.  Sometimes our discernment is faulty, but even where it is not, any number of external factors can arise that thrwart what we thought was God’s intention for us.  My talk addressed some of the feelings that may arise in such a situation – such as disappointment, loss of confidence, envy of others – and how to deal with them.  At various points, I invited participants to share from their own experience, leading to a rich discussion.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 31:03.)

Discerning Among Particular Options

Yesterday was the the seventh session of the program I am offering at UST Law School during this academic year on Discerning my Place in the World. In our prior sessions we’ve addressed a number aspects of discerning vocation, including getting in touch with our giftedness, identifying what brings us joy, prioritizing our values,  reflecting on our deepest desires, growing in our appreciation that we are each individually called by God, and gauging the internal freedom with which we approach discernment.

Yesterday’s session focused on how we discern among particular options. In my talk I shared with the participants some tools from Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that are a help in discerning among various options.   I distinguished between different types of life decisions we might be discerning with respect to, talked about how Ignatius helps us frame our choices and to come to a decision with God as to the best path.  Following my talk the participants had some time for individual reflection, after which I invited sharing about some “big” decisions they have made and how they have approached those decisions.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 25:06.) You can find a copy of the handout I distributed for the participants’ individual reflection time here.

I will be leaving this afternoon for a weekend retreat I am giving for members of the St. Catherine’s University community.  Please keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.

How We Approach Decisions

Yesterday was a busy day.  In the late afternoon, I led a lovingkindness (metta) meditation sponsored by the UST Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation.  Earlier in the day, I led the sixth session of the program I am offering at UST Law School during this academic year on Discerning my Place in the World. In our prior sessions we’ve addressed a number aspects of discerning vocation, including getting in touch with our giftedness, identifying what brings us joy, prioritizing our values,  reflecting on our deepest desires, and growing in our appreciation that we are each individually called by God.

Yesterday’s session, and the next one (in March) are focused more directly on how we approach decisions, both drawing on learnings from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Yesterday’s focus was on growing in internal freedom to make choices free from disordered attachments.

During my talk I spoke about three key meditations in Week 2 of the Spiritaul Exercises, all designed to lead to internal freedom for decisionmaking: Three Classes of Persons, Three Degrees of Humility and the Two Standards.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 34:52. The three handouts I refer to are from Joseph Tetlow’s Choosing Christ in the World.)

Discerning My Place in the World: Getting in Touch With My Deepest Desires

Yesterday was the fourth session of an 8-session program series I am offering at UST Law School over the course of this academic year on Discerning My Place in the World. The focus of yesterday’s session was the role of desire in discernment.

In the words of James Martin, S.J., “Once we scrape off any surface selfishness, our deepest longings and holy desires are uncovered: the desire for friendship, the desire for love, the desire for meaningful work, and often the desire for healing. Ultimately, or course, our deepest longing is for God. And it is God who places these desires within us. This is one way God calls us to himself. We desire God because God desires us.”

In my talk, I shared Ignatius’ view of desire and talked about the distinction between our deepest desires (what Martin terms holy desire) and surface desires. I also talked about what Ignatius would consider to be disordered desires or attachments.

After my talk, I gave the participants time for silent reflection, after which we had time for sharing both in small groups and in the larger group.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for xx and there is a short pause early on.) A copy of the the handout I distributed – an exercise taken from Elizabeth Liebert’s The Way of Discernment is here.

Discerning With God

I’ve frequently mentioned Our Lady of Lourdes, the parish in which I direct RCIA and do a lot of adult faith formation. I’ve written several pieces for that parish’s bulletin. This one, on discernment, appeared in last Sunday’s bulletin. Since I thought others might benefit from it, I share it here:

Discerning with God
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been encouraging you, as part of our stewardship focus, to engage in a process of discernment around how you are being called to share your gifts with our parish community.

I intentionally use the terms “discernment” rather than decisionmaking. Doing so reminds us that exploring what our gifts are and how we are being called to use them is a dialogic process between us and God. Elizabeth Liebert, in her book The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practies for Decisionmaking (a book I highly recommend), defines discernment as “the process of intentionally becoming aware of how God is present, active, and calling us as individuals and communities so that we can respond with greater faithfulness.” Thus, the term discernment implies a prayerful process of determining how God is inviting you to use your gifts. Of determining with God what is your authentic calling.

That means several things. First, since this is about God’s call and not our own individual preferences, we must be open to surprises. Open to the fact that God sometimes calls us out of our comfort zone. Open to the fact that God may be inviting us to use gifts we haven’t even recognized we possess.

Second, discernment is not a one-shot deal (or even an annual deal – something we think about only when our parish asks for a stewardship commitment), but a life-long process. We need to have sensitivity to the fact that God may have different plans for us at different times. That can be difficult because it means that the best one can ever say is I am where I am supposed to be right now, but I need to be open to the fact that God may want me to do something else at a different time. This is important to keep in mind because we often have a tendency to stick to our prior decisions, making it easy to ignore signs that it is time to move on. Change is never easy.

Third, although this is doubtless already clear from what I have said, to say that discernment is a dialogic process with God presumes that we are regularly (daily, I hope) taking time to be with God in prayer. I think that is worth emphasizing because we all have a lot of things occupying our attention and “fitting in” time for prayer requires intentionality. If I want God to help me see the path forward, I need to give God a chance to communicate with me. If you have been a little lax about your prayer lately, this is a good time to re-commit yourself to making time in your daily schedule for God.

I think about my own experience as I share these thoughts about discernment. Eight and a half years ago I was happily settled in New York teaching at St. John’s Law School and on the adjunct ministerial staff of a Jesuit Retreat House. Moving to Minneapolis was not at all on my radar screen, and so when the offer from St. Thomas came, I engaged in extended prayer. Ultimately I was confident that this is where God wanted me to be. Leaving my family, my friends and my retreat house was not easy. Trading New York City for The Twin Cities was not easy. But I was confident in my discernment process and now, in my eighth year here, I have no doubt about God’s wisdom in encouraging this move an I am delighted with where my ministry has taken me.

I engaged in another discernment process last year as I was planning to walk the Camino de Santiago. The result of that process is that after 21 years of law teaching, I have now stopped teaching, so as to devote full time to the spiritual formation and retreat work I do – some at Lourdes, some at the Law School and some in other places here and elsewhere. It means making a lot less money than I made teaching law, but I have prayerfully concluded that that is how God wants me to use my gifts.

That’s some of my story. What about you? Where is God inviting you? And, more importantly, what are you doing to remain open to hearing that call?

Remember that if you are struggling with how God is calling you, Fr. Dan, Deacon Thom or I are available to speak with you.

Discerning My Place in the World: Identifying and Prioritizing My Values

This afternoon was the third session of an 8-session program series I am offering at UST Law School over the course of this academic year on Discerning My Place in the World.

I began by sharing an exercise we do with students on our semi-annual vocation retreats that asks them to identify and rank values that are important to them. I gave them a few minutes to consider their own feelings about the values listed. I then posited the question whether many of the values listed are primary or secondary values. The bulk of my talk centered around St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, which seeks to place the things the things of this world in the context of our deepest vocation: choosing what deepens our life in God, helping us develop as loving persons.

After my talk, I gave the participants time for silent reflection, after which we had time for sharing both in small groups and in the larger group.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:04 and there is a short pause early on.) A copy of the two handouts I distributed and which are mentioned in the talk are here and here.

What Brings Me Joy?

Yesterday was the second session of the series on Discerning My Place in the World I am offering this year at UST Law School. The subject of our gathering yesterday was the question What Brings Me Joy?

An important part of our discernment of who we will be int he world has to do with ascertaining what brings us joy. Yet it is a question many people never focus on.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardon said “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Unlike happiness, which depends on external stimuli, joy comes from a sense of rightness about where I am with God and others.

During our session, I spoke briefly about joy and then showed an excerpt from a video by Michael Hims title Three Key Questions. The full video appears below; we watched the first eleven minutes. After watching the film, the participants spent time in silent personal reflection with some quotes and questions on a handout I distributed (which you can find here). We managed to leave a little time at the end for dyad sharing and some larger group discussion, focusing particularly on how we recognize joy and distinguishing between happiness and joy.


[for those receiving this by e-mail, click through to the blog to see the video]

Note: I am informed by one of my readers here that the phrase “joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God” was “first coined by Leon Bloy, a now-obscure 19th-century French writer. Teilhard repeated it.” (With thanks to Hilary)

Discerning My Place in the World: Recognizing My Gifts

Yesterday was the first session of an 8-session program series I will be offering at UST Law School over the course of this academic year on Discerning My Place in the World.

As I suggested in the description for the program, law school is, among other things, a three-year process whereby students discern what will be their place in the legal profession and in the world. I do not mean to suggest vocational discernment ends when students graduate. Discernment is a life-long process, as our calling changes from time to time. (And while most of the participants in our spiritual formation programs are law students, participants often include faculty and staff who are long out of school.)

The series will address a series of topics relating to vocational discernment. Today’s subject was Recognizing Our Gifts.

I began by introducing the series and then offered some reflections relating both to recognizing our own gifts and recognizing the gifts of others. I then gave the participants time for individual reflection, after which we had some time for sharing of their reflection experience.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 22:04 and there is a short pause where I invited the participants to introduce themselves.) A copy of the prayer material I distributed is here.

Groping Our Way

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized in 2012.

Kateri was raised in a Mohawk clan in New York in the middle of the 17th century. Deeply affected by the preaching of Jesuit missionaries, she converted to Catholicism when she was nineteen years old.

I only just learned the meaning of the name “Tekakwitha.” Smallpox left Kateri’s face scarred and affected her vision, causing her to stumble in the dark. It was for that reason that her people gave her the name “Tekakwitha,” which means “the one who walks groping her way.”

The one who walks grouping her way seems to me a pretty good description of – well – pretty much all of us.

We seek God. We seek to know God’s will and follow that. But we don’t get a clear Ikea-like set of instructions for living our lives in accordance with our faith. Discernment is a tricky process. And so “groping our way” is often a much more accurate image than “striding forward with clarity.” And as we grope, we wonder: Am I doing enough? Am I doing it good enough? Am I allocating my energies in the proper directions.

As soon as I saw the description of the meaning of Tekakwitha, I thought of Thomas Merton’s prayer of discernment. I’ve shared it here before, but I share it here again, since it is a prayer that always touches people.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Blessings to us all as we grope our way. May we do so with trust and without fear.

Beware of False Prophets

The opening admonition of today’s Gospel from Matthew – “Beware of false prophets” – is a great follow-up to the discussion we had during the last session of the book group at Our Lady of Lourdes, the focus of which has been Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life.

We had been talking last evening about Levison’s discussion of the Christian community at Antioch, which he described as characterized by a love of learning, an ear for prophesy, and right practices. In that context we talked about what it means for us to have receptivity to the word of prophets – not always easy since prophets don’t always tell us what we want to hear. And, let’s face it, sometimes true prophets seem downright crazy. They are often pushed aside (or worse) by those in power.

But, as Levison also observes, “Where there is prophesy, there must be a discernment process to know if the prophetic word is true.” He quotes Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything.” The approach of the community in Antioch to discernment included prayer as well as “a good dose of common sense.” We talked a little about what that discernment entails for us.

“Beware of false prophets” is a reminder of the need to discernment. But it is equally important that the fear of false prophets not cause us to close our ears to the voices of the true prophets in our midst. We need to be as receptive as the community at Antioch, standing ready to hear the words of God through the prophets.

My gratitude to all those who participated in our book discussion. I will be looking forward to gathering with folks at Lourdes for another book discussion group in the fall; our plan is James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage.