Recognizing Those Who Often Go Unnoticed

This morning we had a little good-bye party in the law school Atrium for Pete, the primary law school security guard, who is retiring after having served in the University for 30 years, the last 10 of which have been spent at the law school. Every day since I started teaching here, no matter how early I arrive (and I tend to arrive early) Pete has been there at his station.

Rob Vischer, our dean, offered some brief comments after we gave Pete some gifts and before we dove into the cake. Rob observed that while all schools have security stations that are exactly that – a station that provides some security for the community – the security station manned by Pete served more like a front porch. A place to come sit (or at least stand) a while. Pete always took time to greet students and took a keen interest in how they were doing. Pete was, Rob suggested, as much teacher as security guard in the caring he modeled for students, faculty and staff alike. He shared an e-mail from an alum who had graduated almost a decade ago (an alum, Rob joked, who hadn’t even written when Rob became dean, but who wrote as soon as word of Pete’s impending retirement spread), talking about how much Pete’s presence added to his law school experience.

As I listened to Rob, I thought of all the Pete’s in various organizations, the people who are part of the glue that holds entities together. People who are not high enough on the chain of command, or “important” enough by hierarchical standards to be recognized for the work they are doing – until they are ready to retire. At that point, as we become conscious of their impending absence, we acknowledge directly, perhaps for the first time, how much they mean to us, the hole their departure will leave.

Why wait until those people are ready to retire to recognize them and express gratitude for who they are and all they contribute?

Who are the Pete’s in your school, your workplace, your church, or the other organizations of which you are a part? Have you thanked them lately? Or done anything to let them know you see them and appreciate them?

Note: I will take off immediately after teaching my two classes this morning to drive to the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I will be presenting an weekend Ignatian preached retreat. I ask you to keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.


Celebrating Our Giftedness as Women

Yesterday I gave a Women’s Retreat Day at St. Hubert parish in Chanhassen, Mn. The theme was celebrating our giftedness as women. Recognizing that nurtuing our relationships with God and others requires nurturing our relatoinhsip with ourselves, the day was about recognizing and celebrating the gifts women bring to the world. It also invited participants to get in touch with those things that sometimes inhibit our ability to celebrate that giftedness. The day included prayer, talks, time for individual reflection and small and large group sharing.

There were three segments to the day: Things that Inhibit our Ability to Recognize and Celebrate our Giftedness as Women, The “Genius” of Women (to borrow a phrase from Pope John Paul II, and Discerning our Individual Gifts. The first focused on some of the baggage we pick up during our lives that cause us to lose sight of who we really are. The second segment focused on the collective gift that women bring to the world, drawing on, among other things, some of the writings of John Paul II. The third segments turned to individual vocation and the unique giftedness of each of us.

I successfully recorded the talks I gave during the first and third segments. A minor mechanical problem prevented the second from recording. (I’ll rectify that by recording a version of that talk soon.) You can find links to both of those two podcasts here. (The first runs for 25:36 and the second for 15:01.) You can also find a copy of the handouts for prayer during the individual sessions here.

Light of the World

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountaintop cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.”

There is a challenge in this, a tension that can sometimes be tricky to negotiate. We are each given many gifts by God and those gifts are meant to be used, not hidden. We are meant to shine our light before others, not hide it under a bushel basket.

However, as Jesus instructs his disiples, our “light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” The gifts we are given are not meant for our own glory and honor, but rather for the the glory of God. We need to be sure that when we shine our light, its focus is not on us. That what people see when they see us and when they see what we do is God, that what we bring people to is not praise of us, but praise of God.

Let us always remember the source of our light.

Using Our Gifts

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples a parable designed to teach them an important element of discipleship. He tells of a nobleman who, before leaving on a trip, calls several of his servants to him. He gives them each ten gold coins, instructing them to engage in trade with them until he returns. Upon his return, the first two servants report all they made with the coins which had been entrusted to them. The next servant comes and tells the master he took the coins which had been given to him and kept them wrapped carefully, so as to be sure to be able to return them to the nobleman upon his return, behavior that earns the wrath of his master.

The message of the parable is clear and simple. We are all given gifts to enable us to labor with God to bring about Kingdom. Those gifts are different; each of us has been given a unique set of gifts and talents. But we were given those gifts to use them to the greater glory of God. We aren’t given them to bury them so that we can give them back in their pristine state to God. We are given our gifts to use them for the life of the world.

We are not always good about recognizing our talents. Sometimes we can’t see them at all. Sometimes we know the things we are good at but we don’t think they are important. They come easy to us, so we don’t see them as real strengths. (We often have a sense that: if I’m good at it, it can’t be very worthwhile.)

Yet is it so important that we be able to see our own giftedness. When we remember that all we are and all we have is a gift from our loving God, it is easy to understand that not recognizing our own giftedness is an act of real ingratitude. Ask yourself: what is it like for God, who so delights in us and our happiness, to have gifted us with whatever happens to be our individual talents – our unique giftedness, and to see us not appreciate and embrace that gift? God is not likely react with the wrath of the nobleman, but I’m guessing our failure to use the gifts he lovingly give us saddens and disappoints God.

Reclaiming Who I Am: Uniquely Gifted by God

This podcast is the fourth in the series, Reclaiming Who I Am, based on a 3-day women’s retreat I gave at St. Ignatius Retreat House in February 2008. The first two podcasts in this series focused on the myths we live with as humans and as women that prevent us from seeing ourselves as God sees us. They represent what we must “lay down.” The next three podcasts in the series address what we need to reclaim. Having talked in the third podcast about our need to see ourselves as the beloved of God, this fourth podcast focuses on our giftedness. It talks first about the special giftedness of women and then about the need to recognize and celebrate the unique gifts God has given each of us. The length of this podcast is 17:23. You can stream it from the icon below or can download it here. (Remember that you can now also subscribe to Creo en Dios! podcasts on iTunes.)

Many Parts, One Body

The first reading for today’s Mass comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It contains the important reminder that we are all part of one Body of Christ. One Body, composed of many parts, each of those parts having different gifts and talents.

We don’t always remember that each of those parts has a unique function that is necessary to the wellbeing of the whole. In human terms it is easy to decide that one job or one talent is better or more important than another. We value certain gifts more than other ones.

Paul’s letter reminds us that each and all of our many gifts are essential. When we are tempted to minimize certain gifts, to decide that some people are more important than others, it is good to reflect on his words: “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be?…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you. Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts ar etreated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

Is there someone whose gifts you haven’t fully appreciated? Perhaps Paul’s words will help you see them in a different light.

The Parable of the Talents and the Need to Recognize our Giftedness

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the three servants each entrusted with talents “according to his ability.” Two use the talents in a way that yields more. The third buries the talents and simply returns the same talents to the master when he returns. That servant is scolded on the master’s return for not using the talents even in the most minimal of ways.

We are all given certain gifts from our loving God. Not recognizing our own giftedness is an act of real ingratitude. How many of us, when we receive a beautifully wrapped gift, thoughtfully prepared for us by someone filled with love for us, tosses it in the closet without looking at it, ignoring it and forgetting about it?

Yet, that is exactly what we do if we do not recognize and celebrate our own giftedness. We take the beautiful gift our God has given for us, a gift chosen with such care, a gift uniquely suited to us, and toss it aside without a second glance. We throw it in the closet and forget about the gift and the giver. Ask yourself: What is that like for God?

This parable invites us to recognize our gifts, to own them, and to use them for the greater glory of God.

As I was reflecting on this, what came to mind was a story in the writings of Teresa of Avila. She told of a certain nun – a very talented woman – who resolved to become more humble. She decided that whenever a clever thought occurred to her during the Carmelites’ recreation period, she would remain silent. Teresa immediately disabused the nun of that resolution. Her comment: “it is bad enough to be stupid by nature, without trying to be stupid by grace.” Teresa, too, saw the danger of false humility – of not embracing and using the talents our God has given us.

Multidimensionality of Discipleship

There is an unfortunate human tendency to think that we or our ideas define the ideal. By that I mean – not necessarily that we think we are perfect – but that we think our way, or our parameters are the way and the parameters. That is no less true in the spirituaul life than anywhere else.

There is a temptation to decide what the spiritual life should look like and what Christian vocation should look like, as though there were a single template from which all should be drawn.

It is good to remind ourselves that there are many ways to serve God, many ways to labor with Christ, and they don’t all look the same. In the words of one writer, we need to see the “beauty of diverse vocations and the multidimensionality of Christian discipleship.”

“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.” (Romans)

“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians)

That has many implications. One of them is that discernment of our Christian vocation is a task each person must undertake individually. To be sure, one can and should seek advice from spiritual friends and advisers, but no one can tell another what his Christian discipleship should look like. We can help create an environment that allows others to discern their vocations, their paths, but we can’t do the discernment for them, nor can another do it for us.