Lent Retreat in Daily Living – Week 6

As we move to the end of Lent and to our Triduum celebrations, we had our final gathering yesterday in connection with the Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the law school. As I’ve observed before, our retreat this year offered participants a shortened version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

During this past week, participants prayed with the Beatitudes. After participants shared a bit of their prayer experience in small groups, we had a general discussion of the Beatitudes and the ways in which they challenge us.

After our discussion, I spoke very briefly about the prayer material I distributed to the participants, which includes praying with Jesus’ passion in the days between now and Saturday (Week 3 of the Exercises), praying with the “Tomb Day” experience, and praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (Week 4 of the Exercises).

Week 4 of the Exercises often gets short shrift. So I encouraged the participants to spend time in the days following Easter praying with the events recorded in the final chapters of the Gospels. The grace of Week 4 – a joy rooted in Jesus’ joy – is one we desperately need.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 16:21. You can access the prayer material for this week here.

Note: because of time, my reflection of today was fairly truncated. If you want something more extensive, you can scroll through the podcasts page, where you will find individual podcasts of Week 3 and Week 4 of the Exercises.

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Lent Retreat in Daily Living: Week 5

Yesterday was the fifth weekly gathering of the Lent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering this year at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Our retreat this year is a truncated version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Easter being as late as it is makes the retreat particularly challenging for our students, who are trying to juggle multiple events during these last couple of weeks of classes, as well as starting to prepare for exams.

During this past week, participants prayed with events in the life of Jesus, part of Week 2 of the Spiritual Exercises. After the participants spent time sharing in small groups their prayer experience during this past week, we talked about some of the difficulty people sometimes have in praying with events about which they are so familiar. There is a tendency to approach some of the events of Jesus’ life with the attitude of “heard that already…already know what that is about.” My encouragement was to try to let go that sense, to try to engage in Ignatian Contemplation with less focus on what the Gospel records and more on what God may want to reveal to me about this episode.

I then offered a reflection on the Beatitudes, which will be the subject of the participants’ prayer this coming week. Ignatian spirituality is fundamentally concerned with our lives as disciples of Christ and the Beatitudes help us flesh out what discipleship means. Jesus Christ himself lived the Beatitudes – indeed, he is the perfect embodiment of them – and thus they offer a pretty full statement of what it means to follow Christ, to live as Christ did in the world. I shared some thoughts on each of the Beatitudes as an entry into their prayer for the upcoming week.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 33.55. You can access the prayer material for this week here.

2014 Lent Retreat in Daily Living: Week 4

Yesterday was the fourth weekly gathering of the Lent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering this year at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Our retreat this year is a truncated version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

During the past two weeks (last week was our Spring Break), participants prayed with materials relating to Week 1 of the Spiritual Exercises which focuses on sin and ourselves as loved sinners. At the beginning of today’s session (as we always do in these retreat in daily living) participants shared in small groups about their prayer experience during the week.

After their sharing, we had a larger group discussion of several issues relating to the prayer material, and spent quite some time talking about the Temptation of Jesus, an event recorded in all three synoptic Gospels. That discussion flowed into my reflection about this week’s prayer, with the result that I did not record my talk.

This week, participants will pray with episodes from the public life of Jesus, beginning with his Baptism in the Jordan River and ending with Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. I shared with the participants a poem I have shared here before, Roland Flint’s Follow, which asks why the disciples dropped everything to follow Jesus. As I told the participans, that is a question that can only be satisfactorily answered by a personal encounter with Christ. That is what we experience in Week 2 of the Spiritual Exercises: a personal encounter with Jesus, who calls us to labor with him. We seek to know this person who call us to labor with him, to so grow in love and desire for him that we can’t imagine being anyplace other than by his side.

You can find the prayer material for this week here.

Although I did not record today’s reflection, you can find a podcast of a talk I gave on Week 2 of the Exercises at a retreat last year here.

Two Brothers and Their Demons

Today’s Gospel gives us a familiar tale: Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. Many of us have prayed with this passage many times, perhaps doing an Ignatian Contemplation on it. At times we identify with one or the other of the brothers.

Ron Rolheiser, talks about the fact that our hearts are a “murky cauldron of grace and sin, angels and demons” and that to go into the desert, as we do in Lent, means staring in the face our inner demons.

He illustrates the demons we face through the two brothers in the Prodigal Son parable: “the demons of the prodigal son, grandiosity and unbridled sexuality; and the demons of the older son, paranoia and joylessness.” Rolheiser writes

Grandiosity is the demon that tells us that we are the center of the universe, that our lives are more important than those of others. Unbridled sexuality is the demon of obsession, addiction, and lust. Its urge is to bracket everything else – sacred commitment, moral ideal, and personal consequence – for a single, furtive pleasure.

Paranoia is the demon of bitterness, anger, and jealousy. It makes us believe that life has cheated us, that the celebration is always about others, and never about us. This demon fills us with the urge to be cynical, cold, distrustful, and cursing. Finally, the last demon in this family tells us that joylessness is maturity, that cynicism is wisdom, and that bitterness is justice. This is the demon that keeps us from entering the room of celebration and joining the dance.

Rolheiser suggests that each of these demons are inside each one of us. I suspect he is right. Perhaps not to the extent we see them actualized in the two brothers, but at least strains of each.

Can you identify each in yourself? Can you stare your demons in their face?

2014 Lent Retreat in Daily Living: Week 3

Yesterday was the third weekly gathering of the Lent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering this year at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Our retreat this year is a truncated version of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

During this past week, participants prayed with Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, something that Ignatius viewed as the key to the spiritual life. At the beginning of today’s session (as we always do in these retreat in daily living) participants shared in small groups about their prayer experience during the week.

After the sharing we spent a good amount of time discussing some implications of the Principle and Foundation in light of soem of the retreatant’s experience during the past week.

During our remaining (relatively short) time together, I talked about sin, the subject of Week 1 of the Spiritual Exercises.
I talked about what we mean by sin, why it is important for us to reflect on our sinfulness and our need to focus less on individual sins than on our patterns of sinfulness.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 19:06. You can the prayer material for this week here. Because next week is our spring break week, you will see that the handout has two weeks of prayer; our next gathering will be April 1.

Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel

Yesterday was the first of a four session Lenten Adult Education Series at Our Lady of Lourdes on Pope Francis and the Renewal of the Church. I was the speaker for this opening session, which focused on Pope Francis and the Joy of the Gospel.

We selected The Joy of the Gospel, the Apostolic Exhortation issued on November 24 of this past year, as the kick off for this Lenten program because Pope Francis’ document tells us a lot about who this Pope is, what he is up to, and what he thinks a renewal of the Church looks like. Indeed, in paragraph 17, Pope Francis describes the document as presenting “some guidelines which can encourage and guide the whole Church in a new phase of evangelization, one marked by enthusiasm and vitality.”

My talk focused both on what we learn from the document about Pope Francis’ spirituality and how he believes we are meant to be in this world.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 50:16.

If you are in the Twin Cities area, the remaining three sessions of the series are March 23, 30 and April 6 on The reform of the Vatican and the Role of the Laity (Fr. Michael Joncas), Spiritual Discernment in the Life of Faith (Fr. Tim Manatt), and Personal Witness, Charity and Justice (Fr. Dan Griffith).

2014 Lent Retreat in Daily Living: Week 2

Yesterday was the second of the weekly gathering of our Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the Law school. As I wrote last week, our retreat this year aims to give us an experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

The goal of our prayer during this past week was to help participants get in touch with God’s love at deep level, to get a sense of who they are in the eyes of God. At the beginning of our session (as we always do in these retreat in daily living) participants shared in small groups something of their prayer experience of the week.

After the sharing and some broader discussion about the first week, I offered a reflection on the subject of this week’s prayer: Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation.

Ignatius called the Principle and Foundation the key to the spiritual life and for him, it epitomizes the entire message of the Spiritual Exercises. It is, if you will, a skeletal summary of the inner journey; the kernel.

On the one hand, the Principle and Foundation is something that takes us some time to fully embrace in its entirety, to really grasp to the depth of our being. At the same time, as one commentator suggested, the “basic thesis of the Principle and Foundation is imprinted in human nature itself, which issues from the hand of God and is bound to Him by ties of total dependence and servitude.” It is indeed, imprinted in our nature, but whether original sin or something else, we are weak and need to come back to this understanding. That will be the aim of our prayer this week.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 23:30. You can the prayer material for this week here.

Ideas for Keeping a Holy Lent

We are already several days into Lent, so you might already have your Lenten observance all planned out and on track. But in case you are still thinking about how to mark the season, or are already grouping, I thought I’d share this.

Last week, I saw a blog post containing House of All Sinners and Saints’ 40 Ideas for Keeping A Holy Lent. I liked the idea of committing to a particular practice each day. An invitation on a daily basis to be mindful about the Lenten observance.

As you’ll agree if you look at the link, some of their suggestions seemed to me good suggestions for anyone: taking 5 minutes of silence at noon, doing someone else’s chore, praying for one’s enemies, calling a friend one hadn’t spoken to in a while.

But some I knew would not be meaningful for me. Considering how little I shop, “No shopping day” is not really a practice for me. “Bring your own mug” – I already do that. I also knew that some of the suggestions for days I knew I was traveling would not work.

So I sat down on Fat Tuesday after reading the post and created my own. I took into account my schedule (what is feasible on days I’m out of town and what is not), used their list as a springboard for ideas. It actually took me a while to come up with practices for 40 days and, in the end, I repeated a couple. But no harm there.

Whether this is helpful to you or not, I pray that you are finding some way to make this Lent a meaningful one.

Blessings on your day.

What Are You Fasting From?

Fasting is one of the traditional practices of Lent. Although the only days on which Catholics are obligated to fast are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the practice is encouraged throughout Lent.

For many of us who grew up Catholic, our childhood fasting during Lent took the form of giving up some favorite food item. (“What are you giving up?” was one of the most frequently asked questions of the season.) Giving up chocolate was common. Or soft drinks. The really daring might vow to forego all desserts. The habits of childhood often last well into adulthood; my sister still gives up chocolate every year for Lent and one of my friends gives up beer each Lent.

I don’t mean to minimize such practices. There is value to the discipline of fasting, especially if we do more than the Catholic minimum required definition of fasting, which always sounds to me more like cutting down than fasting. (One full meal and two small meals that together are less than one full meal, and even that is only required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) And feeling hunger when we fast reminds us of the condition many people live with daily, and not as a matter of choice.

But today’s first mass reading from the Book of Isaiah tells us that that is not necessarily the fasting God seeks of us:

Do you call this a fast acceptable to the Lord? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

By all means, fast during this Lent. Give up a favorite food item, or alcohol or the like if that is a helpful spiritual practice. But think carefully about whether there is something more meaningful than food you can fast from. What kind of fasting does greatest honor to God?

2014 Lent Retreat in Daily Living: Week 1

Blessings on this Ash Wednesday!

Yesterday was the first gathering of our annual Lent Retreat in Daily Living at the Law school. This year, our retreat will focus on personal prayer and our experience of God in our prayer and daily life, using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as our guide.

In my opening talk I gave an introduction to St. Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises. I then spent some time talking about our theme for this first week of prayer, the theme of what is sometimes termed the Preparatory or Disposition Period of the Spiritual Exercises, during which we get in touch with God’s love at very deep level. We want to get a sense of who we are in the eyes of God and a sense of ourselves as God’s creation. As well, we come to understand during this period that God has a plan for salvation – and that we have a part in that plan. This something that is very important in St. Ignatius’ eyes; he believes I can’t go any serious spiritual work without a deep appreciation for who I am in the eyes of God.

In my talk I spoke of some of the things that make it difficult for us to embrace God’s unconditional love of us and his invitation that we labor with him. I also identified some ways of praying to help get over those hindrances.

You can listen to the talk I gave at our gathering here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 40:22. For those of you who wish to join us in prayer during this retreat, you can find the prayer material participants will pray with this week here.