Time Out of the Busyness

This morning we will have the final session of our semi-annual vocation retreat weekend for UST law students and alumni. We have spent the time since we have been here at the Benedictine Center at St. Paul Monastery reflecting and sharing about our gifts, our values, how we hear God’s call, and things that inhibit us from hearing or responding to God’s call. We also offer time for sharing, centering prayer, walking meditation, and one-on-one talks with me about whatever is on the mind of the student/alum. It is always a rich experience.

I am grateful that we are able to offer an opportunity for members of our community to “come away and rest awhile.” It is not easy. Besides for school or work, some are parents, and all (including the three of use who co-facilitate the weekend) have a lot of demands on their time. But they know that taking this time to be with God, to refocus on where and how God is calling is essential to both their growth in and with God, and to their ability to face all they have to face as the semester goes on.

It is never easy for most of us to take a weekend away. There is never really a “good” time to do retreat. But, as important (essential) as I think daily prayer is, I also believe that taking some time to “come away” – whether for a weekend, a week, or even longer – is important for all of us.

Which reminds me – time to schedule my annual summer 8-day retreat.


Judging the Messenger Rather than the Message

Yesterday morning I was the speaker for the Adult Enrichment Program at House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, speaking on the topic of how my years as a Buddhist have enriched and influenced my Christianity. Before my talk, I attended Sunday morning service at the church.

Yesterday was “Youth Sunday,” at House of Hope. The service was designed and largely conducted by the youth of the parish. I was extraordinarily impressed by the beauty of the service and the poise and talent of those who participated in it. The music by the various choirs and musicians was lovely. The service included two readings (“lessons”), each followed by a reflection by one of the young people, each of which was quite thoughtful.

Although there was much in the reflection on the first reading – a passage from Jeremiah that I love – that I found worthwhile, I found more interesting my reaction to the second.

The second reading was from the first letter of Timothy, which began, “Command and teach these things. Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.”

The high school senior who read the reading and offered the reflection, who is apparently a skilled Zumba instructor, admitted that sometimes it is intimidating to stand in front of a room of adults and lead a class. More to the point, there are often people who are shocked to discover that she, given her youth, is the instructor.

Later in her talk she gave some very direct advice to the congregation about living out their faith. And, I confess, I felt myself taken a bit aback, the thought arising, “Isn’t she a little young to be speaking in such direct terms about what her listeners (her “elders”) should be doing?”

Sigh. I found myself unconsciously doing exactly what the Scripture instructed against. And exactly what the people in Jesus’ hometown did – “Isn’t he just the carpenter’s son? Why should we listen to him?”

Fortunately, as swiftly as my reaction arose, I recognized it for what it was and returned to considering what the young woman was saying, which was quite sound advice and instruction.

Yet again, I am reminded of our need to judge the message, not the messenger, realizing that God speaks to us in many ways – not always in the way we expect.

Before You Get Rid of Those Christmas Cards….

I’m hoping our Christmas tree will last a few more days, but it is not taking in any more water, leading me to think that we are close to the time it will need to come down.

As I was contemplating putting away all of the Christmas ornaments, I was reminded of the opening of Fr. Rolf Tollefson’s sermon on January 1. He shared that he had been spending time the last several days sitting with the Christmas cards he had received from family, friends and parishioners – looking at each one, giving thanks for the love it expressed, praying with the art and thinking of the people who sent it.

What a lovely thing to do! As the Christmas cards come in – especially during the week before Christmas when they come fast and furiously, I confess I find myself opening them, giving them a quick glance and tossing them into the basket in the dining room where I collect them. Some years, the basket gets tossed into storage with all of the Christmas decorations without my even giving them another look. Seems a bit ungrateful, not to mention wasteful.

This weekend, I am resolved to take a page from Fr. Rolf’s playbook: to set aside some time to go through the cards I received. To consider the images on the card, call each sender to mind, reflect on my friendship with them, express to God appreciation for their presence in my life and their thoughtfulness, and say a prayer for their well-being. If you don’t already do so, you might consider doing the same.

Easter Is Not Over, Folks

Catholics (and other Christians too, I suspect) are really good at Lent. We go through Lent abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting on certain days, giving things up, trying to get to daily Mass more frequently, going to Stations or other prayer services during the week. We don’t necessarily live up to all of our hopes for our Lenten observances (more than one of my friends confessed their inability to keep their resolve to give up Facebook during Lent), but we give it a darn good effort.

Then comes Easter. We attend the Easter Vigil (as I did last night) or go to Sunday morning Easter Mass (as my daughter did) and we have a wonderful gathering of friends and family for the Easter feast. Then, it is easy to go back to things as usual.

But, there is a reason that the Easter season in the Church liturgical calendar goes on for 50 days until Pentecost Sunday. The Resurrection of Christ radically changes everything and it is so important for us to take time to reflect on what Resurrection means for us, individually and as a community, so that we can more fully be a witness to Resurrection in the world.

So don’t put Easter behind you, because it is now Monday and Easter Sunday was yesterday. Instead, carry forth the Resurrection spirit in all you do and are in the world. And to help you do that, you might want to spend some time praying with the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples to help you contemplate what Jesus’ Resurrection means to you.

There are plenty of resources to help you. To list of couple right here: First, the prayer material I distributed on the last day of the Lent Retreat in Daily Living at UST has severals of suggested prayer material for the post-Easter period. You can get a copy of that material here.

Second, Christ the King and St. Thomas Apostle parishes in Minneapolis are sponsoring a four-week program, Reflecting on the Post-Resurrection Appearances, that I will be co-presenting with Bill Nolan of STA. Each week we will focus on the final chapter of one of the Gospels, beginning with Mark this Wednesday. If you are in the area, think about attending one or more sessions. (You can find information at page 5 of the CTK bulletin here.) If not, I’ll be posting podcasts of Bill and my talks here on Creo en Dios!

Taking Stock as we Begin a New Year

Yesterday was the beginning of 2012. Although many of us engage in a daily examen, many look upon the beginning of the new year as a time to reflect on the past. A time to take stock of where we’ve been and to reflect on what changes we might like to see in ourselves.

This can be a superficial exercise. We can vow to lose those extra pounds…a vow we’re sure to forget before January if half over. We can vow to go to the gym more frequently. And certainly eating better and getting more exercise are valuable things.

But we can also reflect on a much deeper level. I shared once before some questions someone gave me that had been prepared for Elul, the time in the Jewish calendar that is a time of preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I share them here again because they offer a valuable tool for both reflecting back over the past year and thinking about what we want the new year to look like.

What have been the happiest and most gratifying parts of this past year? In what areas have I acted as my best self? Which of my current habits or behaviors to I want to bring with me into the coming year?

What have been the most painful or difficult moments of the past year? When have been the times that I have not acted as I would have hoped? Which of my current habits or behaviors would I like to modify or leave behind in the years to come?

What are the relationships in my life of which I am most proud? The ones that feel most painful? What would it take to create change in these relationships in the coming year? Who are the people that I most need to ask for forgiveness?

You can think of many other questions to add, but hopefully this gives you a good start. Whatever particular questions you use, spend some time reflecting on particular things that did or did not go as well with respect to your relationship with others, with God and with yourself. And out of that reflection will doubtless come one or two concrete directions for change that you might want to ask God’s grace in effectuating during the coming year.

Happy New Year!

A Person’s Identity

One of the Facebook features I enjoy is the portion of the profile information section where people can put quotes. Every once in a while something prompts me to look to see what a particular Facebook friend has posted under that section, and sometimes I find some real gems.

Although I’ve read a lot of Thomas Merton, I had never before come across the following quote before seeing it listed as a quote by one of those friends:

You think you can identify a man by giving his date of birth and his address, his height, his eyes’ color, even his fingerprint… But if you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is.

If Merton is correct that the better answer one has to those two questions, “the more of person” one is, the two questions might offer fruitful ground for individual reflection.

I love the conjunction of “what I think I am living for” with “what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” I’m guessing that more people are intentional about asking themselves the first question than the second. Yet I think Merton is absolutely right that both are important questions – knowing the answer to only the first would not only give a very incomplete picture of a person, but would be insufficient to lead one to becoming more fully alive.

So ask yourself today what you think is keeping you from living fully for the thing you want to live for.

Learning to Reflect

My friend Richard worships at St. John’s Episcopal Church, whose rector, the Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, is also a gifted homilist. I finally had a chance to read a sermon she delivered a couple of weeks ago, which Richard kindly e-mailed to me. Delivered on Ascension Sunday, the sermon focused on theological reflection. Although others may use a different term for the process, she was referring to “a self-conscious effort to discern the presence of God in the events of our lives, to find or discover the deeper meaning of what happens to us and in our world, and to draw upon the rich heritage of our faith tradition in that discovery.”

Although there are many forms of instruction for engaging in this kind of contemplation, Rev. Budde outlines a three step approach that you might like to try. The first step “is to decide to reflect on our lives, which is a far bigger step than it sounds, because there are so many reasons for us not to do it.” She suggests that in choosing to be reflective, we start with something discreet – a particular event, encounter or experience.

The second step is “to go deeper, to allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions that the particular focus of your reflection evokes in you.” In this step she warns against both wallowing endlessly in the quagmire of our feelings and passing too quickly over them.

Finally, the third step is a concious effort to think about God and the spiritual intuitions and stories that have been the repository of meaning for our people.” We allow our imagination and the Spirit to help us see the connections with the events of our own lives.

You can read Rev. Budde’s sermon in its entirety here. In it she expounds on each of the three steps and talks about the value of this type of reflection in our lives.

Try it.

Examination of Conscience

Even many people who do not regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation do go to confession during Lent. Indeed, although we don’t anymore often hear the phrase “Easter Duty,” Catholics are required to receive go to confession (and to receive Holy Eucharist) at least once in the period between the First Sunday in Lent and Trinity Sunday.

It is common to engage in an examination of conscience in preparation of receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation. There are many forms that examination can take and one can find numerous lists of questions in books and online for prayerfully examaining our actions of body, speech and mind.

In going through some material in my study at home (cleaning out files in my study being a seemingly never ending process), I came across an examination of conscience that I received during an Ash Wednesday Day fo Reflection some years ago. I share it here because it is different from many I’ve seen and because it seems to me useful both for preparation for Reconciliation and for individual reflection during this Lenten season, and, indeed, at any other time. I hope you find it a fruitful source of reflection.

1. Do I fully believe that I am loved infinitely and forever by God?
If I do not believe this enough, do I pray fervently: “I believe, O God, help my unbelief?”

2. Do I live my live as though I believe that I am loved infinitely and forever by God?

a) Do I treasure myself as God’s “beloved”? Do I thank God continuously for all the wonderful gifts that I have received as signs of love? Do I develop gently, confidently, persistently all those gifts? Am I joyous about my opportunities to grow in God’s love for me?

b) Do I celebrate the people in my life who are sacraments (i.e., effective symbols) of God’s love for me?

3. Do I treat all other people as though they are loved infinitely and forever by God?

4. Am I anxious to share my gifts with others and to receive a share in their gifts so that the Body of Christ may grow more fully in Jesus’ image?
Am I concerned for the disadvantaged and do I seek personally, economically, and politically to have all people have the opportunity for the fullness of life?


While starting to put together the prayer material for the Lent Retreats in Daily Living I’ll be giving at both the University of St. Thomas and at St. Hubert’s this year, I picked up an old favorite collection of prayers and poems – Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits. It is a book I’ve used often (and heartily recommend), but haven’t looked at in a while.

One of the things I came across, which I honestly never remember seeing before in the book is something titled Seedlings, which contains some verses by Anthony de Mello, S.J. The suggestion is to place the statement in one’s heart and gently ponder on its inner meaning.

Here are two, each of which speaks a simple truth, but in each case a truth we sometimes often don’t grasp. So my invitation is to take one of them and sit with it. As the book instructs, the idea is not to “force it open with your mind,” but sipmly to “sow it in your heart. And give it time.”

You do not
to change
for God
to love

Be grateful
for your sins.
They are carriers
of grace.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

When I visualize the Communion of Saints, there are several saints who stand out front and center. St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis, John the Baptist, to name a few, along with the saint whose memorial we celebrate today, St. Ignatius of Loyola. So it is with particular delight that I find myself on this day at St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, NY (where I served as a staff associate before our move to the Twin Cities).

St. Ignatius has been a very influential figure in my spiritual growth. His vision is contained in his Spiritual Exercises, which so very many people have done over years, either in the form of a 30-day retreat or in the form of the 19th Annotation (the form in which I did the exercises), which involves a “retreat in daily living” lasting for approximately 9 months.

A foundational element of the Spiritual Exercises is a reflection called the Principle and Foundation, which is prayed with very early in the exercises. I decided there is little better I could offer on this day than an invitation to spend some time reflecting on something Ignatius believed we could profitably spend much time with. Here is David Fleming’s translation of the Principle and Foundation:

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.

I’m here at St. Ignatius to give an 8-day guided retreat (The Gift of an Awakened Heart), which begins with dinner this evening. I would be grateful for your prayers for me and my retreatants.