May Nothing Distract Me

As I spend some time today doing final preparation for a retreat I’m giving for Marquette University Faculty and Staff next weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, I thought I’d share a prayer written by Sr. Marie Schwann CSJ, who was associated for many years with that retreat house and who died last year. The prayer beautifully conveys the essence of the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius (one of the subjects on which I will speak next weekend).

Lord, my God, when Your love spilled over into creation,
You thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my hearts, O God, always recognize, cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all of creation.
Direct all that is me to your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
Lord God, may nothing ever distract me from your love…
neither health nor sickness
wealth nor poverty
honor nor dishonor
long life nor short life.
May I never seek nor choose to be other than you intend me to be.


Ignatius and His Exercises

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a saint who has been very influential in my spiritual development.

I quipped not long ago to my spiritual director, after sharing some of the experiences of my most recent retreat, “Is there anyone who ever has a realization Ignatius didn’t already have?”  An exaggeration, perhaps, but the truth is that Ignatius really got it, and there is a reason his Exercises have flourished and survived for centuries.

To be sure, some of Ignatius’ imagery and ways of talking about certain issues can benefit from adaptation (he was, after all, a 16th Century former soldier) to our times.  (Although Ignatius himself recognized the need for those directing the Spiritual Exercises to adapt them to the needs and qualities of those making the retreat, the need for adaptation today is greater than he could have imagined.)  But the fundamental aspects of the Exercises – the Principle and Foundation, the Call of Christ, The Two Standards and so forth – are as meaningful today as they were when Ignatius wrote them.

On this feast day I say a prayer of thanksgiving for all Ignatius and his Exercises have meant for me and for countless others. And I pray especially for all of the members of the Jesuit family.

God Calls Moses

One of the early meditations in Week Two of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is the termed the Call of the King.  The meditation is presented in the form of a parable designed us to get in touch with Christ’s invitation that we labor with him to bring about God’s plan of the world.

God’s call is not a distinctively Christian phenomenon. God has been calling on humans to aid him in his plan for the world from the very beginning.  We hear one of those calls in today’s first Mass reading: God’s call to Moses.

God has heard the cry of his people languishing in slavery in Egypt. At the time Moses is off tending the flock of his father-in-law and as he comes to mount Horeb, he sees fire flaming out of a bush. And God says to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people….The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come, now! I will send you to Pharoah to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

As I read the passage, I was struck with the ordinariness with which God makes this request, as though he were asking something on the order of, “run down to the corner store and pick me up a quart of milk.”  No big deal, Moses, just go and lead my people out of Egypt.

Moses’ first reaction is about what you’d expect: Are you serious? How in the world am I supposed to do this? Who am I to go to Pharoah and lead the people to freedom? And what is God’s response: I will be with you.

The conversation goes on after this, as God tells Moses how things will proceed, but Moses still says, “If you please, Lord, send someone else.”

But God will not be thwarted. God doesn’t say, OK, I’ll go ask someone else. Rather God persists, and throughout their conversation, in response to each of Moses’ objections, God promises the gift Moses needs to carry out this task.

And God persists with each of us.  Calling us over and over again for us to take part in God’s plan for the world.

Will you answer the call?

Contemplation on the Love of God

Last night was the final session of the monthly program Christine Luna Munger and I have been offering through St. Catherine’s University this year, Now What? Deepening Your Ignatian Retreat Experiences.  The program was aimed at people who have had some experience with the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius through a weekend preached retreat, a retreat in daily living or some other format and designed to – as the title suggests – help them deepen the insights and experiences of those retreats.  Over the year, we’ve reflected on desire, individual and social sin, discernment and some of the core meditations of the Exercises.

Our topic last night was the Contemplation on the Love of God that ends the Spiritual Exercises. The Contemplatio provides what one author called “ in highly condensed form the very kernel of the Exercises,” a “kind of coherent synthesis with, simplified and in a concise form, may be used in daily life as an ideal containing various elements scattered here and there in a hundred and one particular truths.” One author called it not only a summary of the Spiritual Exercises, “but of perfection itself.”

The idea of the Contemplatio is that the culmination of all the divine actions is gift. The culmination of the divine actions lies in the love they draw from humans. Importantly, love cannot be forced. It is not that we can simply tell ourselves to love like God. (We’ve said this before: this is not just a question of will. “Tomorrow I will love like God all day long.” It doesn’t work that way.) Yes, we can work to overcome the challenges that make it hard for us to love like God. But the Contemplatio wants us to realize that love emerges spontaneously from consciousness – one realizes what God is doing to love him or her and that realization itself enables us to do what otherwise would be impossible – to be so caught up in God, to be so attracted and drawn by what God does, that we love. Love is not forced, it is evoked.

I was reminded as I spoke last night of something Archbishop Flynn said at the racism panel at Lourdes on Sunday.  When someone asked what steps one can take to remove racist attitudes, the Archbishop said that the key was more deeply internalizing God’s love for us.  If we truly understand to the depth of our hearts how much God loves us, we will more naturally love others – regardless of their race or other circumstances.  That is precisely what Ignatius is trying to help us understand in this meditation.

You can find an online version of the Contemplation on the Love of God here.

Jesus Appears to His Mother

In this week following Easter Sunday, the Gospels proclaimed at Mass recount appearances by Jesus to his friends following his resurrection. Today he appeared in the upper room, yesterday he encountered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and so on.

In Week  Four of the Spiritual Exercises, we spend time praying with these appearances.  The grace of Week Four is to “feel glad and rejoice intensely because Jesus rises in exultation and in great power and glory.” Joseph Tetlow explains it this way:

In his humanness, Jesus triumphed over death. He had embraced everything human without ever acting unfaithful to his Father, to Himself, or to his friends. He had lived his life in uprightness and in joy. Now, He is confirmed eternally in His own joy – to be with the children of humankind….

This is the Jesus Christ who lives now. If you do not come to know Him both full of joy and exuberantly sharing his happiness, then you will not really know Him at all. You have asked in past days to know Jesus and to love Him and to follow where he goes. It is into fullness of life and complete human joy that he goes! If you do not follow him into his joy, you will ultimately find it hard to believe that you are following him at all.

The first post-resurrection appearance St. Ignatius invites us to pray with in Week Four is one that has no scriptural basis: Jesus’ appearance to his mother. St. Ignatius writes in his book on the Exercises:

He appeared to the Virgin Mary. Though this is not mentioned explicitly in the Scripture it must be considered as stated when Scripture says that He appeared to many others. For Scripture supposes that we have understanding, as it is written, “Are you also without understanding?”

Or, as I paraphrased it more colloquially, Ignatius says: Let’s be real, here. Who do you think Jesus would appear to in one of his first appearances? Of course he went to see his mother. It is impossible to imagine otherwise.

It is a good prayer exericise you may want to try sometime this week in between praying with the post-resurrection appearances described in the Gospels. Ignatius invites us to imagine Jesus coming to Mary…to stay and hear what they say and what they do. Let them share with you what they experienced together. Eperience Jesus consoling his mother. And be with them in their joy.

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.)

Deepening Your Experience of The Spiritual Exercises

I’m very excited about this upcoming monthly program at St. Catherine’s University that I will be co-facilitating with Cristina Luna Munger (with whom I am also co-teaching a one-credit course this fall on Group Spiritual Direction). It is aimed at people who have had some experience with the Spiritual Exercises – perhaps by attending a preached Ignatian weekend retreat or doing an Ignatian retreat in daily living in their parish. The program grew out of my discussions with my friend Meg Mannix, who coordinates the semiannual Women’s Ignatian weekend retreats sponsored by the Jesuit Wisconsin Province.

Please feel free to share the flyer and the link with folks you think might be interested.

If you have trouble viewing the flyer here, you can find it online here.

Between Death and Resurrection

Yesterday was Good Friday, a day many of us participated in liturgies that included a reading of the passion, veneration of the cross and receipt of Eucharist. Tonight (for those of us attending Easter Vigils) or tomorrow morning, we will celebrate the Resurrection.

What about today? We call today Holy Saturday. For some, it is simply an anticipation of Easter. But there is something more for us in this space between death and resurrection.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to take some time in the space between Jesus’ death and his Resurrection, to spend some time in that place of Christ’s absence. He believes it is necessary for us to truly experience Jesus’ death and absence before we can fully appreciate the significance of His rising for us. The “tomb day” experience of the Spiritual Exercises is thus an invitation to envision a world without Jesus.

Now this is a lot more difficult for us than it was for Jesus’ disciples. We know the next chapter of the story; we know that Resurrection follows death and so our progression from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is almost seemless. We live in a world infused with resurrection, so we never question it. Each Sunday we recite the words in the Creed, that Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose again. The truth is, that living on this side of the Resurrection, we largely take it for granted. I’m not saying we don’t take it seriously – Christians treat Easter as the most important day of the religious calendar and many people who don’t otherwise do so will go to mass on Easter. (We used the expression “CAPE Catholics”)

But do we really appreciate what we have? Do we really think about what life would be if Jesus did not rise on the third day?

The disciples did have a very real sense of this. For them, the death of Jesus was the end. For them, there was a real period of darkness after the crucifixion and before the Resurrection. Three years of following Jesus and it was all over. Think of what they experienced. Fear – that everything Jesus had said and done ended at his death. Powerlessness – believing they had been abandoned by God. The finality of loss – as the stone was put in front of the tomb. Confusion – “the road before them shrouded in darkness,” in the words of one prayer.

The instruction for prayer during “tomb day” in the Spiritual Exercises is to be with the disciples and with Mary and the other women in their grief over losing Jesus. To actually be with them – taking Jesus body off the cross, washing and anointing it, placing it in the tomb and watching the rock being rolled across the tomb’s entrance. To be with Mary and the other disciples afterwards, to go with them wherever they go, do with them whatever they do. One instruction for the tomb day experience says, “Let the effect of Jesus’ death permeate your whole being and the world around you for the whole day.”

You might take some time today in your prayer to experience something of what Ignatius invites us to in the Exercises.

Being With Jesus in His Passion

Week 3 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius ask us to be with Jesus in his passion; it is a call to compassion with Jesus’ suffering. We follow Jesus all the way to his cross and his death, willingly sharing, in the words of one author, “his choices, his anguish, his truth, his desires, his aloneness, his sense of the absence of God.”

Ignatius encourages those doing the Exercises to use their imaginations when they contemplate the events of Jesus’ life. Here are some questions suggested by William Barry S.J., in Seek My Face for this means of praying with the Gospels:

Would Jesus want me to stay with him as he prays on the mountainside? Does he want a shoulder to cry on as he weeps over Jerusalem? Does he need to pour out his feelings, too? What can I do for Jesus in his shame? Does he want me to stay with him in the garden of Gethsemane? One person spent the whole of an eight-day retreat staying with Jesus as he endured his Passion, even helping him at one point to get up and go on. Can I wipe his face or give him a cup of water? Does he suffer still as he lives with people who are tortured for their beliefs? Would he like to talk about his feelings with me? How does he feel about my presence with him in this kind of contemplation? These are only a few of the questions that might arise in us once we allow ourselves to read the Gospels imaginatively with the desire to know Jesus better, to love him more deeply, and to follow him more closely.

You might find this a fruitful way of praying during final days of Lent.

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.