Worth Revisiting: The Scent of Her Presence

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“An awareness of smells can illuminate our present. It can help us live more mindfully and gracefully. It can help us recognize that God’s goodness saturates the world, in scents that are both obvious and subtle.”

Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Taste and See ( Loyola Press)

Early morning dew, the scent of grateful peonies and roses greet me.
The aroma of homemade strawberry rhubarb and blackberry pies cooling midday meet me.
Nighttime breezes carrying a day well spent at play, leave me ..the promise of yet another summer day in the South.

My Grandmother’s house was my favorite place to be as a child, particularly in the summertime.  What might appear as lacking in structure or activity, each day was abundant in hidden treasures that could only be discovered by a slower pace and ready spirit. All this I too might have missed had I not been seeking- albeit anticipating- God’s respondent grace and presence. Grandma’s hard work in the garden wafted through her small home as she baked and canned the fruits of each day’s gifts. Receiving the present she also prepared for the future, when these would not be as easily gathered. Mindful also that nothing given should ever be wasted.

Indeed, there are so many indelible memories forever tied to the smells of my childhood spent with my Grandma. Sunday mornings brought an even more unique scent- as my Grandma readied herself for church service. Not accustomed to wearing makeup or perfume during the week, grandma was on this day a delightful combination of Ivory soap, Jergens lotion, Covergirl makeup and Emeraude perfume. How I loved this smell, so much so that I would take it all in as I cuddled close before church. Infused with the understanding that Sunday’s were intended to be special, she put forth her best for God.

Many years later I would smell that smell once again, over 1, 400 miles apart. Then 33 and in my third trimester I could not travel as she feel seriously ill this time. My heart was nonetheless with her, and almost without pause I found myself praying for her throughout the day.

“Lord let her know how very much I love her, let her know that though I cannot be there in person that I am truly beside her. If I could carry her as she carried me all these years, I would.”

God heard my prayer, and knew the close bond he had established between us would not end in death. Only moments before the phone rang, God gave me an otherwise inexplicable gift-my Grandmother visited me. In the shower, I suddenly and overwhelming experienced the all enveloping scent and presence of my Grandmother. It was all around me, permeating every space with love and memories. As tears of joy and grief streamed down my face, I said my goodbyes- for now, fully embracing the gift of being with her again. Profoundly aware that God was allowing me to experience this sacred moment of my Grandmother’s passing from this world to the next.

Then just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Though I tried to recover the scent for an instant, I knew that she was no longer there. As the phone rang, with my cousin who had been sitting with her in these last few moments on the line, I knew her words before they were spoken.

“Liz, Grandma just left us..”
“I know..she was here..and just left too.”

I then shared with her how I knew and the unbelievable love that I had felt in these last moments.Together we cried tears of joy for the gifts given to be with our grandmother all these years. Though eleven years have now passed- the fond memories of growing up through every season infused with the scent of her presence will forever remain, evidence of the world unseen .

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: 31 Days of St. Ignatius

31 Days with Saint IgnatiusThis month Loyola Press is inviting each of us to “discover the riches of Ignation Spirituality”  This celebration culminates on July 31st on the feast day of St. Ignatius. So please  join me along with other Catholic bloggers and authors these 31 days of St. Ignatius, for a month long Ignatian feast !

Today’s challenge:

What is it to truly fall in love? If not with the Author of love itself? Read the excerpt below and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and inner movements of gratitude for the gifts God has given. Afterwards ask yourself, Were there people or things that I had previously overlooked or even taken for granted in my day?

Fall in Love

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.

It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

 Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907–1991)

Peace,

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Of Messy Beds and Coffee Mugs

Of messy beds..

The first day and a half of silent retreat was spent unpacking the finer details of life, work and family that had been occupying time and space in my heart and mind lately. Even knowing that the goal of an Ignatian retreat was to leave my bags and enter into intimacy with God..I was seemingly unable to let go of the handle. I had told myself that this was my time to pray on these things and yet was I truly lifting this up in prayer? Or, was I simply filling the space that God wished to be with the thoughts that came my way?

My bed a safe haven- I crawled into every chance that I had. It’s clean soft embrace welcomed my exhaustion and reminded me of the need to pray. Why bother making it when I would just be a return visitor? I realized that despite my initial reluctance, my body needed the rest and I was more than happy to comply. Would this I wondered be the new norm for my entire stay here? For, I had always relished the sunrise Mass, long carefree walks on the grounds and still moments in chapel before the tabernacle. How was it then that I found myself here in a state of apparent inactivity? Once stopped I began to wonder if I would ever move again.

Of course I would, but it wasn’t to be accomplished by my own doing. Given a choice of desired outcomes for my retreat,  I felt challenged in my operating mode for the past day and a half. Either I would leave with a myriad of pastoral planning directives or I would leave refreshed and reconnected with God. To my surprise I realized that I had come to the crossroads. It was time to let go of what was not needed and finally go away to be with God.

Putting my “bags” down, I slipped on a set of gym clothes and set off on an unknown course. As I began the walk, I found myself with no inclination to stop and the tiredness of before was to be no more. Walking, then running, I experienced at last the spiritual freedom and peace I had so craved. In fact, when I finally returned it felt as if it was the start of my day rather than the end of it. Finding a pew inside the chapel I sat. Now I could receive the consolation that I had so desperately needed. My heart, no longer busied with the concerns of the day, was ready at last for God to walk through.

Of coffee mugs…

In a Jesuit house there is no shortage of food, smiles, or hospitality. To be honest, the only essential that I was missing was a REAL coffee mug. Not a dainty little quarter cup that needed to be refilled numerous times, but a large rounded hugable work of art. There were just a couple of these set aside and I resolutely mustered up the courage to motion my intent. “Yes, you can use one..they aren’t just for the resident Jesuits.” Thanks be to God!, I inwardly prayed. Finally I could enjoy a serious cup of coffee and drink in my gratitude for the moment.

Of the present moment..

I am one who is known to consider the past, present and future together instantly in reflecting and discernment. So, to just rest in the present moment is a bit less familiar ground. Yet, here I am- listening to the birds sing, and watching the light dance in the water droplets from the fountain. Even the sound of my feet on the path and the occasional crunch of a fallen leaf do not escape my ear. The beautiful white headstones of our Jesuit saints stand as reminders of the gift of their very lives in heartfelt service. Today I noticed four new souls, in fact, made way to their rest in just a year’s time. A brotherhood of love, a commitment of service- a life spent well.

So, though I do not know what each day ahead may bring, I give God my day to do with it what he will. In retrospect, which is key to the examen, I see the journey that I have undertaken and the steps that have led me here- some expected,  innumerable surprises, and still almost always prayerfully directed.

In His Peace,

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Where We Are Meant To Be

 

Lately, I have found myself marveling once again at the way God can lead us in our ordinary day if we are receptive and listening. Whether it be an unplanned event, conversation, or the bedside of a friend- unimaginable grace and surprises await when we simply say yes to God’s movement in our day. Sometimes even God will give our souls an extra nudge to encourage our lazy spiritual dispositions when it is particularly important. Perhaps most amazing is when your examen leads you to realize that, because you had in fact listened, you had been truly blessed.

Before I lay down to sleep one night last week, I heard so clearly in prayer how God had intended the following day to go. Admittedly, I had wanted to sleep in the next day but God was asking me to listen. So, having hurried to make it to Mass I slid in a pew near the back with communion pyx in hand. From that moment on, there was such peace, and intentionality found with everything that I was encounter that day. To no surprise, I ran into someone who I hadn’t seen in a year who had unexpectedly thought of me that morning and decided to go to Mass. Then was the hospital visit for a very dear priest friend of mine, who despite the circumstances remains a fountain of peace and inner joy. As we spoke and prayed the Our Father together I could not help but wonder who was receiving the greater blessing, him or I.

Throughout my day, that God had planned, there were many more sacred moments that had I been recalcitrant I indeed would have missed. Whatever you do, you cannot go wrong by turning over your day and giving God the lead. Below is a prayer that echoes this idea of receptivity and discernment and can be especially fruitful first thing in the morning.

Prayer for Choosing a State of Life

From all eternity, O Lord, you planned my very existence and my destiny. You wrapped me in your love in baptism and gave me the faith to lead me to an eternal life of happiness with you. You have showered me with your graces and you have been always ready with your mercy and forgiveness when I have fallen. Now I beg you for the light I so earnestly need that I may find the way of life in which lies the best fulfillment of your will. Whatever state this may be, give me the grace necessary to embrace it with love of your holy will, as devotedly as your Mother did your will. I offer myself to you now, trusting in your wisdom and love to direct me in working out my salvation and in helping others to know and come close to you, so that I may find my reward in union with you for ever and ever. Amen.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: 40 Days in His Way

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Written a year ago..  and while a few things have changed,  this Lenten challenge to walk in His way ever remains the same! 

Working in ministry, liturgical seasons just simply move way too fast. It seems like yesterday Advent was on our doorstep and now we are over halfway through Lent. Our 24 week bible study with Jeff Cavins is drawing to a close and small group Lenten study has already begun. We have a food pantry drive and collection over the next 2 weeks, and a Collaborative Lenten service event for End Hunger where volunteers meet to package simple, nutritious meals for those in need within the New England area. Not to mention, as new collaborative (2 parishes now working together) there is evangelistic and leadership training, council and liturgy meetings, and the gathering of individuals to write a new pastoral plan. We are most certainly a collaborative on the move! In fact, several of the leadership team are flying out today to be a part of the Amazing Parish Conference in Atlanta.

In the midst of all these incredible community blessings, I have been trying to take the time myself to rediscover all the ways God is calling me personally to conversion and transformation. This year’s Lent for me has been all about trust. Why trust? Well, with so many balls in the air, including seeking the sale of our home, I have needed to go deeper than a mere lip service of saying I trust God. Over and over again these past few weeks I have had to let go of timelines, expectations and results. Not an easy task when you are detail oriented by nature. Yet, what I have noticed is that when I am truly keeping my eyes focused on Christ, all the rest fades away into the background.

One service project that has surfaced for me this Lent is the 40 bags/boxes in 40 days challenge of de-cluttering for simplicity and charity.Perfect timing as my family prepares to potentially move out of our home of 20 years. So many things we have not used over the years that could be of use to someone else. Why do we accumulate stuff and hold on to things that we honestly do not need anymore? Sentimentality, and security? With every bag or box packed, however, my family is gaining valuable space and awareness of the way that clutter can occupy our lives. In our culture of accumulation I can honesty say we could do with “Less” in order to appreciate what it is that we”Need”. We need space in our days and our homes that only God can fill.

Reflect:

Take time today to see what is filling your day, your home, and occupies your time. Is there room for growth, and space for need?

Peace,Signature

Worth Revisiting: Dear Pope Francis

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Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World (Loyola Press)

With the incredible appeal of Pope Francis, there has been understandably a vast array of books on him or by him featuring his homilies, angelus’, addresses and encyclicals. Yet, I am so thrilled to be able to preview a book composed of letters and questions by children and the tender responses of Pope Francis.

While I could tell you how I felt reading these personal and heartfelt correspondences..I thought that instead I would share a few of my son Thomas’ thoughts as we read these preview pages together.

I asked him, “So, Thomas, what do you think?”

Pope Francis brings out the most of everyone’s questions in faith. He speaks to each child from his heart.

(Thomas, age 10, United States)

I really like the question from Alejandra, “Why didn’t God defeat the devil?” and Pope Francis’ response that he already defeated him “in his own way” on the cross. This relieves me so much because I dislike Satan and the evil things he does. (Thomas, age 10, United States)

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I think Pope Francis’ choice for a miracle is a good one because I do not wish that children or anyone else would suffer. When Pope Francis says that it’s ok to cry, that is different from saying that crying won’t change anything. He cries because he feels for us and loves. (Thomas, age 10, United States)

To Karla, You ask if everyone good or bad has a guardian angel. I feel bad for the guardian angel that has to accompany the people that do bad things! I am happy though that people are never alone and they have a guardian angel to guide them. (Thomas, age 10, United States)

Knowing that God wants us to all be saved makes me feel grateful. If I make a mistake and am sorry, he forgives me.(Thomas, age 10, United States)

To Pope Francis: Thank you, yes Jesus wants me to be his friend. But to be a good friend, you say that this means that Jesus wants me to talk to him, and spend time with him. This makes me happy because then everyone gets to be friends with Jesus!(Thomas, age 10, United States)

As you can see, the dialogue between hearts is intended to continue with each child, parent and teacher that picks up this beautiful conversation of faith. Children have a remarkable way of meeting situations and others with a profound honesty and simplicity. Perhaps this is why we too are called to be like these children in seeking the Kingdom of heaven. 

Peace, Signature

Knowing Thy True Self

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”
― Thomas Merton

New year’s resolutions and Lenten commitments have one important common thread, they are only as effective as they are intuitive about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual.  For this reason, neither can be a one size fits all and both need to strike a balance between being challenging and in some degree feeling achievable. For instance, setting a goal of running a 5k would not be a worthy goal for a marathoner, and running a marathon would not be a realistic goal for someone who has never ran around the block. A primary difference, of course, rests in where we seek strength and desire to follow through with these commitments. For the Christian, there is a fundamental understanding that the path of discipleship and virtue is not a solitary one. Through Christ, however, there is both strength and guidance at the ready to lead us to God’s will to becoming the best version of ourselves.

In conversation with a friend of mine recently, a retired corporate HR director, the idea of personality and leadership traits came up. Many of us have taken personality assessments like the Myers Briggs, the Big 5 or emotional inventories. While these assessments are far from perfect, they can give us a glimpse into how we perceive our strengths and weaknesses and react in various situations. This is not only beneficial for understanding ourselves but also in how to understand and work better with others in community.

I just so happen to be one who enjoys drawing out the introverted, sitting beside the wounded, communicating one on one or to a crowd, diplomatic but not afraid to stand up for what is right or see things through. Yet, on the flip side I have been known at times to spread myself too thin, be overly self-critical, and take on other people’s problems as my own. Delays due to indecision, and multiple projects left incomplete can frustrated me. Self awareness has been invaluable in discerning God’s will in my life, while also helping me to step back and reflect on how best to inspire others to learn and grow too.

As Catholics, the exercise of our faith is never separate from the larger community even when living a cloistered life. And the living out of our truest best self is always a choice. One that we can disguise, or utilize in our daily interactions with others. Though, as Merton would note, if we ignore who we are at our core we “cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.” Likewise, when we  live indifferent to others and their inherent values, we fail as well to fully seek the truth about ourselves.

When we experience conflict, it not only speaks to the the behavior and inner self of others but to our own sense of identity. Conflict, therefore, has the potential to be interiorly revealing if we allow ourselves to ask two seemingly simple questions. Why it is this situation troubling in the first place and what would be necessary for interior or exterior balance?  To this point, the saints were not considered so because they lived lives of perfect peace perfectly. But rather, in the midst of conflict the saints sought to know God, to know themselves and live their truest self in the world around them.

Reflect:

In what situations in my life am I making the choice to be untrue to myself and in my relationships with others? What do the conflicts in my life reveal about myself and where might God be asking me to grow?

Peace,

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This Epiphany: Still Seeking?

“It is better to be a child of God than king of the whole world!” St. Aloysius Gonzaga

With the approach of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12), we behold quite a scene- one of perceived royalty and the other of unassuming divinity wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And here, this quote by St. Gonzalga finds its resonance, revealing a profound truth of the nativity story. For regardless of worldly stature or knowledge, the maneuvers by peasants and kings alike are guided by the promised birth of a savior.

King Herod, was the proclaimed king of the Jews, and yet his Idumean family had been forcibly converted to Judaism. Herod was known to play both the Romans and the Jewish leadership against the other holding no real allegiance other than to money and power. Thus when the Magi asked “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? ” That in itself spoke to their recognition of just where legitimate power truly rested, and to whom they wished to pay homage.  Couple that with the astronomical occurrence of a star foretold in Numbers 24:17, and promises in Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 7:14 of a child to be born and Herod had good reason to be concerned.

 

The Magi, perhaps more accurate than the term “wise men”, alludes to their knowledge of the movement of the stars and position as Persian priests somewhere in Babylon or Arabia. Was it mere curiosity that carried them from their lands across the desert or was it more than that? They are aware of the prophesies and scriptures accompanying the signs, so we trust that they have knowledge.   Is theirs a “faith seeking understanding” as St. Anselm proposes? Have they sought God through self-knowledge and now seek God’s revelation of himself trusting that it will be affirmed under the light of the star? Up to this point, as St. Augustine would assert, though full of worldly wisdom they had yet to even understand themselves fully until they came to encounter and know God.

What is intriguing about this consideration, and their inclusion in this story is that the Magi were gentiles. And while the Jewish priests and scribes were well versed in the scriptures and could inform Herod, they are seemingly disconnected from its fulfillment. The faith of the Jewish leadership appears content in its present knowledge, and either no longer seeking greater understanding or for its fulfillment to occur differently that they had preconceived.  Their idea of a messiah was a political leader who world provide transformation in the eyes of the rest of the world not in their own lives.

This is a reoccurring theme in the Gospels, and early church. Though initially beginning with the Jews, time and time again the Good News would also be extended to the Gentiles. Was this a conversion for the Magi, we do not know. Yet, these men left behind their lives in pursuit of understanding, and humbly acknowledged the king of kings that day. One can only wonder how their faith journey continued as they returned home.

Reflect:

Am I still desiring greater understanding in my journey with God? Or do I feel that I have my place in this world and God all figured out?

Today, I’d like to invite each of you to consider if your spiritual contentment could actually be keeping you from growing closer to Christ. Maybe, just maybe, God is asking you to leave this safe space to journey with him… to discover the “more” that he has to offer. To seek the God…who is forever faithfully seeking us!

Peace,

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Guest Post: The Present

The following guest post comes from an Advent Taize service led by my close friend and colleague from Loyola Chicago, Paula Kowalkowski.
Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
                    Luke 1:26-38

The idea for this reflection came to me right after the 4th of July – lots of hot and
humid days – highs in the 90’s. Just a bit different from what we are experiencing
now…..
When an idea comes – grab it, I think.
The word PRESENT came to me as I walked along the residential streets of my
Chicago neighborhood on that summer morning.
The word PRESENT comes from the Latin praesentia – being at hand/being
present. In more modern words, being mindful, being attentive to what is.
It’s an invitation to be present to what is. And what is? We are together in this
season of Advent standing – and sitting – in the presence of our Creator God. We
are in this space at St. Thomas Becket Parish – giving praise, giving thanks, asking
our God to be with us in all things. Things we understand and things we may be
questioning. This is what is. This is being present.

In our Gospel reading, we heard that on that day – so long ago – in Mary’s life, she
was present. If Mary had not been attentive to what was happening – she may
have missed the Angel – she may have missed the message. Mary heard and
listened and responded. Mary did not understand fully what she was being
called to – yet she trusted and we are called to do the same.
— Mary and Martha – Jesus said that Mary chose the greater part/portion.

The word present – means gift, as well.
And oh, what a gift God has given to us – as we wait for this gift once again in this
holy season. This great present of God – as human being, the gift of Jesus – who
was and is and forever more will be – our greatest example of what it is to be a
fully alive human being.

Jesus, the Christ – who is given to us every time we receive him in the Eucharist –
HIS REAL PRESENCE.

God’s ongoing gift of Godself to us and to the world. This
Jesus – this great gift given to us – is life – is truth – is the way and is hope!
The writer of Deuteronomy reminds us that God has put before us life and death
– blessings and curses. And what are we called to do? Choose life! The
abundant life which God provides for us – as we follow and trust God’s
commands and will for us in God’s time, not ours.

I wish you a blessed Advent and joy-filled, abundant Christmas.

Paula

Paula Kowalkowski
Music Director at St. Thomas Becket in Chicago, Illinois ; MA Loyola Chicago

This Advent: Clean House!

You may have heard the expression that “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and without a doubt this would not be a beloved mantra by most. Yesterday just so happened to be my opportunity to catch up on all the neglected household chores of the week. From the kitchen to the bathrooms, floors and counter tops, laundry and mealtime preparation it all lay before me demanding my diligent attention. Were there other things that I would have preferred to be doing on my day off? Most certainly, and make no mistake many of these diversions occupied space in my thoughts as I moved from room to room.

Yet, despite these thoughts, God was also calling me to see his presence both in the work at hand and introspectively in making ready for the season. Thus, advent, it seems to me, is a time of preparation of heart and home for the celebration that is to come. For, in a mere matter of weeks we are to rejoice in the birth of our savior and more than an calendar observation it requires our active participation.

If we are to make a home, a resting place for the Christ child, and a welcome for the visitors who come to see Christ within us what do we need to do this advent?

First, we need to prioritize. Recognizing, that as conflicts arise that we need to put God first. While Christmas shopping, parties, concerts and plays are all enjoyable albeit unavoidable excursions, we cannot forget to make time and space in our days for God. If necessary, put this appointment with God on your calendar. For many, if it is on the calendar it is more likely to be a reality. Then research the availability of local churches for adoration time, healing Masses, and reconciliation that will work the best.

  • “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Prov 24:27
  • Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me” Heb 10:5

Consider the interior work that needs to be done this Advent season:

  • “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28
  • “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim 2:15

Create an Advent action plan:

  • Be determined and serious: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13
  • Spend time with scripture: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Ps 119:105
  • Examine the idols, or misplaced priorities in your life:

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” Prov 3:6

“If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and… direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” 1 Sam 7:3-4

  • Seek to be Sanctified and Holy: Are there sins in my life that need to be removed in order for my heart to be a home?  Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” 2 Tim 2:20-21
  • Bring others with you on the journey: so that when the Christ child comes we will be a people ready for celebration and joy!  “And he will go before him in the spirit…to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Luke 1:17

Reflect:

What spiritual housekeeping have I been neglecting lately? Have I made time to clean the corners of my heart and prepare a place for Christ this Advent?

Peace,

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