Worth Revisiting: You Lead, I’ll Follow

Spiritual direction, it seems to me, is a beautiful dance.

An intimate sharing of self, a gracious reception of the Other. Each step towards self knowledge is but a lyrical movement towards acceptance of the pre-existing dispositions and disequilibrium within our lives. Oh the freedom of  movement that comes with self acceptance! No longer are we resolutely restrained by the confines of our former self, but in desiring to model the steps of our divine Partner we can finally abandon our will for His.

This is what St. Ignatius would refer to as resignation or indifference, a course of abandonment from self seeking fulfillment to a desire to know and follow the will of God for our lives. This conversion of self and discernment of our next steps is, of course, the fruit of spiritual direction. Yet, as mankind is by nature relational, this dance reaches its fullest potential in dialogue with and under the guidance of a trained spiritual director.

Helpful Rules of the Road of Spiritual Direction:


1.    “Spiritual direction cannot be confined to the religious realm, as though this existed in isolation, but must deal with the whole man and his actual problems” Friedrich Wolf, Encyclopedia of Theology, ed. Karl Rahner.  Because of this, the more authentic and truthful you with are with the challenges you face in spiritual direction- the more helpful the time spent will be.

2.     You must be open to hearing and giving consideration to what your spiritual director notices about you and your situation without automatically defending a position. In entering spiritual direction, you are eliciting a consulting perspective, not asking simply for an echo of your own. You may have not noticed something simply because you are too close, or to familiar with its occurrence.

3.    If there is something in particular that you are aware of holding you back before a session, and your spiritual director is a priest, ask to begin with the sacrament of reconciliation. If this is the case but you are seeing a lay spiritual director, consider reconciliation at a nearby parish before your session. Otherwise, you may feel very self conscious of the sin, guilt or shame you are harboring and unable to be as open and ready to be moved through direction.

4.    Spiritual direction does compel a response or corresponding action by you.

“nothing less than a real conversion is needed if the searcher is to accept the profound self-knowledge which he gains with the help of another…in a word to carry his own cross after Christ.” Friedrich Wolf  

Simply speaking, once we see ourselves truthfully, in the light of faith, we begin to desire change. When we seek to follow Christ, we also wish to model our lives after him.

5.   Letting go of that which prevents us from growing spiritually closer to God.

Very few choices in our life are without consequences, be they good or bad. So it goes without saying that which doesn’t bring us closer to who God has intended us to be, is at best keeping us spiritually delayed.

6.  Recognizing who we are now, allows us to envision who God wants us to be and to            invite God into the decision making process. This is the ideal environment for spiritual      growth! Our relationship with God grows as we partner together in all of the                        decisions-big and small- that come before us. We may just find that we are less                    stressed about the outcome, because we trust that we ask God to guide us in the first          place!

Reflect:

Have you thought about seeking greater direction in your life? If so, research local spiritual directors in your area to find one that might be accepting new directees.

If you already have a spiritual director, does he/she challenge you to see things from a new perspective? Are you resisting or accepting of the task ahead?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Being Astonished

What is it that astonishes us these days? Is it the headlines that flash across the written page, or in gossip carried to our all to willing listening ears? Olympic feats, milestones reached or previous limitations met and surpassed? Perhaps, however, it is something closer to home. Sparked by an awareness of God at work around us, even in the seemliest detail often overlooked and missed- astonishment abounds.

In the poem entitled Messenger, by Mary Oliver she speaks of the beauty of discovery in our natural world. Creation giving and responding to its Creator, and each of us partaking in the holy within our everyday.

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Yet, can astonishment also be found in the imperfect, broken or worn parts of our lives too? Absolutely. For, we cannot deny the many ways we fall short of the often self-imposed standard of perfection we hold.  But are we really willing and ready for change?

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,

Here, with all due reverence to Mary Oliver, I find astonishment and beauty also in the reworking and remaking of my very being into who I was meant to be. Even the letting go and surrender of that within ourselves which is “still not perfect” can very well be a daily source of astonishment. To the point that I believe she strives to make, however, we mustn’t get wedded to the imperfections themselves. Rather, to attend to the work of responding- to the graced invitations around and within us.

which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.               Messenger, by Mary Oliver

So what do we do with these astonishing gifts- these simple moments of revelation and acknowledgement? Do we live a life inspired, willing to experience surprise, wonder and transformation?

Reflect:

Spend a few moments outside today. Be still, and invite the Holy Spirit to accompany you in revealing these “hidden” gifts of the moment. What is to be learned for you in being astonished?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: In Our Weakness

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

In seeking to be present and attentive to friends, family, and all those placed in our care we can at times mistakenly think that we are in control. That is, until we realize that we never were. For, under our own steam, even our own daily needs would seem insurmountable not to mention the needs of others. The reality truly is that we dislike admitting our weakness. We think, we plan, and we organize. Meanwhile, all of our striving though recognized by our heavenly Father was never meant to be ours alone.

The challenge faced in prayer might be how to pray for a specific intention or perhaps, when completely overwhelmed, how to pray at all. Yet, in these times, merely the desire to pray is enough. For while our relationship with God might in truth be a bit strained on our part, we have been given an amazing advocate! The Holy Spirit not only was with the apostles, and the helper of saints past but is there to guide and intercede for each one of us today.

In these moments of weakness, we are finally open to experience the grace that only our loving Father can give. Here we glimpse both how loving and mighty God is. And even in our perceivable strengths, we come to realize that  it is God who gifted them all. The peace that we long for can only come from our living Hope. Nothing that we do can ever create this peace in ourselves or within our community. But with God, all of our striving and yearning, in his will, may be fruitful. And better still, God uses our faults and failings too. Why? To show how great He is , and how unfathomable His love is for each of us.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace to see your work in me! In my weakness, you have enabled me to do things that I never imagined possible. You have magnificently created the world and still meet the smallest concerns of those I love as if they were your only care. When I come next, Holy Spirit, feeling at a loss for words- I ask only for you meet me in my weakness.

Reflect:

Where do I feel the weakest in my life? How do I face crisis, despair, and loss? What strength and consolation have we found in the past? What hope do we have of God’s faithfulness and love in tomorrow?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Sound of Silence

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Couldn’t help but revisit this post this week as Friday, I go on a 5 day silent Ignation retreat at Campion Jesuit House. Truly looking forward to the sound of silence and and some much needed father-daughter time.

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.

(1 KGS 19:9A; 11-12)

This reading is certainly one of my favorites from the Old Testament, not because of the thundering noise, or the overwhelming displays of nature but because of a whisper. A small nondescript sound, undetectable on one’s own, but always there over, under and amidst a world of noise and chaos. It’s presence reminds us of small everyday ways that God moves and speaks in our lives. So too is the reminder that if we do not stop to listen, get distracted by the things that vie for our attention , or fail to seek the Lord we very well miss the Almighty altogether.

Yesterday, I opted to bring my lunch outside to simply sit and share a few uninterrupted moments with the Lord. Like Elijah, I felt the cool breeze, and the sun on my face. I heard the birds and the children at play in the schoolyard. And, while all of this was quite beautiful and pleasing, it wasn’t where I had discovered God.Responding to an inner prompting, I closed my eyes..I quieted the sounds around me till all I could hear was silence.

Yet, this wasn’t the first time I had done so. Many years ago I had been given my 1st penance as a new convert, to go and spend some quiet time alone with God for one week. An unusual penance you say? True, I had been all ready to say a Hail Mary or an Our Father and move on along with my walk as a disciple. However, my very spiritually astute confessor recognized that surrounded by midterms, the law school exam and wedding planning what I was missing. That behind my words and sins of impatience and pride..was a need for silence.

Seemingly nothing, silence is not an absence of anything but a overwhelming abundance of a peaceful state of being. A stillness of body and soul, at rest with one’s self and the world. Unable to be at peace with one’s self or others, then an appreciation of silence will forever evade. For, silence demands a responsiveness and reciprocity to shed restlessness and concerns to simply receive what is there. This is why so many contemplative saints speak of an intimacy with God,because they had been ready to hear and respond to the whisper in their hearts.

If I may encourage,albeit challenge you- take time today to spend alone with God. It need not be a lengthy unbearable stay but a time set aside just to be open and present. What you may receive in doing so is beyond measure.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: In Plain Sight

 : Every Spring my mom, though teaching full time, would find an extra reserve of energy to become attentive to the details of housekeeping that winter and life had placed on the back burner. Make no mistake, however, it wasn’t just her responsibility but mine as well. Cobwebs and dust bunnies had no  recourse but to succumb to her broom, keen eye and swift hand.  What always surprised me in the course of these weeks was not the visible dirt but that which lay hidden in plain sight.

With pails of soapy water, a sponge for each of us, and a strong determination of mission we washed each wall from top to bottom. Not just once, but several times over, removing the unsightly grime that somehow had made its home on ours. And while I longed to stop at the first attempt,  to do so would simply make the dirt remaining all the more obvious. Yet, when the proper time and care was taken the work taken would reveal a well cared for home and the splendid true color of the original paint chosen.

I thought of this today in contemplating the housekeeping, as it were, of our souls. While we might easily recognize the walls that are broken or seemingly damaged beyond repair, do we see the layers of dirt and daily sin that fade the color of love that we are to reflect? Are we attentive only in confessing the obvious cracks or plaster in need of repair, or do we return time and time again to unearth the less visible sin we have accumulated?

For, much like the first pass of the soap on the wall, our awareness of the multitude of sin in our lives becomes apparent only when we begin to scratch the surface of the grime of time and habit. Too much work we say for such a small reward. Yet, this is the convincing deception of the venial sins in our lives. These small innocuous ways that we even unknowingly hide the beauty of God within, and become content to be less than what we were meant to be. If it has been some time since you have attended to this deeper spiritual housekeeping, God is ready and eager to provide the soap and water!

Reflect:

In what ways and areas do I need to attend to most in my spiritual life? What areas do I neglect? What might be revealed in tidying here that will let God’s love shine brighter in my life?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Prayerful Thirst

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“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

From the outside the prayer life of a Christian, particularly those in ministry, may incorrectly be assumed perfect, and yet how could it ever be? For, if it depends wholly on us, broken and fallible as we are, alas our words and petition will always be lacking. And yet, God yearns to meet us where we are, making up for the host of imperfections and sinful ways we have become accustomed to. So then, prayer cannot begin from a self assured position of deservedness but with a humble desire to seek. There need not be a multitude of words (Matthew 6:7) or the right selection

Dryness in prayer

There are, however, times we cannot seem to hear God’s answer amidst the din around us, the circumstance itself or even over our own continuous cries for help. We may very well ask ourselves, just where has our heavenly Father gone? Or better still, what has been done or not done to cause Him to withdraw his favor and presence?

“Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and he himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray…The “spiritual battle” of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.” CCC 2725

Digging Deep and Reaching Out

Remaining centered on Christ when our prayer is arid can be difficult at best.  Yet, if we do not then everything else that we do, while perhaps humanitarian, is insufficient and even fruitless for we are lacking our source for wisdom, strength and guidance. It is like a tree with a great expansive reach but very shallow roots. This tree cannot weather the storms that blow us this way and that, or seasons of dryness where showers of blessings seem scarce. Conversely, deep roots sourced in Christ guide us to where we can find new strength and grace when the world around us has changed.

When prayer is difficult..Pray More.

St. Ignatius does not provide easy words for us here and yet it is the very thing we are being asked to do. The sadness, and longing we feel is what St. Ignatius calls spiritual desolation. It can appear at times as boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration or as complete abandonment. While it is often said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, for the prayer seeker it is not only an undesired course but therein can lie a fear that it may never be found again. For, intimacy in prayer is such an priceless treasure, that once experienced and lost even in the smallest way or for the shortest time is deeply missed. These are the moments we long to return to when we suddenly become aware of our distance from God or sense that we are seemingly grappling about in the dark. We cannot, however, begin to pridefully think that we were deserving through our own efforts.  And still, it is not solely the journey of the forlorn disciple as the saints too walked this arid desert path of prayer on occasion. What most assuredly is the defining factor is our resolve to trust in God’s will and perseverance in the struggle .

St. Teresa of Calcutta expressed in her private letters (Come Be My Light)  her own spiritual desert that lasted over half a century. 50 years of coming to prayer waiting to hear God’s voice yet instead experiencing silence and solitude. Many a would be follower of Christ might have considered giving up by this time. But this, as she grew to realize, would be her cross one that would help her begin to glimpse the suffering that Christ endured himself. And while his voice was quieted, God met St Teresa in the faces of the poor and marginalized in the streets of Calcutta. Her work would, as she noted, allow the graced opportunity with the daily interaction with the Christ before her.

In Ordinary Time

We can learn much from the remedy that St. Teresa exemplifies through her time of spiritual emptiness and darkness. The “light” that she would find would not be found in lofty highs of prayer but in the everyday moments of ordinary time. Time spent with a priority of making space for God through devotion with the Blessed Sacrament and the prayers of the rosary became the guide for their work and the source of strength and encouragement to continue on.

“Where will you get the joy of loving?-in the Eucharist, Holy Communion.  Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life.  Night and day, He is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that adoration.”

In this meditative stillness, we may also more readily discover the invitation to better discern our own spiritual inclinations and motives. Ask yourself:

  • What is it that is occupying my head and heart space these days? Have I invited God into these instances or sought to limit his presence in my life to where I would like him to be?
  • How do I receive this time of testing? Am I seeking only that the pain be taken away or am I trusting that though I cannot see the purpose or way forward that God does?
  • Even in this time of dryness, what do I have to offer through my daily interactions with others that I perhaps have not considered before?

“Teach my heart Lord to pray as you would have me pray. Let me not seek merely the consolation and intimacy of your love. Yet knowing that you work all things for good, and according to your purpose let me rest assured in your will and presence in my life. And when I cannot feel you near and am tempted to despair, let me trust in the unseen.”

Peace,

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“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:24

Worth Revisiting: Mercy In the City

If you find yourself wanting to grow spiritually, and to understand the connection in our shared journey as a people of faith, this is a sincerely beautiful witness! Available through Loyola Press.

Mercy in the City is a witty and truly authentic grappling with the living out of our faith and call to do more for others, in a society that often seems to run counter to these. As a single “millennial” in the heart of NYC, Kerry decides to embark on a self-imposed Lenten challenge to engage the Corporal Works of Mercy.  While many of us might consider attempting one of these in 40 days…Kerry goes for all seven.  She does this not from an “overly pious” approach, but from an honest encounter with love and mercy.

Feed the Hungry: From the sharing of her tuna sandwich to the continued time spent passing out many more in the city Kerry recognizes the move from good intentions to action needs to be a “deliberate” one. Rather than waiting for the perfect time to start, there must be that important first step and a resolve to see it through.

Give Drink to the Thirsty: Having volunteered to pass out water to runners in the NYC half marathon, there is a realization that helping others isn’t a matter of “forcefully thrusting” our gifts upon them. Instead, it is to be a humble offer, a supportive nudging at most, to draw nearer to the life giving water of Christ that we are all so in desperate need of.

Clothe the Naked: Starting with a short list of items that she can part with, Kerry discovers the freeing joy of shedding no longer worn clothing and memories to impart newness for others. In the Clothing Room of the Catholic Worker house, a program begun by Dorothy Day, she sees firsthand what these gifts mean to so many.

Harbor the Harborless: Hesitantly agreeing to stay the night in a shelter, Kerry finds camaraderie with those who have banded together under less than desirable circumstances. With humor and hospitality she is welcomed, encountering their diversity and the situations that have brought them there.

Visit the Sick: In a Holy Thursday visit to the retired Sisters of Mercy, Kerry gains experienced insight from these incredible women of faith who have devoted countless years of love and service to the sick and dying. Many whom are recuperating themselves from illness or surgery, they share what it is to be present to these holy moments of mercy, and to care for others fully.

Ransom the Captive: (Imprisoned) As a reporter and managing editor of America magazine, Kerry was hopeful of obtaining an interview with inmates taking religion classes at San Quentin in California.  When the day came, she left her blue jean jacket and later preconceived notions of the imprisoned behind. As hands reached through the bars for communion, and inmates gathered to grow in faith she found her vision challenged once again.

Bury the Dead: After many, pardon the pun, “dead ends” with cemetery officials, Kerry decided her closest opportunity to this corporal work of mercy would be to jog through a nearby cemetery.  Surprised by the cheery blossoming trees, and the simplistic acceptance of the gravedigger, she found herself thinking more about her life and those buried there than their death.

 Finally, throughout this book Kerry speaks of the joyous privilege of being asked to be an RCIA sponsor for a soon-to-be member of the faith.  Listening to the Litany of Saints prayed at Easter Vigil, Kerry writes that she felt  it was “less like a list of people dead and gone and more like a roll call of people who are here alive” with her that night.  All of this seemed to say, welcome to the church, to this “shared journey on the path of mercy, to places we’d never been and to the works ahead- works for which none of us is ever quite prepared, but to which all of us are called.”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The People of God

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Ever wonder how the winds of change of Vatican II are reflected in the later reform of canon law? Perhaps for the laity, one of the most interesting connections can be found in the highlighted principal of the “People of God” in Lumen Gentium within the fullness of the Church’s life and mission.

From a cursory glance at Vatican II, the understanding that one gains of the “People of God” is a pastoral description of “what it means to belong to the Church and, in particular, how lay Christians are called to ‘be in the world but not of it’ as good citizens of the City of God.’” It does not just denote an individual’s relationship to God but what it is to be brought “together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness” (LG, 9). It is an invitation to be enjoined in a covenantal relationship with God, united in Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit (LG, 9).

This term is inclusive of the entire body of Christ, the laity, religious and holy orders. All through baptism are considered among the ‘faithful’ members of the church, ordained and not, who through their respective vocations and reception of the sacraments seek to participate in the Christ’s mission in the world. (LG, 11) Similarly defined, canon law describes the people of God as those baptized, having been “incorporated in Christ” and “made sharers of the priestly, prophetic, and kingly missions of Christ’ (c. 204 § 1). In their ‘profession of faith and participation in the sacraments through the Church the Christian faithful enjoy full communion with Christ’s church on earth’ (c. 205). Therefore we see that within the community of the people of God there are differing extents to which one’s incorporation is enjoyed.

Following this description of the faithful we are given in Canon 207 the distinction between the ordained sacred minister, also known as “cleric”, and the non-ordained “lay person” (c. 207 § 1). While there are those from both groups who share in their commitment to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, only the ordained belong to the hierarchical structure of the church (c. 207 § 2). Accordingly, those who profess vows through a religious institution are deemed as religious, whereas members of more secular institutions making sacred bonds are considered laity. Based upon their designation or appointment to an ecclesial office, the non-ordained may be given additional obligations or responsibilities. Each does, however, in this respect contribute to the overall holiness and life of the Church. All Christian faithful, by virtue of the diversity of their gifts are called within their vocation to the “building up of the Body of Christ” (c. 208) and its continual sanctification (c.210).

Lumen Gentium addresses this distinction in noting the ontological difference and degree of commitment between those who serve in the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. Priests serving in persona Christi , serve Christ and the Church as a whole making “present the Eucharistic sacrifice”, of which the faithful “join in” and are strengthened by. (LG, 10) In receiving and participating in this Eucharistic sacrifice, those belonging to the ministerial and common priesthood “manifest in a concrete way the unity of the People of God”(LG 11, 1).Thus, each group is “interrelated… and each in its own way shares in the one priesthood of Christ”. (LG, 10)

With the decline in vocations to the priesthood in recent years, much discussion has surrounded the increasing participation of the laity within the life of the Church. In light of the above consideration of Canon law 207 and Lumen Gentium, several thoughts emerge. First, we as faithful are continually invited to step forward and participate more fully in the life of the Church. Secondly, for those in lay ecclesial positions, who have chosen to accept more responsibility in the church, we are reminded to call forth the gifts of others as well. Finally, as the people of God we have been given a sacred duty to encourage, through our faithful witness of the Gospel, new vocations to the priesthood. Each of these has been found to be essential in promulgating the faith and participating in a community enlivened by the Gospel.

Reflect:

How might I be called to use my gifts more fully in the life of the Church? Am I also praying for and encouraging vocations both to the priesthood and for an increase in the work of the laity?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: When You Should Be Saying No?

Today, perhaps you find that you had  much rather be saying yes to the many things that come your way than even contemplating the word no. Maybe, you do so out of a well intended desire to please others, or the thrill  from successfully multitasking a multitude of tasks. And still, though your yes may result in a benefit for yourself, your family, friends, or community does not mean that it is still the answer that God may have intended for you to give.

This is not an easy message for us as Christians, who are trained to offer our time and talents to the service of those placed within our care. We take the scripture from Romans 12 urging us all to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and neglect to heed the verses to follow:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Discernment isn’t an add on when we find ourselves confused as to what path to take but it is essential in every choice we make. Even those opportunities which are in themselves good and promise to be fruitful. Take a moment to consider, if you will, whether you are inviting God into each of your decision making moments or just some of them. If not, why not?

Pride

Ah, yes..that clever and insidious sin of pride. It creeps into even the smallest of places leaving us thinking foolishly that we are the only the only ones that can complete a task or the best one to do so.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Thus, inevitably we must prayerfully discern why we feel that our yes is needed and be careful not to take on a project out of pride. But wait..you mean someone else might be called to take on a challenge, or be given gifts to fit the purpose?

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another..” Romans 12: 1-21

We are not being asked to do it all ourselves but in fact, are to call forth the gifts in our brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ. Those around us do not always see their own gifts and releasing our own prideful motivation allows God to move others into action. It also permits each one of us to glimpse God actively at work as the best human resource manager and project manager for this world in which we live in.

People Pleasing

So, maybe we do not feel we are the best qualified, are already over committed or not really inclined to take on a task but do so because we would like to say yes to the person who has asked. This is not a good motivation either yet admittedly is an easy trap for the kind hearted Christian. In parish ministry we often find the same people being called upon time and time again. They want to be helpful and usually are, but offer a yes when honestly it should be a no. Then later, burned out and tasked beyond reason they leave serving because there simply is no more to give. Recognizing your own need to renew and refill is a valid and essential reason to say no. While initially difficult to do, as well as an adjustment for the one asking it may be the right answer. In making space for quality  prayer time and detachment from the reaction or approval of others we can begin to see that  God’s approval is the only one that matters.

Reflect:

Is there a decision in my day today that I might not be needed to say yes to? Have I invited God into the task? Would others be better served by my no?  

Peace,Signature

Worth Revisiting: Ecumenism

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With the aspiration of Ecumenism, to be a shared understanding in promoting dialogue and unity within faith, can it be said that there is visible unity? What can be learned from our differences? Likewise, what shape does this take and would be the direction of such a vision?

On the Need for Ecumenism

Something that is becoming clear to me over the years is the necessity for a definitive place for Ecumenism in our understanding and practice of the way of being church. Perhaps this is in part due to my appreciation of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, an exposure to different languages, cultures and faiths or my own conversion itself. More than likely it is all of these, which engages me to appreciate the beauty of our diverse faith understandings and yet recognize the unity in our uplifted praise of our almighty and every loving God. Still, in order to understand ecumenism as a church in this light, we are then compelled to have a better comprehension of our own faith before we can seek to know more of those who hold different faith perspectives. To do otherwise is to share a inadequate understanding or even a dimly lit candle of ambivalence to the reason we are Catholic. This is indeed a challenging task as we immediately notice the increasing need for faith formation in all ages and across all cultures. For, no longer can we see faith formation ending upon Confirmation, but indeed there is a need for new “ardor, methods, and expression” in the continual formation of us as followers of Christ.

 Yet, how do we encourage an openness to learning more about and fostering a sense of unity among our Christian brothers and sisters?

As Finnish theologian Kärkkäinen observes, it isn’t that we are “creating unity between the churches, but rather to give form to the unity already created by God”. [1]  If we are both certain in our faith, and comfortable in expressing our own to others authentically and respectfully then this is I believe a good beginning.  One beautiful outcome of this is seen in the commitment as a church to “fulfill its essential nature” in mission.[2]

In my experiences both as a Protestant and as a Catholic, I have witnessed occasions of this being done well. Growing up, I lived in a small impoverished community in the South that often found itself racially divided. What united us was our poverty and there came a time when this call also visibly united us as a people of faith. It began with churches like my own filling specific dire needs, and blossomed into a united response across all faiths in first setting up a food and clothing bank. In its overflow, we experienced unity in shared prayer breakfasts, leadership planning, home visits and the personal faith response from the people. Each faith brought the best of itself, whether it be a welcoming space, music, bibles, or hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. What won more hearts to God, was seen not in “segregation, but (felt) in a congregation constituted in divine love” who met God’s people where they needed it most. [3]

I thought of this most recently as I sat at a table surrounded by men and women leaders of faith discussing the local situation of sanctuary cities, and increase in drug addictions and dire need for pastoral response. 2013 brought an even broader experience of ecumenism that transcended beyond Christianity to humanity, with the Boston marathon bombings in April. In one of many interfaith services, over 2,000 people attended the Healing Our City service held at Holy Cross to honor those who had lost their lives and more than 260 who had been injured by the bombings. Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslims joined in solidarity to address the attacks that “shook people from complacency to service”. What we witnessed in the direct aftermath were people using their training as doctors, nurses, ministers, fire fighters and soldiers to assist others with little regard for their own safety. Then, as seen here, we felt God’s love that witnessed to the “Spirit of love, concerned for the good of God and human beings” surpassing “that of a single community”. [4]

What then of our differences?

As Kärkkäinen seems to indicate, as Christians we have far more in common than that which divides us. We hold true to the ‘understanding of the Trinity, the sacredness of scripture and the creeds, the importance of the Eucharist, and teachings of the apostles’.[5] Yet, we differ on our understandings of ‘leadership of episcopacy and papacy, and the emphasis of individual and collective priesthood’. Our expressions of worship likewise show differences in emphasis toward an indispensible priority and structure of the sacraments to freedom of “faith response and flexibility of church models”.[6] It seems apparent to me, that in the years following Vatican II, we have learned much from each other, and could at times be said to be a visible unified community. We cannot, however, assume that visible unity means “uniformity”[7] but rather a “certain but imperfect communion” of a church united and sharing in the “reality” of the spirit of Christ.[8]

See also: DECREE ON ECUMENISM UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

Have you ever sought a more certain witness to someone who in sharing their faith asked you about yours? If so, what is needed to better assist you? What ways do you see ecumenism in your own community sharing in the love of Christ?

Peace,

Signature


[1] Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove. (November 2, 2002). p. 85.
[2] p.151.
[3] P.152.
[4] p.89.
[5] p.84.
[6] p.91.
[7] P.84.
[8] P.87.