Monthly Archives: July 2013

Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola

Today, July 31, in the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Ignatius, who is from Spain, besides founding the “Companions of Jesus” as the order was originally known in Spanish, has given the church a wonderful approach to spirituality. I recommend this short video biography on You Tube by Fr. James Martin, S.J., a Jesuit whose books I’ve recommend in this blog, (My Lives with the Saints, Between Heaven and Mirth) as he tells the story of St. Ignatius.

St. Ignatius from “Who Cares About The Saints?” with Fr. James Martin, S.J.

Watching the video, I was reminded that much of my own spirituality and pastoral practice is formed by this great Jesuit, even though I never studied at a Jesuit institution. It’s just that my seminary spiritual director, a diocesan priest, was trained in Ignatian methodology, and so much of the training I’ve received in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, also, use the methods of Ignatius in “imagining” yourself in the scene of a Gospel story as part of the catechetical methodology of the Catechumenate, among other personal influences. If you listen to my preaching, teaching, and pastoral counseling you’ll hear echos of Ignatius’ dictum to “Find God in All things.” In my spiritual directing people and organizing parish life, you’ll hear echos of St. Ignatius’ concept that the disciple is to be a “contemplative in action.”

Of course the other great influences in my spiritual life are St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi. You wouldn’t guess that I was in seminary formation at Franciscan (Quincy University) and Benedictine (St. Meinrad Seminary) institutions, would you?

May everything you and I do be for “The Greater Glory of God.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.
and while you’re at it, pray for one of your spiritual sons, Pope Francis, who visited the Rome “headquarters” of the Jesuits, today, to preside at Mass and visit the tombs of Jesuit saints. There’s an English translation of a nice homily the Pope gave to mark the occasion at the link.


Persistence Pays Off

A Reflection for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C based on the readings of the day in the Roman Catholic Lectionary

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
Luke 11:1-13

It seems to be natural for human beings to try to negotiate with each other to get what they want. The human inclination is to change the mind of the person they are negotiating with in order to get the transaction to work in their personal benefit. The buyer says to the seller at the dealership, “I’ll buy this truck if you knock off $1,500.” The child says to her mother “Mom, if I clean my room will you give me a cookie?”

So here’s a question. Can you negotiate with God? Can a human being get God to  change his mind to the benefit of the human. It would seem so if you interpret the scriptures of today in a literal way. God looks to be negotiated down by Abraham (What if there’s only 45, 40, 30, 20, 10 good people in the city of Sodom? Will you still destroy the city?) It’s like a reverse auction. In the Gospel pericope from Luke people have tended to see God as the head of the house badgered or worn down by neighbor into giving bread in the middle of the night. “I’ll give you what you want if you just stop asking!” Many people approach prayer as negotiation and badgering.

Or, there is another way of looking at these readings and prayer…a more biblically correct way.

The stories speak of a God who is consistent. The God of the Sacred Scriptures we proclaim as Christians persists in showing mercy to those who seek, to those who are righteous, that is in “right order” with God and neighbor. It is God’s nature to be merciful, to always preserve life. In a proper biblical relationship with God people are persistent in their conversation (prayer) with the Father. Only when we are disciplined in a prayer life, continually turning to the Father in union with Jesus  are we able to discern the unchanging, enduring nature of God to be merciful and discover again and again a God who is just, who knows what we need and will make sure all things turn out right in his big picture of eternity.

In teaching his disciples to pray Jesus does not give them a “magical incantation” that, if said properly, like Harry Potter making a light come out of his wand when he says luminos or causing an attacker to freeze in position when he says stupify! Jesus is not giving the disciples a never fail cake recipe where you follow the instructions, you get what you ask for. Beware the nine day, never-fail novena trap!

The Our Father is more of a guide to the proper stance or attitude of prayer. The prayer Jesus teaches is a prayer where the ones desiring to pray are instructed that prayer is opening the self up to the generous mercy of God what ever God sees in the long run as best. Such prayer trusts God is consistent. God is always willing to show mercy, never causing destruction or bad things. (The bad stuff happens because people are out of sync with the Kingdom of God’s way of life where God, not the creature, is in control. Where Christ’s way of living triumphs over selfishness. The bad stuff happens because we live in a  world that is still under the influence of evil with people who still choose to embrace the false promise of a better life through selfishness.)

Sure there is a sort of set “formula” for prayer that can be discerned in the words given us in the Our Father. Just do approach the text as if it’s meant to produce something like a chemical reaction that produces the results I expect. Think of the Our Father as more of a template, where disciples have been “formed by Divine teaching” experience a reaction in their heart, mind and soul, that gives them reassurance of God’s faithful love that will triumph over evil, that God is in control. Jesus could have said,

God the compassionate,
you’re in control.
We need your help
to see all things set right.
We trust in you to know what to do and will do it.
AMEN.

If we find ourselves negotiating with God (I’ll go to church if you do what I want, God) then we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and instead we are treating God like a vending machine.

Yes, we are to be persistent in prayer, just as persistent as God is in desiring the good of humanity. Through our persistent prayer bartering with God, in the supplication we pour out of our heart day after day hopefully we discover that God is looking out for us even while we live in the midst of trails and brokenness of the this world. If we have this style of prayer well practiced where we open ourselves up to discovering God will never let evil triumph and get the better of Him or us, then we who seek relief will find confidence God will take care of our problems. We who ask for favors will realize how good God has been to us already. The persistent pray-er will discover they’ve already entered through the gates of the Kingdom of God we’ve been knocking on, the Kingdom we say we want to come Every time we pray Our Father…


Wisdom! Be Attentive!

Genesis 18:1-10a
Luke 10:38-42

AfricanMaryAndMartha

The gospel from Luke that is used for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time in the Roman Catholic Church was often used to suggest that a life lived in religious community is somehow holier than other vocations like marriage. Mary sits at the feet of the Lord, listening to his wisdom. Some have interpreted that as a calling to spend time in prayer and contemplation, that this is “the better part” that Mary (and those like her) would not be deprived of. I’ve also heard people say that while they are busy with the things of the world, earning a living, raising a family, that some day they can be like Mary at the feet of Jesus when they retire. “I’ll be able to go to church every day for Mass and to pray, like I wish I could now.”

Or have you ever thrown dinner party where you’re so busy you miss the opportunity to be with the guests and enjoy their company? At the end of the evening you’re exhausted and regretting the overly ambitious dinner menu and lack of planing that would have involved others in the preparation that kept you in the kitchen instead of at the table engaged in the conversation taking place. I know I’ve been there, done that!

All three of these examples (vocation to religious community, waiting till retirement to pray, being the too busy host or hostess) point to a false dichotomy people sometimes think applies to being “spiritual” or “listening to the Lord.” They are a poor approach to the “spiritual life” of a disciple.

Too often people think being spiritual or even praying means you have to stop everything, go off somewhere quiet without distractions and sit still doing nothing else but praying. The Gospel of the Martha and Mary as well as the first reading of the Mass of the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (the story of Abraham providing hospitality to three visitors and being told he will have a son within a year) point to a more holistic view of being a spiritual person who attempts to listen to the Lord. A spiritual life is not separate from everyday life, but found in the midst of everyday family life, work place and moments of quiet. Listening to the Lord isn’t something segregated into an hour on Sunday morning or 10 minutes formal prayer each day.

What is common to both readings is that there are people who pay attention to the guest. Abraham and Mary both seize the moment and are attentive to the Divine that is right in front of them, in their daily life. Abraham greats an unexpected traveler that shows up at his door. Mary entertains a friend. They provide the necessities of hospitality with the help of others, but they don’t forget to pay attention to the guest. Sarah and Martha, the ones left to cook would have preferred some help, it’s true, but their response of busyness is necessary for the tension in the story that points the reader/listener to the overall interpretation. Choose to be attentive to what is right in front of you. Set priorities.

Jesus is saying something to each of us in our busy day if we’re attentive to the signs. He’s not just speaking in the special moments of communal worship and private prayer, but accompanying us in the ordinary events of each day, chatting us up, so to speak, as we go about our business.  Think of about a child who has been acting up all day. But then he picks a bouquet of dandelions and gives them to mom as apology with an “I love you.” Mom can either think, weeds! Or she can hear Jesus saying, “I’m showing you my love, too, in this precious gift of a child, who loves you without condition, freely.” Think of a spouse who faithfully provides for family for 50 years. There’s Jesus saying, if the other spouse pays attention to the person in front of them instead of worrying about bills and what needs to be fixed on the house, “I’m here for you, too, faithfully giving you what you need to live.” Or, as I observe at almost every funeral we celebrate in our parish; The grieving family is served a lunch after the funeral Mass by the Altar Sodality ladies. Here, to the attentive, Jesus is saying to the grieving, “I am here for you, grieving with you, taking care of you” and the to the sodality members, “When I was grieving, you comforted me.”

The Word of God for this Sunday invites us to focus our mind’s ears and eyes to recognize where Christ is at in our every day life, not just in church on Sunday. Jesus is daily trying to tell us he loves us, that he wants us to know peace and not worry so much.

Perhaps the Rule of St. Benedict says it best – “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” (Chapter 53). The guest can be a person or even an event,  an ordinary chore or job, but especially the people we encounter each day. In the people that we interact with, if we seize the moment, if we are attentive to the people around us that we’re busy serving and taking care of, that is where we’ll hear Jesus telling us something important. It’s not about posture of the body, actually sitting at the feet of the Lord like Mary, but an attitude of the mind and soul. As our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox and Eastern Rites of the church’s liturgy proclaim before the reading of scripture, “Wisdom, be attentive!”


Still working at getting it right and just

First, my apologies for not posting anything in many weeks. I could claim busy-ness. (I have been, but not that busy). I could claim writer’s block, but I’ve had many ideas. I just haven’t put fingers to keyboard. Let’s just say I procrastinate and have a bit of a problem with self-motivation and time management skills. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (striking the breast once while saying it).

Speaking of the triple “through my fault” with the accompanying breast striking brings me to the subject of my post, a reflection on the recent experiences involving the translation of the Roman Missal we Catholics in the U.S. began using 18 months ago. Two conversations, some liturgical faux pas and this weekend’s opening collect have me questioning if the “new” English translation of the missal is becoming a more accepted and heartfelt part of the prayer of the people.

Experience one: twice today (and last weekend, too) at a funeral and the Sunday vigil Mass, regular attendees at the Eucharist in my parish slipped and replied to “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” with “It is right to give him thanks and praise!” instead of “it is right and just!” What’s up with that? They haven’t done that for many moths. I usually sing the preface dialogue but have been speaking it during the summer, so perhaps that’s part of the issue of sliding back into a habitual response that was used for 40 plus years but scrapped for the more literal translation of “et cum spiritu tuo.” Curious…

Experience two: this past week an engaged couple who was meeting with me for pre-marriage counseling mentioned they had attended Mass in a parish in another part of the diocese where they had attended a pre-cana day. They were surprised that the congregation had different responses that what we use at our parish, something like “and with your spirit.” I had to smile and kindly tell them they had “outed” themselves as not being very regular in their Mass attendance. They were a bit surprised to learn that “and with your spirit” had been the norm for almost two years. Not exactly a translation issue, more of a “new evangelization” issue, but still a sign the new translation hasn’t quite become a prayer known by heart, prayed from the depth of our Catholic being.

Experience three: A conversation about the above experience two (anonymity of the couple was maintained) with a couple of parishioners at the funeral lunch lead to an elderly parishioner, with nods in agreement by others, to admit she’s struggling with the word “consubstantial” in the Nicaean Creed’s translation we now proclaim at Mass. “What does that mean, Father?” I know I had explained the meaning of the theological term and how it is more precise to what we belive on a few occasions at Masses that she had attended when we first began using it. This dear woman went on to say, “All I can think of when I say consubstantial is about the city of Constantinople.” Are you listening, Dear Bishops and Vox Clara members who gave us this translation?

Experience four: I admit I neglected to prepare for Mass by reading over the propers of the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, today. So when I opened the Missal to the opening collect, I chuckled and thought to myself (or maybe not to myself, because the server holding the book noticed my reaction to seeing the prayer), “O, it’s that prayer! Probably my least favorite of the new collects.” In the opening collect this weekend the priest prays, “O God, who through the abasement of your Son, Jesus…” I’m sorry, but it sounds like (especially if the priest isn’t VERY careful how he proclaims the prayer) that Jesus has a house with a basement that one must go through to get to God. I know that the church is saying that it was the act of Jesus humbling himself to become incarnate that enables humans to have hope of sharing divine life, but isn’t there a better word than abasement?

So, you can guess my opinion. The acceptance and arrival at the goals of the “new” translation is not happening very quickly or well. Over and over we were told and I have preached that this translation will help us more deeply realize “lex orandi, lex credendi” (the law of prayer is the law of belief or if you want to understand what we believe listen to how we pray). It is not. The translation is getting in the way of deeper understanding of the faith and praying the liturgy from the heart as much as it is enabling the nobel goals laid out by those who gave it to us.

I will also admit, there have been moments when I’ve gained a new insight into the meaning of the prayers because they are more nuanced, more precise. There are moments when I slip and slide into the “old” translation, because it is what I prayed for 32 years and I memorized. I can only smile and presume God doesn’t care. And there are moments when I just shake my head and commit the “liturgical abuse” of changing a word or rearranging the word order of a collect, so that it doesn’t sound like a person stammering and qualifying what he’s saying with conditional clauses. I was taught that clear, concise and short sentences get the point across better in writing and homiletic courses. My pet peeve is the insertion of “we pray” into the middle of so many of the sentences of collects instead of putting it were it was in the previous version, at the beginning of the concluding sentence “We pray through Christ our Lord” instead of the incomplete sentence of “Through Christ our Lord.” Where’s the verb? Maybe it’s supposed to be more poetic and solemn sounding. It is more literal to the Latin, sure, but does it distract and sound like odd English? I think so.

So, what’s my overall point? Be disobedient? Complain? No, that really doesn’t help anything. I will continue to use the translation, learn it, pray it to the best of my ability for I wish to be in union with the church. I will help my parishioners do the same. Changing habits takes a long time and persistence. Ask anyone who has tried to quit smoking or eating junk food. I trust God is at work in this bumpy praying of the translation we’ve been given, smiling at our attempts to honor Him who is beyond the ability of human symbol systems like words and alphabets to contain. God understands our hearts’ desire to love him even if we don’t quite understand what it means to be consubstantial. In the end, on the day of resurrection all will be set right with what is now a discordant humanity and well know a life of humanity in perfect harmony with each other and God. It will be right and just wonderful to give thanks to God for the saving deed of Jesus, forever.

By the way, dear reader, you may want to review my initial reaction to the “new” translation I posted back in November, 2o11 at Praying from Memory and the New Translation of the Mass.


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