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Friday, December 03, 2004

"I lured her into the wilderness and spoke to her heart."

It's in the wilderness of our everyday lives, especially when we become so preoccupied with the physical world around us and its reality within us, when we most acutely become aware of our fragility, dependence, and poverty, that the greater reality of God and the world and life of the spirit can come breaking through to us. That is precisely what the best Christmas stories are all about, as they all reflect the very first Christmas story, that of the long arduous journey of a simple young married couple on the verge of giving birth to their only child with not place to stay... As long as we are strong and self reliant, we are less inclined to see, hear or even notice the presence of God, but when we become desperate, our minds, hearts, eyes, and ears mysteriously open up. No wonder God has such love for the poor, the suffering, the destitute, and the abandoned.

They have lost the illusion of being able to be self-sufficient and are in touch with their need for God and the life that He constantly offers. They are more attentive and appreciative of each breath, each sip of water, each morsel of food, each moment of shelter, and each stitch of clothing. May you have a meaningful Advent and joyous Christmas season, you and your family!!! Fr. Gilles November 20th, 2006

I'm shocked to see it was almost 2 months that I last posted a reflection on pastoring or news of my sabbatical journey.... I seem to recall that in mid-October, we went to Mundelein Seminary, where there is a conference/retreat center, and had a day of recollection. It had been almost two months since our arrival August 23rd, and I began to sense that I had launched rather intensively into it all: going to all the classes, taking an extra course a half hour away at the Water Tower Campus of Loyola University downtown Chicago, blogging, participating in our sabbatical community, taking solitude time for prayer, reading and reflection.... I wasn't playing enough.

So, I visited a few museums, alone and with another priest, and took time to walk, and began going for morning swims 3 times a week at the almost new athletic center of Chicago University. I intended to blog again, but days went by, and it was enough just to clear the box of email.... A few weeks went by. Then I caught a cold when I left the car at a garage for repairs and came home in the wind and rain. I could have chosen a better day. They replaced the fuel pump, which probably needed to be changed and saved me breaking down altogether anywhere anytime, but the car still had the same intermittent problem with ignition, occasionally sputtering and losing power. So I rested to recover from the cold, when I cut my thumb trying to open a package. 18 stitches and my first experience going through an American hospital ER later, I needed to recover from the wound.

Then we had a week retreat at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat Center at Notre Dame Univ., Indiana, came back for the weekend, and it was Thanksgiving break. I spent the week at Madonna House Windsor, and had a good rest. In the meantime, I did quite a lot of work on the research project on pastoring, and for the course with John Shea. The sabbatical was truly becoming a time of renewal. I began spiritual direction around the time of my last post, and that has been a wonderful grace as well. Also around that time, our reflection group asked me to give the homily at our scheduled weekly Thursday group Eucharist, followed by a social: preprandrials and supper. Each member of the four groups participates in the animation of the liturgy when it's their group's turn. They asked me again and I gave the homily once more last evening. It was a wonderful experience.

As we come into the last 2 weeks, I've scheduled some films for the benefit and enjoyment of the whole group: "Babette's Feast", "The Passion of the Christ", "A Christmas Carol" (1951), "It's a Wonderful Life". We're into the great season of Advent now, a time to stop and listen to the breath of life coming from our God.... Well, I've got to end, as the library closes early on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, another little obstacle in getting to the internet. God bless you all....
(to be continued)

Monday, October 11, 2004

Jesus the spiritual teacher opens our mind to the spirit realm, away from the traffic of the senses - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 8" by John Shea

Our professor John Shea explained to the class that, like Jesus, we too must practice spiritual disciplines, if we are to become conscious of the presence of God all around us and in creation, as well as within us. Moreover, because our mind tends not to be spiritual and to go with all that we take in through our senses, spiritual disciplines and pondering the Word of God draws our mind beyond the limited vision and realities of the physical world in order to catch a glimpse of the "bigger picture". One such spiritual discipline is the practice of meditation, or of stilling the body, the mind, and the heart, so that we can find our way within to the place of our soul or spirit, which has been created by God with a capacity to be in union with Him.

To become conscious of my inner self, and get out of the heavy traffic of the senses, I pull in my consciousness and immediately become aware of my body in a way I wasn’t until now; so I may suddenly realize I have an ache in my leg, or that I am cold, and so on. I acknowledge the body - make any necessary adjustments to my posture to put the body at ease so it won't need to continue to seek my conscious attention - and pull my consciousness in further, and become aware of the mind, whose every thought wants me to identify with it, give it my full attention, or resist it.

I do none of that, acknowledge each thought, and then simply let it go, and pull in further to the place between my thinking apparatus and my deep inner self, where there is contact between my spirit and the Spirit of God. Now this sounds simple, and in reality it really is, but it is not so easy to actually do. That's why it is called a spiritual discipline, requiring steady efforts to do it, without much regard for success or failure, just to do it and be there, with trust that God is faithful and always keeps his appointments. Whether or not we actually sense anything go on within us really doesn't matter, since the Scriptures make it clear that God prefers to come in a silence and stillness in which we cannot lay hold of Him or manipulate Him the way we tend to do with things and people in the physical world. God is great and will not be used by us. He is sovereign and decides what is best for us.

Normally, the mind wants to take hold of such a spiritual discipline and control everything about it in the same way it controls much of what we do all day long, with thoughts about what to do to prepare, what to do during, and what to do after, and more thoughts on how things seem to be progressing. None of that is relevant in the realm of the spirit. Whatever God wants us to know will stay with us afterwards as a lingering impression that won't go away. That is one way we can know what was real and from God, by what remains for us to notice. Some of that may still be just from our own mind, heart, psyche, or body, and we can learn to distinguish where each thought, sentiment, or impression really comes from over time.

As I try to enter into this meditation and try to be still, the mind lets me release its many thoughts that come to me by the Word of God that I take in, which gives the mind truths to consider that capture its interest and stimulate it to open itself to more depth and abundance that it will find within, in the realm of spirit. As I employ this discipline regularly my mind opens more readily to my own spirit within, where it can draw Living Waters from the deep wells of Spirit within, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob's well.

The Pharisees exemplify people with minds closed to spirit. They are so identified with closed worldly thoughts of fear, insecurity, competition, influence, and domination, that they cannot open themselves to the Spirit. Jesus calls their attention to their thoughts and offers them a more helpful set of thoughts. Much of our pain is self-inflicted from the deadly thoughts to which we give our whole attention, such as all the many considerations around providing a life for ourselves and our families, and all that is within us concerned about how we are doing or what people think of us, and so on. Spiritual teachers always situate themselves in tension with the person, to intrigue, shock, or cajole the mind to give its attention instead to a spiritual set of thoughts capable of drawing the mind inwards to the spirit place, whence it might draw from the wellsprings of spirit and life. The spiritual teacher Jesus doesn’t focus on what a person says, but on the person itself, and is always trying to open the mind to the spirit within.

Jesus knows what is happening, when we are into “mob think” and caught up in shallow worldly ways of self-sufficiency, power, initiative, competition, and domination. Jesus hears our unproductive thoughts and calls us beyond that limited mind (meta-noia) into the “game” of repentance and life. He acknowledges our painful situation or struggle and calls us to go beyond it into mission and bear fruit. Jesus cursed the fig tree without fruit and it withered, even though it wasn’t the season for fruit, to get everyone's attention with a clear statement that He, Jesus, is the gardener and also the season for fruit – with Jesus, the time to bear fruit is always now, today. He digs up our roots to manure them, but we must be aware that our time for bearing fruit is limited – we don’t have unlimited time - we need to wake up now to what the Spirit is saying to us in the depths of our soul.

There is only so much space in our consciousness; speculation, idle amazement, chronic worry about life or excessive fear block out thoughts that can lead to conversion and openness to spirit. As spiritual teacher, Jesus tries to wake us up, using whatever we are experiencing: troubles, illness, or even death, to supplant unproductive, closed minded worldly thoughts with productive, open minded spiritual ones. It's not that the world is bad, after all, it is God's own creation and handiwork. It's simply that there is the realm of spirit that suffuses and radiates from within all that God the Father sustains in being, and He has created us with an inner capacity to recognize the inner spiritual radiance of his presence in all creatures. St. Francis of Assisi was sensitive to this presence of God in creatures and called them "Sister" and "Brother".

Spiritual teachers either love the teaching and give it to us, or else they love us and set the conditions for us to discover the teaching for ourselves – Jesus uses both tracks. In this way we can understand Jesus’ “dueling of words” in the Gospels, especially with the Pharisees, at the service of waking people’s consciousness to truth and to his guidance to life in the Spirit. He draws us away from our inner web of anxious thoughts in the project of survival towards faith in our Father's love and confidence that God cares for us, notwithstanding the sensory “evidence” to the contrary, filling us with thoughts like "It's a jungle out there. It's every man for himself."

God is always present, the Spirit/wind always blowing, but we have to put up our sails to catch it. The open sail is deliberate, trusting prayer. In Matthew, prayer isn’t telling God our needs, since He already knows even more than we do about what we need, but consciousness of God’s graciousness. We draw our mind away from tomorrow thinking by meditating on the gift of being alive today, now. In God we draw from a fullness of abundance - the divine abundance that gives meaning and purpose to our spirit - even in the midst of poverty, pain, mourning or persecution; as Jesus taught in the "beatitudes" portion of his sermon on the mount. It is only by receiving from this abundance that we can engage in Christian ministry, because the ministry Jesus began and entrusted to his disciples to carry on is a ministry drawing from the abundance of the Father's love for his children.

The spiritual teacher frees us from the domination and tyranny of our senses, which keep insisting that we are separate beings and that life is a competition for limited resources. As our spiritual teacher, Jesus shows us how to glide - buoyed up by grace like the swan once it hobbles off the land into the water - by freely choosing to waddle with difficulty off the land into the water of God's presence all around us.

Today is the time of beginning again, and we can recommit ourselves to the practice of various Christian disciplines like observing the Lord’s Day as a Sabbath rest and celebration and letting this rest filter into each day, month, and year; stopping the impulse to possess by actively receiving spirit from Jesus; and practicing meditation and prayer to seek the Spirit within, be drawn where the Spirit wills, and draw from the font of Living Water.

to be continued....

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Sin, fear & evils close me in and cut me off, but trust & faith connect me to God's power all around me - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 7" by John Shea

The one significant idea I retain from the readings this week is that fullness of life and vitality is objectively all around us, because God the Creator is the living Source of all life, and He is ever radiating, creating, and sustaining life in myriad forms. It is at the level of human consciousness that it is possible to not see or be in touch with all this life and vitality or with God or both. Our openness and expansiveness requires our free participation, but there are many obstacles that can and do hinder openness and tend to enclose us upon ourselves, so that we can not see or participate in the energy of life, or refuse to accept what frightens us or threatens our comfort zone.

Roberto Assagioli wrote “Obstacles to Spiritual Development: Fear,” in Transpersonal Development (Crucible, 1991), pp. 169-172, declaring that intellectual obstacles to spiritual development such as skepticism and doubts are often symptoms of deeper emotional obstacles such as fears, which are “based on ignorance or error,” and these require spiritual solutions. He categorizes 5 main forms of fear and relates them to instincts: fear of death from the instinct of self-preservation; fear of loneliness from a sense of incompleteness and the sexual drive; fear of isolation, weakness, and insecurity going to the herd instinct; fear of not being recognized leading to excessive self-affirmation; and fear of the unknown leading to curiosity.

Sufficient psychological development lets the mind exert control over the emotions and transform them, and therapists use several techniques to help the mind to this. Psychoanalysis explores our experience, seeks out and brings the roots of fear to our present consciousness, which diminishes their power and hold on us as present fear. Physical activities and sport, directing the imagination elsewhere, use of humor, cultivating positive emotions, affirmation, and training the imagination to go through the feared event over and over in our mind before it happens until we no longer feel afraid of it, are various simple ways to help resolve fears.

Spiritual solutions to fears are more permanent because they deal with the root causes. The resurrection robs death of its finality and lessens or evaporates fear of it. Becoming aware of participating in the life flowing from God reveals isolation as the illusion it is, and deliberate acceptance of communion with God, others, life, and one’s own inner self, evaporates loneliness. This growing awareness of one’s “true spiritual nature” and of one’s inner strengths disintegrates fear of failure and inadequacy. Seeing that ills we fear often don’t happen is a help, and knowing that the energy to overcome them will come to us when we need it mitigates our fear of the unknown. Wisdom, true spiritual awareness as intimate, direct intuition of life and identifying our being with it “overcomes the limitations of separate consciousness” and replaces fear of the future with joy and freedom.

In pages 88-92 of The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels Year A, John Shea interprets the text as Jesus drawing us away from anxiety to gift consciousness. Realizing we are gifted by God, anxiety will diminish. I agree, but sense the text is opening us a further possibility, which doesn’t seem practical. The more we dedicate ourselves to the kingdom of God, the more the Lord does provide for our needs. I believe this is a true working principle, but it is best understood by observing how Jesus lived it. St. Francis of Assisi is another example, as is Teresa of Avila, and all the saints. A life of trust in God in “reckless abandon” to divine providence requires a willingness to be hungry, cold, naked, and abandoned as well as be full, warm, clothed, and well loved, with indifference or equanimity about which comes to us at any given moment. This, I think, is also the truth taught by Jesus in the beatitudes. This is based in an understanding that this present life is simply a set up for eternity.

C.F.D. Moule in “Punishment and Retribution: An Attempt to Delimit Their Scope in New Testament Thought.” in Essays in New Testament Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, 1982) argues that these two terms, as well as reward, sacrifice, and atonement, are really leftovers from the Old Testament Law. I don’t agree, on the grounds of Jesus’ statement that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Depending on how we live our lives, we either come under the effects of the law, or under the effects of Jesus new law of love. For an unhealthy person to "deny themselves and follow Jesus", they probably need to get more sleep, exercise, and proper diet, rather than do all kinds of fasting and penances. For a healthy person to "deny themselves and follow Jesus", they will probably progress by judicious practice of fasting and penances. The first has to pay better attention to the law (of nature), while the second is ready to go beyond to the law of love and self-denial.

In personal development there is a threshold between the psyche and the spirit which can most clearly be described as what separates preoccupation with the self from solicitude for others, or struggle for health from the quest for holiness or transcendence. The neurotic confuses the quest and needs help to see and live it in terms of health. You can't give your life out of love if you don't have a life to begin with. For a neurotic person spending too much time running after supernatural “goodies” while neglecting family duties, self denial could be to cut back on the running and be more attentive to family; while self denial for a healthy person could very well include ascetical pious practices in the church.

I believe that is why Jesus denounced sin strongly when He preached but was so compassionate to those sinners who came to Him. Those who are neglecting the basics need to begin at the beginning; whereas those who have progressed enough to know they need forgiveness and come to Jesus are beyond the minimal requirements of the law. There is a basic truth as lowest common denominator; so the Law remains – with its rewards and punishments – for all who have yet to rise above the threshold of self-preoccupation to solicitude for others. In the realm of love, all takes on a different perspective intended by Jesus: those who leave preoccupation with self, worry, fear, and anxiety behind, are free to look at Jesus and see - perhaps for the first time - their neighbor, and discover that all is gift in the Father’s love, in the new life of the Spirit.

In “On Being Open and Closed,” in Spirituality and Human Nature (Suny), Donald Evans notes that a closed person, unlike the open person in touch with the limitless abundance of life and energy of which he is a part in creation, suffers impressions of scarcity and so becomes preoccupied with power and status and is closed even from the self. The open person is in touch with self at all levels, even the body, with others, all creatures, and with God, with a deep sense of participating intimately in the flow of life energies within and all around and even feels a kinship with living things, free to face sins and limits, to grow, and enjoy life with expansiveness.

The closed person tends to focus on its activity and interests as though there are no others, whereas the open person intensely commits to personal projects but recognizes the value of other people’s projects in a way that increases their own abundance. As the Gospel says, to the one who has even more will be given, but the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The closed person needs to put the self at the center of the universe, whereas the open person is simply glad to be part of it. During our vulnerable and closed times we tend to inflate ourselves to fill in our vacant sense of self, and it takes compassion, forgiveness, and kindness to our self to ease out of that darkness back into the light, where we are part of the abundance of life in all creation and can draw from it, as well as share it with others. There is value to my presence and participation, to my life. When closed, out of fear of emptiness and irrelevance, we imagine illusions of expansiveness and limitations, but when open, we enter into true expansiveness and know our real limitations.

Closed, I aim for self-sufficiency, but open, I am able and willing to be “parented” by others and in my turn to “parent” still others. Closed, my altruism is motivated by my own need to matter and be recognized, but open, I am able and willing to empty myself, to pour myself out for others, like Christ. Closed, I do for others to exhaustion and then retreat in utter selfishness to take care of myself or “lick my wounds”; but when open, I enter into communion with others through my serving, able to receive as well as give, and find my life energies renewed. In openness, my solitude is not an escape from others, but a “participatory solitude” in expansiveness and awareness of others and all living things as “transfigured” or radiant with the life and power of God who is ever sustaining them and me. I sense within me that God’s divine life is the radiant energy of love flowing and radiating through us all, transforming all who are open and receptive. Fear, self-deception, and not having ever experienced in the body the radiance and vitality of life and energy in God, are so many obstacles to overcome, by God's grace.

I can be closed by fascination or obsession with my own experience and feelings, as though there are no other ways of seeing; so that I only see my view, my feelings, and no one else’s, or only see those feelings and views in others that are like mine, or not perceive anything at all of what other people see or feel. At the other extreme, I can hold everyone and everything at a distance and refuse to feel anything at all. In order to really be in touch with reality and experience life fully, we/I need “a sensitive and realistic responsiveness.” There will be shadows and obstacles of closedness, but I need only acknowledge these, with kindness and understanding for myself and others, and I will continue to grow and develop. The key is to notice, sometimes with the help of others, whatever tends to close me in on myself, and go out in the opposite direction, and open up to others and the real life that is all around me and within my depths, where, in faith, I can contemplate this life as God and recognize Him simultaneously in every other human being.

to be continued....

Unlike finished objects, we are "happenings of being" made up of love we give and receive in communion - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 6" by John Shea

It very challenging for us to live in both the physical/flesh world and the spirit world all at the same time. We suffer a lot because of what is happening in our psyche and flesh, as a social, emotional, and physical being, and wonder what has become of our soul/spirit, but we realize that we were really identifying ourselves with our psyche and body – mind, emotions, and flesh - as though this were all that we are. We want and need to see clearly the difference between "me" and "I".

We think that we are a living thing that is already created, finished, done, but that is not what we are. Oh yes, the body is here, but who I really am emerges from within and is composed of the meaning I give to my life through my decisions, words, and actions, how I live out and order my thoughts and feelings.
Who I am can’t come under my own observation, because it’s the transcendent “happening of being” where God breathes life into me and where I am one with God, from whom I flow and to whom I am returning. It is from this transcendent level of being that I can observe the rest of me in all its levels and parts, none of which really constitute who I am of themselves, either separately or together.

Those other levels and parts have a lot happening in them, they all have their own structures and ways of operating, and their interconnectedness is very complex, but in terms of spiritual development – my own and that of others – how do I identify myself? How does my identity truly come into being? The spiritual realm constitutes our identity as surely as the other realms do, (physical, emotional, psychological, social, intellectual, etc.) because we are related to a transcendent Source, but it also has the capacity to unify all the others in an integrated sense of who I am. Actually realizing this is a long (life time), difficult process, and a crucial factor is what my treasure is: that to which I give most of my attention, where my heart invests itself, and how it distributes my life force and energy.

Giving all our attention to sin – temptation, actually sinning, and torment over having sinned – is how we come to identify with sin and constitute our identity around sin. This only tends to lock us into producing more fruit of sin and injury as we get caught up with networks of social reinforcement. Jesus refused to take part in the complicities around sin, judging, and retribution but instead gave all his attention to his Father and the Father’s love, forgiving people in order to set them free from the traps of sin for the freedom of the children of God; so that they/we might freely receive love and in turn give ourselves in love like Jesus. Still, we struggle to accept God’s forgiveness and to then in turn offer it to others, in part because we are so invested in keeping track of our hurts and the offences of others.

Like the Pharisees, a fair amount of our identity has formed around distinguishing ourselves as different from or better than others. The Pharisees had a lot invested around the rituals of purification from sin and ritual uncleanness. Without sinners, the Temple economy would collapse. For my part, if I can’t sit in judgment over others, then I will have to look at my own sins, and I may not want to. A formidable obstacle to forgiveness is that holding a grudge and seeking revenge can make me feel powerful and be quite intoxicating, which makes other practices necessary for coming to freedom.

Restitution can give a sense of the damage caused by sin, penance can purify or burn away my sense of identification with my sin, and seeking a firm purpose of amendment brings me to face the decision to turn my attention away from sin and give it to God, others, and spirit. God’s love lets me face the fear of being exposed by his light of truth as a sinner, and in forgiving me, shares with me his power to turn to others with forgiveness. God’s limitless mercy and grace frees me from Pharisee stingy impulses to control and ration forgiveness.

In life, God’s Word opens up this territory of forgiveness, theology and theological reflection - like the pondering in the heart that Mary was always doing - maps the territory of forgiveness out, and spirituality walks the path and practices forgiveness. These three - God's Word, theological reflection or pondering, and practical spirituality - are three essential disciplines for the Christian life. We cannot live our faith in Christ as Lord and follow Him as his disciples without practicing these. God is always there and is always lovingly bent over us, like a loving and doting parent, but like children, we are not always or constantly aware of or appreciative of this loving presence and attention of our Father.

Although I don’t recall ever articulating that every human being is at a certain level always in union with God; as I reflect on it, I sense that I have always believed that this is so, but could not say it in clear terms. Over time, I have gone from a static view of creation (like the universe, we were created all at once and are a finished product) to a dynamic one, where we are ever growing and developing and God is constantly holding us in being by his will and breathing his own Spirit into us. Jesus brought home to us the intimacy of this relation and the gratuity of the freedom with which the Father calls us to enter into this life more deliberately through love for God and of every other human person. In sin we cease breathing in and out the life and love offered us by God, and stop receiving and giving ourselves in love - we begin to die. The great joy of reconciliation wells up from our restoration to being loved and loving. So, am I filled with joy today?

to be continued....

Monday, October 04, 2004

Unselfconscious gratuitous acts of love make us most ourselves and unite us to all and to God - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 5" by John Shea

Beatrice Bruteau, in her book The Grand Option, inspired especially by Teilhard de Chardin, expresses a vision of human evolution that would have us be willing and conscious elements that will evolve into a higher order of being all together as a collective human organism. I like it though as a fresh way of looking at the Body of Chirst, the Communion of Saints, and our willing and conscious participation as active members. She explores the distinction between our human nature ridden life and the loftier human/divine transcendence to which Jesus calls us in the Gospels and which the saints obviously attained in their lifetimes.

She says it’s really up to us to move towards a collective awakening that as human beings we are really all united and all responsible together for our collective outcome on this planet. She goes to the root of the Gospel message to seek for an understanding of the giftedness in us and our potential as human beings that can include all of humanity, irrespective of religion or other distinguishing attributes. Christians have been entrusted with the revelation of how we are connected to our Source and with each other; so we have the responsibility to make this good news known. In addition, Jesus has given us as his Church means to remain in communion with Him and be transformed into Him by the Spirit as we accept to love, obey, and follow Him.

As Gandhi took Jesus and his good news to heart and put his approach into practice; so we must follow Jesus literally and actually live the familiar and comforting revelation that we are children of God and in our practice renounce privilege, titles, and influence in exchange for the truth and the solidarity to which it calls us. These are the very same things Jesus formally renounced in the desert as He was tempted, and then continued to renounce until the end. Like Jesus at his Baptism and temptations, we must hear God the Father call us his beloved children, and go discover all that we are not – no magic, no miracles, no domination for the sake of our own interest – and what we are – regarding all as equal, impartial as God is, loving our enemies, pure in fact as well as in ritual, and considering ourselves blessed even in misfortune. Against the entrenched “routine assumption that we are all separate, isolated, but comparable units” we are children of God who do “inherit the nature of our parent” – an integration of the metaphysics of a global spirituality uniting East and West.

As children of God we are incomparable – just as there can be no adequate description of God, so there can be no adequate description of who we are – mysterious and indefinable as God. Any description of our self remains limiting, and points to only a part of who we are. Our true self is mysterious, flowing with life from our Source. We are “transcendent of all descriptions” as God is. Like our Father, we are love, that is, we are most fully ourselves in the very act of loving the other with no interest for or awareness of ourselves, not responding to external stimulation, request, or need, but creatively going out to another – especially those unworthy of our love – such as enemies. God’s love, ever creative and original, is unexpected from the world’s point of view. Loving like God, I become a lover, distinguishing myself from my beloved at the same time that I unite myself to the one I love. The more I love, the more I become who I am, a lover, in the image of God.

When we creatively and freely love another, our distinctiveness as persons is clarified at the same time our love joins us to the other, and our loving them actually brings us into them, and them into us. This is what happens between the contemplative and God. God loves us first, and as we contemplate God we become aware of his love and surrender to it, loving our Lover back. In self-giving love, “each subject sees through the other’s eyes, feels with the other’s heart, wills in conjunction with the other’s will, and flows together with the other’s action.” The more distinct and free the person is, the more perfect their love can be. The original paradigm for such total union is the “perichoresis”, the union of love among the three Divine Persons in the Blessed Trinity, an essential doctrine of Orthodox and Eastern Rite Churches which is at the heart of how they understand and deliberately intend to live their lives of faith in love in following Jesus.

This love truly creates and gives life, enabling the newly beloved to in turn become filled with life and overflow with love to others. God in Jesus visibly pours himself out to give us life; we too become conscious of the deep desire to pour ourselves out into others in love. Inhabited by God’s active love, like Jesus we become “incarnate as creative process” as we too learn to pour ourselves out in love for others. Our “central self is full, luminous life, safe from all injury, and is most itself when it is most giving itself.” It is at the level of person, not of nature, that we pour our love and forgiveness towards others for their future good, whether they accept it or not.

What is
evil in our lives and our suffering both fall in the “order of reaction and choice freedom” within the confines of this physical world and life, but we transcend it by loving impartially like God, simply for the good of the “I am” in the other, ignoring attributes of nature. We are the activity of the Trinity drawing us into their perichoresis – as we live it most deliberately in Holy Communion – uniting with our activity in a moment of self-realization that we are loved and lover, and God unites with us as we love another and in turn unite with their self-realization and outreach of love to a third. This is how we are in the image of the Trinity, persons in union with all other persons, and loving in God’s love, rising above our nature. We can force none to this love, but can
<>freely love others, as Jesus did.

Virgil Elizondo’s “I Forgive but I Do Not Forget” seems to bypass or at least ignore traditional teaching on the 7 capital sins as the root cause of human sinfulness and misery, but it’s only that he makes a very good point, namely, that much of our human misery comes from our originally sinful inclination to cry out for justice when we feel wronged and to secretly desire, if not demand or exact, punishment or vengeance for those who offend us. We just can’t forget wrongs, because our memory of them continues to stimulate feelings like anger, resentment, and desire for revenge or at least to see the offender punished.

He makes a very good case for wanting to be free of these destructive feelings and desires, which I agree eat away at our “innards” until we become free of them, and the only way to do that is to forgive the offender as though we had never been offended at all. I like his conclusion that this means “uncreating” the offense, but as only God can create and uncreate; only God can effectively forgive. We lost our God-given ability to do that in the original sin, and what has now become natural is a deep-seated desire for retribution justice. This enlightens what it means to be enslaved by the law, and why God himself had to come in Jesus to clear a new path, make a new humanity possible, through forgiveness of offenders, which only divine love makes possible.

This text too, like the others we have been reading, affirms that it’s our condition to live in both the flesh and the spirit at the same time. While our remembrance of offenses continues to generate feelings of hurt, anger and desire for retribution justice; our own experience of God’s inexhaustible and undeserved forgiveness, mercy and love set us free to manifest the same superabundant love and mercy to others. This is the new man, the new life in the Spirit which is the freedom of the children of God and such good news. Like Jesus and his Father, we refuse to allow offenses against us to become the basis of our relationships with our offenders or anyone else.

In chapter 8 “The Living One’ of Beatrice Bruteau’s The Grand Option, she seems to pick this up when she states that forgiveness is not directed to the corpse of the past offense, but rather “unites with the other’s creative act of stepping forward into the next moment… is an act of making the future.” Forgiveness is just one dimension of self-giving love that emerges not from the psyche and other elements of my personality, but from the spirit which is profoundly centered in union with God and shares in God’s “sense of sheer ‘I am’… (and) is radiating in all directions the intention ‘May you be!’” The self that we give to others in love is not the self we are normally conscious of, our living soul, but the deeper self, which, united to God, is also a life giving spirit. Agape is more than contemplative or appreciative love, is active, bursting “with energetic desire that there be more being.” Creative, free self-giving desires to bring into being what does not yet exist for the other’s good.

It is this transcendent spirit in us which is our true self – in union with God and flowing from God as its Source – and the new life revealed in Jesus and shared with us since his Resurrection. It is a challenge for us to be aware of this spirit and creative freedom, unpredictable and bringing forth life that is ever new, as our true self and to deliberately live out of it from moment to moment, and to be further aware of pouring ourselves out in love into the same fluid spirit self in others and of all others pouring themselves out in love into us. At this level, we realize that the boundaries of our selfhood are interpersonal to the limits of the Body of Christ, rather than the narrow limits of our psyche and physical traits and awareness. We are so familiar in the confines and comfort of our body/psyche self, that we require spiritual disciplines to cultivate the ongoing awareness of our spiritual self in communion with God and with all the others like ourselves.

In “The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels…” John Shea demonstrates how Jesus provided us with means to live out of this sense of communion with all others through ongoing reconciliation: talking it out one to one, then including a few other people, only then finally appealing to authority, and finally considering the offender as one needing ministry or work. At every stage, relational skills and the willingness to dialogue and be open to other possibilities are necessary for reconciliation to occur.

More importantly, we need to bridge the disparity between the psycho-social level within us and Spirit. Prayerful attention to Spirit can help all those involved get in touch with their deep desire for peace and enter into the process of reconciliation from the deeper spirit self from which radiates the love of God, which makes the process infinitely more fruitful and life giving for all. Our psycho-social self tends to keep a record of wrongs and hurts, so that forgiveness tends to put pressure on letting go of the score keeping; whereas our spirit self is aware of receiving itself from God and more willing to give itself in forgiveness in order to see the future life of the other come to pass in peace and love.

to be continued....

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Thérèse de Lisieux - A new classic film - a must see!

It doesn't happen too often that we can enjoy a film production that is not only beautiful art, but really entertaining, and profoundly meaningful. Well, I had the privilege of seeing one today at an AMC movie theatre here in Chicago - Therese - you'll find a good review at National Review Online. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting such a powerful production, but I guess I should have known better, and certainly would have if I'd known it was directed by Leonardo Defilippis, whom I first met at Madonna House I think it was in September 1992 or 1993, when I was delighted to watch his one-man performance of John of the Cross. You can find out more about Leonardo, the many great productions that are the fruit of his foundaional work and that of the company he started - St. Luke Productions - they have a fine repertoire of live plays they are glad to perform for smaller or larger audiences and with more or less elaborate sets. You can even order their audio and video productions online. We have several of both in our lending library at Becket.

The grace of the afternoon is that I didn't go alone but went with another priest and three sisters. We were able to share some of our thoughts and emotions afterwards - I had thoroughly drenched my hankie - this is the kind of movie that can really clear your sinuses, unless something inhibits it. It's only as we were chatting afterwards that I found myself saying to some of the teenage theatre crew that the story might actually leave you cold in the sense that it might seem so foreign to what we have come to know and experience of life today in this culture of ours. This occurred to me because of a comment by the homilist at Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish here in Hyde Park this morning - he said that the movie was a little "sweet", but still had a good message.

As I stood there initiating a chat with the teens, I saw in a flash that I deeply desired to invite them to see it - neither of them had, a boy and a girl - and they seemed indifferent. In the same instant, I realized they might find the film a huge disconnect from the world that they have known until now - both at home and in their society of school, friends, and work, not to mention the marketplace. Then I remembered it - the Martin family was unusual even for its own day. Thérèse's parents Louis and Zélie Martin had an incredibly profound spiritual grasp of their faith, relationship with God, and of their Christian vocation. They very deliberately entered into Marriage, so that they attended with exquisite love and tenderness to their children - 5 girls. That's what I told the teens - this was an incredibly sensitive family - perhaps quite different from what we've known, but very precious all the same. They seemed intrigued.

The movie actually does justice to the kind of home the Martins kept - without the time to also portray the austerity of the era and the relative poverty of the family in comparison to our own lifestyles in the West today - so that in the end, when we watch the movie at face value, we get a fairly good impression of how this family would translate into our own time. That's where the gap can hit pretty hard. We could find - if not a disconnect then perhaps a disturbing realization - that our lives are a far cry from this deeply genuine personal love and attentiveness.

In the real historical life of the Martin family, the relationships between the parents, between the parents and their girls, and of course among the girls, were characterized by such tenderness and chaste affections that we could find them "sweet" or even unreal. Sadly, our "real" world is far from chaste, so far in fact, that we run the risk of becoming jaded, cynical, or at the opposite extreme, so obsessed with pleasures of the flesh as to become almost if not quite incapable of genuine personal intercourse or, if you prefer, authentic personal exchange, honest sharing, trusting openness, and chaste intimacy. This family had all these character strengths, modelled and mentored by the parents; so it is not surprising that all 5 girls took their own vocations seriously and pursued what for each of them was the highest ideal of their spirits - religious life.

Four entered Carmelite Convent of Lisieux and one entered a convent of the Poor Clares - all contemplatives. They wanted to live the life of a spouse of Christ, literally. How could such a thing happen? Were they forced to it by their parents? Not at all. In fact, their parents would have been happy to see them married, as they had done. Simply put, this couple took God so seriously and lived such intense and loving relationships with God and each other as spouses, that their girls learned to discover their own interior life, where God is pleased to dwell with every human being. The art of faith is learning from others, such as parents, how to nurture the desire and gratitude for the gift of faith, and how to discern the presence of God within, and how to respond with honesty, trust, love, and hope.

This is a movie that would be appropriate even for little children, though they may find it long at points - simply because they may be used to much more action-oriented fare - and there are so many touching scenes that they may also want to cuddle up to their parent or older siblings. By all means, plan to have time before and after to set up the viewing and then be able to share all the feelings, thoughts, and questions that it will have evoked. It would also be very wise to pray in advance of planning to go and actually inviting others to go see the movie. This film was made at all points by Christians of deep faith, and I believe that it can easily become a powerful instrument of God's grace, particularly as we entrust ourselves and others to the action of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing way. As the review linked above, this film may be a powerful and very meaningful follow-up for the family to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ! May you have a blessed viewing!

See the spiritual and live, or ignore it and turn to stone - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 4" by John Shea

John’s Gospel is always contrasting darkness and light, and he shows us how all-encompassing and important is the world of difference between the human and the divine, the flesh and the spirit. In varying degrees all the Gospels show us that Jesus has no time for the flesh, He doesn’t want to give himself to those who want to remain in the flesh and are content, for example, to take delight in their amazement over the works that Jesus does. John calls them signs rather than miracles or wonders in order to take our attention away from the wonder of it and look rather at what is truly important, the spiritual life, life God offers us to live in union with the Divine Persons, which wants to erupt into the visible and social world and take form as love in presence and service.

It’s not necessary for those who study and interpret the Scriptures to hold that the events retold are only literary fictions in order for there to be masterful artifice in the retelling. Over the years, I've read commentators and exegetes give the impression - at least I was left with the impression - that the only artifice in the Sacred Scriptures was that of the writers and that they exercised literary license at the level of the historicity of the events themselves. I've glad to discover in this course that of course there is also artistry in the telling of the event, the telling of the story if you will, and the story can be a true and historical event as much as it can be a literary creation. What distinguishes the evangelists is that they present themselves as eye witnesses and interviewers or reporters of eye witnesses to Jesus and what He said and did until the time of his passion, death and resurrection.

So, we can consider Nicodemus real, as we find him in John chapter 3, but John shows him in such a way as to demonstrate to us what we are to avoid, the incapacity or unwillingness to grasp the spiritual; so that we might understand Jesus’ teaching and call. We are all capable like the Pharisees of reducing spirituality to a religion of accounting, keeping track of pious practices and condemnable sins, reducing God to the One who rewards and punishes. A true spiritual teacher, Jesus turns that view on its head and declares that God has no interest in keeping accounts and judging, but rather in bestowing Himself in love.

Jesus says of himself and those seized by the Spirit, as John says of his community “we speak of what we know.” Jesus brought about an awakening experience of the Spirit in all who received Him. John – under the impulse of the same Spirit – retells the experience to allow us to enter into it ourselves today. At that time as now, there are those who claim to be able to "go into spiritual realms to consult with spirits, particularly of the dead" and John - as all Scripture writers and prophets - conveys God's deep distaste for this practice. He is our loving Father, and He knows that the only spirits we can get in touch with in such ways are the rebellious spirits or angels - devils or demons - which are not to be trusted. Jesus is the true Gate to Heaven – we must give up trying to manipulate God or Spirit through mediums – we are rather to come to Jesus and let the Spirit lead us where He wills, as He did for Jesus. When our mind is stuck in the flesh, we are like the Israelites who got into trouble with fiery serpents, and Jesus is the One on whom we are to look, because He is the life and healing of God offered to us.

In Jesus’ death He revealed to us that He was born of God not to judge the world but to give life. When we are born of God, we also do what God does; we do not judge but pour ourselves out in love. In Nicodemus, John shows that the judgment happens in our refusal to enter into Spirit. John relates Jesus’ teaching that those who prefer their evil deeds and life in the flesh stay in the dark out of fear of being exposed by the light; so they reject Jesus. The flesh is afraid of the light and considers the spirit dangerous and false – its view is wrong side down and needs to be turned over. It uses the religion of keeping accounts to try to tame or put in a box the frightening mystery of the spiritual. Out of fear and insecurity, out of touch with its own spiritual hunger and incapable of compassion for the spiritual hunger of others, it grabs control of religious practices and keeps others outside the circle of the elect.

Calling to Jesus, believing in his Name, we become open to the power of the Spirit filling Him, and like the apostles in the boat who immediately found themselves on the shore from the storm, we become grounded in Jesus, no longer react to the world out of fear, and are ready to pour love into it. Like Jesus first did, the Gospels call us to realize we are borderland beings living in both the physical and spiritual realms simultaneously, called to live in both but lifted by the Spirit above the constraints and misgivings of the flesh. We are manifestations of God’s love, loved by Him and destined to freely be his instruments and willing servants of his passion to transform creation.

Entering within, we are to go out into the world aware of our union with God and radiant of his life, love and power for the world, always resting in Jesus as John rested in Him and He rested in the Father, drawing upon his grace and seeing the world through his eyes. Union with God is what sustains creation in being. We are called to become Jesus and say with Him to others, “Don’t be afraid.” Moral transformation can come to the world only through those who are transformed in this metaphysical way, becoming new persons, born again of the Spirit. The Gospels and other Scriptures point out this way, theology tries to map it out, but we must walk the path and find our own way, because no one can really do it for us.

to be continued.....

Friday, September 24, 2004

Seeking security keeps us from the poverty and trust that open us to the union and spirit of Christmas - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 3" by John Shea

As I relabel these blogs, we are approaching Advent and Christmas.... It's November 20, 2006. This particular entry is especially interesting in light of the kind of openness and trust we all understand and long for, sadly forget about most of the year, and joyfully remember again as we approach the mystery of Christmas - the festival surrounding the awesome coming to Earth of a God - the Son of God who came among us a a little child destined to grow up to be a man unlike any other, yet given to us as a gift to reveal to us precisely the kind of men and women we are called and destined to become.....
Fr. Gilles

All references are from the bibliography of the course Spiritual Development and Gospel Narratives, IPS 414 at the Institute of Pastoral Studies of Loyola University of Chicago, drawn up for the students by Professor John Shea.

In his “Introduction” to The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers John Shea notes that the preoccupations of this culture “with physical need, social standing, and financial security” hinder the openness of the soul to the spiritual dimension of all of life. This is something pastors and preachers already know and struggle with, and we have much to learn from Jesus’ deliberate approach to the people and his ministry to them. We are in our turn to do all we can to allow the Gospels to capture their imagination; so that the Spirit can draw their minds - in awe of Jesus - towards conversion to Spirit, who lone can transform their hearts to receive and then to “release spirit into the world” in their daily lives.

Since I was first offered to go on sabbatical as a gift following on a very difficult assignment of these past ten years, I’ve been taken up by reflections on pastoring in the parish setting. There are so many challenges and expectations coming from bishops, people, and priests ourselves; that it’s difficult to navigate through them with a sense of doing all that is most important and essential to our calling. I have a sense that a lot has been written and said about priesthood, pastoring, and ministry in the parish, but have not found much to help make sense and put order in the priorities. After ordination, we send priests out and hope they will “find their way” through the variables of their own condition, personality, and skills, and of the condition and quality of the faith community in the parish. Because of changing demographics, we have all but lost the system of mentoring which allowed young priests time to learn from older and more experienced priests. In the increasing absence of priestly fraternity, they can suffer isolation.

A good friend who died 5 years ago was epileptic and used to refer with wry humor to the ways his psychologist pathologized his faith. Bob would’ve appreciated this article "A model of spirituality for psychotherapy and other fields of mind-body medicine," in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine (2001) 17, 90-107, by Ruth Cohn Bolletino even more than I do. Her treatment of “the new spirituality” which uncritically takes to itself any and all the latest "new age" or other fads loosely based on claims that a particlar practice or substance is spiritual, healthy or restorative describes the trend as the magical thinking it really is. I welcome her call to psychotherapy and psychiatry to incorporate the spiritual dimension as essential to the whole human person in practice, and value her thesis for its practical applications for ministry today in the Church.

All of life is deeply spiritual in terms of our origin, destiny, and by virtue of our being sustained in existence by God from moment to moment. Our situation as pastors and confessors is different from that of physicians, psychologists, and psychotherapists or counselors who have until now kept themselves "independent" from the spiritual dimension, in that our duty and the expectation of the faithful require that we help them connect with the Gospel and our faith tradition; so that they might then make an informed decision in the conduct of their lives.

It has been a long time since I’ve read anything like The Grand Option, by Beatrice Bruteau, and it brought me back to my college years, when I couldn’t get enough of Teilhard de Chardin, a French priest who was a hybrid theologian and anthropologist. As I read chapter 6, part of me felt like this is wishful, almost magical thinking; yet at another level, I was realizing this convergence thinking is so much in the culture that I’ve actually taken it in and do think that way myself. Bruteau contends that unless humanity enters deeply into the sense of wholeness demonstrated by Jesus, the conflicts and divisions in humanity could very well destroy everyone. Jesus did all He could to bring his listeners to realize that we are all literally connected as one living organism, and embrace the implications by living a life in a new solidarity with everyone else - even enemies.

I couldn’t help but think that the Muslim world is experiencing a convergence of its own, only it is not a full convergence, but in opposition to our western culture and society, which it generally perceives as sensual, decadent, even depraved, and in many ways, we can’t really argue with them. As Church people, our desire for convergence may have begun in earnest in a widespread, popular way, with Pope John XXIII, who was so loved by Jews, Protestant Christians, and people of other religions. Jesus brings us to a much wider belonging than we are accustomed to today or in any generation, which connects with this course’s perspective on Jesus’ call to unending repentance from the mind unenlightened by Spirit that ever seeks to narrow our outlook and action and control our motivation and behaviour.

In “Following Jesus into Faith” from The Journal of Christian Healing (Fall 1988), 21-28 by Beatrice Bruteau, Ph.D., a very bold article, one which does not in any way contradict anything I have come to know, understand, or believe about God, Revelation, and the faith journey. On the contrary, without referring to original sin, she puts in contemporary terms the truth that we are already in union with God, and therefore with others and all of creation. It follows we are only separated from God, others, and creation inasmuch as we have become isolated within selfish, sinful, or fearful preoccupations. The highest good for which we have been given life and are being sustained in life by the Creator and Source of all is this very union. Union is the primary motive of prayer, to let the Holy Spirit draw us ever more fully into perfect union, which ever bursts forth into life-giving action, which she calls manifestation.

Our capacity to actively participate in our union with God is obscured, hindered, damaged, or shut down by our sin, but also by various injuries we come to suffer, until we come to the Lord - often through the help of others and the sacraments - and He forgives, reconciles, and heals us. Because of original sin, our own sinfulness makes us think we are separate from God, like the prodigal son. Conversion is what Beatrice calls insight, and the free decision that follows not to accept this perspective, but to surrender it and embrace the gift of our revealed, gratuitous union with God. Repentance is living aware and grateful that our willingness to accept God’s self-bestowal moment by moment is itself grace, the work of the Spirit within us. Discipleship is “following Jesus into faith”, becoming one with his mind and heart, passing through Him as a door into the Father, the Source of All, and returning through Him, one with his action in the world. The prayer of insight daily lets go the misconception that we are separated from God and seeks to enter into the Center where Jesus and the Father are One, and we are one with them and each other, in the Spirit.

Disorder and disease, pain and fear keep us from holding fast to and deepening our union with God and acting out of it, entrapping us with false beliefs incompatible with the truth revealed by Jesus. Such beliefs may act as operating principles in the world, and they lock our mind in the ways of the world and away from divine wisdom. Beatrice contends that by leaving people in these misconceptions – which engender sin – we “retain” their sins, but if we refuse these false beliefs and send them back to people – thus demonstrating their untruth – we “remit” the sins that are engendered by them. People are then free from falsehood, free to let go of the sins until now generated by their false belief. They can accept the unconditional love of God – his gift of Self – that purifies them with the truth. Jesus brings them and us into his own knowledge of and faith in the Father’s love, where He restores our vision of God and of who we are in his eyes, and then leads us back into the world to see it, love and serve it as He does – with compassion and healing – living in God, never to be separated from Him.

We are held in existence by the ever-flowing Breath of the Father shaped by the Word of the Son, and in faith we correspond to the will of the Father by thinking the truth that comes from Him, seeing it as real around us, will that it actually be, and feel and relate to it as present, without wavering or doubting. I know this as true and it helps me understand more clearly what happened to me in the seminary in 1978. I was visiting the sick at a hospital, entered a room where an elderly man lay apparently dying, his wife and son standing as far from him as they could. Simply responding to inner impulse, I talked with them and slowly moved closer to the bed until I invited them to pray with me for the man. I invited them to lay hands on him with me, and prayed simply with faith and hope. They were grateful, and a few weeks later called me with great joy to invite me for dinner, as he had miraculously recovered and was now back home. I never fully understood what had happened until now. I was not aware of myself but attentive to the others and conscious of being one with the Lord. He was free to do what He wanted, and in this case it was to restore the man, for now, until his appointed time. Since then, I’ve certainly experienced what the author calls the doubting and doubling of the mind, and walking in uncertainty, especially when I'm less in touch with my union with God and more preoccupied about getting from God some particular outcome, such as healing for the sick person..

As Jesus was tempted, so are we, not just for 40 days, but throughout life, to believe the great deception, the great lie which has engendered all the disorder, fear, and sin in humanity. As the Spirit refashions our mind and we put on the mind of Christ, we live in all truth and it sets us free to actually live as children of God and to call others to this truth that there is nothing to fear, because we are spirit, and it can never be injured or killed. I am also flesh, which will suffer and die, but only to be raised up into immortality. What is lost will be restored a hundredfold. Baptism reclaims the mind for God and restores its sight to vision of God in the Spirit to enter in through Jesus to the path of life and walk in it our whole life long. This is the great healing. We are to so enter the mind of Christ that “we are ourselves in direct contact with the love that is God” and know the Father and his love even as Jesus does; no longer needing intermediary manifestations of his love for us.

This is what Jesus revealed when He became poor, and yet the Father still loved Him; cold and hungry, and yet the Father still loved Him; tempted and agonizing over the Father's will, and the Father still loved Him; persecuted and arrested, tortured and dying on the cross, alone, abandoned, and the Father still loved Him. Jesus breaks our misconceptions that when we suffer God has forgotten us or doesn't care. We are to walk on this path as disciples, apprentices under the mastery of Jesus, beginning now to practice doing all that He himself has done and given us to do. Accepting the reality that our spirit within is as formless as the Spirit who sustains us in being, we can be detached of all expectation or preference, and be open to become part of God’s self-manifestation – in sacramental and ordinary moments – drawing all people to Him.

Those who reduce the devil to the tangle of impulses within us that would prevent us from embracing conversion and being transformed deny the truth revealed in the Scriptures. Our inner struggles are very real, but they are not the full picture. I believe all that the Christian tradition professes and acknowledge the reality of the spirit entity referred to as Satan (the accuser) or devil (the one who pulls apart or destroys). Being fully human, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are – the apostles believed this too – and we are all tempted to self-sufficiency, pride, and appetite for privilege, power over others, and preoccupation with our own safety.

However, to make the case that Jesus was human, we don’t need to reduce him to the lowest common denominator of human - He wasn't just tempted at the level of the comfort of his flesh or psychological advantage, his social status, and influence. We believe as Christians that Jesus was primarily tempted to accomplish his very lofty mission with human means, relying on himself and his privileged position, rather than relying on his Father in complete trust. He overcame his temptations by accepting to be weak, like us, which is one reason why Jesus is himself the way we must walk; since we are most definitely weak. It is one reason why we are so encouraged and empowered by his temptations to walk after Him, with Him.

to be continued.....

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Jesus put himself on display to draw us into his faith experience - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 2" by John Shea

This Gospel Narratives course with John Shea is continuing to have a big impact on me, and on the other students as well, I believe. I will search the web to see whether I can find any of the articles he has given us to read, and if I do, I will hot link them into my post, but if not, I can at least give the references so you can find them if you really want to.

Just from memory, one article talks about how Jesus came so that we might be saved, we believe this, but the Father's will and Jesus' intention is that we should enter into his own faith. He lived his life on display, as it were, at least to his disciples, and the Holy Spirit inspired the Gospels in order that in every generation, time, and place, all who hear the Good News might be drawn into Jesus' life and faith. To put it differently, Jesus wants us to enter into his Baptism experience and know as He knows that the Father loves us, loves me, and wants to find his pleasure in us/me. The Father's pleasure is that the world might enter into the union He intended human beings to have with Him when He first created us in Adam and Eve - the first man and woman - the first ones to have within them as their constituting identity a spirit, a soul in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus lived constantly in the insight of his Sonship in his Father, whereas we find it more difficult to abide in that insight, which is one important purpose of prayer for us - to dispose ourselves to be brought back into that insight. At times, we need help, the help and love of others, and especially their forgiveness. That was the whole point of Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. He came back to his father because he was starving, but had forgotten who he was. He had become identified with his failure, with his sin. He had become his sin and had lost who he was in his family and in his family's love.

So the father immediately called to the servants to rush out with the finest robe and put in on him as well as sandals, that these external signs of his dignity and place in the father's heart and in his family might jolt him back to the reality and insight that he was the beloved son of his father. At his Baptism, Jesus disindentified with sin, even though He was without sin, He affirmed his awareness and will of wanting to have nothing to do with sin and remain in his Father's love and will. The gates of heaven opened then not just for Him, but for all of us and for all time. The Father affirmed his love for Jesus and his pleasure in Him come to do his will and restore humanity to the Father's love.

The Father affirms his love for us as well. So the question is, have we fallen into identifying ourselves with our sin and failure, or do we enter wholeheartedly into our Baptism and disidentify ourselves with sin and identify ourselves with Jesus as sons and daughters of our loving Eternal Father? We have only to listen in prayer for his voice affirming his love for us, and like Jesus, be driven into the desert by the Spirit so that we can be tempted and see clearly all the things that we are not - that's what temptations are - things that we are not. Once we reject our temptations, the Spirit leads us back to the society of people, filled with his power. As Jesus said, those who believe in Him and are united to Him will do even greater things than He did, because it's really not about results or external manifestations, rather, it's about the Father finding pleasure in our union with Him in Jesus and then being able to think in us, speak through us, and act in us. As St. Paul said, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

From a Catholic point of view, this is the kind of insight that we want to bring to our celebrations of Penance and Reconciliation, so that everyone there would really want to disidentify with their sin and failure and be reaffirmed in their identity and dignity and freedom to love as sons and daughers of God.

To be continued.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The spiritual is not an object, but a process - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 1" by John Shea

Have you ever heard of John Shea, Roman Catholic priest, professor, and storyteller? Among others, he published the books "Stories of God." and "Stories of Faith." I attended the first lecture ten days ago in the course quoted in the title of this post. He skipped this past Wednesday, and I'll resume attending his lectures this week. I was very deeply touched by his first lecture, as he sat in simplicity on a chair before the class and just spoke, using stories at times to help us make some remarkable connections.

An internal echo of recognition resounded within me at the Professor’s statement that “we can never see the spiritual dimension; it is not an object, but a process.” Instantly, these words gathered together all I’ve ever heard and experienced about how important it is for the person on the spiritual journey not to be preoccupied by their own progress or even faith walk, nor by our experience of God. We are to attend to the divine Guest rather than to how we feel in his presence; just as we are to attend to our neighbor more than to how we feel about him or her. We are not to entirely ignore our experience; on the contrary, awareness of what we experience allows us to be and to relate to others in truth. It is healthy periodically to take note of where we are on the journey, to take stock of our condition, and to be aware of our relationship with God – as we do on retreat or during a sabbatical experience such as the one I have just begun – so that this realization can in turn elevate us with gratitude to the Lord and bring us back filled with gratitude to the company, intercourse and service of community and society.

The phrase “transcendent interiority” he quoted from Van Kaam clarifies the ineffable quality of the spiritual dimension as a living process, and the realization that the soul, which is created capable of and intended for communion with both God and other human beings in the Spirit, transcends our soul’s earthly ability to be aware of itself. The journey to true encounter with others – who are different and outside of myself – is most fully realized by a true encounter with the Living God, who is completely Other than me and beyond me, which in turn begins with the journey inwards beyond what I know and control about myself. There is within each of us a transcendent interiority, which is our own spirit that by its nature is capable of knowing the One who is the Transcendent Being beyond all knowing.

This knowing is not that with which our mind continually busies itself. Many have taught that the mind can hinder the spiritual dimension of our lives, that it tends to draw all things to itself, and all I know about what has been said and written about this can and has left the impression that the mind is more trouble than it is useful. On the other hand, we also know and believe, as St. Ambrose said, that our faith seeks understanding, and in this it is the mind which engages our soul in its search. The Professor calls
the mind, antechamber of the psyche, the gatekeeper of the soul. The mind is the key player in opening the soul to Spirit, where it can drink deeply “from the well of the Spirit and bring back spirit into the world.” Conversely, a closed mind causes a hard heart, “frozen, cut off, stuck in ideas closed to life.”

Again, it rang true and I found it so enlightening to hear that “the mind clings to ideas that keep it from life…. Sometimes we cling so much to what we think is the truth that when truth comes knocking we refuse to open the door. The mind does this without our permission.” I’ve never heard it put so strongly or clearly that “the mind” - that is, the mind without love, without the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit - tends to remain closed and narrow, lulls us to sleep to miss life and encounter with the Living God and our neighbor. “It only becomes ‘my mind’ once I love it from deeper within and soften it with spirit I receive” and functions in my awareness.

That sheds so much light on the Gospels “as spiritual wisdom that can open the mind to Spirit and then … release spirit into the world.” I’ve always been amazed at Jesus preaching or denouncing, but leaving everyone free to draw their own conclusions and act upon them. Appealing to their minds, he preached that they might open themselves through the wisdom He offered to the source of Spirit, and wasted no time “going after what was wrong…. We don’t occasionally repent; we are repentance, because our mind is in a constant state of needing to be changed.” When the heart softens the mind and it opens up to wisdom, it allows us to go in and drink from the wellspring of Spirit Jesus said wells up to eternal life within those who worship in spirit and truth. We must cling to the Gospel, to wisdom.

So far these impressions are formed in abstract language, and it probably reads as pretty dry, well, in many ways it is. As I continue to relate what's happening in this course, it will become more practical and concrete, and I'm really excited about the possibilities. The point of this course is to try to learn how to preach and teach the Gospels in the same way Jesus did, that is, to invite the mind to open the soul up to the Spirit. To be continued.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Check out Our Lady's statue and Tour of Becket Church.

I've begun to edit my website. You will find each photo is a link to a document: Our Lady's statue to the history (incomplete) of how she came to Becket, and the church to a Tour of the Church. If you'd like to add to or correct these documents, feel free to send me your data, and when I get back home I'll update them.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

How to resist the pressures of the onslaught: "The Son of Man is master even of the Sabbath."

In the middle of this 3rd week on sabbatical, realizing it's the end of the day 11 days since my last post, I'm so glad to recall this declaration by Jesus. It expresses the space I find myself in at this very moment. You see, I wrote the last post from a wonderful awareness of grace and was filled with gratitude. I can now sense, yes, that grace is still there; however, on the surface, much else is clamoring for attention. Isn't that so often the case, that we are conscious of the essence of life - where our soul really is and is content to be - all the while some not so quiet breezes, if not tropical storms, thrash about on the surface, possibly dividing our mind and maybe even our heart.

For me, it has been the intensity of the orientation week or 10 days, meanwhile attending to such details as having my door lock fixed (1 week), shopping for breakfast foods once I realized what they have here just won't satisfy my organism's needs (the first few days), giving in and getting a US cell phone for emergencies and my family (you don't want to know how much), picking up some beer and snack foods once I learned that we're responsible for our own and what's in the fridge is for our community social on Thursday's (second week), finally getting my bicycle out for some air and exercise (end of 1st week), clarifying with the Catholic Theological Union Registrar how I was going to get registered for a course at one of the Association of Chicago Theological Schools at Loyola University of Chicago Institute for Pastoral Studies and then going downtown by car for the first time just to see where the Loyola Water Tower Campus is and then a second time for the first class (my second week here) in Gospel Narratives by John Shea (the priest who wrote "Stories of Faith" and "Stories of God" - more about Fr. John and the course in a future posting.

I just love the course and am delighted I signed up for it. I immediately went shopping for the 3 books required by the professor at the university bookstore (surge of memories....), got home, and over the next few days put the package of photocopied articles he gave us in order and began reading the current assignments. One of the sisters, on hearing about it, asked to have regular reports; so we just may have a little periodic "reading group" where I might relate some of what I'm hearing and reading and learning - no preparation of course - I'm not here to work or get into that efficiency mode, but to rest and be renewed. Talking about it though would help me process what I'm learning and contribute to my overall sabbatical experience and renewal.

That isn't all of the whirlwind I've been in! The first 2 weeks, we had wonderful weather with nights at around 70 degrees and days around 84. I was out on the bicycle 3 or 4 times, the last being on Saturday, when I went downtown (ca. 20 km round trip) - my longest ride in probably two years! I think I let my enthusiasm push a little too hard, and coming back in a cool breeze, felt a little sensitive and tired the next few days; so I rested. Then 2 nights ago, the air temp plummeted, and my 8th floor room with a view seeing the lakefront to the right, downtown to the north straight ahead, and the city stretching to the left felt like a wind tunnel. A strong wind outside was blowing air in through the air conditioner; so I just had to take it out of the window, only to find the window was broken and already out of its track on one side.... We're having it looked into, but everyone else seems to be happy with open windows and doors; needless to say my body has been feeling "under siege" by drafts. Thankfully I came fully equipped and packed so I believe I'm getting the better of it, for now!

There's more! Some of our African brothers and sisters are here on a very tight budget, if they have any money at all. I have been deeply touched by them, they are really good and authentic people; so it seemed natural for me - in the course of conversation - to invite one of the priests along with me on a drive. We got memberships at the Athletic Center (brand new) at Chicago University, began to look into his desire to continue his studies after the sabbatical in the area of Clinical Pastoral Education, and then went shopping for swim trunks and sandals for him. His heartfelt and profound gratitude made my day! Christian community is really beginning to happen here as we open up to one another.