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Monday, February 28, 2011

Prayer: Ave Maris Stella by Otto Olsson

Ave maris stella,
Dei Mater alma,
atque semper Virgo
felix coeli porta,

Hail, star of the sea,
God's own mother most dear,
You were ever a virgin;
Fairest gate of heaven. Amen.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Prayer: How Fair is Thy Face, from "Four Psalms" by Edvard Grieg

How fair is thy face,
Yea fair, yea, fair;
Thou Son of God, Thou Prince of Grace!
O Thou my Shulamite, sweet and kind,
Yea kind, yea king,
All that I have is also Thine.

My friend, Thou art mine.
Yea mine, yea mine;
For evermore let me be Thin.
Thou canst me save, canst me save.
Yea save, yea save,
Both here on earth and 'yond the grave.

Remember my plight,
Yea plight, yea plight;
Around me hostile swords flash bright,
Fly hither, Dove of Grace, Dove of Grace,
Apace, apace!
Among the rocks are peace and space.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Homily for Mark 10:13-16 - Let the Children Come to Me

"People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them." Touch is essential to grow and to sustain life, but it is, so to say, a touchy subject. A touch can communicate so many messages, and we in the church are afraid to do it in the wake of the professional boundaries established since before the sex abuse crisis. We read this passage and we see the enviable freedom possessed by Jesus to greet these young children and embrace them. We yearn for those days when we can just be naturally good to one another and find blessings in our innocence.

We come on retreat because we want Christ to touch our hearts meaningfully. We want to go to him in a familiar way and with ease so he can lay his hands upon us and heal us, or affirm us, or as a display of affection and intimacy. We want to run unimpeded to him because he is attractive. He is our God and brother. But so many obstacles can get in our way and though we reach for him, and he reaches back, we can't always make that point of contact with him that satisfies our desires. We continue to try because he is the one who makes sense of everything.

The Gospel tells us the disciples rebuked the children who sought Jesus, who rightly became indignant. It is ironic that such a simple act of goodness can be rebuffed so quickly by those who are on the same side as us. We might expect it from our opponents, but it stings all the more when it happens from our friends, family, and colleagues. You would think they would want the best for us. I'm sure you have had many times when you offered a suggestion based on kind generosity and it was slapped down by a technicality from a colleague or friend. You wonder if they really heard the good intent and the real meaning of your message. It can be discouraging if others are closed to its potential of creating good.

We too can close down parts of the relationship without realizing we are doing it. We defeat ourselves unknowingly and it baffles us. Addictions, family formation, and learned behaviors stop us from reaching our potential. It is best if we begin by paying attention to our language because it is fundamental to all relationships. To speak judiciously and prudentially is a gift from God. When God speaks, God creates. Therefore, we can learn the same patterns of speaking. If we are not creating some good when we speak, we might want to consider what we need to do first in order to speak well.

I often hear people say that they cannot hear God speak and that they don't really ask for what they want and need. We essentially don't change the way we speak to God from the way we speak to others. If we don't speak up in front of others, we are not likely to speak up in front of God. We feel terrible if a person speaks over us, cuts us off, is dismissive, or has an angry tone. We sometimes do it to others, and it has negative consequences on the relationship, especially that it inhibits growth in one's comprehension and enrichment. If we know we do this to others, chances are we do it to God as well.

When we speak, it is better if we allow for greater amounts of silence. In this way, we refrain from assuming we know what the other person is thinking or feeling. Let them tell you. If we don't give the person freedom to fully speak, we shut the person down. Many retreatants will say, "I know what God will say so I don't bother to ask." We shortchange and limit God. Let's give God a chance to speak.

Get into the habit of saying "yes" in prayer. We tell God "no" all the time in our prayer. We communicate it through words like 'can't' or 'not yet', tone of voice, body language, avoidance, and our daily choices. We choose not to trust. We are unprepared to truly comprehend what God asks of us. We hold onto our attachments and feelings longer than God wants and we negate God's true intentions for us. Many of us have the experience of keeping God at bay because we are not ready to accept what God has to say. We serve ourselves best when we wonder, "Am I closing myself to God's graces? How can I encourage my openness? Do I give God permission to speak openly?" "Am I acting in freedom?"

We often don't honor our feelings. If we don't pay attention to our feelings, they are going to come out sideways. We might find we are grouchy, sarcastic, passive-aggressive, or somehow destructive to another person if we do not own what is happening to us emotionally. We win when we acknowledge our feelings and desires. Narcissists and sociopaths cannot respond to true human feelings. Everyone else will acknowledge the very human emotions that are swirling around inside of you. Bringing them out in a healthily helps us build confidence in our identity. It builds esteem and creates goodwill. We move onwards and upwards when we speak of our emotions. and we sanctify another person when we respect one's emotions. Our intent is to build up, to create anew, and to enhance.

We have too many complex ways that we keep ourselves cut off from Christ and cannot feel his touch, and it is what we crave most. We want an experience of God that is so real that it is engraved upon on hearts and it becomes a touchstone for us. Many doubt that we can feel his physical presence. I suggest we simply ask for what we want and know that it can happen. Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises asks the retreatants to beg, to actually beg, for a particular grace for ourselves. Too often we pray only for others and neglect our own needs. God wants to be generous to us. We have to give way to let God absolutely spoil us. Ask for what you want. Beg for it. And though we strongly beg, God enters our world in gentle surprising ways.

And if you don't know what you want yet, and that's O.K. It takes time to sort it out, just pray that you can run to Jesus like the little children so that he might touch you, wipe away a tear, hold your hand, or touch your heart. Pray that he remove any obstacles that prohibit you from reaching him. It is not within your power to remove those obstacles. It is better off in his hands. Ask him what needs to be taken away so you may reach him to feel the full extent of his embrace. When you approach him, let him hold you and gaze in wonder upon your face. Let him just marvel at your beauty, both inside and out. Let him greet you, his good friend, again in a blessing with arms outstretched that says, "I've missed you. Welcome back. Let me just hold you for a while. That's all I want."

Prayer: Teresa of Avila

God has been very good to me, for I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always see some other virtue in that person.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Prayer: Jack Kornfield

The truly loving person breathes in the pain of the world and breathes out compassion.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Poem: A Spell for Creation by Kathleen Raine

Within the flower there lies a seed,
Within the seed there springs a tree,
Within the tree there spreads a wood.

In the wood there burns a fire,
And in the fire there melts a stone,
Within the stone a ring of iron.

Within the ring there lies an O,
Within the O there looks an eye,
In the eye there swims a sea,

And in the sea reflected sky,
And in the sky there shines the sun,
Within the sun a bird of gold.

Within the bird there beats a heart,
And from the heart there flows a song,
And in the song there sings a word.

In the word there speaks a world,
A world of joy, a world of grief,
From joy and grief there springs my love.

Oh love, my love, there springs a world,
And on the world there shines a sun,
And in the sun there burns a fire,

Within the fire consumes my heart,
And in my heart there beats a bird,
And in the bird there wakes an eye,

Within the eye, earth, sea and sky,
Earth, sky and sea within an O
Lie like the seed within the flower. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Question: What is Heaven Like?

Many of us wonder about heaven. We wonder who will be in heaven and who may not be admitted. We wonder if it is a place and what elements might be included in it. Does it even exist, and if so, how? What will we be like once we get there? What do we expect to find?

In light of your pondering, what is your hopes for and expectations of heaven?

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 27, 2011
Isaiah 49:14-15; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

It is difficult to trust in God. If God felt more real and more accessible to us, more would trust with greater ease. Psalm 62 is the great song of trust in God in whom our souls can find rest. Matthew's Gospel reminds us that we need to make a basic decision to love God above all things and all other things insofar as they fit into that basic love. We are to steer clear of idol worship because an idol is anything or anyone who stands between us and God.

Matthew takes some time to help us focus on how to consider our earthly anxieties and God's care for us. We typically think of our basic human needs as eating, drinking, clothing and shelter, and most of us have tended to those conditions satisfactorily. Many, however, still live on a delicate plane of existence when missing a paycheck means falling into dire levels of poverty. Life on the edge is uncomfortable and anxiety producing.

Each of us, regardless of wealth and perceived security, has the same basic needs. We want interpersonal connection with others (belonging, appreciation, companionship, intimacy, mutuality, respect, trust, and to be understood.) We want physical well-being like exercise, good food, rest/sleep, sexual expression, shelter, and touch. Honesty, play, peace, and a healthy level of autonomy (choice, freedom) are necessities for a joyful life. We search for meaning where we seek to know if we matter to others. This is expressed through our creativity, generativity, purpose, growth, and the ways we celebrate life.

Jesus is telling us that we are not to be absorbed by or preoccupied with these matters because God will provide for even our most basic needs. God's parental care gives us hope in God's providence. Our faith is rooted in our special relationship with God as we are children of the kingdom of heaven. Our ethical behavior consists in learning the way and the manner in which God loves and preserves creation.

The crucial part of the teaching of Jesus in this passage is that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and along with it, God's justice. This is the most important activity of our lives. It causes us to be concerned, not for our own welfare, but for others who are at the fragile margins of society. We cannot have the kingdom of heaven without justice because this is not only God's justice, but also a justice that we are able to produce on earth ourselves.

Seeking the kingdom of heaven helps us to put our actions into perspective. We see that God cares less about our accomplishments than for our development of ethical relationships with others. It becomes much less about what we can do or who we can become, but about who we presently are and the way we have chosen to live in God's world. We become preoccupied with matters that are out of our control and we dupe ourselves to think we can provide for our needs. Relax. Enjoy life with its vulnerabilities and fragility. We lack control over the main parts of life. God will care for us in a greater way than a mother cares for her infant. God pledges never to forget us. We might as well let go of our worry and give ourselves to a great trust in God, who alone can give our souls rest and who alone can provide for our deep happiness.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Book of Sirach beckons penitents to return to God. The dead cannot praise God; this is the appointed time to renew your relationship with God. The one who is just will reap the blessings of the Lord. The just one keeps the law, does works of charity, refrains from evil, and makes appropriate sacrifices. The God of the universe is the only true God and we beckon the Lord to gather us and protect us. As we recall God's works, we see glory shining through all his works. The memory of godly people will live on while the others in the world will merely cease to exist in memory. God's glory, radiating in the virtuous, will never be blotted out. We therefore give thanks to the Lord and we seek God's wisdom. Wisdom will be our teacher.

Gospel: As Jesus sets out, a wealthy man approached him with the question, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" After Jesus answered, the man walked away sad because he could not sell his possessions. The perplexed disciples ask, "what about us?" and Jesus replies, "those who have given up everything will receive one hundred times more than what was given away. As the Twelve with Jesus traveled to Jerusalem, John and James asked for the authority to sit at the right hand of God in heaven. The same chalice from which Jesus drinks will be the same one from which the disciples drink. On their way, they meet the blind Bartimaeus who wants his sight restored. He becomes the example of the faithful one who follows Jesus along the way. Jesus went to the Temple area, cursed a fig tree, and overturned the money changers and vendors. Jesus returns once more to the Temple and the authorities ask him about the origin and nature of their power. He does not answer them.

Saints of the Week

Thursday: Katherine Drexel (1858-1955) was a daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia banker. When her parents died and they left a substantial fortune to her, Katherine joined the Sisters of Mercy. She established schools and missions in the South and on Native America reservations.

Friday: Casimir (1458-1484) refused to fight against soldiers from other Christians nations. He was the son of the King of Poland. He also refused to marry Emperor Frederick III's daughter because he chose a life of celibacy and asceticism. He did bring about governmental reforms that cared more directly for the poor.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 27, 1767. Charles III banished the Society from Spain and seized its property.
• Feb 28, 1957. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps began.
• Mar 1, 1549. At Gandia, the opening of a college of the Society founded by St Francis Borgia.
• Mar 2, 1606. The martyrdom in the Tower of London of St Nicholas Owen, a brother nicknamed "Little John." For 26 years he constructed hiding places for priests in homes throughout England. Despite severe torture he never revealed the location of these safe places.
• Mar 3, 1595. Clement VIII raised Fr. Robert Bellarmine to the Cardinalate, saying that the Church had not his equal in learning.
• Mar 4, 1873. At Rome, the government officials presented themselves at the Professed House of the Gesu for the purpose of appropriating the greater part of the building.
• Mar 5, 1887. At Rome, the obsequies of Fr. Beckx who died on the previous day. He was 91 years of age and had governed the Society as General for 34 years. He is buried at San Lorenzo in Campo Verano.

February's Fewer Days

It seems to us today that it would be easy to shift some of the seven months with 31 days in it to February in order to round it out. Original Roman calendars did not even have January and February in them.

Attempts were made to reconcile the moon's 29 1/2 day moth with the sun's 365 1/4 day year. Julius Caesar finally ignored the lunar calendar and got rid of the extra month called Mercedinus that balanced off the days. February wound up with 29 days plus an extra day every fourth year.

We use the Julian calendar today. However the Emperor Augustus shifted February 29 to August, the month named after him. It balanced it with July, named after Julius.

One recent proposal seeks to make every month have 28 days but to add another month. This would bring the fixed calendar to 364 days, requiring one extra day per year, two during leap years. However, as those before us have recognized, changing a calendar is not easy.

New Zealand Relief

Christchurch in New Zealand has suffered another terrible earthquake, the second in the past six months. Loss of life and property has been devastating. If you can provide some funds for relief, I provide the following contact information below:

Phone 0800 22 10 22 to make credit card donations or

Donate online using a credit card at www.caritas.org.nz or

Post to Caritas, PO Box 12193, Thorndon, Wellington 6144, New Zealand.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

Prayers for the Middle East

The events in northern Africa and the Middle East are certainly filled with tension and hope. We watch expectantly hoping that only the best comes from the demonstrations of people who seek freedom to govern their lives within the best possible civic and religious freedom. It is best not to impose our Western expectations upon them, but to encourage them to find a solution that works well for them and contributes to the build-up of social justice and general welfare of the people. Let's honor and respect their struggle and encourage them in their efforts to create a better common good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homily for "The Chair of Peter"

Eight days ago, we began this retreat on Valentine’s Day – a day we cherish the love that is around us. We’ve walked through the accounts of Creation, the story of Noah, signs of the covenant, the folly at the Tower of Babel, listening to the distinction between seeing and sight, listening and hearing. We paid attention to what is required for discipleship, the Transfigured Lord, loving one’s enemies, and the necessity of prayer. We heard Mark’s first Passion prediction, and we hear a portion of it again today as we focus on the chair of Peter than guarantees our succession to the Twelve disciples who were Christ’s first friends and witnesses. As we leave here, let’s take stock of the ways our relationship with Christ may have evolved.

Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?" In the Gospel, he is asking Peter and the disciples, but because of its directness, we feel impelled to answer the same question. Perhaps a subtle change has occurred this week that feels significant. Perhaps our image of Christ is secure and the question is less who he is but more about how he is. Maybe you noticed something different about the way that Jesus smiled, or carried himself, or altered his body language or had a change in his tone of voice. And perhaps this caused you to respond to him just a little differently this time, in a way that is more familiar to you. Who is Christ becoming for you?

With the backdrop of Valentine's Day, think back on a time when you realized you realized you were in love. It felt good, didn't it? And it was confusing and somewhat scary. This other person occupied your thoughts and daydreams and you set out hypothetical plans for your times together. You thought of your moments of intimacy and your desire just to be with the one you found engaging. You probably glowed to your friends and you went through your day a little lighter. Amazing. The person you found attractive was likewise interested in you. Your whole life shifted as you oriented your schedule around your friend. But the moment you knew that would probably come may have seized you with fear. You felt vulnerable - the moment you heard or uttered the life-changing words, "I love you." It was terrifying because you meant it and so much of your life was staked on it. You knew that these words would fundamentally change your life. Even if you have never been able to speak these words with your voice, you may have come to say them interiorly. Words like these are to be shared.

To speak the words, "I love you" creates an interior realignment, a quake, inside of us. To have them received by the one we love places us at the fringes of vulnerability. If our beloved accepts them and honors our affection, nothing can tear us down from the ceiling because we are flying so high. To hear our beloved say, "I love you too" makes our heart explode. What a feeling. We can scarcely contain our astonishment. Falling in love changes everything.

These are the words Christ speaks to us today. He has been with his disciples for a while and has showered them with acts of kindness and charity. Their friendship has grown to the point where he wants to see where he stands with them, and they with him. So he asks them, "Who do you say that I am?" He really means, 'I've been with you all this time and I've constantly given myself to you. I've cared for you as best I can. I've stood by you and my heart has led me to surprising places in life, and you have been a big part of it. I've shown you in so many ways my love for you, and I want to know personally, honestly, "Who am I to you? Do you love me?"' He is standing there at risk awaiting your response. He wants you to respond in truth. How are you able to answer?

It is something special to know Christ yearns deeply for you. It is what we have come to experience this week, and still he wants an answer to his question. He doesn't want you to leave without answering him. He doesn't want it expressed in church-language, or the customary ordinary responses we give to the Son of God. He wants us to answer honestly based on our experiences with him. He wants our true selves to answer the question - from one friend to another - an answer that arises from one's shared life from the deepest core of our soul.

But we know we have to be careful. Shallow words won't do. A trite answer is a travesty. Maybe we can't answer as we would like yet. Maybe we are fundamentally disposed to him, but find ourselves unsettled with him or unable to trust him because we have been burned once before. Maybe we can't let ourselves be vulnerable. Maybe we can't be intimate. Maybe no one has ever told us how beautiful we are and we don't know how to receive plain old love. However you respond, Christ wants your honest answer. He won't turn away from you. He can't because he yearns for you too much.

Beware of your answer! It may change you. If you are able to reply, "I love you," your head will have to follow your heart. Other parts of your being will follow suit. Allow Christ to reply to your response. If he says "I love you" to you, know that something fundamental inside him will change too. It is staggering to know Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe, falls in love with us. We need time to accept this. We need time to savor it. We need our personal quiet time to enter the stillness to let his love permeate throughout our lives. His love brings forth our greater love.

As you head back to your regular life today, think for a few minutes on what has happened with you this week. Maybe something did change within you interiorly - maybe it was seismic, perhaps it was just a subtle shift. In a few moments, we will be at the Table of our Lord. Let's take the graces we have received this week and offer them back to him. In a few moments, he will demonstrate to us how much he loves us - as individuals and as a people. As he gives himself to us, reflect upon the ways you might respond to his banquet of love. We may be ready to leave the retreat, but he stands in front of us awaiting our answer. Upon Peter's answer, he built the church. Your answer may sustain it.

Spirituality: The Path to God by Anthony de Mello, S.J.

One day the Master asked, "What, in your opinion, is the most important of all religious questions?"

He got many answers: "Does God exist?" "Who is God?" "What is the path to God?" "Is there a life after death?"

"No," said the Master. "The most important question is: 'Who am I?'"

The disciples got some idea of what he was hinting at when they overheard him talking to a preacher:

Master: "So then, according to you, when you die your soul will be in heaven?"
Preacher: "Yes."
Master: "And your body will be in the grave?"
Preacher: "Yes."
Master: "And where, may I ask, will you be?"

Monday, February 21, 2011

Prayer: Clement of Alexandria

To know ourselves has always been the greatest of all lessons.
For, if we know ourselves, we will know God.
And, in knowing God, we will become like God.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Retreat Homily for Matthew 5:38-48

God says, according to the author of Leviticus, "be holy, for I the Lord, your God, am holy." Then Jesus says, in the Gospel according to Matthew, "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." It makes me wonder what it means for us to be holy or perfect today. I wonder how to live according to these ideals that seem far too remote for me.

A good friend of mine recently quipped, "just use Luke's definition. He uses the words 'compassion' or 'merciful.'" But as I looked through various translation, Matthew stays with the word 'perfect' when he has other choices available. Some translations use the words 'blameless' or 'holy.' Luke stresses covenant fidelity and steadfast love, but it is good to wrestle with the word 'perfect' as none of us can be that. Perfection may mean conformity to a divine ideal or that the perfect person is the one who completely observes the whole law - a Matthean concept. 'Perfect' at least encompasses the other terms as well. It is full and rich.

At dinner the other night, I asked the directors how they interpret the word 'perfect.' I received no theological insights because we applied the term to desserts, but I received an answer that fit just right. "Perfect" means "it fits me just right." This definition is sensible to me. When Fr. Richard talked about the chocolate cake being 'perfect' for him, no other dessert could substitute for his desires. When Fr. Paul said, "the date-filled cookie is just right for me," he could not be swayed at all to take the pumpkin cupcake that was less than perfect for him. Fr. John was not satisfied when Sr. Gail offered him the other half of her dessert. He wanted a whole one. Complete. Perfection after all may not be this Platonic, classicist ideal that is unchanging and outside of our grasp. Perhaps, it is something that suits us just right and we know it in innately when we experience it.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us about the model behavior we are to strive for in settling disputes and reconciling with enemies. His strategy avoids litigation and shames his opponent into a change of heart thereby creating an atmosphere of kindness, patience, generosity, and an open attitude towards all people. I don't like the shame part, but his methodology has been effective in human history with people like Mahatma Gandhi, the civil rights disobedience marches, and the contemporary demonstrations in Egypt. Loving one's enemies creates a moral heroism while honoring the other person. It illustrates that another way, a loftier way, exists for solving daily problems. The long-term strategy of Jesus is set within the wisdom of love: If you love those who love you, your reward is an increase in their love. If you love those who hate you, your reward is an increase in God's love. God's love is the one that endures and will ultimately be the one that becomes most visible to all.

Most of us want to avoid conflict and we try subtle ways of dropping hints so we stay clear of direct confrontation. We despise the anticipated terror that comes with it. We predict that someone will act irrationally and will hurt us and others. We fear we might get hit with a lawsuit. We want peace at all costs.

Most of us have someone with whom we are not squared away with. Sometimes this person becomes our opponent, even if they are in our own family. It is part of our human condition. We will feel a plethora of negative emotions around the way this person treats us. We may respond with less than admirable statements and actions. We don't feel good when that happens and it eats away at our peace in our unconsciousness. We don't recognize the depths of the insidiousness. We try to rid ourselves of those negative feelings because a Christian is not to feel this way. Many times we wonder what it is that we did to cause this situation. Our boundaries have been transgressed by another. We lose confidence and a healthy image of ourselves erodes. This way is not perfect. This way does not fit us.

The way of Jesus often seems unattainable when we find ourselves mired in our mess of negative feelings. The last thing we want to do is to give our opponents a victory. How can we ever come to love them? We first have to do our interior work. We have to open our mind, heart, will, and memory to Christ so he can have something to say. We need to give Christ freedom - a little bit of room to wiggle around inside our chaos. We have to permit him to touch our memories, to touch our basic human needs so he can reassure us that we will be safe and secure in his abiding presence. We need to see the possibility that we have judged as best we could with the information given to us, made the most loving choices in freedom, and that we desire the best for ourselves and our adversaries. We need to be heard; as does our opponent. We also need to see where we failed and have done wrong. That's O.K. Our sins have been forgiven. Let's accept that fact. But we need to see that we have bothered to try to love the other person, and that we essentially want to be loved. When Christ helps us with our wrestling, he can help us love better and see our situation and circumstances through a whole different lens - through the wisdom of love.

Love begets love. We began this retreat on Valentine's day - the grand day of love. Look at the ways your love has grown throughout this week. Perhaps you love yourself better. Perhaps you allow God to care for you and cherish you more. Perhaps a tension you have been carrying has less weight. Bravo! This is perfect. It all fits is Christ's plan for the wisdom of love. You are doing well.

When we feel these things, we know the hope and possibility that one day we can love our opponents. We know that it is the healthier, life-giving course for us. We know that something inside of us clicks - even if we can never put our finger on what it is. Christ's finger has already been placed there. All we have to do is trust in his love for us. His love allows our love to grow. Our love allows others to grow. Loving someone else changes you - for the better. You know it fits. When we have come to the point when we love our opponents, to look upon them with honor, compassion, mercy, and understanding, we feel jubilant because God's plan truly is perfect. It fits us. This is the way life should be. This is what we dreamed about. This is how life is meant to be. Christ's love, along with our love, can bring this about. However, this perfection is not just the dessert, it is the whole healthy, life-sustaining meal given to us to make us perfect. Let's eat of this meal that he offers us at his table of love. It suits us just right.

The Autobiography: Ignatius’ desire to help souls

[26] [In Manresa] he spent a portion of his time in assisting souls who came to him for advice.

[50] When Ignatius understood that God did not wish him to remain at Jerusalem, … the plan he approved and adopted was to enter upon a course of study in order to be better fitted to save souls.

[63] When Ignatius heard the judgment passed upon himself and his companions [in Alcala], he was at a loss what to do, for he saw very little chance of advancing the salvation of souls.

[70] Although Ignatius was unwilling to accept the sentence, because … he was … prevented from assisting his neighbor, he declared that he would submit as long as he remained in Salamanca… [But he] considered it a waste of time to remain at Salamanca, as the restriction laid upon him prevented him from assisting those for whose salvation he wished to labor.

[71] His next step was to find some Order where the primitive fervor had not relaxed, as he felt that there he would be more sure of satisfying his desire of suffering and assisting others spiritually by bearing, for the love of God, any injury or insult to which he might be subjected.

[85] By this time all [the first companions] had determined on their future conduct, namely, to go first to Venice, and then to Jerusalem, where they would pass their whole life in helping souls.

[98] After his return to Rome, he labored for the help of souls.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Poem: Mary Oliver

It doesn't have to be the blue iris.
It can be a weed, in a vacant lot
or a few small stones:
just pay attention...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

This email/blog posting is available now on Wednesdays. Shall I post it on Fridays as usual or post it earlier in the wek so you can prepare for the Sunday readings earlier?

February 20, 2011
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-8; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus elevates his rhetoric in the Sermon on the Mount when he speaks about moral behaviors towards one's adversaries. Retaliation and love of neighbors are sensitive subjects especially when cast in light of an honor-shame society. He sets about a strategy for winning the longer term victory rather than advocating passive resignation or indifference to evil. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther took similar actions to morally resist the systemic structures of their day.

While the law of retaliation (an eye for an eye) sounds primitive to us today, it was meant as a humanitarian gesture to limit revenge. The measure was to be fair and balanced and it was a sign of moral progress. Rabbis in the days of Jesus thought they 'eye for an eye' was already too strict and they converted the penalties into fines rather than taking away one's property. Jesus takes it a step farther when he avoids exacting physical damage. Rather, his strategy avoids litigation and shames his opponent into a change of heart. It creates an atmosphere of kindness, patience, generosity, and an open attitude towards all people.

Combined with his position on the love of enemy, Jesus advances the thinking of settling disputes. The policy of unlimited revenge gives way to limited revenge. It then progresses to the silver rule (don't do to others what you would not want to have them do to you) to the more positive golden rule. The piece Jesus adds, "loving one's enemies" creates a moral heroism and reverence. It stuns one's opponents and illustrates that another way, a loftier way, exists for solving daily problems.

Loving one's enemy prevents a quandary for one's opponent, especially if it is a government. Early Christian martyrs gave their oppressors a bad conscience. The martyr became a hero while the persecutor became the villain. Curiously, this strategy sets out a plan according to the wisdom of love. If you love those who love you, your reward is an increase in their love. If you love those who hate you, your reward is an increase in God's love. God's love endures and will ultimately be the one that is most visible.

In Matthew's account, Jesus exhorts his followers to be 'perfect' as his Father is perfect. Some translations use the words 'blameless' or 'holy' and Luke uses 'merciful.' Luke stresses covenant fidelity and steadfast love, but it is good to wrestle with the word 'perfect' as none of us can be that. (We certainly have not learned healthy ways of dealing with our anger.) Perfection may mean conformity to the divine ideal or that the perfect person is the one who observes the whole law - a Matthean concept. Perfect would at least encompass the other terms as well.

We are best when we try to love others the way God loves us. It is expansive and allows for greater comprehension of the mystery of human behavior. Be perfect. It certainly elevates our thinking - even though we cannot actualize it. It does make us more divine and a marvel to behold. Our opponents may be startled. God may be startled too. I can only imagine we will only increase God's perfect love for us.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Book of Sirach speaks of the primacy of Wisdom as one who was created by God and was with God from the beginning. Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her. Those who love her, the Lord loves. Relying upon wealth or power provides nothing that lasts. Trust in the Lord. Do not put off your conversion for the Lord is here to help you. Wisdom is like a faithful friend who will make your journey easier. Befriending Wisdom is a life-saving remedy. Her friendship is beyond price. Through Wisdom God created the world and made humans in God's own image. God bestowed many blessings upon humanity and has made a covenant with them.

Gospel: After the Transfiguration, the disciples of Jesus tried to cure a boy possessed with a mute spirit. The disciples were unable to heal him and exorcise the demon, but Jesus does it immediately. He tells the disciples that only prayer and faith can help the boy, to which they respond, "help my unbelief." When his disciples see others driving out demons in the name of Jesus, he tells them they are on the same side. He then tells of the conditions for discipleship and demands that they do not lead anyone to sin. They are to act like the salt of the world. Jesus returned to Judea and was tested again by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. Jesus brings the question, not to the particulars, but to the attitudes that cause sin and division. Children were brought to Jesus. He welcomed them heartily and warmly because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Peter Damian, bishop and doctor (1007-1072) of Ravenna, Italy received his name because he took care of his brother Damian when their parents died. Eventually, Peter became a hermit and became Abbot. As Cardinal-bishop of Ostia, he tightened up the rules governing clergy behavior and standards.

Tuesday: The Chair of Peter, Apostle, was set in the 4th century to honor Peter and his successors. The feast of Peter and Paul was originally scheduled for this date, but was moved to June 29th. We honor the role of the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Wednesday: Polycarp, bishop and martyr (69-155) was from Turkey and lived in the first generation after the Apostles. He is most closely associated with John and is a friend of Ignatius of Antioch. Polycarp taught many of the new Christians about the faith and we was martyred in 155 at the age of 86.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 20, 1860. Pope Pius IX visits the rooms of St Ignatius.
• Feb 21, 1595. At Tyburn, the martyrdom of Robert Southwell after he had suffered brutal tortures in Topcliffe's house and in prison. He embraced the jailer who brought him word that he was to be executed. As he breathed his last, Lord Mountjoy, who presided over the execution, exclaimed: "May my soul be one day with that of this man."
• Feb 22, 1599. By order of Pope Clement VIII, the superiors general of the Jesuits and the Dominicans, assisted by others, met to settle, if possible, the controversies about grace. Nothing came of the meeting, since the Dominicans insisted on the condemnation of the writings of Fr. Molina.
• Feb 23, 1551. The Roman College, the major school of the Society later to become the Gregorian University, began its first scholastic year with 15 teachers and 60 students.
• Feb 24, 1637. The death of Francis Pavone. Inflamed by his words and holy example, sixty members of a class of philosophy that he taught and the entire class of poetry embraced the religious state.
• Feb 25, 1558. St Aloysius Gonzaga received tonsure at the Lateran basilica. Within the next month he would receive the minor orders.
• Feb 26, 1611. The death of Antonio Possevino, sent by Pope Gregory XIII on many important embassies to Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Germany. In addition to founding colleges and seminaries in Cracow, Olmutz, Prague, Braunsberg, and Vilna, he found time to write 24 books.

Presidents Day

Until 25 years ago, George Washington's birthday was celebrated on February 22nd and Abraham Lincoln's was celebrated on February 12th. To create a uniform Monday holiday in February nationally, the 3rd Monday of February was chosen. Ironically, Presidents Day can never be celebrated on Washington's birthday. Several states still celebrate Lincoln's birthday on the 12th with a state holiday. The spelling for the day can be either Presidents Day or Presidents' Day. Regardless, enjoy our nation's history.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prayer: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prayer: Abraham Lincoln

During the darkest days of the Civil War, the hopes of the Union nearly died. When certain goals seemed unreachable, the leaders of the Union turned to President Abraham Lincoln for solace, guidance and hope. Once, when a delegation called at the White House and detailed a long list of crisis facing our nation, Lincoln told this story:

Years ago, a young friend and I were out one night when a shower of meteors fell from the clear November sky. The young man was frightened, but I told him to look up in the sky past the shooting stars to the "fixed" stars beyond, shining serene in the firmament, and I said, "let us not mind the meteors, but let us keep our eyes on the stars.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Prayer: St. Ignatius of Loyola on darkness

O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence, your love, and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Two Great Quotes from Authors of Children's Books

I thought these quotes might be neat to hear on Valentine's Day.

"You know you're in love when you don't want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams" - Dr. Seuss

"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you" - A A Milne

Prayer: John Henry Newman

God has created me to do him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling. Therefore, my God, I will put myself without reserve in your hands. What have I in heaven, and apart from you what want I upon earth? My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the God of my heart, and my portion forever.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Question: Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day celebrates romantic love. It also celebreates other types of love as love exists in many forms. Ignatius of Loyola writes, "love is to be expressed more through deeds over and above words," and "love consists in a mutual sharing of goods." Has Valentine's Day broadened to include other types of loving relationship? Do you celebrate Valentine's Day with a loved one who is not your romantic partner?

Const.: GC 34, Decree 4: “Our Mission and Culture”, par. 8

Ours must be a dialogue, born of respect for people, especially the poor, in which we share their cultural and spiritual values and offer our own cultural and spiritual treasures, in order to build up a communion of peoples instructed by God’s Word and enlivened by the Spirit as at Pentecost. Our service of the Christian faith must never disrupt the best impulses of the culture in which we work, nor can it be an alien imposition from outside.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Question: Egypt's Revolution

The polite revolution in Egypt is truly remarkable. Comments from many Egyptians reveal their deep national pride and their desire to see their country flourish. The people want to show the world that they are vibrant with much to offer the Arab and world community. At the same time, Tunisia went through a revolutionary transition. Yemen, Algeria and other nations are bolstered by these inspiring events. What do you make of the desires of these countries?

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 13, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount continues in Matthew's Gospel with some basic legal principles and a new ethic. Some of these are hard sayings to hear and seem to go against many of the principles Paul espoused in his letters a generation earlier. Scholars recognize their controversial nature and conclude no consensus can be reached on their interpretation. Matthew's audience is largely Jewish so it is understandable that he would emphasize validity and propose strict adherence to the Torah.

Matthew, alongside James, stays on the conservative side of the early debates though Matthew is open to the Gentile mission - the thorniest issue for the early church that included the question of the necessity for circumcision. Paul's side eventually won out. Matthew stays faithful to the Torah and concentrates, not on following the letter of the law, but on important values. Paul prefers an ethic of values like faith, hope, love, and walking in the Spirit. Together, the two schools of thought center on love as the abiding principle. Jesus brings a superior ethic, a more abundant righteousness, and a higher justice to his followers.

In his sayings, Jesus goes beyond the Old Testament teaching by deepening and radicalizing it. He remains faithful always to God's will. When examining the moral life, he shifts evaluation from the acts themselves to the attitudes that cause such acts. Rather than focusing on murder, he focuses upon anger as a common experience that leads to murder. Jesus is not advocating a neurotic repression of anger, but a healthy way of releasing it. Our emotions are to be acknowledged but not acted out in rage, killing, or other forms of violence.

Matthew's Jesus addresses adultery with the same methodology as he did anger. He is not condemning thinking about sexual matters. All sin is about relationships. Adultery is a wrong of injustice as well as of unchastity. Adultery is about leaving the one whose affections are alienated vulnerable in a fragile society. Jesus is saying that any action that leads to adultery can be seen as wrong.

Divorce is also a complex teaching. I wish I had more space to clarify this because it is not easily understood today. Aristotle wrote "divorce is to family life what civil war is to the state" In Israel's evolution of marriage, no contract existed at first, polygamy was common, divorce was easy and informal. The intent of Jesus was to set out a clear and high ideal of human relations, a vision of marriage as a covenant of personal love between spouses that reflects the covenant relationship of God and God's people. We are to remember that we strive for ideals, but real life is messy. Tolerance and understanding help us to form better covenantal relationships. Ideals and reality are to be merged compassionately so we can respect the good that is within each person.

Lastly, Paul's letter to the Corinthians tells us of God's wisdom to those who are mature. He speaks of God's wisdom as mysterious and hidden. Yes, to those who prefer other gods, this wisdom is elusive, but for those who love God, all will be revealed in God's generosity. God's will and wisdom is more available than many realize. We simply need to ask in confidence and gratitude. God abundantly provides.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The first human sin was committed when the resentful Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Sin reached a new level and God metered out further punishment on the human offspring. As the spiral of sin increased, human life became shorter. God saw the extent of human wickedness and decided to wipe out all living things upon the earth by flooding it so he could start again with creation. After forty days of torrential rains, Noah, the commander of the ark, spotted a patch of dry land. Noah offered burnt offerings to God for bringing them to safety. As a covenantal sign, God set a rainbow in the sky. Yet as sin continued to increase, God saw the great city the people were building and decided to confuse their language so they could not communicate effectively - thereby thwarting their plans to build the tower of Babel. By faith we come to know that the universe was ordered by the word of God.

Gospel: Pharisees put an argument forth to Jesus to test him, but Jesus does not bite. Jesus tells the hungry crowds to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees because they are not acting as true shepherds. When Jesus comes to Bethsaida, he partially cures a man of his blindness, but when he repeated his laying of hands upon him, the man received full sight. At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus predicts his passion for the first time and the disciples reject his nonsense. He then explains to the gathering crowd that denial of self is a condition for discipleship. He then climbed a high mountain with Peter, James, and John where he was transfigured before their sight. This semi-private manifestation led to their confused discussions over the meaning of "rising from the dead."

Saints of the Week

Monday: Cyril, monk (827-869) and Methodius, bishop (815-884) were Greek brothers who became missionaries to Ukraine and Moravia. This area was a buffer zone between the Germanic and Byzantium people. Cyril organized an alphabet so that scripture and liturgy were accessible in the Slavonic language. Methodius became bishop and settled in Moravia.

Tuesday: Claude La Colombiere (1641-1682) is known for his spiritual guidance of Margaret Mary Alacoque of Paray-le-Monial who helped re-energize the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Later in his life, he was sent to preach to the Duchess of York, but was later arrested as a conspirator to the British throne and deported.

Thursday: Seven Founders of the Orders of Servites (13th century) were seven young men from Florence, Italy who pledged their lives to Our Lady around 1225. They retreated to a deserted mountain to build a church and hermitage where they lived in extreme austerity. They became the Servants of Mary, adopted a rule, and accepted new recruits.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 13, 1787. In Milan, Fr. Rudjer Boskovic, an illustrious mathematician, scientist, and astronomer, died. At Paris he was appointed "Directeur de la Marine."
• Feb 14, 1769. At Cadiz, 241 Jesuits from Chile were put on board a Swedish vessel to be deported to Italy as exiles.
• Feb 15, 1732. Fr. Chamillard SJ, who had been reported by the Jansenists as having died a Jansenist and working miracles, suddenly appeared alive and well!
• Feb 16, 1776. At Rome, the Jesuit prisoners in Castel S Angelo were restored to liberty. Fr. Romberg, the German assistant, aged 80, expressed a wish to remain in prison.
• Feb 17, 1775. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan Ambassadors in Rome intimate to the newly elected Pope Pius VI the will of their respective sovereigns that the Jesuits imprisoned in Castel San Angelo should not be released.
• Feb 18, 1595. St Robert Southwell, after two and a half years imprisonment in the tower, was removed to Newgate and there thrust into a dungeon known as "Limbo."
• Feb 19, 1581. The election of Fr. Claude Acquaviva as fifth general in the Fourth General Congregation. He was only 37 years of age and a Jesuit for only l4 years. He was general under eight popes. He had been a fellow novice with St Stanislaus.

Happy Valentine's Day

Saint Valentine's Day was removed from the Roman liturgical calendar in 1969 and was replaced with Cyril and Methodius. The custom of exchanging gifts of love, though, was never removed. Valentine was a (or several) Roman martyr(s) who was remembered by Pope Gelasius around the year 500.

Chaucer in 1382 first associated the feast as a day when lovers romantically exchanged gifts. He wrote of the day as one in which every bird comes to choose his mate. Shakespeare also wrote about it in Hamlet and Donne captured the legend of the marriage of the birds as a reference to the marriage of Elizabeth to Frederick V on this date in his sonnet Epithalamion.

The first mass produced Valentine's Day card of embossed paper lace was manufactured in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1847. Valentine's Day is the second most commercialized holiday in the U.S.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Prayer: Paul VI

Lord, God of peace,
we thank you for the desire
which your spirit of peace has roused in our day:
to replace hatred with love,
diffidence with understanding, unconcern with care.

Open our hearts even more to the needs of all our
brothers and sisters,
so that we may be better able to build a true peace.

For the people of every race,
of every tongue,
may your kingdom come:
your kingdom of justice, of peace, of love. Amen.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Prayer: from Living with Contradiction by Esther de Waal

The journey by which we discover God is also the journey by which we discover, or uncover, our true self hidden in God. It is a journey that we all have to make.

It is so easy to play the world's game which is the power game, the game which depends on setting myself apart from others, distinguishing myself, seeking the limelight and looking for applause. I find that it is only too easy to become compulsive in my continual need for affirmation, for more and more affirmation, as I anxiously ask Who am I? Am I the person who is liked, admired, praised, seen as successful? My whole attitude towards myself becomes determined by the way in which others see me. I compare myself with others, and I try to emphasize what is different and distinctive about me. Those three temptations which Christ faced in the wilderness are equally my own temptations:

to be relevant

to be spectacular

to be powerful

Am I able, like Christ, to put them down?

Am I prepared to shed all those outer shells, of fase ambition, of pride?

Am I ready to admit that the mask is a disguise put on to cover up the insecure self? and the armour a shield to protect the vulnerable self?

Am I ready to receive a new self, based not on what I can achieve, but on what I am willing to receive?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Poem: Waken in Me A Gratitude for My Life

O God, complete the work you have begun in me.
Release me through
a flow of mercy and gentleness that will bring
water where there is desert,
healing where there is hurt,
peace where there is violence,
beauty where there is ugliness,
justice where there is brokenness,
beginnings where there are dead-ends.
Waken in me
gratitude for my life,
love for every living thing,
joy in what is human and holy,
praise for you.
Renew my faith that you are God
beyond my grasp
but within my reach;
past my knowing
but within my searching;
disturber of the assured,
assurer of the disturbed;
destroyer of illusions,
creator of dreams;
source of silence and music,
sex and solitude,
light and darkness,
death and life.

O Keeper of Promises,
composer of grace,
grant me
glee in my blood,
prayer in my heart,
trust at my core,
songs for my journey,
and a sense of your kingdom.

-          From Guerillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Shoes of the Fisherman

This morning I watched the 1968 film "The Shoes of the Fisherman" starring Anthony Quinn as an unlikely pope. The film was adapted from the 1963 book by the Australian author, Morris West.

Is is completely fictional and futuristic for its time, but it leaves one with lots of questions. It portrays the good and bad of Rome's hierarchical structure as it recounts some of it's then-contemporary appropriation of the reforms of Vatican II. We saw the silencing of a philospher-theologian who had come to a new understanding of Christ and the upholding of the sanctity of his conscience, which the Second Vatican Council places at the primacy of one's decision-making. We saw the power of prayer and faith that may lead one into difficulties with the current power structure as one moves towards a gospel-based manner of living. We saw fidelity and conversion of heart that gives hope to anyone who wants to place one's hope in God and brings more people to trust in the heart of the Vicar of Chris on earth.

I would find it interesting for a contemporary film director to produce another such quality film. I wouldn't want to see the film try to do harm to the church, but to portray the various forces that compete for attention. Understanding the struggles and motives of the leaders of the church could be insightful to many who find the hierarchy inaccessible to them. In the film, Anthony Quinn tries to get into the real lives of ordinary people, Catholic or not,  in order to understand their struggles and to offer them the only thing he has going for him - his faith in the power of Christ.

It is a brilliant film and we could use more images that help progress our theological imagination.

Poem: Raindrops by Ken Dickinson

Raindrops shimmer down a dirty glass
and measle the windowpane.
Raindrops fall, breaking into tiny china,
and run away like blood.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Poem: A Ritual Road to Each Other (Stafford)

If you don't know the kind of person I am,
and I don't know the kind of person you are,
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world,
and following the wrong God home, we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break,
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dikes.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders, the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty,
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice,
to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider -
lest the parade of our mutual life gets lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give - yes or no, or maybe -
should be clear:
the darkness around us is deep.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Prayer: "Artists" by Andrew Greeley

Artists are sacrament makers, creators of emphasized beauty. They "invite us into the world they see so that we can go forth from that world enchanted by the luminosity of their work and with enhanced awareness of the possibilities of life. "

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 6, 2011

Following the Beatitudes, Matthew records a host of sayings from the Jesus tradition beginning with the metaphors of salt and light. The metaphors were easily understood by the people and they had a number of different interpretation. Salt is both a spice and a preservative, just as a good teacher imparts memorable pieces of wisdom to a student. A teacher also provides the means by which a student receives insight and light. Light imagery points to God as it primary source.

Through the repeated use of the word "you," Jesus is personally addressing the crowds of disciples whom he has given a vocation for the world. They are to fulfill it in times of persecution. With the confidence of faith, the disciples are not to shrink from their mission. Salt ceases to be salt if it has no taste anymore and light is not light if it is extinguished. "You" are not to be concerned about the taste or brightness because "you" are not the source of it. Only God is. God will provide the necessary elements for your discipleship. The disciple no longer lives for himself or herself, but for God and others.

With that in mind, one has to balance the gifts one has been given with the one who has provided the gifts. If one does good works, the credit does not belong solely to self. One is not to act with pride or to take all the credit because God is the one who has provided those gifts for a specific purpose. Discipleship does not lead one to arrogance but is to help others turn towards the creator, saving God.

It is a good idea for us to do a self-assessment every once in a while. Each of us has gifts and special favors particular to ourselves. The way I respond to these gifts will cue me in as to whether I have an poor self-image. They are to be received graciously. Ignatius of Loyola tells us that love is manifested more in deeds than in words and that love consists in a mutual sharing of gifts. We pray for gratitude because we realize that God dwells in each of these gifts and that I am a gift of God.

My life is presented as a gift. Just as God, the Father, gave Jesus life in the Resurrection, God gives us life as a gift. We are to receive this gift with magnanimity. When we see ourselves this way, we begin to give our gifts freely as Christ has given them to us. We know that God labors in these gifts, and as we give them away, we join our specific gifts to labor in Christ. We join in his mission.

This is what is happening when Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount. He is helping the people see themselves as gifts and God as the source of those gifts. God is the salt and light that helps people share their bread with the hungry or shelter the oppressed as Isaiah beckons to the people. Our care and concern for one another comes because we see how much God has care and concern for us. Christ wants us to live radically for God who will provide all we need. The proof we are doing it is that we administer a justice that is God-like to others. We learn the see the world as God sees it. God sees it as good. Christ redeemed it. Go, then, and share yourself with others that way God has shared life with you. Give your most precious gift to others - the gift of yourself - not your actions or your accomplishments - just yourself. Rejoice in the gift you are to God. Share it well.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The readings shift to Genesis and the creation of the world by God. The purpose of this first chapter is to declare that God is one. One God created the world and declared that it was good. God also created humans in his image and gave them stewardship over all living things in the world. On the seventh day, God rested and delighted in all creation. After creating man, God created a garden in Eden in the east and there he placed the man he had formed. God planted many trees and in the middle of the garden, God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God created a companion for the man and brought her to him. The man named all living things, but the woman had a special place with him. They joined to become one flesh. The serpent came and enticed the woman to eat of the tree of knowledge. She and her companion ate and their eyes were opened and they realized they were naked. God punished the serpent, man, and woman and banished them from the Garden.

Gospel: Jesus comes to Gennesaret where people immediately recognized him. They brought their sick and many who touched the tassel of his cloak were healed. Pharisees assail Jesus for their disregard of cleanliness before meals. Jesus lashes out at them saying they disregard God's commandment, but cling to human traditions. Jesus declared all foods clean. He reminded them that what comes out of a person's words and actions can be unclean. He traveled to Tyre and did not escape notice from a woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon. He exorcised her because of her mother's faith - even though she was a foreigner. En route to the Decapolis by Sidon, he cured a deaf mute man. News of Jesus kept spreading throughout the region. As crowds gathered, Jesus was moved with pity for them. He fed them with the few loaves of bread and small quantities of fish his disciples produced.

Saints of the Week

Tuesday: Jerome Emiliani (1481-1537) was a Venetian soldier who experienced a conversion after his capture and imprisonment. He became a priest and devoted his work to the education of orphans, mostly war-orphans. He died during a plague when he was caring for the sick.

Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947) was a Sudanese woman who was enslaved at age nine and sold to an Italian Consul who treated her well. When she became an adult, she was declared free. She was baptized and joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice. She performed many menial tasks with such gentleness and kindness that many became endeared to her.

Thursday: Scholastica (480-543) is the twin sister of Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism. The Office of Readings contain a moving account of her visit with her brother before her death. She was buried in his tomb; he died shortly afterwards. She is the patroness of Benedictine nuns.

Friday: Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated because of Mary's appearance to Bernadette Soubirous in a cave near Lourdes over 18 times between February 11th and July 16th, 1858. Lourdes has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for those who need healing or a renewal of their faith. People refresh themselves is the grotto's waters.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 6, 1612. The death of Christopher Clavius, one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists of the Society.
• Feb 7, 1878. At Rome, Pius IX died. He was sincerely devoted to the Society; when one of the cardinals expressed surprise that he could be so attached to an order against which even high ecclesiastics brought serious charges, his reply was: "You have to be pope to know the worth of the Society."
• Feb 8, 1885. In Chicago, Fr. Isidore Bourdreaux, master of novices at Florissant, Missouri, from 1857 to 1870, died. He was the first scholastic novice to enter the Society from any of the colleges in Missouri.
• Feb 9, 1621. Cardinal Ludovisi was elected Pope Gregory XV. He was responsible for the canonization of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier.
• Feb 10, 1773. The rector of Florence informed the general, Fr. Ricci, that a copy of the proposed Brief of Suppression had been sent to the Emperor of Austria. The general refused to believe that the Society would be suppressed.
• Feb 11, 1563. At the Council of Trent, Fr. James Laynez, the Pope's theologian, made such an impression on the cardinal president by his learning and eloquence, that cardinal decided at once to open a Jesuit College in Mantua, his Episcopal see.
• Feb 12, 1564. Francis Borgia was appointed assistant for Spain and Portugal.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese year 4709 begins on February 3, 2011 and will continue until the 15th when the moon is brightest. The new year holiday is the longest and most important one in the Chinese calendar. This is the year of the Metal Rabbit.

According to legend, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on the Chinese New Year and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality.

Today is a time of family reunions, shared meals, and a New Year's Eve feast. Revelers wear red clothes and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes called Ang Pao. Red symbolizes fire, which is thought to drive away bad luck. Fireworks are based on the custom of lighting bamboo sticks that crackled, which frightened away evil spirits.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Prayer: Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

To a young man who wishes to be a Jesuit, I would say:

“Stay at home
if this idea makes you unsettled
or nervous.

Do not come to us if you love
the Church like a stepmother,
rather than a mother;
Do not come if you think that in
so doing you will be doing the
Society of Jesus a favor.

Come if serving Christ is at the
very center of your life.

Come if you have broad and
sufficiently strong shoulders,
Come if you have an open spirit,
a reasonably open mind
and a heart larger than the world.

Come if you know how to tell a
joke and can laugh with others
and … on occasions you can laugh
at yourself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Poem: Thought by D.H. Lawrence

Thought, I love thought.
But not the juggling and twisting of already existent ideas.
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of consciousness,
Thought is the gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness, wholly attending

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Prayer: Vincent Pallotti

Remember that the Christian life is one of action, not speech an daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Groundhog Day

Spring is seven weeks from February 2nd, Groundhog Day. If the groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and sees his shadow, it will return to its burrow and wait out the winter. If the day is cloudy and he does not return, an early spring and moderate weather is predicted. Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous of the groundhogs where crowds of over 40,000 have been known to gather on February 2nd to find out if spring will come early.
The tradition arises from German folklore that was brought to the United States. This poem was proclaimed on Candlemas, which is also the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas. The priest will bless candles that will be used throughout the liturgical year during Mass on this day.