Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other

Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other

This summer, 2019, Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL[1] offered its Summer Institute of Spirituality[2] classes and I participated in SPT571/471 Spirituality of Inter-Religious Dialogue, taught by Dr. Matthew Bagot. The required text was Finding Jesus among toMuslims: how loving Islam makes me a better Catholic, by Jordan Denari Duffner,[3] Liturgical Press, 2017. The class was modified for me to two credit hours which I need to complete my Certificate of Spiritual Direction (CSD) degree.[4] In preparation for this class I also read and/or referred to other books and articles listed in the Bibliography at the end of this essay.

Dr. Bagot and I agreed that for the additional one hour credit to make two total hours credit, I would write a three day retreat promoting inter-religious dialogue for Christians and Muslims using Finding Jesus among Muslims as the primary text, alluding to other recommended books I have read and refer to in the Bibliography. This research paper was to be ten to twelve pages, using Duffner’s thesis that “Interreligious dialogue allows us to grow closer to God in three ways: through the people we meet, through their religion, and through our own Christian faith.”[5]

I was attracted to this course particularly due to the linkage I recognized between Ignatian Spirituality, Duffner’s book, and Islamic thinking. This commonality of spiritual life is discussed by Duffner, “Noticing the strong faith community that my Muslim friends had, … I felt compelled to engage these aspects of my own faith tradition …Forms of prayer like the Daily Examen, devised by the founder of the Jesuit order of priests, St. Ignatius of Loyola, helped me to notice God more in my daily life.”[6] [7]

I set out to write an Ignatian style inter-religious retreat that both Muslims, Christians, and Jews could attend together in a common quest for Finding Peace in the World. I soon ran into a fork in the road, having exceeded my page limit and word limit, and I am now writing this document as an introduction to the retreat, Finding Peace in the World: An Interfaith Retreat for Muslims and Christians, which I will continue writing and post on my blog site[8] when it is finished. I plan to share the actual retreat with retreat houses and others who might like to find peace in the world through inter-religious dialog using a retreat format. In this introductory paper to that retreat I will expand on the spirituality of Duffner’s thesis and reexamine her thoughts in the lens of Ignatian Spirituality.

One of the features I appreciate about Jordan Denari Duffner’s writing style is the way she blends her life experience with her knowledge. This mix speaks to our common humanity and enlightens our soul as well as our mind. In Always Discerning, Joseph Tetlow, SJ quotes Richard of Chichester, “’O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.’”[9] It is this combination of knowledge, of love, and human interaction that speaks to the spiritual meaning of Duffner’s three part book. Part I is Meeting God in Muslims; Part II is Encountering God in Islam; and Part III is Reembracing God in Christianity. This combination of knowledge, love, and human interaction is a day by day task that also speaks to us in an eternal voice if we believe Muslims will be a part of the Communion of Saints. Duffner’s book is her personal testimony to knowing God in the eyes of the “other,” following God in the eyes of the “other,” and loving God in the eyes of the “other.” If we continue thinking like this book seems to hint at, maybe one day we will find there is really no “other” and that we are already in communion with each other and the One Divine Mystery, if we can only imagine it.

We must address the meaning of Islam itself. “Islam is the act of giving one’s self over to God, and aligning one’s own will with God’s; a Muslim is a person who willingly undertakes this act of devotion, and experiences the peace that comes with it.”[10] The heart of true spirituality is the giving up of the self, Kenosis, or self-emptying. It is this submission and giving of the self that creates peace that is often thought of when the word Islam is used. “Submission to God’s will is the sole basis of any authentic religion.”[11] This is why when we speak of Islam and speak of authentic spirituality we must at the same time speak of peace. Hence, the title of this essay is Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other and the title of the retreat I am writing is Finding Peace in the World: An Interfaith Retreat for Muslims and Christians.

If we are going to discuss the threefold blessings[12] of interfaith dialogue, we may ask, “What is this type of dialogue? “The Catholic Church teaches that interreligious dialogue is part of our vocation as Christians.”[13] Duffner mentions Pope John Paul II’s encouragement for each person to engage in this type of dialogue to further the mission of the church. God is in dialogue with humanity, the one God we commonly believe in and as Catholics view as One Trinitarian being is Himself in a dialogue of love, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “The goal of dialogue, like the rest of our life, is to grow closer to God.”[14] Half of this dialogue is to listen, and half is to speak. The job of a Spiritual Companion is very much to listen. To be a spiritual companion with Muslims, in dialogue with them in prayer, in action, in worship, in life experience, and in eternity, is to fulfill our mission in life of drawing closer to God and sharing His love. It is Duffner’s goal to focus on this dialogue with Muslims, because that is Duffner’s personal experience, but the principles we discuss are applicable to other faiths, particularly to Abrahamic faiths.

Beginning with Part I of Finding Jesus among Muslims is Meeting God in Muslims. Normally when we meet someone for the first time, our focus is find some common ground. “Where are you from?” “What do you do for a living?” Finding common ground is fundamental to our task of meeting God in the “other.” From a Spiritual perspective, Christians, (especially Catholics) have much in common with Muslims (especially Shia Muslims). Surah Maryam is one of the longest surah’s in the Qur’an. The respect Muslims show for Mary and their devotion to her is a wonderful beginning point for finding, as Catholics, commonality with Muslims. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is heavily laden with Marian prayer. When we think of Mary, perhaps in our Ignatian prayers of imagination, we might pick up the Qur’an and contemplate what Mohammad wrote about her. “The Qur’an speaks more of Jesus and Mary than of Muhammad, though less than of Abraham and Moses… He [Jesus] is called God’s word cast into Mary, and he is God’s spirit blown into her to effect Jesus’s fatherless conception.”[15]

Duffner also speaks of the commonality of good works, justice, and mercy that Christians and Muslims share. Mercy is crucial to Islam. When one meets a Muslim, one should meet Mercy. “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”[16] begins the surah of Maryam, and Mercy is mentioned at the beginning of every surah in the Quran but one.[17] From a spiritual point of view, what if when a Muslim meets a Christian, the Muslim should meet unconditional love? Would that this would happen in every case, then Mercy and Love would walk the face of the earth together.

1 In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. 2 Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, 3 the Compassionate, the Merciful, 4 Master of the Day of Judgment. 5 Thee we worship and from Thee we seek help. 6 Guide us upon the straight path, 7 the path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those who incur wrath, nor of those who are astray.[18]

When one reads the Qur’an, one ought to remember that everything the Qur’an says and means is prefaced with the presupposition of the Mercy of God. Reading the Qur’an with spiritual eyes means reading the Qur’an with eyes of Mercy, Allah’s Mercy. Even the “sword verse,” Qur’an 9:5 ends in Mercy.

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer and give the alms, then let them go their way. Truly God is Forgiving, Merciful.[19]

We Christians have our own difficult Scriptures and “sword” verses too which should be tempered in God’s final Love, Mercy, and Grace.

In the process of expanding more on the Spirituality of the threefold blessings of interfaith dialogue in growing closer to God though meeting God in Muslims, through their religion, and reembracing our own Faith in God,[20] Duffner gives us her viewpoint on meeting the Image of God in Muslims. Here is where we run into a little difficulty concerning God’s Image in Muslims. Duffner fully believes God’s Image is in Muslims, “I have encountered God’s image and spirit in Muslims countless times.”[21] I fully agree with her and for that matter, I believe God’s Image is in every human. Ignatian Spirituality asks us to find God in all things.[22]

Houser Divine Union cropped

[23]

The graphic above speaks to my personal view of the spirituality of God’s Image being in man. This is the Eastern view, but others, even in the Catholic Church have a viewpoint of God being absolutely transcendent, as do most Muslims, to my knowledge. “Naught is like unto Him (cf. 112:4) is among the most famous phrases of the Quran, as it provides a succinct and unequivocal assertion of God’s complete and utter transcendence (tanzīh). Like unto Him renders ka mithlihi, which literally reads “like His likeness.””[24] I confirmed my inclinations that Muslims would not agree that the image of God is in us, with one of my Muslim friends, yet he explained God as being Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent. I suggested that if God were omnipresent, He could be present in us too. The apostle Paul, speaking to the Greek intellectuals from whom some of our Western ideas about God come, stated, “From one ancestor [140] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God [141] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’”[25] He understood. For a more detailed viewpoint on this matter see Quran 50:16 “We did indeed create man, and We know what his soul whispers to him; and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”[26][27]

My friend, Mirza, may not agree about God’s Image being in mankind, but he did agree with me and would agree with Duffner about God’s Spirit being in mankind. See Qur’an 15:28:

And [remember] when thy Lord said unto the angels, “Behold! I am creating a human being from dried clay, made of molded mud; 29 so when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit, fall down before him prostrating.”[28]

The Qur’an is full of references to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a key area of commonality for experiencing the Spirituality of finding Jesus among Muslims.

We have viewed the Spiritual Blessings of interreligious dialogue with individual Muslims. This discussion has drawn us closer to God in many experiential ways. Examining Part II of Finding Jesus among Muslims, let us consider how we encounter God in the religion of Islam. Can the religion itself help us grow closer to God? When I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church I heard that the Catholic Church is the one and only true Church. Subconsciously I think I realized some problems with that way of thinking, and for matters of conscience regarding war and the Sabbath, I left the Catholic Church at about twenty years old for another one and only true Church that I felt I was being called to join. That is a little humorous, looking back at it now, but before too late I realized that God is at work in the whole world and in people of different religions. I did not know in 1969 that in 1965, Vatican II, in the fourth draft of Nostra Aetate addressed certain issues that are relevant to my concerns then and our discussion today.

The Church regards Muslims with esteem: they adore the one God, living and enduring, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth who has spoken to people; they strive to obey wholeheartedly His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham did, to whose faith they happily link their own. Furthermore, as they worship God through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, so they seek to make the moral life—be it that of the individual or that of the family and society—conform to His Will.[29]

Duffner mentions a similar passage on p. 57. Vatican II contains clear breaks from prior Catholic teachings that for many, such as myself, who returned to the Catholic Church after many years, find refreshing and Spirit led. Signs of this Spirit, signs of God, are called ayat in the Qur’an. Duffner quotes the Qur’an regarding these signs of God in nature, in the birds of the air, the rain, the cattle, crops, and in humans.[30] We have already mentioned how well this viewpoint of seeing God in all things fits into Ignatian Spirituality. In some mysterious way, God is everywhere, in all things, in all humans, and even in all religions! Duffner quotes Pope Francis, “’The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.’”[31] Pope Francis was finding his inspiration from a sixteenth century Muslim mystic, Ali al-Khawas.

What a breath of fresh air has overcome the sometimes stale winds which the Spirit needs sometimes to stir up in our own religion. The Spirituality of the “other,” the Spirituality of the other’s religion, can sometimes help overcome legalistic hurdles set into our minds. Thank God Pope Francis,[32] a Jesuit, schooled in Ignatian Spirituality, can accept these winds and speak like this. I have thought several times as I write to mention how some of this spirituality fits into the beliefs of St. Francis. Duffner mentions this association on pages 62 and 63, suggesting that some believe that St. Francis, while on a peace mission to sultan Malik al-Kamil in the thirteenth century, well before St. Ignatius, may have drawn inspiration for some of his prayers from Muslim sources.[33]

This brings up the concept of praying together. We all live on the same earth, breathe the same air, and eat the same food. Can we all pray together? I think a prerequisite for Spirituality is humility. I have most of my life been much too proud and conceited, and probably in my best state, I am still so. While taking the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius about five years ago or so, I latched on to the Ignatian Spirituality idea of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God and started to tell others about it. Before too long I ended up being wrung through the wringer, suffering a business bankruptcy, and getting relieved of some of that pride and conceit. Duffner’s chapter 4, The Width of a Hair, is now my spiritual view of what I know about things and what I believe all religions know about God. If all mankind, and all religions were run through a wringer, stirred up in a washtub, and spilt into the ocean, our knowledge, and all we are so proud of, is just a drop in the ocean to what God knows, how much God loves, and how Merciful God is. Duffner speaks to my idea under the heading “’The One and Merciful God.’”[34]

Duffner quotes Pope St. John Paul II’s 1985 address to Muslim youth in Morocco, “’We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.’”[35] From a spiritual point of view, isn’t this and other quotes from Pope Francis[36] in a similar vein refreshing? What is so refreshing about it from a spiritual point of view is that if we believe these things, we relieve ourselves of our disordinate affections, giving up ourselves, emptying ourselves, of vanity, conceit and pride. St. Ignatius often warned of the evils of riches, honor, and pride. How much better off eternally would we be if we could rid ourselves of such evils?

We must now address the last section of Duffner’s book, and address how the spirituality of inter-religious dialogue has, or is going to help us reembrace our own Faith tradition. When I left the Catholic Church, I did not leave Christianity. Other Christians besides Catholics have God’s Holy Spirit too. The Spirit is an indelible sign of God’s Presence. It is a wind that blows where it will. Eventually with the election of Pope Francis, I began to reexamine my relationship to the Catholic Church. Here is a man who thinks like St. Francis, I thought. Pope Francis is a part of my reexamination, the 19th Annotation is another part, and the Holy Spirit is the elephant in the room concerning why I came back to the Catholic Church. I believe I needed to be set free to think like we are thinking right now. The world is a big place, the Catholic Church is a big place, and Islam is a big place. Nothing is always perfect, always right, always the one, true and only thing to consider, but spiritually, let us consider however big God is. God is GREAT!

Perhaps Jordan Denari Duffner and Finding Jesus among Muslims has brought you to reexamine your thinking about your own Faith. Perhaps just reading this essay has motivated you to reexamine some things you thought you believed. Maybe something spiritual has touched you. I hope so. This is the reason I have written this essay, to expand on the spirituality of Duffner’s book and view it through the lens of Ignatian Spirituality. Duffner explains how her interreligious dialog touched her inner being and brought her back to the Daily Examen,[37] an Ignatian form of prayer.[38] She says, “St. Ignatius of Loyola, helped me to notice God more in my daily life. I developed a deep personal friendship with Jesus, who became a companion to me…”[39]

Duffner looks back to over fifty years ago, to a crown jewel of her Catholicism, Vatican II. She quotes Lumen Gentium, “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, first among whom are the [Muslims]: they profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us adore the one, merciful God…”[40] She also mentions the essential dogma of Lumen Gentium that one must live by one’s conscience. She mentions another Catholic term, the “communion of saints” and her heart’s desire is that heaven is full of Muslims.

Essential common ground we share with Muslims is the constant reexamination of our “self.” This is another spiritual aspect of our discussion. “Muslims share with Catholics the foundational, basic parts of the spiritual life, things like a constant returning to God through prayer, and an emphasis on trust in God.”[41] The emptying of toxic self is essential to giving up everything to live only in God’s love and grace. This surrender is the root, s-l-m in Islam and Muslim, the surrender of giving up the self and our own selfish will to the One, true God, to enter this Divine and Mystical union, to continue living in Eternity, in communion with Him, and one another. This surrender brings us peace. “’I am no longer legitimizing the violence that has been done toward the other group…I take on the responsibility of what has happened in the past from my own group, what my group has inflicted.’”[42] Therefore we return to the title of this essay, Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other. Will you join us in communion to experience the spirituality of our quest to enter dialogue and experience this peace with God and each other, in combination with the knowledge we now have about what we should be doing in this life and the next?

John Cooper

http://www.jcooperforpeace.org

Bibliography:

  • Finding Jesus among Muslims: how loving Islam makes me a better Catholic, by Jordan Denari Duffner, Liturgical Press, 2017. ISBN 9780814645925
  • American Islamophobia: understanding the roots and rise of fear, by Khaled A. Beydoun, University of California Press, 2018, ISBN 9780520970007
  • Islam and Christianity: theological themes in comparative perspective, by John Renard, University of California Press, 2011 ISBN 978-0-520-26678-0
  • Peace Primer, Quotes from Islamic & Christian Scripture & Tradition, edited by Ken Sehested and Rabia Terri Harris, co-published by Muslim Peace Fellwoship & Baptist Peace Fellowship, 2002 (pamphlet)
  • Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and religious pluralism, by Paul Heck, Georgetown University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-58901-507-4
  • Orientalism, by Edward W. Said, Penguin Classics, 2003, ISBN 978-0-141-18742-6
  • The Qur’an: a new translation, by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-95395-8
  • The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible Catholic Edition, Harper Collins Publisher, 2010
  • Several articles, Ignatius of Loyola: Apostle to the Muslims, by Damian Howard, SJ; What is the Koran?, by Roby Lester, Jesus in the Quran: Pious, Obedient, Favored Servant of God, by Francis X. Clooney, SJ; Islam and Ignatian Spirituality, by Renato Oliveros, PHD; ‘The Study Quran’ and the Battle against Ignorance, by Francis X Clooney, SJ; On Pluralism, Intolerance, and the Quran, by Ali S. Asani, How to Read the Qur’an, by Ingrid Mattson; and The Human in the Qur’an, by Renovatio.

[1] https://www.shc.edu/

[2] http://departments2.shc.edu/graduatetheology/summer-institute

[3] See Denari Explain book at: https://www.facebook.com/ReligionNewsSvc/videos/jordan-denari-duffner-on-finding-jesus-among-muslims/10155409024697799/

[4] http://departments2.shc.edu/graduatetheology/spiritualdirection

[5] Finding Jesus among Muslims: how loving Islam makes me a better Catholic, by Jordan Denari Duffner, Liturgical Press, 2017, ISBN 9780814645925, p. 7.

[6] Ibid., p. 88

[7] See Ignatius of Loyola: Apostle to the Muslims, by Damian Howard, SJ and Islam and Ignatian Spirituality, by Renato Oliveros, PHD referenced in the Bibliography for further development of the Ignatian and Islamic spiritual connections.

[8] http://www.jcooperforpeace.org

[9] Always Discerning: An Ignatian Spirituality for the New Millennium, Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, Loyola Press, 2016, ISBN-13 978-0-08294-4456-8, p. 75

[10] Duffner, p. xi

[11]Islam and Ignatian Spirituality, by Renato Oliveros, PHD, p. 4

[12] One may also want to reexamine what one means by “blessing.” See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blessing

[13] Duffner, p. 3.

[14] Ibid, p. 4.

[15] Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and religious pluralism, by Paul Heck, Georgetown University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-58901-507-4, p. 34

[16] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Quran . HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[17] See Duffner, p. 22.

[18] Study Qur’an and Duffner, p. 22

[19] Study Qur’an, 9:5

[20] Duffner, pp. vii, 3, 7.

[21] Ibid, p. 31.

[22] https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/finding-god-in-all-things

[23] Moving in the spirit, by Richard J. Hauser, S.J., Paulist Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8091-2790-3, p. 27.

[24] Study Qur’an, Location 69660 of 126722

[25] NRSV, Catholic Edition Bible, eBook . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. (Acts 17: 26-28)

[26] Ibid. 50:16.

[27] https://www.al-islam.org/excerpts-from-the-holy-quran-an-eternal-guidance-to-mankind/allah-swt

[28] Study Qur’an, 15:28-29

[29] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostra_aetate#The_fourth_draft

[30] Duffner, p. 58, 59.

[31] Ibid, p. 60

[32] In the tradition of his namesake, Pope Francis urges new approaches to dialogue here: https://international.la-croix.com/news/in-major-speech-on-theology-pope-urges-new-approaches-in-dialogue/10386?fbclid=IwAR0f1FmBtcUiPW8uV-ByxTHq_mb-dEJwEpJIL-MXFnz6xIs-3xNw5wDQlak

[33] Ibid, p. 62, 63.

[34] Ibid, p. 70

[35] Ibid.

[36] Duffner presents video of Pope Francis and little Muslim boy who wants to know if his Muslim Father is in heaven here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4mORSTC0QY

[37] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/

[38] Duffner, p. 88.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., p. 92.

[41] Ibid., p. 98.

[42] Duffner quotes Nayla Tabbara, p. 106.

We are Not Alone

We are Not Alone

I went to Mass today, Wednesday before Psalm Sunday, 2019 and experienced what I believe to be a consolation without prior cause.  As a little background, I pray with the daily readings each morning (See: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041019.cfm) and condense what I think is most important to me for this day into a short phrase to remember throughout the day and try to live out in daily life.  My condensations for the last three days are:

I am not alone!

Again, I AM, is in ME, I am not alone.

I am not alone in fiery trials!

            These phrases stem from parts of the readings from April 8th, 9th, and 10th, 2019,

“And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid,
because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.” [1]

“”When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me.
He has not left me alone,”[2]

“”Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”
“Assuredly, O king,” they answered.
“But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt,
walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.””[3]

 

We often feel alone, even in our own families which may be experiencing times of alienation and stress.  We often feel alone in our national identities when rampant unchristian injustices like racism, nationalism, prejudice against immigrants and asylum seekers and peoples of other faiths, such as the Muslims, which desolations rear their ugly heads against our deep desires for peace and harmony and our deepest desire for God.  We can feel all alone in our own church groups, even with hundreds of people surrounding us, some of whom we know by name but with whom we may have only a superficial spiritual relationship.  We can feel alone when vices of financial or health difficulties tighten around us.

I wanted to tell someone at church today about this matter, to go out to eat with someone and to just talk about spiritual matters, but the occasion did not arise so I thought I would come in and tell you, the reader, about this matter:

We are NOT all alone!

We may be facing religious Pharisees, who want to judge and condemn us, but God is with us, and in us. Even if we face our death, our little daily dying’s, or walk in fiery trials, we are not alone!  To begin with, God is in everything, we can find Him in all things, so we are never far from God in whom we live and breathe and have our being.[4]  If we are Roman Catholic we may believe God is in the Eucharist in a special way, so God is with us and is in us in that way also, as well as in all in the congregation and in the Communion of Saints with whom we are also joined in a special and mysterious way. We are NOT alone!

I am a Spiritual Director in the Jesuit tradition and it is my job to help others connect directly to the Creator, who will work directly with the Creature, you, that is.  A big part of being a Spiritual Director is to listen, not just to the directee, but to listen to God too.  Let us listen for God in each other, in the wind, in the trees, in the birds, in animals, in children, in those we have been told are our enemies, in those of other Faiths, and in refugees and asylum seekers, in the poor, and in those of other races besides our own.  There are plenty of places NOT to be alone if one can listen like this.  Listen and silence are spelled with the same letters.  Maybe a little silent reflection on the daily readings will help us to listen to God speaking to us, to hear His voice, His call and His cry from the Cross where even the human side of Jesus thought he was all alone and forsaken, but it turned out He was not all alone, at least not for long.  No man is an island.  No man is all alone.

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040819.cfm

[2] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040919.cfm

[3] http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041019.cfm

[4] 1 Cor 8:6; Acts 17: 28-30

Continuing Confirmation

 

Continuing Confirmation

            I was once a little Catholic boy who had been baptized in Paris, Illinois St. Mary’s Church and confirmed at St. Mary’s Church in Marshall, Illinois where my family attended.  As I look back on this second year class of spiritual direction from September, 2018 to May, 2019, the first thing that I distinctly recall may have been from the first class meeting.  I recall being annointed by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan with Holy Oil, anointing my forehead in the shape of a cross.  I view this as my second confirmation in the Catholic tradition.  I highly value and respect this gesture of faith as I value my first confirmation.

            In the past year I am aware of the continuing need for discernment regarding my call to be a spiritual director.  I shared some of my original  ideasexcitedly about what I thought I was going to “do” about my desire to act as a spiritual director with Bob Fitzgerald, my supervisor, quite a while back. What I shared was my own thinking and reasoning after my first consolation without cause to use to use the rest of my life to dedicate myself promoting Ignatian Spirituality. As a consolation that came after the first one without cause, I now know these ideas need to be subjected to discernment. Bob patiently listened to my ideas and did not say much, but merely pointed me to Tielhard de Chardin’s prayer, Patient Trust.  I must use only one quote in this reflection. I offer this poem from Tielhard de Chardin:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.[1]

            In view of the preceding prayer/poem, let me continue to speak from my heart about my continual calling to become a spiritual director.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

            This patient trusting and finding God’s desires for me and where my own deepest desires meet in my inner man is different from the ways in which I have previously operated.  In the past I have been very quick to decide and take action, without taking appropriate time concerning business decisions, thinking that the opportunity might not be there if I did not act in time.  I have found that with God’s work there is always time to act, time to decide, and if a less than better decision is reached, there is time to slowly discern another path.  Discernment is not so much about making decisions as it is reaching interior freedom to be or become who God wants us to be and in any case to do the most loving thing in any situation in which we find ourselves.

            For instance, I wrote a book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, before I began my Spring Hill College studies, as a response to a call to promote Ignatian Spirituality while taking the 19th Annotation.[2] I thought I would publish it right away, but it did not work out that way.  It is now in the process of being published and the past class year has helped me as the book has slowly been edited and I have used some of what I am learning to refine this work.  I have discerned that some of my original ideas about how to promote Ignatian Spirituality are not the right things to do at this time.  I have discovered the interior freedom to let go of these ideas.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

            These classes are an intermediate stage of my calling to be a spiritual director, or my calling to use this training in another method, if not spiritual direction, to bring greater glory to God.  For instance, if my book takes off and I am invited to promote the book and Ignatian Spirituality in other ways, I have the interior freedom to perhaps not do as much spiritual direction as originally planned.  Taking too many commitments might result in overload and being ineffective.

            I am pleased that two directee’s came to me and that one is female, the other male, that one is more of a “conservative” Catholic, and the other more a “progressive” Catholic, one is younger, the other is older.  One has already asked me to continue the spiritual direction relationship after the six month SHC class period is over.  The differences in personality types has been very helpful.  It has been very fulfilling to be a spiritual director to each of these individuals.  One lives in an assisted living facility and it is possible that giving the 19th Annotation in a group setting there may eventually be appropriate.  I pray for proper discernment.  I am also pleased that although not many know about my being a spiritual director, others have sought advice from me about spiritual matters.  I will wait until these classes are over to take on any more directee’s.

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

            I feel the slow and patient work of Bob Fitzgerald and Sr. Susan and Sr. Barbara have been very helpful regarding the progress I am making in formation.  These classes have provided needed time for reflection, careful consideration, and thoughtfulness.  I have had time to read additional books, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy, and Ignatian Journey, by Kevin O’Brien, S.J.  I particularly advise Ignatian Journey and suggest it for future classes as one of the final readings because it gives a helpful synopsis of the Spiritual Exercises and one can use it as groundwork for giving the 19th Annotation.

            Ignatian discernment is primarily choosing between two or more good things.  If it happens, as in St. Ignatius’ case, that one of the good things proves not to be exactly what God has in mind for, one can always look back and choose another good thing because of the interior freedom we have to be unattached to any one thing.  This is how I view my calling regarding a choice of giving spiritual direction one to one, giving it in a group setting, or giving less of directee based spiritual direction and promoting my book more, or a combination of all the above.  Whatever brings greater glory to God is always the best choice. Whatever is the most loving thing to do is always the best choice.  I must be careful not to run too fast, but, on the other hand, “Here I am, Lord. Choose me.”

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.

I withdraw judgement on exactly what is supposed to happen, or what is happening, or what will happen to me, or to you, whomever is reading this reflection.  God is not finished with us yet.  I think back again to when I was a little Catholic boy, baptized, and later confirmed…

Confirmation


I left the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age for matters of conscience, becoming a conscientious objector to war, and joined an historic peace church.  This was before the new Catechism.  I did not know of Vatican II allowances for my beliefs.  In the process of returning to my Catholic roots I have been baptized again, ordained a deacon, commissioned a pastor, and ordained an elder, but God is not finished with me yet. My anointing, by Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan is another highlight of my life and the continual and gradual formation of whom God wants me to become.  Every class session has been a new and deeper confirmation as I recognized the Holy Spirit at work in the world and in my life.

              I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at Confirmation.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at other junctures in our lives, ordination, marriage, commissioning, etc.  I suppose the Holy Spirit is supposed to come to us at baptism, even if baptized as an infant, as I was, or baptized again in my second conversion experience, or coming again when I experienced the 19th Annotation in a third conversion experience. I think the Holy Spirit is always coming to us, always confirming us when we discern and choose wisely.  Eternity is left for us and has always existed for God who is always purifying something or someone, always making new or renewing His plans for us to bless us and not curse us.  It is not so much about making immediate choices but about experiencing inner freedom to act according to the most loving option in every situation God brings to us.   Only God knows His plans.  Only God knows our future and the hope He has for us.  Until then, let us patiently trust.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

[1] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/8078/prayer-of-theilhard-de-chardin

[2] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/24517/what-is-19th-annotation-what-can-you-expect

Discerning Deeper Call to Action

Discerning a Deeper Call to Action and Experiencing Consolations in Ignatian Spirituality

Prayer

I have been a business owner and cabinet maker for 45 years.  In this role I have trained many apprentices.  Some I trained had taken classwork in trade school in order to “be” a cabinet maker.  A better term would be to “become” a cabinet maker.  Cabinet making is a skill and an art.  One cannot become a journeyman cabinet maker only by going to school.  One must experience the actual work of cabinet making and do it for many years.  One must learn every day.  In a lifetime, it is unlikely all aspects of cabinetmaking will be mastered so one can say, “I know everything about cabinetmaking and I can do it all.”

Likewise, it appears that “becoming” a spiritual director must be approached humbly, as an art more than a science, and a call to learn spiritual matters by experience as well as by knowledge.  Experience is crucial else one harm another by bumbling around dabbling in matters too great for oneself.  I feel the SPT 598 Spiritual Direction Practicum course conducted by Sr. Susan Arcaro and Sr. Barbara Young and in my case, supervision by Bob Fitzgerald, is a transition from head knowledge to experience as a journeyman would train an apprentice.  The spiritual maturity and kindness, calmness, and peacefulness of the three are a consolation in itself to acknowledge and emulate.  Thank you!

Speaking of the “head knowledge” of this course, our assigned books were Candlelight, by Susan S. Phillips,[1] and The Call to Discernment, by Dean Brackley.[2]  Also suggested reading was Silent Compassion, by Richard Rohr,[3] and Spiritual Direction, by Susan K. Ruffing, R.S.M..[4]  In addition, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy,[5] was added as optional reference material.  I read all the books and benefited by each one, especially by The Call to Discernment.

I want to note the “experiencing” part of Spirituality in this essay.  I believe that Spirituality can only be known by experience.  Even if we are given a specific spiritual consolation, or a revelation directly by God Himself, it is an experience.  It is, by experience, that we have all been called to pass along our own calling by God to the rest of the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, etc.[6] 

Going entails passing along our experiences, our Faith story, the Gospel, and for those of us in this class, our experienced based Ignatian Spirituality learned not so much by knowledge, but by love.  This love, or affectionate awe, is derived by our desires to know Jesus more clearly, to follow Him more nearly, and to love Him more dearly.  In other words, just as a skilled carpenter, such as Jesus was, passes along this experiential knowledge and skill, art, and love, so do we, pass upon the specific graces with which God blesses each of us.

All the books we have read this semester reflect this experiential sharing by spiritual masters.  Likewise, the experiential knowledge, the examples of following, and loving Jesus are being passed along to us by our journeymen teachers, Sr. Barbara, Sr. Susan, and Bob Fitzgerald.  Thanks to all for this labor of love.  It is my desire to share this love with others as I have been so blessed to do with my directees.  Also, I want to share as an example of everyday life what a wonderful consolation it was to me to share with one of my physical sisters the Examen Prayer.  My sister expressed her burden to me of being somewhat addicted to list passed praying and going over the same list year after year habitually and not letting go.  I gave her two versions of the Examen Prayer and suggested she look up videos of the Examen Prayer on the internet and perhaps drop some of the list-based praying she said was burdensome to her.  She told me how helpful this was to her.  I share this because it is just one example of how our classwork this semester is bleeding off into my daily life and living with others. What a blessing it was to share spiritual matters with one I cradled in my arms when she was a baby.

I feel this Fall’s class is where the rubber meets the road regarding Ignatian Spirituality.  Now is the time to discern our specific calling to this skill and art of experiential Ignatian Spirituality.  May we discover how much we love others, how much we want to help others, as Ignatius did.  May we go into all the world as tools in His hands.  Now is the time for action.  The course name, Practicum, points to action and experience.  Our response to the call is action.

I would like to share some insights I experienced from reading the books for this past semester.  Candlelight draws on many years of the Spiritual Direction experiences of its author, Susan S. Phillips.  Dr. Phillips using actual cases of her directees (names changed) to illustrate for us how the art of Spiritual Direction is actually done.  One of the greatest consolations of her book to me was her 21st chapter, Planted by the Waters.  What resonated with me was that I should not try too hard on my own, but trust that God has called me to this work of spiritual direction and will of His desires supply nourishment to bear fruits of His grace, not only in me as I help others, but also provide His direct nourishment to the directees I am trying to help.  In this work of God’s grace as both the director and the directee sit in the candlelight of His Presence, this grace acting upon both.  I wrote an extra essay about Grace being a “middle voice” of Spirituality,[7] this is, that both Director and Directee are participants in the action that another, (God,) initiates.

Also, in Candlelight, Susan Phillips indicates respect for taking a Sabbath each week.  “There’s a feel of Sabbath to spiritual direction.  We enter into the rest that God blessed and called “holy,” a time of reflecting on the wholeness of creation and union with God.”[8]  For many years after leaving the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age, for matters of conscious, I observed the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) of the Ten Commandments.  A little over 20 years ago I came to a better understanding of the New Covenant, and that our rest is actually in Jesus, who started His work in us, and I no longer observe the letter of the law, evening Friday to Saturday evening Sabbath rest strictly, but I respect those who attend to their spirituality in this manner.  It was a consolation to me to see how Dr. Phillips valued the Sabbath in relationship to spirituality and a reminder to me to respect all people’s beliefs.

The Call to Discernment was in my view the deepest and most profound of the books we were assigned this semester.[9]  Brackley takes a journey through the Exercises[10] as if one were experiencing the actual Exercises week by week.  I have taken the 19th Annotation of the Exercises and reading The Call to Discernment brought back my actual experiences of the Exercises to life once again.  When doing the Call of Christ, the King part of the Exercises, I received my first desires to promote Ignatian Spirituality, and specifically to write a book about my journey and to share the Exercises with others.  This book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey is soon to be published and I am also in discernment regarding the promotion of this book which is a fruit of this calling. The 19th Annotation was an additional conversion experience for me.  It is just one of the factors which led me back to the Catholic Church of my youth.  The Call to Discernment speaks to the heart of my personal theology of non-violence and social justice and deepens my commitment and call to promote Ignatian Spirituality, not just for Catholics, but for others who may be Protestant, or of another Faith Tradition, or no tradition at all.

Next, I will mention Silent Compassion[11] and Spiritual Direction[12] in relationship to how these two books also led to responding to the call of God and my own personal discernment.  I already follow Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.  I use apophatic (wordless, thoughtless) contemplation in conjunction with kataphatic (with words and thought) meditation in my personal spiritual practices.  Ignatian Spirituality is largely kataphatic.  Silent Compassion was reinforcement for what I already do.  Spiritual Direction was valuable to me with its heavy emphasis on actual experience in spiritual direction and mutuality with God.  Experience is mentioned throughout the book.  Experience is what we are gaining this semester in the Practicum.  We are spiritual directors in training, gaining experience.  Ruffing is a master of her trade, passing along her knowledge and experience to others who include myself as an apprentice.

Looking Into the Well[13] was very helpful in understanding how to provide Verbatim’s and Process Notes.  The book is helpful not only to supervisors of Spiritual Directors, but to Spiritual Directors themselves as a continuing reference Source.  In process notes for my first directee session I wrote:

I thought I was going to have a real problem with the Verbatim, but now that I have done two pages requested, I could go on and on.  I was feeling apprehensive because I am so hard of hearing and have trouble listening.  I tried to “bone up” for a few days in advance, reading Looking Into the Well and making notes [from Candlelight] and typing them up, then a couple of days before the first session it came to me that I was trying too hard and I needed to let the Holy Spirt lead.  He/She did.  I am crying as I write this… There was so much more in this session I could have put in the Verbatim.

In closing, I want to speak of my class experiences of consolation this semester.  Our commonality of spirit in periods of prayer was very important to me.  Several of us shared different prayer presentations and Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan offered succinct and helpful handouts relating to prayer.  Our prayer time was experiential in nature with each of us learning from each other’s efforts as if we were a team of prayer warriors.  Experience in prayer is crucial to all spirituality.  Bob Fitzgerald was very effective in advising exactly the right things and pointing out principles directly from the Exercises to clarify my concerns.  Thanks to all, including my classmates!  Finally, as a journeyman passes along his trade to future generations of apprentices, let it be so with Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan, and Bob Fitzgerald, as those of us in our Fall 2018 class offer ourselves as tools in God’s hands and continue to discern just how, when, and where we will work to help all God’s people!

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] Candlelight: illuminating spiritual direction, by Susan S. Phillips, Morehouse Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-8I92-2297-8 (pbk.)

[2] The call to discernment in troubled times : new perspectives on the transformative wisdom of Ignatius, of Loyola, by Dean Brackley, The Crossroads Publishing Company, 2004, ISBN: 0-8245-2268-0 (alk. Paper)

[3] Silent Compassion : finding God in contemplation, by Richard Rohr, Franciscan Media, 2014, ISBN: 978-61636-757-2 (alk. Paper)

[4] Spiritual Direction: beyond the beginnings, by Janet K. Ruffing, Paulist Press, 2000, ISBN: 0-8091-3958-8 (alk. Paper)

[5] Looking into the Well: Supervision of Spiritual Directors, by Maureen Conroy, Loyola University Press, 1995, ISBN:0-8294-0827-4

[6] The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible Catholic Edition, NRSV, by HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, p. 945, Mat. 28:19

[7] https://jcooperforpeace.org/?s=middle+voice

[8] Ibid, p. 189.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatius of Loyola

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

Grace and the Middle Voice of Spirituality

Grace and the Middle Voice of Spirituality

 

As a little cradle Catholic boy, I think the first prayer I learned was “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy guests, which we are about to receive, Amen.”  I thought I used to hear that around our farmhouse table.  I always wondered, for a long time, “When are the guests coming?”  We did not have any guests yet, but we were about to receive them.  They never seemed to come.  We called this saying Grace.  Those who know me know that I am very hard of hearing.  I began to wear hearing aids in my early 40’s.  I don’t think God disparaged my prayer of blessing the way I understood such a “simple” prayer.  Actually, the words are “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, Amen.”  Either way, the prayers we do, whether “simple” “verbal” payers in the Mass or at your worship service, or even deep contemplative prayer, should never be disparaged.  God receives us where we are, and loves us as sinners as he gazes upon us as a mother gazes upon her nursing child at her breast, or as an eagle takes its babies under its wings.

Whether we are “saying” grace before we eat or are receiving the “gift” of the Eucharist, we are all in God’s grip of grace.  Grace has a lot to do with Spirituality of any type, whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.  Even Atheists have to face Grace, although they may deny it or call their spirituality “mindfulness.”  Still, grace is involved.  My intention for linking the two, grace and the middle voice of spirituality, comes from my studies of Ignatian Spirituality during the Fall Semester of 2018 as I study for a certificate in Spiritual Direction via Spring Hill College.  One of the statements that got my juices flowing is from the book, Candlelight, by Susan K. Phillips.[1] Dr. Phillips states:

Linguistically, we have lost the middle voice that lies between the active and passive voices.  In using the active voice, one speaks of initiating an action.  In the passive, one receives the action that another initiates.  … In the middle voice, the person actively participates in the results of an action that another initiates.[2]

 

In Spirituality in the terms of the English language, one thinks of contemplation as “active” contemplation where we mentally think thoughts about God, Scripture, etc. actively in our minds.  We think this contemplation can slip into what is called “passive” contemplation whereby we are supernaturally given thoughts to think by God, or perhaps given no thoughts at all and slip off into a thoughtless state of unknowing, or a state of union with the Divine Presence.  What if we thought of spirituality and contemplation in terms of the middle voice, which we do not possess in the English language?  This spirituality would be a participation in a gift that God has already given to us, a gift of Grace.  Referring to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address at the looming of the Civil War where Lincoln urged Americans to heed the “better angels of our nature,” Phillips states:

 

It is, rather, siding with the “better angels” of a person’s nature, his or her middle-voice willingness to participate in God’s grace.[3]

 

I think back to the creation story, where God made mankind in His image and likeness, placing in mankind a Divine essence, a spirit in man that was the action of God, that gave mankind a receptor, a sixth sense, or a taste for God.  This image came from God and is set to autopilot back to God upon our death.  It is in fact, eternity set in our being.  It is an act of God’s grace with which we should long to participate, in a middle-voice way, the action that another, God in us, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, initiated.

Another book we have read in our studies, Moving in the Spirit, by Richard J. Houser, S.J.,[4] refers to this grace and essence of God within us from an Eastern point of view:

The Western or Pelagian model is clearly at odds with Scripture, misunderstanding the origin of our inner desires and movements toward good.  In this model all inner experiences moving toward the desire to love and serve God and others are seen to flow from ourselves apart from the grace of God within us.[5]

 

Below is a wonderful illustration that pictures what Hauser is speaking of:

 

Scriptural Model: Self in God:

Houser Divine Union cropped[6]

God initiates: Self Responds

Grace and the middle voice of our participation in the gift of the Spirit that God has initiated are absolutely critical to beginning to understand Ignatian Spirituality.  Let us keep the illustration above in mind as we proceed.

Hauser states:

Those of us living with this Western understanding of the self and God will never appreciate the all-pervasiveness of the presence of grace in our life. … they do not acknowledge that the initiative toward the good comes from the presence of grace.[7]

 

Ignatius was a product of the period in which he lived.  The Western Church as a whole may have understood grace in a proper manner but errored in some parts of the Church concerning Pelagianism.[8]  An attempt, at the Council of Trent, in the general period of Ignatius’ lifetime, tried to solve the problem of Pelagianism, or semi-Pelagianism.[9]  Ignatius himself speaks of the grace that is crucial in Ignatian Spirituality:

 

When one is in desolation, … He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it.  For though God has taken form him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation.[10]

 

Even from the very start of Ignatius’ Exercises, it is very clear that the crucial understanding is that it is God who first calls us and it is God’s grace that first initiates the acts of God in us, in which we participate.  The human Spiritual Director is to keep his or her “teaching” short and allow God’s grace to work directly with the directee.

The one who explains to another the method and order of meditating or contemplating should narrate accurately the facts of contemplation or meditation.  Let him adhere to the points, and add only a short or summary explanation.  The reason for this is that when one in meditating takes the solid foundation of facts, and goes over it and reflects on it for himself, he may find something that makes them a little clearer or better understood.  This may arise either from his own reasoning, or from the grace of God enlightening his mind.[11]

This may remind us of one of God’s first intentions for mankind, spoken of us in the Garden of Eden, that we are to be dressers and keepers of the earth, which by extension would include each other.  We are like a tree, planted in the garden, planted by the water.

 

7“But I will bless those

who put their trust in me.

8 They are like trees growing near a stream

and sending out roots to the water.

They are not afraid when hot weather comes,

because their leaves stay green;

they have no worries when there is no rain;

they keep on bearing fruit.[12]

 

We are to bear the fruit first nourished by the water of God’s image and Spirit, given us by God, not of our own doing, it is by grace.  We are created by God’s grace, we are sustained by His grace, and we are renewed by His grace, bear fruit by His grace, and are saved by His grace for good works.  We take of God’s grace, of his sustenance, and give back the fruits of His grace.

 

In the season of fruition, there may be the experience of enhanced night vision.  Suffering may render the world dark, and certain forms of suffering include losing the sense of God’s presence.  …  We are to bear fruit by loving our neighbor, setting the captive free, giving food to the hungry, sheltering the homeless, loosing bonds of injustice, clothing the naked.  By doing so, we will be light in the darkness, well-watered gardens, and pilgrims guided by the Lord.[13]

 

As we consider our years, what we have done, and what we have failed to do, we think back to the Sabbath, also initiated by God in the Garden, when God rested.  Are we not called to rest with God too, to rest our egos as he works by grace in us?

 

28 “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”[14]

 

Are we not called to give up our ego, to reject the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be a tree of life, to bear fruit for our fellow humans, for God, and all the angels and saints?  We are pilgrims on this earth.  We are just passing through. We are aliens to earthly kingdoms and citizens of a Kingdom to come.  This Kingdom lives in us, a Kingdom for and in which we participate by bearing fruit, by grace, the middle voice of spirituality.

So… Why should we be concerned about this matter?  See:

 

3I thank my God for you every time I think of you; 4and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy 5because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. 6And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.[15]

 

Try doing a computer search of an online Bible, using the words, “Christ in you,” and you will soon find that any spirituality we may claim to possess was because God began the work in which we participate.  In other words, I may serve my friend, or I may have been served by my friend, but I also take service in a middle-voice way as I share actively in the service that another, God, first initiated.  He placed His Image in us, and continues to sustain this image.

Even a little Catholic boy or girl can receive and participate in this grace.

 

John Cooper

[1] Candlelight: illuminating spiritual direction, by Susan Phillips, Morehouse Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8I92-2297-8 (pbk.)

[2] Ibid, p. 168

[3] Ibid, p. 169

[4] Moving in the Spirit, Becoming Contemplative in Action, by Richard J. Hauser, S.J., Paulist Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8091-2790-3 (pbk.)

[5] Ibid, p. 26

[6] Ibid, p. 27

[7] Ibid, pp. 26,27

[8] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pelagianism

[9] http://pauliscatholic.com/2009/07/canons-of-the-council-of-trent/

[10] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a New Translation Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph, Ludovico Puhl, S.J., Loyola Press, 1951, ISBN 978-0-8294-0065-6. P. 143, – 320. 7. (emphasis mine)

[11] Ibid, p. 1, 1. 2. (emphasis mine)

[12] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/JER.17.GNBDK

[13] Candlelight, p. 172

[14] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/MAT.11.GNBDK

[15] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/PHP.1.GNBDK

Moods

Moods

            A few years ago one of my nieces lost her little boy, Cole, to brain cancer.  It was a terrible time for all seeing little Cole suffer.  He was only 5 or 6 years old but he put up his bravest fight, and the best attitude he could, only to lose in the end as we all will one day.  At his funeral his mother, right before they closed his little casket, somewhat impulsively rescued one of Cole’s little teddy bears from the little casket to save in for her memory.  I can’t imagine the desolations and moods she was feeling.

In our lives we all live with streams of consolations and desolations like the birth of one’s child or the death of a loved one.  We also die our own little bitty deaths each day, offset by good moods and attitudes.  I transferred my business to someone else about a year and a half ago and this person has decided to move out of a smaller building my office has been in for over 40 years.  I am still a consultant, but my office will now be in another building. I am feeling a bit driven.  I quote Margaret Silf, “Did we say yes because we felt we really, deep down, wanted to do it, or did we go along with it to please someone else or to avoid conflict, but against our deeper inclinations?” … “If we are feeling driven, then the prompting that gives rise to it is not from God, but from the force fields of our own (or other people’s) kingdoms.” [1]

It is human that we face challenges and turmoil.  “We all know that we are subject to moods.”[2]  There are “good” moods and “bad” moods, “consolations” and “desolations.” It is likely that feelings of turmoil are “not of God but has to do with our own kingdoms.”[3]  Chapter 7, Tracking our Moods, of Inner Compass speaks to evaluating our moods in Examen prayer.  Desolations and Consolations, Examen Prayer and discernment in relationship to The Spiritual Exercises have been the focus of our classwork.  I will speak primarily to this chapter, yet keeping in mind some of Silf’s foundational thoughts in other chapters of Inner Compass.

How can we know which are consolations and which are desolations?  Silf recommends centering ourselves in stillness, (p. 79) reviewing our moods in prayer.  Turmoil, fear, and apprehension are indicators of desolations that draw us away from God.  Periods of peace, insight, and stillness of heart are indicators of consolations.  We Examen our moods daily, making a “review of consciousness” (p. 81) our prayer priority.  Silf lists indicators of consolation and desolation (pp. 84-85).  Moods that are inward driven, or downward driven, or selfish, are likely to be desolations and lead us away from God.  Visions and moods for greater good, uplifting and joyful thoughts, are likely indicators our moods are motivated in consolation to draw us closer to God.

However, we might just be tired and need a good night’s sleep.  We can’t be happy all the time.  “Consolation is not the same as happiness.”[4]  I spoke with a woman today whose mother had 7 children and a Doctorate degree, teaching at Loyola University.  She was also a Spiritual Director.  She discovered she had cancer and joyfully faced her death.  In her latter stages, when she would wake up, she would smile and be happy until she discovered she was still alive.  She was looking forward to death, but this is an exception…  Or is it?

We can choose how we react to pain (p. 89).  We can focus outward and Godward.  “When this begins to happen, we may experience a real breakthrough, leading to the discovery that God is actually drawing us closer to him through the very event that appears (at the Where level of ourselves) to be so destructive.”[5]  It is possible to joyfully face death, to have our bags packed and believe all is well, but it is not guaranteed that this is what is going to happen.  An indicator that we might die well may be how we die daily.  “Every day of our lives will bring its own share of little dyings, and in the sense we are called to rebirth every time we react by turning toward God instead of in upon ourselves.  To be born again is truly a continuous process.”[6]  Maybe we should consider how we face our daily dying, how we address all the little losses, how we age and if our moods are turning inward upon ourselves.  Even in daily death we can garner up a smile, opening our arms to the God of our consolations.  Maybe memories of all our past consolations and good moods where we felt we were in the arms of the God of unconditional love are stored up for the times of desolations.

If I were a mother or father who had lost a little boy to cancer, If I had clinged to his little teddy bear pulled from the casket, maybe I would know more about these things.  If I were God, and lost even one of my beloved children to eternal death, maybe I would know His moods and feelings.  If I were my little bitty great-niece looking down from heaven, maybe I could be glad and rejoice in the trials I have had, even death.  Maybe Cole, my great-nephew, could tell me more about facing death each day, which I need to know, and how it is to live in heaven.  An inner compass points us in the stillness of our hearts, centered in and pointed in prayer, to God who loves us to and awaits us. The compass is the Spirit in us, (p. 102) who knows how to connect us and lead us to the Divine Mystery, three-in-one.

John Cooper

[1] Inner Compass, by Margaret Silf, Loyola Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8294-1366-9, p. 86.

[2] Ibid. p. 79

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 86.

[5] Ibid. p. 89.

[6] Ibid.

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

(An Essay regarding The Screwtape Letters,[1] by C.S. Lewis and St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment[2])

            A key to discernment in the life of a Christian per The Screwtape Letters, is understanding humility and pride… “All virtues are less formidable to us [Satan and demons speaking] once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility” (Letter 14, p. 81).  Satan wants us to take false pride in our humility whereas God wants us to accept our areas of giftedness and give the glory to God alone, using our giftedness in service for His greater glory.  Turning away from self to God’s desires, letter 14 continues, “The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free of any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents…” and “to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things” (Letter 14, p. 84).

Ignatius wants us to see God in all things and recognize Him in all decisions and desires.  Ignatius understands the wiles of the enemy, Satan.  Satan is likely to use reverse logic on us, just as Screwtape advises Wormwood.  Rules of Discernment I, (Note 314. 1.) states, “In the case of those who go from one moral sin to another, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose [tempt] apparent pleasures.”  Satan rewards for our sins.  On the other hand, Ignatius advises that if we are in a good spirit, Satan reverses his logical method on us and “Then it is the characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles” etc. (note 315 2.).  Forgetting the self is a key to discernment.  Attention must turn outward, away from “self” and ego for proper discernment.  Both Screwtape Letters and The Spiritual Exercises advise that we have an enemy (n. 314.1).  The enemy’s desire in the Screwtape Letters to alter our awareness of the self.

One of the temptations of our enemy can be false consolations which counterfeit God’s true consolations.  Temptations can be matters of the mind, or of our imaginations, just as well as physical feelings.  Pleasure may come from actual infidelity or from imaginary infidelity.  Deep and lasting love is justified by decisions of chastity, poverty, and obedience, whether married or not married.  In the contemplative spiritual life, spiritual chastity, spiritual poverty, and spiritual obedience bring depth, width, and height to the practice of discernment in Christian living.  Our enemy would like it otherwise because he does not like such transcendental relationships (Letter 18, p. 108) lived in lasting humility, filled with love.  Life in the practice of discernment is not only about transcendent theories of love, or worship.  This life involves a type of dying, of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God.  Everything is brought to light in Examenation for discernment.

C.S. Lewis speaks of “ownership.” “The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged” says Screwtape (Letter 21, p. 125).  Mankind is to think he “owns” his body, to do with as he or she pleases.  Ownership and attachment are to be valued for everything – “my” house, “my” wife, “my” country, etc. until we are completely addicted to possessions (Letter 21, p. 126).  Pride and clinging to ownership without consideration of how “things” are to be used to praise, reverence, and worship our Lord is a way of deception.  God already “owns” everything and desires us to be “stewards” of all things given to us for His greater glory. Demanding that things are “ours” brings destruction to all, just as Satan wants.

One area I find C.S. Lewis himself may not have properly discerned is the ethics of war.  Does he to think that the death of humans in battle guarantees their place in heaven?  Screwtape says, “Or do you not realize that the patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?” (Letter 28, p. 165).  What about the Christian German soldiers, and Jews, killed and cooked to ashes in German prison camp ovens?  Are they going directly to heaven?  Are German prison camp guards sending these Jews directly to heaven?  Is Screwtape mad at Hitler too?  Perhaps C.S. Lewis has been triple tricked by the enemy in this one area.  In Letter 29 Screwtape asks, “Are we to aim at cowardice – or at courage, with subsequent pride – or at hatred of the Germans?” (Letter 29, P. 171,).  Screwtape is confused.  “There is here a cruel dilemma before us.  If we promote justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces … a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor” (Letter 29, p. 173, 174).  The Myth of Redemptive Violence continues.

How are Christians to practice discernment?  When presented choices about loving or killing, following Jesus to the cross, or not following Him, dying daily to the self or feeding the self, what are we to do?  What are we to do with the choices between two or more good things?  Proper discernment is crucial.  It is crucial not to be deceived by the ploys of Satan as are imagined in The Screwtape Letters and spoken of in The Spiritual Exercises where Ignatius warns us about the trickery and false consolations of Satan.

For a Christian in the practice of discernment, there are always choices.  The first choice may be between humility and pride.  Another choice may be between love and hate, or war and peace.  Always discerning, always choosing, hopefully always in view of what is best to love, reverence, and praise our Lord, for His greater glory!

John Cooper

[1] Ltd. Annotations copyright, 2013, by Paul McCusker, ISBN 978-0-06-202317-9

[2] From The Spiritual Exercises, by Ludovico J. Puhl, S.J. ISBN-10 0-8294-0065-6