From Formation to Action

From Formation to Action

I came to Ignatian Spirituality via the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  The 19th Annotation and my Jesuit based studies for a Certificate in Spiritual Direction at Spring Hill College have formed who I am.  I came as I was, with prior life formation already in place.  Although new formation has occurred, I also bring to the equation and to the Catholic Church to which I returned who I was and who I am.  One of the prior formation events that I brought to the table was my prior formation in nonviolence.  I became a conscientious objector to war at about 20 years old and left the Catholic Church to join an historic Peace Church.  I did not know at that time that Vatican II allowed for such matters of conscience.  In my studies of Ignatian Spirituality I have found links to nonviolence and social action.  See note 98:

 

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life[1]

 

The bearing of all wrongs, all abuse, and all poverty is the heart of a nonviolent lifestyle.  Seeking to align our personal desires and discerning our choices only for God’s service and praise is the heart of Ignatian discernment.

 

Although some might attempt to change who they are to fit the constituency of a particular organization, Church, government, or group in order not to offend that group, or to be popular, the giving of the self (kenosis) to live only in the love and grace of God requires one consider what is the most loving thing to do and what will bring greater glory to God regarding one’s own birth, formation, life, burial, and resurrection.  To be popular, approved of, to value in essence riches, honor, and pride is diametrically opposed to the discernment which leaves one absolutely free to choose and do only what God wants and do what brings God greater glory.

 

The third degree of humility of which Ignatius speaks allows for one’s recognition of particular gifts, although not for one’s own conceit, pride, and vanity, but for service and praise to the Lord our God. See note 167:

 

(167) The Third Kind of Humility

This is the most perfect kind of humility. It consists in this. If we suppose the first and second kind attained, then whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.[2]

 

Fr, Joseph Tetlow has this to say about the Third Degree of Humility:

 

The lover in this case is made greater by love. The Beloved chose to empty himself, taking on the ways and characteristics of a servant. He did not mind being told that he was seriously mistaken about God and the people. He did not mind being considered mad. And his way led to great suffering and death. The person who wishes to be meek and humble as Jesus was can say to the Father honestly, “Treat me as you treated your own Son.” Such a prayer has nothing to do with negative self-image or despising the gifts of the Spirit. On the contrary, heroic love is meek and humble, but it is also glorifying. Just look at what happened in the end to Jesus of Nazareth.[3]

 

It is possible one might be considered a little crazy, a little radical, and that one may be viewed simply as mistaken, but sometimes one’s particular gifts may not perfectly fit the spiritual needs of others.  In this case, it is better to let the Creator deal directly with the creature. In the end, all will be well.

 

In my case, I am not led to accept everything as is in the Catholic Church.  I am somewhat of an activist who desires change in some areas of the Church, like Women being Deacons, like Communion shared especially with non-Catholic mates of members, like something being done about the sex abuse scandal, like perhaps a married Priesthood, like a commitment to non-violence in Catholic cultures all around the world.  No more war. No more Catholics killing and bombing fellow Catholics because Catholics will be encouraged not to kill at all. I am feeling the most loving thing to do, and what will bring greater glory to God, is to not accept everything as is in the Church and try to “fit in,” but to promote Ignatian Spirit led change and improvement in the Church.  I have been able already to effect some minor changes.  I don’t think I am being prideful; I think I am being realistic that this may make me look down upon by some.  Good.  I have made some mistakes already on this path, and I am sure to make more, but I am willing to submit to correction and supervision and to realize that the time may not be right yet for such changes.

 

I am writing this essay as part of my discernment process concerning what to do with my CSD (Certificate in Spiritual Direction) degree.  I am led back to one of my Consolations without prior cause, which was to write a book which is now titled Let God In: One Ignatian Journey, and is soon to be published.  For Consolation without prior cause, see note 330:

(330)

God alone can give consolation to the soul without any previous cause. It belongs solely to the Creator to come into a soul, to leave it, to act upon it, to draw it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty. I said without previous cause, that is, without any preceding perception or knowledge of any subject by which a soul might be led to such a consolation through its own acts of intellect and will.[4]

 

My consolation without prior cause was to write this book and to promote Ignatian Spirituality.  I think I need to stick with that consolation for now, and to wait to see what happens and where these matters lead.  If other consolations arise, and are like water dripping on a sponge, I remain open to considering them.  If they splash like on a rock, then no.  Getting too many things going, too many balls bouncing at once, could be thoughts of my own after the consolation without prior cause and such thoughts need to be carefully discerned.

 

Pray for me,

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

 

 

 

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Louis J. Puhl, SJ translation

[2] Spex, 167

[3] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/the-third-degree-of-humility/

[4] SpEx, 330

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

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

I Can’t Breathe!

I Can’t Breathe!

            I can only imagine how a drowning person may feel.  My Uncle, Bill McCulley, taught me to swim on his farm in Illinois, in a pond on the Wilt Place.  He was a Navy veteran, and an excellent swimmer, and I trusted him to save me if anything happened to me.  The fish and snakes brushing up against my legs did not seem to matter.  One of Bill’s attributes, besides being very strong, was his ability to go under water, without breathing, of course, for a long, long time.  I know he loved me enough to save me if I went under water.  Jesus died because he could not breathe under water.  I can only imagine the suffering he felt.  I know Jesus loves me, and will save me, just like my Uncle, Bill would have.  We will get back to Jesus, and breathing under water later.

I am writing this reflection about Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr, a well know Franciscan teacher and priest.  We are discussing addiction and will also draw upon Addiction and Grace, by Dr. Gerald May as appropriate.  I am specifically selecting one concept, extant in both books, concerning our addiction to war.  Refusal to submit to Satan’s political ploy, to fall down and worship Satan, cost Jesus His life, as we will see as we go along.  Because of our addictions to “oil, war, and empire; the church’s addiction to its own absolute exceptionalism;” (Breathing Underwater, p. xxii), among other addictions, Jesus had to die.  Because He died trying to breathe under water, Jesus is able to save us from our own addictions, all of them.

When we cannot breathe, and are under water for a long time, we must eventually surrender, or give up our life.  As Ignatian students we are aware we should give up everything to live only in God’s love and grace. Step three of the twelve steps in Breathing Underwater is about our decision to give up to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand God (p.17).  We have not been taught this surrender by our nationalistic political systems, nor have our institutional religious systems as a whole taught us this surrender, but Jesus teaches us (Matt. 5: 39) (p. 19).  Bye, bye ego.  Addiction to the ego and to power must go (p. 21).  The devil wants to make us a great “deal”.  The art of Satan’s deal is to give us instantly the power without pain and without self-surrender (p. 21).  This was Satan’s third temptation which most institutional religions have accepted even to this day.  It is a myth, a myth of redemptive violence that we can personally save ourselves by violent means.  For thousands of years this myth has never worked.  Rohr calls it the “myth of heroic sacrifice” (p. 21).  It is the American “way”, and the way of most every nation.  We have learned well and are addicted to this myth of self and violence and our society, our nation, (p. 22) and in too many ways our churches are co-dependents to help us believe in this myth and be self-glorified as martyrs of the church (p.23).  True believers, we are giving up our body to supposed chastity, poverty, and obedience to look good, to fool many people, and to puff up the self (p.24).

To give up this puffed up, narcissistic self, as individuals, politicians, nations, and institutions including business and religious institutions is to realize we are sinners, yet loved sinners surrendered to the lover (God the Higher Power) who loves us (p. 24, 27).  As the Holy Spirit helps us, we are infected by the Spirit of Jesus (p.25).  Rohr says the Holy Spirit “sneaks in through the ducts and the air vents (p. 25).  In some ways we would rather just have someone tell us what to do, to manage our sins for us in the confessional booth or church sermons than surrender our will and accept God’s radical grace freely.  This grace is given to us by a higher power we understand to be God, as much as we understand Him, who loves us without expecting to be paid back.  He loves us because He is love (p. 27).  Only grace given in love can cure addictions.

Both Rohr and May speak of nonviolence and trust in a higher power for our salvation.  Jesus spoke Truth to Power when He refused Satan’s third temptation to fall down and worship Satan and did not accept the “deal” to be given earthly kingdoms before it was time.  As a result, Jesus had to suffer and die to save us, who are addicted, and complicit with this warmongering society.

Referencing May’s book, Dr. May echoes rule 98 of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises when he states “detachment does just the opposite.  It seems liberation of desire, an enhancement of passion, the freedom to love with all one’s being, and the willingness to bear the pain such love can bring.” (Addiction and Grace, p.15).  This can be freedom from political slavery too, and freedom to love even our enemy, one of Jesus’ primary commandments (Matt. 5: 43, 44).  The Spiritual Exercises, rule 98, promotes the willingness to bear all wrongs.  It is this suffering love that brings detachment and personal freedom as it is greased by the wheels of grace.

See:

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life (http://spex.ignatianspirituality.com/SpiritualExercises/Puhl#marker-p101)

True freedom is the freedom to love one another, including our enemy.  If we maintain our addictions to war and killing this is what May describes as a security addiction (p.31).  May states, “we can and should trust in God for our ultimate security” and he speaks of relaxing our grip about lessor sources of security.

It is Jesus, who is our ultimate source of security.  Rohr states “only people who have suffered in some way can save another” (p. 123).  Jesus died and suffered on the Cross.  He did not die of blood loss.  In excruciating pain, His feet nailed to the cross, and His hands too, Jesus couldn’t breathe unless He pushed up on His pierced feet, and said, “I thirst.”  He was given the fourth cup via the hyssop branch which should have been given at the Passover meal, and He surrendered just for you, and just for me, to save us from our addictions to sin.  His lungs had filed up with water and blood.  He could not breathe.  He had to die; He could not breathe, but now He saves us, we who think we can breathe, but are underwater with all our addictions.

John Cooper

 

 

Examen Prayer for the Parish

Examen Prayer for the Parish

                Examen Prayer should remain the foundation of balanced psychological thinking and of personal and communal spirituality.  My thoughts are intended to expand upon principles in The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for our Lives Today, by Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV.  I intend to extrapolate on Chapter 13, Examen and the Community, by more specifically discussing the concept of using Examen Prayer in the local Parish in community as a basis for Church growth.

Fr. Gallagher states, “the prayer of examen breathes spiritual clarity and a capacity for decisive spiritual action into his day.  The spiritual fruits of Ignatius’s daily examen bless him, his companions, and, through them, the whole People of God.” [1]  The personal Examen can be the basis of action in community.  God loves us as He looks upon us who pray the Examen. God also loves us as a special people called in community in a local Church Parish.

The Examen is a source of continuing spiritual growth.  Gallagher states concerning the Examen, “it is indeed the prayer of continuing spiritual growth.” [2]  and that the examen “channels them toward that holiness to which we are called.”[3]  How can we harness this power for growth in our Church communities?

I could not immediately find much about using the Examen in a local church community.  I asked advice concerning the viability of this topic from Fr. Christopher Viscardi, S.J., Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J., and Bob Fitzgerald.  I received positive encouragement.  Fr. Tetlow said in his email response to me, “We’re convinced that the examen is a key to making progress in religion and spirituality, that is, in staying alive instead of just vegetating.”  Fr. Tetlow suggested beginning in a group for Examen prayer in preparation for Sunday Mass.  He suggests we ask ourselves as a church body what virtues we have practiced and which virtues we need today and tomorrow.

Fr. Viscardi pointed me to Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, vol. IV, November, 1972, COMMUNAL DISCERNMENT: REFLECTIONS ON EXPERIENCE, by John Carroll Futrell, S.J.[4]  Although this 52-page treatise is not specifically about the examen in a Parish community setting, it is about using the examen as the foundation for communal discernment and using deliberation to arrive at communal decisions. The paper has a section concerning bringing together results of small group deliberations in coming to unamity in the total group, which may be useful if several small group examen prayer clusters were active in a Parish setting.  I read, highlighted, and annotated this paper which I can email to you upon request.

Fr. Gallagher’s states, “we always make our personal prayer of examen within the context of the Church and of the world.”[5]  He speaks of the beneficial aspects of the examen for our family members, community members, parish, and all whom we meet.  The examen is a connector between us and community. What is to stop us from having a church or Parish examen?

He states, ““One of the benefits of doing the examen communally is that we are encouraged to do it even when, if left to our own devices, we would “skip it”.”[6]  He states that the examen is a personal encounter with God that blesses the entire People of God who, praying it, strengthen each other into an endless multiplication of Grace.[7]  I have designed a beginning Corporate Examen Prayer below:

Examenation of Parish Consciousness

  1. Thanksgiving
    1. Express thanks for all God has given St. Francis Church, pastors, people, students, facilities, income, spiritual blessings, new people, etc. etc.
  1. Petition (ask for graces desired, knowing our shortcomings)
    1. Ask for corporate graces for the Body, Love, peace, kindness, humility, patience, etc.  What Graces does God desire for our Church Body?
    2. Ask for God to reveal virtues we should desire for the Body, to care for the poor, sick, lonely, grieving, etc., etc.
  2. Review
    1. For the last day, or month, or season, or time, what has St. Francis done for Christ, what is St. Francis doing for Christ, what should St. Francis do for Christ?
    2. What consolations have we had?  Are there any desolations?
  1. Forgiveness
    1. Ask for awareness of the virtues of the Holy Spirit with which our Church has been endowed and we have practiced corporately and ask for additional virtues we lack and for the Holy Spirit to bless us with those virtues, pardon and forgiveness of our corporate shortcomings so we can know Jesus more clearly, follow Him more nearly, and love Him more dearly.
    2. We do not judge ourselves but fall into the arms of God who loves us.
  1. Renewal (resolving to amend)
    1. Recognize God’s presence in our Body, and dedicate our corporate Body to renew our vision, and implement actions of love.

End with “Our Father.”

Additional recommended reading for consideration is the article, Moving into a Deeper Communion: Communal Discernment through Contemplative Dialogue, by Liz Sweeney, SSJ[8] which draws partially on Fr. Futrell’s work, and adds recommendations for corporate contemplative and centering prayer, although corporate examen prayer is not mentioned.

John Cooper

 

 

[1] The Examen Prayer, p. 160

[2] Ibid, p. 161

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jesuit/article/viewFile/3671/3256

[5] Examen Prayer, p. 165

[6] Ibid, p. 168

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.srcharitycinti.org/members/chapter/Liz%20Sweeney,%20SSJ.pdf

Jesus Dies Everyday

Jesus Dies Everyday

This morning I greeted one of my church friends at St. Francis who has cancer.  He recently began chemotherapy. Today we said good morning, but I did not recognize him immediately until he passed by because either is hair had fallen out or he had his head shaved.  I exclaimed his name, when I recognized him.  He had just walked a long way from the parking lot into the church in order to faithfully worship with us, as is his habit.

Part way through Mass, he got up with two people, one on each arm to go out.  I was serving as an usher this day and I recognized the problem and started up to help, but seeing two people already helping, I sat back down. He collapsed to the floor, the people helping him not able to hold him up.  I rushed across the room, but he was already surrounded with others in his seating area helping him.  Silently I prayed, with tears, and assisted a woman who had called 911 in flagging down the fire trucks who arrived before the ambulance to help.  The ambulance arrived and he was put on a stretcher while conscious and rolled out of the sanctuary with applause by the congregation.

Later, after church, several of us held hands and prayed for him, and recited the “Our Father” at the end.  As I write, I don’t know how he is doing, but as I am doing my Examen this night a thought occurred to me:   Jesus dies every day!

What do you mean, John, that Jesus dies every day?  He died only once, on the cross, for all of mankind and Jesus said, “It is finished.”  Jesus also lives in each of us and the image of God lives in every man.  We can find God’s presence in everything that exists, in every sparrow which falls to the ground which God knows.  Why?  Because He lives, and in Him we live and move and have our being.  God is in all things.

By now you may have figured I am not going to thump on the Bible for scripture references concerning what I am writing, and what I am imagining.  Let’s just think about it, and if I imagine something wrong, I stand corrected.

Thus, I imagine that God who lives in us also dies with us when we die.  When we are in pain, so Jesus is in pain. He knows.  We are supposed to die daily to ourselves, putting away the old man of sin.  Why would a little of God not die when we die to, to be later resurrected?

Jesus promised to draw all men unto himself.  Even if Jesus does not do that in our life time in this physical body, what prevents Him from drawing us to Himself at our (our and Jesus’) death?  He could just show us in brilliant light, in a love filled way, what with God is really like and let us choose life.  If you want to live forever as He draws us to the loving light and unto Himself, now is the time to believe. Don’t count on the unknown future.  I will overlook the objections that Jesus cannot save us immediately because we have to pay for our sins, or be purified in purgatory.  I wonder if Jesus does not in a way die again with us, experiencing our pain, our suffering, His hands held out in compassion and love for those who live in Him and Him in us, and if we fall, to raise us up again?

What about my friend who collapsed in church today?  He has lived a good life already. Every day is a gift to him from God who gave him life and who lives in him.  Maybe God will answer his and our prayers and miraculously heal him, or maybe not.

Either way, God knows how to die, every day.  He knows how to raise from the dead and how to take care of those whom He loves. In the interim, if there is an interim, let us trust in Him, as does my friend.

Grace & Peace,

John Cooper

 

What’s Love Got to do With It?

What’s Love Got to do With It?

Reflections on Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, by Gerald G. May, M.D.

Dr. May originally wrote Care of Mind/Care of Spirit as a teaching text to enable Spiritual Directors to appreciate the psychological-spiritual aspects of persons (p. xiv).  I found and underlying theme behind the psychology of the mind and the spirituality of the spirit to be the concept of divine love.  May states that human spirituality is the active process of love in one’s life (p. xvi) and that the integration of psychology and spiritual insight automatically occurs for spiritual guides when the spiritual guide remains open to the Source of Love, (p. xviii).

I noticed the concept of Divine Love as crucial to the foundational premises of this book.  For those called to be Spiritual Directors, we should each be given the gifts to practice the art of spiritual guidance, and freely given the love for others to help care for others’ minds and spirits.  This sharing of love, sharing of eternal mystery, is the root of the art.

Ignatius asks us to give up everything to live only in the love and grace of God.  This is self-giving surrender (p. 17).  It is surrending love.  Our minds and spirits become whole as we surrender to the incarnated desires God has placed in our spirits, – desires of spiritual longing and union to attain, realize, and express divine unconditional love (p. 24).  We are drawn by a force deep within to release our attachments, our very selves, in response to God’s beaconing love which asks for our very hearts (p. 24).  For some, the fulfillments of this surrender to inborn love comes when young, for many it comes at a point of crises, for all I believe it comes as we grow old or are about to die, but we cannot just make it happen.  It is a gift.

This underlying love of God and inborn desire to love God is not just for us.  Although we are individually mind and spirit cared for by God’s love, we are not alone in this universe.  We are not loved alone, we are loved and to love in communion with others, and with animals and other physical and spiritual beings like angels and those who have died and whose spirits reside in God, who is love (see p.54).

Interestingly, I write this on Ash Wednesday, 2018.  Before our services I was praying for spiritual poverty to receive the grace of humility.  Fr. Tom Ackerman’s homily happened to be on what we should give up for Lent.  In short, he asked us to give up ourselves for Lent.  What a wonderful idea!  I quote from Dr. May:

Unconsciously that self-image is engaged in a life-or-death battle, and although all conscious intents may be in the direction of spiritual surrender and dying-to-self, a host of unconscious defenses will be brought to bear in order to preserve, bolster, and reassert that image of self, etc… (p. 59).

It is our crucial role as spiritual directors to attend to God’s power, love, and grace in facilitating this surrender of giving up ourselves too, to live only in God’s love and grace.  Therefore, transcending the self-love we all have is giving up ourselves for Lent, as Fr. Ackerman recommended.

This is a loving surrender, somewhat like Jesus’ self-surrender on the cross to show us how much He loves us.  So too, should we surrender ourselves on the crosses we bear in this life for Jesus.  We offer ourselves to the unknowable mystery of God, giving up everything, surrendering our all (p 65).

As we give up ourselves in love to the divine Mystery, the divine Majesty, our attachments often seem to fall away like scales off our eyes.  We lovingly die to the self and surrender to love, sharing God’s love in our lives and the passions we once held dear, like making money, being well thought of, golf, or football, politics, lose importance as we long to rest in a loving God.  It is like dying (p.77).

In some ways we can be sad, losing ourselves, just like that.  It is a grief similar to dying, really (p.98).  We can mourn for our loss.  Love hurts in many ways as we transition our lives for God’s purposes for us, as we give up all.  The not knowing what to do, exactly, the dark nights groping for Divine love, the unknowing of it all, the loves lost, the loves gained, all meld together for the care of our mind and the care of our spirit.  That is what love has to do with it, everything…

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL