Yesterday I was doing my monthly interview with KWKY, the Catholic radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, when Eileen, one of the interviewers, mentioned that she had read my reflection the other day. The reflection to which she was referring was part of a series of daily reflections that the Magis Center for Catholic Spirituality provides to those who sign up for an email subscription. These short daily reflections on the Mass readings or saint of the day are written by several Jesuits from their perspective of the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius. From time to time, when one of them has a conflict and is unable to write, I am asked to "pinch write," as it were. Here are the reflections I wrote for the next three days:
Thursday, March 31, 2011
In today’s first reading (Jeremiah 7:23-28), God challenges His people through the prophet to listen to His voice and walk in His ways. He offers this challenge because, “This is the nation that does not listen to the voice of the Lord…; the word itself is banished from their speech.” The statistics on Bible reading by Catholics are not very good. While 87% of those polled said they had a Bible in their home, only 8% said they read it every day. 32% said they never read it. Another survey says that the average Christian spends more time in one evening watching television than the entire rest of the week reading the Bible. Though the word of God may not be “banished,” it is certainly being ignored.
Lent is a time for greater prayer and if you haven’t made daily Scripture reading part of your prayer routine this Lent, it’s not too late. At a time when books were an expensive novelty, St. Ignatius made the Gospel the focus of most of his “Spiritual Exercises.” Moreover Pope Benedict, met in 2009 with bishops from around the world to discuss the role of the Word of God in the life of the Church. Last fall he issued his exhortation “Verbum Domini” which pulled together their discussions and encouraged us in the practice of “lectio divina,” the prayerful reading of Scripture.
In the Scriptures we meet the living Word, Jesus, who speaks to us today. We need not only to not ignore Him but to listen with an open heart. The hearts of the Pharisees who thought Jesus was in league with the devil were hard. They had preconceived ideas about the Messiah and judged that Jesus did not fit those ideas. Thus they rejected Him. Are you giving Jesus extra time this Lent to speak to your heart and to form it to be more like His own?
Friday, April 1, 2011
We are made for union with God. This is why the first of all God’s commandments, as Jesus told us in today’s Gospel, is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” St. Augustine once wrote that we were made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. It’s as though in each of our hearts there is a hole that only God can fill. We often try to take away the hunger pains, thinking we’ll be satisfied and find peace in the world—in possessions or in human relationships or in prestige and power. But ultimately nothing satisfies. In time we are always left empty and searching.
The question might arise, if we turn to God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, what about other people? Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor? Yes, Jesus said that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So if we are to love God totally, how can there be any love left over for the people God places in our lives?
The answer is simple. If we love God totally we will love what God loves, and what God loves is His human creatures. He loved them so totally that He became one with them and suffered and died for them. He gave Himself totally on the Cross and continues to give Himself totally in the Eucharist. To truly love God is to love our neighbor, but not in such a way that we try to fill up the God-shaped hole in our hearts with them or with any finite creature. We love them in the Lord. God blesses us with them so that we in turn may be a blessing that leads them to God. Saturday,
April 2, 2011
If we’re honest, at one time or another we would all like to be like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel (Luke 18: 9-14). We would like to be able to tell God, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous.” We would like to be so perfect that we wouldn’t need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But, as with most of His parables, Jesus turns things around and says that this man did not leave his prayer “justified.” Rather, the poor sinner who “beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner,’” did.
Doesn’t God want us to be perfect? Yes, but God’s ways are not our ways and sometimes, just when we think we’ve got things together and have been pretty good of late, we slip into the great sin of pride. We congratulate ourselves and become complacent.
St. Paul experienced this. In 2 Corinthians 12 he tells about some wonderful spiritual experiences he had and yet how he had a “thorn in the flesh,” “an angel of Satan,” that afflicted him. We don’t know if this was a physical ailment or a particular temptation or moral struggle. We do know that Paul thought he would be a much better apostle without it so he begged the Lord three times to take it away. God said “no.” God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s particular struggle humbled him and brought him to his knees. It kept him from becoming proud. It brought him close to Jesus. This is the sacrifice that God wants of us: “a humble contrite heart” that knows it depends upon God for everything, including any good that it does.