Going Deep

January 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm

In the 6th century, St Benedict composed this simple but profound prayer that helps us deepen our relationship with Our Father. May we see what the Lord wants us to see and hear what She wants us to hear:

O gracious and holy Father,

Give us wisdom to perceive you,

Intelligence to understand you,

Diligence to seek you,

Patience to wait for you,

Eyes to behold you,

A heart to meditate on you,

And a life to proclaim you

Through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rubber Bands—Franciscan Pilgrimage Part III

January 16, 2016 at 8:07 pm

In life, one has experiences that open us up. Our senses are more alive and expansive.  We are more attuned.  We are in the moment grateful and appreciative.  We are awakened and aware as we savor the present and the Presence.  We experience oneness and union with God   We may even “See The Light.”    These experiences may come upon us suddenly as we contemplate the beauty and majesty of nature or they may occur more gradually as we take time apart from the busyness of our schedule for a pilgrimage or retreat.   

We may exclaim as my wife Kathleen did:   “Who knew!”   “Who knew this serenity was at our fingertips!”  The Kingdom of God is at hand or at our fingertips. 

To paraphrase the Cure d’Ars, it was a gift of God to sit quietly watching God as God watched us.  No thoughts.  Just peace.  Content to sit and sit and enjoy the reverie.  A sense of what Paul calls a ” peace passing all understanding.”  A soft light that transforms all and comes through all. 

I am not sure when and where God’s light embrace initially occurred.  Perhaps in the chapel of San Damiano or the place of Clare’s transitum.  But after a while, I came to count on such blessings  and look forward to them at all of Clare and Francis’ special places.  Most memorably they occurred at the caves where Francis slept, Clare and Francis’ tombs, Saints Paul and Bartholomew’s tombs and the chapel of the Cross of San Damiano in Clare’s Basilica.  These are places of awe.  Places that excite one’s spirit.  Holy Ground Why do experience this powerful presence now? Why is not available to all?  Or is it?  Why is not available to us at other times?  Or is it?  Or should it be? 

A special grace indeed. 

After  we returned home,  Kathleen yearned to continue this experience.  She said as she headed out the door, ” I will be back.  I want to go sit in a church.”  Similarly, in as much as we recently moved to a new home, I was thinking it would be great to dedicate some space in our place for meditation and prayer as our Hindu brothers and sisters do.  Kathleen reinforced this thought when she independently suggested that we turn one of our spare bedrooms into a chapel.  That is one way to continue to nurture and improve this conscious contact with God.  It is an attempt to overcome the inclination to return to the same old same old mindset as we are anesthetized by our comfortable cocoons of materialism, inactivity, or busyness which cause us to forget, ignore or suppress the challenge of Jesus and how Francis and Clare followed him.  

Our souls and consciousness were stretched to their limits.  But so often like a rubber band, after being stretched, they return back to their normal ordinary states.  Changed, but capable of more. 

Lord, You have given us much.  May we be faithful servants who do not disappoint but understand our duty and act upon it.  Thank you for your all embracing love.



Molten Lava Cake–Franciscan Pilgrimage II

January 10, 2016 at 9:19 pm

My Carmelite friends would describe the grace-filled experience of our pilgrimage as one of God’s lollypops.  Within the Carmelite spirituality, there are times when the embrace of our heart by God from within and without, from above and below, surrounds and fills us and overflows into our senses.  We experience serenity.   

I wonder in these unique moments if there is a special message for me:  ” Is it a confirmation?  If so, of what?”   Rather than just accepting the embrace of God’s love, I overanalyze and wonder if this experience validates what to do, think or practice. 

My Carmelite friends say such experiences are for immature souls who require that form of affirmation.  There is likely something to that.   John of the Cross and other mystics describe a purifying of their faith in a Dark Night of the Soul in which they experience God as Absence.  Such a dark night may be accompanied by events in life that are similar to earthquakes and test one’s faith and trust.  For example, we could experience loss of control and powerlessness as there is upheaval in our lives.  Loss of a job, inability to find work, or our prized identity may be tainted somehow. 

I am sure that my friends are right. I am immature, but this experience was more like a flourless chocolate cake with a hot molten center of oozing chocolate than a lollypop and I loved it.  I want to enjoy that treat as often as possible.  I look for ways to replicate the experience and assume that spiritual growth will accompany it.  I wonder if reading spiritual books, daily scripture, thoughts for the day or practicing intercessory prayer, yoga, meditation, attending Mass would help.  The list can go on and believe me I have tried a variety of formulas to hopefully cultivate spiritual growth.  Ultimately, however, I am afraid that perhaps I have crossed the line.   Perhaps I am trying to control God or becoming more akin to a spiritual junkie looking for a fix.  Am I becoming someone who just wants the experience?   Am I just plain selfish?  More interested in myself and feeling good than I am in loving my neighbor and understanding the requirements of discipleship? 

After experiencing God, Francis was propelled to the margins as he worked with the lepers.  Rather than looking for more “experiences” of God, I should be God’s love for others as I serve Him in others.  The principles of the 12 Step program emphasize that after one has awakened to the spiritual reality of a Higher Power and seek to do the will of that Higher Power each day, one must do service to continue to grow personally and spiritually and to stay free of addiction.  So the question then becomes as part of ever deepening search “What service am I to render?”  Or to paraphrase Francis:  as Francis did what his to do, may Christ teach us what is ours to do.  (Pilgrim’s Companion p. 414) 

May we see and hear what God wants us to see and hear so that we can faithfully and obediently respond  and thereby worship in spirit and truth. “Brothers and sisters, let us begin to serve the Lord for up till now, we have done very little. “  (Pilgrim’s Companion p.409)



Read My Lips….Franciscan Pilgrimage Part 1

January 9, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Fr Packiaraj SJ recommended that I go to Assisi.  He is the pastor of a Jesuit parish in South India.  It was 2013-14 and I was on the verge of retiring.  A new chapter in my life was approaching and I want to be a disciple of Jesus who is open to his guidance :”Speak Lord, your servant listens.”  Perhaps I should add “hopefully.”  Given my outsized ego that hopes to do great things for God, I should add ” Give me ears to hear or I may miss what I am called to do because it appears small and ordinary.”  While I make an effort to be attentive daily by listening for God’s voice in others and can often see God’s hand in the events of life, I agreed that a pilgrimage to Assisi could help the process of discernment. 

Like so many of our saints, Francis had a clear vision and an auditory experience of God’s direction.  While my faith or perhaps it would be better described as my unbelief would not provide the Lord such an opportunity to speak so distinctly, I still was filled with great anticipation as we went to visit San Damiano and later the Cross of San Damiano in the Clare’s Basilica.  It was while meditating and praying in front of this cross that Francis heard his call to “Rebuild My Church.”    Francis then literally started to restore and rebuild the San Damiano chapel.  He took the message literally.  Later he understood the message more fully.  Soon thousands of brothers joined him in the Umbrian Valley below Assisi.

Still I was highly skeptical  that Jesus, suspended in majesty on the cross of San Damiano,  would actually speak to me in the same way.  In other words, I would not see his lips move as he tells me to “Rebuild My Church” or “Minister to those in prison” or “Sit at the bedside of those who are dying” or “Write” or ” Be a confidant or ” Lighten Up! Don’t take yourself so seriously!” Or “ Enough already.  Get out of your lazy boy and get busy.  The laborers are few. “  

I agree that for most of us, finding our way in the Lord is a process rather than an experience such as Francis’ or getting knocked off a horse and blinded like Paul.  I believe that we have a lot of freedom.  We sit at a banquet with a variety of delicious choices in front of us.  All are blessed.  All are signs of God’s love and caring which is greater than we can even imagine.  The choice is ours.  Our hands will be in Her hands.   

Yet, I sit and wait for clarity and direction.  After all, I am as one friend said, a procrastinating perfectionist. I sit and wait for clear sense of what to do while realizing He would likely tell me to act on a desire that is already in my heart.  I should pay attention to my yearnings. 

After visiting San Damiano twice and the Cross of San Damiano at Clare’s Basilica twice, I asked my wife Kathleen:  “Did you see Jesus’ lips move?  Did Jesus talk to you as He did to Francis?”  Kathleen was a bit taken aback and an expression mixing concern and disbelief crossed her face as she answered “No!”  Then after pausing a moment, she asked  ” Did you?”  I smiled and said “Yes.  Jesus told me,   ‘Love Your Wife.'”