The Things We Do for Love

A Reflection for the Second Sunday in Lent

By Sr. Susanne Bunn, MHSH

Readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/022821.cfm

Long ago, in Brockway, Pennsylvania, a substitute teacher was about to begin a day of teaching second grade in public school.  The children had free time before school started.  Tow-headed Michael had gathered most of the class into a huddle.  The substitute drifted over to see whether trouble was brewing.  Michael was saying, “Alright you guys.  We are in Lent.  Jesus died on the cross for you.  What are you going to do for him?”

We do things for people we love.  Every winter morning, Pat would scrape ice off her husband’s car and warm it up.  Joe is long dead.  Without a doubt, Pat still loves him and misses him.  I miss him, too.  He prayed the Rosary every day and had an intention for every bead.  He prayed the third Hail Mary for me.

There was a day of Lenten Retreat at Church of the Holy Spirit in Joppa.  We had Mass and prayed the Rosary, but the retreat director still hadn’t come.  I asked the pastor if I could say a few words about the Rosary.  I told the almost full church about driving Sister Annette to see her family in St. Mary’s County when I was a young Sister.  Sister Annette said, “Would you like to pray a rosary?”  I did not particularly want to pray a rosary, but I did not have the courage to admit that.  We began.  Sister announced, “The First Joyful Mystery, for whom shall we pray?”  My sister-in-law Barb was pregnant.  We would pray for her.  Sister Annette added all women with difficult pregnancies who were considering abortion.  We named our intentions for each mystery.  It was a powerful and positive experience.  I told the retreatants about Sister Annette and intentions for each mystery and about Joe and his many intentions.  That evening, an army wife who made the day with her husband wrote that he was jotting down the intentions for each Hail Mary on his rosary.

On Sunday, St. Paul will affirm, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  God is definitely for us and Jesus will take every loving thing we do for each person in our lives as if we did it for him.

On "The Way" at Eastern Point*

A Reflection on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

*The title of this post is inspired by the film, “The Way” which is filmed on the Camino in Spain. Each year thousands of pilgrims walk hundreds of miles on the Camino en route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Pilgrims began walking this route in the 9th Century to venerate the tomb of St. James. Many pilgrims now walk the Camino to discover aspects of the mystery of themselves.

Today, July 31, is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We recently celebrated the feast of St. James the Great (July 25). St. James and his brother John were followers of Jesus and were referred to as the Sons of Zebedee in the Gospels. They (or their mother, according to one of the stories) made a request to Jesus that they be granted seats at the right and left of him in the Kingdom. Jesus asks them if they are willing to drink the cup that Jesus will be asked to drink in order to bring about that kingdom. Then Jesus quietly tells them that it is up to the Creator to designate places. Later we learn that James and John are with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is the night before the Crucifixion they cannot even stay awake to keep Jesus company as he struggles in accepting God’s will to go through with the pain and agony that await him the following day. Finally, all of the apostles desert Jesus in his Passion, the risen Jesus meets them in the Upper room, forgives them, bestows the Holy Spirit on them and commissions them to spread the Good News of reconciliation to all.

I reflect on the story of James and John and their relationship with Jesus at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where I am again directing the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I can’t help but be reminded how, like James and John, so many are called to participate with Jesus Christ in renewing the face of the Earth. James’ and John’s story is a metaphor for each of our journeys with the Lord, and how we, too, must learn what it means to be a disciple.

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Pilgrims walking the Camino.

The Spiritual Exercises lead retreatants through a series of prayer experiences—“exercises”—that reveal God’s love for all of creation and God’s desire that all of creation be redeemed and charged with grace. Those who enter into the Exercises are invited to take a long, loving look at our broken world—the way that the Trinity would gaze on it—and to get in touch with our deepest desires to live in harmony with all creation. Retreatants discover God’s unconditional love for them in ever deepening ways. They are invited through a series of imaginative exercises to seek a deeper friendship with Jesus and make a commitment to co-labor with Jesus in his on-going work of redemption that restores all creation to his Father.

This summer there are 22 people being directed in the Spiritual Exercises. It is an ecumenical group and includes men and women ranging in age from 30 to 80+ with a wide range of life experience.

 

A Sacred Time – A Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

By Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

[Readings: Genesis 9: 8-15; Ps. 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15]

As you contemplate the season of Lent, you might consider reflecting on its meaning to you now as well as at other times in your life.  For me, growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Lent was a time set aside for repentance, for “giving up” things that I liked, such as desserts or movies or even the sleep I could have had if I didn’t attend daily Mass.

In the parochial school I attended, participation in the weekly Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons was mandatory, thus adding to the sense of obligation. While even then I appreciated the sacred nature of Lent experienced through the “smells and bells” of the pre-Vatican II Church, the emphasis was on self-denial and sinfulness.   The season often seemed interminable, oppressive and stark.

Today, Lent is a time that I actually look forward to, as the season seems to invite me to deeper contemplation.  My focus is not on deprivation, but on deepening my relationship with Jesus through prayer.  I think the change occurred when I started to go on weekend and then week-long silent retreats each year.  At first, these retreats truly felt like desert experiences.  Even though there were 30 or 40 other people in the retreat house, we passed our time (and each other) in silence.  Time took on a whole different feeling, with no particular structure to the day.  All the familiar distractions of television, email, internet browsing, phone calls etc, had been left behind.

In that environment, I was tempted to throw myself into reading the many spiritual books in the library, but I had a graced insight that this would only be a further distraction.  So I entered into what at first seemed like the unwelcome, solitary work of looking deeply into my own heart and mind, asking myself where I was in relationship to God, and what I (and God) wanted that relationship to be.

At first, this situation seemed almost as frightening as facing any amount of wild desert beasts.  I was not sure I wanted to head in this direction, and was afraid of what I might hear as answer in prayer.  But with trust in God and the patience of a skilled spiritual director, I was able to pass out of that narrow, somewhat desolate place in which I found myself.  What opened up for me was an abundance of new life.

The God who made a covenant with each of us waits for us to approach.  The psalmist reminds us that God’s ways are love and truth, that God is kind and full of compassion, desiring to guide us through our own personal and communal wildernesses.  With humility and trust, perhaps we can all spend some sacred time with God this Lent, knowing that God will provide us with what we need.

Lenten Prayer

Give yourself permission to carve out some time each day for prayer.  Give it whatever time you can, although 30 minutes or more is desirable.

You can pray with the scripture passages of the day, or with the many fine Lenten reflection books and guides that are available.  You can also simply pray from your own experience.

Tell God what is on your mind and in your heart.  Be sure to include a time of interior silence to listen to what God is saying to you.  Sometimes, just resting in the presence of God is the best prayer.

Getting in Shape—Spiritually

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius   
By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Almost like clockwork, ads for Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nautilus, Bowflex and other quick and easy weight-loss and physical improvement programs flood the media after the Christmas holidays.  It seems that many people make New Year’s resolutions to look and feel better by spring, even though most of us know that a life-long dedication to regular exercise and attention to diet are necessary to achieve overall good health.

What about our spiritual health and well-being?  Can a simple quick-fix approach deepen our relationship with God?  Spiritual masters tell us that we have to develop “habits of the heart” or practice spiritual disciplines consistently throughout our lifetime if we wish to grow closer to Christ.  One such method was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century.  Based on the reflection of his own conversion experience, he designed a plan to help spiritual seekers learn the art of discernment: seeking and responding to God’s will in the circumstances of one’s particular life.  He called his method the Spiritual Exercises, and the text is considered a unique spiritual classic.

Ignatius intended the Spiritual Exercises to be completed during a month-long retreat or spread out over many months in the midst of everyday life.  In the process of doing the Exercises the “retreatant” learns various ways of prayer and is invited to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ in order to make a serious decision in tune with the mind and heart of Christ.  The most common method of prayer that Ignatius suggests is a form of contemplation in which the person uses the active imagination in praying with certain gospel events in the life of Christ.  At the end of the Exercises the retreatant has developed a habit of prayer that can be nurtured throughout a lifetime.

Many retreat centers and some parishes offer the longer format of the Spiritual Exercises, often between September and the following May.  Retreatants make a commitment to pray one hour a day and to meet in a group once a week (or every other week) to share prayer and experience support from each other.  This format can be particularly helpful for those who want to develop a way to pray and reflect in the midst of professional careers and family life.

Here is one of St. Ignatius’ prayers:

Lord, I freely yield my freedom to you.
Take my memory, my intellect and my entire will.
You have given me anything I am or have;
I give it all back to you to stand under your will alone.
Your love and your grace are enough for me;
I shall ask for nothing more.