Category Archives: Forgiveness
What follows are the links to the series I recently completed on my silent retreat at the Broom Tree Retreat Center in southeastern South Dakota. A friend suggested I put them in one post to make it easy to find them all. I will also be adding a page dedicated to the two writing series that have appeared on my blog so far: The Ignatian retreat and the Pledge of Allegiance series from 2011 (with guest bloggers). Be watching for the tab to appear soon along the top menu bar.
Traveling to Broom Tree
7. “Follow Me”
8. The beauty of creation
9. You know me
12. Questions and a promise
13. “I will give you a new heart”
14. This great drama
15. There is deep love
16. The stars dance
17. Two Standards
18. Station to station
19. “A ministry of her own”
20. Filled with the fullness of God
With the retreat over and the car packed, I pulled out onto the road and turned south for a half-mile. On St. Michael Drive I turned east into the Broom Tree youth and family camp. It was deserted on this day but I could see why some of the men had said they brought their families here a few times each year. It looks like a wonderful place with a lot of things to do. You can read more about it here. After taking a few minutes to look around I proceeded south a little further to drive around Lake Marindahl. I would have loved to have stayed longer as it was a gorgeous late afternoon with leaves starting to turn color and I just knew the sunset would be glorious. But it was time to return home and so as I turned towards Highway 81 which would take me south and deep into Nebraska I dialed my family to let them know I was on the way back. Other than “cheating” with a text or two we had not spoken. It was good to hear their voices.
As I’ve written about this journey over the past few weeks I’ve struggled to come up with an approach to this, the final post. First of all, I must thank you that have read or even commented on any of this series. I’ve not held much back and have bared more of my soul than I set out to do. Yes, there are things obviously that did not make it from journal to blog, but that’s to be expected. I have continued to pray for poverty, contempt and humility. I have employed lessons I learned as well as continuing to meditate on those exercises that are now bearing fruit. And I still haven’t made up my mind whether to continue to blog or not. As I wrote here, we have three priorities as Christians: our prayer life, our spiritual reading, and our “going out into the world”. I don’t think I can do the first two without being compelled to do the third. While I’ve absolutely no idea what I’ll blog out going forward or how often I’ll do so, I am confident that I will want to invite others into the joy I know in my heart at some point. Or the desolations as well as the consolations. See? I’m getting ideas already.
And so here it is, almost a full month later. I’m writing this on the feast day of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French nun who was especially devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and was responsible for spreading that devotion thoughout the Church. I was going to write that I don’t know if she found me or I found her during my retreat, but that would be wrong. I believe that Jesus found me Himself and has been trying to reach me at the heart level for a very long time. Perhaps some extra prayers of intercession from St. Margaret Mary helped. Whatever the case I’m very grateful that I finally responded to that call.
Lord, pour out on us the riches of the Spirit which you bestowed on Saint Margaret Mary. May we come to know the love of Christ, which surpasses all human understanding, and be filled with the fullness of God. – Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours on the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. (October 16)
That about says it all, really. Coming to know the love of Christ not just with feeble attempts at intellectually understanding that which is beyond our understanding, but also allowing ourselves…our hearts…to be filled with the “fullness of God.”
In a small way I have been a pilgrim. A lot of water has crossed under the bridge since Thursday. Along the way I’ve been able to do some long overdue forgiving of others, and I’ve been forgiven. I’ve sat alone on benches in a dark church, before a grotto, along the Stations of the Cross and in a secluded spot surrounded by trees where I listened to the wind. The wind spoke to me while I leaned against a hay bale in the middle of the prairie, and I heard whispers in a chapel. Yes, I was a pilgrim, and of the pilgrim Albert-Marie Besnard said:
The day when the Lord calls him, he will be neither disturbed nor surprised. He will have known this departure, he will have loved it—this manner of going and leaving all things, ready to take them up again or never again to find them, as God wills. Renunciation will be familiar to him, he has rehearsed it and drilled it, he is ready. For one day, having taken the pilgrimage seriously, he finds death sweet and promising, and this fatherland which he has searched for on earth in parable, he is ready at last to find in eternity.
In the stars as they danced above me on a cold night I saw eternity. It is not scary. I welcome and even embrace it.
Tonight, while sitting on my backyard patio at home where I can be found in all but the coldest winter days praying Evening Prayer I also read this paragraph in my Divine Intimacy book. It is one of the most beautiful and for this post appropriate things I’ve ever read.
Anyone who has tasted, even in a slight degree, the infinite beauty and goodness of God, cannot fail to experience an overwhelming longing and need for Him. This is a good sign: it means that the apostle has not permitted himself to be pervaded and distracted by exterior occupations, and that, although living in the world, he is not of the world, but really tends toward God. – Divine Intimacy, #331
I’ve had a small taste long before I made my retreat. I suspect most if not all of you reading this have as well. It’s just that we forget. Or we overlook. Because we’re busy, you see. And the world is loud and demands all our attention in an increasingly round-the-clock fashion. And so we miss the still, small voice by succumbing to what Catholic speaker/author Matthew Kelly calls the “tyranny of the urgent.” Yeah, I wish God would just grab the microphone now and then and shout at me when I need to be held accountable or be reminded of Him. But He doesn’t work that way. (Whew!)
I’ll close with a reading from this evening’s Evening Prayer. I chose it because out on the prairie I rediscovered the song of my heart, and how to sing grateful praises.
Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs. – Colossians 3:16
And at long last I’ve let the word of Christ dwell in me…and enter into my heart. His heart.
It was a great drive home.
I have participated in Holy Adoration service in which we sang this song in three- or four-part harmony by candlelight. It is beyond beautiful, holy and sacred and the eyes tend to glisten. Before I turned my CD player to Beethoven (I had more music to conduct) I hummed this in silence until I crossed the Missouri and into Nebraska.
Adoramus Te Domine
(Lord, we worship You)
With the angels and archangels
(Adoramus Te Domine)
With the partriachs and prophets
(Adoramus Te Domine)
With all who witness to the Gospel of the Lord
(Adoramus Te Domine)
With all Your people of the church throughout the world
(Adoramus Te Domine)
To catch up on my series of posts about my recent Ignatian retreat click here.
One more lunch preceded by the Angelus. One more exercise preceded by the Anima Christi. Before every lunch and supper we have gathered in the dining hall to recite the Angelus. Before the start of each exercise we have gathered in the chapel to pray the Anima Christi prayer. Each are touchstones that unite us with tradition and provide us with a way forward. Both are bridges. It has been my practice to pray the Anima Christi on my knees after receiving Holy Communion for several years; I hope to continue with the Angelus.
Before that final lunch we met for our last exercise. It is on the Resurrection itself, so that we might experience the joy and peace in the Risen Lord as a grace. By meditating on the apparitions of Christ post-crucifixion at the ends of the Gospels one is able to get a small sense of what it must have been like. Mary, at the home of John…on the road to Emmaus…or many others. One statement by Deacon Andrew stands out that I scribble in my journal: “Forgiveness that cannot come in this life can come through Resurrection joy.”
After the end of that session and after lunch I had around ninety minutes before we were to meet for a final communal rosary and closing chapel conference. Energized by the meditations on joy and I suspect by the food I decided to take a long walk in the mid-day sun. I set off once more towards the hay bales to the west and continued past them another quarter-mile before turning south and walking the fence lines that bordered these large sections of prairie. On one hand I wish I had taken my camera along to capture some of what I saw yet I was glad I didn’t. Instead of focusing on getting just the right photo I was able instead to meditate upon each scene. I kept returning to the glory of creation from Friday morning. One of the tenets taught by St. Ignatius in his exercises is that if you arrived at one that was providing you with a lot of fruit you stuck with it, not moving on to the next until you had exhausted all you were gleaning from it. I had been doing that off and on for two days, and so I found myself not focused on the joy in the Resurrection as much as the glory of creation on this day. I made plans to return to the Resurrection at a later time.
There was a slight wind, and few clouds, so the sun was warm in the pristine sky. I was alone on the prairie with nothing but grasses, harvested cornfields, barbed wire strung to old fence posts and sun-baked meadow muffins left behind by cattle. It was perfect.
After two miles I still felt invigorated and decided to cross the country road that borders the retreat center on the east and make my way towards the family campgrounds. After a half-mile of a slight incline and with time running out before the rosary was scheduled I chose to turn back. I would drive to the campgrounds later that afternoon instead once my retreat had ended. After three miles I finally was running out of gas.
A rosary, and then our final meeting in the chapel. We reviewed our three priorities as Christians.
- Spiritual practices (prayer life)
- Intellectual practices (reading, which includes spiritual reading)
- Apostolic practices (who am I inviting into this joy?)
We were challenged to focus on just one of these new priorities for a time, keeping it simple and consistent until it became engrained as a habit or a part of us. We are already doing this with anything else in this life that we want to become a habit. Why not choose one of these instead?
A final subject, the Examen Prayer, was discussed. I already knew a little about this prayer having brought along my book on the subject by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. I liked how Deacon Andrew kept it simple, breaking into the following pieces, using the acronym GRACE:
- Gratitude: for all that has been given me since the last Examen
- Request: a petition for the assistance of the Holy Spirit
- Account of the Day: Review – am I moving towards consolation or desolation?
- Contrition: in which I make an Act of Contrition and seek forgiveness
- Enthusiasm: return to my day and know that I am nearer to God than I was before the Examen
The Examen as you may have gathered is much like an examination of conscience. It does not have to be as extensive as that, or exhaustive, and if done every day (as one may do a “morning offering” for instance) it will not need to be. It may be done at the start of your day, done twice a day at Morning and Noon as the Jesuits do, or done as a part of Night Prayer. This is where I prefer to do the Examen as there is a place within the Compline (Night Prayer) that allows time for a daily examination of conscience and it seems the perfect place to do it while the events of the day are still fresh in my mind. It need only take 3-5 minutes, and often isn’t that long once you do it every day.
Just like that the final talk was over. We stayed in the chapel for a few extra moments to kneel and give thanks for all that had transpired here. Walking into the dining hall for a snack we were able to once again speak to one another. It had had been approximately sixty-eight hours of silence. To be honest I hadn’t planned on saying anything nor had I thought others would. As is usually the case the person whom you think wouldn’t say much based on something as superficial as their appearance (they looked shy and quiet in other words) were the ones who had the most to share about what they had experienced. In the end I did say a few things as anyone who knows me well will tell you it’s difficult for me to shut up. I did find that I was able to be brief, specific and measured in what I said so perhaps a lesson had been learned and taken to heart after all. Certainly something to build on at least.
Suddenly it was time to disperse, pack up our things and walk them out to the cars. Handshakes were made. One by one cars were started and pulling away.
I made a final stop in the chapel. On my knees for a final time I said a prayer of thanksgiving and for a safe journey home. I was joined by one other man just before I left who I suspect was doing the same. Arising, I genuflected, crossed myself, and left him with Jesus.
As I walked to my car I was stopped by a man who thanked me for what I’d said in the dining hall. “I’m grateful for people like you who are not afraid to speak from their heart for men like me who are not comfortable doing so,” he said. I was humbled into silence and thanked him. He told me he was making his first retreat at Broom Tree, but was employed as the keeper of the grounds. I complimented him on his efforts despite the hard drought and asked him about how it appeared under normal rainfall conditions. He assured me it was beautiful during those times. As he said this Cocoa strolled by and I told him about my experiences with her during my time at Broom Tree. Smiling, he told me that “Cocoa seems to have a ministry of her own.”
I agreed with him and while watching her walk away thought to myself that we all do.
Tomorrow: a few final thoughts
Our story thus far: God created. It was good. Beauty in creation. Man created in His image. Sin enters the picture. Man falls. The world follows.
So what to do?
God became man. The Holy Trinity’s decision to redeem us through the Son.
Forgiveness through Jesus, if we’ll accept it. If we’ll let go of our baggage.
In one of my favorite movies, 1986’s The Mission, Robert Deniro is a Spanish slave trader named Mendoza, a man bursting with pride and bravado. When Mendoza suspects his brother of flirting with the woman he fancies as his own, he is outraged, murdering his brother when he catches the two together. Jeremy Irons is Father Gabriel, a young Jesuit priest who has been ministering to the very natives Deniro has grown wealthy trapping and selling, visits him in prison. Mendoza refuses to forgive himself and sees no reason to continue to live, seeking suicide. Fr. Gabriel is able to convince Mendoza to come to his mission high in the hills to begin a new life, but as his sentence for his crime he must carry the burdens of his own life: his armor, the very armor Mendoza wore to hunt the natives. Mendoza struggles with his burden as they ascend the steep hills and mountains of Brazil to get to the mission. At one point a young missionary, played by Liam Neeson, questions this absurd penance and asks Fr. Gabriel to cut the rope that binds the armor to Mendoza. Fr. Gabriel replies that he never told Mendoza to carry it this far, he has been doing it on his own. Only Mendoza will know when it’s time. Only Mendoza can forgive and relieve himself of his burden.
As they make the final climb, the natives greet them. But when they see their former persecutor with the group they react with derision. Mendoza, expecting and even wanting death for his unforgivable crimes, awaits their decision. Watch this clip to see what happens next.
Forgiveness. Redemption. Joy.
Forgiveness, whether deserved or not does come and is there if we accept it.
Prior to our first exercise we gathered in the chapel for morning prayer. The canticle we prayed aloud was from Ezekiel 36:24-28:
I will give you a new heart
and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you
and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
The grace of our Ignatian exercise this morning was to receive joy, as we behold Almighty God become man for us. In Romans 8:2-6 I read the following:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
I mentioned that during Mass on the first night at Broom Tree that the word heart had seemed to enter in and out of my mind several times during the opening Mass. For the past 36 hours that word has appeared or been implied in every exercise, every Scripture, every prayer and every meditation. And in that verse, Romans 8:6 it all came together for me, despite the word “heart” not appearing within it.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
It was upon reading this verse while seated by the fireplace just outside the chapel that it all started to come together for me. I found myself gazing at a statue to the right of the fireplace of the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus. This is where the heart transplant I had prayed for that first night occurs. At this moment is where my heart of flesh is replaced with God’s heart of Spirit. This is what I prayed for.
To seek with my heart, for the mind will follow. I’ve always done it the other way around. I read and rationalized my way into the Catholic faith until my heart finally embraced it. But even then it held back, ever cautious. I have always been one to be rational to an extreme, to use with great pride my mind in exploring and explaining things.
The heart has always been there, but I’ve never turned it fully over to God. Instead I’ve preferred to keep it as my own, selfishly clinging to it, refusing to turn it over to God, and following it to places I should never have gone. Oh, the spirit would enter in now and then but it wasn’t long before my mind would take over and my actions would be the result of my mind’s lead, not my heart. I did this to protect myself, and others, because I didn’t trust my heart. I knew well the sin it was capable of, and what sin may dwell deep within. In this regard it remained as stone. I would never turn it over to God because I knew how full of sin and pride it was. I knew it was of no value or worth to him and that there was no way he’d be interested in it.
For whatever reason during this retreat He has asked for it anyway. I found I was finally ready to give it to Him. And when I did the baggage carried with me and by me all of these years was cut away by his scalpel and tumbled down into the rivers below…washed away.
Because God loved us…me…enough to send His only son. As we recite in the Nicene Creed at each Mass:
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
And so it was that on this day I learned of my devotion to His Sacred Heart, of which I will write about later. It had to happen, right? I did mention during my trip through Yankton to get here that I was born at Sacred Heart Hospital after all.
New heart. Same lame humor. That’s ok, God. I’ll take the heart. Thank you.
Joy? You bet.
I awoke Saturday morning to a cold room. The kind of cold you enjoy though as you’re buried deep inside warm covers. It was a beautiful, crisp and clear morning…of 34 degrees! I showered, dressed and headed out the door to get to breakfast early. I wanted to quickly finish eating so I’d have some free time before morning prayer followed by our first Ignatian exercise at 9 am.
After breakfast I decided to go outside to the grotto and bench beyond the edge of the back patio. The sun was bright and the sky was a deep blue. Wearing my hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, and carrying my breviary I thought it the perfect spot to pray the Office of Readings.
It would have been the perfect spot if it was thirty degrees warmer. Even twenty.
While sitting on the bench and trying to keep warm before I began praying I looked back on the previous day, specifically last night and the sacrament I’d had the opportunity to participate in. In particular I kept coming back to two lines from the Miserere:
And my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.
Questions entered my mind: Will I continue to blog when I return? To what end? Am I merely feeding my own ego? What about Facebook? Do I continue to be present there or do I instead shut it down and focus on personal writing, journaling and study? Because that is where my heart is leading me. That is where I am most at peace.
But if I do that…shut it all down…I would not be “singing aloud” His praise.
“Questions for God today,” I thought to myself as I opened my book of prayers.
St. Augustine tells us in today’s Office of Readings “He does not allow you to be tempted beyond your strength.” The trouble is that up until now my strength has been tested and found wanting. It’s a little flabby. “Hence these exercises I suppose, right Jeff?” I laughed at my lame joke in order to keep myself warm. Apparently the cold air had not improved my ability to make a joke. I noticed I was beginning to shiver.
There is also a promise from God in my reading:
But if the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.” ~ Ezekiel 18:21-22
It is on this promise that all my hopes rest.
I looked up at Mary, and then to the large stone next to her upon which the words of the Memorare were engraved. I was really shivering now but wanted to pray them before heading inside as they’ve always brought me comfort.
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided.
Inspired with this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
I stood to leave. As I did I reminded myself that although I was in a state of grace from the night before the wolf is always at the door.
Thank you for staying with me on this journey to this point. I hope to complete this series by this time next Saturday.
To recap the entire series thus far click here.
Friday night. It has been an amazing 24 hours since we began. Has it only been a day? So much ground covered. So many things brought forth. No wonder they’re called exercises. St. Ignatius would have made one heck of a tough gym teacher! I was feeling a little fatigued though refreshed at the same time. Once we finished in the chapel I went to my room to read a little and fell asleep. There would be no visit to St. Isadore’s with Cocoa on this night.
And so we had our final exercise of the day, an opportunity to go to Confession, and a Holy Hour of Adoration in the chapel. I’m going to try to be brief in this blog. And due to the naturally very personal nature of the subject at hand will not be revealing much. The grace of this session was to gain a true knowledge of my sins and to detest my turning from God. In other words it was time to be honest with myself and God. It was time to get real.
There are three ways in which we are tempted by Satan.
In a talk on Christian morality, Fr. John Hardon expanded upon these three temptations:
“… the devil’s strategy is to get people to become attached to earthly things. He urges them to, well, acquire say material wealth, which is the cheapest kind of riches, or acquire education. … Or acquire mastery in the use of their emotions, or cultivate gifts in the social order, or, would you believe it, the devil will even tempt people to acquire spiritual riches. … But whatever the possession, whether as cheap a thing as money, or special things say as, secular knowledge or even spiritual wisdom, the beginning is to become wealthy and thus to attain to recognition, praise, honor. … Attachment to the things of this world gradually makes a person, not only satisfied with what he or she possesses, but hungry for acceptance, recognition, praise, and honor. And once, as Ignatius says, once a person becomes a victim of empty honors, then pride follows as a matter of course. … Because once a person falls into pride, there is no limit to that person’s malice. Proud people are the agents of the devil. He uses them to seduce others. In fact, he uses them to work with him, and under his demonic power he organizes proud people into what some of the Fathers of the Church, as I have said, call a distinct power, call it the mystical body of satan. By whatever name, it is mastered by the father of lies.”
Well said, Father.
There are also three ways in which we accept these temptations.
- Spoiled child – in other words it is if the temptation is an entity that whines until it gets its own way
- False lover – this temptation approaches us in secret
- Military commander – in this way the temptation seems to study our stronghold and then attacks the weakest points of our defense
We keep the secret of the false lover.
We surrender to the military commander.
We need the discipline to recognize a temptation for what it truly is and be able to resist its whines, its secret invitations and its reconnaissance efforts. The best way is to expose a temptation to the light in its seed form. The most effective way we have as Catholics is the light of the confessional.
Father Jim and Deacon Andrew spoke of a few more things before we began our holy hour. There were no assigned readings. There was no assigned prayer. Just one hour face to face with Jesus exposed in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar.
I began my hour on my knees and after fifteen or twenty minutes sat down to read a psalm that had come to mind. It’s Psalm 51, a great psalm of David known as The Psalm of Repentance. It’s also called the miserere (miz-uh-rair-ee) because the first line in Latin is Miserere mei, Deus: Have mercy on me, O God.
Psalm 51 is one of the most foremost of the psalms of instruction. In it David is truly teaching us what sin is, where it comes from, the damage it does, and how one may be freed from it. In this psalm, it is shown that sin is an inheritance born in us, and that no works can help us against it, but only God’s grace and forgiveness. Through the Holy Spirit He creates us new again as a new person and a new creation. Afterwards when by grace and the Spirit we are once more made new, we not only learn how to praise but to actually thank and praise God.
Non-Catholics and Catholics alike have asked me what one does during a holy hour. I’ve made many at my own parish, usually at night when I can’t seem to sleep or I’m wrestling with an issue in my mind. To those who ask I can only echo the reply given to St. John Vianney after he asked an older man who prayed often before the Blessed Sacrament what he was speaking about to Jesus.
“I don’t say anything. I look at him. He looks at me.”
What else is there to say, really?
Maybe just one thing more. A quote from St. Julian of Norwich in which she speaks of Jesus:
“So I saw him and sought him; and I had him and wanted him. And it seems to me that this is how it is and how it should be in this life.”
And so it was that after examining my conscience I got into the line for confession. On the wall where the line formed was a large portrait of Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. Perfect.
There is a line in this psalm (verse 15) that reads “O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.” Since Vatican II as we pray the Liturgy of the Hours we begin the Invitatory Psalm (Invitation to Pray) with this verse. Prior to Vatican II this office was known as Matins and prayed or sung at midnight. To that end Italian composer Gregorio Allegri composed the “Miserere mei, Deus” in the 1630s for use in the Sistine Chapel during Matins, specifically for use on Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week. There’s a neat story about it here. While we did not hear this sublime piece of sacred music that night, I offer it to you now. It’s a little over fourteen minutes long and sung in Latin but you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. I’ve downloaded it to my MP3 player from iTunes. I find myself listening to a lot of music like this as we draw closer to the election and the inflammatory rhetoric launches into overdrive.
Even better, explore the Sistine Chapel while listening to it by clicking here. Be sure to shut the music off at that site by clicking the music note button in the lower left hand corner or you’ll get another piece of music in your speakers or headphones.
In the pages of my journal I personalized and rewrote a shorter version of this psalm by using its original text. That is for my eyes.
This is for yours.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence
and blameless in thy judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
and sinners will return to thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
thou God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.
O Lord, open thou my lips,
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice;
were I to give a burnt offering,
thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God
is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, thou wilt not despise.
Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on thy altar.
In the nights prior to my retreat I had become a night owl, staying up too late reading or being way too absorbed in current events. I have a problem, of sorts, in that I have always been a news junkie. True, as a conservative I tend towards more right-leaning news sites, but I try to keep a bit of balance. Mostly I read Catholic news portals or blogs. Anyhow, the night before my road trip I was up much too late. My wife and I on Wednesday night had bought what we thought would be a nice gift for our son Jonah who would be turning nine on Friday, but this inexpensive MP3 player wasn’t just inexpensive. It was cheap. As in it sucked. So I found myself scouring the web to research ideas I had on getting our family’s first tablet. There was no way I was buying an iPad for him and I didn’t want other tablets that allowed unfettered access to the internet and all the incredibly wonderful stuff that flourished unfettered out there. I finally found what appeared to be a solid option containing parental controls and that wouldn’t break the bank. After reading tons of reviews and having a pow-wow with my wife had decided to purchase the Nabi 2.
And this is how I found myself driving to a Wal-Mart on the north side of town after midnight hoping that their website hadn’t lied to me and that they had one in stock. They did, and by 1am I was back home setting it up and making sure it would function “out of the box” for Jonah and my wife when I was absent on Friday.
And so it was that less than 24 hours later I was sitting wide awake on the couch in a room over two hundred miles from home with my bible and my journal on my lap. Having read, re-read and prayed for over an hour I seemed stuck. Restless. Wait…the purpose of this first lesson was to find REST, right? So I decided to take a step out into the cool evening and clear my head.
Now while on the couch I had discovered some themes that were personal to me at this time in my life. For instance, in Isaiah I kept coming back to Chapter 55, verses 2-7 that read:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
While not off in the weeds entirely, I had recently sensed an increasingly sense of imbalance. It began to increase with my decision 6-8 weeks ago to create a study program to introduce and teach the Liturgy of the Hours to your average Catholic. Below I’ve boldfaced the passages that seemed to stand out to me.
From Psalm 63:
O God, thou art my God, I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory. Because thy steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise thee. So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
So after chewing on this for awhile I decided that I needed to heed the words in the final verses I was looking at in 1 Kings 19:11-12:
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
And so I decided to “climb the mount” and spend some time in the white country parish that resides on the grounds at Broom Tree. Located about two football fields away it would be a straight shot due south from the door in the west wing where my room was and across the parking lot to the church steps. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly a mount but a slight incline from the north. When you approach it from the south it really is up a hill. The parking lot is brightly lit at night as are the grounds surrounding the main retreat center. And as you can see from this photo I took, St. Isadore’s is illuminated at night as well.
I got about halfway across the parking lot when I heard something behind me. I turned to see movement between two of the parked cars. I froze to watch as the wolf-shape moved into the light and I recognized it as the other dog I’d seen on the grounds. Seeing her eyes glow when reflecting the light caused the phrase “hound of hell” to pass quickly through my mind, but I called out softly “Come here, Cocoa” and she slowly walked towards me. She allowed me to pet her once and walked by me to the church. I think she’s escorted more than one soul there before. After pausing outside to take a photo of the church at night I walked up the steps and into the dark church.
After taking a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness I was able to see the lit, red candle flickering at the front of the church. Catholics worldwide know this means that Christ, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, is present. This soft, flickering flame is a source of great comfort when spending countless hours at night (or in the day) praying in church. My eyes continued to adjust as the bright lights inside were able to enter the church sanctuary somewhat through a few front windows. The wooden floor creaked as, after finding the holy water font and making the sign of the cross across myself, I made my way to the front pew on the right side. Genuflecting and again crossing myself I entered the pew and knelt. After several minutes of prayer and settling my mind I sat down.
Other than the candle, all I could make out in the darkness were the shadowy forms that I knew to be the altar, the ambo (or podium), and the tabernacle itself. What I could see was the crucifix mounted on the back wall above the tabernacle. Specifically the corpus, or the body of Christ, was illuminated and easy to see. Whether by design or by accident, the spotlights outside the church entered through two upper windows above the balcony at the front of the church and joined to form a beam of light that shone on the body of Christ only. I thought that was pretty cool.
…you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. ~ 2 Samuel 22:29
And so finally after a few more minutes of settling in, I was able to ask Jesus to help me answer the question that had been the cause of my walk to sit in this spot. It is the verse that follows the passage I quoted above from 1 Kings. I had climbed the mount. I was seated before the Lord. I knew that I was not able to hear his voice clearly due to the din and the normal noise of life. Current events (or “wind”, “earthquakes” or “fire” was not where the Lord’s voice was easily heard. It is a still small voice. And because the question had been stuck in my craw ever since I read it I was now here.
In 1 Kings 19:13 Elijah finally hears that voice. He goes out. And the voice asks him a question. It says to him “What are you doing here Elijah?”
A question God? I strain to finally get a clear frequency so I can hear you and receive your wisdom and your answers and get through this thing called life and you ask me a freaking question?? If Elijah didn’t say it I bet he was thinking it. Ok, Lord…ok. (Deep breaths)
What are you doing here, Jeff?
What am I doing here? I considered what I had read in my room:
- “Eat what is good” (Holy Communion / The Body of Christ)
- “Hear, that your soul shall live” (Holy Scriptures / The Word of God)
- “Return…for he will abundantly pardon” (Contrition/Confession/Mercy)
God is calling me back to Him through the Sacraments that have always been before me. But I lose sight of them when life gets “busy” and I get lazy. Unappreciative. Here, in a small wooden church out in the middle of nowhere out on the prairies I expressed my desire to return to His mercy, and He reminded me that He had already provided what I needed. Secure in that knowledge I would leave my pew after an hour and be escorted back to the retreat center by Cocoa. I had found her waiting for me curled up against the front door at the top of the steps.
But first, before that walk back to my room, I heard a still, small voice ask me:
“What are you doing here, Jeff?”
“O God, you are my God…”
©2012 Jeff A Walker
To be angry with God means to realize at the deepest level, a place that is both physical and emotional at the same time, that the world is broken and not as it should be. Anger at God is protest against suffering. That suffering can be caused by social inequity and structural injustice, but it is also caused by personal losses, physical pain, and the reality of death, our own and that of others—this cruelty built into the human condition. To be angry at God, not in theory or idea, but in the body—the anger that rises up from the solar plexus and out through the arms and legs and mouth—is to pray, for it is to lay bare, in the most intimate way, the wounds of life felt deep in the body itself, to expose them as though open to the sun, to expose the deepest part of the self to God, that unknowable Other who lurks in wheat fields on the sun-baked high plains of Spain.
– Kerry Egan, from Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal of the Camino de Santiago
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #27
One little word in The Lord’s Prayer, plus a few paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,became catalysts for my deeper conversion. By God’s grace, I have found release and have better-learned to “let go.”
And I’m talking about forgiveness in areas of life-long hurt, as well as the petty annoying trespasses that come our way.
Observe the little word in the line of the Lord’s Prayer that gets to the heart of it all: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This petition is astonishing. If it consisted only of the first phrase, “And forgive us our trespasses,” it might have been included, implicitly, in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, since Christ’s sacrifice is “that sins may be forgiven.” But, according to the second phrase, our petition will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement. Our petition looks to the future, but our response must come first, for the two parts are joined by the single word “as.”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church #2838
That little word is AS-tonishing! No getting around it. It’s the stickler, the caveat, the tipping point, for the truth of this teaching. How many times have I asked God’s forgiveness for something, when I really had no clue that I was to extend it to others first? Often, I just rattled off the words of prayer, not paying attention to what they meant.
“Some impulses like the desire to love—and pray—are imbedded in the human heart by a higher being.”
– Lorraine V. Murray, from Confessions of an Ex-Feminist
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
– St. Augustine, Confessions
Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.
~ C.S. Lewis
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
I didn’t get to see October Baby when it was released in theaters. My wife did, and she was moved to tears telling me about it afterwards. I was thinking about it the other day as it was just released on DVD/Blu-Ray this past Tuesday.
Today Rebecca Hamilton, my favorite Oklahoma politician, wrote a fantastic article that will sadly fall on many deaf ears. Deaf because they refuse to hear. Blind because they do not want to see. I know this mute blindness because when I was younger I was the same way.
I would guess that a lot of people look at that counselor with disgust and rage. But I feel sorry for her. I hate having to admit this, but the truth is, she could have been me. There was a time when I wasn’t just pro-choice, I was a stinking fanatic about it. I had seen and experienced first hand the violence, degradation and destruction that is misogyny and, like so many young women of my time, I saw abortion as a way out.
But when you go down that path of using one evil to justify another evil you end up committing even greater evils yourself. If you really aren’t a monster who has no conscience or concern for other people, you look for ways to hide what you are doing from yourself. The greatest lies of our times are the lies we tell ourselves to justify doing things that we know are wrong. What makes it work is that the whole culture conspires with us in the doing of it.
The culture, not just of Planned Parenthood, but of our whole American world, says that you can not, you should not, you must not “judge.”
As with most lies that are effective, this one has truth mixed into it. The desire to play God runs strong in all of us. I think that if we had the power to enact our judgements on one another, none of us would go to heaven. We would all condemn one another to hell.
But using the word “judgement” itself as a condemnation is not only idiotic, it’s destructive. The human brain is designed by Our Maker to observe, compare, think and conclude. These conclusions are just another word for “judgement.” When our culture labels this power to discern and decide an evil; when it shears our thinking brains away from us, we become a culture of co-dependence and mental decay.
It’s as if we’ve all suffered a cultural stroke and the words “this is wrong” have been erased from our minds. Instead of saying the plain facts of things, we go into mental gymnastics, trying to “understand” the most hideous behavior. We create fantasy motives for crimes against humanity which are tissues of lies we tell ourselves. These fantasy interpretations of the plain reality in front of us help us silence the thinking, analyzing parts of our brains. They allow us to avoid the social anathema of being labeled “judgmental.” We find ourselves unable to set standards for behavior for anyone, including ourselves.
That is how a basically kind-hearted person can become a monster.
The great irony is that the flip side of this is no better. If we take the untrammeled power to judge others onto ourselves, we unleash the monsters of condemnation, discrimination and, inevitably, killing of innocents. That’s where the gulags, pogroms, lynchings, rapes and murders come from. On the other hand, if we flee from this into a refusal to “judge,” we unleash the monsters of condemnation, discrimination and, inevitably, killing of innocents. That’s where the attacks on Christians, abortions, euthanasia, and starvation of millions for corporate greed come from.
We can whipsaw our human nature from pole to pole; from legalistic judging to fear of judging that becomes another kind of legalistic judging, and we always end up right back where we started from. We are caught forever in the morass and mess of original sin and we cannot think, moralize or fight our way out of it.
Read it all, and watch the video at the start of her post.
The sad truth is that there really is a war on women. But the real one is hidden behind the smokescreen created by the culture of death and its useful idiot politicians, celebrity activists, and the behemoth that devours the girls themselves: Planned Parenthood. They have trivialized the “War On Women” catchphrase and twisted it around on itself so that those of us who are saddened and outraged by what we are doing to generations of our daughters are the evil, judgmental ones.
There are monsters among us. We are the monsters. We who do not speak out strongly enough in condemning this genocide because we do not want to be called judgmental. We are monsters who stick our collective heads in the sands and continue to look the other way, not being able to comprehend for a moment that this wholescale murder is occurring in our cities and funded by we the people. We are monsters who judge those who would oppose our support of this so-called right to choose and stubbornly dig our heels in deeper and cling to the beliefs we were sold by celebrities and politicians we looked up to, because they would never have lied to us right?
We are the monsters. All of us. While judgment is reserved for God alone, forgiveness is not. It is the place where healing can begin and therefore the most difficult step to take. We need the strength and the courage to look hard into the mirror and to forgive the person we judge with the most merciless malice of all: ourselves. We continue to murder our sons and (selectively) our daughters because we struggle to do one of the hardest things known to man: forgive.
Forgive ourselves for not speaking out enough. Forgive ourselves for being too blind to see the truth of what is going on. Forgive ourselves for stubbornly clinging to an ideology at the expense of so many lives.
Forgive our silence.
Forgive our justifications.
Forgive our lack of courage.
Forgive our monsters. For they are us.
— 1 —
As I understand it tonight we’ll witness an event that won’t happen again for three years: a blue moon. To mark the occasion I would be remiss not to post a song by one of my all-time favorite artists. This performance is from Nanci’s satisfying “One Fair Summer Evening” album recorded at Anderson Fair in 1988. Too many times to count I’ve wished I was sitting at one of those soft-candlelit tables watching Nanci and the Blue Moon Orchestra. To see why just keep watching the video. The song itself is not quite three minutes and the opening lyrics of More Than A Whisper are heard before the video runs out. Tis gorgeous, no?
— 2 —
Socrates called beauty a short-lived tyranny; Plato, a privilege of nature; Theophrastus, a silent cheat; Theocritus, a delightful prejudice; Carneades, a solitary kingdom; Aristotle, that it was better than all the letters of recommendation in the world; Homer, that is was a glorious gift of nature, and Ovid, that it was a favor bestowed by the gods.
The fountain of beauty is the heart, and every generous thought illustrates the walls of your chamber.
If virtue accompanies beauty it is the heart’s paradise; if vice be associate with it, it is the soul’s purgatory. It is the wise man’s bonfire, and the fool’s furnace.
- Quarles (from the book Leaves of Gold by Clyde F. Lytle)
— 3 —
In an article titled Cultivating Beauty, Anna Williams has some excellent observations on the subject worth sharing: how we can go about cultivating a more beautiful culture.
Yet the best method to communicate these needs usually does not lie in philosophy. A person’s openness to logical argument is half-determined before the argument begins. Molding his perception of what is possible and what is desirable is the culture that surrounds him — the paintings, films, poems, photographs, TV shows, books, stories, songs, and plays that have shaped his imagination. If the good and the true do not appear beautiful in these works of art, they will not seem good or true, either.
In brief, art tends to normalize what it portrays. If in art the human person is degraded, the vulnerable are treated with contempt, and life is chaotic and meaningless, then the viewer may conclude, even if only unconsciously, that the best worldview is “every man for himself.” But if art portrays beauty, order, friendship, and the sacred, honoring the dignity of the individual, then the viewer may look for more in his philosophy.
Williams provides some good starter tips on how to find and support beauty, as well as several links to a few excellent authors, booksellers, magazines and filmmakers. She mentions Dappled Things, a literary magazine that I “liked” on Facebook last year and have become so satisfied with that I finally subscribed a month ago.
I’ve said it before: there is no dearth of beauty around us if we would just open our eyes to it.
— 4 —
This morning I prayed the Morning Prayer while watching the sunrise over the pine trees that form the back barrier in our backyard. The theme today, one of forgiveness and redemption, seemed to form a common line throughout the Lauds. The psalmody included the all-time psalm of penitence, Psalm 51 (also known as the Miserere [miz-ay-ray-ray]). There is also a short reading from Ephesians 4:29-32:
Guard against foul talk; let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners, otherwise you will only be grieving the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with his seal for you to be set free when the day comes. Never have grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness. Be friends with one another, and kind, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.
Why am I mentioning this? No reason, really. Just cultivating a little beauty of my own for y’all.
A little levity: When people suck the life out of you, wouldn’t it be nice if they took some fat, too?
Because, you know, my metabolism has gone down in direct proportion as my tolerance for negative people, so…more beauty please, and less suck. Too harsh? Probably. Mea culpa.
— 5 —
A final word on the ultimate beauty:
Take pity on me, Lord, in your mercy;
in your abundance of mercy wipe out my guilt.
Wash me ever more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)