Some thoughts about Lenten practices (forget Lenten resolutions)

Since I was a kid Lenten resolutions were a big thing. I remember giving up chocolate in 7th grade. A friend of mine threw a party for her birthday on Holy Saturday. I told my parents I couldn’t go because I had given up chocolate. They told me that Lent was over and that Holy Saturday was looking forward to Easter, and so off I went…. Needless to say, I’m still a chocoholic.

So now that we’ve almost finished the regular run of blog posts and comments and conversations about Lenten resolutions for this year, I wanted to offer some thoughts about Lenten practices (not resolutions).

When I was a little girl I played piano. One of the important things I had to do every day was “practice” scales. Every. Day. When I was assigned this by my piano teacher, she didn’t say, “Well you just need to do this for a month or two then you can stop. Maybe the following year you could try it again if you felt like it.” No. Practicing scales is important because it makes you a top-notch pianist. Practicing every day forms you as a musician. There never is an end to it, unless of course you give up piano playing (which I did do as an adult). And I bet concert pianists, just like Olympian athletes practice many hours a day. Every. Day.

So what does this have to do with Lent?

This year I was thinking about how making Lenten resolutions at least sometimes, if not often, backfires. We give up chocolate every day for forty days and then we make up for it the first week of Easter. Or we give up our favorite TV program and then binge on it during the Easter Season.

Practices are meant to form you, perfect you, shape you, transform you from a so-so pianist, athlete or Christian to an outstanding one. And in this case, into a saint!

How to Start

So my thoughts about this are simple:

  1. Ask Jesus what he would like to give you this Lent. How do you want me to be more like you, Lord? In what area of my life? With which person? In what situation?
  2. Think about what aspects of your Christian living disappoint you the most. What are you at least slightly hiding or ashamed of. What do you wish were different.
  3. Then make a strategy of practices that you can BEGIN in Lent and then CONTINUE for the rest of your life. (Don’t get worried, you can modify them, perfect them, make them work better for you, but practice daily you must. After all, becoming holy and living in Christ is the most important thing in your life!)

Make a Strategy

Here are some elements you make part of your strategy. (This list is not for you to choose one thing, but to create a wholistic, integrated strategy that touches all aspects of your life.)

  • Choose a book to read that addresses the area you most want to see lifted up to the Face of the Lord. Read a little bit of it every day and reflect on it. If you already have one in mind, go through and mark about 10 places in that book that you can focus on during the season of Lent so that you create a habit in those areas. (I found an old book I had greatly highlighted several years back. I located about 10 pages in it to focus on that embrace different aspects of living in holiness, and every day I choose one of these to read and reflect on. It’s not something to DO. It is rather something to take to meditation, to become convinced of, to more clearly understand how it works, what it means for you, what your resistances are, what your desires are, what you need in order to succeed.)
  • Think about a couple of prayer forms or guides you could use throughout the season of Lent to make your prayer more focused, more intense.
  • Identify one habit/addiction you have that is standing in your way to a deeper relationship with God. Determine something else you can do, say, eat, or have instead that will promote your holiness and which is attractive enough for you to consider it a reasonable and preferable life-change you’ll really want to keep. (For instance, I love butterscotch. For health reasons, I need to let go of chocolate completely. This Lent I’m making a conscious transition away from sugar and chocolate to peanut butter and sugar-free butterscotch pudding. Letting go of some things that are highly addictive and destructive to my health is a health decision on one level. On another level, however, it is a choice for a more intentional temperate relationship with food that is socially conscious. The fact that neither of my new choices is highly addictive will help me keep it up as well as open up the spiritual space within that sugar and chocolate is closing down.)
  • Is there one person you can give your life for, in the spirit of Jesus who gave his life for you? What are some concrete things you can do to serve them, pray for them, support them?
  • Choose one quote from the bible and one quote from a saint as your tagline for Lent 2023, your rallying cry to keep you coming back to the cross to beg Jesus for his grace that you might love him more truly.

After 40 days of practicing, probably rearranging and perfecting your strategy, and even possibly changing mid-stream, you should have a spiritual sense of what God is doing in your life through your commitment and perseverance. On Holy Saturday, Lent may be over, but the Easter Season begins that evening with the Easter Vigil. So you actually have 50 more days of practicing, but now in a spirit of joy!

You’ll be pleasantly surprised after 100 days of practicing that what was once an obstacle or a struggle has now become integrated into who you are in Jesus. It will be so wonderful, that you won’t ever want to stop practicing. You’ll just expand your practices, like a pianist who has moved beyond the basic scales and now has made even practicing a work of art!

Wishing you a blessed Lent!

Image credit: Vytautas Markūnas SDB via Cathopic

“See Your Savior Comes” (Horizons of the Heart 16)

The grace we are asking of God: a deeply felt awareness of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh and how in doing this we enter into a process of healing that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally

Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

Entering Prayer

Offer your prayer to God, desiring that in every way it will give him glory. I pour myself out in worship. You could use a few lines from the following Psalms if this helps you enter into prayer:

Psalm 100:1-5
Psalm 34:1-9
Psalm 111:1-5
Psalm 95:1-7
Psalm 92:1-8
Psalm 7:17

Ask of God what you think you need. (It could be later that God will show what you truly need and what you should be asking for, but begin now where you are.)

Giovanni Bellini, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Circumcision and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

Over several periods of prayer, linger imaginatively over the events narrated in Luke 2:21-38.

In the second chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel, beginning from verse 21, the evangelist tells us about the Circumcision and Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Circumcision was performed eight days after the birth. The Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of the Virgin was held forty days after Jesus’ birth.

At the Circumcision, Jesus was incorporated into the people of Israel. At this family ceremony, he received the name Jesus, indicating that he was to be the Savior of mankind. In the Circumcision, we encounter the true scandal of the Incarnation: God really became human. God really took up all that human life entails, including the suffering that would culminate one day on the cross.

The circumcision constituted Jesus a member of the old covenant, but his presentation in the temple was his formal dedication to the service of the Lord. According to the Law, every woman who gives birth to a son must wait forty days before entering the temple, and then “she shall take two turtles, or two young pigeons, one for a holocaust, and another for sin: and the priest shall pray for her, and so she shall be cleansed” (Lev 12:8).

This feast also celebrates the coming of the Lord into his temple. As the prophet Malachi proclaims, “presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple” (Mal 3:1). In the Presentation of the Lord, we see the long-expected fulfillment of God’s promises. For more than a millennium, the Jewish people waited for the Messiah. Generation after generation endured hardship and suffering—evil kings, idolatrous neighbors, exile—yet still, they waited. This patient expectance is typified in Simeon and Anna, two faithful Jews who greet the baby Jesus in the Temple, recognizing at last the One who is to come.

Imagining Yourself Present

Over several days, spend some time imagining yourself at the family celebration of Jesus’ circumcision and later in the temple with Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna.

In Gospel contemplation you attempt to grasp something of Jesus’ human existence and as you do this, the Spirit begins to grasp you in your existence. This prayer gives us contact with Jesus, the risen Lord, who is present now, influencing my life now. The historical events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, his healing and his preaching, transcend time and place. The THEN of Jesus’ life becomes NOW. It is important to allow oneself to become part of the story-event.

This is a perfect time also to place in Jesus’ heart your own birth and childhood, early family situations and your relationship with parents, your religious upbringing in the first half of your life, encounters with the elders in your own family… Memories… Gratitude… Regrets… Hurt…

Fra Bartolomeo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Are you carried in Mary’s arms? Does aged Anna lift you to her heart? Do you regret that there was no baptism, or no real religious sense in your home? Were you a young mother like Mary?

Where are you in these scenes? Speak to the people that populate them. Allow your affective imagination to lead you closer to them, to give you a sense of this felt-closeness that you so desire. You can imagine with your mind’s eye, with your sense of hearing or touch.

Imagining the Gospel events in the present

Over time, allow these stories in the gospel of Luke to become current as if Mary and Joseph are walking into your house with your friends and family. What do you feel as they enter into your space.

In Gospel Contemplation, Ignatius takes advantage of the way in which spiritual growth, like so many other aspects of maturing that we experience, takes place primarily when our affectivity is engaged. It is the shift in one’s deeper emotions and feelings that leads to a change in one’s behavior. We reach these deeper levels through metaphor, image, and symbol—the work of the imagination.

Observing attractions and resistance

Notice any interior reactions that you experience: comfort, discomfort, being lifted up, struggle, joy, sadness….

Observe the actions, words, emotions, sensitivities, attitudes of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus and to which of them you feel more attracted. Which of them arouse more negative feelings or resistance? Return to aspects of these meditations that seem more personally meaningful.

Entering the Mystery of the story

As you begin to enter the mystery of the story more deeply, you will begin to see or hear or touch. You will enter into the event and interact more deeply. Little by little you will become more present to the mystery and the mystery will be present to you.

As you become more and more involved in the event of Jesus’ mystery that you are contemplating, your life and your choices are affected. You find yourself changing and desiring to change.

Conversing as with a friend

Read the following verses from the prophet Isaiah (62:11-12) in relation to Jesus coming to the temple. Read this slowly, several times, allowing some moments of rest between your reading.

The Lord has made proclamation
    to the ends of the earth:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your Savior comes!
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.’”
They will be called the Holy People,
    the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
    the City No Longer Deserted.

Is there some new awareness coming forward as you consider these words? Do they shed some unexpected or new light on your own birth and childhood?

Continue in quiet—or even silent—intimate conversation with Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Ask them what is the grace that you should be praying for. Beg this grace of the Father. Then beg this grace of the Son, your Savior and Shepherd. Finally, beg for this grace from the Holy Spirit who is the source of all holiness.

If you wholly lived this grace that you are begging for, what would your life look like? Your relationships? Your prayer? The way you work? The way you love? The way you serve? What about you would make you the most happy?

Ask Mary, Joseph and Jesus to show you one specific gift they wish to give you. Receive it and remain in stillness and quietly relaxed presence under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Reviewing the graces of prayer

When you finish praying, write down the main gifts and discoveries from this time of intimate contemplation. What is one concrete thing you can do to solidify these gifts in your life.

How to do Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart GUIDE)

Entering Prayer

Offer your prayer to God, desiring that in every way it will give him glory. I pour myself out in worship. You could use a few lines from the following Psalms if this helps you enter into prayer:

Psalm 100:1-5
Psalm 34:1-9
Psalm 111:1-5
Psalm 95:1-7
Psalm 92:1-8
Psalm 7:17

Ask of God what you think you need. (It could be later that God will show what you truly need and what should be asking for, but begin now where you are.)

Imagining Yourself Present

Over several periods of prayer, linger imaginatively over one of the the events of the life of Jesus or Mary. Offer yourself to Mary and Jesus, imagining yourself present to these events of our salvation. Put yourself at their service, reflecting on what they are going through and how they are experiencing these events. Be present to them with, as Ignatius says, “the whole affective power of your mind, with loving care, with lingering delight, thus laying aside all other worries and cares.”

Note regarding praying with your imagination: Everyone can imaginatively be present somehow to a past event through memory in various ways. Imagining doesn’t necessary mean making images, that is, creating a little movie about the events we are contemplating. Some people imagine through their feelings, simply having a sense of what is happening, others visually through picturing, others through hearing. Entering imaginatively into these mysteries of our salvation will gradually give one an experiential and deeply felt understanding, rather than a notional knowledge.

Why is this important? This deep-felt knowledge implies an intimate caring, an attentive closeness that is aware of even the inner movements of thought and emotion in oneself and the other. We follow Jesus here and now through the work of the Spirit who weaves together our own history with salvation history. This happens through symbol and imagination. When we become part of the gospel story we allow our whole life to be affected by the Spirit. 

Image Cathopic

Imagining the Gospel events in the present

Re-read in the scriptures these events or simply reflect on them as though they were happening now. Bring them up to your mind’s eye with “lingering delight” as though they were occurring right in your neighborhood so to speak. Notice which aspects of these mysteries begin to involve you a little more deeply.

Notice: In Gospel Contemplation, Ignatius takes advantage of the way in which spiritual growth, like so many other aspects of maturing that we experience, takes place primarily when our affectivity is engaged. It is the shift in one’s deeper emotions and feelings that leads to a change in one’s behavior. We reach these deeper levels through metaphor, image, and symbol—the work of the imagination.

In Gospel contemplation you attempt to grasp something of Jesus’ human existence and as you do this, the Spirit begins to grasp you in your existence. This prayer gives us contact with Jesus, the risen Lord, who is present now, influencing my life now. The historical events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, his healing and his preaching, transcend time and place. The THEN of Jesus’ life becomes NOW. It is important to allow oneself to become part of the story-event.

Observing attractions and resistance

Observe the actions, words, emotions, sensitivities, attitudes of the various persons present in the Gospel passage and to which of them you feel more attracted. Which of them arouse more negative feelings or resistance? Return to aspects of these meditations that seem more personally meaningful.

Notice: How are you entering the story? Are you your present age or another age? How are you taking part in the mystery? What are you noticing about your emotions as you interact with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus? What happens when you interact with the persons in the story? Are you just thinking about them or are you speaking with them? Are you watching or are you a participant? Are you allowing yourself to be moved, surprised, touched, even angered by what happens or are you keeping everything under control?

Entering the Mystery of the story

As you begin to enter the mystery of the story more deeply, you will begin to see or hear or touch. You will enter into the event and interact more deeply. Little by little you will become more present to the mystery and the mystery will be present to you.

Image Cathopic

Moving through deepening levels of stillness

As your contemplative prayer deepens, you will be open to being affected deeply by Jesus’ Spirit at both conscious and less-than-conscious levels of your being.

It may move you gradually through deepening levels to stillness. You may find yourself just there, totally involved—seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. It is almost as if the experience has gone into slow motion, and time passes as one is present to the Beloved and the Beloved to oneself. One is there; Jesus is there. The mystery is there. No words are necessary and no great thoughts need to surface. This is the experience of “O taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Desiring to follow Jesus

As I become more and more involved in the event of Jesus’ mystery that I am contemplating, my life and my choices are affected. I find myself changing and desiring to change. I begin to follow Jesus in a particular way.

As you contemplate more deeply, as you soak in these mysteries of Jesus’ life, where do you observe emotions or reactions like fear, guilt, resistance? Do any memories become more present to your awareness? How do you feel drawn toward something new? Speak to Jesus about what you observe and experience. What do you begin to learn about your following of Jesus?

You may wish to journal about this.

Conversing as with a friend

Continue in quiet—or even silent—intimate conversation with Jesus and Mary. Ask them what is the grace that you should be praying for. Beg this grace of the Father. Then beg this grace of the Son, your Savior and Shepherd. Finally, beg for this grace from the Holy Spirit who is the source of all holiness.

If you wholly lived this grace that you are begging for, what would your life look like? Your relationships? Your prayer? The way you work? The way you love? The way you serve? What about you would make you the most happy?

Ask Mary, Joseph and Jesus to show you one specific gift they wish to give you. Receive it and remain in stillness and quietly relaxed presence under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Reviewing the graces of prayer

When you finish praying, write down the main gifts and discoveries from this time of intimate contemplation. What is one concrete thing you can do to solidify these gifts in your life.

Image Credit: Cathopic, Fraylalo

Are you skipping the first step of prayer?

The way we start anything is super important.

When I forget to pay attention to the way I begin to pray I feel like my prayer begins to “sag.” I lose attention. I lack desire. My mind and heart are fragmented and tired. Without an intentional beginning, prayer often ends up never arriving at the heart of God.

Try this exercise for Clearing the Space to intentionally enter into prayer.

Recall a “wow” moment

Remember a time when you felt something with your whole being. For instance when you pick up a puppy dog lost in the rain, your heart goes out to the poor animal. You can “feel” how much you care. The same when you interact with a baby. We can’t help loving such a little one. You pay attention with your mind and your heart. You want the best for the child. You let go of whatever else is taking your attention.

Now recall a time when you felt God close to you, a “wow” moment, an overwhelm moment. Go ahead. Stop and do it right now. It could be as simple as an evening when you watched the sun slowly set or as profound as an experience of prayer in which you felt seen, known, spoken to by God or by the Blessed Mother.

Soak in that presence, that sense of mystery, warmth, tenderness, security

As you re-enter that experience, pay attention to how it registers in your feelings. Similarly, when we encounter the divine, we know on every level of our being that we are in the presence of God. Soak in that presence, that sense of mystery, warmth, tenderness, security. To soak in something is to let it permeate every inch of your being. To stay. To abide. To remain. To allow. To sit with something that is beyond. More than.

State what you desire

In the Contemplative Prayer Experiences that we have begun in Touching the Sunrise Saint Ignatius will be leading us slowly through the stories of Jesus’ life found in the Gospel.

The very first thing Ignatius has us do when we begin to pray is to ask God for these things: a deeply felt awareness of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh and how in doing this we enter into a process of healing that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally.

This may be a long sentence but it is KEY to prayer. What do you want? What is your desire? Ignatius helps us understand what we should desire when we begin to pray with the life of our Savior. I explore every phrase in this desire in the article: God heals us that we might offer ourselves (Horizons of the Heart 15). If you missed any of the meditations in the Horizons of the Heart series you can find an index of them here.

God heals us that we might offer ourselves (Horizons of the Heart 15)

The grace we are asking of God: a deeply felt awareness of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh and how in doing this we enter into a process of healing that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally

Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

Remember a time when you felt God close to you, a “wow” moment, an overwhelm moment. It could be as simple as an evening when you watched the sun slowly set or as profound as an experience of prayer in which you felt seen, known, spoken to by God or by the Blessed Mother. As you re-enter that experience, pay attention to how it registers in your feelings. When you pick up a puppy dog lost in the rain, your heart goes out to the poor animal. You can “feel” how much you care. The same when you interact with a baby. We can’t help loving such a little one. Similarly, when we encounter the divine, we know on every level of our being that we are in the presence of God. Soak in that presence, that sense of mystery, warmth, tenderness, security.

In our Contemplative Prayer Experiences in which we enter into the stories of Jesus’ life, we are asking of God these things: a deeply felt awareness of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh and how in doing this we enter into a process of healing that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally.

  1. A deeply felt awareness: not a notional knowledge, but an awareness that reaches deep down within us, that transforms us from the inside out with the movements of God’s mysterious reaching out to us; a transformation that is worked on the level of memories, desires, imagination, what is barely conscious but which has an inordinate say regarding how we think, feel, and act in our day-to-day life
  2. …of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh: as we enter into the dance of prayer and love, God draws our life into the unfolding of his Son’s life, Jesus the Word made flesh. We are not here and Jesus over there somewhere, a story in our memories, a picture in our imagination.As we enter into Jesus’ life, as we speak with him, our lives are brought together with his. We are healed as Jesus lives out the mystery of his life in us.
  3. …how in doing this we enter into a process of healing: As we enter into the stories of Jesus’ life, there may surface in our lives a deep emptiness, a black hole in our heart, an unexplained fear, agitation, or resistance. As we appreciate God’s gift of his Son who lived among us, we allow Jesus’ mystery to touch us deeply particularly in those places in our life in which we carry heavy burdens and bear wounds of which we may even be unconscious.
  4. …that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally: The Spiritual Exercises very gently lead us from healing to self-offering, to that commitment to follow Jesus with our whole heart no matter where he may lead, no matter what it may cost.

As you reflect on this grace, what is it that strikes you most? Are there wounds in your life that come to mind? Would you say that you are ready to give God everything, or is God gently leading through a path of healing and mercy to prepare you to receive this great grace?

Return to the experience of God’s closeness with which you began this prayer. Ask God what it is that he wants you to know? To see? To believe?

Image credit: Hugo Gonzalez by Cathopic

We are loved to give love away to the world (Mark 16:15-18)

Today the Church celebrates the conversion of one of the greatest followers of Jesus: the apostle Saint Paul. When we first meet Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, he is clearly a young rabbi who had a hatred for the followers of Jesus. As St. Stephen was being stoned, those who took part in his martyrdom laid their cloaks at Paul’s feet. This zealot is described as entering house after house and dragging men and women out to hand them over for imprisonment (cf. Acts 8:3b).

As Paul approached Damascus with letters to bring back to Jerusalem any he found living as followers of the Way, Jesus met him. Surrounded by blinding light, Paul, who had been “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” was humbled to the ground. Instead of speaking, he was made to listen. This heart that had been filled with such hatred for the followers of Jesus found, suddenly and immediately, a love beyond his comprehension from the very one he had been persecuting.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Jesus told him. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (v 5-6).

Paul’s call, his conversion, left him blind, and like a child, he was led into Damascus where he was baptized three days later by Ananias, a member of the community of disciples he had intended to round up and take back to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul was called. Paul was converted, changed, transformed. Paul was baptized so that he would carry out the mission Jesus had chosen him for: to go into the whole world, far beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem, to proclaim the good news to every creature.

Paul’s call has become the paradigm of every Christian calling since. We are called not for ourselves, but for others. We are loved, not to hold that sense of God’s love for us close to our own hearts, but to give it away to as many people as possible. We are transformed so that we might radiate to the world what it is to be truly human, truly Christ-like, totally Christian. In other words, today’s feast is a window onto the most important task you and I have on this earth: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

After Paul regained his sight, he immediately began to preach to the Jews of Damascus about Jesus. He was met with disbelief and threats against his life. Paul had to learn that this mission to go to the very ends of the earth spurred on by the love of Christ, though a huge task, wasn’t going to be accomplished on his own terms. Eventually, he was sent away by the disciples to Tarsus. For three years he waited in study and prayer until Barnabas remembered him and thought he might be able to help out the community in Antioch.

The Church is given a great commission to proclaim the gospel to every creature, and yet in our experience, the best and the brightest and the most promising people are often sidelined or walk away. People don’t get along and it seems that perfect opportunities are missed. There is so much to do we want to get started right away, throwing ourselves into the project, and God tells us to wait and study and pray. We devise strategies and develop plans, and God undoes them all to bring about his own. Sometimes I feel that these are the signs that accompany those who believe. More than healing the sick and driving out demons, speaking new languages, and picking up serpents with our bare hands, God leaves us in confusion and humility as we wait upon his Word. What set-back or suffering are you bearing for the sake of the Gospel?

You and I are commissioned to share with every person on this earth the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. To whom is God sending you today to share the good news?

Praying with this passage of Scripture

Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).

Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.

Read (lectio)
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.

Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.

Contemplate (contemplatio)
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.

Photo Credit: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Saint Rita: How to Choose Forgiveness

When we’ve been hurt by others we may struggle with feelings of anger at being treated unjustly, fear of what will happen next, guilt over our part in what may have happened, and the seeming impossibility of reconciliation. And yet, as we stay up at night replaying what has happened, we may wonder at the cost of not reconciling:

The relationships broken. The difficulty of the situations we will be put in. Losing love, support, companionship, opportunity.

Have you been there? I know you have. And so have I. Many times.

In this series on forgiveness let’s find a way through the pain, learning how to navigate the swirl of inner chaos with the help of the saints, Scripture, and some spiritual activities that will make taking the leap into forgiving seem more desirable and possible.

Let’s start with Saint Rita. This amazing Italian woman born in 14th century Italy had a lot to forgive. As a child she had a deep love for prayer and more than anything else desired to become a nun. Her parents married her off instead.

Rita entered into marriage only to discover how harsh and cruel her husband Paolo Mancini was. She was married to him for 18 years and bore him two sons. Paolo had a terrible temper and was abusive.

The young mother sought to shield her two sons from Paolo’s influence and prayed that her husband would see what was happening to the family because of his rage. She hoped that her sons would not be as angry and violent as their father. Eventually, Paolo did have a change of heart and begged forgiveness from those whose suffering he had caused. However, Paolo had made many enemies in his life, and one day he was caught in an ambush and murdered.

Now Rita was a widow left with two sons in their early teenage years. The two boys vowed to avenge their father’s death and kill the man who had taken the life of their father. Rita prayed that they would not destroy their souls by taking revenge on the life of their father by murder. She even gave the Lord “permission” to take their lives if by doing so it would save their souls. Not long after her husband’s death her two teenage sons died of natural causes. Saint Rita nursed them in their final days and they begged her forgiveness.

After her sons’ deaths, the grieving widow and mother sought out the men who had murdered her husband and established reconciliation and peace with their whole family.

After losing her husband and sons, Rita joined the Augustinian nuns and her body is incorrupt to this day. She is invoked as the saint of impossible cases.

There are four things we can learn from Saint Rita to help us think about forgiveness in new ways:

  1. Forgiveness is a way of seeing. When harm has been done to us it is often hard to get outside the quagmire of our thoughts, imaginations, emotions, and our desires to make a quick decision to “set things right” or “feel at peace.” Saint Rita teaches us to take the long view. To see beyond what appears so abundantly clear to our eyes and our heart. Forgiveness requires us to see beyond fears, reactions, expectations, both our own and those of others. Forgiveness requires that we see the other who has hurt us as a person who is loved by God, potentially, at least, my brother or sister in Christ, always worthy of respect and love.  
  2. Forgiveness is a new way of imagining situations. We struggle with forgiving others at times because we are trying to protect ourselves or others from being hurt again. When we open ourselves to imagining the situation in new ways, forgiveness offers us new possibilities for alternate responses other than anger, revenge, and defensiveness. Like Saint Rita, we discover that what seemed to be a path of darkness and hopelessness suddenly becomes the place in which we are molded into the very person God has made us to be.
  3. Forgiveness is only possible for the courageous person. I have to admit that when I have succumbed to my feelings to want to “hit back” or “take out” someone or a group who has hurt me, I feel small and petty. And I feel this way even if I am convinced I am in the right. It takes a courageous person like Saint Rita to dream of new ways of thriving in the midst of a difficult and undeserved situation.
  4. Forgiveness is rarely a one-time event. We have to be honest about the damage that has been done to us by others who have hurt us. Even if we tell God that we forgive, even if we pray for the other person and for their success and holiness, even if we think we’ve moved on, we may have to revisit the situation and the wound again and again. Like Saint Rita, we touch the complexity of situations, how they ripple through the lives and experiences of other people we know and love, how we relive again and again what happened.

Forgiveness does not come spontaneously or naturally to people. Forgiving from the heart is heroic. Only the healing power of love can enable the wounded heart to experience the liberating power of forgiveness.

When we make the courageous choice to see and imagine our lives and the lives of the person who has hurt us differently, we weaken the ego’s monopoly on our perceptions and the tempest in our emotions gets put on pause for the slightest moment in time. Then miraculously we are enabled to release, to rest, to let go, to cease ruminating on the hurt and to have compassion instead on the wounded and the wounder. We are able with the grace of God to acknowledge and affirm the greater truth of who we are and who others most deeply are.

Next look at forgiveness: What Forgiveness Is…And What It Is Not

Image Credit: Public Domain Wikimedia Commons

Jesus asks: “Are you ready to be healed? Are you willing to follow me?” (Horizons of the Heart 14)

The grace we are asking of God: a deeply felt awareness of how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh and how in doing this we enter into a process of healing that we might love Jesus and follow him more intentionally.

Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

If you could live your deepest vision for yourself, if you could take up the dream you have for your life, what would that look like?

This is a question we are often asked in a secular forum. If you want to plan your life, your day, your career, you need to know who you are and what you want. Otherwise, there is no planning, there is no starting, there is no arriving. However, when we ask these questions in the context of gospel contemplation and the spiritual horizon of our life the purpose and process are somewhat different.

If you could live your deepest vision for yourself, if you could take up the dream you have for your life, what would that look like?

Other questions you might begin to reflect on in a space of deeper prayer or simple being in the presence of the goodness of God could be:

  • What images give you life?
  • What pictures, stories, events of the past have remained with you like a mysterious clarion call to something different? Perhaps these arouse your curiosity. They might might strengthen your willingness and your love, or you could realize that they seem to trigger inner resistances of which you were not previously aware.
  • What are the values, goals, ideas you have had about the good life that have sustained you to this point? Are these shifting? If so, why do you think this is happening now and not at some other time?
  • What are situations of abandonment, failure, manipulation that may have influenced who you have become to this point in your life? Do you desire something to be different? Why?


You may wish to take some time with these questions, reflecting and journalling about them over several days. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, to sanctify your memory, to open your heart, to fortify and sustain your will.

Notice: What surprises you? What challenges you? What frees you?

Image by Paul Barlow from Pixabay