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

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 

When Life Is Upended: A Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 13)

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.

The grace we are asking of God: a deeply felt sense of trust in how God draws us into the unfolding of the mystery of the Word made flesh.

Entering Prayer

“O Holy Night!” It is one of the most beloved of Christmas hymns, immortalizing the “night” of the birth of the Savior. I must admit that for all my life my favorite hymns for the season of Christmas are the ones that talk about the night, the moment, in which the Son of God appears in the lowly and poor space where animals are kept in the city of Bethlehem. Like the manger scenes so typically depict, there is Mary and Joseph gazing with love on the Child. A snapshot in time reminding us of the most miraculous and momentous moment of history. “O Holy Night!”

“He whom God manifold to prophets hath foretold
Lies there a Child. Lies there a Child” (from the hymn Holiest Night).

“Wonder of wonders,
Myst’ry of mysteries,
Upon the heart of the young Virgin Mother
Rests the Maker of all the world” (from the Italian hymn Sleep on, Little King, Ninna Nanna).

This Christmas, however, something was different. Some welcome days of vacation meant I had extra time to pray, to ponder, to read, to wonder, and even to wander. My heart came to rest at last as I gazed on the crêche a few feet from the first pew in our chapel in our Motherhouse.

The figures of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds, and the Magi were no longer frozen in time, appearing for one holy night’s event that would be remembered and recalled year after year. They were suddenly for me real people with real lives who made real journeys in response to this most sacred event in the history of the world.

Image by articgoneape from Pixabay 

Imagining Yourself Present

Sit next to Mary as she rests in the stable while Joseph takes his turn to watch their Child who is the Son of God. So young is she, and yet so suddenly mature, responsible, surrendering to the Provident care of God, yet cherishing her firstborn son with the evident concern of any new mother. Feel the prickly straw that provides the only place to lie, where the blessed Mother and Son in poverty rest. Notice the fatigue. Peer into the darkness outside and wonder when you will be able to travel home with such a young child? Feel her loneliness as she rested so far away from her mother and neighbors on this most important holy night of her life. Let your heart feel compassion for Mary. Perhaps bring her some water or a bit of food. Tell her that she can sleep a little while you and Joseph watch over her newborn baby.

Before this night, before the moment when the Archangel Gabriel had visited her, Mary had been but a child herself. Her life had been unfolding in one direction as a “virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph.” Things had been easy in those days before “The angel Gabriel from heaven came, / his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame; / “All hail,” said he to meek and lowly Mary, / “most highly favored maiden” (from the hymn The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came). And yet her answer: “To me be as it pleases God,” not only set her life in a new direction. The intervention of heaven into her life made it possible for Mary to become who she was meant to be: God’s Mother and ours, the Queen of the Universe and Gate of Heaven.

There is no photographed moment of Christmas joy from that first holy night, only lives transformed by unexpected vocations and challenging manifestations of God that directed people onto new paths for which there was little preparation. Mary and Joseph both had to prepare themselves for a life they had not anticipated, but a life lived in response to the angel’s message from the Throne of God: “Do not be afraid. This is what will happen. And this is what you will do….”

Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Even the sleepy shepherds found their slumber and night watch interrupted by angels. In an instant they were no longer the lowest outcasts of Bethlehem, but had become the first messengers and apostles of the good news of the birth of the King of Kings. The Wise Men in their rich robes suddenly realized that their destiny was to take a very long journey in search of an unknown King who had been born somewhere in the land of Israel.

Take some time to reflect on what even one of these persons is going through as their life is upended by the Almighty and they are precipitated into unknown futures where all they have is their trust.

Imagining the Gospel Events in the Present

The quiet days of reflection that were woven into my Christmas season were welcome days of unwinding and interior relief. As I reflected on the ways my life has recently been upended and redirected into unexpected directions, I resonated with the attitudes and feelings and interior heart-spaces each of the people in the crêche before me.

And you? Have your middling years seen a surprising transformation of life form? Does it resemble the Christmas journey of Mary or Joseph, with the clarity of heaven’s clarion call? Or the wonder and simplicity of the shepherd’s search for what the angels had announced? Or is it long and convoluted and messy like the Wise Men from the East who unwittingly got caught up in the machinations of a jealous Herod?

Observe Attractions and Resistances

Enter again, as you are drawn in prayer, with quiet rest and sensitive attention into the inner world of one of the figures that make up the Christmas story.

Observe their actions, words, emotions, sensitivities, attitudes. 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.

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 Mary’s motherhood, 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 Mary, Joseph and Jesus about what you observe and experience. What do you begin to learn about your following of Jesus?

Conversing as with a friend

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.

Main image credit: Image by Enrique from Pixabay 

The Divine Heart of Reality – A personal Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 12)

This is part of an Advent series of Gospel contemplations in the spirit of the Ignatian Exercises. The introduction offers the format for Gospel Contemplation.

This is an Ignatian Gospel meditation that extended over a week of quiet prayer. The last grace I felt Jesus was telling me I should be asking for was the gift of joy. So this is where I began this meditation on the birth of Jesus.

Entering Prayer

Psalm 99 (TPT)

Come on, everyone! Let’s sing for joy in the Lord!
Let’s shout our loudest praises  to our God who saved us.
Everyone come meet his face with a thankful heart
make him great by your shouts of joy!

…Come and kneel before this Creator-God!
…For we are the lovers he cares for and he is the God we worship.

…Your ancestors challenged me with their complaining
even though I had convinced them of my power and love….

Jesus, how gently you teach me.

Joy is not a feeling.
It is not a satisfaction with one’s own place in the divine plan.
It is not “everything going my way.”

I rejoice, shouting praises because God has saved me.
I exalt God.
I meet him face-to-face and the meeting itself opens of a flood of eucharistic-worship.
His Face. I love him!

Joy is the reward, the result of loving praise offered 24-7 by a grateful heart of one who has escaped utter devastation by God’s acts of power and love towards his lovers that he cares for.
You have shown me your power (Baptism=death and resurrection) and your love (Communion).

Grace—self-forgetfulness: absorption in Jesus.

Imagining Yourself Present

…A child, I am kneeling next to Mary at the side of the manger… My left hand on the rough wood, covered by hers, my right hand on Jesus’ head.

Angie Menes, Cathopic

The force of her adoration. Not a feeling but the reality of Jesus’ possession of her. She can’t tear herself away from his face.

Imagining the Gospel Events in the Present

My hand gently rubbing Jesus’ head as he lies in the manger, hours after birth.
I am a young woman… Jesus, a baby, newly born.
Flesh—the Word made Flesh.

I am touched deeply by his mercy, his smile, the outpouring of God’s love..
I pour myself out in worship.

Our faith is rooted in this very human experience, in real historical events, the tender touch of the everlasting Real….
About God becoming flesh and flesh being taken up by the Word made Flesh.

I rest here, touching the heart’s sunrise, the Dawn of our salvation.
My own inner mental constructions I set aside. I bury them in the name of Jesus and return to the eye of heart. Jesus… Jesus… Jesus… I stay connected to my own humanity and to the humanity of Jesus Christ.

grateful praise…
humble joy…

Observing Attractions and Resistance

Jesus (Phil 2:5ff)

  • he did not cling to equality with God
  • emptied himself
  • became man
  • died to rescue us the ungrateful…

Here, in the manger before me, Jesus is emptied of his divinity
I need to empty myself of Self.

At death I will have wanted to have already let go of everything.
Jesus let go of his Glory to be Servant.

What is this resistance within me?

What our minds select to focus on and ignore is regulated by our desires, absorbed by our egocentric preoccupations. As our desires are purified our perceptions are transformed…
Jesus, help me…

Entering the Mystery of the Story

Jesus (Phil 2:5ff)
Humility is the emptying of oneself for the sake of making room for otherness.
The Father poured out his love in creation, making room for us, his creatures, all creation, who would be welcomed into the dance of humble giving and receiving, loving and surrendering, that is the Trinitarian life, the atmosphere of eternity. However, in the garden we chose not to obey, not to worship, not to wait, not to believe in God’s love and his designs…

The Son emptied himself for our salvation, to restore us to the glory for which we had been created.

The Spirit is poured out on the earth at Pentecost, through the sacraments, in prayer, in grace, in divine designs for the sanctification and deification of every person on this earth until the end of time when we will be all one in Christ and stand before the Father to his Glory.

Quiet awe….

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay 

Moving through deepening levels of stillness

I am a child again… playing…around the manger…. Nothing to grasp at… Nothing to show…
We are asked by Jesus to be children, the only way to receive divine guidance is to be a child, without self-guidance, worry, fear, vanity. To plan our responses to possible future circumstances is to pile up useless worry and vain fears and vain alarms and vain hopes…

I am but a child playing beneath the manger, looking at all the adoring angels… Receiving the impressions God makes through subtle movements in my soul.

My Father is acting. I can play. The divine Heart of reality. Worry accomplishes nothing.

Stay present. Don’t plan for the future at the expense of the present childhood.
Jesus lived the present of each moment, trusting all to his Father’s acting.

Rest here in the present, beneath the manger, surrounded by the angels. Stay here. Soak in whatever God is accomplishing and bringing about.

Desiring to follow Jesus

Jesus, what is the gift I should be praying for?

I immediately hear within myself the word “intimacy.” You should be praying for intimacy.
Mary and Joseph were “children.” They lived in your hands where they were secure (not safe), led, cared for, protected, as you shepherded them through life, simple as doves.

I beg for the grace of intimacy…so that with adult responsibilities I may cling, like Mary and Joseph and Jesus, to you, Father, as a child to its mother. In this is true joy.

What would this look like? How would it play out in my relationships? In prayer? In service? In play?

Psalm 99 (TPT)

Come on, everyone! Let’s sing for joy in the Lord!
Let’s shout our loudest praises  to our God who saved us.
Everyone come meet his face with a thankful heart
make him great by your shouts of joy!

…Come and kneel before this Creator-God!
…For we are the lovers he cares for and he is the God we worship.

“…in but a very little while” – a personal Advent Gospel contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 11)

Imagining the Gospel Events in the present

This is part of an Advent series of Gospel contemplations in the spirit of the Ignatian Exercises. The introduction offers the format for Gospel Contemplation.

The flour dusted us both as we laughed together. Mary and I, a neighbor, are enjoying ourselves in the late afternoon, as I teach her my recipe for bread.

A knock on the door. It is Joseph. “Mary,” he says quietly. “I have some news. Please come over here.” I watch from the kitchen as he gently leads Mary apart. So quiet, so calm, such resting peace in the soul of this saint.

The soldiers have announced the census and he and Mary must go to Bethlehem, the city of their ancestor David…. The city in which was to be born, according to the prophet Micah, the Messiah….

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

How quickly everything changes. How gently he tells her. I watch their silhouette in the next room as the sun falls. They motion to the baby things all ready…. Leave home, family, security, love, assistance in those first days of motherhood…. To strike out on their own at this most delicate part of Mary’s pregnancy….

…into the unknown where the unexpected is the norm….

How easily Mary lets it all go. She is handmaid not manager. She willingly assents to bring the Prince of Peace into the darkness of a long journey into a small village where he would meet the occupying force and the prince of darkness. Where light would begin to shine. Where glory would begin to trumpet out the coming of our God.

As a woman recently told me after she shared her story of struggles and sorrow, “There is always more going on than we know.”

Joseph Parrocel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Observing attractions and resistance

I, as an older neighbor, and as myself, felt within my heart movements to manage and control and plan and reassure. No. I have to let them live their own life and fight their own battles. I have to disappear from this story. It is theirs. I feel decentered, unseen, left behind.

Joseph and Mary dropped their plans, preparations, and preferences. They saw in the census the striking of God’s hour for they couldn’t have been ignorant of Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This political decision by the country’s occupying force was how God would have them go, now, at his bidding, to Bethlehem where Jesus was to be born. Joy. Praise. Yes.

How many others they met along the way may have been bitterly complaining, “It isn’t fair! I can’t wait to rid the country of the Romans! This is the worst time for us!” How many of their friends probably said, “It doesn’t make sense for you to go now!” “It’s too dangerous!”

For me, their neighbor, their journey to Bethlehem effectively takes the birth of the Child out of my control, for I would have been midwife and friend and companion.

I feel drawn—so drawn—to the simple freedom of Joseph and Mary. They were like feathers in the wind of the Spirit, their lives like pencils in the hand of the Most High writing the story of salvation.

You, God, lead the way, like a Pillar of Fire in the night. We have only to see, to trust, to obey and all will work out as you have planned for our coming to stand before you in your glory—all of us together—kings and beggars and prophets and virgins and saints and sinners—all.

Joseph and Mary were ready to walk into danger, darkness, uncertainty, making what seemed to be irrational decisions at your Word in your divine decrees.

I face what it is to stay behind, to let go of my plans and preparations and projects. They were young parents to be, I am older now. A life lived. Gratitude, yes, but also regrets.

Entering the Mystery of the Story

(From the first reading on Friday, the first week of Advent Isaiah 29:17ff.):

“But a very little while…

the thrill, the anticipation, the expectation of God SOON

…and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard…

Lebanon had been stripped of its cedars by the Assyrian invader, so as to be the wilderness that Isaiah refers to in chapter 22, verse 15. Lebanon shall regain its glory, once more being as Carmel, or the “fruitful field…” An orchard—cultivated, fertile, fruitful, owned, protected, loved, useful according to the plan of God.

…the deaf shall hear… the eyes of the blind shall see… will ever find joy in the Lord….

a re-creation: Jesus, I need your recreating power in my life—the touch that brings something out of nothing, the breath that brings life out of death.

…[in] but a very little while…”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Moving through deepening levels of stillness

I cede my life-plan and purpose to the advent of your salvation.

“With the rising of the sun, we shall soon see the King of king and Lord of lords, coming forth from his bridal chamber…” (From the Liturgical Christmas Novena, Day Nine, Antiphon for the Magnificat).

The sky shall unfold
Preparing His entrance
The stars shall applaud Him
With thunders of praise.

The sweet light in His eyes
Shall enhance those awaiting
And we shall behold Him
Then face to face

…in all His Glory…. (Sandy Patty, Lyrics of “We Shall Behold Him”)

The sky shall unfold…

As Mary and Joseph were taken up with the coming of Jesus, so am I….

Tasting the sweet light in His eyes…

Jesus is here. I am here. The Mystery is here.

Image Credit: tinvalro via Cathopic

Desiring to follow Jesus

In ordinary things of life keep focused, as Mary, on the sweet light of His eyes and his coming “[in] but a very little while.”

Maranatha. O Lord, come. Create anew. Execute your plan of salvation. How beautiful you are. How lovely the sweet light in your eyes. I am but a handmaid, yet I behold you face to face. You always initiate the next step of salvation in history, and in my life, and in my today. Your Face, O Lord, I seek. Let me see Your Face and I shall be saved.

Conversing as with a friend

What is the grace I should be asking for? A simple question to Joseph and Mary.

Joy

Throwing yourself into the folding of God’s Joy on earth

With no more cares and personal projects

For the sake of God’s joy

Stillness. Silence. Resting. Tasting. Receiving.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

What will it look like when I live out of this joy, embody this joy, share this joy as a way of being…at prayer, in relationships, in ministry, in community?

Featured Image:Giotto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Motherhood of Mary – Entering into Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 10)

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 the events of the annunciation, the visitation to Elizabeth, the trip of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and the birth of Jesus. Offer yourself to Mary and Jesus, imagining yourself present to these events of our salvation. Put yourself at the service of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus reflecting on what Mary is going through and how each of them is experiencing these events. Be present to them with “the whole affective power of your mind, with loving care, with lingering delight, thus laying aside all other worries and cares.”

Image Cathopic

The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38
The Visitation: Luk1: 39-45
The Trip to Bethlehem and the Birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-20

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 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.

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 Mary’s motherhood, 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 Mary, Joseph and 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.

Image: Cathopic

Conversing as with a friend

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.

Image Credit: Cathopic

“To know the forest thaws” – Horizons of the Heart 9

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

The grace we are asking of God: a deep heartfelt knowledge of how God has chosen to fulfill his vision for all his creation through Jesus

In Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C. S. Lewis I happily discovered the poem “On Knowing Him Here for a Little, A Poem in Seven Parts” by the poet Madeline Infantine. Each of the parts of her poem introduce one of the seven essays, one for each of the Narnian Chronicles. The first line of the poem immediately seized my attention. Like a magnet it brought into line my fragmented awareness:

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

My inner world immediately stood at attention as these words pierced my heart. In a trice my imagination was activated, an intuitive response thawing my own inner world. Yes. When God meets me on the road of life, when he stares into my eyes to  catch my attention, my outer world crashes into silence…and my inner me thaws.

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

To know.

To know him.

To know him here.

To know the forest.

To know the forest thaws.

Image by FrauLehrerin from Pixabay 

As I read these words for the first time the veil that covers the spiritual reality of the material world that I see with my senses was pulled aside for one very long expectant hush. And at that moment I knew. I touched what was beyond touch and saw what was beyond sight. For just a flash, this poem had touched my imagination and I knew with a felt experiential knowledge that could not be doubted.

St. Ignatius and Lewis both reverenced the imagination as the organ for deep meaning, the opening to the soul onto what is truly true. When the imagination is startled into silence, as mine was when I read this line of the poem, the eyes of the soul are lifted to the Really Real, as Lewis would say, to the land of the True North we are all seeking, our everlasting home.

In a similar way the Ignatian Exercises baptize our imagination by immersing it again and again into the Really Real. He guides the retreatant to contemplate the life of Jesus and the heart of the Father using their imagination, or more deeply, baptizing their imagination, blessing it, transforming it, redeeming it.

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

The Annunciation, public domain via Wikipedia.

The angel quietly enters a humble house in Nazareth to announce that the world was about to thaw: she was to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, the Fire of the Father’s Love sent upon the earth to gather souls to salvation in the Kingdom.

Mary travelled to assist her elderly cousin Elizabeth. This elderly woman felt her child leap in her womb, as she proclaimed—the first human to do so—the Lord present on this earth, hidden now in the womb of the Virgin. She intimately knew that the frozen ground was beginning to thaw.

St Joseph, asleep when assured by an angel that he was needed as foster-father, protector, guide, provider. Bethlehem, a city packed with Israelites who were there for the census proclaimed by the Roman authorities… Even the forest thaws….

This “thaw” is God’s vision for the world.

There is a difference between reading and meditating, between pondering a mystery and entering into it, between being spiritually moved by religious truths and existentially changed by them.

In the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius begins to lead the retreatant through a number of Gospel contemplations of the Incarnation. Beginning with the Annunciation, Ignatius invites us to enter into the Gospel stories surrounding the Incarnation of the Son of God and his birth and childhood. Why? Because “to know him here is to know the forest thaws.” Another line of Infantine’s first poem opens up the amazement of meditation: “where once was silence, only song.”

“God sent his Son, born of a woman, born in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have life everlasting” (Jn 3:16). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).

“For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47)

Image via Pixabay

During my Ignatian retreat, I found great healing as I prayed with the Gospel stories around the birth of Jesus. Very tenderly, Jesus touched me in ways that gave me new insight. He opened my heart to experiences of mercy I could never deserve. He wrapped up the broken places of my spirit and helped me stand again in his service.

These days I am praying through the Spiritual Exercises once more and find myself in a very different place. As I enter into these meditations my heart is being moved by the humility of God who lowered himself to come down on our level, to babble in our language, to walk our streets and take an interest in what concerns us. And why did he do this?

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

To a world frozen over with idolatry, mediocrity, sin and death, Jesus came to bring a new warmth, a new hope, a new life.

As I pray now with these Gospel meditations I feel my heart thrill. I too want to give my life that others might live. I too want to lay down my life for the salvation of others. I too want to labor at the side of my humble Savior, to wash the feet of others that they might experience the radiant glory of his mercy.

Infantine invites us at the end of this first poem to come and to see, to witness, to behold, to ponder, to burst through frozen silence (where all has been subjugated to the powers of sin and death) into the praise that leads to adoration and contemplation. There, she says, we will discover life in the fire of his touch and the thaw of spring from the warmth of God’s breath.

In the next segments I will be offering Gospel meditations of Ignatius that make up the journey of the second week of the Exercises, that you might know anew that the forest thaws.

Featured image: by Ирина Кудрявцева from Pixabay 

You, yes YOU, are God’s choice (Horizons of the Heart 8)

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

The grace we are asking of God: an ever-increasing awareness of God’s love for me

The most important truth to be convinced of is not that God loves you. As broken, wounded, wandering as we each may be, as desperately yearning to know that we matter and that we are worth someone’s attention, contrary to what we might think, we do not need most to know how much God loves us.

I almost cringe as I write these words. For almost 40 years this has been both my mantra and my misery, my hope against hope, the alphabet of my feelings of spiritual failure. I had not realized that I was seeking for something that was only half-true, a shabby imitation of the fierce and passionate, surprisingly disconcerting way of divine love.

In the first week of the spiritual exercises, St Ignatius draws the retreatant into love through the very narrow and demanding path of coming to grips with what is not loving in one’s life. The retreatant comes to Jesus in prayer, again and again, begging for the grace to acknowledge the mystery of iniquity which spins a web of deceit around them. Repeatedly I came before Jesus begging for the grace to become deeply aware of my personal sin history and my hidden disorders. I begged Jesus and Mary for interior knowledge of my sins, an awareness of the disorder of my actions, that I might hate them and allow God to bring order once again to my life.

The way of truth is the only foundation for the confidence of love. But ah! how hard is this truth!

Let me tell you a story that tries to clarify this intertwining of truth and love.

There once was a king who lived in an immense palace. He was well beloved by his people. He served them with an inward goodness. The king enjoyed great wealth, sumptuous banquets, gemstones and royal diadems, everything he could ever want.

The king was not yet married and it was every young woman’s dream who lived in the kingdom that she might one day be his bride.

One day the king left his palace and traveled to the smallest and poorest town of his kingdom. At the end of an almost impassible road at the furthermost edge of this village, he sought out a young woman who had survived a fire. She had burns on over 80% of her body that had left her terribly disfigured. Her face was almost unrecognizable, her hair only a short stubble.

The king entered her hovel and inquired after her needs, sending his own servants to provide for her. Then he proposed to her. “Will you marry me?” he asked her quietly.

The king took his bride-to-be back to his palace. He introduced her to the most important persons in the realm who surrounded him and took her to the palace ball.

This young woman must have felt humiliated as she was introduced to the king’s friends as his fiancé. “You could have anyone in your realm as your bride. Why did you pick me? I am not beautiful. I have nothing to offer you. I am disfigured and deformed, hideous to behold.” As she stood before the king’s staff and servants she would have realized her inadequacy certainly. As each subsequent day passed, however, she would have felt more and more confused and ashamed before the beauty, wealth, intelligence, culture, and gifts of his friends and courtiers.

Photo by Daniel Gutko on Unsplash

This sentiment exactly is part of what the First Week of the Exercises brings about in us, this deep and almost devastating awareness of the mystery of evil in which we are entangled. Before the purity of God, we realize how corrupt we are, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve whose refusal to obey the command of God has wrought such disastrous consequences on all of humanity. In his Ascent to Mount Carmel, Saint John of the Cross aptly describes what we their children experience: “So great is the harm that if we try to express how ugly and dirty is the imprint the appetites leave in the soul, we find nothing comparable to it—neither a place full of cobwebs and lizards near the unsightliness of a dead body nor the filthiest thing imaginable in this life […] The variety of filth caused in the soul is both inexplicable and unintelligible” (Book I, 9.3.).

Just as the new bride-to-be experienced at once her confusion and the love that had been showered upon her by the king, we too experience our humiliation at coming to grips with the web of evil woven around us and the absolute mercy of being forgiven, chosen, and beloved.

On the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, after Peter’s astounding denial of Jesus on the night of his betrayal, Jesus asked the sorrowing apostle just one question: Do you love me? Jesus didn’t jump in to assure Peter that no matter what he did God still loved him. In his threefold questioning, Jesus brought Peter back to his greatest moment of humiliation: his threefold denial. There. In that place. In the dark and sorrowing truth of weakness and sham, Peter had to once again assert his love for Jesus. I could imagine that Peter felt humiliated before the other apostles, particularly John who alone among them had walked with Jesus the way to Calvary and stood beneath the cross of the Master. In Peter’s threefold attestation of love in the very wound of his humiliation, he began to interiorly know in a way that could never be erased from his soul, that he himself was forgiven, chosen, and beloved.

This love of God poured anew into Peter’s humbled heart that now could become a vessel of grace.

What are the shame-filled memories of past betrayals that still haunt your soul? Do not flee from them. Return to them with Jesus, the king who has sought you out as his chosen beloved one. Ignatius would have us experience the shame we’d feel if we stood hand in hand with Jesus before all of humanity, we with all the mystery of iniquity burning within us, disfiguring our lives and distorting our hearts. Imagine yourself, hand in hand with Jesus the King, standing before all the angels and saints, before your guardian angel, before Mary, before the eternal Father. As they look at you they see, they understand the sorrowing and the inner confusion at being so loved by the King who holds your hand, yet being so unworthy, so very unworthy. They have been there.

Vanesa Guerrero, rpm

In this place of experiencing the effects of sin you have suffered and for which you are to some extent also responsible, marvel at God who in his mercy forgives you, preserves you, and…truly forever and ever loves you. Look into the eyes of your Savior and King. Let him show you that you are his choice. He would go to the ends of his kingdom to find you and to bring you to his mansion in heaven. Let him love you. Be confident in this love he has for you. You may find Psalm 139 a helpful guide for this prayer:

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
and you understand my every thought before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord.
You read my heart like an open book
and you know all the words I’m about to speak
before I even start a sentence!
You know every step I will take before my journey even begins.
You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way,
and in kindness you follow behind me
to spare me from the harm of my past. 
You have laid your hand on me!
This is just too wonderful, deep, and incomprehensible!
Your understanding of me brings me wonder and strength.
Every single moment you are thinking of me!
How precious and wonderful to consider
that you cherish me constantly in your every thought!
O God, your desires toward me are more
than the grains of sand on every shore!
When I awake each morning, you’re still with me (Psalm 139: 1-6, 17-18).

Read prayerfully the story of the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John (11:38-44). Imagine yourself as Lazarus emerging from his tomb at the command of Jesus.

Giovanni di Paolo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

What has been your tomb? What feels dead right now in your life? Where do you feel trapped, confined, sightless, stifled?

Right there in that place, imagine Jesus calling you forth from what has become your tomb, the place that smells like death, the place that seems like a final “no” to who you could have been.

As you walk out of the tomb toward the voice, into the light, hear the exclamations and twittering whispers of the crowd gathered in mourning.

What does the voice that is calling you to arise to new life sound like? Does it remind you of some other loved person’s voice? How does it reverberate within you? Does it make your heart leap? If so, in what way? What would you compare it to? A fountain? An earthquake? What are you thinking as you walk toward the voice? What are you fearing? Hoping? Desiring?

Begin to remove the strips of cloth that were wrapped around you during your burial. Let each piece of cloth represent something that you need to be freed from. As you let each one of them go, look again into the face of Jesus who is calling you by name to come out of your tomb. Notice how he looks at you. What is he saying with his eyes? Does he tell you anything else?

Finally, approach Jesus. Follow your heart as it leads you to worship, love, and gratitude.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Eph. 1:3-8).

Photo by Eric Aiden on Unsplash

The way and the gift of tears (Horizons of the Heart 7)

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

The grace I am asking of God: a growing and intense sorrow and tears for my sins with a deepening awareness of God’s merciful love.

I entered retreat shedding tears, tears that flowed from feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and confusion about myself and about my future. Tears were an unavoidable part of the introductory days of my retreat. Entering into a place of silence, refuge, and rest, I was able to settle down, to re-enter my heart that had been so wounded. These were tears of sorrow and pain. However, tears are also a sacred part of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises.

From the first day of my retreat, I was deeply touched by a statue of Saint Francis beneath the cross of Christ. It stood at the retreat house in a garden directly outside the small kitchen area where we ate our breakfast. In this sculpture, Jesus Crucified reaches down with his right arm to embrace St Francis.

Statue in Our Lady of Providence Retreat House, Tampa Bay. Photo taken on retreat.

As I sat quietly before this image I was deeply moved by the way the sculptor depicted Jesus and the saint of Assisi gazing steadily into each other’s eyes. In the eyes of Francis, I saw a humble hope even as he boldly put his arms around the body of his Savior. His gaze wasn’t bold, but gentle and loving. In Jesus’ gaze I read the question: Do you see me? Do you see how I have died for you? Do you see how I love you? Be absolutely certain that I love you so much that I have given my life for you and if it were necessary, I would do so again. The beautiful way in which Jesus’ arm reaches down from the cross to draw Saint Francis into his passion and life-giving death was trusting and tender.

I wanted to have the courage to embrace Jesus like Francis.

I wanted to hear Jesus say these words to me.

I wanted to be that close to the Master who gave his life for me so that I might live.

I wanted to see in Jesus’ eyes the love that assures me that he is here for me as he was for the humble man of Assisi.

In statues and artwork, we depict Francis of Assisi in joyful ways, preaching to animals, and gently smiling. We forget that in actual fact tears are what marked his spirituality. Francis shed so many tears for his own sins and the sins of the whole world, that it is said that he lost his sight from his weeping. St. Francis had a profound devotion to the Passion of Jesus and near the end of his life Jesus gave him a share in his Passion by allowing him to bear on his body his most sacred wounds.

In wisdom from the ancient fathers, we are told that it is grace that opens our eyes to see things rightly. When we see things as they truly are, we become aware of both our own failures as well as how much we are loved. When we have gained this “precise vision,” we will be given the gift of tears. “At that time your eyes will begin to shed tears until they wash your cheeks by their very abundance” (Isaac the Syrian, quoted in The Fountain and the Furnace, page 38).

Tears are the gift of the grace of God working within us. They are a sign of healing at work in our depths, healing that leads us to a trusting union with Jesus and a union with others. Maggie Ross says in The Fountain and the Furnace, “The way and gift of tears open the gate of death in this life to resurrection in this life…. Tears release us from the prison of power and control into the vast love and infinite possibility of God” (page 44).

As I began to think about the sinfulness and weakness in my life, I also prayed for this gift of tears. I had come into the retreat shedding tears over my own image of myself and the losses that were a part of my midlife journey, but now I asked for the gift of tears because I had put Jesus on the cross.

Andrés Chávez Belisario Pixabay

Like the sense of union depicted between Jesus Crucified and Saint Francis, I also longed for this trusting intimacy, this urgent desire for oneness. In the words of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik: “Man is drawn to Him and rushes to Him with all his strength.”

Draw me, O Lord! This is a grace, not something that can be forced. These are not tears from grieving over what I have experienced or seeking comfort or status once again. These are tears of the heart, shed out of love, just as Christ loved me and gave himself up for me.

[The words of Israel:]

“‘After I strayed,
    I repented;
after I came to understand,
    I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated
    because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’”

[The words of God to Israel:]

Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him
,”
declares the Lord” (Jer 31:19-20).

In the first week of the Exercises, we are invited to make an inventory of our sins. Saint Ignatius wants us to understand how we are trapped in the mire of human weakness and personal choices that focus on ourselves instead of the Kingdom. How we have chosen our glory instead of God’s glory, our will instead of God’s will. We are encouraged to look carefully to see where we have trusted God and where we have trusted ourselves instead. We are invited to weep over the “disgrace of my youth” as this passage in Job says, but always, always, always remembering that we are doing so with a God who is love. One beautiful way to do this integration of life—almost a spiritual processing of our past with Jesus as our divine and compassionate guide—is to take his hand and ask him to raise up memories from our life that still need his healing touch, that still need our acknowledgment and sorrow.

Recently I was back at our motherhouse after a year of having been away. As I walked the hallways and prayed, ate, and worked with my sisters, many memories began to surface. I took the time to re-enter situations long forgotten which never had received a “spiritual closure,” praying that I could move on without them continuing to affect my decisions and attitudes. Very simply we can ask Jesus to show us what he sees, what he knows, and what he loves in us. Memories will touch off other memories. We can talk to Jesus about them and ask him to help us see the patterns of how we escape his love to love ourselves. When we ask for this, Jesus is always quick to oblige, not because he has just been waiting to pull up before our eyes a full accounting of our falls, but because he yearns to give us love and to receive our love in return.

Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him
” (Job 31:20).

Gabriel Manjarres via Cathopic

On my retreat, I used this single verse to guide me as I meditated on my journey with the Lord thus far:

“If my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled” (Job 31:7)

“If my steps have turned from this path”:

Walking, paths, steps, following, the way, following the truth, and following the Spirit are themes that appear throughout the scriptures. Each snippet of Scripture listed below offers a different facet of how I reflected on keeping my steps along Christ’s path. I offer them here because I knew Jesus will use his Word to enlarge your own understanding.

  • Job 23:11: My foot has walked in his steps, I have kept his way.
  • Ps 37:23: whose steps are guided by the Lord, who will delight in his way
  • Jn 14:6: I am the way
  • Ps 3:6: He will make your paths straight.
  • Ps 18:31: God’s way is unerring
  • 1 Cor 12:31: the way of love
  • Mt 9:9: Follow me
  • Mt 10:38: Take up your cross and follow me.
  • Mt 19:21: Go, sell all, give to the poor and follow me.
  • Mt 20:34: Jesus touched their eyes, they received their sight and followed him.
  • Jn. 13:15: [Jesus washes his apostles’ feet] As I have done for you, you should also do.
  • Gal 5:7: following the truth
  • Eph 2:3: following the desires of the flesh and its impulses
  • 2 Tim 9:3: following their own desires and insatiable curiosity
  • 1 Pt 2:21: Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps

“If my heart has been led by my eyes”:

The eyes and the heart appear together in many passages of Scripture. Our heart and our eyes are set on the Lord or they are intent on our own gain.

  • Prv 21:2: All your ways may be straight in your own eyes, but it is the Lord who weighs hearts.
  • Ps 131: My heart is not proud, nor haughty my eyes.
  • Prv 23:26: My son, give me all of your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.
  • Sg 4:9: [the Bridegroom speaks:] You have ravished my heart, my bride, with one glance of your eyes
  • Jer 22:17: Both your eyes and heart are set on nothing except your own gain.
  • Lam 7:17: Our hearts grow sick and our eyes grow dim
  • Ez 6:9: After I have broken their lusting hearts that turned away from me and their eyes that lusted after idols
  • Ez 24:25: I will take away the delight of their eyes and the pride of their hearts
  • Mt 13:15: Gross is the heart of this people, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their hearts
  • 1 Cor 2:9: God has prepared for his lovers what eye has not seen and what has not entered the human heart
  • 2 Pt 2:14: Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin…the hearts trained for greed
  • Eph 1:18: May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened…to know the hope of your call and the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones

“Or if my hands have been defiled”:

To climb the mountain of the Lord we need clean hands and a pure heart. Throughout scripture we learn of the ways in which our hands are not innocent, are not raised in God’s worship and glory, and also how God rewards “clean hands.”

  • Ps 24:3-4: Who may climb the mountain of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart… Such is the generation that seek him. Seek the face of the God of Jacob.
  • Dt 4:28: They shall serve gods that are the work of human hands.
  • Ps 18:21: The Lord acknowledged my righteousness, rewarded my clean hands.
  • Ps 26:6: I will wash my hands in innocence.
  • Ps 26:10: in whose hands there is a plot
  • Ps 28:2: I lift up my hands toward your holy place
  • Ps 28:4: Repay them for their deeds, for the evil that they do. For the work of their hands repay them.
  • Ps 44:21: stretched out our hands to another god
  • Ps 58:3: Your hands dispense violence to the earth.
  • Prb 6:17: hands that shed innocent blood
  • Prv 31:20: She reaches out her hands to the poor.
  • Sirach 38:10: Flee wickedness and purify your hands.
  • Sirach 51:20: for I purified my hands
  • Is 1:15: Your hands are full of blood!
  • Is 2:8: They bow down to the work of their hands
  • Zech 14:13: Their hands will be raised against each other

My sin is ever before me

It is a gift of God that we are given the grace of memory, of not forgetting. In Psalm 51:3 the Psalmist says that “my sin is ever before me.” In other words, he carries the memory of his transgressions and weakness with him as he goes forward in life.

How does the Word of God encourage us to remember our past? I like to think of Zacchaeus the tax collector who threw a party after he answered the call of Jesus and received the forgiveness of his sins. To that party, he invited his fellow tax collectors and sinners. Zacchaeus knew what his life had been, who he had become. For the rest of his life, he probably met on the streets those he had cheated. He realized that what he possessed was at the cost of overtaxing his neighbors. Yet I do not imagine him hanging his head in shame for the rest of his life, withdrawing himself from the other disciples. Zacchaeus also knew that he was chosen, wanted, seen, loved, understood by Jesus just as he was. In that moment of being known by God, he desired to commit his life to him. Zacchaeus’ life was one piece. It was beautiful to God and now at last, in all its shadows and glory, his life was beautiful to him.

Jesus, I commit my entire self to you, every moment of my life, every breath, every thought, every desire, every word, every action. Break through my ignorance, my blindness, my unwillingness. Attract me so strongly to yourself that in a short time I will find myself renewed, created anew, and transformed in surprising ways. Amen.

Photo Credit: Cristian Guttierez, Cathopic

We are not prisoners of our past (Horizons of the Heart 6)

The grace we are asking of God: To believe that we need God to free us from our own sorrow and regrets in order to love God entirely and to live a new life in Christ.

Horizons of the Heart: Horizons of the Heart is a weekly retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, Donec Formetur by Blessed James Alberione, and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

The everyday road of life is littered with disappointment. Sometimes the greatest of these is the disappointment we have in ourselves.

After a difficult year, I knew I had unearthed so many lost pieces of myself. I felt like even though I seemed to have had it all together, I suddenly was discovering in this year that too much of my ambition was dust in the wind. I felt like I needed to get away, to hide, to nurse back to health the broken fragments of my self. I could almost hear God saying, “Okay. That’s a great idea. I have just the thing for your healing.”

Shortly after, my sister called me up on a Friday evening to tell me that Dad was in the hospital and Mom, who suffers with Alzheimer’s, needed someone to stay with her. I was on a plane early Sunday morning and God’s great idea for my healing began.

Having lived in a large community and been involved in mainly an online evangelization ministry I was completely out of my element. My parents both were depending on whatever I could be for them in those difficult days, and I found that parts of my heart, having long lain dormant, were beginning to awaken. Something changed in me as the first couple of weeks turned into the five months I lived in their living room. Love was the only important thing in that precious appointment with grace. “Isn’t it always that way?” God whispered.

Stage 2 of God’s great idea: move into a Pauline community closer to my parents for a while. I’ve never felt so loved and cared for as I began anew for the second time in less than six months. I brought my one suitcase, moved into the guest room, and made do with what I had with me as I began a new adventure. “It isn’t about what you have, know, or accomplish, my Child,” God pointed out. “See how simple it can be?”

And finally, I ended up on my thirty-day retreat four short months later. So gently on those blessed days did Jesus my King begin to pick up the fragments of my soul and hold them in his healing hands. What I could not hold together, all the ways I felt ugly, regretful, lost, he made beautiful in his hands.

And there’s a story that Luke tells us in the seventh chapter of his Gospel about another woman Jesus made beautiful from the inside out. He restarted her life. He claimed her for himself. He made her new.

The woman was waiting for Jesus in one of the homes of the Pharisees who had invited Jesus to have dinner with him and his friends.

When I think of this woman, I imagine her standing on the edge of the dining room, quietly absorbed in her own thoughts and memories. This woman, through the influence of Jesus, had somehow already attained repentance and faith. And here she was. Waiting. Waiting to see once again the one who had saved her.

For her a lifetime of ugliness, hurt and self-hate, a lifetime of rolling dark clouds with never a promise of sunlight, flowers forever crushed, was now over! Finished at last! She still couldn’t believe it.

She pictured again to herself the face of the One who had given her hope. The One who had truly saved her from herself, rescued her from the trap of evil in which she had been caught. She was waiting for the young rabbi to arrive, almost oblivious of the others in the room who were also expecting Jesus’ arrival. I wonder if he will remember me, she wondered. She almost wept in gratitude as she recalled her meeting with Jesus, the moment of forgiveness. She caught herself…. This was not the place. She was the sinner known to everyone in the town. She was the one people talked about, avoided, looked down on, judged, excluded.

Have you been there, my friend?

The young rabbi who had been invited to the dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house entered the room. There was a deadening silence. She looked around startled. There were no marks of hospitality. Custom required a kiss, but none was given. No washing of the hands and feet. No greetings of respect. Something was wrong. How could they treat Jesus this way, she wondered.

Jesus stopped, seeming to sense that there was more to this dinner than he had been told when he was invited. Slowly he looked around the room, wondering if there was anyone there that he knew.

Will he remember the moment he saved me? What if he has forgotten me? The thought pierced her heart.

She held her breath as his eyes rested on each person there that night for dinner. Finally, at last, his eyes rested on her across the room. Jesus stopped.

I always hold my breath at this point in the story. Will he remember me? I wonder. Me, with my broken heart. With my regrets. With the messy mistakes and uncertain steps.

A great smile broke across his face: both for the woman in the Gospel of Luke’s story and for me. He knows me, her heart sang. He can pick out my face in a crowd. I’m not a number to him. I mean something to him.  

In that smile there was a connection between two spirits, a memory, a secret, joy given and received.

Jesus sees me and he sees you, the beautiful gift of the Creator, the one he has saved with his own blood, the soul he has filled and sanctified with his Spirit.

Psalm 45

Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
    Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
    honor him, for he is your lord….

In prayer one day, I entered what was for me a “sacred space.” I pictured a great cathedral filled with angels. Mary was at my side, and on the other side was my guardian angel. The Archangel Michael dominated the space, as he stood from floor to ceiling, guarding and protecting the honor of God. In this holy space, I reflected on certain relationships, ministries, expectations that hadn’t panned out the way I had hoped. They hadn’t given me the success I craved. They hadn’t left me with that glittering self-image I felt I needed in order to be happy. Eventually, I walked to the door of this great cathedral and said goodbye to them. I let them go. All of them. Every last one of them. They were such paltry, silly things in comparison to the grandeur of my Father’s house and my relationship with the King, my Lord. As I turned around to return to the step before the sanctuary, I felt an overwhelming desire to cast myself prostrate before the only One who saves, who overwhelms me with tenderness, who WANTS me, and who makes me beautiful in his eyes.

…All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
    her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
    her virgin companions follow her—
    those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
    they enter the palace of the king. (Psalm 45:12ff. NIV)

We each have things that we regret. Maybe I’m not such a great manager. Or I feel like I’ve not been there the way I wanted to be for my family because of health issues. Perhaps I realize I’ve tried out a ministry and others do it better than I. I never got that promotion that would have made a big difference for my family. I’ve made decisions through which I’ve lost prestige, financial security, options. It could be that I just wonder if I do anything right.

The most beautiful thing was not that Jesus remembered the woman before he had healed her. No. This beautiful woman “who was the sinner of the town” saw that Jesus remembered only the woman he had created by his act of forgiveness.

She knew then, in a flash of joy, that her past was gone.

Only her new identity existed in Jesus’ eyes. From now on she was the woman who was the work of his hands, the gift of his love, with a future built only and forever on his mercy.

We are not prisoners of our past. We are not chained by our brokenness.

The woman bent low in an act of reverence and utter gratitude to wash Jesus’ feet with the only thing she had: washing his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. Then she kissed Jesus’ feet in a striking expression of affection and deep veneration.

Jesus says over her: “The one who has been forgiven much loves much” (Lk 7:47). You can hear these words addressed to you.

You are forgiven. Everything is forgotten. Whatever it was that broke you in the past, it is washed away. Whatever you hope is never found out, it is no more.

Jesus re-creates us and then remembers only what he has made us to be in his love. His dying love. His life poured forth for you and for me.

In gratitude, right now, love him.

Jesus, like a mighty Champion you rode your chariot from the rising of the sun to the furthest end of the sky.

Psalm 113

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
    his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.

Come to Me, Jesus says tenderly. Come to Me and I—the Mighty Champion—will refresh you…. I who bore your pain, was scourged, mocked, humiliated, crowned as a King in mockery, crushed to the dust beneath the weight of your sin…

Come to Me and I will refresh you, I will love you, I will start again with you, I will make you new (cf. Matthew 11:28).

Image Credit: Feature image: Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash; Frans Francken the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash; Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash