Horizons of the Heart

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.

Say a Strong YES to Your Existence (Horizons of the Heart 1)

The Amazing Promise of New Beginnings (Horizons of the Heart 2)

God’s Love Is Forever (Horizons of the Heart 3)

Jesus Says: “I am the one you are looking for” (Horizons of the Heart 4)

The GIFT Jesus Wants to Give You (Horizons of the Heart 5)

We Are Not Prisoners of Our Past (Horizons of the Heart 6)

The Way and the Gift of Tears (Horizons of the Heart 7)

You, Yes YOU, Are God’s Choice (Horizons of the Heart 8)

“To Know the Forest Thaws” (Horizons of the Heart 9)

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

“…In But a Very Little While” – A Personal Gospel Meditation (Horizons of the Heart 11)

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

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

We are a pure capacity for Christ: Moments of Eucharistic Joy

“Which is the more awesome mystery, that God gave Himself to earth, or that He gives you to heaven; that he Himself enters into the society of carnal beings, or that He admits you into the fellowship of divinity; that He takes death upon Himself, or that He rescues you from death; that He Himself is born into your state of bondage, or that He begets you as His children; that He accepts your poverty, or that He makes you His heirs, and coheirs with Himself alone? Surely the more impressive mystery is that earth is transferred to heaven, that man is altered by divinity, that the bondsman acquires the rights of dominion.” (St Peter Chrysologos)

Immediately following the birth of the Word made flesh, we begin to hear of the clouds of rejection and death that will surround Jesus his entire life: the death of the Holy Innocents, the rejection of his own people at Nazareth, and in the liturgy the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr. Jesus came to us to pass from a visible life to an invisible one, from walking at our side to abiding within us, from preaching in Israel to whispering secretly in the souls of everyone throughout the world always and for all time. Our humanity has been taken up in his divinity. It is in the Eucharist, that gift given to us on the night before he died, that Jesus continues his life on this earth, in us, through us, for us, for the world.

“Surely the more impressive mystery is that earth is transferred to heaven, that man is altered by divinity, that the bondsman acquires the rights of dominion.” (St Peter Chrysologos)

This is the life that Jesus gives those who receive him in the Eucharist, for it is he himself that we receive. He becomes our Life in the Eucharist, causing us to live by him as he lives by the Father. Indeed, in our receiving Communion Christ, takes possession of us, consumes our misery in himself, and imparts his divine dignity to us.

Pierre de Bérulle, one of the most important mystics of the seventeenth century in France, wrote in a letter of direction: “Since He was created Head of human nature, we have a relationship with Him, a proportion with Him, an aptitude for Him; we wait to be actuated by Him and to be filled by Him…. We are a capacity, a pure capacity for Him; none can actuate and fill it but He…. We must not suffer ourselves to be in ourselves, except to see to it that Jesus Christ be living in us, and that He may use and enjoy possession of all that is within us.” Then echoing the words of St Cyril of Alexandria he explains that Jesus’ possession of us is by means of the Eucharist. Through this sarament, “we are joined to this divine substance in a real and substatial union, which approaches very nearly to the unity of the divine Persons, and which is a perfect imitation of that unity.”

What do these words awaken in your heart? Remain in what God is bringing about in you by making specific acts that strengthen and deepen what God is making you experience.

What has struck you about Jesus’ giving himself to you in the Eucharist?

Write a pray after Communion based on what has most deeply affected you.

Image Credit: Francisco Xavier Franco Espinoza via Cathopic

When we find ourselves in darkness we can expect God to intervene

I find it very meaningful that the Lord was born in the night, that the angels announced to the shepherds the good news of the Savior’s birth while they were sleeping in the fields at night, and that the Kings followed a star visible in the night sky in order to find the newborn King. Jesus proclaimed himself the Light of the World and light is most clearly seen when it shines in the darkness.

We can be “lost in the dark,” personally and as a society. We are living through a particularly dark time in history. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what’s really true or really good… How am I fooling myself and how is society fooling itself… Where is evil promoted as good and good denigrated as an evil…. In the darkness we can feel drowsy, overwhelmed, distracted, frightened. It is when we are in the darkness that we can expect God to intervene in what seems to be impenetrable confusion or illusion with the light of truth which is always an announcement of how God is with us.

Contemplative Prayer Guide with the Masterpiece

Rest your gaze on the image. Let your gaze be the path that returns you to the center.

After a few moments of silence, close your eyes and become aware of your desire to be with God at this moment. Ask God to help you let go of whatever may distance you from his presence to you.

Now open your eyes and let your eyes rest on the image.

What do you notice about the people in the image? What are the emotions that seem to be expressed in the image? What meaning does the light and dark parts of the image have for you? How does the image touch you? What surprises you about the image? What do you not like about the image?

When distractions occur, return intentionally to gazing at the image.

Close your eyes and enter into the event depicted in the image.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2)

Interact with the people in the story. Speak with them. Take part in their emotion, their faith, their courage…

Do you feel close to one of the people depicted in the image?

Does the image remind you of some event or some person in your own life?

Just sit and soak in the grace that arises from the image.

Ask Jesus: “What do you want me to take from this time of prayer as I return to my life?”

Image: Govert Flink Angels Announcing Jesus’ Birth to the Shepherds, public domain

The Eucharist an Extension of the Incarnation: Moments of Eucharistic Joy

We are in the first year of the Eucharistic Revival here in the US and I am blessed to be able to be a small part of the great work that is being done. Reading about the Eucharist has become more than a study for me. It has become a leap for the heart! In the series Moments of Eucharistic Joy, I share just a moment of that heart’s leap with you that we all might find in the Eucharist the absolute joy of our lives.

“The Eucharist, according to the testimony of the holy Fathers, should be regarded as in a manner a continuation and extension of the Incarnation. For in and by it the substance of the incarnate Word is united with individual men” (Pope Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis, no 7).

This Advent I am not spending my time as if I were waiting for Jesus to come this Christmas. He has come in his Incarnation, and in the Eucharist he abides with us and we in him!

I am not going to pretend that we are still walking in darkness. Christ is the Light of the World, and he has called us to be His Body, His hands, His feet, His voice in the world today!

Image by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay 

I am not calling out to him as though he were far away, as distant as the stars. I will rejoice that he is near! He is here! He is within us! One with us! For in and by the Eucharist, the “the substance of the incarnate Word is united” with each of us who receive him.

I am not going to long for him before a nativity creche where the Babe has not yet been laid. I will pour myself out in worship before the Christ in the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is “the continuation and extension of the Incarnation.”

We celebrate in Advent and Christmas, the Incarnation—Christ assumed a human nature to His divine Person. In the Eucharist this same Christ gives himself to each one who receives the Eucharist as nourishment so that we are nourished by His Body, Blood, Soul and divinity. “The Eucharist is the divine means chosen…by which He who took on our humanity gives to us a mysterious share in His divinity, in His divine Life” (Dr. Lawrence Feingold, STD, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri).

Image Credit: Rita Laura, Cathopic

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

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-pc9w7-12d40ac

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!

You will show me the path of life (Eccl 2:1-11)

Recently I spent an hour with one of my dear friends. The room was quiet as we spoke together. Now in her eighties, she is no longer able to walk about freely and falls are frequent. She told me that her memory is going, making it difficult to carry on a conversation for very long since the topic quickly vanishes from her mind.

Together we gazed out of her large window at the beautiful trees that grew in the front yard. With a sigh we both realized that Jesus was beginning to take her into the wilderness of his Heart, that place of unknowing where we all are eventually invited to restfully trust in him as he leads us to glory.

But as it is written:

‘What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
    and what has not entered the human heart,
    what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NABRE).

Questions about life’s meaninglessness, about the way in which our days pass like vapor, about how all that we do and accomplish seems to vanish without a trace as we age, these burden not just the heart of Qoheleth in today’s first reading, but at certain points in our lives these questions haunt us too. I once heard that the book of Ecclesiastes identifies the question to which the whole of Revelation is the answer. In this quickly changing world, all that our life has been seems to slip through our fingers, and our heart longs for life, true life, life that is a treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy.

“You will show me the path to life,
    abounding joy in your presence,
    the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11).

Both Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians and the Psalmist see life as a great river rushing toward a goal prepared for us by God where we will find joy and delight at his right hand forever. How different is this message from the distressing observations of Ecclesiastes in our First Reading today:

“One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going” (Eccl 1:4-7)

There is something cyclical in this description of continual, unending, “coming and going” of things. In this reading there is no sense of the enduring, of divine gift and guidance and mission, of an end which has been ordained for all things by God. Instead, the more things change, as the saying goes, the more things stay the same, endlessly repeating to seemingly no purpose.

Today many experience life in this way. Not being grounded in the fertile soil of God’s action and love, much of what constitutes activity in our world seems to have no real meaning. I believe that during the pandemic many began to feel this way. The tasks they had been doing in their jobs were now no longer satisfying to them, no longer seemed purposeful, no longer worth devoting their whole life to. They began to seek something more meaningful to do with their careers.

It is ultimately only God who truly defines us and the purpose of our lives, their unending purpose.

This discouraged sigh of Qoheleth whose voice we hear in Ecclesiastes may escape also now and then from your heart. However, Saint Paul encourages you not to give in to this sense of futility and hopelessness. Instead, take on Paul’s own strength, faith, and hope when he cries out, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6 NABRE).

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 movements 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

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:1-11

“You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever” (Psalm 16:11)

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: Negative Space via Pexels.com

Jesus says: “I am the one you are looking for” (Horizons of the Heart 4)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-htxb8-12bb30b

The grace we are asking of God: To have confidence in the way God accepts us even in our sin, to believe in his path for us that weaves its way through forgiveness and mercy, and to have the courage to turn to the One who alone can give us all we need instead of trying to fix ourselves.   

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.

There is a mysterious passage in the book of Jeremiah:

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (2:13).

Jesus, the spring of Living Water, watches us as we so often dig our own cisterns, our own wells, from which we hope to draw water that will satisfy our thirst, make us happy, give us life, at least a tolerable life on this earth. In the Gospel of John, we meet the woman in Samaria who was just such a woman. To tell you the truth, so am I.

How to know for sure God loves you (Horizons of the Heart 3)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-meymm-1246469

The grace we are asking of God: A deep confidence and a consistent trust in God’s care for us and his nearness to us in every moment, even in the events of our life that are our undoing.

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.

I love to pray Psalm 103, particularly with the translation of the New Jerusalem Bible:

Bless Yahweh, my soul,
from the depths of my being, his holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all his acts of kindness.
….Yahweh is tenderness and pity,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love;
his indignation does not last for ever,
nor his resentment remain for all time;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve,
nor repay us as befits our offences.
As the height of heaven above earth,
so strong is his faithful love for those who fear him.
…As tenderly as a father treats his children,
so Yahweh treats those who fear him;
he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust” (vv. 1-2, 6-11, 13-14).

The day I meditated on this passage of Scripture at the beginning of my retreat, my soul was bleeding to know, truly know, that God cared for me, loved me, was near to me.

Did you ever ask yourself: What would it look like if God were caring for me? How can I know for sure?

The Amazing Promise of New Beginnings (Horizons of the Heart 2)

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cr4yq-123da78

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

Beginnings are more important than endings. In fact, beginnings are already woven into every ending. The ending of the life the caterpillar has always known is already integrated into the process of the butterfly’s new beginning. The seeming ending of the Master’s life on Calvary was mysteriously taken up, and gently, in the Father’s hands, it became the stage for the mystery of resurrection beginnings that would be lived again and again and again in Jesus’ disciples’ lives.

“Why would you look for the living One in a tomb?” said the angels in white, angels of the resurrection whose radiance washed away the black sorrow of the ending of the Lord’s life on Calvary (Luke 24:5 TPT). The women who had come to seek the Lord buried in the tomb, locked behind a giant stone, dead, whom they feared they would see no more, these women faced the darkness of the sepulcher now lit with almost blinding brilliance. “He is not here. He is risen.”

“There’s no reason to be afraid” (Mt. 28:5). Pause a moment and think of an ending in your life that was particularly sudden, seemingly absolute. Or an ending you are living through now: termination, loss, failure. Any ending. One as great as the breaking of a relationship or losing a pet, or moving, or retiring. Or one as beautiful as the wedding of a child or the turning of a new leaf in life. Any ending.

Don’t endings bring on feelings of fear?

“There’s no reason to be afraid,” said the angel to the women. I’m not so sure that the command to not be afraid actually shifted their fear into trust. Nevertheless, it is helpful to remember that amid all our dread, struggle, the anticipation of an uncertain future, the uncertainty about what is happening, there is something permanent that is the reason why we needn’t fear…needn’t fear deep down, needn’t believe the absolute worst, needn’t believe that the ending is, well, an absolute and final and irrevocable end.

“I know you’re here looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here—he has risen victoriously, just as he said! Come inside the tomb and see the place where our Lord was lying” (Matthew 28:5-6 TPT).