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31 Days With Ignatius

Each July, Loyola Press (the company I work for) offers a series of daily reflections/resources/activities, all leading up to the Feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, July 31st. These days will be extra-special this year, because 2021 marks the 500th anniversary of this amazing saint’s battle injury which ushered in his epic conversion.

Please join people from around the world in participating in these 31 Days With St. Ignatius. You’ll be glad you did!

A prayer to celebrate the Ignatian Year from the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

God of all people,

You were there when the cannonball shattered the leg of St. Ignatius, shattered his dreams, and shattered what he assumed his life would be. Even in a moment of pain and uncertainty, doubt and darkness, you spoke to Ignatius a word of peace and light. You showed him the path to you and the person he might become.

We may not be soldiers, standing in the path of a literal cannonball. And yet, we’ve been hit all the same. Cannonballs shatter our own hopes and dreams and expectations.

Like Ignatius, may we hear the compassionate voice of your Son in the aftermath of these cannonball blasts. May we seek the face of Christ even when our dreams are shattered. May we turn and follow Jesus with the courage it takes to change and grow.

As we journey through this Ignatian Year, may we be shown the path to you, God of all people, and live out our vocation, becoming the person you have invited us to be. Give us the grace to work for reconciliation every day: with you, with others and with your creation. Open our eyes so we might see all things new in Christ.

Amen.

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Journaling

I’m going to be leading my first eight day Ignatian retreat at the end of July, and I’ve been discerning how best to provide meaningful resources for those I’ll be working with. I’m grateful that I’m not starting from scratch. Beginning in 2008, I have made a yearly (well, mostly yearly) eight day retreats, ten in all over that time.

As I began discerning the Ignatian practices/Scripture passages I would share with others, the first place I turned to was the journals from my own retreats, and I started with the black spiral bound 1 subject notebook I probably picked up at Walmart for $1, maybe less. This notebook, now precious to me, documents the rich and life-giving experience I had in the summer of 2008. As I sat this past Sunday morning on my patio, I began moving through the pages of my thoughts, longings and aspirations jotted down thirteen years ago.

I was new to Ignatian Spirituality in those days. The very beginning of my Ignatian adventure took place at a Chicago restaurant called The Mystic Celt, sadly now out of business. I was in Chicago to attend a week-long meeting, and that first night, there were about twenty for dinner at a very long table. As providence would have it, I ended up at the end of the table, and opposite me was the Jesuit publisher George Lane.

After the waitress took our order, Fr. George asked me where I was from, and “what do you know about Ignatian Spirituality?” Sheepishly, I told him, “almost nothing.” That set the stage for a very nice conversation about Ignatius of Loyola and the spirituality which developed from his conversion nearly 500 years ago. Getting up from the table, we said our goodbyes and I thought that was the end of it. Little did I know it was really the beginning of something which continues to shape my life to this day.

When I came to our conference room the next morning, I noticed a little pile of books, tied with a red ribbon, sitting on the table behind the sign with my name written on it. I was unfamiliar with the titles, but they were all short introductions on Ignatian Spirituality. I put the bundle in my backpack and got myself ready for a long day of meetings.

During the morning break, Fr. Lane stopped by and I thanked him for the books, with a promise that I would begin reading one that night when I got back to the hotel. He said he had been thinking about our conversation, and in addition to reading the books he gave me, he encouraged me to find a retreat center when I got home and try to make an Ignatian Retreat.

Well, that’s exactly what happened, and I signed up for an eight day retreat that summer. I could go on and on, but since this post is about journaling, I better get back to task.

Before the retreat started, I opened up my blank notebook and wrote down a series of prayer intentions. For people I work with, for my family and friends, and for all the ministries I was engaged in at that time. After I got settled into my room, I went to the chapel and prayed over those intentions. It was a wonderful way to begin my retreat, and that time of prayer set the stage for a week long conversation with the Lord.

My spiritual director/companion for the week was Steven Wade, a retired Episcopal priest, well versed in Ignatian Spirituality. At our first meeting, Steve asked “Who is God for you right now?” and “Who is this God you’ve come to be with?” Wow, such profound questions, and I quickly realized this was going to be a rich, deep experience. For a Scripture passage to pray with on this first day, Steve gave me Psalm 139 to reflect and meditate on. I was familiar with this Psalm, and I had always loved the last lines, “Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my concerns. See if my way is crooked, and lead me on the ancient paths.” I wrote in my journal after my meditation, “The last lines are the ones that I think speak to me the most. Maybe that’s what this retreat is all about for me. With Steve and God’s help, I need to make my crooked paths straight. Take out some of the detours, kinks in the road, the potholes.”

I would love to tell you that I did just that during those eight wonderful days, and figured everything out and left the retreat center with a perfect plan to be implemented. Well, you know how it goes. I’m still trying to work on straightening out those crooked paths and avoiding detours.

I now have ten retreat journals to pour over, and I’m so grateful to have them. As I went through the first journal, I realized how far I’ve come. Those journals give me a glimpse into my ongoing pilgrimage to God, and they are such a source of consolation for me.

Those retreat journals led me to start journaling regularly throughout the year. I now have an entire shelf of them, starting a new journal each year. I no longer use the cheap Walmart notebooks, since they are not intended to hold up over the years. Now I use Moleskine notebooks to document my thoughts, prayers and discernment and general conversations with God and others.

So, this is a rather long post about journaling. Please think about keeping a journal to document your daily pilgrimage. In these crazy days in which we live, so distracted by so many things, journaling keeps us, I think, focused on the things that matter and keeps us on track.

I hope you’ll give it a try!

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An Ignatian Year 2021-22

Today, May 20, 2021 marks the beginning of an extraordinary Ignatian Year. On this date 500 years ago, Ignatius of Loyola (1491- 1556) was struck by a cannonball during a fierce battle against the French in Pamplona, Spain. Although many wanted to surrender, Ignatius kept fighting, and encouraged those fighting with him to do the same.

In the end, it was Ignatius’ injury which led to surrender. The French soldiers were so taken by Ignatius’ bravery, they carried him home to his family castle in the Basque country. The trip took several days, and there’s no doubt it was a hellish one for Ignatius. This photo, taken by me while visiting the castle on pilgrimage, captures Ignatius’ arrival home.

During many months of painful recovery, Ignatius began to think about life, both his past and what might come next. He felt a stirring in his heart and mind, and with his turning to God, a conversion began.

I’m intending to post regularly on this Ignatian Year in the weeks and months ahead. I believe its an incredible opportunity to learn about this great Saint, but also discern for ourselves where God might be calling us.

For today, here’s a couple of links focused on the Ignatian Year.

Loyola Press

Jesuits USA

Some final words from Master Ignatius:

There are very few who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves entirely to His hands, and let themselves be formed by His grace.

A thick and shapeless tree trunk would never believe that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture… and would never consent to submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor who, as St. Augustine says, sees by his genius what he can make of it.

Many people who, we see, now scarcely live as Christians, do not understand that they could become saints, if they would let themselves be formed by the grace of God, if they did not ruin His plans by resisting the work which He wants to do.”

Ignatius of Loyola

(In a letter to Ascanio Colonna, Rome, April 25, 1543)

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Recovery

I had the chance to travel to Delaware last week for work, and I was so grateful to be out and about for a few days. When I arrived home, I saw I had received a newsletter in the mail. Opening it, I started to read that the author was writing about the need to develop a recovery plan.

Like St. Ignatius of Loyola, the author made a comparison between our physical health and our spiritual health. I have to admit that I don’t always read every newsletter which comes my way, but this one was different, and I sat down with a cup of coffee and read every word. Writing that we are coming out of a “year of global trauma” resonated with me. Yes, like the trauma a person experiences when they are physically injured, it’s a safe bet that we all have been mentally and spiritually traumatized since the pandemic began over a year ago.

When someone experiences physical trauma, the health care experts working with him/her develop a recovery plan, which has a goal of bringing them back to health. For many, physical therapy is required, and that might involve months of therapy and tons of effort on the part of the patient.

The author challenged his readers to develop a rehab/recovery plan now, as we continue to move from being in pandemic mode to recovery mode, with a workable plan to help us return to a more typical rhythm of life. I guess the reason this newsletter resonated with me so much was that I had already started the process of recovery, but I wasn’t working off a plan, just gut instincts. A discerned plan is always better, although so far things have been working out well.

One early morning while I was on my business trip, I was sipping coffee in my hotel room and feeling lazy. I was a mile or two from the ocean, and I knew the sun would be coming up soon. Part of me wanted to stay in bed, but I realized that I needed to move. I needed to get my clothes on, wash my face, and get down to the beach! Within five minutes, I was in the car and fifteen minutes later, I was on the sand, just seconds away from the sun coming up on the horizon.

I’m always amazed at the other people who gather to see a sunrise. On this particular day, there wasn’t a lot of people, but those that were there all stood up as the sun appeared. Old people, young people, single folks and families, we all stood mesmerized. I was grateful that I had the chance to see another day dawning. I began to realize that I had to get a plan together for this time in my life. We’ve all been traumatized over the last year, and we’re slowing coming out of a fog. It’s time to get our lives back together, friends, and let it start now, with a fresh, new recovery plan.

We may not be able to immediately take a long vacation, renovate our house, travel great distances to see friends and loved ones, but we can start planning now for those things to happen. For now, let’s plant something in our garden, let’s clean/rearrange our house, let’s buy a new book and make more of an effort to speak with our neighbor. How about trying a new recipe, taking long walk, making a day retreat, or visiting a museum, physically or virtually. With God’s help, all things are possible!

Let this be for us a spiritual recovery plan, one in which we bring God into our daily lives, activities and plans for the future. God has never left us, and we can find God in everything. Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s start today!

The photo was taken at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

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Lent 2021

I don’t know about you, but last Lent was one I won’t forget. We experienced most of those forty days in a virtual lockdown due to pandemic. Those were scary and uncertain times, and although the pandemic still rages throughout the world, there’s less uncertainty thanks to more effective treatments, vaccines, and being careful.

Today, the first day of the penitential season of Lent, is Ash Wednesday. As with most traditions, the distribution of ashes will be different this year. Instead of being marked with ashes on our forehead, a visible sign to those around us that we are Christians who want to be a sign to the world that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), ashes will be sprinkled on the tops of our heads. The ashes remind the world that authentically living the Christian faith comes with difficulties and trials, especially in these times. With this new way of distributing them, the ashes will not be as visible as they have been in the past. In fact, most people will not see them. But we will know they are there. As with many things since the pandemic came upon us, we have lived our faith more privately, interiorly. I think this is a beautiful thing, since now we have more time to be with the Lord, just the two of us. Of course, we should all have the deep desire to return to ongoing participation of the sacramental life, especially Eucharist and Reconciliation, and many of us have done just that, following all the necessary precautions. One day soon, please God, the limits currently in place will be a distant memory and our faith life will get back to normalcy.

In case you are looking for help to experience a rich and holy Lent, here are some web resources:

Jesuit Office of Ignatian Spirituality

Ignatianspirituality.com

I pray that each person reading this post experiences and savors all that the Lord wants to give them throughout this holy season. Let’s remember to pray for each other, for the Church, and for the world over the next forty days. As my old friend and pastor used to say often, “prayer changes things.” Amen to that!

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Let’s Get Cooking

At the end of 2019, I began thinking about a particular goal for 2020. I wanted to start hosting monthly dinner parties for small groups of friends, mainly so I could introduce them to some healthy recipes which would be easy for them to replicate. I was excited to get going, and began looking for recipes to try.

I was following a low carb keto diet at the recommendation of my nutritionist. I had met with him that summer, and due to my desire to get better control of my Type II diabetes, he felt the keto diet might be easy for me to follow and have positive effects. Although I was not able to pull off a January dinner, I had set one up for the end of February and was really looking forward to it. Then Covid hit, and with a speed which still shocks me, the world as we knew it changed and life was anything but normal.

Now, here we are in February of 2021, and I’m back to planning future dinners for small groups of friends. In my area, Covid cases continue to decline, and many people are being vaccinated every day. Because of my age, my guess is that I won’t get the vaccine before fall, so my dinners will be up and running as the weather cools and heartier meals are called for. So, where to start? How about Julia Child’s famous Beef Bourguignon!

Now, I have to admit that I’ve never tried this dish. I know it’s hearty and I know that to make it right, you have to follow the recipe closely. Or so I thought. Thanks to the internet, I quickly realized that everyone and their brother/sister have a version of this much beloved French recipe, including the famous one from Julia Child, but also one (and not so fussy), from Ina Garten. For my first experiment, I settled on the Julia Child recipe on Epicurious. I loved that it was a pretty straightforward recipe using simple, easy to find and inexpensive ingredients. Coming in at around 700 calories and 24 carbs (with 4.8 grams of fiber), it met my nutritionist’s basic guidelines to keep my three daily meals to about 30 carbs per meal. I could serve it over Cauliflower Rice (4 carbs) and be under my target. The results were great and I enjoyed the meal immensely. Two days later, I made Ina Garten’s recipe, and I found it also delicious! I have to admit that with the isolation with Covid, I had not been taking the time to cook well.

The next day, I was talking to a friend and told her about my Beef Bourguignon meal and how delicious it was. She asked, “you made all that food just for yourself?” Hmm. I responded, “no, I made it for the people who will be coming to my dinner in October.” Now, I have to say that I’ve already eaten what I cooked the other night, but that meal was in anticipation of a future meal when my life gets back to some sense of normalcy.

So many people are stuck in place, with so much uncertainty and worry. We’ve all been there, and it’s time to get unstuck. I believe we need to start planning for the future, when we can start gathering with friends and family, without fear. That time is on the horizon, and won’t it be wonderful to share a beautiful and healthy meal with those we love? Let’s get cooking!

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So Long 2020

Last night, I had some friends over for food, fellowship and prayer. It was the first time since the spring that I’ve had more than one friend come over, and it felt so good to have our little gathering. COVID has affected each of us in different ways, with one person with us coming down with the virus this past summer and gratefully, it was a mild case and he has fully recovered.

More than anything, this virus has been a major disrupter to daily life to people all over the world. This has been especially true for those who regularly attend church services. As Catholics, my friends and I have been participating in the sacramental life since childhood. The sacraments are a critical link to God and our faith community, and it was a terrible loss when religious services were declared “non-essential” by government officials and effectively banned throughout the world.

Participating in services on line vs. in person were helpful, but in reality they were a poor substitute for being physically present to pray and receive the Eucharist. Gratefully, there has been a gradual lifting of the restrictions and we have slowly been able to get back to Church, although the number of people able to be physically present is limited and many continue to choose to participate virtually.

Last night, my friends and I reflected on all the many blessings we have received in 2020. Sometimes, it’s very easy to remember all the negatives which have happened since COVID came to our shores at the beginning of the year. In truth, there have also been many things/events to be grateful for. As the year ends, I suggest that we focus on the blessings, which might help prepare us for the 2021, now just beginning. We cannot predict the future, but we can trust that the Lord wants the best for us and will be there every day, just as He has always been.

May God bless you and those you love in the days and months ahead.

Happy New Year!

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Fall Has Arrived

Finally, here in my neck of the woods, the cooler days and nights of fall have arrived. I’m so grateful, since the summer humidity and heat kept me inside more than usual, enjoying the air conditioning. I know that other parts of the country are experiencing horrific storms, be the fire, water and/or wind. Please pray for all those experiencing these terrible and life-changing events, asking the Lord for all their difficulties be over quickly.

Last weekend, I had the chance to lead a day retreat for a wonderful group of people. We all practiced the precautions necessary to avoid COVID, and it was a great day. More than anything, it was good to be with others. Although the group was not large, it was still the biggest inside gathering I had been a part of since before the virus hit. It made me realize how good it is to gather together, to focus on all the good happening around us, and realize just how blessed we are, despite all negative parts of our daily life. As the seasons change and the days continue to become shorter, I think it’s always a good time to take stock of where we are and where we want to go in the season ahead. As someone on my retreat noted, it all depends on where you put your focus. Well said.

Friends, with the upcoming election and the continuing unrest, we have a great opportunity to show ourselves as we truly are: children of God. As St. Ignatius noted at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises- Let’s assume the best in other people, having a generous spirit towards all those we meet, for they too are God’s children, whether they recognize it or not.

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Feast of St. Ignatius

Today, July 31st, is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of my favorite saints and a true hero to me.  I didn’t know much about him growing up, and in fact, only came to dig deep into his story in my early forties.  While he was alive, he was a force of nature and the spirituality which flowed out of his powerful conversion and later his Spiritual Exercises literally changed the world.  He’s still having an impact today, not only in my life, but in the lives of millions of others.

I’m always struck by the fact that the saints recognized in the Catholic Church are celebrated, not on the date of their birth, as is normative in most cultures, but on the day the person died, born into Eternal Life.

You can find more about Ignatius on many other posts on this site or do a google search.  You will find volumes.

Join me in praying this Ignatian prayer, so challenging but also very freeing:

The Suscipe Prayer

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will – all that I have and call my own.

You have gift it all to me.  To you, Lord, I return it.  Everything is yours; do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace.  That is enough for me.

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An Afternoon of Normalcy

Last week, I received an email from the Retreat Center where I have been leading retreats for the last several years, and where I meet monthly with people for Spiritual Direction.  Bon Secours is like a second home, and oasis for me and I haven’t been on the property for months due to the pandemic.  One of the staff sent the email, asking if I would be willing to participate in a “test retreat day” before they officially reopen this weekend. Although I’m super busy right now, I said yes, mainly because I wanted to reconnect with this holy ground.

I felt blessed when our little group gathered, learning that there were just six of us.  The day would be in silence, but we were encouraged to walk around (with mask on) and explore the familiar property, being sensitive to social distancing rules.  So far, it’s been a wonderful day, with very few people on the property.  I’ve been here many times when there are multiple retreats, all sold out, and the place is filled with people seeking to take some time away, to pray, relax and rest.

I have to admit that the place seems rather lonely, but with all that’s going on right now with the resurgence of the pandemic, I’m glad the few that are here have the place mostly to ourselves.  The bridge in the photo, seen in other posts on this site, is situated at the end of the pond next to the Retreat Center.  I guess I’ve been coming here for nearly thirty years, making various retreats or just stopping by for some exercise, and one of my favorite activities is to walk around this pond, eventually walking over the bridge.  I always think about how I’m generally in one place, but feel pulled to go somewhere different, somewhere new, someplace holier.  I love the bridge metaphor, and as I cross from one side to the other, I sense that the Lord is always calling me to somewhere new.  I can leave my “baggage,” no matter what that might be, on the side I leave, slowly making my way to the other side.  I often stop mid-way, looking down and the koi swimming in the water underneath me, oblivious to my presence.  So very normal.

I’m glad to be here today, returning to a place of normalcy for me.  I can’t wait for my next retreat, to be held in September and entitled “Finding God in the Mess.”  I came up with that before the pandemic hit, but now, is realize it was very providential.  Who could have imagined all that has occurred since the early part of 2020?  In talking with some folks here today, we are all longing for a return to normalcy, but none of us knows what that might look like, or when the return will come, if it ever fully does.  For me, I’m satisfied with my return to Bon Secours today, even just for a few hours.  As I sit here, I’m sensing the Lord is calling me across this little bridge, encouraging me to experience a new normal, trusting that all will be well, and that He’s right here with me, no matter which side of the bridge I’m on.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, and He loves you very much.