Ignatian Spirituality Spirit

Starting off right

I love to watch the sun come up, sipping a fresh cup of coffee.  I have a small patio just outside my kitchen, where I’ve got a table and chairs.  A ceramic image of Mary and the baby Jesus that I purchased in Florence years ago hangs on the side of my garden shed.  As I look to the East, the sky changing from dark to light, from peachy red to creamy yellow, my focus shifts between the  light of the new day and this little ceramic image. Its a great way for me to begin again.  I usually say the “gloria” during these few minutes, and I thank the Lord that He is a God of second chances.

No matter what I did yesterday, I can start again.  If I focused on the wrong things, I’m given the chance to re-focus.  If I wronged someone, I’ve got another twenty-four hours to right it.

During the winter, or if the weather is bad, I have the same experience by looking out my second floor window.  If it’s raining, I still pray this way, knowing that the sun is still coming up behind the clouds, even though I can’t see it.  Rainy days remind me that God is moving whether I can see it or not.

I’m grateful that there is some on-line help too.  I love the three minute retreat from Loyola Press.  After I pray with the sunrise, I usually make my way, with my second cup of coffee, to the computer, see what’s new, and end with this on-line prayer.

My mom starts her day by visiting Sacred Space, a website produced by the Irish Jesuits.  She’s been visiting this site each day for years.  Growing up, I don’t think I ever even heard of the Jesuits, much less met one.  But now, they influence me through the three minute retreats, wonderful books about Ignatian Spirituality (Try Inner Compass by Margaret Silf) and through the internet.  I’m in the last days of making a 34 week retreat based upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  It’s been a life-changer.  More about that another time…

Italy Travel

Ah, Tuscany Pt. I

Frances Mayes is out with a new book entitled Every Day in Tuscany. Mayes is the author of several books about life in Italy, and she is one of my favorite authors.  I’m about half way through this latest memoir, and so far, it hasn’t disappointed.

Her writing style is such that she draws you into the story, the experiences, and its as if you get to meet the people, share the food, drink the wine, see the sights right along with her.  I love it.

I was talking to my mom last night about the book, and she hadn’t heard it was out yet, but I think she’ll head out today and get her copy.  Several years ago, my family took at trip to Italy, and stayed in Cortona for a few days.  It is a beautiful little hilltown, and we wanted to see for ourselves what drew Mayes and her husband Ed to settle in this place that seems to date from forever.  We weren’t disappointed as we ate in the little tratorria she loves, bought perfectly ripe peaches from the frutta e verdura shop the size of a postage stamp that she buys her produce from.  We visited the museum where Fra Angelico’s magnificent  painting of the Annunciation hangs, bought plates and cups in the traditional pattern of Cortona.  At Christmas, I bring out my copy of the Annunciation and hang it on the wall in my living room.  When I’m depressed about something, or want to celebrate a special occasion, I eat off those plates.  For a moment, I’m back in Cortona, enjoying the sweet life…

Mayes draws you in to her experiences, and she leaves her readers longing for a little taste of la dolce vita.  As we were leaving Cortona, my mom asked the cab driver if he knew were Bramasole, the abandoned house Mayes and her husband had restored.  “Si, si,” he replied, and off we went into the hills.  Bramasole, which means to “yearn for the sun” in Italian, is not the grandest house, but I would take it in a heartbeat.  My mom noticed the windows were open.  “Are they home” she wondered?  We stood outside their gates, laughing, taking pictures, dreaming about what it would be like to live in this place.  I love the picture we have of my mom, with a big smile, standing at the gates of Bramasole.

In this latest book, Mayes writes that, even though the people at the gate don’t realize it, she and her husband do hear the laughing, the conversations, good and bad.  As I read this, I kicked myself that we didn’t yell up that day.  My mom would have loved to have been invited in to look around.  She may have decided to stay another day…

In my mind, there are few places in the world that get me dreaming as does Tuscany.  I’ve lead several tour groups there over the years, and after the last one, with the weak dollar and sky-high prices, I said that was it, no more tours!

That lasted about two years, and as I write this, I’m beginning to plan a fifteen day trip all over Italy for the summer of 2011.  I’m ready.

Catholic Church Spirit

Be Still

Several years ago, I had the chance to visit the Grand Tetons with my family.  I asked “how come no one ever told me about this place?”  I had never heard of this mountain range before, and it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.  It would be on my “top ten things to see before you die list.”  Make the trip!

It seems like the last few days have been very chaotic.  Things are just crazy, whether it be things going on in my family, the Church, our country.  Will it ever end?  As I was sitting at my desk yesterday, an email came in inviting me to a day of prayer.  The title of the mini retreat was “Be still and know that I am God,” and within ten minutes, I had signed up.

The presenter began his first talk by asking the question, “who could have perceived the hostility we face today?”  It seems we face it at every turn, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that God knows what He’s doing.  He’s in control, and He’s faced similar hostility before.

In his reflection on Psalm 46, where the theme of the retreat came from, the presenter spoke of the power and majesty of the words of this psalm.  The first lines, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, (v2-3)” immediately spoke to me.

Instead of going crazy and getting upset about things I have no control over, I need to turn it over to God and trust that He’s doing something, even though I may not perceive it.

Fr. Paul  said that what’s often missing in us is the stillness of God. He asked us if we had ever thought about whether we were being called to  a place of stillness.  For some, this is where God speaks most clearly.

In order to have intimacy with God, there must be a constant returning to Him, over and over. It doesn’t matter what sin has come back into your life and alienated yourself from God, return back.  Fr. Paul said a contemporary translation of this psalm uses the words, “Let go and let God”  to remind us that He is in control.  The extent we can let go will determine the extent He will be exalted.  Pray in faith.

The next time I’m stressed out and overwhelmed, I’m going to close my eyes and visualize myself standing in front of the Grand Tetons on a beautiful spring day.  No matter what is happening around me, I will be reminded that sometimes, I just need to be still, and know that He is in control.  “The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”(v.12).

On a different note, if you want to check out something really cool, click the Vatican’s newest page:

It will open up to a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.  Amazing!  Be sure to notice that up in the right hand corner of the Last Judgement, you can see an area that was left unrestored in the 1990’s.

Catholic Church Spirit

Easter in Baghdad

The priest holding the Paschal Candle is Fr. Tyson Wood, a good friend of mine.  His message to his friends this Easter was “You know, no matter where we are (dark places or times) the Church continues its faith mission of bringing people to Christ.”  Amen

Please pray for Fr. Tyson’s safe return, scheduled in the next several weeks.  God bless him and our troops.

Papacy Spirit

We Are An Easter People

“I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.  And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world.”  John 12:46-47

Another Easter Vigil has come and gone.  In our parish, there are 22 new Catholics, and in our Archdiocese, the largest number of converts in its history.  Why do you think this is happening?

I think the answer can be found in the passage above.  It seems as though we are living in a dark time.  There is hopelessness, anger, worry, a lack of trust.  Gratefully, there are many people are turning to God for the “Light” which will banish their darkness.

On Confirmation retreats, I like to use the image of Jesus probing our hearts with a flashlight, shining His Light on the places we’d rather keep hidden.  That is the only way true healing can occur, but we have to let Him in.  That’s what is happened to all these folks who have made the decision to become Catholic.  Let our prayer be that they, along with us, always remain in the Light of the Risen Christ.

Pope John Paul II, in his first homily as Pope, summed things up by saying, “We are an Easter People, and Alleluia is our song.”  We are not “Good Friday People,” although there would have been no Easter without the passion and death of Jesus.  But the story continued, a new chapter began.  And so it is with us.  We turn from dark to Light, and nothing is the same.

Let’s pray that the Light burn brightly, banishing our personal and communal darkness.  Alleluia


Holy Saturday

The time of waiting is drawing to a close.  In my parish, 22 people are waiting to join the Church tonight at the Easter Vigil.

This is only a part of the Exultet, an ancient hymn which will be sung tonight at the beginning of the Easter Vigil; it is one of our Church’s most beautiful hymns.

This is our passover feast,
When Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night,
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slav’ry,
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night,
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin.

This is night,
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night,
when Jesus broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

It will not be long now.

Papacy Spirit

John Paul II

Five years ago today, Pope John Paul II returned home to his Father’s house.  When he died, it was like everyone lost a dear friend, a confidant, a teacher.  As we remember him on this Good Friday, here are a few lines from a meditation he wrote, found in his book of poetry entitled “Roman Triptych.”


The End is as invisible as the Beginning.

The universe came forth from the Word,

and returns to the Word.

In the very center of the Sistine Chapel, the artist

depicts this invisible End

in the visible drama of the Judgement-

This invisible End has become visible as

the height of transparency:

Omnia nuda et aperta ante oculos Eius!

(All is laid bare and revealed before his eyes)

Matthew’s words are here transfigured in the painter’s vision:

“Come, you blessed… depart from me, you accursed…”

And so the generations pass-

naked they come into the world and naked they return

to the earth from which they were formed.

“From dust you came, and to dust you shall return”;

What had shape is now shapeless.

What was alive is now dead.

What was beautiful is now the ugliness of decay.

And yet I do not all together die,

what is indestructible in me remains!

Catholic Church Papacy Spirit

Holy Thursday

This image of Christ washing the feet of His Disciples is from a series of frescos painted by Giotto and found in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.  I have been blessed to have seen the originals more than once, and they are precious and powerful, and the story about how they survived World War Two is miraculous.  They are, however, not the main story today.

Tonight, the Church commemorates the Institution of the Priesthood and of the Eucharist.  As I was praying this morning, it was hard not to be drawn into the turmoil surrounding both at this time in our history.  Without a doubt, these are difficult days, but hope is not lost, the story will not end this way.  Something comes after Good Friday!

Without going into a lengthy discourse, I think the answer to the present problems lies in the words of Christ spoken right after He washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:15).  Jesus says “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

Could the answer to so many of our present problems be connected to the way we have lived out this model Christ gave to us?  I think so.  We would not find ourselves in such a mess, whether it be our country,  our Church, or even our personal lives, if each and every one of us were living lives that faithfully mirror the life of Jesus.

The Lord knew at the Last Supper that the story would not end there.  It couldn’t.  More had to be done, because He knew we would not live up to the model He laid out that night.  We’ll save that part of the story for tomorrow and Saturday.

Last April, I attended a daily Mass at my parish.  In our pastor’s homily that morning, he said something that I wrote down as soon as I got home.  He said, “whenever something is crazy in your life, go to the Eucharist.”  I was struck by the simplicity of the message, and I think it has important relevance today.

It seems to me that there is much to be angry about right now in our world. However, instead of turning up the volume, the hostility, the downright hatred, we should turn to the Eucharist for our answers.  Make a Holy Hour for our country, our President, our elected officials.  Make a Holy Hour for those who have been abused.  Make a Holy Hour for those who did the abusing.  Make a Holy Hour for those who have harmed us in any way, and for those we have harmed.

Christ told us He is the Way, the Truth, the Life.  He has the answers and the means to solve all our problems.  It is Love.

We celebrate these Holy Days because of His great Love.  This is the model He left us.  It is the solution to all our problems,  past, present and future.

May God bless all our priests, and may they faithfully follow the Way of the Master, our Great High Priest.

“When something is crazy in your life, go to the Eucharist.”  Amen



In Luke’s Gospel (19:1-10), we hear the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector.  He’s a short man,and he wants to see Jesus but can’t see over the crowd.  So he climbs a tree to get a better look.

Jesus sees him, calls him down, and says “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay in your house.”

Now, as I was pondering this passage, I got to thinking.  What would I do if Jesus invited himself to my house?  What would He find there?  What would I wish to hide from His sight (a lot)?  Would my house be clean (no)? Would it really matter to Jesus (no)?

Jesus was being pretty bold by saying he “must” stay in Zacchaeus’ house.  Why the “must”?  I think the answer lies in a later line, which reads, “today salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what was lost.”  Even though He knew Zacchaeus’ background, He sought him out to spend some time with him.  He does the same to us.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus would come to someone like Zacchaeus.  He comes to everybody, ready and willing to “save what was lost.”  My friends, in these days it isn’t too difficult to realize just how lost we really are.  Spend just two minutes looking watching the news, and you know. Take an honest look at your life and all its complexity, and you know.

During these last couple of days of Lent, spend some time reflecting on this passage from Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus wants to come to your house. He’s there to seek you out, to offer salvation over and over again.  Open the door and let Him in.  It will set the stage for a life-changing Easter.


Hope of things to come

When I got up this morning to let the dog out, I opened the back door and felt the first warm, gentle rain of the season.  Spring usually comes a bit earlier here in Maryland, but we’re coming off of a long, snowy winter, the likes of which had never been seen in these parts.

As all good gardeners do, I started thinking about spring when the first bulb catalogues start rolling in around September.  I had wanted to order the bulbs pictured here, “Katherine Hodgkin” dwarf iris, for the past couple of years, but they were always sold out before I got around to ordering.  This past fall, I was on top of my game, got my order in early, and received fifty little bulbs.  I kept about twenty five, and gave the others to a good friend who had just moved into a new house.  Bulbs are meant to be shared!  We plant these ugly little things with the hope of things to come, only seeing their future beauty in our minds eye.  But plant we do, dreaming and digging.

These gems, named for a woman I will never meet, came up early, right behind the snowdrops (Galanthus),which were planted by the former owner of my house.  They are beautiful, tiny, and a wonderful harbinger of things to come.  Somewhere, I hope Ms. Hodgkin is smiling at the sight.  

Sadly, the blooms lasted only a few days and are now gone, already storing energy for next year.  The cool thing is that other performers in this symphony being played in my garden quickly took their places.  Building upon the snowdrops and dwarf iris, next came the forsynthia and narcicis, the lenten rose.  All these leading to a future crescendo of tulips, flowering quince, dogwoods and trout lily.  It’s like the tension that builds from Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil, a slow unfolding of the Mystery.  We know what will come next, but there’s an excitement in the waiting.

Holy Week is meant to be a time for thinking about our lives and how they intersect with the One who knows our name, who gave up everything and calls us to a better Way.  Are we living the life we are called to?  Can we trust like Him, no matter where it leads?

Holy Week is also a great time for taking an assessment of your garden, looking for signs of life and clearing out anything that didn’t make it through the winter.  Its a time for mulching, fertilizing, pruning, and dreaming about blooming roses, oriental lilies, and an abundant vegetable patch with lots of tomatoes.

Encouraged by this hope of things to come, I went to a couple of garden centers and stocked up on a wide range of seeds.  I also picked up some basil, thyme, parsley, already growing in little pots.  I can’t wait to cook with them, but for now, they have to sit it out in my greenhouse until its a bit warmer.

I also purchased a Passion Vine with the name “Immaculata.”  How could any Catholic pass up a plant with a name like that?  The place where I purchased this plant is sadly closing after over seventy five years of business.  Not many people are supporting the local, independent garden centers any more.  But they are the place to turn for advice, special and unusual plants, and a chance to hep the little guy.  If there is one in your area, please support them!

These days of Holy Week are all about remembering and trusting.  Death will never win out.  Resurrection is right around the corner.  I can feel it when I go to Church, and I can see it in my garden.  We don’t have to wait long now…