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AUTHOR
Bob  »

See, I am doing a new thing!

                                    Isaiah 43:19

 

Some have described this time we are going through as an apocalypse.  In common parlance, apocalypse signifies cataclysmic end times, but in its original meaning, apocalypse denotes an uncovering or unveiling.  In that root sense of the word, we clearly are in an apocalypse.  The disunity, racial inequities and economic injustices present in our society have seldom been more exposed.  At the same time, the response to the pandemic has revealed the often unnoticed heroism of ordinary people and awakened the consciences of many.

The prophet Isaiah delivered God’s message, “See, I am doing a new thing!”  Likewise, prophetic voices today urge us to break from old ways and to not return to an old normality if it means a society that continues to advantage the few (even if the few are us!) at the expense of the many, and that threatens the survival of the planet.

Religious leaders are urging us to think new thoughts when envisioning how we will eventually come out of the current crisis.  Early in the pandemic, Pope Francis sized up the situation:

Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity.  Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. This is the opportunity for conversion. Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were.

Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, exhorted:

There are ways forward we never imagined – at huge cost, with great suffering – but there are possibilities and I’m immensely hopeful … Once this epidemic is conquered we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all was normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, a new normal, something that links to the old but is different and more beautiful.

Let’s pray for the grace to join with God in “doing a new thing!”

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Do you not perceive it?
AUTHOR
Mark  »

See, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the wilderness I make a way,

in the wasteland, rivers.

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/isaiah/43?13= (Isaiah 43:19)

 

In ruminating on Isaiah 43:19, a relatively “famous” passage of the Old Testament – especially the ‘I’m doing something new,’ line – I am sitting with two thoughts.

First, the word, perceive. One of the characteristics I inherited from my father is not being able to find what is in plain sight, especially in the refrigerator. The butter is there, perhaps even unobstructed from view but after four seconds I call out to my wife, “Where’s the butter?” and she responds, “On the second shelf.” I quickly retort, “No it is n—oh, there it is. You’re right.” I hardly can see what is in front of me, add another layer of perception or understanding, and, no, usually I do not perceive what is being done.  

Second, the last nine months in particular seem rather antithetical to this passage. The year 2020, and really our perception of the pandemic in March, seemed to turn the life-giving rivers of our beings into socially distant wastelands; the paths of our lives which had much greenery turned into a wilderness with hardly away forward. And yet, here’s God saying he’s doing something new. In fact there was a wilderness but now in this pandemic there are now new paths, where I only thought there was wasteland, there are now rivers – if only I can perceive it.

Yes, there has been much loss and discombobulation, but indeed in this new or next normal there will be paths and there will be rivers which hopefully will soon turn our various wastelands into lush and verdant pastures where one day soon we can safely gather, in person, and perhaps also without masks! I may not perceive that day just yet, but if my personal history and inability to see what is in front of my nose is any indication, I trust that these things are happening and I have hope that what I do not see others can point out for me along the way.

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That's Sufficient
AUTHOR
Mark  »

According to my three year old son, there is no one ultimate Christmas gift. Rather, there are three gifts that make for a good Christmas: a boy doll (read: robot), a boat (read: tub size not lake size), and a Mario Race Track (read: Hot Wheels set).

Now, according to his older sister, my six year old daughter, there is one ultimate Christmas gift. The gift, obviously, is an LOL Surprise Winter Disco Chalet Wooden Doll House with an ice skating rink. I will cede the point that that is an ultimate gift, given its price tag of $250.

But for me, most evenings at the dinner table I’m reminded of what I perceive to be the ultimate (Christmas) gift. You see, without fail, no matter how delicious my wife or I make dinner, likely our children will demand ranch dressing, ketchup, or parmesan cheese upon their plates.  At six and three years old they both wish to pour out their preferred condiment on their own. This action usually incites a dull comment from me after a few seconds of them squeezing or shaking the bottle. “That’s sufficient,” I say. I have said it so often and out of wrote automation that for the past month even before I realize I have uttered that phrase my kids begin to grin, their eyes start to widen, and they say with gusto, “You said sufficient, you said sufficient, you said sufficient!”

Indeed, I said sufficient. For I think they have poured out enough upon their plates. I do not quite understand the fascination my children have with the word 'sufficient,' but in some way I have my own fascination with that word, too. It is a word I would like to make real, welcome, and accompany.

The best gift for me in this tiring year isn’t glitzy, glamourous, over-the-top, or even awe-inspiring. That which isn’t too little or too much; neither brash or timid; that which is sufficient is a gift. It is enough.  What is sufficient and how can it be real? The Nativity certainly is an example for me.

The manger – the lack of support, concern, and yes room at the inn – says a lot about us, but it also says a lot about God: for Him, a lowly manager was sufficient.

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The Measure You Use
AUTHOR
Bob  »

For several years I had the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter one night a month.  My responsibilities primarily involved turning off the lights at 10pm and putting on the coffee in the morning.  Other than that, I mostly talked with the guests and slept – good work if you can get it.  For me it was simply a service opportunity; for the guests being there was the result of one grave circumstance or another.

An itinerant preacher once said the foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.  That is the situation that these brothers and sisters find themselves in.  Given our current economic disaster, unfortunately, many more people may not have a place to lay their heads in the months and years ahead.

At the shelter I enjoyed talking with the guests about sports and politics, but the best part was hearing their stories.  I met some amazing people and learned a lot from them about resiliency, perseverance and courage.  I am better for my time with them.  The “homeless” are less an abstraction; they are persons with all the uniqueness and complexity that we all share.

It is a cliché that you get more out of volunteer service than you give.  But it is repeated so often because it is universally true.  Life is too short for us to remain in the confines of our comfortable little worlds.  Whatever sacrifice self-giving entails is repaid many times over.  That same itinerant preacher said, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

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Leadership is like Fire
AUTHOR
Mark  »

Earlier this year I facilitated a presentation (via Zoom of course) entitled, “Leadership Like Fire: Stop Drop & Roll.” In that presentation I expounded upon by observations of what leadership is. In sum, leadership is about others, it’s about service, and it’s about discernment.

To make my case, I cited three leaders, three figures of the Church (I figured it would be less controversial to cite church leaders rather than cultural or political leaders) and they were: Vincent de Paul, Catherine McAuley, and Therese Couderc. I used their lives, their actions, as examples of good leadership, of servant leadership. The framework I used to adjudicate what good or servant leadership looks like was the model I became familiar with in graduate school: the Markkula Center Model.

A good leader is a servant leader, one who wants to serve, one who is concerned with the growth of those they lead, and whose decisions ensure the least privileged are helped or at least not harmed. Again: service, others, and discernment.

But, leadership is far more art than science, and so tidy categories and succinct definitions as well as charts and brief biographies of past leaders don’t quite get us to the heart of leadership. Prose is necessary to explain the heart of leadership but poetry is necessary to understand what makes the heart of leadership beat. As such my presentation, like my personal opinions on leadership, employed some poetry, some beautiful themes and words from Joseph Grant of JustFaith and his book, Still in the Storm.

Grant spoke of making space, making time, and dropping down to learn, to grow, to be where we ought to be – to lead. And so to me, good, ethical, moral and yes servant leadership is best encapsulated on Holy Thursday. The example Christ provided by stooping down, and washing the feet of others, to be of service to the least and the last, that’s leadership.

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Faith Goals
AUTHOR
Mark  »

Integrity. My faith goal or rather the goal of my faith is to achieve and maintain integrity of the Word and my deeds. The objectives to achieve this goal of integrity; doing, saying, and acting with consistency and in accord with the mandates of Christ, as I see it, are as follows:

Be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer (James 2:20 & James 1:19-27)
Be neighborly (Luke 10:29-37)
Do Mercy (Matthew 25:31-46)
Minimize myself and maximize others (John 3:30 & John 12:20-36)
Be attentive (Luke 10:38-42)
Be sacramental (Luke 4:16-21 & John 13:1-20)

In light of faith, I must remember that the only hill I should be willing to die on, is not a social media argument, political entanglement, or some passing triviality, but rather the hill that Jesus taught the Beatitudes from that’s where I stake my claim. That Sermon on the Mount articulates who Christ is, what the Church is, and the mission we all have in this faith. May I have integrity to accept, believe, practice, and do this mission – live this faith.  And when I fail, may I examine my conscience, seek forgiveness, and do better. Amen!

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Little by Little
AUTHOR
Bob  »

Growth in our spiritual life largely depends upon a lot of little decisions.  That is why we talk about practicing our faith.  It takes a lifetime of practice to become the person God intends us to be – fully alive, generous of spirit, open to life and caring of others.  The person in process is what matters; the end product takes care of itself.  More and more I am struck by how important our little choices are.  Spiritual growth seldom happens in dramatic leaps, but rather in little steps along the way. 

Years ago an old priest gave me some good guidance.  He said it’s all about habits.  Be careful to develop good habits, he advised.  When you are moved to do the right thing – standing up for the underdog, speaking out in the presence of injustice, or simply making a phone call to a lonely elderly uncle or sending a card to a grieving friend – always try to act on it.  Now.  Even if imperfectly.  Try to make virtue in little things habitual.  Exercise those virtuous muscles every day to make you spiritually healthy and stronger for when you need that strength.

He was a person who emanated kindness and compassion.  I see how he got that way.

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Cenacle Spirituality
AUTHOR
Mark  »

To surrender to God is not to give up; to trust in Jesus is not an abdication of responsibility; to be vulnerable is not to be confused with self-pity or certitude of pain; to go on retreat is not an escape from reality but is rather an entering into the real presence of the Good God.

The spiritual gift of Mother Therese Couderc lives on within the Cenacle family: Sisters, Auxiliaries and Affiliates, staff and co-ministers, retreatants and friends. Her earthly life ended in 1885, but her influence and insights live-on. She gave retreats, gardened, taught religion, dealt with demotion and illness. Most importantly, I think, she provided welcome – hospitality – because in prayer and simple service she saw that goodness was written all around and in every person. She did not give up or give in to set backs, accusations, or illness. She surrendered to God.

I’m not sure which is more difficult today: seeing Goodness around us or surrendering to God? Which is more difficult is a moot point. Thanks to Mother Therese and her example in post-Revolution France, no matter what is most difficult we know that the yolk of Jesus is light and hospitality and simple service suffice.

 

“Not my will be done, but [God’s]. That is my favorite prayer which I mean to pray every day as long as there is breath left in me, because it is the one which gives me and leaves me with the greatest peace of soul.” – Letter to Mother Marie Aimee Lautier, October 16, 1881

 

“Surrender myself, that is all I did during this retreat – the good God did all the rest.” – Letter to Mother de Larochenegly, February 13, 1864

 

“I abandon myself sincerely to God’s will and good pleasure, and when I have sincerely made this act of abandonment, I am calm and I experience a great peace.” – Letter to Mother de Larochenegly, November 25, 1875

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The Room Where It Happens
AUTHOR
Mark  »

In the play Hamilton, Aaron Burr pleads, “I wanna be in the room where it happens, the room where it happens.”  This private space is the place of power and deal making where insiders conspire.  The ambitious aspire to be one of the brokers there.

For the past century, the Cenacle has offered a different kind of space.  At the heart of the Sisters’ ministry has always been the inspiration of the Upper Room (the Cenacle).  The Cenacle is the room where Jesus joined with his friends in the Last Supper, where he gave them an example of selfless service by washing their feet.  It is also where the disciples awaited in prayer the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Cenacle is a place of quiet expectation, of communion and of transformation.

At the retreat center in Chicago and at similar others throughout the world, the Cenacle Sisters offer a spiritual and physical place, a “room where it happens.”  What happens, though, is quite different from what Burr was after.  What happens is the opportunity for deep encounter, personal discovery, awakening to one’s true self, meeting God in prayer.  A respite from the headlong pace and screen-filled diversion of our lives, the Cenacle offers an invaluable gift – time and space for quiet reflection, a room where nothing and everything happens.

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I Say to Myself
AUTHOR
Bob  »

First, get rid of the idea that the time you spend praying is any more holy than anything else you do that day, I say to myself.  Remember that there is nowhere in the gospels where Jesus says, or even infers, that we will be judged by how much or how often or how well we pray.  Don’t forget that he expressly rejects the idea that babbling on in prayer in the mistaken belief that somehow simply multiplying one’s words to God has any merit.  And surely keep in mind Jesus’s distain for people that make a show of their piety.

That said, do pray.  Do your best to be a prayerful person – not for God’s sake, but for yours!  Maybe God, disguised as your life, is always whispering to you, nudging you forward when you are just mucking along, showing you the way, standing by you when you think you are all alone.  Maybe God is a river of grace flowing through your life.  Deep down you know it is true.  Stop and pay attention or who knows what you may be missing.  You know from experience that it pays to pay attention.  So, pray already.

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