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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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AUTHOR
Mark  »

My daughter, Rachel Day, turns six in September. Most evenings I am the one who puts her to bed, which means after picking out books and pajamas, brushing teeth and putting on those pajamas, after reading those books and turning out the light, it’s time for evening prayers. Usually my wife attends to our son, George DeSales, during this night time ritual.

Evening prayers with my daughter are pretty rote at this stage. I’m trying to inculcate and cultivate the value and purpose of prayer, the value and purpose predicated on an examination of conscience, thinking of others, being grateful, and not being afraid to ask for help. And so, here’s the “formula” we mostly stick to each night. The Spirit disguised as a meandering mind or spontaneous thinking of a child may veer us elsewhere from time-to-time.

Me: Did you have a good day
Rachel: Yes / No / kind-a
Me: What do we say [regardless of a good, bad, or kind-a-good days]?
Rachel: Thank You God.

Me: Are you sorry for the times you did not listen today?
Rachel Yes (sometimes… silence)
Me: And so we say
Rachel: Sorry God

Me: Are you grateful for all of God’s graces you experienced today; in laughter and learning, curiosity and discovery; playtime and running and jumping; food and family; and all things bright and beautiful?
Rachel: Yes

Me: And what do you want to ask Jesus tonight?
Rachel: Dear Jesus, please keep us safe
Me: And please keep all the kids around the world safe, especially those who are…
Rachel: Sad, lonely, or in danger

Me: And, do you want to do good and be good?
Rachel: Yes
Me: And help people and be of service?
Rachel: Yes
Me: And listen to God, Mommy and Daddy?
Rachel: Yes

Me: Is there anyone you want to pray for tonight?
Rachel: [Usually the dog, a grandparent, or “the family”]

Me: Do you have any questions for God?
Rachel: [usually, no]

Me: And so…
Rachel: We want the Holy Spirit to guide
Me: Pope Francis
Rachel: And convert the heart of the
Me: President

Together: Our Father…

Together: Hail Mary…

Together: Glory Be…

Me: [Litany of Saints] St. Margaret of Scotland & St. Barnabas (where our children were baptized)
Rachel: Pray for us
Me: Dorothy Day & Catherine McAuley
Rachel: Pray for us
Me: Saints George & Francis de Sales
Rachel: Pray for us
Me: Mary Queen of Peace & St. Cecilia
Rachel: pray for us
Me: St. Mark & St. Thomas
Rachel: pray for us
Me: St. Ann & St. John the Evangelist
Rachel: pray for us
Me: St. Dymphna & St. Kateri
Rachel: Pray for us

Me: Anything else you want to offer to God?
Rachel: No (with rare exceptions)

 End note: She complained a few months back that my evening prayers with her were too long. She suggested, once, that we pray the rosary instead. She did not believe me that it would take longer to pray the rosary than this formula. And so, that evening I acquiesced. Since that night she has not requested the rosary at bedtime.

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Strength by Faith
AUTHOR
Joan  »
This quote comes to mind as I look about me and see each person, old and young, making their way through these strange and challenging times.  We can often believe that if we are strong enough, resilient enough and have a strong will we will make life the way we feel it should be.  Then something like a virus comes along and we are stunned into disbelief.  Holding onto what I expected of this summer, this school year or job search or retirement will only wear me out and possibly make me bitter and discouraged.  Letting go of those expectations allows me to be strong in the present moment – to be loving, kind, compassionate and wise because all my inner strength is not going towards the fool’s errand of changing reality.  I pray to be given the true wisdom of letting go.  I pray that I will be strong in my faith that God is present in these challenging times and my future is in God’s hand.  That God holds that future with a gentleness beyond my imagining.  I am not asked to be strong in will but strong in faith. Strong is my releasing of my will and my ability to let go and most definitely let God.  
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The Meek Mentality
AUTHOR
Mark  »

Strength. Two passages of Scripture populate when I hear the word strength.

Scripture passage number one, “I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13); Scripture passage number two, from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek…” (Matthew 5:5).

Strength is a fickle word to define. A good leader, especially in politics, like a good lineman in football is thought to be “strong,” but certainly the strength of the lineman and the strength of the politician are not the same, or are they? I think strength is born of will or desire, determination or practice. I think also strength should not be thought of as entirely synonymous with the word “might” or relegated only for the concept of physical strength. A better synonym for strength, on a football field or in a hall of power might be the word resolve. Strength as resolve is the reason, I think of those two Scripture passages. And I think those two passages are very much interrelated.

Blessed are the meek, I do not think means blessed the weak. Rather, the meek are those who are gentle, those who have the power, the strength to overwhelm, strike-down, to hurt or annihilate, but have also the strength to not react in that manner. The meek keep their swords sheathed, they do not react or over-react with their might. And, I think, that that is hard. I think it’s Christ who strengthens our resolve not to respond with might but rather with meekness. Many times, a show of force or lashing out is easier, perhaps automatic, compared to walking away, being meek. Because meekness is hard, perhaps unattainable on our own, we need Christ to strengthen us in meekness, to choose peace, or quiet, or gentleness, or compassion, or empathy, over “I’ll show you,” or “what about me!” actions and mentalities.  We do not have to up the ante, we do not have to view life as a zero-some game, but it takes strength, or rather meekness to choose a better way.

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