Monday, July 22, 2013

"Find Your Inner Iggy" Week! - Making St. Ignatius Accessible

Ever had the feeling a particular saint has your number?  I have. Somehow, in my most profound moments of spiritual awakening for me either a Jesuit or some part of the spiritual methodology of Ignatius of Loyola have been in the mix (many long stories.) I am convinced he is my heavenly spiritual mentor (maybe my spiritual gadfly?)... and I did not choose him. He found me. Probably has something to do with my extremely visual imagination - guided meditations on Scripture - an Ignatian prayer form - will "get" me every time. I think God waits for those moments when I am most vulnerable in prayer to pounce.

As someone who embraces the spirituality of St. Ignatius, I am excited as we approach his feast day on July 31st. So are others who love his spirituality. Beginning Wednesday, Loyola Press celebrates online with "Find Your Inner Iggy Week".

Characterizing Ignatius as "Iggy" makes him cool and accessible - and I think Ignatians who celebrate him by that name are on to something. Iggy, quite frankly, is very relevant to the modern world. We need to learn to read the signs of God in all things in the world, we need to embrace Scripture as saying something directly and personally to us, and above all, we need discernment, not just decision-making that focuses on our own desires, but instead on what God desires for us.

So get ready for some great helps from the Loyola Press Inner Iggy team, with help from Fr. James Martin, SJ, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, Margaret Silf, and others.  Here is the schedule of online activities:

July 24: Finding God in Unlikely Places
July 25: Finding God in Our Decision Making
July 26: Finding God in Our Prayer
July 29: Finding God in Our Imagination
July 30: Finding God in Our Service to Others
July 31: Finding God in All Things

You can find out more at (which will soon take you to the main page) or by watching the dotMagis blog . You can follow it on Facebook by liking the Ignatian Spirituality page.  The search hashtag on social networks will be #FindIggy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Saint Martha the Under-Appreciated: Model of Strong, Active Faith

This coming weekend, we will hear the familiar story of Mary and Martha, where Martha complains that her sister is too busy listening to Jesus and not helping with the meal preparation. Jesus chides her, accusing her of being worried about many things and assures her that her sister has taken the "better part" sitting at his feet. We all know that story. Martha is usually depicted as a nag, and Mary as the more spiritual member of the family. Sometimes the two have been used to represent the active and the contemplative life, with the value often falling on the latter.

Yet later tradition honors Martha.  She is patroness of those who serve - cooks, housekeepers, waiters and waitresses - and sometimes, Christian service. There is a place for those who serve and wait upon others, a place for those who prepare the table. They, too, are necessary, or meals would never get prepared or served. Someone has to feed the hungry. Jesus says man does not live by bread alone, not man does not live by bread at all.

Oddly, Martha is sometimes depicted in iconography as leading a tame dragon on a leash. The story originated in France that Martha, Mary Magdalene and Lazarus arrived there a few years after Jesus death and settled in Avignon. When the people of Tarascon, in Provencal, were being terrorized by a dragon, they called upon St. Martha, who went to the dragon, tamed it and brought it back on a leash. The people, of course, immediately converted to Christianity.

Today, that image of Marth the dragon has been perverted in some cultures to become Martha the Dominator, a kind of powerful "dark side" icon popular in voodoo and some areas of Latin America, often depicted as a wild-eyed woman with streaming hair handling snakes.

Why do these traditions see Martha as a woman of great power? Perhaps the clues lie in her forthrightness in Scripture. Martha does not fool around. She says exactly what she is thinking. She takes charge. She rushes to meet Jesus when he comes to see them after the death of Lazarus, while her sister stays home and weeps. She is unafraid to blame Jesus - "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." But then, she names Jesus outright  as Messiah, the only other to do that besides Peter:
"Yes, Lord,” she replied. “I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God; He who is to come into the World.” (John 11:27)
It is Martha's active faith - as strong as Mary's spiritual bond with Jesus, that makes her worth emulating. Her belief in him is powerful enough to know that whatever he commands will happen - that, if he wills it, the dead will be raised. Belief is power. This has to be the basis for the legends that grew around her later.

So this weekend, when you hear the story of Jesus scolding Martha for asking her sister to help with dinner, remember that there is more to Martha than this story. St. John depicts her here as the antithesis of the contemplation of Christ. Yet later, he will depict her as one of the first and most faithful witnesses to his identity, unafraid to ask him for what she wants. For those of us who live in the world. Martha is worth emulating. Our faith, like hers, should be unshakable, based in common sense and service. Like Martha, we need to believe that Jesus can bring new life into even the most dire of circumstances.

Friday, July 5, 2013

New Encyclical on Faith Debuts New Look, Social Networking Links

Today, the Vatican released Lumen Fidei, the joint encyclical on faith which Pope Benedict drafted and Pope Francis completed - and along with it a new look:

This is the first major document to appear complete with PDF download and social networking buttons, signaling a willingness on the part of the Vatican to make documents more accessible. The much-maligned parchment is now a background, while the text appears on a lighter ivory. An improved, clearer font also enhances readability.

This popup when you go to the main Vatican webpage invites you to "leaf through" the document (in booklet format) or download the PDF.

Good for them! The change is very welcome and will make the teachings of the Magisterium more accessible and easier to share.

And, bonus!! There is also a separate companion site just posted by Jared Dees (Ave Maria Press) for the encyclical that includes study guide and outline.

Monday, July 1, 2013

No Turning Back: Deciding to Follow Jesus

This past weekend's readings, where several people receive calls from God and are tempted to take care of worldly concerns first - barbecuing the oxen, burying a father, etc. reminded me of a time in my life when I had that experience... and heard those readings in a very real and life-changing way. It's a tale of struggle, but one I am convinced proves that God has something in mind for each of us and is never far away. Several people have mentioned I should write about this, so here it is. It is my witness to the power of God's call.

I had received my Masters in Pastoral Studies (with emphasis in Liturgy) from Loyola Institute of Ministry Extension (LIMEX) in 1994, but had been unable to find full time work in ministry. By 1997, I was still working as secretary for a diocesan vicar for clergy (priest personnel) and part-time as liturgy coordinator in my parish, while moonlighting as a reviewer of classical music concerts for the local newspaper. I could not help feeling this was not what I wanted in the long term. A change in supervisors a couple years before had made me restless as my relationship with the new one was slightly rocky - unlike his predecessor, he did not treat me like a partner in ministry.

In the fall of 1997, I had made my Cursillo weekend, despite some severe health issues prior to major surgery - a long story, really - but during the weekend I had had an epiphany. For months before that, a "voice" in my head kept saying "Bloom where you're planted." I wasn't really blooming, just really getting by. After making a pretty routine confession at the Cursillo, I heard that voice again as I returned to my seat in the chapel. I finally rebelled - and retorted inwardly "I CAN'T bloom where I'm planted - I HATE where I'm planted!" Back at me, I heard, quite plainly "Then plant yourself where you can bloom!" That completely shocked me. I had never thought of leaving the city where I had lived for 19 years, raised my children and had my parish roots. I would never have considered it on my own.

That experience set off a job search which lasted for a number of months, with a number of false starts. However, when things did fall into place there was no mistaking that the choice to leave everything familiar and to follow that inner voice of the Spirit was the right one. Here's why:

  • Liturgically, Lent 1998 was the worst thing ever in my parish - everyone was at each other's throats and an "interesting" decision by the environment committee had unleashed a small firestorm. As the embattled coordinator, I could not help but feel that the "tail of the snake", as St. Ignatius refers to it, was slithering around every corner. I felt like it was time to leave.
  • Several job interviews were pleasant, but not successful. Nothing surfaced.
  • I had the surgery in January - the recovery was 6 weeks away from work, during which I had time to think, discern and pray. I kept the regimen of walking around the neighborhood each day. That's when it happened.
One day, after an interview during which I found out that a parish seeking a liturgy coordinator was actually looking for an organist, even though that had not been advertised, I went for that daily walk. I was sad that this had not worked out, and in conversation with God about what he could possibly want from me. As I walked, I encountered a piece of a broken dish in the alley. Since I am a cantor and the psalms are all stuck in my head somewhere, the first thought was "I am forgotten like a dish that is broken." (Psalm 31:12) Picking up the fragment, I took it home, wrote the psalm verse on the back of it with a marker and put it into a box of prayer objects. God was obviously still in the process, I thought. Unmistakable sign.

Later that day, I talked to a friend in ministry - who told me that the parish I had just interviewed with had been replacing their director of religious education, had someone, but that person had just reneged on the signed contract. I called the diocesan RE office and asked the director what were the minimum requirements for becoming a DRE: a master's degree and three years as a catechist was the answer. I had that!  I immediately wrote the pastor a thank you note for the interview. I also mentioned that I had heard they were now looking for a DRE, and that I had the minimum requirements for that position. The next day, after he opened his mail, he called me and said "We need to talk."

What resulted was the creation of a dual position in religious education and liturgy. What happened next is that I had to get ready to leave all that was familiar - to go to a town where I knew exactly no one to do the work to which the Lord was calling me. It was frankly scary.

Over the weeks prior to my departure I heard a series of readings at Sunday Mass - John the Baptist saying that if the tree does not bear fruit it needs the ax - and a version of the story we heard this weekend - with the line “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” I know God was speaking directly to me.  I left. I did not look back. My life was changed... forever.

That was 15 years ago. The journey later led me to diocesan ministry and life in a mostly-Hispanic parish. I have never regretted a thing because I have always known this was all part of the call. No turning back.