July 30, 2023

Over the past few weeks, our Gospel reading from Matthew’s Gospel has come from Jesus’ Sermon of Parables. Seated in a boat near the shore, he teaches the crowds gathered on the shore about the Kingdom of God. Today, on the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus concludes this sermon with three parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. The parables do not give a definition of the Kingdom of Heaven, but present images or pictures that are windows into the mystery of the Kingdom. Three parables – a buried treasure, a fine pearl, and a net thrown into the sea – invite us to consider different dimensions of the Kingdom.

“May the Lord restore our sight so as to rediscover what it means to be members of the human family.”

Pope Francis

One of the blessings of our church calendar is that we celebrate the feasts of many of our great saints during the summer. We look up to these saints as heroes of our faith, and we try to imitate them in our individual journeys as disciples of the Lord Jesus. They refused to let their lives be stunted by the circumstances of the world around them. This week, we celebrate the feasts of some of the giants in our litany of saints. Monday is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Tuesday begins the month of August with the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church. Friday, we have the feast of St. John Vianney, the “Curé of Ars” and patron of parish priests.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus. Many of our parishioners have known the influence of St. Ignatius through attending a Jesuit-sponsored school. Since my college and graduate education took place at Benedictine schools, I was not very familiar with Ignatian spirituality until I returned to school at Creighton University in Omaha in preparation for my term on the faculty at Mundelein seminary. There, I was introduced to the wisdom of St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises.

Ignatius developed a very simple and practical prayer form for his followers to use. He called it the “Consciousness Examen.” Unlike the examination of conscience, which begins with our failures (“Where did I sin?”), the Consciousness Examen begins with gratitude. The prayer invites us to review the events of our day by considering five simple steps.

1. As I review the events of this day, for what am I grateful? 

2. As I review the events of this day, where did I experience God’s presence? 

3. As I review the events of this day, what do I sense God inviting me toward? 

4. How will I respond to God’s invitation tomorrow? 

5. I ask God for whatever I need to respond.

The Examen seems to be about two significant points. First, it invites us to notice the presence of God in all of the events of our day. Then it invites us to give thanks each day, and to be attentive to the ways in which we need God’s healing love. It is a good opportunity to slow down and take notice of the things we have experienced in the previous 24 hours. It can be done at any time of the day. I find it most helpful as part of my prayer at the end of the day. It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 60 minutes, depending on the time that we have. We don’t need a book or any other aids – only a desire to spend some time with God. In the end, it challenges us to listen and helps us to become more aware of the subtle and gentle ways God has been present to us that day.

Ignatius invites us to encounter God in our everyday experiences and to recognize that we are called to ongoing conversion. His daily prayer was “to know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly, day by day.” There is much practical wisdom here. Even though Ignatius died in 1556, his teachings speak to us in our own day.

The “Back to School” advertising circulars are beginning to show up in our mailboxes. The month of August begins on Tuesday. Our children are preparing to return to school. Let us enjoy the summer time that we have. And we remember in prayer all those who are traveling. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.

– Father Jim Murphy