A word from Pope St. John Paul II ~ “Genuine love … is demanding. But its beauty lies precisely in the demands it makes. Only those able to make demands on themselves in the name of love can then demand love from others.”
On this final Sunday in July, we celebrate the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time and continue our reading of Luke’s Gospel. During the past few weeks we’ve been hearing Jesus speak about the qualities of true discipleship. He continues his teaching this weekend through some very familiar passages. The Our Father is the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. He follows that prayer with one of his central teachings – if you ask the Father for what you need, God will give it to you.
These familiar passages provide us a look at the person of God. There is a particular portrait of God painted in Jesus’ words. As Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, Jesus takes advantage of their request to point to a God who is very close. This God is called “Abba,” or “Papa,” one known as “Father.” I suspect that Jesus’ instruction to call God “Father” ruffled the feathers of those who wanted to keep God at a formal, safe distance – perhaps on the top of some isolated mountain, out of harms way. Instead, God keeps trying to break into our lives, seeking to draw near – providing us with every blessing, giving when we ask, pointing out when we seek, and opening when we knock.
It almost seems too good to be true. But isn’t that the way sin speaks in our hearts? Sin creates doubts and makes us want to believe that the Good News is too good to be true. And even though Jesus told us again and again that God is closer to us than the breath that keeps us alive, we resist. We push God back into a distant heaven or imagine that God is a judge who can’t wait to condemn. Not the God of Jesus – the Abba, the Papa who seeks to bless us with everything we need. At the heart of the Our Father is God’s desire to be with us – loving us, caring for us, providing for us.
Perhaps it is a good thing that Jesus taught us about God in the form of a prayer. For every time we approach God in prayer, we are invited to recognize the presence of God with us and within us, so that we can also recognize God around us and in each other.
We continue our celebration of “summer saints” this week with the celebration of the feasts of additional giants in our litany of saints. Wednesday is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Thursday begins the month of August with the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church.
St. Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits. 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 all that familiar with Ignatian spirituality until I returned to school at Creighton University in Omaha to supplement 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. Ask God for whatever I need to respond.
The Examen seems to be about two significant points. It invites us to give thanks each day, and to be attentive to the ways 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 aides – only a desire to spend some time with God. In the end, it helps us to notice and 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, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.” There is a lot of practical wisdom here. He is a great summer-time saint. He invites us to slow down and recognize God’s presence all around us. I hope that these reflections have been helpful.
The “Back to School” advertising circulars are
beginning to weigh down our Sunday newspapers.
The month of August begins this Thursday. Many of our college students will be leaving us in just a few short weeks. Let’s enjoy the time that we have. And we remember in prayer all those who are traveling at this time of year. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy