Lent is an opportunity to respond to God’s call. “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2: 12). The forty days of Lent echo Jesus’ own forty days in the desert -praying and fasting, listening to God and wrestling with temptations. He grew stronger and came out ready to unite his heart with the heart of God in his mission for others. Like Jesus, we renew our dedication to the love of God and to the love of neighbor as self through prayer, fasting, and generous service to others, especially to people who are poor and vulnerable.
Jesuit priest Father Mark Thibodeaux gives one example of how he renews his life in God through what he calls “the most amazing prayer you’ve never heard of.” This amazing prayer is St. Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercise, called the Examen. Father Mark explains why he loves this way of praying:
What I long for is to have Christ join me in all the adventures and tedium of my active day. I love Christ so much that I want to share every minute of it with him….I want to feel his presence always! …. I want to share with him even the smallest details of my life: the irritating email…the pleasant smile of the women at the post office; the dread in my heart for the difficult meeting…Sure, I want to share with Christ the really big things…but the closer I grow to Christ, the more I want to share with him the seemingly insignificant things as well. I know he’s there, in the midst of it all.
Mark Thibodeaux, Reimagining the Ignatian Examen (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2015), vii-viii).
The Examen is a short prayer where for fifteen minutes every day you review your day. In five easy steps you: (1) Give thanks for all the things that went well in your day and the many gifts in your life; (2) Ask the Holy Spirit to review with you your whole day; (3) Recognize where you failed to love God, yourself or others today in big ways and small; (4) With self-compassion, feel the negative feelings that may surface and, if you have sinned, ask for forgiveness; (5) Look ahead with God to tomorrow and resolve to live it well.
This is only one way to rededicate your life to God. How much do you want to share your life with Jesus? As you reflect on your plans for Lent, how will you give God more of a role in your life?
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
By Sister Kathy Nolan, OP
Recently the Oxford Dictionaries announced that their 2016 word of the year is “Post-Truth”. Oxford defines post-truth as “an adjective relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” As one writer suggests, the key here is “post” as it refers to a “time in which the specified concept has become unimportant and irrelevant.” Perhaps another way of saying this is that post-truth describes a condition in which truth is no longer really important at all.
I find this quite alarming and frightening. The recent presidential election campaign was, in fact, a vivid example of how truth has lost and ‘fake news’ and distortion of truth has won the day. George Orwell described such a time as we live in in the following way: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary.”
As a Christian and a Dominican, seeking truth is a life-long pursuit. It is impossible to think that as an individual or as a society we would abandon truth telling and embrace deceit and obfuscation as the norm. For Christians, Gospel values provide us with the norms for living and the Gospel is revolutionary. Jesus says of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Following Jesus requires a wholehearted pursuit of truth in our personal and public lives.
Take some time and reflect on the place of truth in your life: Does personal or group bias cloud your vision causing you to see only your own advantage in a situation while blinding you to the needs of others who are different from you? Do you avoid truth through denial, suppression of painful emotions, busyness, and overconsumption? Or are you emotionally honest and willing to acknowledge the truth of a situation, even when it is painful? Are you willing to act on the truth and live with integrity? As Jesus states, “the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).
"Act of Faith Hope Love Collage" by Art4TheGlryOfGod is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
When we look at the horrific sufferings in the world caused by war, poverty, various forms of oppression and ecological devastation we may ask, “What will it take to bring world suffering to an end?”
The Sufi tell a story:
Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”
And out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.”*
As we begin the New Year, this is exactly what we need to hear. We are the ones to bring God’s love to this world here and now. This is what the Incarnation is all about. God becoming flesh refers not only to the full humanity of Jesus but to the whole of humanity embraced by God. As the great patristic theologians declared, God became human so that humanity could become like God. Saint Paul loved to refer to the first Christian community as the “Body of Christ,” called to continue the mission of Christ in the world. As “other Christs” we are to use our gifts and talents to bring God’s love, justice, and peace to the human community and the entire earth. How are you being called to make a small contribution on a daily basis to bring the world’s suffering to an end?
*Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 1993, Kindle edition), Kindle location 1549.
The unexpected voice of Advent has the power to set people on a wondrous path of new life. Advent tells the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, who are childless in their old age but give birth to a son, John, because God fulfills impossible dreams. Mary hears the angel’s voice, “Do not be afraid, O highly favored daughter, you will give birth to the Savior.” She responds wholeheartedly, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” And in a dream the unexpected voice of an angel consoles the brokenhearted Joseph, encouraging him to change his plans and take Mary as his wife. They give birth to a son and they name him “Emmanuel,” meaning God is with us. All of these Advent figures listened and trusted the unexpected voice of God. As a result, their lives, and ours, have been transformed in miraculous ways.
This unexpected voice of God still speaks today in the story of Ted Shawn, a young divinity student who was suddenly stricken with polio. From somewhere deep within him came a most unlikely voice calling him to, of all things, dance. So, with great difficulty, he quit divinity school and began to dance, and slowly and miraculously, he not only regained the use of his legs, but went on to become one of the fathers of modern dance.
This Advent recall a time in your own life when the unexpected voice of God came to you, perhaps in a time of great vulnerability, and showed you the way to new life and happiness. Give thanks to God and ask yourself: Am I still listening?
Last week we explored the question Jesus asks his followers, “Who do you say that I am?”
But there’s another way to phrase it. You ask Jesus the question. Just sit quietly and ask Jesus that same question, “Jesus, who do you say that I am?”
It feels a lot different, doesn’t it? There is something very humbling about it, very vulnerable. When we fear that someone will be very harsh or judgmental with us, we don’t usually ask for their feedback. It’s a little easier to hear negative feedback from the people we know do care about us. Honestly asking Jesus this question shows that we have a deep trust that Jesus is only truly interested in what is best for us, that he truly loves us.
What might be more surprising is that Jesus might give us some unexpectedly positive messages. He might very well see all sorts of beautiful things about us that we haven’t noticed or have undervalued.
Whatever the Spirit of Jesus brings to us in response, whether it’s an invitation to grow in some area or a joy at our goodness, the response will always be one of love.
Take some time today to ask, “Jesus, who do you say that I am?”
That famous question, “Who do you say that I am?” occurs in this Sunday’s Gospel. It can be a very important discernment question because how we answer it affects everything. If you say Jesus was a good man who set a good example, that may be nice, but it doesn’t necessarily call a person to any radical change. If you say Jesus is the one who will judge us in the end, then it might just make you anxious and act out of guilt. If you say Jesus is the creator of the universe manifesting in human form to teach us how to live and love, you might feel more drawn to respond with your life.
At a very personal level, we probably answer this question differently from others, and even for ourselves at different points in our lives. Because Jesus is also a ‘person,’ we are in a relationship, and relationships change over time. Jesus may not change, but our understanding of him and way of relating to him will. Some of the different answers I have had to this question: Jesus you are… my partner… my hope… a caress… a challenger… the one I take time with each night and morning… the core relationship in my life.
Discernment involves other people. But the strongest voice in becoming who I am, and discerning what I am called to do, is the voice of Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is?
I’m not sure why I find this image so delightful, but I do. It’s a photo from the shelf above my 6 year old niece’s bed. She adores Minions. And she thinks of the other ‘stuffie’ as “Baby Jesus when he grew up.”
I love that she put Jesus and the Minion (Kevin, for those in the know) together. It reminds me of how Jesus can speak to any situation, even an animated or pretend one. Jesus meets us where we are – whether we are a Minion-loving six-year-old, a twenty-something struggling to find our life path, a fifty-something grieving the loss of a relationship, or an eighty-something coming to peace with aging.
Let Jesus speak to you just as you are this day.
“Well, my love story began….” I was so struck by each of the young women speaking with me. I had asked each of them to share with me their story of how they came to religious life, and every single one referred to her “love story.” I thought it was so beautiful!
I was visiting our Sisters in the Philippines and I heard the stories of the five temporary professed sisters, two novices and two candidates – each one of whom knew she was on that path because of Jesus’ love for her. And it wasn’t an insular love – it wasn’t a just “me and Jesus” kind of love. Each story included giving and experiencing love with the other Sisters and with the people they serve. It is a love story that leads each woman out to love and serve others.
Their love stories weren’t all smooth. There were often many challenges. But being grounded in that base of love enables them to go forward in confidence – with the one that loves them by their side.
It is true for all of us, whatever our path. The love of Jesus can sustain us, lead us out of ourselves, and give us the courage to continue forth.
Can you sense Jesus walking with you?
At dinner the other night, one of the Sisters said, “My spiritual director asked me, ‘So what does Lent mean to you?’ So now I want to ask each of you.” We each shared our thoughts. It was a good discussion and here are some of the meanings we had:
- It’s like a second chance, a deeper commitment than what I did for Advent.
- A time to slow down and get closer to God, to take time to listen to God.
- A time to take on new practices so I grow in my faith and as a person.
- A time to be more aware of others.
- I try to ask God how God wants me to pray in a new way, what God wants me to give up, and what God wants me to give.
We reflected that sometimes these Lenten practices are for a time of six weeks and other times doing them can lead us into a new life pattern. All of us had the desire to grow, to become more who God made us to be.
What does Lent mean for you? What is God saying to you these Lenten days? Jesus prepared for his public ministry by spending forty days in the desert listening to God and being very aware of all the inner and outer temptations facing him. He grew strong and came out ready to take on a new way of being. What do you need to do to prepare for what God is calling you to do and be?
This week's reflection comes to us from guest blogger, Sister Dot Dempsey, OP, in Chicago. Sister Dot serves on our Vocation Outreach Awareness Team.
So much is happening as we celebrate St. Andrew the Apostle, this 1st Week of Advent and at the beginning of the Dominican Family’s 800th Jubilee! So much to think about, celebrate and thank God for.
Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “come after me.” We too have been called to the Order of Preachers. The motto for our 800th Jubilee is “Go and Preach.” Jesus sent the Apostles and we too were sent by Saint Dominic to find new ways of preaching.
As we begin this liturgical year, in this jubilee year, we invite you to “come and see”, to share the joy in following Jesus. We want to open our hearts and open doors, as we praise, bless, and preach the good news.
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP
Director of Formation
Sister Judith Benkert, OP
West-Southwest Vocations Promoter
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
Director of Vocations, East Coast-Midwest Vocations Promoter
Adrian Dominican Sisters
1257 East Siena Heights Drive
Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
Subscribe for Updates to Reflections
To Subscribe to our Monthly Vocations Newsletter (separate from this blog), follow this link.