Happy Easter!

To all readers of the blog, a most happy and blessed Easter to you all! The darkness of Lent is ended and the brightness of Easter shines forth in full force.

One of the perks of working at a Catholic high school is that our spring break is scheduled  to coincide with Easter week. Thus we have been off since Holy Thursday and will continue to be off until the second Monday of Easter. Hopefully this ample amount of time off will give all members of the SIHS community time to enter into the Lord’ rest, to recharge metaphorical batteries for the end of the year (yikes! the end of the year!), and spend ample quality time with family and friends. For me, I hope to get some reflective blogging done, in addition to many other outstanding tasks (like figuring out next year!!!).

So, hopefully you will hear some simple insights from me later this Easter week. For now, I’m off to enjoy this blessed time in our Church and in our lives.

Noli timere. Pax tecum!

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The Results of God’s Friendship, Part III: The Recap

The third and final portion of my talk delivered on Kairos 155.

My brothers, I have said a lot to you this evening about my own life, about the lives of those important to me throughout the years, and perhaps most importantly, the threefold life of God – Father, Son, Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier – present throughout those relationships, both in their good times and in their bad, the perfect times, and the imperfect times. Ultimately, along with prayer and sacraments, this is how we live out our relationship with God – in communion with other people. We as Catholics don’t believe in a me-and-Jesus mentality of salvation (though a strong personal friendship with Jesus is essential). We emphasize God as a community of persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, who dwells within human persons, all of them created in God’s image and likeness. Those in whom he dwells fully we like to call saints. That’s heaven – the life of the Trinity and those in whom the Trinity lives. And that life begins here on earth. Now.

Hopefully you guys daydreamed along with my talk about your own lives and how God might have been present to you throughout the relationships in your lives as I spoke. I tried to give you guys some experiences from family life, grade school and high school you could relate to, as well as some experiences you all will go through in your futures. What’s key in all of this is that I couldn’t have done this talk or realized God’s presence in my life at all without going back and reflecting on my life. Thankfully this is exactly what you guys have been doing throughout the past 24 hours on this retreat. The questions we have been asking you, the reflective writings you have done, the discussions you’ve had in your small groups have all been exercises to help you see how God has been working in your own life thus far, especially through your relationships with your mentors, friends, and family, especially your parents. And you’ve had some great examples of how your peers have found God in their lives by looking back and reflecting on those lives. God is present to us and speaking to us, even in the tough times of our life – perhaps especially then. We just need to clear the way to let him speak, especially when He’s speaking through others. It’s emphasized so often – daily – at school, and I can’t emphasize it enough here how important this practice that we like to call the Examen is. If you want to deepen your relationship with God, and strengthen your relationships with other people, take the Examen after 8th period seriously. Do an Examen before going to bed at night, asking yourself similar questions to the ones you have been asked here on retreat. And write things down! It’s a lot easier to go back and reflect on your life when you have a written account of it.

Another way you can attend to your relationship with God through your relationships with other people is simply by spending more time giving attention and being open to those around you – your parents, siblings, friends, classmates, teammates, and so on. Tell your parents you love them. Offer to do the dishes every once in awhile. Clean your room. Help a kid struggling in a subject that you’re good at. Good intentions – and I know from experience that this retreat fosters a host of good intentions – amount to nothing if those intentions are not acted upon. By giving your parents the respect they deserve and the love they desire, by being fair and honest with your siblings and friends, you will be honoring not only them but your relationship with God, who dwells in a real way in each of these people. And let’s not forget the poor! Ignatius offers ample service opportunities, and I don’t need to tell you again that engaging in them will only help your relationship with God. Remember at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus separates the sheep and the goats… whatever you did to the least of my brethren – that is, the hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick, imprisoned, dead – you did to Him.

The one other piece of advice I have for you guys is to adopt an attitude of gratitude to your lives. This again incorporates much of what we’ve done on the retreat thus far. Ignatius, as any saint would say, likes to say that all is gift. When we reflect on our lives through the Examen and see the innumerable goods we have been given, especially as well-off members of American society and as members of the Catholic family, we will eventually – if maybe slowly but surely – adopt an attitude of gratitude for all that we have and are. And it is this core attitude towards existence that helps us most be a good and trustworthy friend, an attentive and patient sibling, a loving and obedient son. And it is through these actions that we respect most the presence of God working in those we have relationships with.

The ultimate result of God’s friendship is having a loving relationship with all those around you. Let’s live it out, brothers.

Posted in ADVP, Examen, faith, Gratitude, life, prayer, reflection, religion, retreat, students | Leave a comment

The Results of God’s Friendship, Part II: The Nitty-Gritty

Part two of my Kairos talk series on God’s workings in our lives through those around us.

So, now, as I go through the relationships and experiences of my own life, I invite you guys to listen attentively and go along for the ride. But, I will say, if some experience I recount to you resonates with you, stick with it – hold it in your mind and in your heart and come back to it later in your reflections. Ignatius always recommends sticking with the prayer experiences we have that work for us, and exhorts us to practice “repetitio” where we go back to visit an especially powerful moment of reflection we had in order to gain new graces from it. I’ll also do my best to make these experiences concrete, so that you can loosely practice Ignatius’ “application of the senses” (seeing the sights, smelling the smells, etc., to get a good feel of the experience) and really latch onto them for your own fruitful reflection.

Thanks be to God, I have had the grace of experiencing His friendship through the relationships of my life from a very young age – in fact, from before I even had an age. I am blessed to have two parents who, though with their share of marital difficulties and their own conflicts with me, have nurtured and raised me from the moment of my conception, even to this present day. All of our lives begin with the high point of our birth. Though we cannot remember the experience, from the very first moment of our existence we experience God’s friendship through the relationship of our parents. God’s role in our lives as Creator, which I spoke of at the beginning of this talk, is expressed to us right at the beginning of our lives through our parents’ loving willingness to bear us into this world and nurture us in it. In our parents, we see the nurturing and tender love of God that is pure gift to us.

I experienced this parental love in a special way in what is one of my earliest memories – and it’s a funny one. The exact details are hazy. What I can remember is standing in the middle of the Kindergarten classroom at St. Dominic’s, with the sun streaming in through the windows, my fellow 5-year-olds playing and sharing all around me. Suddenly, awkwardly, in the midst of all this life and happiness, I stood there and completely wet my pants. Presumably everyone looked on and thought it was hilarious, and of course in hindsight it is! Who knows why I didn’t just go to the teacher and tell her I had to go to the bathroom. I was very shy as a kid. But what is important in this experience is what happened after the incident. As I’m sitting in the dark nurse’s office, very uncomfortable and very embarrassed, who shows up to take care of me – not the nurse, not my teacher, but my Dad. Though it was the middle of the day, my Dad left his busy job so that he could come tend to me in my moment of need. Presumably he brought me a change of clothes so that I could feel comfortable again. I’m guessing he took me home after the incident. I don’t really remember any of those details, though. In fact, I can’t even remember any words that he said to me at that time. But what I do remember is his presence. Just the fact that he was willing to take time out of his busy day to come be with his very embarrassed son is something that, I’m sure, meant a lot to me as a 5 year old. It’s something that means even more to me now as a 24 year old. And, with the help of reflection and prayer, I can see that this early experience of the love of my parents (and of course there are countless others) is also an early experience of the tender love of God. I’m blessed to have had such an experience at such a young age.

Surely because of the traditional, loving way my parents raised me, and with grace’s help, from the get-go I was always one of the “good kids”, as well as a good student. As I mentioned, I was shy, reserved, certainly partially out of fear, but also out of refraining from the sillier things some of my grade school classmates would speak about.  I can remember many instances of my classmates (and perhaps some of my teachers as well) asking “Are you going to be a priest?” I didn’t know how to take this question and for a long time assumed it was a bit of teasing they gave me for being so quiet and shy. In retrospect, it seems that although there certainly was some teasing hidden in this question, what it did indicate more was the oddity or rarity of my own attraction to the good. I still can’t really explain to this day why I was never attracted to getting in trouble or doing sneaky things. I really don’t think it was out of fear of getting caught and the consequences. For whatever reason – and I’m chalking this one up to God – I always chose to follow the good example of my parents and of my conscience.

Another embarrassing early experience of mine might also shed some light on my attraction to goodness, love, and respect. I can remember early on in my grade school career being with my fellow male classmates, waiting around the water fountain after a game at the annual St. Patrick’s Day basketball tournament at St. Dom’s. At one point, thirsty because of just having played in a game, I bent over the water fountain to take a drink. One of my classmates, much more talkative than I (he had many older brothers and so had a lot more experience with life in general than I as the oldest child did), and definitely one of the “cool” kids throughout grade school, thought it would be a pretty hilarious idea to go up behind me make some inappropriate gestures behind my back. Of course I didn’t realize it at first, as I was taking the drink, but I quickly realized what he was doing and stopped my drink. Now, there wasn’t a huge scene made after my classmate’s act – a few of the goofballs of the group snickered, but overall the reaction was pretty calm and we carried about our business. However, for whatever reason, despite not really becoming a public sign of mockery, despite the event being rather tame in comparison to what it could have been, that disrespectful act that my classmate did to me has sat with me for the rest of my life. I still never bend over at the waist to take a drink, but rather bend at the knee or lean over. The event, though seemingly harmless at the time, has ended up being something that has put me, at times, on the defensive or into an over-sensitive mode in my everyday experience.

Of course, the evil one rears his head in other ways than temptation to perform bad acts. He began to do so in a different way with me, attacking me not through a temptation to do bad acts but, such as through the aforementioned experience, weakening me through a temptation to build up a bit of a protective covering about myself. This protectiveness also came about through my insecurity with my less-than-common striving for what is right and good, something that made me not a loser but certainly not one of the cool kids either. Additionally, my excellence as a student began to lead me to build up a hidden inner pride about my own mental aptitude that I still carry to this day. (I can seem very close minded to others, and I appear to always be thinking that I am right, no matter what.) With this intellectual pride also came a building inner pressure to perform and be ever and ever better for others, to the point of almost performing for others rather than being good for its own sake, or realizing that I am good independent of others’ opinion of me or my own productivity. This almost imperceptible habit that began in my grade school years, but built up throughout high school and college, has certainly had an adverse effect on my life. But, God has still worked though those adverse experiences for a greater good.

I often felt on the outside in many of my interactions with my classmates at St. Dominic’s. I was “friends” with all of them, but only truly close with one of them. His name is Jim. Like me, Jim was for whatever reason never concerned with being popular or standing out. He was and continues to be a very normal and level headed guy, easy to talk to, always willing to share a meal and whatnot. One of my earliest experiences of friendship with Jim happened sometime shortly after he moved to Cleveland from Connecticut in the 2nd grade. I can remember it being springtime, the trees beginning to bud, but of course, being Cleveland, the skies were gray and it was rainy. I remember ambling down the street seven houses to Jim’s. Providentially, he lived on the same block that I did. We were new friends at that point, getting to know each other and what we were both interested in. That day, Jim introduced me to a new experience that would change the course of my life for years to come. That experience was my first time playing a handheld video game system – the illustrious Sega Game Gear. I can remember playing Sonic the Hedgehog on that tiny 4” by 4” screen, with Sonic moving and collecting coins in that bit-by-bit fashion that is the trademark of super old video games. He even let me borrow the Game Gear to take home that afternoon! But more importantly, handing off the Game Gear between me and Jim, I can remember the excitement and thrill of having my first true friend – an experience that might not have been as rich if I had not previously experienced some strife with the “cool kids” of St. Dom’s.

Again in prayerful examination of myself, I now see that my friendship with Jim, in contrast to my relationship with some of my other classmates, allowed me to experience in a concrete way the love of God, this time more as redeemer, as Jesus. My strong friendship with this fellow man, rooted as it was in important values, helped me to appreciate who I was for my own sake, not because of the good grades I got or my own desire to avoid trouble. The same is true of our Lord Jesus. He loves us for our own sake, not because of what we do, but because of who we are. This important quality of friendship – total acceptance – was spoken of earlier today. As you can see, this experience of Jesus’ acceptance of us is usually done most effectively through another person’s loving friendship.

The next vivid concrete memory of God’s friendship through other people comes early on in my Ignatius experience, more accurately just before it. With my good grades and a nice score on the Ignatius entrance exam, I scored a spot in the Streicher honors program my freshman year. Of course this meant that I got to go to a nice dinner in the spring of my 8th grade year so Ignatius could try to convince me to go to there. A senior graduating in the class of 2002, Joy Hurd, spoke to us at this dinner. Joy was the consummate Ignatius leader – class president, valedictorian, etc. Again, like my Dad’s presence with me in my time of need early in my life, I don’t remember exactly what Joy said at that dinner. I just remember him having a certain presence about him, a certain presence about him that truly struck me, a feeling that I wanted what he had – intelligence, manliness, composure, and the like. I had been wrestling between going to Benedictine or Ignatius up until this dinner, and I think it was my encounter with the Ignatian formation that Joy had gone through himself that proved the tipping point for me to choose Ignatius. I see now that it has been God’s call for me to have and develop an Ignatian heart, something that has been one of the mainstays of my spiritual life. In this experience just before my time at Ignatius, we can see how we can profoundly affect people we don’t even know. Sometimes we don’t even know these people are listening, but we speak to them through our simple presence, the general feeling we give off as persons (and sometimes through our words). One of the amazing things to me is that I don’t really know how Joy was as a person at all. He could have been a jerk. But in that moment of my experience with him, he seemed to be a great & loving guy (and from all accounts I’ve heard of him, he is). Through this experience, we can see how God in His providence can work through us even when we don’t know he’s doing so, and when it’s not even apparent what our relationship with another person is, or if that relationship exists at all.

Along with many joys, my first year and a half at Ignatius had its share of difficulties. I made “friends” with many guys in the honors tracks, but none of them resonated like my friendship with Jim (who went to Shaker for high school). My sophomore service experience set the grounds for the development of my first authentic high school friendship with my cohort at Lutheran Hospital, Brady. You could say we built up this friendship through “adversity.” Our usual work the first half of our time at Lutheran consisted of sitting in a windowless room, stapling together hundreds of medical form packets for patients. By the end of our two hours of service, our fingers would be getting raw from handling so much paper (not to mention all the paper cuts). Thankfully things did get better later on. We had the chance to visit with many of the sick patients at the hospital. Brady, a member of Circus Company and an actor in a few Ignatius & Beaumont plays, helped me in our conversations in that blank room and in our conversations with the patients to be more comfortable with myself and more conversational with other people. God worked his friendship, his ability to free me from my own preoccupations, through Brady’s own (apparent) comfortableness with himself. I don’t think I would be able to be as open with you guys as I am now without the help of that great friend of mine. We can see God working as Jesus the friend, the redeemer from my own insecurities, through Brady. I’m thankful that, again, Brady and I are friends to this day.

Naturally, a huge experience of the friendship of God occurred to me when I was sitting where you guys are right now – on my own Kairos, #103, back in late winter of 2005. I’m a little ashamed to say that I can’t conjure up any concrete memories of my own retreat during my junior year. (Hopefully yours is a little more memorable!) Obviously, again, the experience of the retreat has mainly left its impression in how I live my life less than in certain memories. I do, however, have concrete memories leading a Kairos retreat my senior year (#108), around this very time of the year that we’re in now. This was a big experience for me, as it was one of the first moments in my life experiencing myself as a leader in any respect, let alone spiritually. As you can imagine from what I’ve said so far, although I did play sports I was never a star on the team. Though I was a good student, I was never at the tip-top of the class. I didn’t even really do any service in my time at Ignatius, sort of ironic considering I’m an AV now! But my experience as a small group leader and as a presenter on Kairos 108 gave me my first brush with being the spiritual leader I now strive to be in a full way. One random memory I do have from my high school Kairos experiences (that I’m actually allowed to tell you, since you guys have already experienced this part of the retreat) is giving my talk. Of course, being sensitive, self-conscious and perfectionist, not to mention an unrefined public speaker, I was extremely nervous to give my talk. What’s funny is the only thing I can remember from it is looking at one of the adults out of the corner of my eye, playing with a small piece of string in the back of the room as I delivered my talk. I don’t know that this memory means anything, but it’s pretty funny, and especially funny that it’s stuck with me all these years. Again, God sometimes speaks to us through other people in funny and mysterious ways.

Of course, my Kairos experience would have been nothing if not done in relationship with other people, most especially my small group members. Both the experience of sharing my faith life with my fellow Ignatius men during my retreat, and leading others to more carefully examine their own relationships with God during K108, brought me to a greater acceptance of myself as a faith-filled man and being proud and free with that strong faith, that ardent search for goodness. This acceptance was carried out concretely through the affirmation of my small group members, my fellow leaders, and the adults with whom we worked. It was a transformative experience, a sanctifying experience for me, leading me not only to be redeemed and accepting of my faith life, but also an experience for me to push deeper into that faith life, especially in my desire as a leader for others in their faith lives. Thus my Kairos experience one of my clearest moments of a close encounter with the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who brings us ever more deeply into relationship with the Trinity.

Let’s fast forward to my experience at Boston College. Like at Ignatius, my first semesters were filled with some definite hardships. Like it will be for all of you guys, college was my first time in my life of living away from home, under the same roof as my immediate family. I being a momma’s boy, and still just a little shy, the transition left me feeling lonesome and confused about the path ahead. It didn’t help that, while I did make some beginner’s friendships with the people in my dorm, sometimes our relationships brought more strife than joy. I have one vivid memory of laying in my bed around 12:30AM, tossing and turning, unable to sleep as my friends shouted and argued with each other while doing homework in the common room right outside my door (don’t ask why they designed the common room to be right outside a bedroom door!). The frustration I felt at those times is still palpable to me today. Throw in many weekend nights being filled with those around me getting silly drunk, hooking up with people they barely knew, and in general acting like idiots, freshman year was pretty tough for me, still striving to do what was good. What was especially painful about those experiences was not that I wanted to join in with my friends in their pernicious activities but was unable to due to my prudishness or fear of getting caught. No, what hurt me so much in those relationships was seeing my friends hurt themselves by resorting to those activities. I firmly believe, mainly through the conversations we had during the week, that 95% of the weekend antics of drinking and hooking up were due to my friends’ own insecurities with themselves and expressing their feelings to one another, especially to those whom they had romantic feelings for. To know that they were engaging in harmful activities because they felt insecure was so tough for me to see.

So where was God in all of this? When I felt alone and confused, what was God doing for me? He was waiting for me just around the corner, giving me the chance to clear some others things out of the way to make more room for Him. This “clearing” or shaking things up is usually the reason God allows bad things to happen to us – so that we open up more and more to relying on Him.

One of my dorm-mates freshman year happened to be friends with a Jesuit on campus earning his doctoral degree (perspective: BC hosts over 100 Jesuits on campus, the second most in the world outside of Rome. You thought Ignatius had a lot!) This Jesuit, Fr. Tony Corcoran, had helped my friend in his conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism during his years at New Orleans Jesuit, where Fr. Tony had been assigned for ministry for a few years before BC. My friend, Ryan, brought me to a group of young men who would change my life for the better, and through whom I have seen God working more clearly than almost any other group of people in my life. This group of young men was called the Sons of St. Patrick. The group basically consisted of a dozen or so college students who were striving to live an authentically Christian life on a campus, despite being a Catholic campus, so often hostile to Christian principles (just recount the stories I told you about freshman year). The Sons met weekly on Thursday evenings, the gateway to the weekend, for common prayer, fellowship, and discussion on topics of Christian living. Needless to say, I had finally found my home at BC.

One of my earliest experiences of the Sons was their St. Patrick’s Day party my freshman year. As you can imagine, as a freshman going to a party off campus, I was a little nervous about what was going to happen. However, in stark contrast to the abuses some my freshman classmates succumbed to, the Sons’ St. Patrick’s day party – which as you guys know has the potential to be the sloppiest party of the year – was clean, orderly, and most importantly, far more fun than the drunken escapades going on all throughout Boston that day. Alcohol was consumed, yes, but in moderate proportions – and, may I say, by those who were allowed to be enjoying it! Girls at the party had no worries of being taken advantage of by the men in the room. Heck, people were even playing giddy live music on fiddle and guitar, singing and clapping and dancing along, and enjoying the homemade Irish foodstuffs that those at the party brought in – all with saying grace together before consuming the food! Best of all, the elder statesmen of the group, who could have been big bad junior-senior upperclassmen, welcomed me and had conversations with me as if they had known me all their lives – as if we were brothers. And, as my weekly experience with the group the next four years proved, we were brothers – brothers in the Lord. Once again, through the friendship of those around me, God expressed his brotherly friendship, the experience of Jesus our brother, who took human flesh. I experienced for the first time at BC direct acceptance for my clean ways, appreciation for my desire to live a Christian life, and the freedom to live that in ever greater measures. (And, importantly, I figured out ways to have a good time without getting silly drunk or hooking up with my female friends. In fact, these ways were better and more fun!)

These Magis experiences in the Christian life I had in my time at BC included prayer and communal experiences the complementary group to Sons offered. The main prayer outlet was a Eucharistic Adoration group called the St. Thomas More Society. The friendships I gained and and prayer experiences I had through this Monday evening meeting is a prime example of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, working in my life. In communion with over 40 friends my age, I partook in a weekly Holy Hour, which consisted of praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, with a few hymns and some incense but mostly in silence in the chapel connected to the St. Mary’s Jesuit Residence at BC. This time together in prayer allowed the Lord, through his Eucharistic presence, to expand our capacity to desire & receive his love. The Holy Hour was followed by time chatting together, eating some really good pizza, and listening to a guest speaker present on a topic of Catholic intellectual or spiritual life. Needless to say, this was all right up my alley. I grew tremendously in my faith during that time spent on my knees, soaking in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord in community with my collegiate brothers and sisters.

I firmly believe that I would not have a strong relationship with God, nowhere close to the relationship that I am now blessed to have, if I did not spend ample time with Him in personal prayer. Yet, this time of personal prayer, in adoration and silence, would not have been enough – nay, would not have been effective at all, if I did not have a community of fellow believers around me experiencing the same wonders in their own hearts. If I had gone about this endeavor solo, the evil one would easily swipe me away to think that the experiences I had of God’s love there was simply my own imagination, or that if they were real they weren’t going to have an effect in my life. However, since I did have so many people around me who believed and realized that the same things were happening in their hearts as were happening in mine, and since I had around me many people older than me (student and adult/Jesuit alike) who encouraged and confirmed me in those desires, the growth in faith I experienced at BC in those times at STM was able to germinate and grow strong in my everyday actions. My experiences with Sons and STM are in my top five most life-changing experiences, and none of them would have been possible without God working through those with whom I had relationships – whether Ryan, who led me there, or through many the lifelong friends I made through those groups.

Third and final section coming tomorrow.

Posted in ADVP, Examen, faith, Gratitude, life, prayer, reflection, religion, retreat, students | Leave a comment

The Results of God’s Friendship, Part I: The Backdrop

Last week Kairos 155 went down at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma. I had the opportunity to deliver a talk on this retreat. The general theme of the talk is the “results of God’s friendship,” a talk which connects to and builds upon the “God’s friendship” talk earlier in the day.

Here’s a highly edited version of the talk I gave. Note that it is edited so that it doesn’t give away too much of the Kairos experience, and so that I don’t bring up certain things that don’t need to be said on the Internet! Note also that this talk is very long – about 40 minutes speaking. To not have you, the reader, veer off into lala land reading this massive piece, I’ve divided it into three parts that will be posted progressively over the weekend. Finally, remember that it is a reflective talk, not an essay, and so should be read as such.

P.S. I also need to point out that when I speak of the three Persons of the Trinity and then the “three modes” God works in – creation, redemption, sanctification – I am in no way limiting one mode to each person… all three Persons work all three “modes” all the time! Unity!

Earlier today, we spoke about “God’s friendship,” about how this divine person we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be and wants to be not an authoritarian master, not a naggy conscience prickler, but a close and loving friend. And it’s true: God does want to be your friend, to be in a loving and intimate relationship with each one of you. However, as great as an idea as this sounds – this friendship with an all-powerful, all-present, eternal being, it’s hard to believe in it sometimes – for some of us, often. And that’s understandable. For one, well, God is sort of invisible; He doesn’t speak to us like our other friends do; plus, we’re so busy all of the time, it’s hard to take the time to listen to what He’s saying to us. Our culture is not conducive to developing a friendship with God. On top of that, there are so many things and experiences in this world that hurt us and make us unhappy, sometimes it’s really tough to believe that God does want a friendship with us. We heard about some of these experiences in the talks thus far on retreat. Add onto that all of the hunger, thrist, homelessness, addiction, abuse, rape, misue of power, depression, mental and physical disorder, and death in the world, well… you can see the conundrum we have. So the question is, how do we make this possibility of God’s friendship concrete? Something palpable, that we can experience in our ordinary, daily lives? I’ll tell you how I see this possibility playing out – but first I need to say a little about the lives of two people especially important to this talk.

The first is my own life. My name is Mr. Mike Williams. I graduated from St. Ignatius in 2006 and have returned to the school to serve this school year as an Alumni Volunteer. I was born and raised in Shaker Heights, in the same house where my parents reside to this day. My parish and grade school were the small but mighty St. Dominic, which I attended with my younger brother and younger sister. I attended Boston College, graduating with a Philosophy degree in 2010. I began a MA in Philosophy there before taking this year off to return to SIHS. In my service as an AV, I run three Arrupe afterschool programs, help drive sophomores to their service placements, co-coordinate the Pallbearer ministry, and participate in Labre. I’ve also had the chance to explore aspects of the school, including the theology classroom and the sophomore prayer group. Finally, we AVs have excellent relationships with the Jesuits, including group and individual spiritual direction, as well as a few meals.

The second life I must speak of before proceeding is that of God. I wouldn’t be the man that I am without this divine person, and so I need to say a bit about him before getting to the nitty gritty concretes about our friendship with Him. Plus, the theme of today is, generally, “Who is God/Jesus in my life?”, so it wouldn’t hurt to say a little bit about his own life and how I most imagine and experience it. Please excuse the minor technical terms I’m going to use – I’m a systematic theology kind of guy. But I am also a human being, so these terms will be fleshed out in the concrete experiences of my life I will recount shortly.

As we’ve proposed thus far in the retreat, the bare bones version of our Christian faith is that God is person with whom you can have a relationship, a friendship. In fact, you do have a relationship with God, whether you realize it or attend to it or not. God created each and every one of us and the world we live in (through our parents, but ultimately making the stuff of our being is something beyond their power). Our primal relationship with God, a relationship that is at the core of our identity as human beings, is one of creature to Creator. We don’t need to think about that fact, or we might try to rebel against it, but that doesn’t make it untrue. But as I said before in my introduction, there’s a lot of evil in the world that God created. With all of the suffering present around us, whether others’ fault, our own fault (free will!), or nobody’s fault (catastrophe), it’s easy at times to ask the question, why would we want to have a relationship with this Creator God?

But God didn’t only create us – He also redeemed us, and the world around us, from the power of evil. But why would he do this? Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing being, infinitely perfect and happy in himself, take the time to save the world his own creatures chose to screw up through sin? Because, at his core, this Creator God is a God of love. St. John tells us this in his writings – “God is love.” And his love becomes incarnate, palpable, experiential for us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is what we theology types like to call the Incarnation. God Himself became a human being, just like us in all things save sin, in order to save us from evil and bring us to love & happiness through friendship with Him. And what’s even more amazing about this divine person, visible in the world as Jesus, is that he comes to save us not through some macho manly-man divine heroics, casting out evil with the flick of his wrist. No, God chooses to save the world by being born into and living in poverty, working 30 years as a carpenter, be hated by the religious authorities of his day, rejected by one of his closest friends, suffering and dying for us on the basest means of execution known in the Roman Empire. All this to save us from the evil we ourselves created through our own free will. Wow.

And, of course, there’s more. He rose from the dead to a new life unimaginably awesome to us. He appeared to the disciples. He worked more miracles amongst them. And, most pertinent to us here, he ascended into heaven. What? The Ascension? Yes, most pertinent to our talk on making God’s friendship concrete is Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. When most of us think of the Ascension – and we all think about it all the time, right? – we get the idea of Jesus literally rising off the ground into a cloud hovering above the Apostles. Seems like Jesus is sort of retreating from us, going “back to the Father,” as He says so Himself. Yet, the Apostles are overjoyed when Jesus ascends, and are more energized than ever to do His work. This is because when Jesus ascends, He doesn’t go farther away from us – he draws even nearer, ascending not into a heavenly cloud, but into our own hearts. Because Jesus is no longer with us physically as a man, he can dwell fully within each and every one of our own hearts. He does this in fullness in the Holy Spirit He sent the Apostles at Pentecost. He does still so when two or three are gathered together in His name.

There, finally, after my long-winded explanation, we get to the point. This God of ours is a community of relationships Himself – God the Father, the Creator; God the Son, Jesus Christ the Redeemer; God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. More importantly, this God who desires a loving friendship with us allows us to experience this friendship most of all “where two or three are gathered” – that is, in our relationships with other people. We experience the presence of God, his creative power, his redeeming love, his sanctifying grace, through relationships with other people. Gee Mr. Williams, could have just come out and said that in the beginning, couldn’t ya? True, but the theological and historical aspects to this ecclesial reality we live in make our discovery of God’s presence in the people around us that much richer and easier to understand. When we say that we find God in our relationships with other people, we mean it in a real way: God is present there. He said so Himself. And God doesn’t make statements lightly.

Part Two forthcoming…

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Examen prayer, Friday 2/24

Theme: importance of the Examen prayer for ALL people.

We sometimes take this midday moment of prayerful rest for granted. It’s easy to be tempted to nod off into slumber, or to sneakily rush in a few extra minutes of homework during these five minutes in daily communal prayer. Plus, consider that we’re all more or less “good guys” seeking the Lord’s will – we pray before every class, we do lots of service, get good grades, are the best at our jobs. It’d be ok to mindlessly zip through prayer every once in awhile, right?

Our Lord, speaking through today’s Mass reading from the prophet Isaiah, might beg to differ.

“They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God”

Sounds like we’re on the right track, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s more:

“Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.”

Take a moment to let this contrast sink in. How has your own pursuit of God’s will ended up with “quarreling and fighting” today?

Most if not all of us here at St. Ignatius truly are good intentioned. But good intentions are not enough! As God says through the Prophet, though indeed we seek Him in most of what we undertake, due to our human weakness the result is not always the same as the intention. In fact, frequently enough it’s just the opposite. Take a look at your classroom’s Crucifix for a good example.

Thus the importance of the Examen. In this daily prayer, we allow ourselves to take a step back and see God’s working in our lives each day, and importantly, how we have and have NOT responded to that divine activity, whether we thought we were responding positively or not.

Pray: name one area of your well-intentioned Christian life where your good intentions often fall short of realization. Ask Jesus, through the power of His cross, to lift you up in this area & do His will.

Remember that He tells us:

“Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed.”

Let us take to examining the Lord’s working in our lives, and our responses to His promptings, more carefully and consistently in this Lenten season.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen.

St. Ignatius, pray for us. +

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