TWENTY SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Lk 17:5-10

Dear Friends, This short passage in today’s Gospel is part of a longer section. Here Jesus is continuing to teach the disciples what it meant of be his follower. Immediately, before today’s selection, Jesus presented the challenging news about forgiveness. For those listening in Jesus’ presence, down to us today, it is a truly challenging task to forgive seven times a day. “If he wrongs you seven times in one day, and returns to you seven times to say I ‘I am sorry’, you should forgive him”. (Lk 17:4) This lesson is why they asked the Lord to increase their faith.

The phrase about the mulberry tree flying off to the sea is just another example of the strong language that Jesus used to stress a point. What he is saying to the disciples and to us, is that the little faith we have is sufficient if we only trust it and express our confidence in God. Faith allows us to share in the power of God. The impossible becomes possible to the person of faith.

We should not be put off by the language about the servants. This was an example from the everyday reality of Jesus’ listeners. Jesus is not accepting nor rejecting it. He is using it to convey a message that his listeners would understand. The real issue is not how the owner treats the servant but how the servant understands his role. It should help us understand the basic reality that defines us. God is God and we are the creature. We must fight the constant temptation to make ourselves god and God our servant.

Jesus is using the parable to teach about discipleship. Community leaders need to see their role as servants. Jesus is contrasting this understanding with the constant practice of the Scribes and Pharisees. They saw themselves in a position of privilege and expected special recognition and esteem at all times. On the other hand, the disciple of Christ should seek to lead by example and service even to the point of washing the feet of the community members.

Accepting ourselves as creature and God as Creator means among other things, that we can never put God in our debt. We can never have any claim on God. When we have done our best, we only have done our duty. We are not living in the realm of law with its exactitude in measuring our responsibilities. Jesus has called us into the realm of love where the boundaries of our giving are always expanding to new horizons.

St. Teresa of Avila understood her role as creature and servant with profound accuracy. All her teachings and wisdom flowed from her appreciation of this humble condition. She recognized, with ever-growing clarity and insight, that God is God and she is the creature. In spite of embracing her humble circumstances, she accepted God as a loving and merciful savior, and herself as a humble and sinful servant both loved and forgiven. She understood her life, in its deepest truth, as the story of God’s mercy. It is the same for all of us.
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DEEP PERSONAL PRAYER-II

The Interior Castle and Learning Deep Personal Prayer

In this set of reflections on Teresa’s invitation to deep personal prayer, we will begin with a summary of her concrete suggestions in her classic text. Then there will be some thoughts on “What is Prayer” that leads to the importance of the Word of God for our growth in deep personal prayer. This will be supported by the presentation of two simple methods of prayer, Lectio Divina am d Christian Mediation.
 
Coming next will be a series of themes that help us both understand and better experience this prayer that calls us to change our ways to be free to walk with Jesus. Some of the topics are self-knowledge, composure of heart in prayer, difficulties in prayer, the stages of the spiritual life, practical consequences of being faithful to prayer and many more all leading to the strengthening our commitment of deep personal prayer.
 
In the end, we are all called to be one with God, to enter the deepest center of the Interior Castle that is our being. Here we can find out the answer to life’s truly big questions of who we are and both where we are going in life and how do we get there?

Part Two
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
I

A good place to delve more deeply into the gift of prayer is the parable of the lost treasure. (Mt 13:44-46) This parable offers the challenge of action with three steps: finding, selling, and buying. One needs to find the treasure. Then there is a selling all one has. Finally, there is the serious commitment of buying the field.

The “finding” comes from a basic human experience. There is a universal hunger in the depths of the heart, a sense of incompleteness. There is a perception that life holds more than what we have.

Carmelite spirituality builds on the central Gospel truth that God loves us first and loves us as we are. The “finding” we experience is rooted in our encounter with God’s love for us in our brokenness. In the initial steps of faith, we begin to believe that God is at the deepest and most real part of our being. God is the center of both our heart and all reality. However, we seldom give much credence or attention to this reality. Deep personal prayer will draw us into an encounter with God at the center and let us begin to see God in all reality. This helps make our “finding” both concrete and productive.

The “selling” involves making a commitment to pray. This costs us our convenience, time, and comfort. Making time, generating a schedule, building an atmosphere, and discovering and practicing a method of prayer all come at a cost: self-sacrifice. What we are doing is making space for God in a growing surrender to God’s terms. In the process, we gradually learn God always wants more from us.

The “buying” brings one to a personal dedication to pray. The practice of prayer becomes a regular and disciplined part of one’s lifestyle.

II

The initial atmosphere for prayer is important. We need to minimize the distractions by seeking the most silence and solitude that is a practical reality for us. It is our responsibility to create this supportive environment. We need to be aware of who it is we are encountering. We need a growing sense of the sacred in our effort. Secondly, prayer always has to be rooted in love responding to love. Thirdly, prayer needs to come from a heart yearning for faithfulness to love, not just a brain having the right ideas. In prayer, insight is important, but it is always trumped by love.

The material we read, the thoughts that lead to reflection almost always have a spark of light. At times, it is more like a lightning storm. This touches our spirit. The new perspectives call us to change. When we accept the challenge we are now on the bridge between our heart and our life. Deep personal prayer is always rooted in the connection of God’s loving call, our acceptance in our poverty and our determination to make it take flesh in our life.

Prayer is measured by how we live not how we feel. Most often, God gives beginners at prayer a sense of peace and progress. Gradually God weans us from the beautiful feelings to sharpen our focus away from ourselves and towards God. We need to hunger for the God of consolations and not the consolations of God. This will be an ongoing battle for all who are serious about prayer.

III
Self-Knowledge

Genuine self-knowledge constantly helps our prayer. In turn, self-knowledge grows when our prayer is authentic. A major purpose of prayer is to draw us out of a world of self-deception, illusions, and a sense of self grandiosity that places us at the center of our consciousness. The slow process of growing in self-knowledge leads to that gradual development of personal transformation called conversion. It is repeated at several levels. The journey to refocus and recognize God at the center is only possible when growing self-knowledge nurtures a budding awareness of our sinfulness and pettiness. Once again, humility surfaces as essential to our prayer journey. To encounter ourselves with honesty is a challenging task. It is not a joyful part of our passage. Another name for it is getting real.

With faithfulness to prayer, self-knowledge helps us to slowly grow in patience. The possibilities of reconciliation come out of nowhere. Situations where it was difficult to see the other side of a story now often open up to four or five different valid points of view. The prejudices of a lifetime get exposed for exactly what they are, a lie.

These are just some of the benefits of self-knowledge and humility flowing out of a life of faithfulness to prayer. This is the fruit of the purification and transformation of the Carmelite Way. It is the dynamic beginning of the Pilgrimage to God.
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TWENTY SIXTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Lk 16:19-31

Dear Friends, In his Gospel, Luke puts great emphasis on the theme of reversal. Right at the beginning we have in Mary’s great hymn, the Magnificat: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich he has sent away empty. (Lk: 1: 52-53)” In the Sermon on the Plain this theme of reversal dominates. One clear contrast is, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” (Lk 6:12). Then in Lk 6:20 we read: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” Then in Lk 13:30 we read: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last”.

Jesus’ entry into the human scene has had many consequences. The great reversal is one of them that awaits us. Today’s parable about Lazarus and the unidentified rich man is a significant example of this turn-around. The two characters experience a deep transformation of their fortunes. There is a profound message in this story for us.

The first lesson for us is that all wealth, status, prestige, privilege and power is transitory. Secondly, we need to learn that ownership is not absolute. It has consequences. When we do not accept these realities, we are subject to the great reversal. These great changes flow from the radically Good News that Jesus offers us.

The story does not describe either character as particularly good or bad. The problem is neglect and blindness. Luke, in this parable, found only in his Gospel, goes deeply into the details the reversal. First, in contrast to almost all of history, the poor man is identified and the rich man is nameless. Then, the disparity in physical comfort is dramatically changed. Now the powerful rich man sees Lazarus as the one who can give him what he wants. First, it is water and secondly, it is help for his brothers.
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THE FOURTH DWELLING PLACES

A Really Different Experience


Part One
The contemplative switch takes place. In the fourth dwelling places God reveals a new presence and action in the spiritual journey. This is a transition, a stepping stone, to a much deeper and richer and transforming encounter with God. While it is more about the coming attractions, the present experience is quite spectacular yet very different than any previous expectations.


The Interior Castle with its seven dwelling places is simply a way of explaining how we experience God at the different stages on the journey to the center. It is the center where God resides. It is the center where we encounter our true selves. Self-knowledge, surrender, humility and love grow in each of the seven intervals. In the fourth dwelling places God takes on a more active role in this transforming experience. God’s love is a beacon. It lights up unrecognized brokenness and self-absorption that had been hidden. This active role by God is contemplation.

We must prepare for the fourth dwelling places with a long period of faithfulness to prayer and a committed life. Our daily prayers, rosaries, novenas, meditations, lectio divina and spiritual reading are all stepping stones toward spiritual growth. In the end, however, the fourth dwelling places is where our genuine efforts come face to face with their limits. Now, God’s intervention is the only way forward. Only the free gift of God will draw us into contemplation which is the foundation of al the remaining dwelling places.

Like all the experiences of the Castle journey, the events of the fourth dwelling places have a clear goal: self-discovery that energizes the path to union with God. This new action continues the gradual withdrawal from selfishness. It energizes our pursuit of God who dwells within us at the center. This transformation is the fruit of contemplative prayer. When this happens our life dramatically changes for the better.

The actions of the first three dwelling places are never free of the ego’s inescapable influence. Letting go and letting God becomes significantly more real in the fourth dwelling places. A growing awareness delivers us from being small-minded and thin-skinned along with many other personal shortcomings. On the contrary, a peace opens us up to submission and acceptance on an unprecedented level. We experience a new freedom in the Lord.

Something Truly Different

Teresa explains this dramatic change of the fourth dwelling places as contemplation, the action of God. She uses the comparison and contrast between two words: “contentos” and “gustos” In English they are “consolations” and “spiritual delights.”

Well now. In speaking about what I said I’d mention here concerning the difference in prayer between consolations and spiritual delights, the term “consolations,” I think, can be given to those experiences we ourselves acquire through our own meditation and petitions to the Lord, those that proceed from our own nature – although God in the end does have a hand in them; for it must be understood, in whatever I say, that without Him we can do nothing. But the “consolations” arise from the virtuous work itself that we perform, and it seems that we have earned them through our own effort and are rightly consoled for having engaged in such deeds. (IC 4.1.4)
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TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME

Lk 16:1-13 

Dear Friends, When we finally work through this most puzzling of all the parables in today’s Gospel, the message is clear and strong. We need to use our money and possessions to enter the Kingdom. You can call it a plea for Kingdom economics. It is an invitation to a rather difficult task: how to use our material gifts to facilitate, not obstruct, our journey to the Kingdom and ever-lasting life.

Discipleship demands a total commitment. Luke is insistent on the role of money for the followers of Jesus. How we use our possessions reveals our priorities. If Jesus is truly our priority, the approach to wealth and its trappings will be measured by how it draws us into the Kingdom values that Jesus proclaims.

Jesus’ message in the parable is strong and simple: we are called to make a clear-cut choice. The steward did this in a short-run vision of reality. As disciples, we are called to the wisdom of a similar decisive conclusion in the long -range vision of the Kingdom.

The key to understanding the parable and its forceful teaching is to determine where the steward committed the injustice. On reflection, it had to be in the earlier use of the owner’s goods. This is why he is being dismissed. The heart of puzzle is the owner’s praise of the seeming theft involved in the steward’s reduction of the bill to the various debtors. This had to involve his personal commission on the deal. Thus, the owner commended his foresight and action.

Jesus is inviting his followers to us their time, treasure and talent with similar foresight. Like the steward, we have to realize that our possessions have a mortgage on them. Their actual ownership belongs to another. In the disciples’ case, God is the owner. The material blessings are to be shared to benefit the Kingdom. The wise use of wealth that Jesus is calling for needs to include the needs of the poor.

In the fourth century St. Ambrose had a great insight about wealth and the poor. He was commenting on the rich man and his barns (Lk 12:16-21): “The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children are the barns that last forever.”
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TWENTIETH-FOUTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


Lk 15: 1-32

Dear Friends,All three parables have one dominant and common theme. They are totally excessive in their contradiction of common sense. They all point to the extravagance of God’s mercy. Particularly, the story of the father and the sons changes the theme from sin and forgiveness. This was the concern of the Pharisees and clearly the driving anxiety of the younger son. Jesus saw the issue differently. It was about a human being lost and a human being found.

We need to see ourselves in both sons. When we repent, like the first son, we have our story ready. The father has no interest in the story. His son was dead and now is alive. The father will have nothing to do with hired servant nonsense. This is his son. The ring and sandals and feast are all symbols of him the unconditional welcoming of the son in his merciful embrace. Like the shepherd and the woman, the father knows what was lost and has been found. It is time to celebrate.

As we move on to the second son, we can recognize ourselves as the victim in many of our life situations. His complaints have a good deal of merit.

However, they miss the point that the father sees so clearly. It is not about things but people. Possessions and privileges just do not make sense when measured against life, love and mercy. “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15: 32).
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DEEP PERSONAL PRAYER


THE INTERIOR CASTLE AND LEARNING DEEP PERSONAL PRAYER

In this set of reflections on Teresa’s invitation to deep personal prayer, we will begin with a summary of her concrete suggestions in her classic text. Then there will be some thoughts on “What is Prayer” that leads to the importance of the Word of God for our growth in deep personal prayer. This will be supported by the presentation of two simple methods of prayer, Lectio Divina am d Christian Mediation.

Coming next will be a series of themes that help us both understand and better experience this prayer that calls us to change our ways to be free to walk with Jesus. Some of the topics are self-knowledge, composure of heart in prayer, difficulties in prayer, the stages of the spiritual life, practical consequences of being faithful to prayer and many more all leading to the strengthening our commitment of deep personal prayer.

In the end, we are all called to be one with God, to enter the deepest center of the Interior Castle that is our being. Here we can find out the answer to life’s truly big questions of who we are and both where we are going in life and how do we get there?




Deep Personal Prayer
Part One
I

One of the distinguishing characteristics of deep personal prayer is its goal. It is about changing us rather than changing God.

In my treatment of this style of prayer, I am going to use the definition of Thomas Merton and the added insights of Teresa of Avila.

Merton states:

“Prayer then means yearning for the simple presence of God, for a personal understanding of God’s Word, for knowledge of God’s will, and for the capacity to hear and obey God.”

Teresa says prayer “is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him we know loves us.” (L 8:5) All prayer must raise our awareness of God’s loving presence. Humility is the foundation of prayer. It moves us gradually to appreciate both our total dependence on God and that God has a better plan for our happiness.

In deep personal prayer we are engaging God’s Word. The Bible is the privileged location for this special encounter. However, the experiences of life can speak eloquently of God’s presence and call.

The encounter with God’s Word leads us to embrace God’s will, an appeal to forsake our selfishness and grow in generosity toward God and others. In this prayer, listening is the key. Psalm 119:105 tells us “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” New insight into the reality of God’s will guides our way of living with the gifts of humility, love and service.

When I use the description of deep personal prayer it can include several types of prayer: vocal, mental, meditation, Lectio Divina, and contemplative prayer. The commitment to prayer requires a discipline to pray on a regular basis. This distinguishes this prayer from spontaneous prayer which can happen any time such as walking the dog, reading or watching a movie. Deep personal prayer is an effort to bring prayer into life habitually no matter how we feel. It might start out as only fifteen minutes a day but with commitment, discipline and generosity it will grow. It leads us in a journey of love whose final goal is to be totally in love with God. It will slowly but surely transform our lives.

Five Points of Prayer
II

Merton’s definition of prayer has five important elements. The first item is paying attention to the presence of God. This requires a conscious effort to expand an awareness of the sacred. Secondly, we bring God’s Word into our mind to seek understanding and insight. Thirdly, this reflection should lead us to take hold of just what God wants of us. We respond in prayer often just resting quietly in the loving presence of God. Finally, we bring this new awareness to our life so the Word speaks to us and leads us to live in obedience to God’s call. Prayer is all about life and the way we live.

The prayer form of Lectio Divina is a helpful model in talking about deep personal prayer. Lectio Divina is a prayerful reading of the Bible or at times reflection on a profound personal experience. It involves four steps: reading, reflecting, responding and resting. There are many other methods of mental prayer or meditation. If you are familiar and more comfortable using other approaches, this is no problem. We need to use what works for us. We should always pray as we can, not as we ought. Likewise, vocal prayer that is practiced with a deep sense of presence and attention to what we are saying can be a help to personal transformation.

As we begin deep personal prayer, the first item is to gather ourselves so we can pay attention to the fact that we are in the loving presence of God. This is called recollection. Teresa stresses we aare invited to a dialogue that with one we know loves us. This centering of our focus, helps us to realize that God is very close. In fact, God never takes his eyes off of us.

In speaking about prayer, the Bible speaks of the heart almost a thousand times. It is the heart that is the source of prayer. The heart is where we encounter our most real self. It is our center far beyond our power of reason. In prayer, we want to bring the heart into an awareness of God. It is about a sense of presence seeking deeper communion with God. “Listen, I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Rv 3:20)

The first two steps of Lectio Divina, the reading and the reflection, may take the majority of the time as we begin the quest for a deep personal prayer. However, their job is to bring us to a more concentrated sense of presence so we can seek communion. These last two steps are the goal of our prayer: to respond with an open heart and to rest in silence in the loving presence of the one we know loves us.

The single greatest obstacle to prayer is not to begin. The second is the relentless attack of distractions. The resolution of distractions is an on-going problem that needs much attention but ultimately it is about a return to our focus.

This experience of deep personal prayer seeks to discover the will of God in the concrete reality of our daily experience. True prayer empowers us to bring God’s love to our life in service of the kingdom.
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TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME


LK 14:25-33


Dear Friends, These words of Jesus are very strong. In fact, they are the most extreme in expressing the demands of discipleship in all of the Gospels. Likewise, they probably are the most neglected.

It is clear from the rest of Gospel that Jesus does not mean that we “hate” our loved ones. What he does mean is that we must place Jesus first. It is simply a question of priorities expressed in the style of the language in Jesus’ time. This leaves plenty of room for concern and compassion for our loved ones

Secondly, the carrying of the cross is a non-negotiable component of walking with Jesus, of being a disciple. It is a clear and evident. Following Jesus has a steep price. We have to die to our selfishness. We have to cast off the world’s values of success and prosperity. We have to free ourselves from the clutches of a pervasive consumer mentality of bigger and better. Jesus’ forceful words leave no doubt about it, true discipleship is a costly affair.

The clarity and power of Jesus’ terms and the call to decision too often lead to either the neglect of true discipleship or its reduction as a commitment to a more convenient and comfortable Jesus. This distortion of a popular Jesus has been a challenge down through Christian history. The very elements of power riches, privilege and power that Jesus attacked in all his teachings, ministry and life too often are the operative values of his followers and Church. The Church has always been burdened by far more token disciples than true followers of Christ.

Today’s Gospel passage makes it quite evident. Jesus demands that we follow him on his terms. Jesus makes it obvious that everything else must make sense in light of this commitment. All other loves must find their true meaning and direction from the love of Jesus.

When we place this mandate of taking up the cross in isolation, it is both frightening and more than difficult. However, we encounter a much more enticing view when we place this call of true discipleship in the context of Jesus’ call to the Kingdom. Here we are invited to share the conquest of sin, injustice and eventual death of this life. We are invited to the Kingdom’s way of love and everlasting life. Jesus words, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30) make true sense.

Jesus asks us to calculate our decision on the basis of the final victory. That victory will not come from comfort and wealth, indulgence and prestige. All this will pass away. The ultimate victory is the conquest of the cross over all the evil of this world. The decisive victory is the cross as the instrument of the new life and everlasting love that comes in true discipleship to the risen Christ. There is no payment too high for this treasure that begins now when we walk with Jesus in the way of love. This love that flows from true discipleship begins with our loved ones but is always expanding to new horizons. It reaches out to the peripheries of the forgotten and neglected.
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