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Seize the Sacred

Church-going can be dangerous for our spiritual lives. If it leads us to believe that sacredness exists only in church buildings, and dedicated clergy performing sacred rituals. For the Jews in Jesus’ time, God’s dwelling place was in the Temple in Jerusalem. Not so for us. The temple, the sacred, exists in all life, in all persons, in all creation and is available to all. The challenge is to be mindful of our own sacredness and that of others, including creation, and the sacredness of our everyday lives. Then, seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple Within Us. The Risen Jesus has made temples of all of us. This Divine Lover, the Source of all being, exists at the very core of our personhood, radiating love energies through the Holy Spirit to our minds, hearts and wills, so that we will see all through the eyes of love. In the prayer to the Holy Spirit, we pray: “Kindle within us the fire of Your love.” We have as our companion the Holy Spirit, Divine Eros, who showers us with invitations and inspirations. Further, the Risen Jesus carries on his Incarnation within us and lives on through us, gifting us with Jesus’ life energies, love force and powers. There is no question of our sacredness.

However, we must first become deeply aware and confident of our own sacredness or we will never be able to share it. Moreover, we must be confident that our sacredness is accessible, that we can reach down into the Divine Love Center at the core of our being and seize our sacredness so as to share it with others. It is through the practice of centering down that we can gain such confidence. By centering down we learn to connect with our Divine Love Center and unleash the divine love energies within us.                 .

By centering down, I mean practicing being fully present with all our hearts and minds in our encounters with God, people, creation and life experiences. Then seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple of Others. We can look upon our daily conversations with others as just part of our social relationships. But there is something deeper here. There is a sacredness in all of life including our everyday dialogues. Theologian Gregory Baum points out that the same Word in Scripture that summons, judges, reveals, and provokes decisions is the same Word in human dialogue that reveals to us who we are. Our conversations with others judge us, they summon us to grow, they demand a reply. The Spirit carries on our ongoing redemption in our everyday dialogues with others. However, we must be keenly aware that we are encountering the sacred. Then seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple of Creation. Fr. William Short, OFM states that God formed the world through the Word. Since the Word is the crowning glory of creation, “God makes light and darkness, trees, stones and fish, all the creatures, according to the Word as model, or blueprint or form.” Each being—living and nonliving—in some way resembles the model who is Christ. All creation was created for Christ and manifests Christ in some way. All creation is sacred.

Again, we must be keenly aware that we are encountering the sacred in creation. Approach creation contemplatively—being fully present with all our hearts and minds. We will find that creation has a gift to give us—the presence, beauty and wisdom of God. So seize the sacred in the present moment.

Temple of Time.  God dwells in the fullness of time. But for us human beings, time is one moment after another. So the Holy Spirit encounters us where we are—in one moment at a time. The Spirit at the core of our being communicates his inspirations and invitations one moment at a time. The Spirit pervades all our moments of time. All moments are sacred. Spiritual writers call this spiritual reality the “sacrament of the present moment.”

A Roman poet wrote: “Carpe diem.” Translated literally, seize the day. More freely, seize the pleasures of the moment. He encouraged his readers to make the most of life, because there is nothing after life. While we disagree with his philosophy, his advice is good for the spiritual life. We find that the opportunity to seize the sacred usually comes in a wink of the eye. It may come simply in the moment when we decide to step outside our pew at Mass and give a lonely person across the aisle our blessing at the Kiss of Peace. We have seized our sacredness to share it with another. We have seized the sacred in the present moment!

 

 

Jesus’ Transformation

In the early 1900’s, the psychologist William James wrote “Variety of Religious Experiences”, the classic study of everyday “mystical” experiences. He recounts the transforming moments in people’s lives when they discovered deeply the presence of the divine in their lives and the impact such peak experiences had on them. They were found to be a relatively common experience among common people. Simply a surprising gift given without any concern for merit or learning.

Might not we suppose that Jesus, being the most human of human beings, must also have experienced such a peak experience that became a transforming moment in his life? I believe so. Therefore, I want to share the transforming moment in my life and attempt to draw parallel insights about Jesus.

In My Life. My transforming experience took place on a weekend retreat. I had brought to the retreat a lot of psychological baggage. On the first morning of the weekend, the presentation dwelt on our “persona”, the masks that we wear to hide our true selves so we can project a public self of self-esteem and confidence. During my meditation on this subject, I saw clearly the pockets of self-hate in my life as if they were on stage.

I became angry with myself that I had allowed so much self-hate to operate in my subconscious. I swore that I would never let that happen again. And suddenly I broke out into ecstatic joy. At that moment, I knew beyond doubt that love was at the heart of reality, Whom I called God, that all creation was lovable, that I was lovable. Instantly, my life vision was transformed—the way I saw myself, God, others, life, creation.

In Jesus’ Life. As Jesus studied the Scriptures to learn about God’s relationship with Israel and, more importantly, to learn about his mission and destiny, what must he have felt when he read the words of the prophet Isaiah 50:60 describing the obedience of the Lord’s servant? “I bared my back to those who beat me. I did not stop them when they insulted me, when they pulled out the hairs of my beard and spit in my face.”

Jesus was no dummy. He realized that those words applied to him and that he would become the suffering servant of God. Might Jesus have wondered to himself: “Is God a God of vengeance? Am I to be the victim of God’s wrath?”

I believe that it was only through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit that Jesus came to discover God as Compassion Who loved all beings and creation with unconditional love. What the Old Testament did not reveal to Jesus, his contemplative prayer did. It was at that point in Jesus’ life that he must have come to know beyond doubt that God was love, that all creation was lovable, and that he was the beloved Son of God. In that moment, Jesus experienced transformation.

More than ever before, in that special moment Jesus began to enjoy the unique experience of intimate closeness to God—the Abba experience, the experience of God as a compassionate Father. Perhaps too it was at that moment of transformation that Jesus decided to quit the quiet, private life ofNazarethand embark on his public life and divine mission.

Transformation’s Effects. Transforming experiences are empowering, because they are a kind of a death/resurrection experience—moving one from self-hate to self-love, from self-ignorance to self-knowledge, from fear of God to deep faith in God as Jesus experienced.

Transforming experiences are vision changing experiences. When I returned from my transforming experience, I saw people as persons. My attitude toward women changed dramatically. They were persons, not sex objects. I was aware that all persons experience the pain of being human, as I had, and deserved my compassion. Likewise, Jesus too had experienced the pain of being human and his newly acquired solidarity with God created solidarity for him with all persons. The driving force behind his mission would become compassion for others: he would liberate them from all forms of oppression.

Transforming experiences open our eyes to creation. When I returned from my transforming experience, I was moved by a deep eros for creation. I wanted to touch the leaves of trees. I wanted to feel the essences of things, such as trying to feel the essence of water that was real but could not be grasped. I can easily imagine Jesus at night marveling at the moonbeams shimmering on the Sea of Galilee, or being filled with wonder at the mighty olive trees.

This erotic awareness of nature soon became an awareness of the gift dimension of creation and life. Through this discovery of the gift dimension of creation I experienced creation reverberating with God’s presence, love and attention. Creation gave me the gift of God’s presence. I felt that I was surrounded by God’s love in creation. Likewise, from human experience we can deduce that Jesus must have experienced the presence, the beauty and the wisdom of God in creation.

Transformation and Spiritual Life. What is the nature of transforming experiences?  When we discover that Love is at the heart of reality, we discover that Love Center that resides within us at the core of our personhood and Who radiates out the energies of love through the pathways of our minds, hearts and wills, and makes everything lovable to us—we are lovable, others are lovable, creation is lovable.

For a short but ecstatic period of time, I felt driven by my Love Center, Divine Eros. I believe that Jesus experienced this kind of transformation, only he was able to hold onto it and to live fully a life of love. However, I have come to believe that such transforming experiences are not just one-time episodes in our lives to be enjoyed for a brief time.  Rather, they can happen many times and each time they once again disclose to us the  depths of our spiritual reality and set a goal for our spiritual lives.

It is as if each day our love capacity falls to the default position of our self-centeredness, and we must raise ourselves to God-centeredness. Each day, we must recreate ourselves from the inside out; we must connect with our center, our Love Center. Each day we must rediscover our Love Center at the core of our personhoods and let it radiate out through our minds, hearts and wills. Each day we must re-experience our transformation.

 

 

Divine Matchmaker

In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, there is a character who plays the role of matchmaker. The young men and women in a small Russian town look to her to find marriage partners. Likewise, we can view the Spirit as the Divine Matchmaker who unites us with God the Father and with Jesus and with one another.

In John Haughton, SJ’s Conspiracy of God, the author asks the question: If the Spirit was so important in Jesus’ life, how do we explain the relative silence of the Spirit in the Gospels? He answers: “…the Spirit acts not to point to himself, but to the Other. In the case of Jesus, the Other was the Father…The Spirit inspires in Jesus a desire for union with his Father in his prayer, in his works, in his will…. With us, the Other the Spirit points to is Jesus and through him to the Father.” The Spirit is the Divine Matchmaker!

Come Holy Spirit. We find that same relative silence of the Spirit even in the prayer dedicated to the Spirit, “Come Holy Spirit.” Only one sentence addresses the Spirit directly. Immediately, the Risen Christ (implied) is called upon to “send forth Your Spirit” and in the concluding section God is asked to grant us the Spirit’s gifts.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of us Your faithful

and kindle in us the fire of Your love.

(Risen Christ), send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created,

and You shall renew the face of the earth.

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructs the hearts of the faithful,

grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice

in His consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer sums up the Spirit’s role as Divine Matchmaker. Note: when we pray:  “kindle in us the fire of Your love”, that love is the mutual love of Father and Son. For the Spirit is the expression of Trinitarian love and is therefore the Divine Matchmaker within the Trinity. So, our prayer asks the Spirit to be Divine Matchmaker for us with Jesus and Abba, our Father. Further, we pray that with the Spirit we will reach out to others in love and “renew the face of the earth.” The Spirit is the unifying force within the Trinity, between us and the Trinity, and between us and the whole Body of Christ.

Necessary Dependence. We need the Spirit of love to well up within us to live the spiritual life. By ourselves, we cannot love deeply. Love is a divine virtue. God has gifted us with partnership with His Spirit to live lives of love. Consequently, we need to pray before we pray or before we enter into any spiritual activity, such as celebrating Mass. Or even before we reach out to others in love and compassion. We need to pray that the Spirit will stir up our desire and inflame us with divine love to empower us to love Jesus and be compassionate to others. We have to plug into the Spirit as the divine power source of desire and love as Jesus did. The Spirit is the Divine Matchmaker!

Dependency Transcended. However, there is a dialectic here, the presence of two opposing concepts with a surprising resolution. As Jesus grew in dependency on the Spirit, he grew in awareness of himself as the Chosen One of God, and as truly gift for others. When people encountered Jesus, they knew they encountered the Compassionate One. He gifted them with his presence and affirmed their giftedness. Likewise, we too can experience this same dialectic—the awareness of our own powerlessness and the empowerment by the Spirit of love. As we grow in our dependency on the Spirit, we too can grow in awareness of ourselves as chosen ones of God, who are being empowered to experience ourselves as gift and who can affirm the giftedness of others.

Divine Plan. In the article, The Jesus Process, we saw the historical Jesus as the starting point in the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive processes we experience in the spiritual life, with the Risen Christ making Jesus’ lived experiences present here and now, and gifting us with his Spirit. But the process does not end with the Spirit. Not only is Jesus the starting point, he must also be the ending point. And that must include the whole Body of Christ. For the deeper we plunge into a life with the Spirit, the more profoundly do we enter into our inner self, and the more wholeheartedly do we reach out to others. The Spirit is always the Divine Matchmaker! That’s the Divine Plan!

Spirituality of Compassion

In the article, Compassion for Others, we gave the word “compassion” a whole new meaning. Here I will share some personal experiences that helped me to discover its special meaning, and its significance for the spiritual life.

Aesthetic Experiences. Some years ago I visited Paris. The highlight of this trip was a visit to the Louvre, the home of Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa and other masterpieces of art and sculpture. As I stood there gazing at the Mona Lisa, I became deeply aware of my fatigue, jet lag and the limited amount of time I could spare. Suddenly, I got the inspiration to ask myself: “Given my disposition, how can I enter into the beauty of this masterpiece?” In response, a profound inspiration flashed through my mind: “You must be fully present, in a caring and attentive way so as to receive the presence and beauty of this masterpiece.” In other words, I had to give as gift my presence, my mind, my heart, my whole person to this painting in order to receive its gift. It worked!

I called this exercise “compassion”, literally, feeling deeply with. I applied this practice to other forms of art such as sculpture, music, ballet, and, of course, to the beauty of nature. This exercise has greatly enhanced my aesthetic experiences.

Relational Experiences. My practice of compassion to the arts led me to yet another discovery. I have a retarded son who continues to say his childlike evening prayers, even though we have taught him more adult prayers. I found it difficult to stop what I was doing to listen to him. One day, I was inspired to ask myself: “Could my practice of compassion to the arts and nature change my experience with my son if I compassion-ately listened to his childlike prayers?” As I allowed myself to become fully present in a caring and attentive way to my son, I discovered that he had a gift to give me—his simplicity in his relationship to God. Further, I discovered that compassion was the basis of radical love─loving others despite their negative qualities and my negative feelings.

Spiritual Experiences. The above experiences led me naturally to apply the practice of compassion to my so-called “spiritual” experiences. I began to go to Mass early so I could prepare myself through the practice of compassion for celebration. As a result, the Mass ritual and words have become more meaningful. And when I began the exercise of centering prayer, I was greatly helped by my practice of compassion. For now I was being fully present, in a caring and attentive way to the Spirit within me. Here the practice of compassion becomes prayer─without the words. It becomes love of God.

I see a commonality between these three different experiences of compassionate living. First, all three─aesthetic, relational and spiritual─demand that we encounter the other in a peak experience, employing our mind, heart, gut and will. We must experience our full personhood in play. We must be fully engaged with the other.

Second, all three demand that we fully gift ourselves to the other, whether the other be the arts, other people, or God. Self-gift is key.

Third, all three require that the Spirit empower us to offer ourselves as self-gift. For as Theologian Gregory Baum reminds us: “Human existence is so deeply wounded and threatened by sin that the passage from fear to trust, from hostility to love, from ignorance to self-knowledge, from passivity to creativity, from self-centeredness to concern for others, are never purely natural events, determined by our own resources. They are always gifts.” Always begin: “Holy Spirit, enable me to live compassionately.”

The Spirit permeates all of our life and enables us to experience our high points. The spiritual life is all about being present to the Divine Presence. Compassionate living is at the heart of a Spirit-centered spirituality. Make the practice of compassion a habit!

Praying the Gospels

In previous articles, we explored how our deeper understanding of the Resurrection and of the Jesus Process changed everything—the way we pray, the way we participate in the liturgy of the Mass. Now let us examine how the Risen Jesus changes how we read the Gospels, how we preach the gospels, and how we practice faith-sharing based on the Gospels.

When it comes to the Gospels, the tendency is to focus solely on the historical Jesus’ every word and action. But if we go no further, we lock Jesus into history and he becomes only an inspiring figure, whose words we use to moralize to improve our own or others’ conduct. But by so doing, we encounter only one dimension of Jesus. Thus, he does not become the catalyst of the Jesus Process whereby he leads us to the Risen Jesus and to the Spirit’s empowerment of us.

We must read the Gospels three dimensionally. We must move the focus of the Gospels ultimately to all the dimensions of Jesus—the historical Jesus, the Risen Jesus and the Jesus who gives us the Spirit. Otherwise, we miss the power of the Gospels to transform us into persons who carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation. Fr. John Walsh, M.M. says that we have to look at the Gospels as unfinished: we have to write the latest chapters. It is as if the Gospels are contained in a loose-leaf binder. However, to do so we must grow deeper in the awareness that we have been empowered by the Risen Jesus.

The Risen Jesus has empowered us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation by giving us the same powers Jesus exercised in his earthly life. The key questions we have to ask ourselves are: How does the Scripture passage, which we are reflecting on, reveal the powers that the Risen Jesus has given us?  How do the Gospels empower us to carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation?

Take the Gospel story of the woman “who had suffered from severe bleeding for 12 years. She had spent all she had on doctors, but no one had been able to cure her. She came up in the crowd behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and her bleeding stopped at once. Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’” Despite the denials of everyone, Jesus insisted, “Someone touched me, for I knew it when power went out of me.” Today, we have to be the hem of Jesus’ garment. If people in need touch us, they touch Jesus. His power will go out from us—if we have faith, if we have taken possession of Jesus’ powers given to us by the Risen Jesus.

How do we carry on Jesus’ ongoing Incarnation in us? How do we write the next chapters in the Gospels? We must exercise the powers given by the Risen Jesus to be sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness. The Gospels are all about these powers.

Does our reading of the Gospels awaken our faith in our powers to be sacraments to others? Fr. Ronald Rolheiser writes in The Holy Longing: “We can forgive each other’s sins; not we, but the power of Christ within us.”

Does a sermon on the Gospels inspire us to bind sinners to Jesus through our love for them? Fr. Rolheiser states: “If a child or a brother or a sister or a loved one of yours strays from the church in terms of faith practice and morality, as long as you continue to love that person, and hold him or her in union and forgiveness, he or she is touching the hem of the garment….and is forgiven by God.”

Does the compassionate life of Jesus that the Gospels relate raise our awareness that the Risen Jesus has given us the powers to be compassion and communion to others? Do our Gospel readings empower us to be channels of faith, hope and love for others as Jesus called forth faith, hope and love in others during his earthly life.

Practice Pentecost

It was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ was raised up from the dead at his resurrection and brought back to life.  It was by the anointing of the Holy Spirit that Jesus received the power at the river Jordan to enter public life and work miracles, even casting out devils. Jesus promised his disciples that power from above would be sent down upon them in the form of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit is our Higher Power. Practicing Pentecost is working at connecting with our Higher Power, who will point us not to himself but to the Jesus in the Jesus Process, the mirror and image of God.

Practice Risk-taking.  When the Spirit rouses our consciousness of social injustice, or calls us to reach out to others to change their life vision or when the Spirit prompts us to move to a different place in our pursuit of holiness, spiritual formation or evangelization, we are faced with the challenge of risk taking. Every move from the accepted, the established, the ingrained requires the practice of risk taking. But we are also faced with the opportunity to connect with our Higher Power. The natural human tendency is to pretend that the social injustice does not exist or that is the responsibility of others. Or we may want to avoid the imagined embarrassment if someone does not respond to our evangelization. Or we may simply not want to try something new. Practice risk-taking. Practice Pentecost.

Practice Awareness. We can’t connect with our Higher Power unless we are aware of the presence and operation of the Spirit in our lives.  We can practice Pentecost by being aware of the Divine Dialogue that God constantly conducts with us. God initiates dialogue with us through the situations and events of our individual and community life to let us know what he wants of us. God does not speak to us in words but in the deep, positive movements of our hearts. And it is the Spirit within us who judges our choices, letting us know whether we have correctly read God’s messages to us. Usually we receive some confirmation through an interior experience of peace and joy.

We can also initiate dialogue with the Spirit. In our Group Reunions we share where the Spirit is leading us in our pursuit of holiness, spiritual formation and evangelization. As a Pentecost practice, we could ask the Spirit these questions at the beginning of each day. This practice would enhance our awareness of the Spirit’s role in our lives and would focus our attention on our path of growth.

It is good practice to review at the end of the day on how we have responded to the Spirit’s prompts to love God and others more. The Jesuits call this practice the Awareness Examen, which is described in this program.  St. Ignatius of Loyola considered this practice as perhaps the most important spiritual exercise after the Eucharist. Practice awareness. Practice Pentecost.

Practice Prayer. Much of our lived experiences involve making decisions to get us through difficulties and to make the most of opportunities for growth. Decision time is Spirit time. It is at these times that we should make a practice of connecting with the power and presence of the Spirit and invoking his enlightenment. We need to pray for the Spirit’s help and then allow time to pass. Then return to prayer and earnestly entreat the Spirit to help us peacefully make our decision.

The Cursillo founders believed that the mystery of Christ could not be understood without the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are taught the Come Holy Spirit prayer on our Cursillo Weekend and this prayer should be on our lips daily for the rest of our lives. Practice prayer to the Spirit. Practice Pentecost.

Practice Eucharistic Moments

We have noted that the taking of the Eucharist brought us to the climax of our Eucharistic Celebration at Mass—mystical communion with Jesus and the Beloved Community. Further, we have stated that this moment requires time to experience Jesus anointing us for greater love and unity with himself and with the Beloved Community.

More Time. However, the present liturgy does not permit time for contemplation when we receive Eucharist. It is very much like pulling into a gas station, getting refueled and leaving immediately. For that reason we miss the opportunity to grow deeply our relationship and union with Jesus and the Beloved Community.

When I asked about this situation, the explanation given was: “The moment after reception of the Eucharist is a captured moment. It is like giving your wife a kiss.” My gut reaction was: that is not the way human love works. Nor is it the way that the spiritual life works. Both require time. There must be a way to extend our Eucharistic Moment.

More Awareness. To throw light on this situation, we need to be aware of both the human and divine dynamics at work here. Let us take the human dynamics. The obvious solutions don’t work. Like returning to the captured moment after the Mass is ended. First, the whole goal of the Mass is the creation of the Beloved Community. To ignore our sisters and brothers at the end of Mass to focus on our own contemplation is to render the Beloved Community a meaningless concept. Rather, it is the time for living our spiritual communion with others—reaching out to others.

Second, anyone who has experienced interruption of a contemplative moment by the ringing of a phone or a doorbell is keenly aware that one’s mental and spiritual immersion in the experience has been broken. And you can’t put a bookmark in a contemplative experience.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that God has created the human person for deeply spiritual, mystical experiences. In Fr. Andrew Greeley’s book, The New Agenda, he describes the new direction that the Church should take in the liturgy in a chapter entitled, “From Sunday Mass to Ecstasy of the Spirit.” He criticizes the liturgical reform for not creating the environment for people to encounter sacred time and experience mystical communion with the personal, mysterious Other. In his opinion, liturgical reform has not responded to this human need.

While I agree that more liturgical reform is needed, I believe that the present liturgy does create the environment for mystical communion. Only you have to discover the core action of the Mass which is greatly camouflaged through the interruption of this action. You must be aware of the liturgy—powered by personal spirituality— moving you from spiritual communion to ritual communion and ultimately to mystical communion.

Once you recognize this erotic movement, you will wonder how you missed it. Attribute it to the Spirit’s conspiracy. No matter how much human effort tried to hide this erotic movement, the Spirit made certain that this erotic movement was embedded in the liturgy. Look for it and you will find it!

Now let us look at the divine dynamics of the situation. The power of the Eucharist that we receive at Mass does not self-destruct with time. Its power to bring us into mystical communion with God the Father, with Jesus, with the Spirit, and with the Beloved Community, continues on. The spirituality of communion teaches us that we need only enter at any time into deeper faith in Jesus to move into this mystical communion. That suggests the possibility of reliving our Eucharistic Moment later.

More Insight. Despite Fr. Greeley’s gloom assessment of liturgical reform, my intuition tells me that most people at Mass experience in varying degrees an encounter with the sacred. Further, we can grow the depth of that encounter. How? First, by growing our insight into Jesus’ revolution of public worship which he launched when he instituted a Love Meal to create the Beloved Community.

Second, by growing our desire for spiritual communion with Jesus and the Beloved Community during Mass. Third, by entering more deeply into the core action of the Mass—the ritual communion centered on offering ourselves as bread and wine, we being consecrated as sacrifice with Jesus, and we becoming Eucharist with Jesus for sisters and brothers to receive one another as bread and wine.

More Eucharistic Moments. The payoff from deepening our experience of this mystical communion with Jesus and the Beloved Community at Mass will be our ability to recall our Eucharistic Moment later. Our memories will preserve for us the vitality of that experience. What I am suggesting is that we can extend the power of our Eucharistic Moment to lead us to this mystical communion in our other spiritual activities:

  • We can extend our Eucharistic Moment by practicing spiritual communion during our day. For a brief period of time, we can recall our Eucharistic experience at Mass and concentrate on experiencing and growing our desire for communion with Jesus, the Father, the Spirit and the Beloved Community. With Jesus who anoints us for love and unity. With the Father whom Jesus reveals to us and to whom we pray “Our Father.” With the Spirit who invites us to grow in our spiritual life. With the Beloved Community from whom Jesus is inseparable.
  • We can make every meal a Eucharistic meal by making them an exercise in growing our desire for spiritual communion with God and our loved ones. Here is the Grace before meals my family says: “Lord, this food is holy food, because it is your gift to us. May it also be Eucharist for us to unite us with your presence and with one another.”
  • We can extend our Eucharistic Moment through the paraliturgy of the Agape, a ritual Love Meal. Here we celebrate the Beloved Community by drawing on the Eucharistic elements, bread and wine (unconsecrated), and following a prescribed liturgy. In effect, we are recalling our experience of Eucharist at Mass and extending its power to deepen our communion with the members of our Beloved Community. The Agape can help Church groups create the environment for spiritual communion with Jesus and their members. These groups tend to be so intent on immediate goals that they lose sight of their ultimate goal—spiritual communion that enables them to accomplish their immediate goals.
  • We can bring our morning Eucharistic Moment into our centering prayer, prayer without words. I practice centering prayer each day for twenty minutes. As most people, I experience the struggle with distractions to be simply present to the Divine Presence. Before I begin my centering prayer, I recall the sacredness of my morning’s Eucharist, and use the image of the chalice to hold my attention. My silent time becomes a time for mutual self-giving—my Eucharistic God anointing me for greater love and unity with himself and the Beloved Community, with me surrendering to his anointing and growing my desire for spiritual communion. I still have distractions, but it is a more meaningful experience for having extended the Eucharistic Moment to my centering prayer.

Conclusion. Practicing Eucharistic Moments integrates the spirituality of communion into our spiritual lives, highlighting Jesus as the medium for creating communion with God and others. Most importantly, this practice transforms our reception of the Eucharist at Mass from being an isolated event into becoming a Love Force for anointing us for greater love and unity with Jesus and our Beloved Community—during our entire day.

(See Hymn, Dance of the Mass, which focuses on Jesus’ Love Meal under Music on the masthead.)

Awareness, Awareness

Living the spiritual life is anything but being a robot or a sleep walker. For a spiritually centered life, we need self-awareness. It anchors our life in reality. Not for creating scruples, but for living a creative, deeply spiritual life.

Self-awareness is a heightened consciousness of the presence, depth and source of the movements (thoughts, feelings, impulses, desires, moods) in our interior life in response to forces within us and to reality outside us. These movements take place spontaneously. Usually we don’t cause them, but they are very forceful—for good or for evil.

Further, true self-awareness requires that we be deeply aware of what has happened in our past, what is happening now, and what we want to happen in the future, and how these three time frames are impacting our interior movements in the present.

Awareness of Past. However we define Original Sin, the fact is that there is a basic flaw in our human nature that alienates us from ourselves, God and others. We are faced with this on-going struggle which produces movements in our interior life. Deep awareness of our human condition can lead us to an understanding of our woundedness and our need for healing, and of our powerlessness and need for dependency on God.

Are we deeply aware of the psychological movements within us? They may be due to our historical background, such as who were our parents, in what city we grew up, what happened as we progressed through school, through life. Our life history has impacted us.

Are we deeply aware of our personality type and how it influences our interior life?  Early in life, we became a head person, a heart person or a gut person. But as mature adults, we must be all three to become a fully integrated person and grow in spirituality.

Awareness of Present. The source of our interior movements might be biological. A sleepless night. A cold. Awareness of our biology can prevent unChristlike behavior.

Is the source spiritual or evil? Are we truly aware of being in consolation or desolation? If in consolation, where is the Spirit leading us? Why are we not thanking God for His consolation? If in desolation, we must be on guard against the enemy’s deceits.

We can pray, “God, I am grateful.” But we may be just saying words. Everything that we are or have is God’s gifts to us. Are we really aware of our debt of gratitude to God? How deep is our gratitude? Have we made gratefulness a part of our lives? If we are deeply aware, we can experience gratitude seeping through our being.

Take petitioning for the light to understand our interior life. Again, we may be just using words. How aware are we of our need for the Spirit’s enlightenment? We must pray earnestly for the grace of awareness to discern the movements within our interior life.

Are we acting out of compassion for others—being fully present in a caring, attentive way, or are we acting out of a judgmental mode? Awareness can save us.

We are barraged by advertising and entertainment messages that reach down into our interior life, appealing to our woundedness. Awareness is our protection.

Awareness of Future. By future, we mean what we want to become—our personal vision. A vision turns the chaos of life into order. Cursillo’s Holiness Model with its seven virtues offers us just such a vision. This vision can empower us to live life fully and creatively. However, we must be deeply aware of Cursillo’s Holiness Model in order for that vision to impact the movements of our interior life—our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, our inspirations.

One practical suggestion. No. 16 in this series introduced the Awareness Examen as an effective spiritual exercise to awaken our awareness of the Spirit’s involvement in our lives. Use that same exercise to grow in self-awareness. Both are intimately connected.

Living the Spiritual Life

One of the most effective techniques to awaken our awareness that God’s Spirit is deeply involved in our daily lives is by practicing the Jesuits’ spiritual exercise of the Awareness Examen. It is based on the faith approach, but with its emphasis on feelings it highlights the body-person approach.

St. Ignatius of Loyola considered the Awareness Examen as perhaps the single, most important spiritual exercise after the Eucharist. The Examen focuses our attention on our lived experience, aiming at growing our sensitivity to God’s revelatory presence, self-gift, and call within each situation and experience of our daily life. The Examen is more than an examination. It is an exercise that grows our faith in God’s involvement in our lives. Above all, it is an effort to live fully the spiritual life, becoming contemplatives in action.

What the Examen is not. It is not an examination of conscience, which focuses on our sinful acts or on correction of our faults. Develop your own way to practice the Examen from these basic steps. Takes about 15 minutes. If possible, practice it daily.

1.      Thanksgiving. Begin by vowing to look upon all the events of your day compassionately (being fully present in a caring, attentive way). Focus on the video of your day, hour to hour, place to place, task to task, person to person, thanking God for the gifts of all your experiences—gifts of existence, work, relationships, food, the pleasant and the unpleasant. ALL IS GIFT, because God’s Spirit is involved. Set aside for now any unpleasantness. Just focus on heart-felt thanksgiving with the excitement of a child. Enter deeply into God’s presence in these gifts.

2.      Light. Petition the Spirit for the light to see how the Spirit is leading you and pray for understanding of all life’s events, the pleasant and the unpleasant, as God’s gifts to you and the sources of your growth. ALL IS GIFT. Acknowledge that you are powerless to understand how all is gift, and pray for the light to discern whether it is the Spirit or your wounded heart that is the source of your interior feelings, moods, impulses, desires and urges. (More on discernment to come.)

3.      Feelings. Review all the feelings that surface in the replay of your day. Your feelings toward God. Your feelings toward others, Your feelings toward yourself. Your feelings toward life. Your feelings toward creation. Which of your feelings are leading you to God and which are not? And how is God drawing you to Himself, to conversion, to growth? Your feelings, positive and negative, the painful and the pleasant, are clear signals of where the action was during your day. These interior movements are your true self, because it is at this level that you make your decisions, that you discover your real relationship with God and your true identity. You want to get beneath your overt behavior to underlying attitudes and patterns.

4.      Focusing.  Choose one of these feelings (positive or negative) and pray from it. That is, choose the remembered feeling that most caught your attention. That feeling is a sign that something important was going on. Now simply express spontaneously the prayer that surfaces as you attend to the source of the feeling—praise, petition, contrition, cry for help or healing, whatever. Let God surprise you with His response.

5.      Future. Imagine your immediate future of tasks, meetings, appointments. Visualize yourself doing well in the envisioned situations, meeting obstacles well. You may want to formulate a few strategies for particularly difficult situations. Take your feelings generated by these challenges, and turn them into prayer for help, for healing, whatever comes spontaneously. Determine to keep your spirit filled with gratitude, and to take steps to get rid of mind-sets that stand between you and your Creator.