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Jesus offers of his very self when he says, “I am the bread of life.” What Jesus offers us is a relationship. Fr. Eric Sundrup, SJ, reflects on what it means to enter into this relationship with God. Based on the readings for Sunday, August 1, 2021.
There is no magic fix, there is no silver bullet!
Hi, I’m Fr. Eric Sundrup and this is my one-minute homily.
Ever caught an infomercial on TV?
Don’t you love it when they’re selling you the one magic thing you need to change everything? Your life would work, your house would be clean, your self-esteem would be perfect if you just have/do or buy this one thing
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus telling people that he’s got stuff better than the manna from heaven. And people are like yes, sign me up I’ll take one.
So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
It’s a person… and if it’s a person, that means it’s a relationship. It’s ongoing, it’s dynamic, it’s gonna change us and challenge us.
Let’s reflect today on what it means to be in a dynamic relationship with God. Relationships take work, so let’s all get to work!
About two months ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola. This commemoration inaugurated a period of renewal and reflection for the Society of Jesus and those with whom we collaborate that we are calling theIgnatian Year. It is in the context that the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, has released Walking with Ignatius. The book takes the form of a collection of interviews of Fr. Sosa with journalist Darío Menor and covers a wide-range of topics.
The Covid-19 pandemic. The struggle of refugees and migrants around the world. Economic inequality. Climate change. Polarization. Fr. Sosa discusses all these things, though this book is not the place for easy, pre-packaged answers. Sr. Jolanta Kofka, president of the International Union of Superiors General, presents the weight of these questions in the preface she wrote for this book: there are questions “about how we should live and what we should do, about how to pray, how to build fraternity, how to be with and close to the poorest of the poor, what we should hold onto, what we should let go of, who to involve in our quest and our discoveries… Where is God?”
“Where is God?”
This is not a question of despair; but one of hope. The challenges we face, as individuals and as a society, are invitations to journey together as pilgrims towards a deeper life in the Kingdom. They are invitations to conversion. And conversion, Fr. Sosa reminds us, “never really happens in one fell swoop but is really a life-long process.”
We all must remember that we are members of one humanity, called together by Christ as surely as we are each personally called. The key to keeping this in the forefront of our minds and hearts is remembering that God is with us now, in this very moment. “Our time is now, with the challenges and opportunities of today, even though we might wish the situation were different. It is in the here and now that the grace of God that sustains the mission of the Church is made manifest.”
One of the points which Fr. Sosa returns to throughout the book is that receiving the grace of God inevitably leads to movement outwards towards service of others and of the world. One way this outward movement has taken shape for Jesuits and the Ignatian family is through the “Universal Apostolic Preferences” (UAPs), a series of guiding principles which are to influence every Jesuit mission and work. Much of the second half of Walking with Ignatius is dedicated to a discussion of the UAPs and how they might help anyone (Jesuit or otherwise) live the Gospel. These guiding principles are:
1. Showing the Way to God
The first UAP provides the lens through which the others are to be understood. For Jesuits in particular, showing the way to God involves sharing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as well as practicing and teaching the discernment of spirits. Fr. Sosa stresses that what is most important for all of us, however, is direct communication with God. This is a process of both talking and listening, and it determines everything else. “If we are not open to God speaking to us, there is no way forward,” he writes.
2. Walking with the Poor, the World’s Outcasts
“If it is not Christian to deny God, neither is it Christian to deny the majority of people a life that is truly human,” remarks Fr. Sosa. Care for the poor is something central to the Christain life. Including it as one of the UAPs is, for Fr. Sosa, a way of stating that it is one of the “non-negotiables” of the Church’s mission.
3. Accompanying Young People in the Creation of a Hope-Filled Future
At 72 years old, Fr. Sosa recognizes that there are differences between how he approaches the world and how many young people do today. It is precisely for this reason that he encourages them especially to speak up, and for older people to take the time to listen. When asked what message he would like to communicate to young people, Fr. Sosa offers “a clear and simple one: don’t be afraid to set out on the path you feel drawn to.”
4. Growing in Awareness of our Common Home
“No one lives in isolation, and we all depend on an environment that we continually create and transform,” he writes. The fourth UAP rests upon the recognition that, just as we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, so we all share one common home. Fr. Sosa stresses that questions of care for the environment and of responsible management of natural resources are intimately tied to our care for each other.
Walking with Ignatius is concerned more with the kind of conversion that leads us to new questions than to firm answers. The UAPs are one way of approaching the question posed by Sr. Kofka at the beginning: in today’s world, “where is God?”
Each chapter ends with a series of reflection points, selections from Scripture, and points for prayer. This book could well be used for reading groups, parish communities, and classrooms. And the dialogue is, after all, the point. For Fr. Sosa, conversation, with God and with each other, is the key to conversion.
Warning: Spoilers for the Disney+ series, “Loki.”
“You could be whoever, whatever you want to be, even someone good.
Just in case someone ever told you different.” – Mobius to Loki
We all have an idea of what we want our lives to look like, but what happens when we don’t measure up to our own ideals or those placed on us by others? The theme of “not measuring up” is a major component of Marvel’s latest Disney+ series, Loki.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know it’s getting more and more complex. You might remember that in Avengers: Endgame, a past version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) escaped from custody with the Tessaract in hand while the Avengers were traveling through time to collect the Infinity Stones. You know, standard stuff. The Loki series begins with this scene and follows this version of Loki. Moments after escaping, he is quickly apprehended by the Time Variants Authority (TVA), a mysterious organization that monitors the flow of time. Through the TVA, we learn about the “sacred timeline,” which was supposedly established by powerful beings who dictate all events and actions throughout time.
The TVA steps in and apprehends individuals that step off of their predetermined path. These individuals are called “variants.” A person can become a variant for actions great and small: from starting an uprising to simply being late for work. For the most part, variants don’t even know that they are going against the sacred timeline. They make one decision and the TVA charges them and “prunes” them from existence. At first, this appears to be their complete destruction, but it turns out that it moves them to a place where they are out of the way. Variants are essentially thrown away and those that survive seem to lose all sense of purpose.
Is it possible that we are all variants?
As strange as the idea of a “sacred timeline” seemed to me at first, I realized that most of us believe in it in some way. Whether we realize it or not, we have our own idea of how things are supposed to go and who we are supposed to be. Through our hopes and dreams we create a sacred timeline for ourselves. Sometimes we judge ourselves based on these expectations and declare ourselves to be variants. Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and do something differently? Avoid a particular mistake or relationship? Do you often speak in “shoulds,” like “I should have done this or that”? If so, then in some way you have declared yourself to be a variant.
We might also act as if God has set up some sacred timeline with a very particular path that we have to follow. When we look at discernment from this point of view it can be scary or even debilitating. I spent years going back and forth on whether or not to join the Jesuits because I was worried about getting it wrong. I thought that if I discerned the wrong path, then I would be forever off course. Since then I’ve met many people who look at discernment in a similar way—they avoid making any choice at all out of fear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that God knows all, including our entire past and future. God also has plans and desires for us, but our path is not dictated to us. God’s primary desire is that we might be with God forever, but there can be several different routes that can bring us to that destination. We need not look at ourselves or God from such a narrow point of view.
So, how do we overcome this mindset? Look for glorious purpose.
The phrase “glorious purpose,” which was first spoken in the original Avengers movie, is used a great deal in the Loki series. Loki describes himself as being “burdened with glorious purpose” at the beginning of the first episode. He sees it as his destiny to rule—to be above those around him. But this notion of his own destiny is quickly challenged by the TVA, especially when they show him the “greatest hits” of his life, including his failures, mistakes, and his own untimely death. His sense of glorious purpose, and purpose in general, fades quickly. That doesn’t mean, however, that Loki’s “burden” goes away. He eventually meets other variants of himself and they, too, seemed burdened by the idea that they were meant for more. Of all these variants, “Classic Loki,” (Richard E. Grant) seems to be especially disillusioned by the notion of glorious purpose. He is an older version of Loki who spent much of his life in solitude after judging his own purpose to be nothing but bringing pain to others. At one point he says, “We’re broken, every version of us.”
We too can become disillusioned with our own sense of purpose when things do not go as we planned. This is exacerbated when we only focus on our failures. When the TVA showed Loki different parts of his life, they only focused on his greatest mistakes and failures. The Ignatian Examen (different from the examination of conscience) can provide us with a different way of looking at our lives. The examen serves as a way of revisiting the moments of our day to see where God is present, including both our failures and successes. As part of the examen, we always review our past with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who can help to temper judgments on ourselves. When we do recall a time in which we did not respond as we would have hoped, we do not rush to judgment. We acknowledge these moments in order to reflect on our path forward. We also ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate those moments when we have responded to God’s call in our lives, even just in small interactions or gestures. Even though the examen involves reviewing our past, it always ends looking forward.
Moving forward with God is what our own “sacred timeline” actually looks like. Not a path in which we make no mistakes. God has greater plans for us than we can even dream of and those plans are not so easily thrown off course. We may not know or ever see the greater picture, but we can get glimpses of it through the examen. In reviewing our day, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can see those moments when we are closest to God and when God has worked through us.
In the penultimate episode of Loki, Classic Loki performs an act of heroism in order to help Loki. While he does this he shouts out, “glorious purpose!” It was as if he finally realized the meaning of those words. After years of disappointment and hopelessness, he finally found purpose in an act of giving of himself to help others. We too might be disappointed in ourselves from time to time, but God doesn’t want us to think of ourselves as variants. Rather, we can look to Pope Francis’s assurance that “no one is useless in the Church.” That knowledge will help us to achieve small acts of kindness with great love–that’s a glorious purpose we all have to offer.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. These siblings displayed close relationships with Jesus in the gospels and each of them can teach us something different about our faith.
Who do you most identify with: Martha, Mary, or Lazarus?
Hi, I’m Tucker Redding with the Jesuit Post.
Today is the feast of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, three siblings who teach us different lessons.
In the story of Martha and Mary, Mary teaches us that sometimes the best thing that we can do is slow down and pay attention to the presence of Jesus in our midst, rather than busy ourselves with endless tasks.
We learn from Martha that we can be bold with Jesus. After the death of Lazarus, Martha expresses her frustration saying her brother would still be alive if Jesus arrived sooner. She also expresses great faith and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. One of few people in scripture to make such a confession.
We know very little about Lazarus, but we do know that Jesus wept at his tomb. We can all aspire to have such a deep connection with Jesus and that our lives might reveal the power and glory of God.
Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, pray for us!
A couple weeks ago, Mr. Matthew Flegenheimer of the New York Times published an article introducing his readers to Joe Rogan. Mr. Rogan is a comedian who has earned blackbelts in three styles of martial arts and is a UFC commentator. He’s also a media personality with one of the most popular podcasts ever. In spite of Mr. Rogan’s undeniable success, Mr. Flegenheimer has a strange defensive tone throughout the article that generally dismisses Mr. Rogan’s success as a sort of flash-in-the-pan accident; all the while, failing to recognize the impact that the long-form conversation-interview podcast format is having on how people stay informed and even changing audience expectations of media distributors.
Instead of seriously assessing this new media landscape where the number of news curators equal roughly that of the users of the internet, Mr. Flegenheimer makes a strange attempt to deplore Mr. Rogan’s level of professionalism. He caricatures Rogan as “high school wrestling coach who commandeered the AV room,” and neuters his intelligence as someone who will “run out of things to say.”
Mr. Flegenheimer describes Joe Rogan’s show as “effectively a series of wandering conversations, often over whiskey and weed, on topics including but not limited to comedy, cage-fighting, psychedelics, quantum mechanics and the political excesses of the left.” Because of this meandering, it is hard to script or neatly package the content into an ideological frame. Even though the invited guests usually have a particular expertise, the diversity of topics discussed usually reveal a more complex set of values and positions. Some of those positions are well reasoned, while others are the result of emotional instinct. Rarely, however, does a guest’s worldview fit nicely into one ideological camp. They’re human.
Mr. Flegenheimer claims that Rogan’s podcast success “lies in making audiences feel as if they’re in on something subversive.” Taking the conversation-interview format into account, it seems authenticity is indeed subversive. The unedited yet clean presentation makes a huge difference for the tens of millions of regular per episode viewers. When podcasters interview in long-form, they allow their guests the space to give a fuller, deeper response to questions, they allow the opportunity to follow-up when guests or host may have misspoke or been unclear. There are no hard-hitting “gotcha moments,” for example, see how Tucker Carlson doggedly pursues climate-science “gotcha” with Bill Nye. Nor are there long narrative lead-ins that are meant to prime the audience to accept the testimony of the guest through a certain lens like the one employed by Rachel Maddow here. The podcast host effectively is an observer with the audience, and the audience can choose to identify with either party without feeling like their beliefs are being dismissed or misrepresented.
What’s more the audience is actively brought along the intellectual journey. Because everything is out in the open, conversation-interviews follow the 5th grade teachers’ endless requests for their math students to “show your work.” Joe Rogan, for example, walks you through his thought process about not getting vaccinated (warning: Rogan uses extensive expletives ). You witness, perhaps even share, his revelations in real time. You are on the journey to truth with the podcaster. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether he got the facts right or wrong, he reveals his process of discernment and the values that are important when weighing bits of information. This is a radical level of transparency to which established corporate media doesn’t know how to adapt.
Corporate media’s presentation in newspapers and cable TV interviews too often rely on a variety of theatrics. From the character host with teleprompter script, to the selection of sub-par representatives of contrary views. Polished production, biting sound-bits, and jester journalists craft a product to sell – the experience of feeling informed. It’s not surprising that Mr. Flegenheimer, and by extension the NYT editors, cannot recognize authenticity. Instead they defend their business model against “an absence of curation, or any discernible editing, as if such filtering would amount to a form of censorship, doomed to cheapen the product” without stopping for a moment to think, “Why yes!” Less editing and filtering and selection of images and layout planning all amounts to a kind of censorship that does cheapen the product that people under 40 want: an encounter with a person and their ideas.
This is where I think the long-form podcast is finding its draw: it’s in the medium’s ability to prioritize an encounter with the guest instead of prioritizing their opinions and ideas. In the latter model of information distribution where the focus is the packaging of ideas, the reporter’s incentives become seeking the most polished representative to articulate the desired opinion, and then to find less articulate, less polished guests who take the opposing view and make a mockery of their strawman objections. This is the epitome of inauthenticity. It’s a sad joke and, in the new internet environment, a failing business model.
Encountering the individual is especially important to the youth in our postmodern, post-truth environment. Corporate media is banking on their reputation, but the reality is that reputation only belongs with the 50+ plus crowd; meanwhile, 40 and younger are, who are more influenced by the cutting criticisms of corporate media from The Daily Show with John Stewart and the Colbert Report, are searching for new figures to trust. The ideas and ideologies are second.
A remarkable encounter that seems representative of this media’s capacity for congeniality and ability to build trust is the relationship that has grown between Tech Entrepreneur and YouTube Big Fish David Rubin and the online evangelist Bishop Barron. Watch this exchange as Mr. Rubin, a married gay man, listens to Bishop Barron’s reasons for the Catholic Church’s teaching on gay-marriage. It’s obvious that there is a level of discomfort. Mr. Rubin launches into the topic with “I don’t know how much Googling you did on me, but I am gay married and you are in my house…and whatever you say I will continue this conversation,” and Bishop Barron begins acknowledging the Church’s PR failure, “if the only thing a gay person hears from the Catholic Church is ‘you are instrically disordered’ then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.” Both men ultimately have their positions, but they are still willing to engage each other because the relationship between them is more important than the corporate media nonsense already discussed above.
This conversation was posted four years ago, and they maintain a relationship geared toward common interests to this day. The long-form conversation interview has the capacity to demonstrate that people with opposing view-points still have greater commonalities and can get along and live together in peace. We do not all have to have the same ideologies and values in order to respect and love each other.
The bottom line is that corporate media is losing ground and has been for a long time. The future source of news and information distribution is already here. Once upon a time people had to rely on corporate mediators to stay informed about world events and culture. But with the advent of the internet and social media, especially Twitter and YouTube, people are deciding that they don’t need the New York Times and venues like it. People can get access to similar news reporting via YouTube, and straight from the source news updates via Twitter all with a real attempt to respect what is human in the interviewer and guest alike.
What Mr Flegenheimer admits by omission, is that the New York Times cannot compete with independent podcasters and news curators. Corporate media’s product is just not as interesting or informative, or inspiring as the Joe Rogan’s, Jordan Peterson’s, or Kimi Katiti’s of the world. And these rogue personalities are networking. They appear on each other’s platforms and are creating a community that supports and cooperates with one another more than they compete. We no longer want the divisiveness and disagreeable antics. We want to strive for something more, and the youth see in themselves the sense of common humanity and cooperation represented in this voluntary community of content creators. The long-form will be around for a while and won’t be running out of things to say any time soon.
In the story of the multiplication of loaves, Jesus takes a few loaves and fish and makes them more than enough to feed 5000 people. Doug Jones, SJ, reflects on how Jesus can take whatever we bring to him and make it more than enough. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 25, 2021.
God does more than we can ask or imagine!
Hi, I’m Doug Jones, and this is my One Minute Reflection.
When the boy in today’s Gospel brought Jesus five loaves of bread and two fish, he could never have expected what would happen next. We know, of course, because this is one of the most beloved stories in all of the New Testament: Jesus multiplies that boy’s gift so it feeds five thousand people…with plenty left over!
Jesus will do the same with our gifts, too. Our call as Christians is to bring Jesus our talents, our hopes, our desires, all that we have. No matter how meager or simple we might think they are, he will multiply them. He’ll help us do more with them than we could ever do on our own.
Like he did in today’s Gospel, Jesus will use our gifts to nourish his people. He’ll give their bodies and spirits food for the journey.
Bring your gifts to Jesus, and watch in awe at what you and he do with them!
Warning: This article addresses difficult themes including severe depression and suicide. If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal depression, call the prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.There are also spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club Plus.
Sometimes, a game subverts your expectations. Team Salvato’s psychological horror video game, Doki Doki Literature Club Plus, is an expansion on their 2017 Doki Doki Literature Club, and it addresses the issues of mental health, depression, and suicide in an unsettlingly but realistic way.
The game starts out following the player as he decides to join his school’s literature club at the prompting of his friend Sayori. The small club consists of the protagonist and four girls: Sayori (the vice president), Yuri, Natsuki, and Monika (the president). The cutesy aesthetic sets the player up to think he’s going to make decisions to woo one of the girls and win her heart. 1
The game’s central mechanic has the player choose words for poems to try and appeal to the different girls , which seems harmless enough. In a first playthrough, it can be easy to miss some darker words like “suicide,” “cage,” or “trap,” and that these words interest characters you wouldn’t expect.
In my first playthrough, I went with words that appealed to me, and I found that most of my choices agreed with Sayori, so my experience followed her more closely. After making a third poem, her character seems very down and leaves the club meeting early. The player briefly sees her again over the weekend where a distraught Sayori confesses her love for the player, who can choose to accept it or to kindly reject it.
The next time the player sees her, regardless of whether he reciprocates Sayori’s love, she has taken her life by hanging herself. The shocking image of Sayori’s body stays on screen for a handful of seconds as the camera fades out and the game restarts. The horrible part is that after this the game acts as if Sayori never even existed.
The game begins to glitch out more frequently as the player again joins the literature club and begins creating poems. The other characters start acting strangely and sometimes more aggressively towards each other and the player. The only one who seems somewhat normal is Monika, who has been subtly dropping hints that she knows more than she’s letting on.
The game is at its best when it explores the mental state of the different characters. Sayori’s depression is a bit of a surprise at first, because she is always upbeat, trying to help other characters have fun, especially the protagonist. But people with depression, especially those who have lived with it for many years, can often hide it well, especially to people unaware of its symptoms. When I played through the game again, I could see hints of her deteriorating psychological state.
This expanded version of the game also includes a collection of six sidestories which do a solid job of developing the characters’ backstories of how the friends came to form the club. Sayori knows that she’s depressed, and she uses that vulnerable truth to grow closer to other characters like Monika and Natsuki. Like with real-life depression, sometimes the only thing we can do for a loved one going through depression is to be present to them and let them know how much we care for their wellbeing.
When a person is dealing with severe depression like Sayori, it’s important to recognize that the situation is complicated. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Sayori chose to act cheerful in spite of her depression so that she wouldn’t be a burden to others around her. She also wanted to avoid the harsh judgment or repercussions that can go along with letting others know about her psychological state. And these reactions are common enough for people hiding their depression.
In the end, the player’s decision to accept or reject Sayori’s confession of love doesn’t make a difference. The game makes a point to show that she is not in her right mind. Right before witnessing her suicide, the player sees a poem from her that repeats the words “get out of my head” over and over again. At the time of her suicide, she is clearly distressed and confused.
The first time I reached this part of the story, I had to close the game and walk away to let the heaviness of the situation sink in. It was jarring, painful, and disturbing. While I could tell myself that this was just a game, the reality of suicide isn’t.
The year after I graduated, my high school was rocked by a suicide of a student the year below me. As a teacher, I’ve struggled with the school community when we were faced with suicides. I didn’t have the right words for my students or colleagues. I wondered if I could have noticed warning signs better. I was in shock and needed time to process what had happened. A heavy cloud hung over the school community for a long while after each of these tragic deaths. The sad truth is that many people dealing with the after effects of suicide can be left wondering if there was something else we could have done.
Team Salvato is brave in its attempt to deal unflinchingly with the complex realities of suicidal depression. Playing it helped remind me of the need to be attentive to those around me, especially the students I’ve worked with these last few years. It encouraged me to ask myself questions like: Are the people around me hiding their pain or always putting on a good face to avoid burdening others? Are they exhibiting other warning signs? Am I willing to ask difficult questions to let others know I notice and I care?
I hope more people ask themselves these sorts of questions. Because if we do, then we’ll be more attentive to the mental health of others. And that will make our world a little more loving all around.
Photo courtesy of www.amenclinics.com
California is in the midst of a drought. Again. One cannot help but feel a sense of deja vu as well-meaning folks take fewer or shorter showers and decline water at restaurants. Some may even let their lawns dry out. Though well-meaning and good in themselves, these actions are akin to fussing over a dripping kitchen faucet while your garden hose is open full blast all day. The real problem is not showers, but the water used in animal agriculture.
Driving along Interstate 5 in California’s Central Valley, one can see numerous placards proclaiming that growing food is not a waste of water. This is only partially true. Growing grass and corn to feed animals for meat is a waste when the land and water could have been used to grow crops for direct human consumption.
In the battle for the ever-diminishing supply of water in California, we need to examine which sectors use the largest amount of this precious commodity. The agriculture industry uses about four times the amount of water that urban populations consume. According to a publication by the University of California Davis, 29% of California’s water is used to irrigate pastures or grow alfalfa for farm animal consumption. Another 7% is used to grow corn, which is fed to animals. This means that more than a third of the water used in agriculture, or about 30% of all human consumption of water in California is used for animal agriculture.
An article in Bloomberg puts these numbers into perspective: “put it all together and growing things to feed cattle use more than 10 million acre-feet of water in California in an average year… all the people in California used 8.6 million acre-feet a year.” The bottom line is that animal agriculture puts a tremendous strain on the water resources of the drought-stricken state of California.
Even when there is sufficient water in our rivers to irrigate farmland, we need to use as little as we can. Rivers need to be allowed to reach the ocean because freshwater flowing into estuaries is an essential part of estuarine habitats that support diverse wildlife. Excessive withdrawal of water from rivers such as the Colorado River has led to rivers drying up before they reach the ocean, destroying habitats along the rivers and estuaries in the process. For example, certain fish species such as salmon need clean and cool water in rivers for reproduction. As large quantities of water from rivers are diverted for irrigation of crops, salmon populations have plummeted, leading to the use of artificial methods to ensure their survival.
Animal agriculture serving our meat-heavy diets are also causing issues beyond the drought-stricken California. Water pollution through runoff from livestock waste and fertilizers used to grow crops for livestock cause toxic algae blooms in the Great Lakes. The dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and other coastal areas and the pollution of rivers can be attributed to farming operations that produce meat and dairy.
Farming operations of plant-based food also cause water pollution, but on a much smaller scale. First, there is no sewage from plants that contaminates water bodies. As a result, plant agriculture is much cleaner than animal agriculture by default. Secondly, fewer crops need to be grown for a plant-based diet. According to a study by an ecologist at Cornell University, if all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, we could feed nearly 800 million people, more than twice the total population of the US. In other words, we could half our agricultural land and water footprint by shifting to a plant-based diet.
Hypothetically, if we shifted to a plant-based diet, the land and water used to grow crops for animals could be returned to nature, restoring endangered grasslands and replenishing dry river beds. Imagine if the grasslands of the Great Plains were restored to their former glory, teaming with wildlife and watered by pristine streams and rivers. Imagine the Colorado river reaching the Gulf of California watering a verdant delta in a desert. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “In 1922, the great naturalist Aldo Leopold canoeed through the (Colorado River) delta, which he described as “a milk and honey wilderness” and a land of “a hundred green lagoons.” It was home back then to deer, quail, raccoon, bobcat, jaguar and vast flocks of waterfowl, and its 2-million-acre expanse was a crucial stopover on the Pacific flyway, providing respite and feeding grounds for millions of migratory birds as they journeyed across the western Americas.” Can we imagine today’s desiccated delta of the Colorado River as a land of “a hundred green lagoons” again?
These Edenesque portraits can come to fruition if we reduce the amount of land and water we use to support our meat-based diets.
The instinct to do what we can to alleviate this drought crisis is noble. However, our instinct to do good should be informed by an awareness of the larger problem at hand. In addition to being a burden on water resources, animal agriculture harms the natural environment by contributing to carbon emissions, the ravaging of forests and grasslands, and water pollution.
As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si: “Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31).” We must not destroy God’s works, the works in which God rejoices.
We will need to act at a personal level and at a systemic level to align our lifestyle with the ecological vision of the Catholic faith. Reducing or ceasing our consumption of animal based foods while concurrently encouraging our elected leaders to pass laws that protect our water resources is the way forward. Lack of action at an individual level while espousing ecofriendly views reeks of hypocrisy, and lack of action at a systemic level blocks real change.
How do we recognize the voice of the shepherd? Sullivan McCormick, SJ, reflects on discerning the different voices that we might hear in our head in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 18, 2021.
How do we know the voice of the shepherd?
Hi, I’m Br. Sullivan McCormick and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
Amidst the countless voices in our head, which voices are of God? Today’s Gospel verse after the Alleluia encapsulates a theme in the readings: the guidance of the shepherd. The verse says, “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.”
There’s another voice that we might hear from time to time and St. Ignatius calls that the evil spirit. I experienced this voice when I was on an 8-day retreat before I entered the Jesuits. While praying I heard, “you have prayed well throughout this retreat, but you could never maintain that amount of prayer every day as a Jesuit.” This highlights the primary characteristic of the evil spirit’s voice: discouragement. On the contrary, St. Ignatius tells us that when we are moving from good to better in the spiritual life, the good spirit gives us strength and courage. In this context, we know the voice of the shepherd when we experience the voice of encouragement.
Both international soccer championship matches played last weekend were neck and neck. Both saw the defeat of the host nation. Brazil lost the Copa America to Argentina on July 10th in the famed Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, while England lost the European Championship a day later to Italy at Wembley Stadium. Both sparked the joy of a nation and of the footballing world respectively.
The importance of Italy’s win struck home for me as I listened to John Allen’s “Last Week in the Church,” which streams from a studio in Rome where he lives. John reminded listeners that Italy was the first country outside of China to get hit by the coronavirus. Since last year, over 125 thousand Italians have died of COVID-19. That tragedy combined with the fact that Italy had not won the European finals in over 60 years meant that Sunday’s win at Wembley warranted national celebrations. “This run in the European tournament combined a defining Italian passion with a nation badly, badly, in need of an infusion of happiness, of joy, of relief.” That almost desperate passion was even palpable outside of Italy, especially in the New York pub where I watched the Euro Cup final alongside fans of both England and Italy—the Italians were louder.
The finals even got Pope Francis, famous soccer fan and an Argentinian born of Italian immigrants, reflecting on the importance of sport. After Argentina and Italy’s victory, Pope Francis said the value of athletic competition is learning to accept whatever the outcome, even defeat. “Only in this way, faced with the difficulties of life,” Pope Francis said, “can one always put everything into the game, struggling without giving up, with hope and confidence.”
While I value the Holy Father’s wise words, I must admit that I was not completely indifferent to the outcome of the Copa America. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I’m a slightly obsessed fan of Lionel Messi, the captain of La Albiceleste (Argentina’s team nickname). And I joined millions of other Messi aficionados from around the globe who were willing a victory for the away team. It wasn’t only Messi fans who wanted to see this win, global soccer wanted this (just check Twitter).
The reason for this is that, even though Messi is arguably the best soccer player who has ever played the game, he’s not won any awards with the senior national team of Argentina. He’s conquered Europe four times with FC Barcelona and has won La Liga 10 times, as well as taking six Copas del Rey. Messi and Argentina have even won an Olympic title, but that is played with a squad predominantly consisting of U-23 players. It’s not considered the senior squad. There was only one kind of trophy missing from his case.
And it’s not like Messi hasn’t gotten close. Four times he’s appeared in a major final with his national side: once at the 2014 World Cup against Germany, and three more at the Copa America (2007, 2015, and 2016). In response to the 2016 loss, Messi even announced an early retirement from national soccer–he just couldn’t bear the possibility of seeing his hopes dashed again. Lucky for us Messi fanatics, and for the soccer world in general, Messi renounced those retirement plans less than a year later. True hope isn’t vanquished so easily.
On Saturday, July 10th, Lionel Messi and Argentina saw a dream deferred become a dream come true. Argentina’s Angel de Maria scored a first-half goal, cushioning a driven-through ball out of the air before lobbing it over the keeper’s head, and that was the game winner. After five minutes of second half stoppage time, the ref blew the final whistle to end the match. Messi collapsed to his knees. The relief of getting the weight of a nation off his shoulders was tangible. His whole team knew what victory meant for their captain. They rushed the kneeling Messi and piled that weight back on.
I imagine it felt lighter this time around.
“Vee ah closing ze doors now,” instructed Hilde, a terrifying, 5 foot tall German octogenarian. She had no patience for my Dad who was waiting for me to leave the church. “Vee ah closing ze doors now,” she repeated, as she bolted the massive doors of the Basilica—the church in which I received all my sacraments. As on every night at 8:45PM sharp, she shooed out lingering parishioners, checked for any street people hiding in the confessional, and closed the doors.
Hilde was a part of a gang of old folks who were at the Basilica whenever its doors were open. She, Shirley, and a few other folks made a holy hour every night prior to closing the church, faithfully reading their binder of devotions. With monotone voice, they rattled through the rosary and other devotions, always finishing with a Bing Crosby crooner, “Good Night Sweet Jesus.”
Another member of the squad was a Brooklynite named Theresa. She and another lady, Sylvia, lived in the Senior Apartments next to the church and would spend the entire day in church. Sylvia gave me a golden dollar every Christmas and random Catholic tchotchkes at other times. Theresa was always wheezing out a rosary in some state between wakefulness and sleep, but she would always reach out her arms when she saw me. She covered me in her red lipstick, told me that I was going to be a priest someday, and called me her “St. Martin de Porres” (There aren’t a lot of options for saint nicknames for little black boys).
Every Monday, a red haired Portuguese woman and her husband were in charge of closing the church. Her name was Fernanda, but we called her Fern and she was fierce. She knew the 15 prayers of St. Brigid by heart and would say them every day from worn photocopied pages old enough to have been copied by Brigid herself.
In my early teens, I went through a phase of not wanting to wear a coat. Fern quietly assumed it was because I could not afford one. One evening, she gestured to me from her usual spot in the back of the Adoration Chapel and pushed a new coat into my hands. She did not have a lot, but with the little she had, she made sure that I was warm. I wore a coat from that day forward.
One beautiful soul, Marjorie, was the regent of the Catholic Daughters. She led it through the integration of the church in the 1960s and when I became Catholic in 2000 she was still in charge. She was Black and attended the Black parish on the South side until the bishop closed it in an effort to hasten desegregation. Neither those ousted from their churches, nor the white folks forced to accommodate them were very happy with the arrangement. Some white members were downright nasty to the new Black parishioners. Nevertheless, grace-filled women like Marjorie stuck it out.
Marjorie was always organizing events—her favorite was setting up a stand to give out free water during our hot summer festival in town. A former lounge singer, she would always call out to me “there’s my baby” in a raspy voice. She was a chain smoker and when she arrived at church for daily mass—always late—she would rush out of her Cadillac amid billows of smoke, smiling and beaming with light. She was never in too much of a hurry to greet everybody. In fact, she was the only greeter that our church had for many years and she was the only one we needed.
Some were mystics. Joan, who suffered terribly from cancer, was always raspily praying. Nevertheless, whenever our priest opened the prayers of the faithful up for everyone, she would—without fail—begin a long prayer with “Father I give you praise…” No one was ever quite sure when to say “Lord hear our Prayer,” but everyone knew that God had heard Joan.
There were many saints, but the holiest was Jane. She was quiet and shy with big eyes amplified by big glasses. She was one of the organizers of adoration at the parish and whenever a person could not make their time, or a time slot could not be filled, Jane was there. Her pride and joy was her adult daughter who was developmentally challenged and who lived with her and her husband.
The last time I saw Jane, she recounted how when I was converting and had just learned how to say the rosary, I would always come to adoration when she was there and ask her if she wanted to pray with me. As we laughed, she filled in the rest of the story—it so happened that she was always right about to leave when I would ask her. She had things to do. She had a family to feed. She had a daughter with needs. She had already spent hours in the church that day. Nevertheless, she smiled, many years later, as I stood before her as an embarrassed adult, she beamed the same sincere smile: “I was blessed to have done it” she whispered.
Hilde, Sylvia, Theresa, Fern, Marjorie and Joan all passed away over the years along with others whose stories are too many to tell. Every time I came home to church during college or afterwards, it seemed a little emptier and a little less like home. Last year, Jane died of an aneurism. Her absence was the hardest. I came back to church for the first time after she passed away, our priests having also retired, and it was not the same—it was cold.
During the Lamb of God, I looked around for the kind, wrinkled smiles that had welcomed me into the church before I was even Catholic. I tried to meet the wise eyes that were always watching from the same pew, every day. They were gone. It was eerie and unsettling. Church just didn’t feel like church without these pillars.
Some days later, I dropped into the church. Looking around, I stopped and sat in Fern’s spot, hidden in the back of the adoration chapel. I imagined being with Jesus and all of his friends who were women. I have always been comforted by Jesus’ squad of holy women. Disciples, friends, coworkers, laborers, sages, Jesus surrounded himself with faithful women—strong Marthas, mystic Marys and Annas who spent their entire waking life awaiting him patiently in the temple.
I began to imagine each of them, and as I looked around, the faces of his friends were quite familiar. Mary of Bethany kissed the pages of her worn out Passion, and Martha was smiling from a cloud of smoke. Anna mumbled God’s praise through heavily lipsticked lips. Last, I imagined Mary—her big eyes amplified by her big glasses smiling sheepishly, as she sat beside me. It only seemed right to continue my childhood tradition: I asked her to pray the rosary with me.
This prayer reminded me of one of the most comforting ideas Catholics have in the Eucharist. Wherever the Eucharist is, however it is celebrated, received and adored, there too, are all of the saints. Our loved ones, and not so loved ones, the ones we’d expect, and the ones that we never would have imagined, join us in the love which they showered us with on Earth. Our bond with them, with all the saints, is so real and strong that even Hilde in her five foot heavenly glory cannot close ze doors between us.
What will we leave behind to follow Jesus? Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ, reflects on the call of Jesus in today’s gospel. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 11, 2021.
What are you willing to leave behind now to come with Jesus?
Hi, my name is Patrick Saint-Jean. This is my one-minute reflection.
I used to have a cozy blanket when I was a kid. I would never leave it behind for anything in the world. When it was time to go on vacation with my parents, they would say, “Your only Job is: Wake up on time. Take nothing with you. Come with us.” When I remember that I am going to leave my blanket behind, I used to resist going, yet vacation was always fun and restful.
Today, Mark invites us to engage in a similar story where Jesus calls the twelve disciples: Take nothing for the journey. Just come.
This is Freedom.
Just like me with my parents, most of them did not refuse to come when they remembered what they were going to leave behind. Yet in return, Jesus surprised them by sharing his gift of preaching, healing and teaching.
Recently, I had a chance to accompany my friend to a funeral home to prepare for his father’s funeral. Knowing that both of us are religious, the manager offered to show us behind-the-scenes of the funeral home. As I was on the tour, never in my life did I feel so close to death. It was not my own death I felt close to, but the very presence of death itself. I was struck by the simplicity of life and death, the fragility of human life, and the transformative power of death in its utmost emptiness.
Five hundred years ago, on May 20, 1521, at the battle of Pamplona, a cannonball shattered the leg of a Spanish soldier. The Spanish soldier was Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola, who later became the founder of the Society of Jesus and left a legacy that still influences the world until this day.
Iñigo was destined to be an honorable knight who would fight to the death for his queen, at least that’s what he thought. When he was shot by a cannonball, together with his leg, his image and ideologies were also shattered. On the convalescent bed, a few times he came close to death, but he survived, and his survival made him question his past life and ponder the meaning of life. Being so close to death he could look back at life with a meaningful gaze. That theme of finding life in death continued throughout his life.
The covid-19 pandemic left many of us with similar encounters as Ignatius. In my funeral home tour, the guide told me that during the pandemic, the place held around 90 bodies at once. Death became so present among the community, especially families who lost their loved ones during the pandemic. I remember my friend telling me that his family still has not recovered from the death of his grandparent, as it was too sudden. Like a cannonball, death comes and takes away the love of our life, turning over our peaceful life into chaos, and leaving us with a sense of emptiness.
During the peak of the pandemic in NYC, I remember hearing the ambulance siren every hour. Every time I heard it, not knowing what would happen, I simply said a prayer, “May Your Will be done.” I imagined that, somewhere, people were bargaining with God, asking to spare the life of their loved ones. Just like Iñigo asked to have his leg rebroken and reset thus becoming limped for the rest of his life, our brokenness cannot return to what it was. No matter how much I try to fix things, things will never be the same, and I will carry my brokenness for the rest of my life.
After Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross and resurrected three days later, he still carried the wounds of the nails, and despite the hope of his followers, Jesus did not return things to how they were. Death is the end of a journey, but also the beginning of a new one. Like a river, life continues to flow, so I can either try to stay stagnant and fight against the stream of life or let myself be carried to a new tributary.
After his leg was healed, Iñigo, the flamboyant knight, took on a new journey and a new identity: Ignatius the pilgrim. With his limp leg, the pilgrim began his pilgrimage not knowing his destination but knowing that he was not alone on the journey.
Seeing the dead bodies in front of me, I imagine that each of them was accompanied by an angel of death, who gently guides them to a new journey. I remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi who praised God for Sister Death, the one who embraces all beings.
Nobody likes change. That’s often why people rejected the message of Jesus and the prophets. Fr Eric Sundrup, SJ reflects on the pain of change and the message of Jesus. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 4, 2021.
Nobody likes change.
Hi I’m Fr. Eric Sundrup and this is my one-minute homily.
Let’s face it, nobody actually LOVES change. Change is painful. And the people call us out and force us to face the pain of change…They’re called prophets… and they’re often annoying.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus pulls out a popular old adage. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”
Jesus has just been performing jaw dropping, eye-popping miracles in the nearby regions, and he gets back to his home turf and people are like… “Ummm no, we remember him from grade school, We’re not interested.”
It’s easier to tear into his past and background than accept that something new is brewing that might upset previously established and comfortable categories.
Why do we do that?
I’d wager we are avoiding the pain of change. The challenge that will make us grow. Well, no pain, no gain. Let’s take some time today and ask God to help us face the music. Where do we need to hear the words of a prophet?
Today’s readings remind us that God does not create death, but works to defeat death through the Resurrection.
“The glory of God is the living human being.” – St. Irenaeus of Lyon.
Hi, I’m Doug Jones, and this is my One Minute Reflection.
Our first reading today reminds us that God did not create death. God created life, in all its glory and goodness.
It is we, rather, who at times reject that life through our sinfulness and selfishness. In choosing hate over love, revenge over mercy, the quest for pleasure over the quest for peace, fighting over reconciliation, we choose death over life.
But God did not abandon us to our mistakes. He sent us Jesus, not only as a model for how to live, but as the conqueror of death itself through the wood of the Cross.
As we remember Jesus’ Resurrection today, as we do every Sunday, we remember our call as Christians to imitate the humility of Jesus. As St. Paul reminds us, he became poor so that we might become rich, rich in the life that God has created for us.
The significance of the heart in the Judeo-Christian scriptures cannot be overstated. The word “heart” appears 858 times in the Old Testament and 156 times in the New Testament. There is no doubt that our hearts are central to the mystery of who we are. They hold many answers — and infinitely more questions.
I discovered one particular image that captured this insight during my 30-day Silent Retreat as a Jesuit Novice – the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sacred Heart always began and ended all my meditations. In my imaginative contemplations, Christ would rip out his heart from his chest and extend it to me. I would then take my own heart out and extend it to Him. My prayer was spent glimpsing the process of our two hearts slowly fusing throughout the retreat. By the end of the retreat, I could no longer distinguish which part of the heart was mine and which belonged to God. While it was scary to “lose” my heart (Matthew 10:39), it was exhilarating to “gain” Christ’s heart! (Galatians 2:20)
This poem highlights how embedded the devotion to the Sacred Heart is in the Scriptures, and expresses a longing for our own hearts, not just to read, but to live these Sacred Scriptures.
Grace to Ask: To sync my heart with God’s own heartbeat (1 Samuel 13:14)
O Most Sacred Heart,With just one glance (John 19:37)
Your Fire (Luke 12:49)
Your Thorns (Matthew 27:29)
Your Vulnerability (Mark 15:24)
Advance a hidden process (Psalm 139:13-16)
Forming a ‘new creation’ within me (Revelations 21:5)
Even while I am unaware (2 Corinthians 4:16)
O Most Sacred Heart,
The Most Holy Trinity (Matthew 17:5)
The infinite universe (Hebrews 1:3)
Dwelling (John 1:14)
In your Heart (Matthew 11:29)
Bleeding (John 19:34)
Out of overflowing love (Romans 5:5)
Faithfully (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Beating (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
For all (1 Timothy 2:4)
Humanity and creation (Colossians 1:16)
And now for me… (Ephesians 3:16-21)
O Most Sacred Heart,
Rain torrentially (Isaiah 55:10-12)
Reign gloriously (1 Chronicles 17:11-14)
Upon my heart (Ezekiel 36:26)
Upon all hearts (1 John 4:11)
Upon the broken & healing heart of the world (Romans 12:2)
For your budding Tree of Life is greater than the most fruitful vine (Revelations 22:2)
Amen (Mark 15:39)
Want to deepen your relationship with the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Try our Ignatian ‘Examen’ based on the fire, thorns and vulnerability of Christ’s heart.
Feel free to pray with many more hidden Scriptural verses alive in the fire, thorns and vulnerability of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Dive deeper into Christ’s Fire:
- Psalm 39:3 – Speaking from the fire within
- Jeremiah 20:9 – What does prophetic fire feel like?
- Luke 24:32 – Post-Resurrection, does my heart burn?
- Acts 2:1-13 – Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit ablaze or dormant?]
Dive Deeper into Christ’s Thorns:
- 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – St. Paul’s own “thorn in the flesh”
- Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 8:28 – God can use everything for our good
- Isaiah 53:5-6 – By his wounds we are healed
- Luke 8:7 – Types of “thorns” that suffocate the wheat
Dive Deeper into Christ’s Vulnerable Heart:
- Luke 17:21 – “The Kingdom of God is among and within you”, so share it!
- Luke 8:21 – Christ’s ‘Family’ are any and all whose will becomes ONE with God’s will
- John 13:23 – Jesus allowed others to be intimate with his Heart
- Hebrew 10:22 – Only when we give our heart to God can it be healed
Well, I am getting ready to travel for the summer. My luggage is open, and shirts are strewn haphazardly across my bed as I pack. I am bouncing off my walls, going to my desk where I gather old academic notes. I see a pile of books, dog-eared and worse for wear. Then, I am back to the closet to find a specific pair of chinos. Other essentials have been put into storage. The trash has been emptied. And still I continue cleaning up my room before I go, making it ready for any guests that may need a bed to rest in while I am out of town, a common routine of living in a Jesuit community. All of a sudden I am reminded of some keepsakes, and I move to take down an old drawing a student gave me. A picture that I have kept for years. A picture that spent the last two semesters neglected on the long end of the bulletin board above my desk.
For me cleaning is hectic, but it is also a heck of a lot of fun. Joyful even! Finding old objects invokes time and place, like an engraved flask I got for being a groomsman when I was a teenager. There are also pictures of friends and receipts from meals long forgotten. As I wipe down my desk, I am reminded of osoji, a ritual that translates to “the big clean.” At the beginning of the new year, residents of Japan begin the big clean. All the furniture is taken outside. The floors and walls are thoroughly washed and shelves are dusted. Objects which are no longer needed are donated or recycled. However, this big New Year’s cleaning isn’t just about getting rid of dirt but is first and foremost a polite gesture, a means to invite the divine into one’s home.
Over the years, I have developed my own rituals, too. For longer than I can remember, I have more or less lived out of three large suitcases. Every year or so I would pack up all my stuff and move, sometimes just down the hall and other times halfway across the world. Boxing things year after year was a reminder of what was really important and what was less important. I began donating old things to simplify my life. One year it was the Disney VHS tapes that I watched and rewatched as a kid. I had memorized those movies by heart. They were taken to the Salvation Army. The next year it was the shot glass from a Guyana rum factory, which I clandestinely bought on a college service trip. I left it at a friend’s apartment. I think back on those objects misty-eyed, not for the objects themselves but for the memories and relationships that those objects meant.
Back in my community, I am told the rooms will be painted while I am away. So all the pictures have to come off the walls. As I take them down, I am thinking of other big cleanings. Not just the physical ones. I am thinking of spiritual cleanings, and the moment becomes a chance to examine where I am and where I have been. Filled with gratitude for the people I lived with, I feel the warm sun shining through the window, and I am thankful for that, too. I begin to clean spiritually. But instead of old pictures and knick-knacks, I take out memories, thoughts, ideas that are swimming in my mind. I set them aside so I can get the things that are pushed to the back of mind. There is bitterness, regret, and anger at the events of the last year and how I responded to them. I take those feelings and regrets out, too. I look at them, and I am finally able to get at the cobwebs in the corners of my mind. Once everything is cleaned, I decide what I am going to put back in, what I am going to part with.
As I sit here, having packed up and swept out my mind, I notice the memories I have made with new friends. Memories I am grateful to have. I’m keeping those. I also notice anxiety and self-judgement. I think it’s time to throw those away. I also notice a lot of desire for connection after a year in quarantine. I’m gonna see if some other people want that. They may not, and that’s okay.
Does prayer ever seem dry or just not meet expectations? Br. Sullivan McCormick, SJ, reflects on the calming of the storm at sea and how Jesus defies expectations. Based on the readings for Sunday, June 20, 2021.
How do we respond when prayer doesn’t meet our expectations?
Hi, I’m Br. Sullivan McCormick, and this is my One-Minute Reflection. Have you ever experienced times when prayer was dry, uneventful, or unfulfilling? Today’s Gospel provides a powerful analogy and guidance for our prayer life. In prayer we might feel that we are “perishing” in our spiritual life because of dry prayer or unanswered prayer. We might feel discouraged because Christ is not resolving our storms in the way we want them to be resolved.
However, what happens when we look at prayer through the lens of faith, that faith Jesus calls his disciples to after calming the storm? Faith tells me that Christ is present, healing and transforming me, even though prayer might seem dry or unanswered. Just as Jesus lies in the stern of the boat, he is there waiting inside us every time we pray. Faith tells us that Jesus is with us even if he doesn’t meet our expectations.
The Jesuits (and also Franciscans) have a long and fascinating history of promoting the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In fact, it was so important, explicit mention of the devotion was added into the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus: “All should have a high regard for, and be keenly mindful of, the mystery of the Heart of Christ… promot[ing] it in their every apostolic activity.” 1 Jesuits like Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ 2 and Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ 3 placed great emphasis on the power and importance of the Sacred Heart as well. In fact, Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ once wrote that the “Sacred Heart of Jesus is not just another devotion, it is the spirituality that defines the Church.”
I invite our readers today to learn about this ‘Most’ Human and ‘Most’ Divine Heart, not through trivia or history about this devotion, but through prayer — as a ‘friend to a friend’ or ‘heart to heart’. 4 This is the “interior knowledge” of Christ 5 which the Spiritual Exercises encourage us to experience — not just to know about Jesus, but to know him personally. Although St. Ignatius himself would not have seen the image of the Sacred Heart as we know it today, the practice of this devotion is incredibly Ignatian: “For it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth.” 6
A ‘Radical’ Prayer Based on the Heart of Christ
The “core” of this devotion known as the “Cor Iesu Sacratissimum” is the heart (“cor” in Latin) of Jesus. The Sacred Heart captures the central element of Christ: God’s infinite love in a living human heart 8. That’s his salvific gift to the world. Whenever we see this heart, we are to recall that Christ always “sees” our own hearts first (Mark 10:21). In fact, we too are called to do the same with everyone and not judge a book by its cover. And Jesus does mean every ‘one’ we meet (John 13:34-35).
Using a method known as the ‘Ignatian Examen’, my hope is that this prayer transforms the way we understand our relationship with the Most Sacred Heart 9 — i.e. our relationship with Christ himself. So that everytime I see this image I am reminded of the goal of all Christian living: To re-create my own heart in the “image and likeness” 10 of the heart of Christ!
Anatomy of the Sacred Heart
There are three main parts to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which we can use daily to Examine our own hearts:
- A Heart set on fire
- A Heart crowned with thorns
- A Heart that is exposed and vulnerable outside of the body
Opening Prayer (while doing the Sign of the Cross slowly): “God the Father, send your Holy Spirit to create in us a heart that resembles that of your Son, Jesus”
Step 1: Contemplate the Fire of the Heart
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)
Reflection: Jesus was always on fire for God’s Kingdom and God’s Justice (Matthew 6:33). The things of God oriented everything Jesus did. He was indeed a man filled with great passion for the work of his Father! (John 5:17). Here are some questions that can help us reflect on our own hearts in light of that roaring and unquenchable flame:
- Where has my heart been set on ‘fire’ with love, peace or joy today?
- Have I felt God’s presence — an increase of faith, hope and love?
- Have I felt God’s absence — a decrease of faith, hope and love?
- What kind of activities have I been passionate about?
- Are these things Jesus himself would be passionate about?
Prayer: Lord, help my heart become “flammable” with the fire of the Holy Spirit so that I too experience that life-giving love between the Father and the Son (John 15:9).
Step 2: Contemplate the Thorns Crowning the Heart
“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And Pilate said to them, “Behold, the man!” (John 19:5)
Reflection: Right before his Passion, Jesus’s feet are ‘anointed’ with a pint of expensive nard oil (John 12:3) by Mary, Martha’s sister — equivalent to a year’s worth of salary. This kind of oil was used for very important and (very different) types of ceremonies, including coronations, ordinations, weddings and even burial ceremonies. This same scene appears in Mark 14:3, but with an unnamed woman who breaks the jar and pours it, this time on his head. From head to feet, Jesus was justly anointed as ‘Lord’ in Bethany, whereas in Jerusalem, he is unjustly mocked with a crown of thorns by unnamed Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:29). The fact that both the woman and the soldiers are unnamed allow us to place ourselves there: we continue to ‘anoint’ and ‘mock’ Christ as well in our daily lives. And yet, Jesus received both with equal love — the woman and the soldiers. Both were essential to signal his divine Kingship over the universe.
Christ is king of the just and unjust alike. His “broken heart” 11 and thorns can represent those moments of sacrifice or struggle for and with others.
- What have I sacrificed today? Is there something I have resisted sacrificing?
- Is there someone else who has sacrificed something for me — i.e. a parent, friend or loved one? I hold them with deep gratitude in my heart at this moment.
- Do I allow myself to feel the pain of so many “crucified” and unjustly treated peoples in our world or do I close my heart’s eyes and ears to injustice? How well doo I hear “the cry of the poor”12?
- When I look upon my own heart’s ‘wounds’ do I pray just to be healed or that my ‘wounds’ are used by God to serve the world?
- How well do I receive both “blessings” and “hardships” in my heart? Do I receive them with equal love?
Prayer: Lord, just as royal myrrh (Matthew 2:11) is extracted from a tree of thorns, transform our pains and sacrifices into opportunities to ‘praise, reverence and serve You’ without costing the cost.
Step 3: Contemplate the Heart Outside the Chest
“Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you.” (Luke 22:19)
In the case of Jesus, we can see what his heart looks like because he does not hide it from others. He wears it not only on his sleeve, but on his chest — so that you cannot miss it. This level of vulnerability leaves his heart for others to touch, see and be close to — i.e. exposed to kisses and violence, acceptance and rejection, friendship and betrayal. Focusing on the ‘heart’ (essence) of the other first can help us transcend religious, socio-economic, racial and other exterior divisions. It is an artistic summary of the ‘Great Commandment’ to love God, others and self as one (Matthew 22:34-40). All human love and divine love is fused in this one heart. But Jesus clearly does not reserve this heart for himself, he gifts it away — always.
- How vulnerable and open am I with my own heart?
- Have I hidden my heart from anyone today?
- Is there someone or something I am afraid of giving my ‘whole’ heart to?
- Has there been anyone today who has given their heart to me through their time, service or just a smile?
- How does God invite me to greater vulnerability?
- Knowing Christ gifts me his “messy” heart (i.e. bloodied and broken), am I willing to give mine (i.e. however its state) to God and others?
Prayer: Lord, transform my heart into a Eucharistic Heart — one that is “blessed, broken and shared” (Mark 14:22) 13 for all and with all without reserve and conditions.
What if my Heart still Hungers for More?
If you are still hungry, this is Good News! Your heart is becoming more like the heart of Our Lord, who until his last breaths was “hungry” (Mark 11:12) and “thirsty” (John 19:28) for the conversion of hearts and the installment of the Kingdom. This longing for righteousness and justice is a Beatitude that screams of the Ignatian “Magis” — always seeking ‘the more’ (depth over breadth) in everything and everyone.
This divine love is contagious and it is this love that changes a ‘work of art’ into a ‘work of devotion’ — transforming our own hearts into God’s own artwork.
For those who wish to continue plummeting the depths of this eternal and inexhaustible well of living water and wisdom 14, here are some solid Ignatian Prayer Resources and Book Recommendations to continue setting our (internal) world on fire first!
The kingdom of God requires patience. Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ, reflects on faith the size of a mustard seed and the patience required for that kind of faith. Based on the readings for Sunday, June 13, 2021.
The Kingdom of God is about patience.
Hi, my name is Patrick Saint-Jean, this is my one-minute reflection.
When I was young, my mother often told me that spiritual work for the kingdom of God is about praying, paying attention and waiting—but I never liked the last one, because I do not like to wait. Each time I tried to wait, I failed because I never had the patience to wait.
Today, I feel like Mark is inviting us to the same dynamic while comparing the kingdom of God to a Mustard seed. Building the kingdom of the Lord only requires us to plant the seed and especially having the patience to wait. Everything will come out as God wishes and in God’s good time. Lord, give us the patience to see your Kingdom come.