Friday, December 10, 2010

The Spirit of Giving

by Lynn McFarland

Monday December 6 was the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, near the Mediterranean Sea, in the 4th Century. He was born into the wealthy merchant class and his family enjoyed many riches along their journey. Nicholas, however, was taught from a young age that being generous to others and giving of oneself was the greatest wealth of all. He would throw bags of gold into the windows of towns’ people who were poor or who had lost their life’s wages when their businesses failed; never did he let them know his identity.

One evening, a businessman who had lost everything waited to see if another bag of gold would fall through his window as it had the year before, when it did, he raced outside to catch this angel, only to recognize him as Nicholas, the wealthy merchant. “Why did you give us this gold?” asked the man. “Because you needed it” answered Nicholas. “But why didn’t you let us know who you were?” asked the man. Nicholas said in reply, “it is good to give and have only God know about it.”
In this season of commercialism, it is hard to have the heart of St. Nicholas. To give away our riches solely because someone else needs them more than we do; it’s a very rare and powerful position to be in when we live the old adage to ‘give from the heart’. It sounds like a cliché, and it is because by the very definition of the word cliché, this old phrase has been overused to the point that it has lost its meaning.

When was the last time you made a monetary donation without expecting a receipt for tax purposes? When was the last time you were given a gift without knowing who it came from? It is lovely to be recognized for our philanthropic endeavors, it makes us feel good that when we have the means to give, we usually do, and other’s perception of us is that we are kind-hearted and generous people, they think we may even believe in something bigger than ourselves; a worthy cause. Our gifts make a difference and everyone knows about them as our names are printed in Annual Reports, on plaques and walls, by invitations to more events etc. Rarely do we give anonymously as St. Nicholas did; we want people to know our identity. This is not to say it’s selfish to be thanked by others, many times we want people to know we have given, not to increase our ego, but so they know where to come if they need help in the future, our gifts are something they can count on and they do make a true difference in the lives of other people.

During this season of Advent, consider giving without reward or recognition. Drop blankets off to the homeless, donate to Goodwill and don’t ask for a receipt, buy your neighbor cookies and leave them on their front porch in secrecy, give teddy bears to a local children’s hospital or school supplies to a school; but do all of these things with the heart of St. Nicholas!

St. Nicholas lives on in our modern day Santa Claus, the idea that people will receive gifts from Santa without seeing him is a widely accepted concept. Of course Santa comes down the chimney, toys are made by elves and reindeer fly all around the world in one night; magical! More importantly, let’s focus on the fact that being Santa for someone else requires that we be invisible. Give without being seen or known, this is the real gift of the Christmas Season.

In the spirit of St. Nicholas, be present to others, give without reward and recognize that when God is the only one who knows you’re giving, you are ‘giving from the heart’!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Are You Passionately Living

By: Lynn McFarland

Confucius said, “wherever you go, go with all your heart.” It may sound like a catch phrase or redundant message, but it’s not. I was listening to an audio CD that arrived via Success Magazine when I heard an incredible interview with the founders of Invisible Children (A non-profit that works with war affected children in East Africa). In that conversation they relay the following message; “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, do what makes you come alive, because that’s what the world needs.” This speaks to passion and heart! The world needs more people who are passionate about something. How does this tie into Confucius’ advice?

We all fill up our allotted 24 hours each day working, playing, praying and running ourselves ragged. But, what part of our 24 hours is spent being passionate about what we’re doing? Do we live to unload the dishwasher every night? Are we ecstatic about the next load of laundry or traffic jam we need to sit in? Do we express gratitude sitting at our kids’ soccer games in the freezing rain and cold? What about being with someone we love, is that where our passion lies?

I like to think I live my passion every day, but I don’t. I’m not always contemplative and aware of where my heart is going at any given minute. I get lazy, complacent and say to myself; “Someday I will be great! Someday I will get my new business off the ground, lose the weight, spend less money etc.” Then I remind myself of the advice Dad gave me, “Someday is not a day of the week Lynn.” Be concrete, set goals and make things happen.

I know, easier said than done when we are bogged down with life. The quote from Confucius is obviously a metaphor. He’s not speaking about our physical heart; of course we take that with us wherever we go. Rather, he is speaking to what fuels our passion in life. Whatever that passion is for you, feed it with your whole heart. The world needs more people who are willing to replace mediocrity for excellence in whatever they choose to do!

“Time does not change us, it unfolds us.” Mark Frisch

Allow yourself some time to unfold by practicing what you are passionate about.

Let’s start the conversation…what is your passion?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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Monday, September 27, 2010


Photo and words by Michelle Kroll

As we see the leaves
begin to turn and sway,
chaning all their colors
like the changing of our days.

Let us be reminded
of the length of day and sun,
that we had a short time ago
when summer has begun.

Let us now reflect
of the days now gone.
Days spent in splendor
of the warm summer sun.

And now that autumn
is finally hear,
the wind so crisp,
and falling leaves appear.

Let us too rejoice,
in the autumn now,
when leaves do fall
it is time to slow down.

Slow down and celebrate
the glory of it all.
The marvelous season,
it is here, it is fall!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Gift of Professed Women

By Mary Erickson

This blog can serve several purposes it seems to me. We can use it to impart reflections on our personal spiritual journey or to shed light on something that seems important to say. What I hope to offer here is perhaps a bit of both.

I have been gifted since the early 1970’s with the sporadic influence of professed religious women in my life. Getting to know and appreciate the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary has been a blessing that accompanied me through two academic programs at Marylhurst University. The Benedictine sisters helped me forge my way through a two year spiritual direction program at the Shalom Center. For the last four years I have had the privilege of working with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia here at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. The experiences have had a profound effect on my life journey and my world view.

Watching with interest over the last year or so, I have seen and read the information related to the Vatican’s decision to investigate the women’s religious orders in the U.S. and find it to be fascinating that in the midst of such a tumultuous time for men religious related to the sex abuse scandal that the hierarchy of the Church finds time to engage in such an undertaking and can only ask why.

My personal study of the last one hundred years here in the US and the work of various religious orders has proven to me that the American Catholic Church owes it strong existence to the consistent hard work, tenacity and overwhelming vision of the sisters. Many of the orders risked all to send their sisters out to start schools and hospitals in areas that unaccompanied women had never ventured to previously. These women collectively built the largest private school and hospital systems in our country and it appears they were single-minded in their commitment to bring the highest quality healthcare and finest education to thousands throughout the US.

I believe that the work and the accomplishments of the sisters have gone largely unrecognized and unappreciated by many within the Church. My experience in working alongside sisters is that in many cases they are selfless, incredibly well-educated and dedicated to their vocation, their Church and their God. It has been my great honor to work with these women and to be invited to share their mission and vision for their ministry.

The motives of the investigation have been thoroughly discussed, debated and challenged by many supporters of the sisters both inside and outside of the Church. I wholeheartedly support these challenges and throw my hat into the ring of rising voices that are calling for Vatican officials to cease this effort and to publicly recognize that the truth wealth of the Catholic Church is not in the Vatican museum in Rome but in the incredible integrity and dedication of these very powerful women. We must all do our part to voice our support and love for the women that have played a monumental role in shaping our faith through their example and efforts. My life has been incredibly enriched by their influence and I remain steadfastly grateful for the gifts of their friendship.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Solitude and Contemplation

By: Sr. Mary Jo Chaves

We have often heard the phrase that “silence is golden.” That was probably true for our elementary school teachers who treasured those moments when her students were intent upon some project that required a quiet thoughtful process. What about our lives as adults? What place does solitude and silence have in our spiritual journey? Does the TV, radio or IPod, immediately get turned on when we walk into our homes or get into our cars? When are we comfortable with silence or do we fill up the “air waves” when silence is pending?

Here at the Center Marilyn Kirvin and I are coordinating a silent directed retreat from July 13 – 19. Each day each retreatant meets with her spiritual director to walk the retreatant’s spiritual journey together and to discern God’s spirit at work in the retreatant’s life. There are optional contemplative prayer opportunities throughout the day. Except for spiritual direction and prayer together the retreatants keep silence from the evening of July 13th until the morning of July 19th. Though it may take a day or two to settle into the retreat it soon becomes quite a “luxury” to have ample time to rest, pray and contemplate without interruption the mystery of God at work in their lives through spiritual reading, personal reflection, art work, or other creative activities. The silence and solitude deepen as the week progresses. A community of prayer and reflection is formed around the sense of solitude.

St. Francis of Assisi encouraged his followers to make silent retreats periodically in order to get a new lens on one’s life and then to carry the retreat in one’s heart as one went about daily life. How might we respond to such an invitation? Maybe the radio or TV can wait when we have an opportunity for a “mini-retreat” for a few minutes. Our God doesn’t necessarily need much of our time; our God needs our presence and full attention to God’s work in our lives. Solitude, silence and contemplation can empty our minds and hearts so we can hear the still small voice of our God within our inner being.

In these “lazy days of summer” take time to smell the roses, to sit and be silent. Psalm 46 encourages us to “Be still and know that I am God.” May silence and contemplation bring you to a deeper knowing of our abundant God!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer, Summer, Where for Art Thou Summer?

By: Sr. Guadalupe Medina

Here we are in the month of June and today it is summer, at least according to the calendar. Yet, the spring showers or better yet the heavy spring down pours continue to bless us with plenty of water. It appears that spring has spring hasn't really arrived, so how can summer be upon us?

If one looks beyond the unpredictable climate, one realizes spring did arrive in it's full glory. Now, the harvest fields and gardens are thriving with plenty of beauty and bountiful harvest. Despite the grey gloomy rainy days, the mystery of the Creator of all continues to reveal His unsurpassable power. We have seen some small glimpses of sunshine, the magnificence of nature quietly continues to give of itself. Trees have new abundant leaves, flowers have sprung and blossomed, and crops are beginning to flourish and ripen.

What it speaks to me is "The Great Mystery" of the unseen ray of life; to which NO ONE can keep from penetrating this bountiful world we call Mother Earth.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Peaceful Reflections

By: Michelle Kroll
Below are some reflections from a gathering I did this weekend and co-facilitated. I thought this might be a nice platform to share. The delphinium flower was drawn by me :) Enjoy!

You Are There
I see you,
before that...
I felt you.
I know that you
are always there
watching over me,
to help me
right the wrong.
You are there
to calm my storm.
I am cautious
and carfeul
to be only my best
for you!
If I fall,
you are there
helping me to rise.
I try to see only good,
for you.
For you always
see the good in me.
You are there,
I see you,
helping me, be me.

I had several people in mind when I was writing that. So, I think it goes out to all my family, moral and creative support.

Passion Engaging All Calm on Earth


And a special haiku for someone near and dear.

Abundant is she,
So good and strong and love filled,
Inspires you and me!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Welcoming the Season of Spring and Easter

by: Sr. Mary Jo Chaves

The Season of Spring blossoms all around us as we smell its fragrance and enjoy the April showers! Tulips open to the sun; rhododendron buds are ready to burst in myriads of colors and lilacs lure us into their many blossomed stems. I find myself pondering these flowers and their connection to the Easter mysteries.

I like to think of the tulip as a reminder of all the nurturing that it takes beforehand for that flower to bloom – plantings in the fall, resting in the winter, breaking through the soil, growing in the sun and finally blooming! It might be compared to all the nurturing that Jesus did with Mary Magdalene. He healed her and she accompanied him all the way to the cross. Mary Magdalene is the first person to whom the resurrected Christ appears and she recognizes him when he says her name, “Mary.” I ask myself how am I nurtured and how do I nurture others.

The rhododendrons dance in the sunlight and when in full bloom they burst with beauty and awe. The only appropriate response is WOW! Mary, the Mother of Jesus, stood beneath the cross as well. Though we have no scripture passage about the Risen Christ appearing to Mary, it seems to me that she would be the first one to whom he would appear. She would have been filled at the moment with wonder and awe and she would have had the strength to keep living in the light of the Resurrection. I ask myself how willing I am to dance the dance of my life, letting others see God’s goodness and beauty through me.

As I ponder the lilac I am amazed at the mass of blossoms, each one perfect in form, each one bigger than imaginable when with the other blossoms. The disciples must have felt like that when faced with the challenge of establishing the church once Jesus had ascended to the Father. They would have to be bigger than they possibly imagined their lives could be before encountering Jesus. I, too, have the same call to follow in the footprints of Jesus. Will I say yes daily with all my brothers and sisters to living the Gospel message, being bigger than I could possibly imagine?

This season of spring and Easter will soon give way to summer and ordinary time. Don’t miss its message! Celebrate each blossom! Celebrate the Risen Christ!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Letting Go

by Marilyn Kirvin

Yesterday the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation. The Gospel for that day, “and the Angel said to Mary, do not be afraid….” is one of my favorite readings in Scripture. Over my desk I have a print that I love of the painting “The Annunciation,” by African-American painter Henry Osawa Tanner - unlike in some portrayals of this moment, Mary here looks like a woman in her early teens… and her expression is not one of fear, but of curiosity, wonder… “How can this be?” (to see it, go to )

Often we think of this story as being associated with Christmas, but listening to the reading yesterday, so close to Holy Week, I thought instead of how , when she said “yes” to the angel’s invitation to bear a son, Mary could not have known that her yes would one day lead to watching her son as he was executed as a political prisoner. Mary, like all of us, could not see into the future… she only had that moment in which to respond, and so she said that yes – trusting somehow in the God who called her, and letting go of knowing and controlling, all the rest.

Perhaps I am thinking about Mary a bit more this week because last Saturday my oldest son moved to Corvallis to start school. He is excited, as am I for him, for he has worked hard to make this happen, and I think he’s as prepared as can be at this point. But I can remember holding him when he was a baby, and not being able to imagine that he wouldn’t be with me forever (fortunately, of course, living with a teenager tempers this desire for them never to leave home). And yet, when the time came, I did it, just like every parent does it, as every person does it when it’s time. It’s not that we don’t worry, of course. But we have to let go, and trust in God’s grace and mercy.

As a spiritual director, I suspect that the challenge of letting go and trusting God is a theme that comes up in almost every conversation that I have with the people who see me. It is there for women in their 60’s caring for parents with dementia, and in men whose marriages are ending. It is the challenge for people who are losing employment in this economy, those who are struggling with addiction, and those who grieve the passing of a loved one. It is even what underlies every time we are called – to parenthood, to marriage, to a new ministry or a new town, to retirement - we are also being called to letting go. It is what we hear from Jesus on the cross: Into Your hands I commend my Spirit….

As we enter in Holy Week, then, we will walk with Jesus on his journey of letting go… of his mission, his friends, his sense of closeness to God, and his very life. As we hear these stories, may we find inspiration there for our own journeys of trust, and may we know that we are not alone - that Jesus, his mother, his disciples, all those who have gone before us, and those who pray with us are on the same journey, accompanied by our loving God.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Experience of Pilgrimage

During the past two weeks, three of us from the Franciscan Spiritual Center had the opportunity to accompany eleven other people on a pilgrimage trip to Assisi and Rome, Italy. This was the second pilgrimage trip sponsored by our center and appears to have been a successful endeavor to those who participated.
The experience of traveling to holy and historic sites in Europe is a marvelous way to meet others and share meaningful dialogue. Places where St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare routinely lived and wandered were simultaneously very spiritual and impressive. We had the benefit of learning a great deal about both saints through the lens of Sr. Mary Jo Chaves who has spent a lifetime in study and contemplation of Franciscan theology. Through her descriptions we could feel the holy presence of both Francis and Clare which allowed us to more fully understand their continuing impact on people throughout the world. The pilgrimage sites in Assisi continue to draw large crowds of the faithful in spite of the fact that they lived in the twelfth century.
Having been on three pilgrimage trips I know that such a trip changes one’s perspective. It is impossible to go and not feel the challenges that saint’s encounter as they make their spiritual journeys. To see the adverse conditions that Francis willingly chose to endure in his devotion to the Gospel message was indeed remarkable. Through the stories of Francis and Clare I learned about their love of God, love for their fellow religious and loyalty to their church. The strongest message that I returned with is that the tough choices they made were made willingly and with love for their fellow human beings. Francis of Assisi is known for his rather peculiar behavior during his lifetime but there can be no doubting of his devotion to God and the Gospel message. The willingness on both his and St. Clare’s part to challenge authority when necessary to remain faithful to their vocations is a fine lesson to all.
Most of us probably don’t know of any future saints in our midst but we can learn more about remaining faithful to our values and what we believe from those who have gone before us. To me, being a saint is less about performing miracles but is all about following one’s convictions to lead a life of kindness filled with hope and gratitude. Francis and Clare embodied those characteristics and continue to influence thousands of people yearly in the beauty of the Italian countryside. How lucky were we to experience the sanctity of their homeland and to gain a better understanding of why we call them saints.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Write Now

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

-Mary Oliver

… a silence in which another voice may speak. To whom does that other voice belong? To what? I know that for me, that other voice is my inner voice. Writing and journaling offers one an opportunity to share, learn, and remember. It is a sort of stirring of the soul, but more than that it is a chance to feel. Journaling, recollection, gives you an opportunity to savor events past and present. Writing gives you that chance to describe to the reader every minute detail. You could either write about how you went for a walk and stopped to smell the roses OR you could say:

I went for a walk this morning, an opportunity that has been lacking all winter. I stepped outside into a freshness that reminds me spring is on the way. There were just enough clouds and enough sun that I left the sweater at home. I so look forward to when these walks can happen more frequently. You can see evidence of spring already. Crocuses and their delicate green leaves are forcing their way through the soil. You can see the starts of the daffodils and tulips too, a sort of floral calendar that unfolds its way to summer. Summer seems so distant when you afternoons are currently occupied with splashing in puddles. But summer offers the chance to take said walk at the Rose Garden. How glorious is it that we have this in our city. What a wondrous gathering of roses with their velvety soft petals and over protective thorns. They always lure us in with that sweet, decadent smell.

Doesn’t that sound much more worthy of reading again than some sort of hand written log of days. Embrace writing! I have recently started to embrace it again. I took a 10 year hiatus. One writing exercise offered me a chance to write about coffee for 10 minutes, or rain, or a memory I have about being on a bicycle. There are so many memories inside, wouldn’t it be nice to get them all out? The good, the bad and the ugly. I know that I am finding it therapeutic. Natalie Goldberg tells us, “You have the right to write it down. Throw it out, rip it up, swallow it down. Build up a capacity to bear up- don’t let fear run your writing life. Hide your notebook in a good place.” The key is to keep writing and get it all out, I am.

Books to try out:
Old Friend From Far Away By: Natalie Goldberg
With Pen in Hand By: Henriette Anne Klauser
Journaling as a Spiritual Practice By: Helen Cepero

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Happy New Year and Decade

By Sr. Mary Jo Chaves

A new year is upon us; in fact a whole new decade is upon us. As I reflect on this, I wonder how I might live more fully and well into this second decade of the twenty-first century. I didn’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” this year. Rather, I decided to take a close look at what was already available to me without adding something “new.”

I am reminded of Paula D’Arcy’s quote: “God comes to us disguised as our life.” What is there in my life that might be a fuller expression of my call to be Christian and Franciscan? A sense of hospitality is the first thing that comes to mind. Every day I meet many people -- from those I see for spiritual direction to the grocery clerk I meet as I buy a forgotten item for dinner that evening. If I am following in the footsteps of Jesus, then the challenge is to be hospitable to all.

That really came home to me the first week of January. My brother-in-law died of a heart attack at age 90. He certainly lived a full and fruitful life. Immediate relatives numbered in the hundreds! As I walked with my sister through his funeral and our letting go of him, hospitality became primary – a hug for this grandchild, an understanding heart for a daughter who needed to talk, a patient listening to all who wanted to be sure everything was just “perfect” for the Mass of Christian Burial, and holding my sister close in my heart as she let go of her husband of 30 years. In each of these people I saw reflected back to me who Christ is and who I am. My hands and my heart were to be the hands and heart of Christ with deep genuine hospitality.

Another way to take a close look at my Christian Franciscan living is to look at my prayer practice. When the bed seems warm and cozy on these chilly winter mornings, it is a choice to get up and sit in quiet with my Beloved. It is a choice to join my community in Morning Prayer. It is a choice to pray with and for my directees. It is a choice to offer a prayer for peace to each person I meet as St. Francis of Assisi did. His greeting was always: “Peace be with you.” Francis did not pray; Francis became his prayer. That is my desire as well.

Finally, in looking at my life, I decided to take a new look at my own self-care. The commandment reads to “love your neighbor as you love yourself. That is a tall order! Getting adequate rest, eating nutritiously and exercising regularly are not things that can wait. Each day is my choice; this body I have is mine to cherish and to love. Having just recovered from a nasty cold, I am certainly in greater appreciation of my good health!

So, I invite you to take a look at this New Year 2010. What does the decade hold out for you? If you were accused of being a Christian come 2020 would there be enough evidence to convict you? Blessings on your journey!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

God, Please Show Me the Way

by: Marilyn Kirvin

People are making choices all the time. Sometimes the choices are major ones, such as “should I marry this person?,” or “should I take this job in Alaska or stay where I am”? Other times our choices are smaller ones, like “do I take this evening class or spend more time with my kids?” or “do I volunteer for this cause that I care about or do something creative that I enjoy?” And then there are the ongoing decisions that we all make every day, about our budgets, our health, our friendships, and so on.

In reflecting on my own record of making choices (it is checkered, at best), and those of the people who’ve seen me for spiritual direction, it seems to me that this whole area is fraught with confusion. Sometimes we don’t even think to bring God into our choice-making processes – the things we’re making choices about seem so small – does God really care about such things? At other times, we just aren’t sure how to “access” God’s guidance – praying, perhaps, for a “sign,” or making lists of pro’s and con’s, and hoping we’ll somehow be shown the next step. All of this brings up questions: Does God have a “will” for me? Is there a right choice (God’s will) and a wrong choice, and if I make the wrong choice, will my life be ruined? And, again, does God even care what I do?

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, struggled with these questions himself. After his conversion experience, he found himself trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Some of the stories of his early choice-making are rather comical (he was sure he was being called to minister in the Holy Land, but as soon as he got there, the Franciscans in charge immediately put him back on a boat heading home), but through his experiences he honed a method of listening and choosing that can be supremely useful to individuals, couples and groups in our own time.

The Ignatian practice of Discernment offers practical ways in which to prayerfully consider our choices, and ask God to give us light and guidance. Author Elizabeth Liebert writes, “Discernment is the process of intentionally becoming aware of how God is present, active, and calling us as individuals and communities so that we can respond with increasingly greater faithfulness.”

This method of discernment also can help groups who are making decisions about issues. Often church groups want their choices to be guided by God, but because we don’t know how to make God’s guidance accessible to us, we begin with a prayer for God’s blessing, and then let other things, such as finances or practicality, guide us. Ignatian discernment seeks to bring every part of a decision to the table – including finances and practicality – and then ask God to help our choices to be in line with God’s choices for us and for our communities.

The Franciscan Spiritual Center is offering a series on Ignatian Discernment on five consecutive Wednesday evenings, beginning January 13. In the series we will learn a process for an integrated listening for God’s presence in our life experiences and decisions, prayerfully consider guidelines for discernment taught by St. Ignatius, and experience small group sharing and support. For more information, go to