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