Thursday, July 21, 2022

What makes a reflective Spirituality in life

It doesn’t necessarily take a spiritual person who answer the question “what is the goal of the spiritual life?”  Most people who are in touch with their thoughts in life would give an answer that says that the spiritual life is all about doing good things in life.  A person who has his eyes fixed on heaven would say something like “the spiritual life helps us to detect God’s presence in the world”, which is not that far from the truth.  But it was my experience in going through 30 days in a Jesuit Retreat Centre in Chiangmai, Thailand, that opened my eyes and heart to the inner core of the spirituality of the Jesuits.  This happened in the middle of my sixth year in the seminary where I was being trained for the Catholic priesthood, and to me, it was an experience of pure gold.  

It is a place that is tranquil and green, so idyllic to be in to be guided on a spiritual journey like an Ignatian 30-day silent retreat.  Those who have pursued such a journey in life would say without hesitation that a place would have to be quiet and remote for it to help one to attain a fruitful end when one decides to pursue good fruit at the end of the retreat.  Of course, a good retreat master would be desired to have in order to be led and directed in the journey of the soul.  This came as a gift to us seminarians who went to that month-long spiritual walk with God.  I believe that Seven Fountains has undergone some renovations since I was there so many years ago, but the people who have returned from there share with me that they loved the place and the experience.  

St Ignatius who wrote The Spiritual Exercises, had a deep and meaningful experience in his search for God in his life.  This book is the foundation of the 30-day Ignatian Retreat, and I don’t intend to ruin the experience of the Retreat for anyone who hasn’t made the retreat himself or herself.  Ultimately, we find out that the dynamic goal of the Spiritual Exercises is to choose.  To choose is to freely unite ourselves with God.  A spiritual person would be deeply interested to join with God in active work in the world.  

God, we are guided to see.  And Ignatian spirituality teaches us to discern the steps that God makes in our lives and in our experience.  The Spiritual Exercises gives us guidance on how to look back on our lives, and to sift through our experiences to see the way that God has been dealing with us over the years.  As Fr Rolheiser once wrote, a great many of us are far too absorbed in efficiency and cannot find time to pray, and this excuse robs us from being in touch with the spiritual experiences in our lives.  The world is mired with too much efficiency and stuff and it ends up making our world an endless search for new and exciting things to look out for.  Those who are internet connected will know that there are an endless number of channels to watch movies, sporting games and variety programmes.  News channels are no longer just the “Nine O’Clock News”, but an endless array of reports bringing the world’s happenings to our homes through the television.  Then there are the magazines that beckon with their glossy covers and distracting reports of sportsmen and celebrities.  After a full day of being stuck in traffic, public transportation, writing endless reports in the office, listening to lectures given to us by our teachers or professors in schools, exhaustive hours of research for our subjects in schools, there is always the attraction of the endless offerings on the internet and the many conversations that we want to be included in by our friends and colleagues.  All these take up our valuable time and they are made up of what the world calls efficiency and productivity.  While they may not be bad in themselves, they can easily rob us from the time that God would want to have us give him in prayer and attention.  This is the task of spirituality.

St Ignatius begins the retreat with the Principle and Foundation.  Ignatius sees the vision of God’s purpose in creating was to share life with us forever.  Besides, the purpose of the things he created was so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more easily.  Added to that, the goal of the retreat, he tells us, is to choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me than the other things.  The daily examen is a method of reflective prayer that to many appear to be a digression from the real business of the retreat.  

Ignatius wanted his Jesuits to make the examen a daily habit.  But the retreat is not only something that Jesuits can make.  The press of work or illness may often make it impossible for Jesuits to have an extended time of daily prayer.  They can end up saying that they are far too ‘busy’.  It was Ignatius’s insistence that the examen is never omitted from their lives.  Usually, one makes the examen twice a day, once at midday and again before retiring, to pause for a while and review the events of the day in prayerful reflection.  

Ignatius outlined that the examen has five points.  1) be grateful for God’s blessings; 2) ask the help of the Spirit; 3) review the day, looking for times when God has been present and times when you have left him out; 4) express sorrow for sin and ask God for his forgiving love; 5) pray for the grace to be more totally available to God who loves us so totally.  There are many versions of the examen written by Jesuits and others, and they are like successive editions of a great textbook.  

Undoubtedly, the word examen indicates a kind of introspection, and St Ignatius tries to emphasise this point by making his first point of the examen prayer one about gratitude to God.  One Jesuit, Fr David L Flemming, outlined the following examen prayer as follows:

The Examen of Consciousness

A Prayer to God

God, thank you.

I thank you, God, for always being with me, but especially I am grateful that you are with me right now.

God, send your Holy Spirit upon me.

God, let the Holy Spirit enlighten my mind and warm my heart that I may know where and how we have been together this day.

God, let me look at my day.

God, where have I felt your presence, seen your face, heard your word this day?

God, where have I ignored you, run from you, perhaps even rejected you this day?

God, let me be grateful and ask forgiveness.

God, I thank you for the times this day we have been together and worked together.

God, I am sorry for the ways that I have offended you by what I have done or what I did not do.

God, stay close.

God, I ask that you draw me ever closer to you this day and tomorrow.

God, you are the God of my life - thank you.

Yes, sometimes prayer can get formal and abstract.  This Daily Examen keeps us humble and our feet firmly on the ground.  It is reflective in nature, and as we are God’s sons and daughters living in the world that he loves and sustains, we can be assured that he hears our voices in this world of noise and busy-ness.

This examen helps us as we will never run out of things to pray about.  It is like a direction finder for our spiritual lives.  If we wonder what to say to God, having this list of examen reflections is a guide that one never gets tired of.  

All of us need to have a reflective spirituality in life, and this is one definitive list.  If it helps some of your readers of my blog to be so constantly reflective in your prayer, the aim of this blog will have been met.  I know many people have been praying for me, and in turn, I will pray for my readers of this blog.  May you have an endless experience of being loved and cared for by the same God who made you and this world, and may you always grow in your love of God in your lives.  

Monday, July 4, 2022

How does prayer really look like? Are we praying only when things are looking better in the world and for us as well?

This isn’t an original blog reflection on prayer by any means.  I’ve written on this several times in my blog’s existence, and I was thinking hard about what my next entry should be focused on.  Then I came across one of Fr Rolheiser’s blog entries and he entered it on what real prayer looks like.  His main point in the reflection was really about the situations that we are in when we utter God’s name when we don’t know how to deal with what life is presenting to us.  

In his essay, Fr Rolheiser detailed how a Jacques Loew, the founder of the Worker-Priest movement in France, was once working in a factory and saw how his fellow workers were hauling very heaving bags into a truck.  In this situation he sometimes saw how one of the bags would suddenly drop from the hands of the men, and as the bag landed on the ground would burst open and have all its contents spill out, creating a mess.  This was when a mini-blaspheme would escape from the lips of the men.  This made Loew point out that though what was heard was not something that was glorifying God as taught in the Lord’s Prayer, he felt that the men who uttered those phrases was saying a prayer as he was invoking God’s name in real honesty.  I was partly flabbergasted when I read this, and it stayed in my mind as I went through the day after that.  It takes a spiritual man of some depth to have discovered this.

When we were trained on prayer by our catechists, it didn’t include how we ought to be praying when things in life were not so calm and attractive to us.  We were mainly taught that when things were smooth going ons in the world and in our lives, that we ought to be raising our voices to God with great thanksgiving for the blessings we have been receiving.  This isn’t something hard to teach.  It is the imparting of gratitude for the goodness that God has blessed us with, and it is only right.

But what if the opposite is what faces us in life?  What if the news at night is bad news, and in an order that is one after another?  Or what if what happens to us in life isn’t what would consider as calm, goodness and comfort?  What if we accidentally stub our fingers as we make our way around the home or the office, or get stuck in a terrible traffic situation which leaves us late for our appointment?  At these moments, what comes out from our mouths could be described as a mini-blasphemy and even aesthetically offensive, no matter if the person who hears us is a senior convent nun who had been finally professed for several years.  Certainly it is not our aim to take God’s name in vain, but on several levels, just hearing what we uttered could constitute as a sinful act.

But Fr Rolheiser said that many of us take prayer far too seriously for our own sakes.  If we take what is happening to the world around us too seriously, we can lose heart and stop praying.  Fr Rolheiser then said what only a most astute praying person is able to say when he said that prayer is most important and most powerful precisely when we feel it is most hopeless, and when we feel that we are most helpless.

This is what being genuine is all about.  If you think about it, it is not often that when we turn on the news at night, all that is reported is primarily about the goodness and charity that is shared and experienced in many parts of this world.  And aren’t we all supposed to be channels through which God’s love and goodness can flow to the whole world?

It could be that we are filling our hearts and minds only with one aspect of God’s power - the power of health, wealth, politics and economics.  For us, God is only good when we have hope.  While it isn’t wrong, it is a far too narrow way to look at God’s power of his Divine love.  So if the news is good, we have hope.  But if we don’t have hope, why then do we pray?

When we pray though the world looks negative, we are emphasising the strength and the promise of God.  There are worse things that can happen to us than when things fall all over the floor when the bags drop on the floor.  The bags could also drop on our feet and injure out toes too.  When those things happen to us, things coming out of our mouths could be much morse than mini-expletives.

Let’s be honest - there will be moments in our lives when things aren’t looking good for us or for the world.  It is then that prayer is not only necessary, but utterly important.  Sometimes we do feel helpless, but prayer at these times show a real honest that is inside of us.  Prayer in tough times is a reminder to always seek God’s presence and power in life.

I felt very drawn to this reflection from Fr Rolheiser because I noticed that it was primarily in moments of prayer and adoration that I was more fully in touch with God’s presence in my life.  It has been slightly over a year since my accident while exercising and I have not attained that state of being fully recovered and restored to good health, and I am constantly seeking evidence that things are back on an even keel for me.  But that moment and those ideal conditions have still not been given to me, and I find it often that I am raising my eyes toward heaven and ask God the perennial question “why me?”  With Fr Rolheiser’s reflection, this prayer now changes to a more sensible “what is it, Lord, that you want of me in this situation that you have allowed me to undergo in life?”

It is a very real prayer and it comes from the depths of my heart.  I am not, and should not be, waiting for things to become fine and dandy before my prayer becomes real, heartfelt and relevant.

Of course, I do know that there are many friends and parishioners who have been praying or me to get better and recover fully after my trial, and to be restored back to parish life and ministry in work.  Your prayers mean so much to me, and have done me a whole lot of good.  Please know that thanksgiving rises from my heart to God whenever I think of the many who are still praying avidly for me.  I will be praying for God to bless you in your lives.