On this ninth and last day of the Novena of Grace, hearts seemed like watermelons as the assembled witnessed the large glass container of petitions carried in procession with the vow crucifixes that bridged our blessings. Jessica incensed these, the celebrants Frs. Craig and Paul, and the gathered. We bowed with the humility that characterizes both the human and the divine. Quoting from the first reading of the prophet Ezechiel, Barb focused this last presentation on God's call for us to be reconciled. Acknowledging all that we have brought and borne to this Novena in terms of hopes, sufferings, longings, Barb continued with the themes from the very beginning about the Two Standards of Ignatius and our calling. She talked about the deeper and wider love of belonging that attends our responsiveness to all that hurts--inclusive of God's creation, our fellow creatures and all living things. Listen to her talk of her own experience in response to the Pope Francis' call for conversion and right relationship of the heart in Laudato Si. Her story of "Esther" will amuse and yet challenge us to reflect on where does our sense of "family" and connectedness begin and end. For those not in St. Ignatius Parish, this last year at our church, we have educated ourselves through many sessions that have dealt with our Catholic social justice teaching, the sacramental nature of life, the very real challenges facing our fragile yet beautiful gift of creation. Barb ends the Novena in the Genesis story of our kinship, our belonging and how we are faced with choices: the "big lie" or the "big love." She quotes Denise Levertov who in poetic words says "we have only begun to love the earth." As we dearly hold all those loved ones we have prayed for, cried for, and asked how we could be in service to them, Barb awakened us to all these "intricate rituals of life." We are blessed. Note: This last reflection will be posted on March 12th, Sunday. This web site also has an on-line survey that the Novena team would like you to utilize so we can be responsive to your evaluative words to us. Thank you for walking this community prayer with us. May Jesus be your constant companion and may His word breathe life into your trust and faith that emanates in love. Peace of Christ!
On this eighth day of our Novena, the ministers gathered in the vestibule and prayed together (our preparatory "Spirit" routine) as the cantor rendered the beautiful song You Are Mine. The Liturgy of the Word exposed us to the ancient story of Esther, a Jewish woman in a unique historical and political situation. Jessica opened her reflection by quoting from the words of Esther in this first reading: Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, my God! As is her enlightening gift, Jessica opened up the background to Esther's mortal predicament and her dreadful feelings of isolation before God. Once you listen to Jessica weave her own story with this ancient one, you will experience the beauty of how God constructs his own circles of belonging on our ostensibly empty and isolated ones. Now, as an epistolary companion, I invite you to discover the understanding greater than that open for Solomon. For those that would like to have a copy of the Rainer Maria Rilke poem she refers to at the end of her reflection, Jessica sent this translation: You, God, who live next door - If at times, through the long night, I trouble you with my urgent knocking - this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom. I know you're all alone in that room. If you should be thirsty, there's no one to get you a glass of water. I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign! I'm right here. As it happens, the wall between us is very thin. Why couldn't a cry from one of us break it down? It would crumble easily, it would barely make a sound. Hoping you also feel a deeper and wider sense of God's love in having Jessica's words taken to heart. Further thought for today: The Gospel reading of "seek, ask, and knock" reassures us of a loving response from a God who has already anticipated our need. Yet the Gospel pericope concludes with the "golden rule" of doing unto others what we would want done unto us. So it seems, does it not, that God also seeks, asks and knocks on us? Has our love anticipated God's need?
Speaking to the gathered assembly with the eighth grade of St. Ignatius School present, Fr. Paul focused on the figure of Jonah, a runaway from God's initial call to render critical judgement on the people of Nineveh. Jonah's vain attempt to escape his "vocation" and certainly underestimating the perseverance of God landed him in the "belly of the whale." Listen to Fr. Paul's telling of his own experience of this plight when he was about the same age of these eighth graders. The Novena tries to take us to a new place of God's calling. Are we willing to "let go of our own traumas and dramas and become fools for Christ?" Are we able to walk in a deeper way, choosing graciousness, and possibly becoming what we were baptized to become: a prophetic people who carry the word of God? We are into the last trimester of our Novena. Our prayer is that bonds and linkages among family, friends, and Church deepen with your meditative thoughtfulness that is expressive in loving actions. Our Responsorial Psalm verse each day echoes in our hearts: "We Belong to You." Your sacrifices on behalf of others become our oblation at the altar of God's own.
Jesus well knows his disciples and their many pleas and petitions that they carry with them. He lets them know that when they pray, their Father already knows what they need before they ask. So he gives them a way to pray that we know as "The Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6: 7-15). Jessica relates a story she heard on NPR radio; not only heard but listened to over and over again because of its impact on her. It will have the same impact on you so please listen to her reflection. You will be like the phone call listener in the story waiting to hear more. Every petition emanates from a fuller life story. The Novena of Grace is our listening place for that reassuring, understanding voice that says, "I am here for you." Our intercessory prayer for all of you, and for us, is that we experience the surprise of that graceful presence that enters and transforms cries of despair and desolation into hopeful understanding that has the light of new direction.
We are midway in our Novena of Grace retreat. On Barb's second presentation, she gifted us with a reflection on Matthew 25 about how God on his throne (the place of good decision-making by an all-knowing and loving King) invites the inheritors of the kingdom prepared. Her rich experience, translated into equally rich and probative words, provides the eternal questions and our human answers. Every person's soul carries the divine image, and Barb talks about her own responses to recognized needs at significant times in her life. She related an incident of her own participation in human disregard and how to this day she is haunted by it. This she contrasts with a "day of blessing" when responding to a woman who accidentally fell on her face when tripping on a Northwest Portland sidewalk. Listen to her presentation on what transpired and who this turned out to be! As you ride the carriage of her theme on "responding," you will pass a Cherokee story, the wisdom from Fr. Jack Morris' trials with refugees in Uganda, and a reminder of our Ignatian standard. Our Offertory or oblation song today is from Ricky Manalo: "In these days of Lenten journey, we have seen and we have heard the call to sow justice in the lives of those we serve." May Christ's presence with you, help create a response that will be another "day of blessing," a day that perpetuates deeper belonging among us.
On this First Sunday of Lent and the fourth day of our Novena, Fr. Paul confronts us with a simple distinction in behavior between Adam and Eve and Jesus when they are both undergoing temptation. Rather than divulge his answer, I invite you to listen how he frames their different approaches with his own familiarity with indigenous peoples' rituals. Fr. Paul has lived with, suffered with and celebrated how members of tribes and clans identified their place in the world. Whether in a smokehouse or isolated on a mountain, they do something similar to Jesus' own wilderness struggle for clarity of vision. How do you find the place of silence to stand before your God and listen to what he desires to fill your hearts with? Where is this place of sacred meeting? (Hint: If you hear your cell phone ringing or see a TV screen, you are not there!)
Fr. Paul's reflection is posted! We are grateful to the parish staffperson who came in on her weekend to share his word with you. Most people can believe in a person who calls people to repentance. Fewer believe in one who does it by eating and drinking with them. Jessica's presentation will be posted soon.
To our gathered on-line Pray-ers: We are aware that the second and third day presentations have not yet been posted and are working to resolve this problem. The Novena is not a "silent retreat," but we invite you to a contemplative space until our thoughtful and spiritual reflections can be shared. We are sorry for the delay. Mea culpa!
On this third day of the Novena of Grace, Jessica Seidman took us imaginatively to her historical research trip to Istanbul, Turkey in 2012. Her fascination with all things ancient, especially Greek and Trojan stories, had her dismiss the contemporaneous happenings of this modern City and its people. Until an experience during Ramadan. On a grassy square between the holy places of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, thousands of people were arrayed at dusk with colorful baskets of delectables on equally colorful blankets waiting for 8:17pm when their fast would end and the feasts would begin. Jessica hoped to photograph the event and her camera became a kind of shield or defense from interaction. While she momentarily worried about taking pictures of strangers without their permission, a middle-aged man with a family said to her, "Come join us"--inviting her to share their blanket. Jessica politely declined explaining to us that her social anxiety prompted a host of fears such as her unfamiliarity causing unintentional offense, what she would say or talk about, or misunderstanding. She clutched her camera all the more. Then the man asked her again, "What is your name?" Once she responded, he then said, "Jessica, come join us!" So begins her presentation on the invitation to belonging in a deeper and wider sense. Listen to her reflection as she invites us to do what God might be asking: leave our defenses (camera) and step into another's picture, especially those on the margins of our familiarity. Is not that what Jesus does with Levi in today's gospel? And capture the prophetic quote Jessica uses of Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. How does our Novena help you in the grace of approachability? Is your heart helping erase the boundary lines of "us" and "them?" Whom would you invite to join you on your blanket of plenty?
The Lenten scriptural passages today reflect on the issue of fasting and what kind is expected in God's eyes and in our own estimation. Jesuit Vocation Director, Fr. Paul, speaking with enthusiasm on this first day of his presentation, reminds us of how good we are at being hard on ourselves. Yet, he insists--from what the scriptures tell us--God wants our focus to be "hard" on generosity to others. Keeping with what Barb had inaugurated yesterday with Jesuit spirituality, Fr, Paul gleaned from the history of Francis Xavier and his companionship with Ignatius of Loyola what marks a true vocation in the eyes of our patron who holds the banner of Christ. In seeking out qualified applicants for the Jesuits, Fr. Paul, looks for what Ignatius deemed were personal attributes of vocation, when a person truly hears God speaking to his or her heart: "joy, alacrity, and perseverance." Though we do not seem to have grumpy priests at St. Ignatius, Paul has other apparent encounters and says the Church needs more joyful priests in her service. So listen to Fr. Paul's soft, cheerful voice asking us to look into our hearts and see how we can keep our commitments with a more radiant peace. "Devotion" is etymologically linked to "vows," words expressive of promise. These sacred and holy words from the heart are uttered when one knows and feels deeply true love, infinite love. These are grace because they denote relationship, gift, and communion. And a joyful surprise! May this Novena of Grace enhance your life commitments, your vocation in unexpected ways!