Advent Meditation: Without Love …

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
— 1 Cor 13:1-7


In Luke’s Gospel, it is the Jewish poor, the shepherds, who first see and recognise this birth as a manifestation of God in their midst. Perhaps this reflects the experience of Luke’s community and its emphasis on Jesus’ outreach to the marginal ones. In Mathew’s Gospel, it’s the Magi, these Gentile outsiders, who see a mysterious star and follow it. They recognise that the promises made to the chosen people are being fulfilled. How unlikely that they would be the ones to see and understand, while others who are much closer to the revelation are indifferent, or even hostile, to it. Continue reading “Advent Meditation: Without Love …”

Making Room (Advent Meditation) …

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
— Luke 2:7


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are Continue reading “Making Room (Advent Meditation) …”

Desert Day 45: The Opposite of Goodness …

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate before the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours alone, but also for the sins of the whole world. 

By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we keep His commandments. If anyone says, “I know Him,” but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone keeps His word, the love of God has been truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him: Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked. Continue reading “Desert Day 45: The Opposite of Goodness …”

Everything I Know About Prayer I Re-Learned In Spin Class …

Michael Rossmann, SJ, took up spinning to keep in shape during the winter. He lists 11 lessons he relearned while he rode his stationary bike.

1.  A class – or community – is invaluable. Sure, I can exercise on my own, just as I can pray by myself. That being said, it’s knowing that I will see my spin “community” that gets me out of bed and over to the gym, and I work much harder to get through the shared pain I feel in a spin class than I would if I were to sit on a stationary bike alone in a room. Not only are the sacraments similarly communal, but being in a worshiping community pushes me to spend more time in prayer and go deeper in my own faith after seeing the example of others. The daily Mass crowd, especially at an urban parish over the noon hour, can be a ragtag group: professionals on their lunch break, street people, retired couples, and religious sisters (who despite not wearing a habit can be spotted as nuns a mile away). A spin class can be equally eclectic. I may not know the name of the person in the neighboring pew or the young woman on the bike next to me, and yet I love the community that forms and the sense that we’re in this physical and/or spiritual exercise together.

2.  A lot of shame is a bad thing; a little bit of shame can be a good thing. We know that a deep sense of shame can prevent us from exercising in public just as it can keep us from turning to the God who loves us and wants us close. A little bit of potential shame, however, can be productive. If I don’t show up at spin class, I know that Molly will tell me, “So, we missed you this morning.” And that gets me out the door. If I am not there for Mass in the community, my Jesuit brothers will notice. And, sometimes, that gets me out the door. It’s not that I’m doing these things simply because of others’ expectations, but that potential “so, we missed you” gives me a little extra motivation to show up at the places that I know are good for me.

3.  It’s important to push through to the very end. Sometimes there are so many parallels between the Spiritual Exercises and what my spin instructors are yelling out that I wonder if they’ve been reading them before class. Ignatius instructs those going through the Exercises to pray for an hour at a time and to make sure we spend the full hour in prayer. He even goes out of his way to note that “the enemy of our human nature” will tempt us to shorten the time we had set aside for prayer. It’s the same in spin. It is tempting to relax during the bit of silence between the end of one song and the start of another, but instructors push us to keep up the intensity of the workout and in so doing they keep us moving through the lulls to the very end.

4.  If it’s not on my schedule – and typically my morning schedule – then it doesn’t happen. My days are often gobbled up by various commitments, and as a quintessential morning person, my mind turns into a pumpkin after 10:00 PM. But I notice that if prayer and exercise are “non-negotiables,” if they’re part of my routine, then they almost always get done. As busy as I am, I know Kelly will kick my butt into shape on Monday morning and Rachel will spin me around on Friday if that cycling class is already in my schedule. One other note, I recently directed a “busy student retreat” at which students were committed to a daily one-on-one meeting with me because it was part of their schedule for the retreat. But making time for prayer, something they were expected to do, wasn’t built into the retreat schedule. I noticed that because prayer wasn’t built into their schedule like the daily conferences that it was extremely difficult for many of them to make the time to do the prayer they obviously wanted to do.

5.  Women dominate. Remember my experience Irish dancing? Spin – and all too often, service and prayer experiences – are the same. Girls have dominated every retreat and service project I have been a part of, while guys have been busy… playing Halo? With spin class, it’s not even close; often I’m the only dude in a room of women with freakishly good endurance.

6.  The imagination is an underutilized but greatly valuable tool. ”Jena, are you sure you aren’t from Loyola, Spain?” ”No, you’re from Skokie? Well I’m not convinced.” Just like Ignatius has taught many of us how “Ignatian contemplation” (imaginative prayer, in which we place ourselves in a Gospel scene) can greatly deepen one’s prayer life, my spin instructor Jena has taught me how to visualize while spinning. I’ve even started noticing how visualizing that I’m on a hill trying to catch another rider can push me to go faster – or at least help me temporarily forget about the fire burning through my quadriceps.

7.  Transitions are the most difficult. The most painful part about being a Jesuit for me is investing in relationships and digging my roots into a place only to have those roots ripped out when I’m sent off on another new mission in a different location. Likewise for transitions in spin class. In spin transition the spin instructor asks us to cycle in and out of different seated and standing positions. Let me tell you, these are a bear, especially “transitions with sprints.” I always find these analogous to moving to a new place with little time to prepare or settle in, and physically they are awfully like a fiery place filled with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

8.  Things are done better with coffee. Not only is coffee wonderful in itself, but it helps me connect with God because it makes me far more alert in prayer. While some athletes refuse to drink it before a competition, it is actually a legal performance-enhancing drug and makes me fly up those imaginative hills in spin class.

9.  We are supported by a communion of saints. I tend to use the word “saint” pretty loosely. In addition to those recognized by the Church, people like Dorothy Day and Pedro Arrupe are saintly figures who can inspire, guide, and intercede for us. Perhaps the communion of pop singers that blast from the speakers during class could also analogously serve in a saintly role for spinners – even if some of their lyrics or personal lives may not always be so saintly.

10.  Going deeper requires that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I am a sweaty mess when exercising. (No, I’m serious – my old yoga instructor would joke with other Jesuits that she needed to put a moat of towels around my mat in order to protect the rest of the group from my sweat). Sometimes I find it particularly discouraging to look around the roomful of spinners and not see a drop of perspiration from anyone else. “I look ridiculous,” I think to myself. Still, looking ridiculous is at least a sign that I’m getting a great workout. Being honest with oneself and God and not running away – even from the sweaty messes of our lives – is likewise essential in the spiritual life. This is especially true because I can only pray as I am, not as I want to be or what others expect me to be.

11.  The first step is the most difficult. Some mornings, it can take a lot of willpower to get out of my bed and make the trek across campus to the gym, just as it can be difficult to put everything aside and “waste time” with God when I’m tired, my bed is warm, and I have a million other things to do. But both spin and prayer nourish me; they challenge me in ways I need to be challenged. They can also be deeply enjoyable. It may take a lot of effort to get to the bike and give that first push to the pedal, but, like prayer, once I’m there it flows.

Read full post here.

—  Michael Rossmann, SJ

The Difference …

A man was given a tour of both Heaven and Hell, so he could intelligently select his final destination. The Devil was given first chance, so he started the “prospect” with a tour of Hell. The first glance was a surprising one because all occupants were seated at a banquet table loaded with every food imaginable, including meat from every corner of the globe, fruits and vegetables and every delicacy known to man. With justification, the Devil pointed out that no one could ask for more.

However, when the man looked carefully at the people he did not find a single smile. He heard no music nor did he see any indication of the gaiety generally associated with such a feast. The people at the table looked dull and listless and were literally skin and bones. The tourist noticed that each person had a fork strapped to the left arm and a knife strapped to the right arm. Each had a four foot handle which made it impossible to eat. So, with food of every kind at their fingertips, they were starving.

Next stop was Heaven, where the tourist saw a scene identical in every respect – same foods, knives and forks with those four-foot handles. However, the inhabitants of Heaven were laughing, singing, and having a great time. They were well fed and in excellent health. The tourist was puzzled for a moment. He wondered how conditions could be so similar and yet produce such different results. The people in Hell were starving and miserable, while the people in heaven were well-fed and happy. Then, he saw the reason. Each person in Hell had been trying to feed himself. A knife and fork with a four-foot handle made this impossible. Each person in Heaven was feeding the one across the table from him and was being fed by the one sitting on the opposite side. By helping one another, they helped themselves.

— Zig Zigler from “See You at the Top”, Pelican Publishing.