Retreating

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National Shrine of Saint Thérèse, Juneau, AK

In May of 2019 I was invited to Juneau, Alaska to lead a retreat. Honestly, what a gift – I got so much out of it myself. Ministry and pastoral work is like that though.

I am *not* going there, but I am headed off for a few days of retreat-like time with a friend. My prayer is that the time will offer us gifts of community and faith, quiet and conversation, conversion and transformation.

When I used the word conversion to someone recently, they said “but you are already Catholic.” I’m not sure what you think, but honestly, I think we all need to be converted each and every day. God invites us to stretch and bend, and sometimes even break, but God is always there to gather us back in and together – full stop.

Be assured I will pray for the intentions of anyone who reads this blog. I’m really glad I started up again, and I pray that I keep at it. Thank you all for being there on the journey with me – I am so grateful.

See you next week! Peace to all.

Prayer reflection

Over the past 8 years, I have had the privilege of writing a number of scriptural reflections for Give Us This Day from Liturgical Press. Recently I was given the opportunity to write about a prayer. With the permission of the publication, I share it with you here. If you don’t subscribe, I urge you to consider doing so, not because of my contributions, but the devotional is simply rich and beautiful to spend time with.

August 2022

Devotional Prayer Reflection

Prayer for God’s Blessing

Bless all who worship you, almighty God,

from the rising of the sun to its setting:

from your goodness enrich us,

by your love inspire us,

by your Spirit guide us,

by your power protect us,

in your mercy receive us,

now and always.

—Ancient Collect

Often referred to colloquially as the “opening prayer,” the Collect serves to gather people and intentions to prayer, invit­ing us to a deeper place in God. While a Collect may seem like a door to pass through quickly so as to get to the “important” parts of the liturgy, the prayer should help us to slow down, to pause, to listen to with the ear of our heart.

Such is the case with this ancient collect, a prayer that orients us to our unity. Beginning with the blessing of all who worship God, ideas of exclusivity are immediately dispelled. With many different ideas about what prayer or worship should be, or about who is welcome or not, this establishes that we are called to be one.

As in ancient times, ideological divisions tamper with the integrity of families and faith communities, not to mention the Church universal. Fault lines erupt across the landscape of our lives, tearing once-solid ground apart, opening chasms difficult to bridge. How can we respond?

This prayer gives us clear instruction by reminding us that it is God’s goodness alone that enriches us. It might seem that we are hardwired by our culture to think we can “make” ourselves good, but nothing happens without God. We may long for God to fix this or change that, but should we approach God with a list of demands? How often do we, instead, simply ask God to enrich us with goodness?

Along with goodness, inspiration can seem in short supply today, but this prayer invites God’s love to inspire us. God’s love animates each of us, but only if we allow it. The Holy Spirit—that is where guidance comes from, that hand of God leading us to where we need to be.

As the prayer concludes, it establishes that God’s power alone protects us and that mercy will receive us. It is a total embrace of us by God, as individuals and as a common body called to worship God alone.

Suddenly this short prayer, one that might be easy to miss, encourages us to open wide, day and night, and welcome God. In doing so, we respond to the call to welcome one another with goodness, love, guidance, protection, and mercy—in God’s name, now and always.

            Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn is a writer exploring the intersection of faith and daily life. She is a contributor to the Homilists for the Homeless project and blogs at “There Will Be Bread” at breadhere.wordpress.com.

[CREDIT]   Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, “Prayer for God’s Blessing,” from the August 2022 issue of Give Us This Day, www.giveusthisday.org (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2022). Used with permission.

Things I am pondering…

Wisdom House, Litchfield CT July 2014

Today I am wondering about how compartmentalizing our spiritual life keeps us from God. Many of us seem to think that the place to pray is Church, perhaps at mass. I’ve heard the remark that mass is “my time with God.” While I do understand that, and have thought it myself, I have to wonder how this harms our spiritual growth and well-being.

This is not to say that mass is not time with God, but it is time with God in community. For me, I see it as a rather large, raucous, dinner party with Jesus. I love time alone with God, but mass is not where I expect it.

This is not meant to be a post delineating liturgical elements and ecclesiology. Maybe we will do that another day, but today I am pondering the nearly invisible but resilient fabric of integrated spiritual life. It is something I long for, gratefully something I glimpse, but it can appear to be elusive.

This got me wondering about how I compartmentalize, without fully understanding the utterly shocking reality of Christ in the most mundane and often annoying moments of life. Doing the grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, dealing with a difficult person, and so forth. How many times am I sitting in a meeting as a sense of growing testiness rises up within me because I am impatient, thinking to myself “I can’t wait to go on retreat.”

If I cannot experience the presence of God in all moments and all things, how can I expect to find God at a monastery or retreat house?

Of course retreats, mass, spiritual direction, and other such pursuits are important. However, today I am hoping to smooth out the ridges that keep me from traversing the ordinary and the holy in one journey. Maybe my need for this day is to experience the “Quiet Area” that is deep within my heart, rather than seeking it as part of something external.

What is your quiet area? The one in your heart and the one outside. How can any of us stitch the interior and exterior together with the thread of God in our very being into a quilt of holy integration?

This will be my prayer today. Will you join me?

Deacons Pod and other things Paulist

When I first heard about the new podcast from the Paulist Fathers, Deacons Pod, I was intrigued. After all, here at the intersection of faith and life (blog subtitle), I see all kinds of things where people are coming or going. Or just confused, frustrated, or whatever. That’s why I loved finding these words on their landing page.


Deacons Pod is a podcast for everyone. But, it’s especially created to inspire and give hope to people on the “threshold of faith”: Those who are thinking about going to Church and those who are thinking about leaving Church.


Imagine my surprise when I was invited to be interviewed by them! I was to follow in the footsteps of great Catholic minds that I follow and respect, Kaya Oakes and Fr. Stuart Wilson Smith, CSP. I suggest listening to these episodes in order – because the first two are my favorites so far! Me, I always feel weird hearing my own voice.

The three deacons, Deacon Dennis Dolan, Deacon Drew Dickson, and Deacon Tom Casey are great guys, and they sure know how to do an interview and set the interviewee at ease! I’m looking forward to future podcasts and interesting interviews from them! They are off to a great start, and I thank them for including me.

I happen to love the Paulists and there is a lot of Paulist related stuff going on. Next up is this outstanding video about the work of Paulist Father Larry Rice, CSP
and the Catholic Community of Christ Sun of Justice, not far from here. Fr. Larry has been here for one year and is creating such vibrant community after the Covid shutdown and lack of activity. What a blessing for students, faculty, and Catholics who worship there. The video gives you a sense of what it is like and it is so well done!

That’s the good Paulist campus ministry news, but on Sunday, July 31, 2022, some very sad Paulist campus ministry news happened… The St. Thomas More Newman Center at Ohio State University in Columbus celebrated its final liturgy as a Paulist ministry after about 70 years. The new bishop of Columbus apparently suddenly decided that the diocese should run the Newman Center. A blog from a group of concerned parishioners (not from the Paulists themselves) can give you more information. Here is the link. Please pray for everyone involved in this situation, especially Fr. Vinny McKiernan who recently celebrated 65 years as a Paulist Father, and having served at OSU for 33 years.

Servant of God Isaac Hecker was the founder of the Paulists, the first American order. You can learn more about him here. He was a forward thinker and a vibrant evangelist who came to the Catholic faith later in life. Lest we despair about anything, I want to leave this post with a few of his words. Hecker was full of the Spirit and full of hope, he imagined “a future for the Church brighter than any past.” May we too always orient ourselves with such faith and hope!

Allowed in

This morning I came across the words of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, also known as the Kotzker Rebbe. You can learn more about who he was here. When asked where God could be found, he replied, “Wherever He is allowed in.” You can find this and more of his wisdom at this link.

If you look at the graphic at the top you may read it as GOD IS NOWHERE.

Or you may see it and understand it as GOD IS NOW HERE.

What a reminder that God is where God is allowed in. We might believe that we always allow God in, but it is worth examining how we might do quite the opposite.

Where is God in your life today? Nowhere? Or now here? God is all powerful, but the choices here are given to us by God. What a risk on God’s part, vulnerable, and also hopeful.

Today when each of us wonders in prayer about where God is, perhaps we can pray with this notion, that God is turns out to be where we allow. What will you choose today?

A reminder about kindness

This photo from one of our visits to Tucson (we go once or twice a year) reminded me that I wanted to say something about the power of kindness.

Kindness is absolutely free and can be shared widely. The older I get, the more I am reminded that kindness is an essential element of community. I’m not talking about sappy happy clappy faux happiness, but simply about kindness. Holding a door, complimenting someone, letting that car in ahead of you – even when you don’t want to.

The first time I experienced pay it backward/forward kindness was at Dunkin’. After ordering my coffee, I got to the window and was informed that the person in front of me paid for my coffee! This filled me with joy and prompted me to do the same for the person behind me. I hope that it carried on for awhile at that busy place.

Anyway, no super deep thoughts today, just the reminder that the smallest kindness that we might show another may just make a huge difference in their world. And the smallest kindness shown to us, can do precisely the same.

Looking for some kind-spiration? Check out the Ben’s Bells page!

Silence, stillness, solitude

This week I listened to an exception episode of an outstanding podcast. If you have never listened to “Encountering Silence,” I cannot recommend it enough. Hosts Cassidy, Kevin, and Carl spoke with that font of spiritual wisdom, Joyce Rupp. This is an episode I am sure I will listen to again, and I have already recommended it to several friends.

Labyrinth, National Shrine of St Therese, Juneau, AK – a place of exceptional silence and grace.

One of the things that most struck me was when Sr. Joyce spoke about silence and stillness. She was talking about how silence is one thing, but stillness is something else entirely. This is one of those things that I not given much thought to, so it made me stop and reflect.

Silence is a necessity to me. By nature, I am a kind of noisy person, but my nature also means having adequate amounts of silence in my day. My mornings are spent in silence as I awaken first and sit quietly, reading, praying, writing, thinking. You may notice a clear lack of stillness in that mix – more on that in a minute. If I do not get that quiet time, my day is simply off. People wonder why I wake up so early, but it is as necessary as a medication is for a chronic condition. Without it, I would not find the solitude that I require to be present in life.

My woods, my outdoor monastery.

I also like to walk, and while I used to always walk and listen to a podcast, I now generally walk in silence. After a hectic day at work, being in the forest, listening to the breeze in the trees, the birds singing, the movement of woodland creatures under the brush is all a healing balm to me. This is a kind of silence, but once again, not necessarily stillness.

Listening to the podcast reminded me that I might want to incorporate periods of stillness into my silence. I’m wondering what you all might think about this topic. Do you pursue intentional silence? Is stillness a practice in your life? What contemplative paths do you follow? I’m curious to see if we can find some conversation about this – even though the topic is silence. After all, know more about how we each live our silence might help us all.

Camino, beginnings, endings, ongoing…

The Camino de Santiago was pretty quiet during Covid, just like everything else. This year, several of my friends have made the pilgrimage and it reawakened my own memories – and reminded me of the on-going gifts of the journey.

It was so interesting for me to see people posting photos and reflections – almost simultaneously, they were about a day or two apart from one another – of pathways I had trod six years earlier. Although many of my friends went after I did, I don’t recall feeling as passionately as I did this year. Not sure what that’s about, but I’ll stick with reawakening.

Some whereon the camino.

So much time and effort went into preparing for pilgrimage. Physically preparing myself to walk 500 miles, practically preparing in various ways from travel plans to what to bring. With so many books, films, websites, and more, there is almost too much information about how to “do” the Camino. Of course, the minute one sets foot on the path in St. Jean Pied de Port, the preparing and the doing becomes something else – it is about fully being. You can kind of prepare for that, but honestly – the Holy Spirit is pretty clear about making stuff very real at that point.

In any case, I have relived many of my memories, and I am drawn more deeply into what I am called to do as a result of my journey. That’s the thing about the Camino, it never really ends. Once you go, nothing in your life is the same after it, and one must open to what comes next.

If you think you have to go go France and Spain, or anywhere for that matter, to “get” to this, I offer you perhaps the most important element of Camino… While being outside of your normal circumstances is a big game changer, and one I highly recommend, it does not have to be afar. Immediately I think of the 2016 film, Phil’s Camino. It was made by the indomitable Annie O’Neill, about someone perhaps even more indomitable, Phil Volker, now of blessed memory. Having Stage 4 cancer, Phil could not leave Vashon Island, Washington, so he made his camino right where he was. Fate intervened and he did end up in Spain and in many other places, but the point is, he made his camino where he was. (Note: Annie became my hero when I saw her in Six Ways to Santiago, another wonderful documentary film. That I get to know and interact with her online is a gift.)

That is where any transformational journey will begin. You don’t need to go anywhere special or buy anything particular, but an open heart, a willing heart, and a mind to match are helpful. If you lack those things as I did, the old fake it until you make it rule can apply. Resistance can, like an ugly old bulb thrown in the ground to freeze in the dark of winter, can become a most beautiful flower. So push on, because if you cannot do it in place, going to Spain ain’t gonna help!

The camino is an ongoing journey within. If you are fortunate enough to go, as I was, go. If you can go on any kind of life-changing pilgrimage, go. Whether it is in your backyard, at a retreat house, in the labyrinth at your parish or somewhere local, or just in your heart – begin. The first steps are the toughest.

And know this – once you set forth you can count on one thing for certain, the journey is never ending, infinite and full of all the grace and glory that we are willing to accept. Six years on, I am opening up to a new level of this. Let’s pray for one another that we begin and that we keep on going.

Leap!

It has been a very long time since I posted anything, but I’m still here. For some reason I am reminded of the maxim, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

Dawn in Orisson, France, September 19, 2016.

So no, I’m not planning on going anywhere, but I’m praying with the notion of what a leap might look like. What parts of my life, both practical and spiritual, might need changing up?

I’m not sure, but I am trying to listen deeply and then act in faith. It is hard to believe that 6 years ago at this time I was preparing for my Camino Santiago. Talk about a leap! With the help of God and so many others, it happened.

A poem is also on my mind, so I will share that here as well. Just in case any of us, like me, need to be reminded.

“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”

― Guillaume Apollinaire

Incarnation – Human like us, God with us

Christmas is one week away. Earlier in Advent, I offered a reflection during Evening Prayer at my parish, but never posted the text. That said, I have been praying with it, and today I feel deeply struck by the notion that our God became human. Human in the form of an infant, born of a woman. This is something I have often pondered and prayed with, but for some reason, this year it is very powerful. With that, I will share what I spoke about to our group of “evening pray-ers” during that first week of Advent. I pray that whatever you await in the birth of Christ this year, your heart opens to it widely.

Roman sarcophagus, Vatican Museum, 3rd. century – The Magi with Mary and Jesus. The inscription says “Severa, you shall live in God.”
(Severa is apparently the one originally interred there.)

In 1960, John Howard Griffin undertook a journey as a white man in the American south, as both a journalist and as a person in search of the roots of racism in America.

With the support of his wife, he began a medical regime that included ultraviolet lamps and medication. One day Griffin looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of a black man. Shocked, but determined, he continued to press on.

Knowing that the only way to truly see what life was like for African Americans in the South, he literally begins to live as one. His experiences not only confirm his thoughts, but reveal a much more dire landscape of hatred, bigotry, and prejudice aimed at people of color.

Over time – a short period of time at that – he begins to feel a sense of defeat and depression. And his understanding of “the other” in the world is deepened. His desire to heal and reconcile the disparity between races, to restore dignity and unity to all humans drove him ever onward.

Eventually violent acts are made in response to his public experiment. Threats emerge against him and his family so the point that their safety is no longer assured. Things escalate, and in the end, he flees to Mexico with his family to escape the hatred aimed at him for revealing the ugly truth about race in America.

If this story sounds familiar to you it might be because you either read the book published in 1961, or saw the 1964 film, “Black Like Me.” I remember learning about it in school. (Also see: Black Like Me, 50 Years Later and Reading John Howard Griffin’s Challenging ‘Black Like Me.‘)

The author sought to enter a very different life than the one he knew, if for no other reason to enter the identity and suffering of another. He did not have to do this – he discerned and chose to do so. It is an interesting choice and one that brings to mind the season we now occupy – Advent.

There was no compelling imperative for God to take human form. Think about it, God is God and can do whatever God wishes. Not only did God not have to take human form, but God did not have to do so as a helpless newborn. Or even simply in the womb. Think about it – it is mind blowing.

Yet that is what we await in Advent, this God-with-us-Emmanuel.

What are we to make of this? How do we deepen our faith in this totally unprecedented (despite it occurring year after year) moment?

In the book, Griffin becomes the lowliest of people – using the deeply horrific standards of his – well, our’s actually, society and culture. Essentially, that is what God does, being born to Joseph and Mary. There are many lessons for us here.

The first seems to be that we are invited to literally slip into the skin of another, another who is in a lower station of life. God slips into humanity – base as it is, and becomes one with us. God understands our daily life, our joys and our sorrows, our losses and our triumphs, more than ever by being like one of us.  Just as Griffin did with Black Americans.

Perhaps the first lesson of this is to enter the lives of other in a way that allows God to transform us. The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we heard tonight reinforces this kind of change. It says, that they “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…: That is very powerful imagery – the tools of war literally reshaped into tools of peace and good.

For us this might be a reminder that even the toughest metal can be reshaped from being a weapon of destruction and death into tool of cultivating peace and life.

Can we beat the swords of our hearts into peace by simply taking on the life of another?

God sent us Jesus in human form to show us the way, to help us to be so open to the “other” that we can be the other. And it is only in that way that true mercy and love might grow.


Second, God wants us to stop walking around living in a state of perpetual judgement, a condition I sadly know too well, but to be people with hearts that can be open with compassion for others. Especially those least like us and who seem to be the furthest from our lives. Because is that not the role of incarnation? The Christ as human in the flesh?

If we can truly walk around as the other, we begin to experience such a different way of being, such a different life. God did not start out with our petty preferences and prejudices, but God seemingly related to us in a new way because of the birth of Christ. What might we learn from doing the same?

Third, it would seem to me that to be fully loved and transformed by God, we have to make ourselves really, really small. That may be the hardest part of all, accepting that we are completely vulnerable and as helpless as a baby. No gun, no sword, no color of our own skin can change that. What we can can is this – how we experience incarnation this Christmas. Can each of us depend on God as if we are an infant? And can others depend upon us, not as God, but as those ready to love and serve them?

To do so will be to further the Kingdom, the Kingdom reborn and reborn, this Christmas and always. We have this Advent season to pray with this, to surrender, and to act. May we all use our times wisely this year.