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Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives (part two)

Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives (Part Two)

I first encountered the idea of Centering Prayer when I went to the Cistercian monastery, Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, nestled against the Shenandoah River and the West side of the first mountain on the Blue Ridge Parkway to make a retreat with the Abbot—Cistercian Father Dom Edward McCorkell, in 1983.

I was living in Washington, D.C. at the time. Many of you, my readers, have heard me speak of Father Edward and Holy Cross Abbey before in this blog, but in this in another blog to follow I want to share with you how Centering Prayer can enrich your life, and help to “center” you in God’s presence.  Centering Prayer has been at the root of my contemplative life.

When I went to see Father Edward the first time I didn’t know what he was talking about! And it took me quite a while to learn because (as many of you know—and to the consternation of some) I have had issues with bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, and in those days I couldn’t sit still, so sitting for twenty minutes of silent prayer twice a day was quite a challenge indeed! But eventually I got the hang of it, learned to love it, and eventually I began to notice it working changes in my life.

Cistercian Father Thomas Keating, whom I quoted in my last blog, created an international organization to sustain the work of Centering Prayer called Contemplative Outreach.org. They send out little cards the size of a credit card that offer the Rules for Centering Prayer.

The one in my hand says on one side: “Allowing, Accepting Unconditional Love.” And on the other has four simple rules:

Centering Prayer

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.

  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and introduce the sacred word.

  3. When engaged with thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.

  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

It’s so simple; and like all things new such as dieting or starting an exercise program, the important part is one’s motivation; I have to ask do I want to do it? And do I have a sense of what I’m headed for?

Virtually every spiritual tradition has a sense of transformation or awakening and demands intentional silence as essential. Be it meditation of the Buddhist, the Sufis, mystical Judaism, or the contemplative prayer of Christians, there’s a common affirmation that the practice of regular silence is necessary.

But what is this “Transformation” or “Awakening”? Some New Age stuff? Hardly. Let the Gospels speak!

“You must be born again from above.” (John 3:)

“ Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ear dies, it remains just a single grain but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

“For whosoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will find it,”  (Matthew: 24-25)

Christianity is surely most interested in the total transformation of the human person.

The Method of Centering Prayer

Father Keating has developed a kind of cult around him with lots of humorous stories. He is said to have described the process of Centering Prayer as “taking a vacation from yourself.” All meditative practices actually intend to do that.

There are basically three kinds of practices: concentrative methods, awareness methods and surrender methods. Centering Prayer belongs to the last (and least common) category.

Concentrative methods, which are probably the most common, rely on attention in which the mind is given a simple task to focus on, mostly commonly a mantra, a sacred word repeated over and over.

Awareness methods are favored in Buddhist practice in which one aligns oneself with an inner observer and watches the play of energy as thoughts and emotions take form.

A surrender method is simpler. When a thought emerges into consciousness or takes form, one simply lets it go. Thomas Keating likes to denote this as a prayer “not of attention, not of intention.

So, our intention is to be totally open to God. Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest whose book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, has assisted me in deepening my grasp of nuances of Centering Prayer says.

“Totally available, all the way down to the innermost point of your being, deeper than your feelings, deeper than your memories and your desires, deeper than your usual psychological self—even deeper than your presence! For even what will go on in this prayer is ‘in secret’ (the word in Matthew 6:6 that Jesus uses in his instructions on prayer: deeper than even your conscious mind and even your most bedrock sense of “I am here.” Hidden even from yourself, in that innermost sanctuary of your being—where, in the words of that most beloved monastic formula, your life is “hidden with Christ in God.”                         p.22. 

In our intention it’s not possible to make ourselves empty or still. As soon as we focus on doing so, we’ll get a stream of thoughts about what to fix for dinner or what I forgot to put on our grocery list or what I was so mad about my husband or . . . All this is perfectly normal. All you have to do in Centering Prayer is: If you catch yourself thinking, you let the thought go.

Bourgeault: “If you find yourself tangled up in with a thought—no matter what kind of thought—you simply, gently let the thought go. You release it, thus bringing yourself back into alignment with your original intention, which was to maintain that bare, formless openness to God.”

Father Keating has a story about a nun who was frustrated on her first twenty-minute taste of Centering Prayer, lamenting, “Oh, Father Thomas, I’m such a failure at this prayer, In twenty minutes, I’ve had ten thousand thoughts.

“How, lovely, the Abbot responded, without missing a beat, ten thousand opportunities to return to God!”

Cynthia suggests that this simple story captures the essence of Centering Prayer in that it focuses on our intention to return to be open to God.

Years ago, I would rise early in the morning and have very fruitful sessions of prayer and then I fell out of practice for a number of years. I just returned to practice after a weekend retreat with Father Bill Sheehan, OMI (I’ll introduce you to him in my next and final blog on this subject.) And at present, the thoughts just keep coming, so I just have to stay with the sacred word. But Cynthia suggests, “even in those turbulent periods of prayer, when it seems like one thought after another, there are in fact tiny microscopic pauses when the thought drops out and the sacred word also drops out. These moments don’t last long, typically, but no one ever said that the Divine needed a lot of time to touch our innermost being.” Her words have been a consolation to me in my present somewhat meager practice.

She also consoles, “Whatever your mind serves you up is just fine.” And Father Keating has said the only thing you can do wrong is to get up and walk out.  Father Keating emphasizes, even if you feel your efforts are unsuccessful, realize what it means to “consent to the presence and action of God within us” in whatever form it comes. The power of the prayer is in the consent.

The Sacred Word.

It’s a word you choose yourself. It could be a religious word, such as Jesus / Father, Abba / Kyrie / Come, Lord. Or it could be a word that describes a spiritual attitude, such as, open / still / be here / listen / let go.

Ms. Bourgeault, indicates that it’s easiest to describe what the sacred word is not.

First, it’s not a mantra; you don’t repeat it constantly. You only use it when you notice a thought arising.

Second, a sacred word is not a “special” word. It doesn’t sum up the height and depth of your love for God. It’s just a “place-holder, the finger-pointing to the moon of your intention.” It should be as simple and as emotionally neutral as possible.

Third, the sacred word is not a thought-suppressing word, or “a baseball bat to put down thoughts or replace them with itself.”

Time is what makes gradually makes the sacred word sacred. Over time, it will lodge itself in your unconscious and then start to work its magic.

It’ll pop up spontaneously when you start thinking. And after a while, you’ll notice it emerging in the middle of your life in stressful situations—in a traffic jam, or otherwise ungrounded in an argument at home. Therefore, think about your sacred as a long-time commitment; it will surprise you how helpful it will be for you.

And now my prayer for you . . . .

Dear God, After all these years

I finally realize how deeply you love me.

And I want so much for others to know

how much you love them too. 

Help them to come to you in the silence of their hearts.

To know how deeply they also are loved. 

And now, before you go, here’s a great song for you on this theme. Click here. 

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

 

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Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives

Centering Prayer and the Importance of Silence in our Lives

Most of us learned that Prayer is talking to God. Right? And so we babble on in our prayers and list all our needs, or say a rosary, or read Scripture—all certainly worthy methods of prayer, of course.

But how many of us really learned to listen to God in our prayer? That requires silence. And many of us are afraid of silence because we may not like what’s running around in our head.

However, true silence can be acquired. “Silence is God’s first language,” according the sixteenth century mystic Saint John of the Cross. When one enters into silence, that person, sooner or later comes into—and experiences the loving presence of God. To help facilitate the process and habit of entering into this kind of silence is what Centering Prayer is all about

If you permit me a little fun with you, perhaps you’ve noticed that I sign off on my writings by saying “contemplative writer.” When you say that word, by the way, it’s contemplative, not con-tem-play-tive. (Pronouncing it correctly will place you in the company of those who—ahem­—know something about this stuff!

So, first, what is Contemplation?

We’ll let Cistercian monk Thomas Merton who was a monk of the Abbey of the Gethesemani in Bardstown, Kentucky tantalize you with his description of what contemplation is . . .

Contemplation is the highest expression of our intellectual and spiritual life. It

is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual

wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for

life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being

in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source.

Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows that

source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason

and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both

reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always

remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision, because it sees ‘without seeing’

and knows ‘without knowing’. It is more profound depth of faith, knowledge too

deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be

suggested by works, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it

know the contemplative mind takes back what it has said and denies what is has

affirmed. For in contemplation we know by ‘unknowing’. Or, better, we know

beyond all-knowing or ‘unknowing’.

 

Poetry, music and art have something in common with the contemplative

experience. But contemplation is beyond aesthetic intuition, beyond art, beyond

poetry. Indeed, it is also beyond philosophy, beyond speculative theology It

resumes, transcends and fulfils them all, and yet at the same time it seems, in a

certain way, top supersede and to deny them all. Contemplation is always beyond

our own knowledge, beyond our own light, beyond dialogue, beyond our own self.

 

In other words, then, contemplation reaches out to the knowledge and even

to the experience of the transcendent and inexpressible God. It knows God by

seeming to touch him. Or rather it knows him as if it had been invisibly touched by

him….Touched by him who has no hands, but who is pure reality and the source of

all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to

the real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite being at the roots of our

own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present

from God, as a free gift of love. This is the existential contact of which we speak

when we use the metaphor of being ‘touched by God.’

             (From New Seeds of Contemplation / Burnes & Oates / 1999)

Well, Centering Prayer is not Contemplation itself, but is leading toward it. Contemplation—entering the presence of the holy—is what Centering prayer is designed to assist us with.

The rules for Centering prayer fit on a card the size of your credit card. They’re sent out by an organization called Contemplative Outreach.org, founded by another Cistercian Abbot Father Thomas Keating—who is really the founder of the Centering Prayer movement and long-time Abbot at Snowmass Abbey in Colorado. (We’ll get to those rules in our next blog.)

But first, in a brief article he gives a short Theological background for Centering Prayer.

The grace of Pentecost affirms that the risen Jesus is among us as the glorified Christ. Christ. Christ lives in each of us as the Enlightened One, present everywhere and at all times. He is the living Master who continuously sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to bear witness to his resurrection by empowering us to experience and manifest the fruits of the Spirit and the Beatitudes both in prayer and in action.

Lectio Divina (Reflective reading of Sacred Scripture) is the most traditional way of cultivating friendship with Christ. It is a way of listening to the texts of scripture as if in conversation with Christ and he were suggesting topics of conversation. The daily encounter with Christ and reflection on his word leads beyond mere acquaintanceship to an attitude of friendship, trust and love. Conversation simplifies and gives way to communing, or as (Pope St.) Gregory the Great of the 6th century, summarizing the Christian contemplative tradition, put it, “resting in God.” This was the classical meaning of contemplative prayer for the first sixteen centuries.

Contemplative Prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism and the regular practice of Lectio Divina. We may think of prayer as thought or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union. The Method of Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of contemplative prayer by preparing our faculties to cooperate with this gift. It is an attempt to present the teaching of an earlier time (e.g., The Cloud of Unknowing) in an updated form and to put a certain order and regularity into it. It is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer; it simply puts other kinds of prayer into a fuller perspective. During the time of prayer we consent to God’s presence and action within. At other times our attention moves outward to discover God’s presence everywhere.

In saying that contemplative prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism, Father Keating is negating those who say that contemplation only belongs to those in the Contemplative Orders like the Cistercians or the Carmelites. His Contemplative Outreach movement that has crossed the globe and many religious traditions is quite revolutionary stuff!

In our next blog, we’ll look at how the process of a Centering Prayer session fits together. How ‘bout dat?

Now, before you go, here’s a contemplative hymn for you, Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Click Here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman,

Contemplative Writer

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day! True love is faithful love ~ How do you measure up?

Flagler Beach Florida sunrise / bob traupman.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, EVERYONE!

We’ve been reflecting on St. Paul’s eloquent words about love from I Cor. 13. And this is my final post on the subject.

Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,it does not seek its own interests,                                                                        it is not quick-tempered,                                                                                                                                                                   it does not brood over injury,                                                                                                                                                           it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

Romantic love wears off in a few months.  True love requires fidelity.  I often remember people I met briefly twenty or thirty years ago and there is still a place in my heart for them, even those who turned out to reject me.  And when I think of them I believe my prayer is able to touch them now, either living or dead and let them know I still love them.

We think we know all about love. Yet Love is  an Art and a Discipline that is only learned and acquired by trial and error.  Thus, we have to learn how to love.  Or perhaps unlearn what we have learned in abusive homes  or families and find people who can teach us well.  I am profoundly grateful for the people who allowed my soul to unfold and blossom because of their love.

When I taught high school seniors (49 years ago!) I had them read two books,  Erich Fromm’s Art of Loving and Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Both books still should be required reading by anyone who wants to become a whole and healed human person.

Many of us keep focusing on finding the right object of our love.  Fromm — and Jesus — tell us that being a person who is capable of loving the stranger in the checkout line at the 7-11 or your sibling whose guts you can’t stand is the way we will learn to love.

Love is being free to love the one you’re with so you can be with the one you love.

It is just not possible to love some and hate others.  St. John says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” (1 John 3:15)

Love is being able to see and respond to the loving energy of the universe and spread it around instead of trying to possess it for oneself.

Love is faithfully loving whomever God puts in our life at every turn of our life’s journey. A hard task sometimes. I know.

How often we fail.  But that’s what growth in love and Christian spirituality is all about. Sometimes it requires a heroic effort and sacrificial love ~ the love of Jesus, the Love of God for us.  And so here’s my final prayer for this Valentine’s Day . . . .

Good and gracious God,

We live in a world that gives us so few models of faithful love.

Help us to learn the art and discipline of loving.

Help us to understand that we cannot love one person ~ even ourselves ~ unless we let love ~ rather than hate ~ flow from our heart to touch and heal and nourish those around us.

Heal us, Lord.

Let us trust in You for you are the Source of all Love,

Your Love is flowing like a river giving life to everything along the way.

a river from our own hearts to everyone we meet this day. 

I also ask your blessing on all married couples and those engaged to be married.

It’s not easy to be faithful in this world today.

Pour out your abundant blessing upon them in all their struggles.

Renew their love and their joy this day and all the days of their lives.

Amen.

And now before you go, wouldn’t you like to hear a romantic melody for your beloved?  Well, here’s a very unique one: Cold Play’s True Love  Click here. 

With love

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Cor. 13)  Savor each line and see how you measure up. . . .

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains

but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast

but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous,

Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,

it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never fails.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three;

but the greatest of these is love.

     I Corinthians 13

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Jilted lovers or Joyous love?

   mesa verde national park of southern colorado / march 2008 / bob traupman. 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Our society finds it quite acceptable for people to hop into one relationship after another or just satisfy their needs by “hooking up”.

How many times have young people thought that this was the person of their dreams and been dumped by a rude text message ~ or done the dumping themselves?

How many marriages have ended when one spouse showed up in the kitchen and announced, “I want a divorce!”  No discussion.  No attempt to work out problems.  No mercy.  No forgiveness.   It’s over.  Done.

And what happens is that a person may add one unsuccessful relationship on top of another.  As a result, our heart can become more and more wounded. And less and less trusting, less and less capable of loving .  . . unless we somehow find a way to believe again, to hope again.

So, let’s take a deeper look at the truth and the transforming power of St. Paul’s words in I Cor. 13 we’re reflecting on in this series “What is Love?”

LOVE . . .

. . .  it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

 it  does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

it bears all things.

believes all things,

hopes all things.

endures all things.

Love never fails.

We just have to learn to love anyway! If we’re hurt, keep on loving!

At least, that’s what St. Paul is getting at “Love does not brood over injuries.”

In the Art of Loving, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s classic book written in 1956, consider his statement that will blow most of us out of the water:

“Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person:  it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole, not toward one “object” of love.  If a person loves only one person and is indifferent to the rest of his fellow men, his love is not love but a symbiotic attachment  or an enlarged egotism . . . If I truly love one person I love all persons, I love the world; I love life.  If I can say to somebody else, “I love you,” I must be able to say” I love in you everybody.   I love through you the world, I love in you also myself”~ p. 39.) 

(When I taught Seniors in high school, this little book was required reading, along with Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.)

This is, of course, the heart of Jesus’ message, but many, if not most of us who say we’re his followers still don’t get it.

 As tech opportunities for “communication” proliferate, the less we communicate.  We communicate more and more on a superficial level.  You can’t really know someone through texting, sexting or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or in an email.  A person can present a false persona. The only real way to communicate with someone is to be in their presence using all our senses.

We need to learn, once again how to come to true intimacy ~ the coming together of two or more persons who have the courage open themselves to the transformative power of love.

If you are one who seeks that, I’m with you.   That’s what my writing has always been about.

Our final blog of this series will turn this subject around to consider “The Transformative Power of Love.”

Good and gracious God,

we ask you to heal hearts that are broken.

Help us to see even in the midst of our brokenness the depth of Your Love for us.

Give us the courage and strength to stop destructive patterns that lead only to more pain.

We may take the risk to open our hearts once more.

Give us hope, Lord.

Instead of seeking to find our true love,

let us simply become persons who love —

. . . whomever we’re with,

. . . to grow in our capacity to love

so that we can reach out to the whole world

as You do at every moment,

in every time and place.

To You, God of our understanding,

we give You praise, now and forever.

AMEN!

Now I suggest you take a second look at that tree weathering the mountaintop at 8000 feet.  It has been jilted by the weather.  But it still stands noble and proud — broken, gnarled and twisted; it’s a fine lesson for us of the meaning of life.

And here is the entire text of St. Paul’s Ode to Love (I Corinthians 13) once again.   Savor each phrase and see how you measure up. . . .

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.   And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains  but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. Love is not pompous, it is not inflated,it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered,  does not brood over injury,it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.  So faith, hope love remain, these, but the greatest of these is love.  1 Corinthians 13

Now before you go, here’s a music video for you, Brandon Flowers “Jilted Lovers and Broken Hearts.” Click Here.

Erich Fromm Art of Loving / Harper and Row – 1956

With Love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

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St. Paul’s Ode to Love ~ How do we measure up?

 

Many of us are thinking of our Valentine’s these days — our lovers,  intend-eds, spouses, classmates, mothers and also spouses remembering their deceased loved ones.

Hallmark would encourage us to “send the very best.”   And marketeers would like to get their greedy fingers on our credit cards for this one-day holiday, wouldn’t they?

So let’s go a little deeper here. What is true love, really?

I’ve officiated at the marriages of many young couples who have chosen St. Paul’s Ode to Love for their wedding Mass.

It has got to be one of the most glorious pieces of prose of all time.

Take the time to take it in and see how you measure up.

. . . . If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,                  

I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;

if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient,

love is kind.

It is not jealous,

Love is not pompous,

it is not inflated,

it is not rude,

it does not seek its own interests,

it is not quick-tempered,

it does not brood over injury,

it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things.

Love never fails.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is Love.

~ I Corinthians 13 

Dearest God,

You are Love itself.

We give you thanks for the people in our lives who have loved-us-into-the-Persons-we-have-become.

We rejoice in them and remember them in love.

But so many of us are wounded because we’ve not experienced the parental love that would allow us to know how to love.

Help us take your apostle Paul’s words to heart that we may truly know the true meaning of love.

May we have a heart open to all persons, all of life, all of the universe.

To You Lord, be glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen!

Before  you go, take a moment to listen to Bette Midler’s “The Rose” Click here. It’s a song  I’ve always favored ~ one of my generation. I think it sets the tone for what I want to say here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen and have a great day!  It’s a song I’ve always attributed to Our Lady.

 I’ll be publishing two more Valentine’s blogs trying to unpack the meaning of St. Paul’s Ode to Love before Valentine’s Day.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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St. Paul: A Vessel of Love filled with fire ~ What fills You with fire?

January 25th, 2019 ~ The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

Paul was an amazing man. He was small of stature; he refused to depend on charity–thus, he worked as a tentmaker wherever he went.  After he was severely beaten, he was in constant pain, but went on and on and on, because, as I tried to learn from him . . . .

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

~ Philippians 4:13

Paul before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, and as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles he says, “I persecuted this Way (i.e. Christians) to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.” And then he tells the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus, that a great light blinded him and he heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (You can read the rest of the story in Acts 22: 1:16.) Or the alternative version given in the Mass readings below (Acts 9:1-22).

But what is conversion? Being convertedis simply meeting yourself for the purpose of going to the end of your being. (Conversion means to see the truth of things and conform one’s conduct to it.) In the voice and the light that Saul’s encounter on the road, he sees the truth of things (from his past persecution of Christians) and willingly conforms himself to Jesus Christ. It is clear that Paul clearly fled from himself and cast out his own will, and that his will was active only in relation to Christ. Since with Christ there was nothing undesirable or repugnant to his will, it follow that his was a wondrous pleasure which was always present and with which he always lived. (from the introductory notes in the Magnificat liturgical magazine for today’s feast, January 2019 edition p. 353.)

I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in the early church also says about Paul in the divine office for today . . . .

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists and in what virtue this particular animal is capable.  Each day he aimed even higher; each day he rose up with even greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him.  He summed up his attitude in his words: “I forget what lies behind me and I push on to what lies ahead.”  (There’s a lesson for us here, isn’t there?)

I never paid much attention to Paul until my later years.  And suddenly, I fell in love with him; thus, I’m writing this blog in his honor, despite the passages that show his Hebraic attitudes toward women and the misuse of his words about gay people. Here’s the reason . . . .

Chrysostom goes on to say that the most important point of all is . . . .

St. Paul knew himself to be loved by Christ.  Enjoying this love, he considers himself happier than anyone else . . . . He preferred to be thus loved and yet the least of all, or even among the damned, than to be without that love than be among the great and honored.  So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, the present and the future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet. (Another lesson for us?)

A few years ago, a priest-friend sent me a Christmas card with a favorite quote from St. Paul on the cover that I framed and still sits on my dining room table that I often glance at.  As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive illness it means a great deal to me . . . .

My grace is sufficient for you,

for in weakness power reaches perfection.”  

And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead,

that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  

For when I am powerless, it is then I am strong.  

              (2 Cor. 12:9-10)  

You see, Paul has helped me love my Lord ~ or rather to realize in tears of joy that Jesus loves me deeply and richly ~ as I am, weak and sinful.  He has raised me up and heals me, granting me the wonderful grace to share his love as best I can at the tip of my cursor ~ if in no other way.

And so, dear friends, know that you, too, are loved, whether you know it or not.  Our God is love!  Know that–despite whatever else you’ve been taught, despite how guilty you may feel or how unworthy you think you are.  YOU ARE LOVED!  THIS IS A MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE!

We’ll let St. Catherine of Siena have the last word that really grabbed me, “That dear preacher Paul . . . was a wolf but became a lamb, a gracious vessel of love and with fire which Christ filled his vessel he carried through the whole world!   What you have received, give.

And now, before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the Prayer of their Founder, “Take, Lord, and Receive.”  It’s a beautiful prayer and a beautiful song. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen for the slide show that accompanies it.

And here are all of today’s mass readings for today’s Feast, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

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Day of prayer for the legal protection for unborn children

 Today is the forty-fifth anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Let’s stand down, stop the condemning and judging and seek light and understanding, forgiveness and wholeness, kindness and compassion for the young in desperate situations who have no one to turn to and who may themselves be abandoned.

We live in a world that will not recognize the inviolateness and sacredness of every person on this planet.

My sense is that the sin of those who are quick to condemn others is as great as those who bring violence and bloodshed into their very own bodies.

We ALL have much for which to ask forgiveness.  We ALL need to ask God to increase our capacity to love and turn away from condemnation.

The ones Jesus loves the most are the lost sheep of this world.  He would reach out to those who have had abortions!

The enemies of Jesus are those who justify themselves, the self-righteous, the hypocrites, the ones who know nothing of compassion, those who would not think of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes but would lash out with their tongue~sometimes from those who minister the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar.

St. John has said no one is without sin!  He also said that  “Anyone who hates his brother or sister is oneself a murderer.” (1 John 3:15)

According to a new Marist College/Knights of Columbus poll last year, a strong majority of Americans and even a narrow majority of Americans who identify as “pro-choice” support substantial restrictions on abortion, including limiting abortion to the first trimester or not using taxpayer money to fund abortions.

Overall, the poll found that 74 percent of Americans support one or more such restriction, including 54 percent of those who call themselves “pro-choice.”

The poll was conducted Dec. 12-19, 2016, in English and Spanish among a random sample of American adults.

“There is a consensus in America in favor of significant abortion restrictions, and this common ground exists across party lines, and even among significant numbers of those who are pro-choice,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson.

“This poll shows that large percentages of Americans, on both sides of the aisle, are united in their opposition to the status quo as it relates to abortion on demand. This is heartening, and can help start a new national conversation on abortion.”

Andrew Walter, Vice President for Communications and Strategic Planning for the Knights of Columbus, argued the results point to a “real groundswell of support” for limiting, if not eliminating, abortion rights.

“The labels don’t correlate with the policy positions,” Walther said. “Many people who identify as pro-choice support what’s usually seen as pro-life legislation.”

When it began in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, the March for Life turned the nation’s conscience toward the particular horror of abortion and the taking of human life that it entails. The four decades since have seen millions of deaths from abortion in the United States alone.

In each of those deaths, the world lost a unique and irreplaceable person.

Unfortunately, the loss of those lives to abortion is not the only casualty of Roe. Rather, the callous acceptance of – and, in some quarters, celebration of – the right to abortion has also planted the seeds for a broader disrespect for vulnerable human life.

Those seeds are now bearing bitter fruit in the way in which the lives of those who are disabled, ill and elderly are being treated in fact and in law.

The new legislative year brings the question of physician-assisted suicide to the legislative docket of several states, which will consider whether or not the lives of those who are ill, elderly or otherwise vulnerable should be protected or not.

Sadly, even the nation’s capital recently joined the small but growing number of jurisdictions that have answered that question with a resounding “no, those lives shouldn’t be protected.”

These legislative proposals that are brewing would allow physician-assisted suicide with such scant safeguards that they would be laughable if they were not tragic. However, the arguments in favor of these legislative initiatives have their roots directly in the soil of Roe.

They reflect Roe’s legacy that some lives are worth defending and others are not. In the context of abortion, an infant who is eagerly anticipated by loving parents is celebrated, fought for, and loved months before birth. Yet, a similar infant who is not so fortunate and who is not wanted is easily discarded as a matter of right.

In the context of those who are ill, those who have access to health care, a loving, supportive family, treatment for pain, and access to emotional and psychological care are encouraged to fight against deadly diseases.

However, those who are impoverished, who believe that they burden loved ones, or who are not well treated for physical and emotional pain, are given the opportunity to end their lives. In many cases, they are encouraged to do so by circumstances in which insurance may cover the costs of their suicide but not their medical treatment.

In the context of those with disabilities, a similar inconsistency reigns.

Nationally and internationally, advocacy groups celebrate the passage of legislation, the enactment of programs, and the funding of initiatives to enhance the lives of those who live with disabilities. Yet, these advantages apply only to those who have survived a prenatal diagnosis that indicated the presence of the disability.

Just when legal protections for those living with disabilities increases, the sad reality is that more advanced prenatal diagnosis techniques condemn many with disabilities to an early death. Stunningly few children with Down syndrome are born each year, and this is a result likely to be replicated as prenatal testing for other conditions increases rapidly.

Ironically, even some fierce pro-life advocates who would defend the lives of healthy infants have been willing to concede an exception for those children who will live with a disability.

They reflect Roe’s legacy that personal autonomy is to be valued at all costs – even over life itself.

The circumstances that may lead to an abortion are complex, often heart-breaking, and agonizingly difficult. The circumstances that may lead someone who is struggling with advanced illness, living with a painful disability, or suffering from the limitations brought on by age are also complex, often tragic, and frequently accompanied by an understandable despair.

Yet, the rhetoric of those who advocate for the end of life in these circumstances argues that the autonomy of the woman carrying the child or the suffering patient should be the value that prevails.

In the context of those who are ill or elderly, the celebration of personal autonomy in a decision to end life does not take into account the financial pressures that often drive that decision or the overwhelming desire not to burden others that leads to the ending of life.

Contrary to common perception, it is not physical pain that drives the decision to take advantage of physician-assisted suicide. It is fear of being a burden or losing autonomy that tops the list. More importantly, an exaggerated sense of personal autonomy belies the fact that the individual is not the only one with an interest in his or her life.

Autonomy notwithstanding, the world is the poorer for all those who have not been born. The world is the poorer when those who are not young and strong are devalued. And the world is at risk when autonomy is allowed to justify the taking of life. Indeed, autonomy is often restricted when far lesser things are at stake than life itself.

They reflect Roe’s legacy that legal requirements, procedural protections, and seemingly detailed guidelines can legitimize acts that, for the vast majority of human history, were recognized as wrong. Perhaps they reflect the way in which Roe can dull the conscience into believing that legality can create legitimacy and that a society can satisfy itself that there can be a regulated, rational way to do a wrongful act.

Abortion statutes split hairs over the meaning of a partial birth abortion and assisted suicide statutes feign certainty about the disinterestedness of witnesses or the absence of depression. Yet, the veneer of legality in both cases belies the fact that the underlying and irreversible acts that they facilitate raise grave moral concerns.

Roe’s legacy of devaluing unwanted human lives, misconstruing autonomy, and dulling the conscience with legalisms is one that has left four decades of lost lives in its wake.

However, it has also laid the groundwork for more tragedies to come.

        Dearest Lady, mother of Jesus,

whose tender love brought Love Itself into our world,

  help those who have never known the tender embrace of their own mother’s love

  to receive the same tender care and love you wish for each of them. . . for each of us . . .  as you offered the strict, yet tender, love of a Jewish mother upon  Jesus, the Son of God 

     who was nourished at your tender breasts,

              cradled in your arms,

         bounced upon your knee;

                   whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth,

              whose dead body you received come down from the Cross.

You were the one from Jesus learned the joys of human love.

  Receive today all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters on this planet, born and unborn.

  Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine/human love which is the glory of our Christian faith,

  the Incarnation of the son of a young beautiful woman, Son of God,

       our Brother, our Friend, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  

                      Amen. 

And now, before you go, here’s the penitential hymn “Remember Your Love”  Click Here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

Bob Traupman

 contemplative writer

And P.S.  Don’t worry about the aborted children;  the innocent ones will shine like the stars in God’s kingdom.

The tragedy is that they will never set foot on this beautiful planet.