Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

on discernment

Happy Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

So there’s an old joke that goes something like: a Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit are concelebrating Mass. During the liturgy the light in the Church goes out. The Franciscan praises God for the opportunity to live more simply. The Dominican gives a learned homily about how Christ is the light of the world. And the Jesuit changes the light bulb.

I had the opportunity to learn this practical side of Ignatian spirituality while I was an undergrad at Boston College. I knew little to nothing about St. Ignatius of Loyola before I arrived at Boston College nearly 10 years ago, but it is safe to say that St. Ignatius has been one of the most influential saints in my spiritual development.  His was a spirituality grounded in the everyday human experience of each and every individual person encountering God.

When I arrived at Boston College—a Jesuit institution— as a bright-eyed freshman, I was ready to take on the world. I had signed on to be a double major in Biology and Psychology to fulfill my dreams of going to medical school and becoming a pediatric cardiologist. I started my first semester of courses—Molecular Cell Biology, Behavioral Neuroscience, Chemistry, Calculus, and a freshmen cornerstone class. Within days of the first week of classes, I began to sense that something was wrong.  I didn’t enjoy any of my work (and believe me, I love school.) I began dreading going to class and my grades were plummeting.  I had never received less than a B+ in my life, and suddenly I was getting C’s and D’s for the semester.  I could not, for the life of me, understand how I could be failing at something that I “wanted” so badly.

Around this time I got involved with Campus Ministry at BC and began to learn more about the Jesuits and Ignatian Spirituality.  St. Ignatius development a method of discernment that seemed to really make sense to me.  I learned that St. Ignatius believed that God speaks to us in the desires of our heart—anDSC01255d that if we look really carefully at our feelings—what brings us joy (our consolations) and what doesn’t (our desolations)—that God speaks to us in these desires about his will for our lives.

It became abundantly clear that I really didn’t want to become a doctor. I loved the idea of being a medical professional, but it was definitely not in the plan for me. I found no joy, whatsoever, in my pursuit of this goal. That is not to say that life should be without its challenges. But Ignatius would probably say that God speaks to us even in the challenges, and that I would still feel some joy or fulfillment as I strove onward toward my goal.  But there was no joy or fulfillment in my pre-med classes.

I went home that Christmas to break the news to my parents that I wasn’t going to be a pre-med major anymore.  When I returned to BC in the spring, I took a few random classes to fulfill my core requirements for graduation while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life.  One of those random classes happened to be “The Biblical Heritage.”

In this course on the Old Testament I was introduced to what would become one of my greatest passions.  I became obsessed with the study of the Old Testament. I hung on every single word, loved the nuances and the poetry and more than anything, I loved the development of God’s relationship with his people.  It became abundantly clear that theology was what I was meant to study.  I finally knew what it felt like to be passionate about my work.  I was thrilled.

I could write a book on how Ignatian spirituality has shaped my life, but it is this practical experience—the experience of figuring out what God wanted me to do with my gifts—that left the most profound impact on me.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,

 All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love a
nd your grace,
that is enough for me.

– St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Light of Christ in Rio

There’s a great me992810_659039764107551_348015512_nme making its way across social media—it features a picture of Pope Francis, gesturing as if he is having trouble hearing, with the caption, “Did you say ‘young people think the Church is irrelevant?’  Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the million young people at World Youth Day!”

World Youth Day is, in a word, inspiring.  Hundreds of thousands of young people are in Rio celebrating their Catholic faith—a faith that is one holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The oneness is self-evident in the presence of the tens of thousands of young people from all over the world, waving the flags of their own countries but celebrating their oneness in faith.  Young people at this event gather for speakers, for prayer, for Mass—and on their journey to greater holiness they celebrate that the Church indeed is catholic, universal.  How incredible that this massive group of people from around the world can gather as one to celebrate Mass.  Their native tongues may be different, but each and every moment of the Mass is celebrated in the same way throughout the world.  All will feel at home in the presence of God. That is the beauty of the Catholic faith. And all who are present will celebrate Mass with Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, the guardian of apostolic tradition.  Pope Francis’ holy joy and genuine love for Christ and His church is contagious.

Yet it is all too easy to lose sight of all of that tradition and inspiration in our increasingly secular world. Oftentimes, believers feel alone in their conviction. That is what makes experiences like World Youth Day so vital.  World Youth Day provides communal and universal experiences of faith, of encounters with Christ. I attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis as a teenager, and I can still remember the feeling of awe as I sat in the crowded stadium that usually holds bellowing Colts fans but on that day was filled with young Catholics just like me. We sang together, listened to witness talks together, celebrated the Eucharist together. I left with my faith emboldened and with the knowledge that I belonged to something much bigger than myself.

As Pope Francis wrote in Lumen Fidei, “Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion: it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed” (Lumen Fidei, 22).  Just like in the story of Emmaus in Luke 24: Jesus walked side by side with his disciples—though they did not yet recognize him—and they shared stories of faith with one another. When they gathered together in the Eucharist, suddenly their hearts and their minds were opened—“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” When they recognized that Christ was with them, when they had experienced the reality of Christ as a community, they returned at once to Jerusalem to evangelize.

Let us pray for all of these young pilgrims, that they may encounter Christ and set the world aflame with the light of faith.

This post also appears on the Catholic Voices USA blog here.

organic family planning

As a result of the HHS Mandate, the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception have garnered an abundance of media attention.   It is clear from the  headlines that Catholics are depicted as a people divided when it comes to contraception.  It is widely—though erroneously —reported that 98% of Catholic women will use a form of contraception at some point in their lifetime.  With numbers like these, and headlines like, “Catholics Take Sides over Health Law’s Birth Control Policy,” what’s a Catholic to do?  Many Catholics know that the Church views contraception as immoral, but are unsure exactly why.  Catholics may be unfamiliar or have misconceptions about what options are considered morally licit.  So while everyone is clear that the Church disallows contraception, the Church’s side of the story is not widely known.

With this in mind, last year I pitched Church teaching on contraception to my classroom of high school students. I began the conversation by asking them what they thought about the recent trend of environmental activism: everything nowadays is about “being green” and farming organically and cleaning with elements found in nature rather than chemicals. Everyone chimed in with examples from their own lives or advertisements they had seen on TV.  I then posed the question, If we are concerned with the chemicals that we put in our bodies, if we spend extra money to buy organic produce, use botantical cleaning supplies, and eat only antibiotic-free meat, why, then, are we so quick to use chemicals to control a woman’s fertility?

The room was quiet for a few moments—a small feat in an all-girls environment—and then the conversation really picked up.  I explained that the Church encourages married couples to use Natural Family Planning, or NFP, to plan their families.  Natural Family Planning can be used to achieve or to avoid pregnancies.  There are several different methods, but each works in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine the days that she is able to conceive.   NFP does not use any chemicals and does not involve any act before, during, or after intercourse to prevent a pregnancy from occurring.  Upon hearing this one student remarked, “It’s organic family planning!”  The real beauty of NFP, though, is that it fosters care for the whole person, body and spirit.

Marriage has two essential qualities: it is unitive—bringing the couple together in body and in spirit—but it is also procreative—that is to say, open to life.  As Pope Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae,

“…the  fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.”

When we deliberately remove the procreative element of sex through contraception,  we are removing an essential quality of the marital act.

That is why NFP is not considered contraception or birth control; it involves an awareness of naturally occurring times of fertility and infertility.  Couples who wish to avoid a pregnancy simply abstain from intercourse during the woman’s fertile phase.  Contrary to popular belief, NFP is 99% effective if a couple seeks to avoid a pregnancy and uses the system correctly.

More than anything, though, NFP requires a couple to embody agape love, that is, sacrificial love.  It requires sacrifice because short periods of abstinence are required if a couple is trying to avoid a pregnancy.  It calls couples beyond themselves to a mutual responsibility for their fertility.  It does not rely solely on the woman or the man—it necessarily requires mutual responsibility. It is a remarkable exercise in authentic self-gift. In fact, couples who use NFP report that it strengthens their marriage because it fosters communication and a deeper appreciation for the other.

Natural Family Planning acknowledges that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and it promotes a deep respect for our bodies’ natural cycles of fertility.  In a society where “being green” is so prized, we shouldn’t settle for using chemicals to alter what is a remarkable natural cycle.  This week is NFP Awareness week –take the opportunity to learn more about authentic Church teaching on contraception. For more information on NFP, I’d urge you to check out the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website.  In addition, the book Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi, is filled with essays (written by brilliant, academic women) about the theology and the history behind these teachings.

the great pep talk

The Great Pep Talk

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.  For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” –Matthew 10 : 19-20

Today’s Gospel is a great pep-talk for any apologists out there.

I am a Catholic. I love everything about the Catholic faith–the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the smells and bells of liturgy, Pope Francis. I love my faith and I try to follow Christ in all that I do.

Yet Christ calls us to more than “simply” following Him in our individual lives. In fact every single Catholic is anointed priest, prophet, and king at their Baptism. Part of the indelible mark of Baptism is the prophetic call.

Most of us don’t want to be prophets. Most of the Biblical prophets didn’t want to be prophets! Moses came up with an array of excuses when he was called: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 3:11), then “Suppose they do not believe me or listen to me?” (Ex. 4:1), then, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue,” (Ex. 4:10), “and then the final straw (my personal favorite), “O my Lord please send someone else!” (Ex. 4:13).

Jonah famously tried to dodge his prophetic call and wound up spending three days in the belly of a giant fish.

Jeremiah, too, had his doubts. He cried out, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy!” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The hardest part of the prophetic call is necessarily speaking an unpopular message.  The prophets were virtually never well-received. It is difficult to speak out about something that is counter-cultural or radical. I’ve written about this before—I would much rather blend in and mind my own business than spark a controversy.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t accept our excuses: God calls us to move beyond our fear. God promises to be with us and to give us the words to speak.  In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  This has been God’s message to the prophets from the beginning.  In Jeremiah 1:9, the Hebrew is beautifully expressive—God tells Jeremiah, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” (Admittedly, Jeremiah had the “easy route”—Ezekiel had to eat a scroll! See Ezekiel 3 for that awesome story).

The only choice we have is to move forward, trusting that God will give us the words that we need to continue to joyfully teach and to live Christ’s message of love in the world, as we draw ever closer to the one who knows what it is like to be persecuted.

This post also appears on the Catholic Voices USA Blog  http://catholicvoicesusa.org/entry/jesus-gives-us-a-pep-talk.html

Bob Rice

Catholic speaker, musician, author, teacher

domestic diva, M.D.

my mother raised the perfect housewife...then I went to med school

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