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Faith 101

  • Whole Life: Centering Prayer

    Sep 24, 2014

    By: Karen Spear, Director of the Center for Organizational Ethics

    When I was in graduate school, my priest asked me how my coursework in theological ethics was affecting my faith. My response? "I feel as dry and desiccated as a bone." He invited me to join a small group of parishioners to whom he was teaching a prayer form called Centering Prayer. His invitation changed my life. I consider centering prayer one of the great gifts of my life.

    Centering Prayer a method of doing contemplative prayer. Many of us have probably experienced contemplative prayer in the context of deep personal prayer, saying the rosary, or kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. It is that deep peace and rest that comes upon us when we are focused on and content to abide in the presence of God.

    The method of centering prayer was formulated by Frs. Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington in the 1970s. In response to an invitation from Vatican II leaders, they developed centering prayer to revive the contemplative teachings of the early church and to make them accessible to modern believers. As such, centering prayer is thoroughly Christian and Catholic and is in no way derived from Eastern religion or Eastern mysticism.

    The practice of centering prayer is simple. We sit in silence for 20 minutes, focusing our minds on a "sacred word" that represents our intention to be present to God. The sacred word can be any word or very short phrase that signals our intent. It can be as simply as “Jesus” or “God” or “rest.” As we sit in silence with the sacred word, we will notice that our minds have wandered and we are thinking. When we become aware that we are thinking, we gently turn back to our sacred word. We continue to sit in this manner – focusing on the sacred word, finding we are thinking of something else, and gently returning to our word – for 20 minutes. As our bodies and our minds begin to slow down and become still, we experience a deep and restful peace and sense of well being. Our thoughts – while not ceasing – have slipped into the background of our mind as we rest in the presence of God.

    So why would anyone want to waste 20 minutes of their day sitting around doing nothing? The priest who taught me to center called his centering prayer practice "wasting time with God!" The immediate answer is that 20 minutes spent in the presence of God is good in and of itself. God has created us so that we get pleasure from being in God's presence - and it is deeply pleasant to rest in the presence of God during centering prayer.

    For me personally, centering prayer was like coming home. In centering I begin to let go of the judgments and expectations I put upon myself and others. I find that a daily practice of centering prayer helps to keep me a little closer to my "true self" and smooths out the rough edges of my personality (AKA, my "false self"). In short, through centering prayer I became aware that God loves me just as I am.

    It's important to note, however, that practicing centering prayer can be a difficult struggle, too. In deep prayer we become aware of our shortcomings. Furthermore, such deep prayer can also bring to light psychological issues. Indeed, Fr. Keating calls centering prayer to be "divine therapy." That is, it can be God's way of gently letting us know that we have work to do on ourselves. If you find the prayer bringing up troubling issues, it is best to seek professional psychological counseling or spiritual direction to help you deal with those issues.

    If you are interested in exploring centering prayer, a good place to learn and start to practice is in a centering prayer group. There are a number of centering prayer groups in Indianapolis and they are always happy to welcome new members.

    In an age in which the speed, stress, and human disconnection of daily living can leave us feeling "dry and desiccated," centering prayer can offer 20 minutes of silence and rest that reminds us that God is present to us always and we are accepted exactly as we are.

  • Living Word: The POWER of YES: Reflections on the incarnation and the free will of Mary

    Sep 17, 2014

    By Jeanne Grammens Hidalgo

    I was recently co-facilitating a retreat for student leaders who want to be involved in ministry at Marian University. John Shelton (Campus Minister) was presenting on tenets of effective Christian leadership, and the final point was how vital it is to a relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus. I was to "bring it home," by offering an activity regarding this idea. As John spoke, I felt that warm sensation, which I have come to recognize as the Holy Spirit, which lead me to ask the students this question: “What do you and Mary have in common?" As they threw out a wide variety of responses, I cut to the chase, stating two simple, yet profoundly powerful words, "Free Will." This is not something we often reflect upon, in regards to Mary and her unbelievable response to God’s invitation. It is easy to assume that the conception of Jesus was a done deal and tend to disregard the power of Mary’s YES. The students were silent. Yes, Mary had free will. She was free to say Yes or No to the offer to carry the savior of the world in her womb!! 

    In my own humanity, I have often wrested with free will and in my less inspired moments, questioned the value of my “YES.” I have been greatly formed by the spirituality of an amazing Christian artist, Amy Grant. In fact, I have been known to joke that if she only knew me, we would be best friends. She has seriously impacted my faith journey over the past 30 years and I have been privileged to hear her sing in person on several occasions. At one of her concerts, years ago, I Iooked upon Amy in all her talent, her beauty and her incredible ability to impact the spiritual lives of what I believed to be millions of people. I marveled at her gifts and her willingness to use them for God’s glory. Yes, I was COMPARING myself and my value with Amy Grant’s! And what I was doing in that moment, was also questioning God's ability to use whatever has been planted in me, for fruitful completion (Paul's letter to the Philippians). It was a low moment for me, but what followed was a conviction, (yes, again the Holy Spirit) that my YES, my willingness to offer whatever I have been given for the good of all, was just as important as Amy Grants. As Mary says in her magnificat, “my soul magnifies the Lord…” God can and does magnify all that we willingly offer, no matter how humble the offerings.

    This reminds me of my favorite Christmas story rendition in clay mation; (very popular back in the 1960s—to date myself); the Little Drummer Boy. An angry, resentful young lad, living in first century Palestine, has lost his home, family and now, one of his beloved animals. He approaches one of the wise men, at the scene of the birth of Christ, and asks for help. The very wise man redirects the lad to the stable where Jesus is lying in the manger. The boy hesitates, saying, “I have not gift to bring,” and suddenly, he realizes that he can offer what he has, the gift of a song played on his crude instrument. He is told that Jesus favors this gift and alas, his pet donkey is restored. The point for me? Be willing to say YES to utilizing what we have, no matter how seemingly insignificant. God can and does magnify our gifts. It will be done!

    So the lesson of Mary's "Yes"? In a chapel in Italy at La Verna, Italy, is a rendition of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in order to invite her to allow the incarnation. God is up above her with his ear inclined, waiting to hear her response! This is what I shared that day with the students. Mary had free will. She had a choice! This is a stunning concept for us to consider! We are all glad that she said yes. And it is humbling to remember that we have a choice as well, to say Yes or No to blessed with the power of free will. We can say Yes or No to God’s invitation. Either way, He will never give up on us and will keep offering opportunities for us to respond in the affirmative, to allow God to live and move and have his being within us.....in our own "small" way, to allow the incarnation to have a home within us! It is our choice and I believe our free will makes our Yes (es) all the more valuable!

  • Crossroads: It Was Never Good Enough

    Sep 12, 2014

    By:  Kristin Hauser, Sophomore
    Given at Connections: A First Year Gathering (08.23.14)

    So, you know that “ah-ha!” moment that a lot of people have when they finally kind of “get” life? Well, mine happened in 8th grade just around the time I was about ready to be confirmed. Now, I’ll spare you the details because it’s kind of a weird story, but what’s actually important to know is the result of this conversion moment. Because, you see, after this point I was totally on fire for God. I can’t even explain it, but all I wanted was to be closer to Him and so that yearning that I had in me gave me such a heart for service. I wanted to work at every soup kitchen, feed every homeless person, and donate to every one of those commercials with the little kids that you see on TV. And honestly, I pretty much did. Throughout high school I managed to go on 11 different mission trips, racking up countless hours of service in my own community and all over the country.

    But here’s the thing: it was never good enough. No matter how much I served or did or tried to do, I could never do everything. I mean, nobody can. But that’s not what I told myself. Because I had it in my head that the way I proved I loved God was by doing (and succeeding) at the things I did for Him. Well, that didn’t work out so well because I’m human and so I mess up all the time. And every time I would try so hard to take that to the Lord in reconciliation and every time, I just kept making the same mistakes over and over again. I just kept failing over and over and over and I couldn’t figure out why until one day, I was reading in the book of Matthew. And in the gospel Jesus says that we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. And I’m thinking, “okay, I love my neighbor.” but then the as yourself part kind of jumps out at me. So I read it again, “love your neighbor as yourself.” It was in that moment that I think I realized I have to know my own worth before I can even begin to understand how to respect someone else’s. All those good things that I was doing were great, but they didn’t define me. And all the times that I messed up, that I turned away from God and turned towards sin, well those instances didn’t define me either, but I was totally living as if they did. I kept making the same mistakes over and over again because I thought that those mistakes were who I was. And even though I knew God forgave me every time, I couldn’t forgive myself enough to accept His mercy and work for change in my life.

    Forgiving others is so incredibly important, but the struggle that’s always been on my heart in regard to reconciliation is forgiving myself. It’s always been a fight and I know that it probably always will be, but I think the take-away point and the thing that I learn out of all of this. All of these unrealistic expectations and over-commitment and days of anxiety and guilt, I think what I learned is that when we sin, when we mess up and we think that there is no reason for God to ever take us back (but He does, because He’s awesome and beautiful and merciful and loves us ridiculously), instead of dwelling on our mistakes, instead of laying on the ground and wallowing in how dumb we are, we get up. We get up and we run towards Christ. And let’s face it, we’re going to fall again. We’re going to mess up sometimes, but the hope and the redemption in the story is that God will always take us back, if we let Him. So my encouragement to you today is simply that: to get up. To get up from wherever you are and simply seek the Lord today. Because our worth is not in what we say or what we do or what we don’t do: our worth is in Him, and He will always take us back if we let Him.  

  • Living Word: Francis and the Leper

    Sep 10, 2014

    By: John Shelton, Campus Minister

    Leprosy is a disease that is still “alive and kicking” in our world- with thousands of leprous people living in poorer lands with unclean health conditions. St. Francis’ death, as recorded by his companions, was gruesome.  He suffered physically, and was blind at his death. In his adult –stage, life long association with serving lepers, he became one of them. Just as Christ became one of us.

    Let’s take a moment and place ourselves in our own imagination.

    You are Francis.

    You reflect, "For I, being in sin, thought it bitter to look at lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them, and I worked mercy with them."

     Your recall that first meeting:

    • I, Francis do not wish to be a cloth merchant like my father
    • My dream of knighthood has been crushed through war and by my prolonged illness
    • I  am walking along a road on the outskirts of Assisi with my friend Leo, I hear a bell-  a coarse, flat, pedestrian clank something like a cowbell
    • "Let's get out of here, Francis," Leo cries. But I, not knowing exactly why, stood my ground
    • Over the hill just ahead, there appears a deformed figure with a clanging bell around the neck- a leper
    • The figure waves me off to the side of the road, but I did not move
    • I have always been repulsed by the sight of lepers! How much I fear their dread contagion!
    • "Have you not heard my bell?" asks the leper. "Do you not know that I am forced to wear this bell to warn you that a leper is approaching?"
    • I remained motionless, tasting my fear as I swallow
    • Suddenly, filled with a strength which came I knew not from where, I run toward the leper
    • I embrace the Leper, kissing him on his festering cheek
    • Weeping aloud, "Brother Leper, forgive me for neglecting you”
    • Then, for a moment, the Leper's appearance is transformed
    • He seems to wear a crown of thorns and to bleed from wounds in his hands, his feet, and his sides
    • He looks at me with love
    • Just as suddenly, the Leper vanishes from sight, leaving me weeping on the silent road
    • "Brother Leo, don't you see? Don't you see? The lepers, they all turn into Christ! “
    • I have found my vocation, my life call from God. 1

    I believe that in many cases, I have done the same.  Now, I am excited!!  When the next opportunity arises, when I hear the bell, I will not look the other direction, or move onto the other side of the road.  For Christ will be there ahead, waiting to meet me, waiting to embrace me. 

    How about you????????

    1 adapted from: The Healers Calling Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M. M.D. Paulist Press, 1997.

    Image credit: http://franciscanpassages.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/francis_and_leper_painted.8144113_std.jpg

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