Autumn as a metaphor for the spiritual life

A few weeks ago at daily Mass, we had the beautiful reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 about the seasons of life:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…   – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3

This reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us that God guides the events of our lives, and that there is a gift from God in every season, or time, that we live in. The very temporariness of the time we live and the transitions we undergo are a reminder of the timelessness of God and the longing for the eternal that God has put in our hearts. “God has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts” (v. 11). This line is probably why I most often hear this passage read at funerals—and it is a great choice for a funeral Mass. And yet, this passage has so much wisdom to offer at other times, even as we journey through the seasons of nature.

The seasons of nature can be reflected in our spiritual life. Sometimes, when a great deal is going on in our lives, an “easy in” to reflecting on what is happening interiorly is to look at our spiritual life in this light of what season we are living.Perhaps as you read this—or another time today—you can take a few moments to reflect on what spiritual “season” or “moment” from Ecclesiastes 3 you most identify with at this time in your life.

* * *

I first started praying with the seasons of my heart years ago as a young religious. Recently, I was reminded of how helpful that can be by the last few pages of Parker Palmer’s lovely book on vocation, Let Your Life Speak.  (Palmer, who is a member of the Religious Society of Friends [Quaker], talks about failure as an important part of discernment: how failure can be a clear indication from God that we are meant to turn in another direction–or to see what has been in front of us all along.) Quoting Thomas Merton about “the hidden wholeness” in all visible things, Palmer speaks of autumn’s metaphor for our spiritual lives:

In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight: diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites. They are held together in the paradox of “hidden wholeness.”

…Autumn constantly reminds me that my daily dyings are necessary precursors to new life.

– Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, pp. 99-100

 

The bittersweet richness of autumn in nature has made it my favorite season, because it always seems to speak to wherever I am in the spiritual life. Autumn is a season where change is perhaps most striking in nature. Above all, autumn is a season for the strenuous work of reaping and harvesting, and for enjoying the fruits of the harvest.

All the aspects of the season of autumn are connected to the most stark result at its end:  the death or seeming-death of the natural world surrounding us, so much so that it changes from rich shades of green to a dull brownish-gray. What is so powerful about this aspect of autumn is that, if seen as part of the whole of all four seasons of the year, autumn also becomes a time of preparing for new life. Clearing the gardens and even planting the bulbs which will stay buried deep in the ground all through winter, but will burst through and blossom in the spring.

In our spiritual lives, we can be going through “autumn” when we are living a time of transition—with something ending and something else beginning. It is a time to recognize the gifts and graces that we have received—and their transitoriness gives a special intensity to our gratitude. The spiritual season of autumn can be a time for a fresh start, but it can also be a time of loss accompanied by grief and a sense of emptiness. It can be a time of hidden preparation for something that we cannot yet imagine. Spiritually, our season of autumn leads us to live in the spirit of the Cross—the daily “dying to self” that all Christians are called to.

We witness and benefit from this self-emptying love of Christ every time we participate at Mass. And we are called to daily share in the suffering and death of Jesus, the “dying to self” that means carrying the Cross entrusted to us. Following Christ means that we are called, in a way, to always live in the “spirit” of autumn—that generous, self-giving spirit that lets go—when it is time—to whatever is precious and to allow ourselves—like a brilliant maple leaf—to float to the ground, trusting in God’s loving care. For me, the beauty of the falling autumn leaves helps me to recognize the beauty of my living Jesus’ self-giving love: the dying-to-self kind of love. Even when it is painful. Even when I am tempted to cling to what I know I need to let go of. Even when I am terrified of letting go.

Because a really important aspect of following Christ is that we come to know and trust, on a deeper and deeper level, who God is for us: the God who always brings new life. Ecclesiastes 3 is a powerful reminder of who God is in our ever-changing lives: that God provides in each season for us, and that we are always—especially when we don’t feel like we are—cherished and being brought to resurrection. Truly praying this passage from Ecclesiastes is an act of trust, an act of surrender that God will be with us in every season.

Prayer Suggestion: Take some time to read and reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, and conclude your lectio by praying it as a canticle of surrender to God’s plan for your life.

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Tips for following the Synod for Young People

We are just beginning Week 2 of the Synod. (It runs from Oct. 3-28.) The more I follow it, the more I have been enjoying the way the Synod is “modeling” community discernment for the Church.

The Synod offers insights that are helpful for anyone discerning how God might be calling them to serve, as the it highlights the needs of humanity across the globe.  Here are my current favorite sources for following the Synod. (If you are already following the Synod, please share below in the comments how you are following it, and what has impressed you!)

Archbishop Fisher’s Daily Blog of the Synod    This is the first place I check every day. Archbishop Fisher’s blog is accessible and offers real insight into what is happening there on a daily basis.

Synod 2018 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram   The Synod’s official social media.

The Synod’s Official website (with the Instrumentum Laboris or Working Document)  If you wonder what IL is, or what “document” everyone is talking about, you can find it here. It’s a bit long for an easy read, but if you download the document and search for discernment (or any other topic you’re interested in), you will see what the small groups are referring to.

Salt + Light TV’s Frequent Synod Updates (including blogposts, 5 minute video updates, and longer TV shows). The link goes to the blog for yesterday, Oct. 9.

Catholic News Service offers fairly comprehensive coverage that offers more detail.

If you are a young person discerning your vocation, I would love to hear from you. Have you been following the Synod? Why or why not?  And if yes, have you gained any insights?

You can comment below, on my Facebook page, or email me.

Sneak Peek of Online Lenten Retreat!

As I blogged about earlier this week, My Sisters is offering our FIRST online Lenten retreat entitled, Seeking God’s Will. I am so excited about being able to offer a retreat this way, as it can reach so many people! (I’m also looking forward to the feedback I will receive from those who make the retreat, so that the next one can be even more helpful!)

Sr. Mary Lea Hill launches the retreat with a mini-conference. Here is a sneak preview of how she makes a retreat sound do-able!

We just finished putting up the retreat Friday afternoon. If you’d like to make a retreat  this Lent, consider joining My Sisters. It is only $1 for the first trial month. You can find more information at: http://www.22s.com/mysisters or https://mysisters.blog/  

Fun (and Quick) Invitation to Join My Sisters

A fun invitation to join an online Catholic community online, hosted by the #MediaNuns:  My Sisters

My Sisters is an online community devoted to helping you meet Christ and experience his love in your daily life. Created by the religious sisters of the Daughters of Saint Paul, My Sisters is a portable and accessible “sacred space” for asking the big questions, exploring the faith, and nurturing your identity as God’s beloved one, no matter where you are in your walk with the Lord. Find out more at: http://www.mysisters.blog

 

#LearnHowToDiscern: Story of a Jesuit

 

stalphonsusfreelyopenOne of the best ways to #learnhowtodiscern is through others’ examples of discernment. This article in America magazine by Patrick J. Ryan, SJ, is a wonderful example of a Jesuit’s discernment that beautifully illustrates the three ways of discerning which Saint Ignatius of Loyola talks about.

americamagarticleondiscernment

 

#Discernment Essential: Ongoing Conversion

The Conversion of Saint Paul (Murillo)

The Conversion of Saint Paul (Murillo)

In a recent post, I wondered if this blog has emphasized enough the spiritual groundwork that we need to live in a spirit of discernment. I was especially thinking of the challenge of living in ongoing conversion as a discernment essential.

Do we really need “ongoing conversion”? We tend to think about conversion as a big event, something that happens when we become baptized, or make a huge change in our lives. But we need conversion in daily life, too, because no matter how dedicated we are to follow Christ, there are always very real obstacles to our union with him: temptations of this world and from other people, temptations from the devil, and, perhaps most confusing, temptations from within us—which are the effects of original sin. No temptation is more powerful than Christ’s grace at work in us, but when we give any of them attention, we start to let them drown out Christ’s invitations. Whether it’s a particular temptation, a moment of weakness, or a situation that leads us to sin, when we are no longer attentive to living God’s universal will of avoiding sin, our discernment becomes extremely difficult.

When he began his public life, Jesus invited everyone to conversion—the holy and the sinners. Conversion is a turning towards God, away from ourselves. This process is described beautifully by Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), and there is a short commentary on this parable in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has a nice section on Conversion, Repentance, and Penance in the Article that treats the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance). I especially found #s1427-1439 helpful with regard to ongoing conversion.

The Pauline Family received a special invitation to live in ongoing conversion. In a time of great doubt for our Founder Blessed James Alberione, Jesus appeared to him and confirmed him in the Pauline vocation and spirituality that he was beginning in the Pauline Family. Jesus told him, “Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here,” and Jesus pointed to the tabernacle, “I will enlighten. Live with a penitent heart.”

The Founder gave these words to us; they are a concrete expression of how we are called to live our vocation as Paulines. If you enter a Pauline chapel any where around the world (and we are in over 50 countries), you will find these words there, in some form.

Our Founder wrote an account of this event at least twice in Italian, and they were not “word for word.” In particular, that last phrase has been translated several way into English:

“Live with a penitent heart.”

“Be sorry for sin.”

“Live in continual conversion.”

What I love about all three phrases is that they all express ongoing, daily conversion as essential to our life and mission in Christ, in our obedience to the Father’s will. How would you describe Christ’s call in your life to ongoing conversion?

You may also wish to check out this Litany of Ongoing Conversionwhich offers insights into how we might need to convert!

Tip To Become a Better Discerner

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Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne – Web Gallery of Art:  Public Domain

October is the month of the Rosary, with October 7th being the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary. One of the things that we do when we pray the Rosary is reflect on all the “major events” in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Meditating on how Mary was so completely and constantly receptive to the work and invitations of the Holy Spirit within her can be very helpful in learning how we can better discern and respond to the invitations of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Rosary is one of the best prayers to pray frequently–not just during times of deeper discernment–but all the time.

It’s fitting that the feast of Pope St. John Paul II, whose motto was “Totus Tuus” falls during this month as well, on October 22nd. One of my favorite books is an early compilation of his writings on Mary: John Paul II’s Book of Mary, compiled by Margaret R. Bunson. (It is currently on sale in paperback!)

This excerpt from Pope St. John Paul II’s address at Caracas in 1985 is one of the quotes that gave me the courage to continue this blog–I hope it can offer some inspiration for our discernments:

“It is the Virgin Mary who invites us to consider history as an adventure of love in which God keeps his promises and triumphs with his fidelity. A history is which God asks us, as he asked the Virgin, to be his associates, his collaborators, in order to carry out his plan of salvation from generation to generation. This requires that we respond to God, like Mary, with a total and irrevocable ‘fiat.’ ”

jpiibookofmarycover 

Wonderful Resource for Discerners Available Again!

I’m delighted to announce that the best resource that I know of for learning and understanding in-depth the spiritual art of discernment is once again available!

DiscernmentRupnik

Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God by Jesuit priest Marko Ivan Rupnik is back in print!

So many people have been requesting this marvelous book that our editorial team  were able to put it back into print. Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God is the most complete, all-in-one guide to learning how to discern God’s invitations in our lives that I have found. (Other books are very, very good, but I have found nothing so complete, in one small—but densely packed!— volume.) In addition, this superb book is a wonderful guide to the spiritual life.

This book has been so valued that, even though it only went out of print early this year, amazon sellers were selling individual used copies for over $50 each.

Contents include:

  • Discernment as relationship with God.
  • Understanding temptation.
  • How to surrender to Christ.
  • Practicing discernment.
  • Discernment one’s vocation.
  • Discernment in community.

If you have been enjoying this blog, but are interested in going deeper into the spiritual life and the practice of discernment, you certainly want to consider reading this book.

Mary as Model of #Discernment, Vocation & Mission

The devotion to Mary, Queen of the Apostles, is one of the oldest devotions to Mary in the Church. One of our sisters recently let me know about a youtube video of the song, Queen of Apostles, composed and sung by Nancy Krebs, which beautifully offers reflections and prayers about two key events in Mary’s life associated with this particular title of Mary.

A key in discerning and living our vocation is devotion to Mary. Devotion to Mary as our Queen of Apostles is more than asking Mary to help us discover and carry out the mission God has entrusted to us. It also means entrusting ourselves and our spiritual journey to her. It means imitating Mary in how she shared her Son with the world, taking on her attitudes of humility, of receptivity to God (especially her docility to the Holy Spirit),  her obedience to God’s Word, and her union with her Son in his mission. If we entrust every effort that we make and everyone whom we seek to serve to Mary’s motherly care, all our efforts will be blessed.

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve, on her blog Thomas for Today, posted an introductory reflection on this ancient devotion: Mary and the Holy Spirit.

#Discerning in Every Day Life: We are in God’s hands as he shapes us

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP. © Daughters of St. Paul

Photo: Sr. Mary Emmanuel Alves, FSP. © Daughters of St. Paul

Then the word of the Lord came to me:
“O house of Israel,
can I not do with you as this potter has done? says the Lord.
Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

I love this morning’s reading from Jeremiah 18:1-6. It fits so well with the themes of my prayer this week: creativity, being open to the Lord working in me and through me, and allowing the Lord to take the lead in all the aspects of my life: spiritually,  in my relationships, in my efforts to communicate, in the apostolate of sharing the Word.

As the fruit of my recent annual retreat, I’ve been praying for the grace to live in the present moment. It’s so easy for me to get lost in my plans and to forget that it’s God’s plan that I want to be living fully. It’s not really possible for me to discern God’s will, however, if I am not living in the present moment, taking one day, one hour, one minute at a time. Because God speaks to us and works in us in the present moment.

Our Blessed Mother Mary was an expert in living in the present moment. While I was in Rome for the Apostolic Mysticism Seminar, several of the speakers–all Pauline priests–spoke of how Mary was completely docile to the work of the Holy Spirit. We know this simply by her response at the Annunciation.

The conclusion of my every meditation this week has been prayer to Mary, specifically asking her for the grace of this openness and availability to God, not just in the big occasions of my life, but at every moment. So I pray to her with my favorite title, calling on her as my Mother and Queen, the Queen of every apostle, to teach me how to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and to be receptive to his nudges, his whispers, his inner direction.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!

Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!

A final note: Summer has become a bit of a chaotic time for me to fit in regular posts. Responses to the last couple of questions about vocational discernment are almost lined up and ready to post. I also have been reflecting/praying/living some profound moments of discernment in every day life, which I hope to share with you soon. Thank you for your patience with me, as my posting schedule has become a bit irregular.