Monthly Reflections

May 2021  

The Rosebud

by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus 

There was once a wise traveler who spent his life traveling the world acquiring wisdom. When he grew old, he settled in a small village. Soon the villagers learned of his wisdom and came to seek out his advice. One day a young man came to see him.  He had had a troubled youth and was now in incredible despair. “Dear wise traveler, I come to seek your help. My life is a mess; I suffer from depression.  I do not know where to turn.  Can you help me?”

The old man slowly got out of his chair and walked to a vase full of rosebuds. He pulled out a rosebud and handed it to the young man. “Slowly unpeel the petals of this rosebud, but do not break any of the petals.” The young man started on his task but could not unpeel the petals without breaking them.  He quickly became frustrated.  “I cannot do it; it cannot be done,” he said as he handed the rosebud back to the wise traveler.

The wise traveler smiled and recited this poem:

It is only a tiny rosebud

a flower of God’s design,

but I cannot unfold the petals

with these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers

is not known to such as I.

God opens this flower so easily,

but in my hand it dies.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,

this flower of God’s design,

then how can I have the wisdom

to unfold this life of mine?

So I’ll trust in God for leading

each moment of my day.

I will look to God for guidance

in each step along the way.

The path that lies before me

only my Lord knows.

I’ll trust God to unfold the moments

just as He unfolds the rose.

Over the last several years, I have told this story and recited this poem to hundreds of detainees at the Cook County Jail.  It is difficult to describe the despair and lack of hope I have found at the jail.  Mostly young men of color, the detainees have been abandoned by family, friends, and society.  To start these detainees on the road to hope is an incredible blessing.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5: 3-5.

Jesus, I trust in you.

April 2021  

My Friend Jesus

by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus 

Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were enjoying a Lenten fish fry at the local VFW hall.  I was having the lake perch and Father Bo was having the shrimp.  Masks and social distancing were required.  We were talking about imaginative prayer.

Father Bo asked, “Do you consider Jesus your friend?”

“I do,” I responded.

Why is that?” Father Bo asked.

“Well,” I replied, “like a true friend, he is always there for me.  He is always willing to listen to all my problems and concerns.”

“Do you ever wonder about Jesus’s problems and concerns?”

“Not really,” I responded.

“We believe that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine, do we not?” asked Father Bo.

“Yes,” I answered.  “What’s your point?”

“Do you think that Jesus continues to be fully human even after the resurrection?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“So he continues to experience all the human emotions he experienced on Earth?”

“I think so,” I replied.

“So he can be sad and concerned about what is happening in His world?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Every once in a while in prayer, instead of focusing on me, I like to focus on Jesus,” Father Bo shared.

“Explain,” I asked.

“I ask Jesus about how His day is going.”

“Interesting,” I said. “With billions of people telling Him about their problems, I can’t even began to imagine how that would be.”

“Yes, that is a huge challenge for my imagination.  I like to localize it.  Talk about what is happening in Chicago and how He feels about it. That brings me to how can I help as a friend.  It gives me a different perspective on things.”

I immediately saw the possibilities and told Father Bo I would try it.

Colloquy with Jesus

At the end, I turn to Jesus Christ hanging on his cross, and I talk with him.

I ask how can it be that the Lord and Creator

Should have come from the infinite reaches of eternity

To this death here on earth, so that he could die for our sins.

And then I reflect upon myself, and ask:

What have I done for Christ?

What am I doing for Christ?

What ought I do for Christ?

And I talk with Jesus like a friend.

I end with the Our Father.

Joseph Tetlow, SJ

 

February 2021  

The Shack

by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus 

A while ago, I reread “The Shack” as part of the great American read. It is a novel by William P. Young that has sold millions of copies. It is the story of a young father, Mack, who tragically experiences the murder of his young daughter and the struggles he goes through with his subsequent grief. He raises many questions we all raise when we deal with grief. 

I would like to focus on one aspect of the book, that of relationship. The young father finds himself back at the scene of the crime, a broken down shack deep in the woods.  However, the shack has been transformed into a beautiful cottage. 

The first person Mark encounters is a matronly black woman who is busy preparing dough for bread. In the course of a discussion with her she represents herself as God the Father. Mack is doubtful and asks “What happened to the long white beard?” God gleefully responds, “Oh, that is Santa Claus.” 

God asks Mack to help with the kneading. The young father again questions, “If you are really God, why don’t you just miraculously make the bread appear?” God responds, “Oh, what is the fun of that?” 

As the story progresses, we see a very loving relationship being presented between God the Father, presented as matronly black woman, Jesus as you would expect him to look, and the Holy Spirit as a slender attractive Asian woman. There is great joy being shared by these three. 

On reflecting on God the Father’s comment, “Oh, what is the fun of that,” it occurred to me that God is having fun with his creation, intimately involved. He is not the stern judgmental God with whom many of us struggle.

As the three sit down with the young father to share dinner, they are obviously enjoying the dinner and each other. It seems to me that most of us spend too little time focusing on the trinitarian aspects of God, three persons in a loving relationship. 

As Richard Rohr pointed out in his book “The Divine Dance, The Trinity, and Your Transformation”, Karl Rahner, who was a major influence at the Second Vatican Council, said, “Christians are in their practical life almost mere monotheists. We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”

Rohr notes, “if trinity is supposed to describe the very heart of the nature of God, and yet it has almost no practical or pastoral implications in most of our lives…if it’s ever possible that we could drop it tomorrow and it would be a forgettable throwaway doctrine…then either it can’t be true or we don’t understand it.” 

Since Rohr believes it is true, he spends the rest of the book trying to explain the mystery of the it all. I think the following statement by Rohr is a perfect synopsis of the book. “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three – a circle dance of love.”

In William Paul Young’s forward to the Divine Dance, he gives us this poem. 

One alone
is not by nature Love,
or Laugh
or Sing
One alone
may be Prime Mover
Unknowable
Indivisible
All
and if Everything is All and All is One
One is Alone
Self-Centered
Not Love
Not Laugh
Not Sing
Two
Ying/Yang
Dark/Light
Male/Female
contending Dualism
Affirming Evil/Good
and striving towards Balance
At best Face to Face
But never Community
Three
Face to Face to Face
Community
Ambiguity
Mystery
Love for the Other
And for the Other’s Love
Within
Other-Centered
Self-Giving
Loving
Singing
Laughter
A fourth is created
Ever loved and loving.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.  

January 2021

We Cannot Yet Be Satisfied

by Michael J. Goggin, IVC Director, DC/Metro Maryland

As members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), we have witnessed the justifiable outrage, especially in the past year, at the systemic racism that is still pervasive in our country and we express solidarity with those seeking lasting change.

IVC is a service corps of people ages 50 and above, and many of our members came of age during the civil rights clashes of the 1950s and 1960s and the desegregation struggles of the 1970s. Impressed by how far our nation has come in the past seven decades, we recognize that we cannot yet be satisfied in our on-going pursuit of justice and equality while people of color are harmed by the brutality of some in positions of authority.

We also recognize the privilege inherent in having the time, the means, and the health to mobilize one’s education, skills, and wisdom into service through IVC and we hope to use that privilege to mindfully bridge the racial and economic gaps that it typically exacerbates.

As a faith-based service corps animated by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his company that has come to be known as the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), we affirm the aspirations of the order’s 2019 Universal Apostolic Preferences as openings to grace, pointing the way forward to greater faith through further contemplation and action for all who consider themselves Ignatian followers. Among these preferences is a mission oriented toward reconciliation and peace with people whose dignity has been violated. We see in the current struggle for racial equality in our country glimpses of the Kingdom of God itself, which Catholics affirm to be both “already” taking shape here on earth but “not yet” perfectly realized. We aim to give our members the opportunity not only to serve in meaningful ways but also to reflect on the meaning of the service work they do. Among the many ways they do that is through the regular prayerful reading of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is often cited as an expression of complete equality in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[1]Reiterating this point to the Colossians, Paul concludes “Christ is all and in all.”[2] To Corinth, he states, “we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”[3]

Our Christian oneness obliges us to do the works of social justice that will help to actualize the kingdom. The rich 130-year-old tradition of Catholic social teaching compels us both to charity and to action. Our members commit to offering 600 or more hours of service each year with people who are marginalized through our expanding network of partnerships with non-profit agencies in more than twenty metropolitan areas across the United States. Many of the regions in which we serve are among the most racially segregated cities in our country. Many of the people with whom we serve and many of the non-profit professionals who supervise the work of our service corps members are people of color. Countless deep friendships between members of IVC and the clients and staff of our partner agencies have resulted from our presence in underserved neighborhoods.

Our members seek not only to serve but also to reflect on their service. The IVC experience introduces many individuals to Ignatian spirituality for the first time, while rekindling the memory of Jesuit prayer practices for others. Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality for everyday life. It is marked by the desire to find God in all things. It blends contemplative prayer with active engagement in the world. With respect to the problem of systemic racism in the United States in 2020, Ignatian spirituality prompts our white members to recognize their privilege and to commit to listening deeply to the life experiences and stories of people of color with whom we are already in relationship. Listening compels us to engage in an examination of conscience in which we will reflect on our own behaviors and actions as we consider ways to grow the diversity of our IVC core communities. We trust that the current moral awakening brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement will result in concrete change for our organization as it will for the entire country. The time has come to go beyond being women and men for others, a familiar mantra to those formed by Jesuit institutions of higher education. In kinship, we also must be people with others, particularly those experiencing racial oppression and injustice. Our end-of-year evaluations will be revised to help assess how well we are achieving this goal.

As a Roman Catholic organization, we find inspiration in the words of the 2018 pastoral letter on racism from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” racism is decried as “an ugly cancer.”[4] Our own Body of Christ has been ravaged by its effects over many years. Sadly, we know that some prominent Catholic institutions, even those affiliated with the Society of Jesus, profited from their own involvement in the American slave trade. In the civil rights era, some bishops and priests marched with Dr. King in Washington but more fifty years after King’s assassination, others continue to reject the inculturation efforts needed to make the Roman Catholic liturgy a more vibrant expression of African-American spirituality. IVC commits itself to being a prophetic voice for our Church against the systemic racism that Fordham University scholar Fr. Bryan Massingale calls “a soul sickness.”[5]

As we recall the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we remember first a man who experienced a profound conversion of heart and awakening to the love that God had for him. As men and women who have lived through times of great change in our nation, we recognize that many of us have experienced similar moments of metanoia. Sharing God’s abundant love for us, we stand in solidarity with those experiencing poverty and those on the margins of society. As we grow in wisdom, age and grace, we invite you to experience making a difference by standing with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in its pursuit of greater racial equity.

[1] Galatians 3:28

[2] Colossians 3:11

[3] I Corinthians 12:13

[4] “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love / A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018.

[5] The Jesuit Post, November 20, 2017.