Magis Institute

I'm in Wernersville, PA once again, at the Jesuit Center which used to be the novitiate of the Maryland Province. I arrived on Sunday and have been directing a retreat for about 20 priests and permanent deacons from several dioceses: Allentown, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Newark, and Albany.

I had hoped to send readers of this blog to the web site of the Magis Institute but the spirituality section of the Institute's web site is currently under construction. Several Jesuits write daily reflections for the site and this week has been my turn. I don't have a regularly scheduled week but fill in as needed. You can subscribe to a service that will send you a daily email with the reflection, but the web site doesn't have that information on it just yet. When it does, I'll post it. In the meantime, here are the reflections that I posted for the last few days:

2 May 2010
Fifth Sunday of Easter

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck wrote a book entitled “The Road Less Traveled” which sold over 7 million copies and remained on the “New York Times” bestseller list longer than any other paperback in history. It began with these words: “Life is difficult.” If this is true for life in general, it should be no surprise that in our first reading today Paul and Barnabas proclaimed: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Why? Jesus told us why in today’s gospel: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Our world thinks of love as a feeling yet in his extremely popular book, Peck wrote that love is not a feeling but an act of the will, a choice, a decision, action. Anyone who has truly loved has suffered. Dorothy Day frequently quoted the great Russian novelist Dostoevsky that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” In his encyclical “God is Love,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote that in a world in which the word “love” is used in all sorts of contradictory ways, a definition for true love must begin by “contemplating the pierced side of Christ.” This is, in his words, “love in its most radical form.” This is the love that Jesus commands.

But Jesus does not command like a task-master. He gives what He commands—the power to love as He loved—by giving us His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. United to Jesus we are able to give all and to receive all—the new heaven and the new earth where every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more.


3 May 2010
Feast of the Apostles Philip and James

In the first reading St. Paul writes that through the Gospel he preached, the Corinthians “are also being saved.” Wait a minute! “Being saved?” Didn’t Christ die for our sins and rise on the third day? Aren’t we “saved?” There are some who so emphasize the work of salvation that Jesus accomplished that they in essence deny the human freedom to reject the salvation won for us. They claim, “once saved, always saved.” In other words, once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, that’s it. You’re assured of your salvation.

It isn’t that simple. Yes, Jesus died and rose for our salvation. In this way He indeed won our salvation. But we, in our life on earth, are in the process of accepting or rejecting the salvation He won for us. We are “being saved” when we cooperate with God’s grace. And this cooperation isn’t a one time, irrevocable decision. As Paul writes in another letter, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2: 12).

We see in the Gospel another line that, when taken out of context, can lead to a simplistic view of faith: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” The name of Jesus is not a magic word that gives the one who asks whatever he or she wants. To ask “in the name of Jesus” means to ask as He asked. It means asking, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, but always adding “yet not my will but Yours be done, Father.” Asking in this way may involve some “fear and trembling”, but in the end it will mean cooperating with the grace Jesus won for us on the cross, and following Him into eternal life.


4 May 2010
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes a great promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” But then He qualifies His gift: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” In other words, the peace of the world—no problems, a carefree existence, and the absence of suffering, or, the stand-off peace of mutually-assured destruction—is not the peace that Jesus leaves. His peace is deeper. It’s like the calm of the depths of the ocean though storms rage on the surface.

St. Paul knew that peace. He faced so much opposition and so many “hardships” that he was even stoned and left for dead, as we read in the first reading from Acts. Though he was only stoned once, he was given 39 lashes five different times, was beaten with rods three times, and was shipwrecked three times. His only anxiety was not for himself but for the churches he had founded (see 2 Corinthians 12: 23-28).

How can peace and such suffering co-exist? Jesus warned us that “the ruler of the world is coming.” C.S. Lewis wrote that we are living in “enemy-occupied territory.” St. Ignatius said that we are each faced with a choice to stand under the flag or standard of Satan or under the standard of Jesus whose “appearance [is] beautiful and attractive.” Under His standard we can be at peace, we can have untroubled and fearless hearts. Why? Because with His death and resurrection the outcome of the war has already been determined. The victory over sin and death has been achieved. We need only embrace it ourselves.