Showing items filed under “Lay Orders”

You ARE Called: Week 6

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Sunday 14 July 2019 


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen 


Acts 9:1-20

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.  ’The men who were travelling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’

Daily journaling

God’s instrument

Monday 15 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) spent most of his adult life as a pastor of the North Congregational Church in Harford, Connecticut. He was active in the early Sunday School movement, dedicated to the idea that children could grow steadily in Christian love and did not have to sink deep into sin before a dramatic conversion experience.  Influenced in both content and style by the Romantic movement then important in theology, philosophy, literature, and the arts, Bushnell saw God’s spirit at work in every aspect of both nature and history.  He here sets out those views and goes on to give an account of how we are to know our callings.[1]

Horace Bushnell, Every Man’s Life a Plan of God

Christ himself testifies to the girding of the Almighty when he says, “To this end was I born, and for this purpose came I into the world” (John 12:27).  Abraham was girded for a particular work and mission, in what is otherwise denominated his call.  Joseph, in Egypt, distinguishes the girding of God’s hand, when he comforts his guilty brothers in the assurance, “So, it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Gen. 45:8).  Moses and Samuel were even called by name, and set to their great life-work, in the same manner.  And what is Paul endeavoring, in all the stress and pressure of his mighty apostleship, but to perform the work for which God’s Spirit girded him at his call, and to apprehend that for which he was apprehended of Christ Jesus.  And yet these great master-spirits of the world are not so much distinguished, after all, by the acts they do, as by the sense itself of some mysterious girding of the Almighty upon them, whose behests they are set to fulfill.  And all men may have this; for the humblest and commonest have a place and a work assigned them, in the same manner, and have it for their privilege to be always ennobled in the same lofty consciousness.  God is girding every man for a place and a calling, in which, taking it from him, even though it be internally humble, he may be as consciously exalted as if he held the rule of a kingdom.  The truth I propose then for your consideration is this—

That God has a definite life-plan for every human person, girding him, visibly or invisibly, for some exact thing, which it will be the true significance and glory of his life to have accomplished. 

….But, the inquiry will be made, supposing all this to be true, in the manner stated, how can we ever get hold of this life-plan God has made for us, or find our way into it?  Here, to many if not all, will be the main stress of doubt and practical suspense….

You are on the point of choosing, it may be, this or that calling, wanting to know where duty lies and what the course God himself would have you take.  Beginning at a point most remote, and where the generality of truth is widest,

Consider 1) the character of God, and you will draw a large deduction from that; for all that God designs for you will be in harmony with his character.  He is a being infinitely good, just, true.  Therefore, you are to know that he can not really seek anything contrary to this in you.  You may make yourselves contrary, in every attribute of character, to God; but he never made you to become any thing different from, or unworthy of, himself……

2)  Consider your relation to him as a creature.  All created wills have their natural center and rest in God’s will. In him they all come into a play of harmony, and the proper harmony of being is possible only in this way. Thus, you know that you are called to have a will perfectly harmonized with God’s and rested in his, and that gives you a large insight into what you are to be, or what is the real end of your being.  In fact, nine-tenths of your particular duties may be settled, at once, by a simple reference in this manner to what God wills.

3) You have a conscience, which is given to be an interpreter of his will and thus of your duty, and in both, of what you are to become.

4)  God’s law and his written Word are guides to present duty, which, if faithfully accepted, will help to set you in accordance with the mind of God and the plan he has laid for you.  “I am a stranger in the earth,” said one, “hide not thy commandments from me”; knowing that God’s commandments would give him a clue to the true meaning and business of his life.

5)  Be an observer of Providence; for God is showing you ever, by the way in which he leads you, whither he means to lead.  Study your trials, your talents, the world’s wants, and stand ready to serve God now, in whatever he brings to your hand.

Again, 6) consult your friends, and especially those who are most in the teaching of God.  They know your talents and personal qualifications better, in some respects, than you do yourself.  Ask their judgment of you and of the spheres and works to which you are best adapted.

Once more 7) go to God himself, and ask for the calling of God; for, as certainly as he has a plan or calling for you, he will somehow guide you into it. And this is the proper office and work of his Spirit. By this private teaching he can show us, and will, into the very plan that is set for us.  And this is the significance of what is prescribed as our duty, viz., living and walking in the Spirit; for the Spirit of God is a kind of universal presence, or inspiration, in the world’s bosom; an unfailing inner light, which if we accept and live in, we are guided thereby into a consenting choice, so that what God wills for us we also will for ourselves—settling into it as the needle to the pole.  By this hidden union with God, or intercourse with him, we get a wisdom or insight deeper than we know ourselves; a sympathy, a oneness with the Divine will and love. We go into the very plan of God for us, and are led along in it by him, consenting, cooperating, answering to him, we know not now, and working out, with nicest exactness, that good end for which his unseen counsel girded us and sent us into the world.  In this manner, not neglecting the other methods just named, but gathering in all their separate lights, to be interpreted in the higher light of the Spirit, we can never be greatly at a loss to find our way into God’s counsel and plan.  [2] 

Daily Journaling

God’s life-plan

Tuesday 16 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


George Herbert (1593-1633) attended Cambridge, where his success promised an important career in the Church of England.  But he tok a job as a priest at a small church and remained there until the time of his death.  He wrote both reflections on his life as a pastor and some of the great religious poetry of the English language.  This poem expresses his frustrations with, but finally acceptance of, his own calling.  The title evokes not only the clergyman’s collar, but the yoke or collar which ties an animal to its work, “choler” (anger), and “caller” (the God who calls).[3]

George Herbert, The Collar

I Struck the board, and cry’d, No more.  I will abroad.

What?  Shall I ever sign and pine?

My lines and life are free; free as the rode; Loose as the winde,

as large as store.

Shall I be still in suit?

Have I no harvest but a thorn

To let me bloud, and not restore

What I have lost with cordiall fruit?

Sure there was wine

Before my sighs did drie it:  there was corn

Before my tears did drown it.

Is the yeare only lost to me?

Have I no bayes to crown it?

No flowers, no garlands gay?  all blasted?  All wasted?

No so, my heart:  but there is fruit,

And thou hast hands.

Recover all thy sigh-blown age

On double pleasures:  leave thy cold dispute

Of what is fit, and not.  Forsake thy cage,

Thy rope of sands

Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee

Good cable, to enforce and draw,

And be thy law,

While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.

Away; take heed:

I will abroad.

Call in thy death’s head there:  tie up thy fears.

He that forbears

To suit and serve his need,

Deserves his load.

But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde

At every word,

Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!

And I reply’d.  My Lord

Daily Journaling

Our Father

Wednesday 17 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Christine de Pisan (1365-about 1430) grew up in Italy. Her father, a physician and astrologer, was a great success at the court of the King of France, Charles V, and Christine married a promising young nobleman.  When both her husband and her father died, Christine found herself, at the age of twenty-five, a widow with three children, a mother, and a niece to support.  She turned to writing poems and essays dedicated to noble patrons and became one of the few “professional authors” in the Middle Ages.[4]

Christine de Pisan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies

Now here is what you must do.  God does not command anyone to leave everything to follow Him: that is only for those who wish to pursue the very most ideal life. Each person can be saved in his own station in life, and when God says it is impossible for a rich person to be saved, that means a person who has riches without virtues and who does not distribute his riches in alms and good deeds, a person whose whole happiness is in possessing great wealth.  There is no doubt that God hates such people and that they will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they change their ways.  And as for the poor, who He says are blessed, those are the poor in spirit. Even a very rich and wealthy man could be poor in spirit if he does not prize the riches of the world, and if he has any of them, he distributes them in good works and in the service of God, and if he neither prides himself on his honor nor thinks himself greater because of his wealth.  Such a person, even though he is wealthy in worldly good, is poor of spirit and will possess the Kingdom of Heaven, and you can see the evidence of it have there not been a great host of kings and princes who are saints in Paradise, like St. Louis, King of France, and several others who did not retire from the world but reigned and possessed their lordships at the pleasure of God?  They lived justly, but not because they did not appreciate glory or rejected the honors that they were given.  They considered that honor belonged not to their own persons, but to the status of their power and wealth, of which they were vicars of God on earth.  Similarly there are a great many queens and princesses who are saints in Paradise, like the wife of King Clovis of France, and St. Badour and St. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, and many others.  There is no doubt at all that God wishes to be served by people of all conditions. At every level of society anyone who wants to can be saved, for the rank does not cause damnation, but rather not knowing how to use it wisely.[5]

Daily Journaling


Thursday 18 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Henri Nouwen, Discernment

God speaks to us through the people who speak to us about the things of God.

While it is true that God reveals wisdom and direction through the Bible and the books and articles we read, as well as the Book of Nature, it also is true that God speaks through the people we meet in daily life.  When I joined L’Arche Daybreak, where people with disabilities are at the center of the community, no one cared that I write books or give lectures to university audiences and church groups around the world.  My achievements did not impress them.  What they cared deeply about was how consistently I showed up for them and showed them how much I loved them. 

In the everyday routines and conversations of life, I began to hear the voice of God anew.  The Spirit of God seemed to speak directly to them and through them, unmediated by books or intellectual discussion.  Some members of my community may not have a lot of physical or mental capacities and skills, but in their poverty and simplicity they are more open to God than I am.  Because, their center of being is wide open to God, they seem to be able to see and speak directly to the heart of my concerns.  “Henri, do you love me?  Will you be home tonight?  Will you take me with you?  Will you care for me?  They helped me see that I could write about being God’s beloved, but it was in my relationships with them that I would learn what it meant to be loved and to give love as part of learning what it means to love God, myself, and my neighbor as Jesus commanded.

People we meet, some great in the eyes of the world and some almost invisible to the larger society, are often conduits of God’s wisdom.  When I met Mother Teresa during a visit to Rome, I sawimmediately that her inner attention was focused only on Jesus, and through him she came to see the poorest of the poor, to whom she dedicated her life.  When ordinary social, psychological, or medical questions were brought to her, she did not answer them on the level they were raised.  Instead, she addressed them with a divine logic and from a spiritual place and perspective that remains unfamiliar to most of us.  That is why many found her ways simplistic, naive, and out of touch.  Like Jesus, she challenged her listeners to move with her to that place where things can be seen as God sees them and to look beyond the surface to the place of divine encounter or call. 

….The gift of discernment is the ability to hear and see from God’s perspective and to offer that wisdom from above to others. Truly, god spoke to me through the mouth of Mother Teresa.  She called me back to the discipline of prayer and being in God’s presence, which is the starting and ending place of which guidance emerges. 

The power of friendship is great if it doesn’t find all its meaning in itself.  If people expect too much from each other, they can do each other harm; disappointment and bitterness can overpower love and even replace it.  But in the practice of discernment in daily life, we can learn to appreciate our closest friends, family members, and sometimes complete strangers, as signposts pointing toward God.  Friends may be guides who see what we may not be able to see ourselves.

….As I struggled to understand my need for close friendships, I came to understand why Jesus sent out his disciples into the world in groups of two.  Together, they could maintain the spirit of peace and love and the affirmation they found in his company, and they could share these gifts with everyone they met. 

….I have in my life many close friends and neighbors, community members and mentors, who are living signs of God’s love and direction in good times and bad.  Beyond family and friends I also feel a special closeness to certain “saints” in the church’s memory who speak to me of faithful witness and strength and sometimes provide guidance in time of need.  Together, God’s people ground me in the reality and wholeness of Christ and his church, holding me firm and safe in God’s loving embrace.  God speaks regularly to us through people who talk to us about the things of God.  Certain people become living signs that point us to God.  Whether in life or in memory, the people God puts in our lives can help guide us and show us the way.[6]

Daily Journaling

Signs from God

Friday 19 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul

It is in order that the soul may be enlightened supernaturally that this night darkens the sensory, the interior and the spiritual appetites.  They are no longer able to find pleasure in anything at all.  The memory, the imagination and the intellect are darkened and unable to function.  Over them hangs a dense and burdensome cloud (“the cloud of unknowing”).  The soul walks securely in this cloud, freed from its appetites.  They can no longer lead the soul into error or into the snares of the world, the flesh and the devil.  The soul is subject now only to the blessings of union with God.  It is no longer distracted with useless things.  It is secure from vainglory, from presumption and from also joy.  The soul, by walking in darkness, not only avoids losing its way but actually advances rapidly.

The faculties must be darkened even in relation to good, spiritual and holy things.  This is so because, in themselves, the faculties can only operate according to their own nature and abilities.  But these are incapable of lifting them up to God.  Only God can lift them up to God.  The soul should see this darkening experience then as a grace, not as an affliction.  God is freeing the soul from itself.  By faith, God is taking the soul by the hand and guiding it through the darkness to a place it knows not.  What greater security could it have!

There is another reason by which the soul is secure in this darkness.  The soul advances by suffering.  Strength is given to the soul by God.  The virtues are practiced, the soul is purified and blessed with wisdom.  This obscure wisdom or “ray of darkness” immerses the soul into the dark night of contemplation, protects it, frees it from all that is not God and brings it ever closer.

By this dark contemplation, God cares for the soul like a good nurse cares for a sick person, carefully safeguarding it from all surrounding dangers.  As we are told in Psalm 18, “God makes the darkness his hiding place.”  The light which is God blinds and darkens our natural faculties and, at the same time, protects them from the world, the flesh and the devil.  The soul is also given a wonderful solicitude about what it should do or not do in the service of God so that the powers of the soul are used only in paying homage to God.[7] 

Daily Journaling

Security in God

Saturday 20 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Elizabeth Liebert, The Way of Discernment

The final step in the discernment process, taking a look back, is shared with all good decision making, and can help us do just that.  Even if we discover flaws in our process or lack of generosity in our response, we can gain invaluable knowledge for our future discernments.

Ignatius says:

When the enemy of human nature has been perceived and recognized by his serpent’s tail and the evil end to which he is leading, a new procedure becomes profitable for the person who was tempted in this way.  He or she should examine immediately the whole train of the good thoughts which the evil spirit brought to the soul, including their beginning, and then how little by little the evil spirit endeavored to bring the soul down from the sweetness and spiritual joy in which it had been, and finally brought it to his evil intention.  Thus the person, by understanding this experience and taking note of it, can be on guard in the future against the characteristic snares. 

According to Ignatius, we can learn about our discernment and about the ways we get tempted even when we have succumbed to the temptation. This “discernment in reverse,” this looking back and seeing what happened, means that nothing need be lost, even if we botch the discernment.

Notice the two levels to the review.  The first concerns the process itself, as suggested by Ignatius.  The second continues the process of confirmation, this time adding two new dimensions.  The decision has been made and implemented.  The situation is no longer hypothetical.  Deciding and acting set loose new dynamics.  Acting invites responses from others.  We are, in fact, in a new discernment situation.  Does this new discernment situation suggest that the original decision ought to be changed or tweaked?  Or does it further confirm the original decision by the fruit that is appearing?

An important caution:  a well-discerned decision should not be lightly or easily changed, and then only by again discerning.  Why?  Because there will always be resistance to any course of action.  Sometimes we have “buyer’s remorse” with our decisions and get cold feet as we set about their implementation.  Sometimes others punish us for the decision, trying to get us to reverse course.  If the spiritual masters are to be believed, we should expect such static around decisions, especially significant ones.[8]

Daily Journaling

Looking back

[1]William C. Placher, Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 353.

[2]Horace Bushnell, Sermons for the New Life(New York: Scribner’s, 1889), 9-17, 18,21-23.

[3]William C. Placher, Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 273, 277.

[4]William C. Placher, Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 176.

[5]Christine de Pisan, The Treasure of the City of Ladies, trans. Sarah Lawson (New York:  Penguin Classics, 1986), pp. 35-38,39-41, 43-50, 167-71.

[6]Henri Nouwen, Discernment (New York: HaperCollins, 2013), pp. 66-81.

[7]St. John of the Cross, ed. William Meninger (New York:  Lantern Books, 2014), p. 184-185.

[8]Elizabeth Liebert, The Way of Discernment (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 153-155.

You Are Called: Week 5

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Sunday 7 July 2019 


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen 


Jeremiah 1:4-10, 20:7-9

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ 
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. 
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.’ 
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. 
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

O Lord, you have enticed me,
   and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
   and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
   everyone mocks me. 
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
   I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
   a reproach and derision all day long. 
If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
   or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
   and I cannot.

Daily journaling

Your mission

Monday 8 July 2019 


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Joan of Arc (1412-1431), daughter of a peasant, began to hear her voices when she was only thirteen.  It was the middle of the Hundred Years’ War, and England had conquered much of France.  The voice told Joan to go to the Dauphin, the prince not yet officially crowned King of France, and seek to lead the French forces against the English.  With Joan in a suit of white armor at its head, the French army defeated the English at Orleans, and the Dauphin was crowned king. Later Joan was captured and became a prisoner of the English, who had her tried for witchcraft and heresy. These excerpts come from the official record of the trial.  She was found guilty and burned at the stake.[1]

(From Trial Testimony of Thursday, February 22)

She then said that, since the age of thirteen, she had been having revelations from Our Lord through a voice that taught her how to behave.  And that the first time she was very afraid.  And she said that the said voice came at noon, in summertime, when she was in her father’s garden during a fast day, and that the said voice came from the right, toward the church.  And she said that the said voice is rarely without light, which always comes from the same direction as the said voice [Latin record adds here:  And when Joan herself came to France she heard that voice often.  Asked how she could see the light of which she spoke, since it came from the side, she answered nothing to this, but went on to other things.  She said that if she were in a forest, she could clearly hear voices coming to her.  She said in fact that it seemed to her a worthy voice and she believed that this voice was sent from God.]

She went on to say that after hearing the said voice three times, she knew it was the voice of an angel.  She also said that this voice had always taken good care of her.  Asked what advice this voice had given her for the salvation of her soul, she answered that it taught her how to conduct herself and that she should go to church often. And then the voice told her it was necessary that she go into France…and told her two or three times a week that she must leave to go into France.  And that her father knew nothing of her departure.

With this, it said to her that she must hasten to go and that she should lift the siege at Orleans; and that she should go to Robert de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucoulers, and that he would provide her with men to accompany her.

To which she responded that she was nothing but a poor girl who knew neither how to ride a horse nor how to lead an army.

And after her words with this voice, she went off to the house of an uncle, where she remained for a week.  And that afterward her uncle led her to the said Robert de Baudricourt, who she recognized even though she had never met him before.  And this she knew because the voice had told her who he was.

She went on to say that the said Baudricourt refused her twice.  Then on the third occasion, he welcomed her and gave her men to escort her into France, just as the voice had told her…

She then said that when she left Vaucouleurs, she assumed male clothing, and also a sword Baudricourt had given, her, but no other armor or weapons.  And she said she was accompanied by a knight and four other men; and that on that day they took lodging in the town of Saint-Urbain, where she slept in the abbey.

She also said that on the way to Chinon, she passed through Auxerre where she heard Mass in the great church; and that she often had her voices with her…

She said she never asked anything of the voice except at the end, for the salvation of her soul.[2] 

Daily Journaling

Facing an unknown

Tuesday 9 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing 

Chapter 17

That a true contemplative will not meddle in the active life nor with what goes on about him, not even to defend himself against those who criticize him.

In the Gospel of St. Luke we read that our Lord came to Martha’s house and while she set about at once to prepare his meal, her sister Mary did nothing but sit at his feet.  She was so intent upon listening to him that she paid no attention to what Martha was doing.  Now certainly Martha’s chores were holy and important.  (Indeed, they are the works of the first degree of the active life.) But Mary was unconcerned about them. Neither did she notice our Lord’s human bearing, the beauty of his mortal body, or the sweetness of his human voice and conversation, although this would have been a holier and better work. (It represents the second degree of the active life and the first degree of the contemplative life.)  But she forgot all of this and was totally absorbed in the highest wisdom of God concealed in the obscurity of his humanity.

Mary turned to Jesus with all the love of her heart, unmoved by what she saw or heard spoken and done about her.  She sat there in perfect stillness with her heart’s secret, joyous love intent upon that cloud of unknowing between her and her God.  For as I have said before, there never has been and there never will be a creature so pure or so deeply immersed in the loving contemplation of God who does not approach him in this life through that lofty and marvelous cloud of unknowing.   And it was to this very cloud that Mary directed the hidden yearning of her loving heart.  Why? Because it is the best and holiest part of the contemplative life possible to man and she would not relinquish it for anything on earth.  Even when Martha complained to Jesus about her, scolding him for not bidding her to get up and help with the work, Mary remained there quite still and untroubled, showing not the least resentment against Martha for her grumbling.  But this is not surprising really, for she was utterly absorbed in another work, all unknown to Martha, and she did not have time to notice her sister or defend herself.

My friend, do you see that this whole incident concerning Jesus and the two sisters was intended as a lesson for active and contemplative persons of the Church in every age?  Mary represents the contemplative life and all contemplative persons ought to model their lives on hers.  Martha represents the active life and all active persons should take her as their guide.[3]

Daily Journaling

Contemplation and action 

Wednesday 10 July 2019 


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Elizabeth Leibert, The Way of Discernment

If we are to contribute our best to the reign of God, we need something beyond our everyday vision and imagination.  We need greater desires; we need “the more.”

Ignatius knew that the most effective laborers for the reign of God would be those who could generate their own zeal.  They would not have to depend on their environment providing all the right stimuli, or on feeling rewarded, or on receiving kudos from others; they would persevere through thick and thin to bring about the object of their desire.  He developed a method for eliciting in his companions great desires that centered on cultivating the imagination and employing appropriate asceticism.  His strategy still works today.

If we can’t imagine any other world than we presently inhabit, we will not desire more.  To move toward deeper desires, then, we must school our imagination, learn to imagine that which is not yet.  Scriptures, especially the prophetic books, urge us toward a vision beyond our mundane experience.  Contemplative prayer clears out our old images and readies us for new ones given us by the Holy Spirit.  Testimonies and the lives of strong and holy exemplars, of today’s saints, can stir up our imaginations.  We can associate with people who share our great desires or whom we admire, and let them stimulate our imaginations.  When our energy flags, we can return through prayer and memory to our authentic desires, allowing them to come alive again.

The way to great desires is always pitted with conflicting desires, our own and those of others.  We can remain divided in our desires, or we can engage in a struggle between opposing desires.  A focused asceticism, or self-denial for the sake of greater purposefulness, can help us temper desires that dampen our imaginations and allow us to settle for less than God desires.  Notice that asceticism is not for the sake of killing off parts of our selves, but for the sake of marshaling our full energy around our deep desires.

To summarize:  desires underlie all our motivation; discernment urges us to choose well among these desires.  Our experience as love and saved sinners allows us to believe that discernment can happen.  We can enter into a process of sifting through the ambiguities of our situation. Our experience as co-creators of God’s unfolding purpose in creation underlies the importance of discerning well. It matters to the continual outworking of God’s creative life.  Growing in spiritual freedom through spiritual indifference is simultaneously the essential prerequisite and the goal of spiritual discernment.  Without this spiritual freedom, discernment, as such, does not exist.  With it, discernment becomes a powerful means of growing in holiness.  Finally, seeking great desires, the “more,” invites us to stretch beyond our limited horizons to do something great for God.[4]

Daily Journaling

Seeking the “more”

Thursday 11 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel

Faith, according to the theologians, is a habit. It is both certain and obscure. It is an obscure habit because by it we believe truths revealed by God that transcend all natural understanding. Paradoxically, the excessive light of faith is a thick darkness.  Just as the sun overwhelms all other lights, so faith overwhelms greater and lesser things. The light of faith transcends the faculty of intellectual vision and disables the understanding because the understanding extends only to natural knowledge.

By him or herself one only knows after a natural manner; that is, things that one attains by means of the five senses.  One only knows objects which present themselves to the senses.  Things beyond one’s understanding whose likeness one has never perceived would give one no illumination whatever, no knowledge at all.  Can a person born blind really understand what color is?

So it is with faith.  It tells us of things which we have never seen or understood. So we have no natural knowledge concerning the things of faith.  We hear about them and believe what we are taught.  We bring our natural understand into subjection to what we hear.  Faith comes from hearing.  It is not knowledge that enters by the senses, but is only the consent that the soul gives to what we hear.  Things that we believe by faith are not illumined by our understanding, which has been rejected for the sake of our faith.

Obviously then, faith is a dark night for the soul, a dark night which paradoxically gives the soul light, light it could not have in any other way.  The more the soul is darkened, the greater is the light that is given to it. [5]        

Daily Journaling

Practicing faith

Friday 12 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen


Henri Nouwen, Discernment

Discernment as “Being Seen”

I am struck by the way Jesus “saw” Nathanael under the tree in the Gospel of John.  Even before meeting him, Jesus said of Nathanael:  “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” When the two men met on the road, Nathanael asked Jesus with amazement:  “How do you knowme?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the gif tree, I sawyou.”  Jesus’s seeing through Nathanael under the fig tree was such a powerful act of discerning what was in his heart that it caused Nathanael to proclaim:  “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  To which Jesus remarked, “You believe this because I told you I sawyou under the fig tree? You will seegreater things than these…You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:47-51).

This wonderful story about seeing through to the heart of things raises a deep question:  Do I want to be fully seen by Jesus?  Do I want to be known by him?  If I do, then a faith can grow that will open my eyes to heaven and reveal Jesus as the Son of God.  I will see great things when I am willing to be seen.  I will receive new eyes that can see the mysteries of God’s own life, but only when I allow God to see me, all of me, even those parts that I myself do not want to see. 

….Once we are willing to see and be seen by God, we can look for signs of God’s presence and guidance in every appearance presented to our senses.  Discernment becomes a new way of seeing (and being seen) that results in divine revelation and direction.  This heart knowledge enables us to lead a life worthy of the calling (Eph. 4:1). [6]

Daily Journaling

Willing to be seen 

Saturday 13 July 2019


Most powerful Holy Spirit, come down upon us and subdue us. From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious, and glory seems but ordinary, bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew. Amen 


Karl Barth (1886-1968) moved in 1921 from serving as a pastor in his native Switzerland to teaching theology at a series of German universities.  He eagerly supported the Confessing Church in its opposition to Nazi efforts to take control of the Protestant churches and in 1934 wrote the Barmen Declaration, the Confessing Church’s basic statement of its faith.  Refusing to take an oath to Hitler, he had to leave Germany, and taught theology back in Switzerland from 1935 until his retirement in 1962. His greatest work, the Church Dogmatics, unfinished after many long volumes, argued that Christianity must start with God as revealed in Christ, and nothing else.[7] 

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics

We speak of the vocation of man confronting and corresponding to the divine calling.  It is clear that in so doing we give the term a meaning which transcends its customary use in the narrower technical sense.  Vocation in the usual sense means a particular position and function of a man in connection with the process of human work, i.e., his job; and then in the broader sense a whole group of such positions and functions. Now obviously it can also be part of what we understand as human vocation that a man has his “vocation” in this technical sense.  For many men this will really be so.  There are also men, however, who do not legitimately have a vocation in this technical sense. 

…When we see the vocation of a man as his destiny already disclosed and imposed as the will and law of God, so that he needs only an inner call to recognize and apprehend it, to what purpose is the calling of God, Christ or the Gospel?  What more can this be than his perhaps not absolutely necessary self-direction to vocation?  Calling, then, shrinks necessarily to what Karl Holl describes as “awareness of God’s presence in every moment of life.”

….We now assume that a man has sought, chosen, entered and to the best of his ability filled his sphere of operation according to the plan and providence of God.  The command of God has called him to this place, and according to this command he has now tried to work in it under the will and plan of the divine providence.  He will remain in it so long and so far as the command of God summons him to do so. On this presupposition he must prove his faithfulness in this vocation.  1 Cor. 7:20 is relevant in this connection:  “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” But what does it mean to abide in his calling?  It certainly means that he must not glance aside at the callings of others.  It certainly means that he must apply himself wholeheartedly to his own.  It certainly means, therefore, that he must not allow this application to be challenged or disturbed by the thought of other desirable or very different callings.

…We are not to think here of what is usually called a change of vocation.  This, too, can be commanded.  It was Calvin—Luther would not have written this—who expressly said of 1 Cor. 7:20 that it might be fitting for a tailor to learn another trade, or a salesman to switch to farming, and therefore why should not a doctor become a minister or a minister a doctor or politician, a scholar a man of affairs or a man of affairs a scholar?  Such later changes do occur in the life of a man, and they can do so in faithfulness to his one calling which makes them necessary even though so sharp a change is involved.  …Finally, sickness or age may bring with them quite unbidden the problem of finding and occupying new spheres of operation.  We have to realize that in every such transition the more serious and possibly all the problems which confronted us at the first choice of our way will be raised again in a new and perhaps even more urgent form.  There will again be involved a human choice with all the possibilities of error and failure which this entails.  The more serious the change in question, the more we have to ask ourselves whether it is really the calling of God and not just our own caprice that we think we must follow. 

…As an instructive example, we may city the verdict of August Bebel:  “Strictly speaking, the worker who drains sewers to protect humanity from unhealthy miasmas is a very useful member of society, whereas the professor who teaches falsified history in the interests of the ruling class, or the theologian who seeks to befog the brain with supernatural, transcendental doctrines, is an extremely harmful individual.”  We must be careful not be guilty of what is here stated to be the activity of theologians, and if we cannot do better than this we should make all haste to become good drainers of sewers.  Similarly, if the professor of history cannot do better than teach history which is falsified in the interests of a class, to the sewers with him also![8] 

Daily Journaling

Faithfulness to our calling 

[1]William C. Placher, Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 190.

[2]The Mission of Joan of Arc, ed. And trans. Nadia Margolis, in Medieval Hagiography, An Anthology, ed. Thomas Head (New York: Routledge, 2001), 814-17.

[3]The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. William Johnston (New York:  Doubleday, 1973), p. 71-72.

[4]Elizabeth Liebert, SNJM;The Way of Discernment (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 36-37.

[5]William Meninger, OCSO; St. John of the Cross (New York:  Lantern Books, 2004), p. 35-36.

[6]Henri Nouwen, Discernment(New York:  HarperCollins, 2013), pp. 7-8.

[7]William C. Placher, Callings, Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2005), p. 429.

[8]Karl Barth, Church DogmaticsIII:4 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1985), 599-602, 641-42, 645-47, 522-29, 534.


The Commission on Ministry offers this six-week program to help participants discern their call to serve God's Kingdom. Each week includes a theme, and each day offers a prayer, reflection, and journal entry assignment to aid vocation discernment for laity. The program's principal book is Gordon Smith's, "Consider Your Calling, Six Questions for Discerning Your Vocation."