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Table of Contents

Changing Our Hearts
Speaking from Our Hearts
Fostering Compassionate Relationships
Communicating in Uncomfortable Situations
Pursuing Spiritual Direction
Refilling Our Reservoir
Endings as New Beginnings
Finding Our Center in the Spirit
The Foundations of Gospel Living
The Blessings of Discipleship
Testing Idealized Self–Images
Moving from Egocentric to Other–Centered Concerns
Dealing with Guilt
Seeking Peace amid Conflict
Expressing Love in a Loveless World
Balancing Functionality and Spirituality
Accepting Ourselves and Others in Christ
Returning to the Source of Our Worth
Committing Ourselves to Loving Service
Discovering the Joy of Life Together in Christ
Attending to Divine Directives
Learning to Live Appreciatively
Cultivating a Rhythm of Recollection and Participation
Practicing the Art of Listening with Other-Centered Love
Responding to Our Own and Others’ Emotions
Maintaining a Sense of Humor
Manifesting Christ-Likeness in Everyday Life

Deepening Our Love for God’s Word in Community
Moved by the Spirit to Love One Another
Living the New Commandment in All Our Relationships
Following Christ’s Call to Friendship with God and Others
Modeling Our Communion on the Trinity
About the Author
About New City Press

One in the Lord
Living Our Call to Christian Community
Susan Muto
New City Press
Hyde Park, New York

Published in the United States by New City Press
202 Comforter Blvd., Hyde Park, NY 12538
©2013 New City Press

Cover design by Durva Correia

Bible citations unless noted are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of
Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

A catalog record is available from the Library of Congress


Printed in the United States of America

There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to
the one hope of your calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is above all
and through all and in all.
(Ephesians 4:4–6)

Every task, however simple, sets the soul that does it free,
Every deed of love and mercy, done to them, is done to me.
Nevermore thou needest seek me; I am with thee everywhere;
Raise the stone, and thou shalt find me;
Cleave the wood, and I am there.

Henry van Dyke

Poet and Professor of English Literature
Poems (Princeton University Press, 1920).

Christianity is a religion of relationships. While we were still in sin, God loved us so
much that he sent his only son into the world to save us (see Rom 5:8). The thought
never fails to touch the heart that were I the only person in the world, Jesus Christ would
still have died for me that I may live. The main obligation the Lord lays upon us is that we
must love one another as he has loved us (see 1 Jn 4:11). He says to you and me that not
only are we unique; we also are communal. By acts of charity and compassion he calls us
daily to celebrate Christian community at home and in the working places of family life,
church, and society.
By contrast, the dynamics of ego–psychology tend to place the isolated self at the
center of life. Selfism has no place in the context of personal and social relations in the
Lord. An always giving and forgiving God provides the grace to grow in faith, hope, and
love under his guidance . The challenge to change from self to other–centeredness gives
rise to many questions about fostering compassionate relationships, about accepting self
and others in Christ, about learning to live appreciatively, about deepening the life of the
Spirit, and about living the new commandment in all our relationships. This book attempts
to answer the central questions we are likely to pose about these matters in the context of
Christian spirituality. It could not have been written without the help of everyone in the
community of the Epiphany Association. It is to them and to all our friends and
benefactors that I dedicate One in the Lord.
The concerns expressed by laity, clergy and religious in regard to faith formation and
its everyday application are as universal as they are unique. I have written these
reflections on Christian community from the perspective of “people in the pew” eager to
pursue their commitment to the gospel in today’s world. For example, a young professional
I know holds a leading position in the research laboratory of a prestigious medical center
in Pittsburgh. She and her colleagues experience the same tensions pertaining to
community life that might occur in a monastic setting. How can they balance working so
hard and having a decent home life? What is the bridge between solitary labor and loving
service to others? All of us share the same concerns. We need to listen to the demands
of our everyday world without neglecting the wisdom of our faith traditions. I hope that
these reflections on living our call to community will teach us more about who we are and
what we must do to fulfill our destiny from here to eternity.



1 JOHN 3:23–24
And this is his commandment, that we should
believe in the name of his Son
Jesus Christ and love one another,
just as he has commanded us.
All who obey his commandments
abide in him,
and he abides in them.
And by this we know that he
abides in us,
by the Spirit that he has given us.

Changing Our Hearts

I n a “me–centered” world, it is an ever–present challenge to place others’ needs before

our own. The “demon of narcissism” plays on our selfish tendency to wonder “what’s in it
for me?” The divine directive to love one another counters this aberration. By word and
deed, Jesus Christ teaches us not to place ourselves at the center. God alone belongs
there and if we are Christians, we must obey his command to love one another.
Despite this holy obligation, we resist his transforming will. Fibers of selfishness so
enmesh our system that we fear change of this sort. Our sensitivity to service in familial,
ecclesial, and social settings feels paralyzed. We may be tempted to remain complacent or
to deny the needs around us. How many times have we rendered homeless persons
invisible? How often have we ignored others’ feelings and focused only on our own?
Such cases paralyze the call to Christian community. We find a truckload of excuses
not to obey Christ’s summons to be with and for others. Complacency may cause us to
consider a bother even a modest request for help. Instead, in less than pleasant
circumstances Jesus prompts us to see a chance to help and to heal as he would.
Acting like Jesus does not mean choosing a superficial solution like tossing a few coins
at the poor without changing our heart. The command that we transform our egocentric
concerns evokes resistance to gospel truths. We may be torn between lazy refusal to
change or pushy enthusiasm to reform the world without considering the consequences of
our actions. Between these “extremes” lies a “mean”— a patient presence that alerts us to
the initially small but significant changes we may have to make to become more Christ–like
in our attitudes and actions. Our life in Christ is framed by respect for each person’s limits
and blessings. Contemplatives in a cloister must practice Christian charity as much as
activists in the inner city. However unique our modes of prayer and participation may be,
we need to keep at heart the common good of all. Neither total passivity nor thoughtless
activity aids us in our quest to be other–centered.
Prudence may prompt us to check all sides of a situation, but having discerned what
God is asking of us is not enough. We need to make decisive moves in that direction.
Once a faithful soul like Mother Teresa of Calcutta discerned the new direction of
her vocation, she not only praised the Lord; she also underwent a profound conversion
of heart and took whatever action was necessary to test her decisions. We always know
the efficacy of our choices by the fruits that they bear.
Perhaps we have identified as the purpose of community life only plans or projects
that appeal to our need for noticeable success. We may adopt a conciliatory tone but in
reality we reject opinions or proposals that differ from our point of view. What we claim
to be the best way to serve our community may be but a ploy to advance our own
position. Without examining our own motives for initiating communal changes, whatever
we propose may be overshadowed by our desire for vainglory.
It does not matter what we want, but whether we have surrendered our will to God’s.

We serve others by acting in a just, humble, and peaceful manner that reflects the
orientation of our life as a whole. We will perform more fruitful actions if we are
empowered by Christ’s call—not pressured by the lure of success. We ought to act with a
disposition of serene certitude that stems from a wise rhythm of worship and work,
contemplation and action.
At one moment the wisest option may be receptive surrender to what is; another may
require courageous engagement. At such a time, all we can know for sure is that we must
try to be open to the best course of action for us and every member of our community.
We can then distance ourselves from our plans long enough to take a second look at what
might help us diminish the selfish elements that obscure charitable concerns. By
considering an issue from all sides, we act without stress in the best interests of the family
and faith community to which we belong.
Changing our heart does not mean compulsive feats of endurance nor the unrealistic
pretense that problems in community will resolve themselves. Acting justly does not
imply gaining the upper hand but responding realistically to what Christ asks of us in a
particular situation. Only then can we discover the deepest meaning of discipleship. He
calls us to be “ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:6). With his grace we can improve
our behavior and transform our hearts. As a result we will see that our actions flow from
who we are in him. He forgives our failures and invites us to new depths of union and

Questions for Reflection

1. Suggest three ways to resist the “demon of narcissism” that can despoil acts of
other–centered love.
2. In what ways can you resist the pull between total passivity and thoughtless
activity? In short, how do you try to balance labor and leisure in your daily life?
3. How would your life in family, church and society look were you to accept the
call to be a minister of Christ’s covenant of love in our often less than charitable

Speaking from Our Hearts

W hen Christ commands us to love one another, he expects us to speak the truth from our
hearts and by so doing to strengthen our faith community. If our treasure (love of God
and love of neighbor as ourselves) is what we value most, then our heart can be found
there (see Lk12:34). We will say what we mean and mean what we say. Others will see us
not as popularity-seekers but as promise-keepers. If we follow our heart’s true inclination,
we will go the extra mile to care for those in need. Our words of encouragement will well
up from a heart open to the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps past anxiety prevented us from showing our concerns fully, but such fear will
have no place in our hearts. The compulsion to be safe, not sorry, dissolves before the
blessings of witnessing to the Gospel with courage and candor. We were afraid to be
counter–cultural when the situation demanded it. By finding meaning even in our mistakes,
we will grow closer to Christ. We will not hesitate to invite others to correct our choices
when we misread them. We will move from self-defensiveness to discovery of a new
direction for our lives. Speaking from our hearts prevents our life from plunging into the
abyss of empty chatter. We will long for life–changing encounters like the one between
Jesus and the woman at the well (see Jn 4:1–42).
Rather than remaining “talking heads” with an opinion about every trend in religion
and politics, we will ponder the truth before we speak. The more we try to fill up space
with empty words, the less difference our statements will make. A few words uttered with
integrity outlast volumes of lies.
Community life is built up through true communication. It opens up the space in
which we respect others and others trust us. Speaking as believers receptive to every
word of the Lord grounds our conversation upon our oneness in him. Acknowledging our
own vulnerability allows us to show compassion for every person we meet. Whether
reticent or outgoing by temperament, we will know when to listen and when to speak our
mind. What will matter to us is not that we advance our own agenda, but that the truth set
us free (see Jn 8:32).
Sensitivity to others—all of us children of God—will move us to help those in need.
Through honest sharing we will bridge estrangements due to misunderstanding, anger, or
prejudice. We will acknowledge our lack of trust as well as our childish tendency to show
off. Instead of avoiding one another, we will pray that the grace of God break through
the walls that divide us. When we speak rather than listen, we wind up talking at rather
than with one another and we ratchet up the tension. If we let others say what they feel,
and if we then respond honestly, everyone will benefit.
Effective communication techniques do not guarantee effective conversation. Honest
sharing means more than simply broadcasting what is on our mind; we must first listen in
silence since there is always more to learn. Stating an opinion in haste prevents
communication. It pushes us farther apart. When we experience the joy of waiting upon

the Lord, however, we will grasp what he wants to say to us through others. A loving
atmosphere in which we listen respectfully as others express their convictions, trusting
that they will reciprocate, will draw us together. As Jesus said, those who have ears to
hear, will hear (see Mt 11:15).

Questions for Reflection

1. What prevents you from speaking from the heart, honestly and courageously?
Can you overcome such fears? How?
2. How is honest, spontaneous communication possible in a “sound bite” media–
oriented world where it seems you must watch every word you say and edit every
word you write?
3. When you speak truly from your heart, does it affect others? How does
speaking like this benefit the community?

Fostering Compassionate Relationships

M any of us may think that being able to choose our companions from among those we
like would resolve our problems with relationships. Would it not be heaven on earth to
relate solely to friends and never have to deal with foes?
This vision of a problem–free life dissolves before the harsh reality of
disappointments, dashed dreams, and distrust. Christ could have limited himself to the
house of Israel, but he chose to dine with prostitutes and sinners. By empathizing with
outcasts and comforting the persecuted, he demonstrates how to identify with our own
and others’ vulnerability. Members of a true Christian community admit their
imperfections and embrace people from every background.
We cannot grow in compassion unless we remove the log in our own eye before we
spot the speck in someone else’s (see Mt 7:4). Real friends encourage one another to
open up their closed circle by breaking down barriers of judgment that exclude others;
they show everyone the care and concern they would like to receive in turn. Genuine
tenderness cannot be forced; it wells up spontaneously when we see the Lord in those
who are in need.
Community, a fertile field for companionship, can turn into a breeding ground for
condescension. No matter how solicitous we try to be, we cannot escape our wounded,
fallible human nature. Compassion is not a panacea. Even best friends can be testy with
one another.
We become one in the Lord by acknowledging and embracing our distance from one
another. Dislikes are not insurmountable obstacles but occasions for reconciliation.
Softened by Divine Mercy, we can learn how to forgive and forget. Hurts become
impassible hurdles only if we withhold forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” is a start. It may
lead to sharing a story that makes us laugh as we recall what we enjoy about one another.
What binds us together is not thinking alike but the freedom to allow for difference.
With mutual understanding, compassionate presence creates trust. The shadows of
withdrawal from involvement are dispelled by the light of self–giving love. Mercy shown
and mercy received are transformed from an occasional display of virtue to a way of life.
Compassion dislodges us from the comfort zones of complacency and makes visible
the hand of God in every situation, no matter how imperfect it may seem. In the demands
of daily life it allows us to recognize what faith has the power to redeem. No matter how
upright and confident our sisters and brothers may seem, we discern the inevitable bumps
and bruises that lie beneath the smooth surface of their stories and empathize with them.
Facing the truth of our vulnerability dispels the illusion that we can make it on our
own. Everyone’s needs are important. Gathered together as members of Christ’s body, we
find ways to bring his love to a waiting world. Our unity in Christ forms the inspiring core
of our compassionate outreach.
Because such grace has been given to us, much will be asked of us as messengers of

justice, peace, and mercy. Compassion carries the risk of rejection. As bearers of the
cross, we know that the delight of sacrifice also includes the dismay of defeat.
Even resistance or failure in involvement provides something positive—a chance to
turn once more from frigid withholding to genuine expressions of friendship in the Lord.
Not needing to choose those with whom we want to associate frees us to regard each
person, in his or her dignity, as another Christ. In everyone we meet we see his face, we
hear his voice. Through our compassionate outreach his shepherding hand touches
everyone the Father entrusts to us.

Questions for Reflection
1. Describe a moment when your own need for help evoked the compassion you
hoped to receive.
2. You may have heard someone way, “I set out to minister to them only to find
that they ministered to me.” Has this happened to you? Relate that experience.
3. When and how have you overcome your own prejudices? What was it like to
celebrate the differences between you and others?

Communicating in Uncomfortable Situations

“W hat happened to our marriage? Since both of us work different shifts to make ends
meet, we hardly have time to be together. When duty calls, one of us is left alone
to care for the children. Nothing has gone the way we expected. Now, when we most
need to converse, there seems to be a wall of silence between us.”
This lament sounds familiar. In such stressful situations, we all long for ways to
communicate. Tight schedules limit the length and quality of time that couples can spend
together. Exchanging a few brief yet understanding words, however, is better than waiting
for the perfect time to communicate that never comes. Sharing from the heart can occur at
a moment’s notice. Instead of passing one another like those proverbial ships in the night,
we can listen to one another in unhurried attention.
Such exchanges occur only if we stop blaming others for not communicating with us.
To “huff and puff” whenever we hear something we dislike does not relieve our mutual
stress. Mature communication requires more than a mere string of approving nods; it
means attending to the other with the inspiration, ease, and energy that true friendship
By the same token, we cannot expect every exchange to be respectful. Such hope
erodes the possibility of healthy argumentation. Avoiding critique may prevent us from
discerning the truth in what others say. In most cases, difficulty in communicating stems
not from limited skills but from failure to maintain a kind and courteous frame of mind.
We seek constant confirmation instead of following Christ’s example of accepting people
as they are. He met their deepest needs, sometimes with words and parables, sometimes
with action, like curing their sicknesses of body, mind, and spirit.
Genuine Christian communication seeks not consensus, but non–judgmental
acceptance. Others often are carrying heavier crosses than our own. We ought to make
reasonable efforts to remedy an unhappy situation, without waiting for the “perfect
moment” to do so. We cannot force others to conform to our point of view; we can,
however, modify our own approach, which may be causing division.
Frequently we fragment our attention and expend our energy seeking the perfect
encounter rather than living everyday moments in harmony with the Spirit. Trying too hard
to communicate may produce the non–communication we often experience. Too much talk
and too little silence suffocate uplifting encounters. Equally problematic is forced sharing,
which violates necessary privacy.
It is a mistake to presume that more communication is better communication. The
contrary is true. We need to distinguish between mere verbiage and words that rise from
the center of a caring heart.
Life-giving words flow from a reservoir of grace. Consider these two contrasting
approaches. In the first, a person pursues others like a bird of prey, swooping down upon
anyone who seems interested in sharing his or her point of view. Such communicators

take pride in their verbal techniques and fish for compliments. They view others as testing
grounds for their talents, ignoring the real basis for communication, mutuality.
Those who are more open and respectful accept others as they are. They do not see
their partners in conversation as mirrors for their own brilliance, nor do they judge others
by their capacity or incapacity to communicate. By accepting others’ uniqueness,
respectful communicators create a climate of appreciation in which listeners are more
likely to share what they value. Silent exchanges transcend words and make creative
communication more likely.
All of us long for a “soul mate” who shares what we hold most meaningful.
Alas, we cannot set out to find such a person. He or she appears as a gift that we can
neither earn nor demand; we can only ready ourselves to receive it when it comes. A spirit
of love allows for others’ difference, is oriented toward them, and is humbly grateful for
those moments when, despite our weaknesses, trust and acceptance prevail. In such
encounters we experience at the same time our kinship and our uniqueness. This
discovery prompts us to leave the other free and to marvel at the mystery that has guided
us to this mutual awareness.
What we say will well up from that place of grace where we are most free to be
ourselves and most eager to bless others. It is as if our words merge with the Word.
Instead of mere chatter, our communication enters into joyful engagement in the company
of the Lord.

Questions for Reflection

1. What makes it difficult for you to leave your comfort zone and share from the
heart? How can you overcome obstacles to authentic communication?
2. In the give–and–take of verbal and non–verbal exchanges, at what point do you
really feel understood by another person?
3. What helps you generate “joyful engagement in the company of the Lord”?

Pursuing Spiritual Direction

S piritual direction, engaged in alone or with a small faith group, aims at discerning how to
be more and more faithful to our individual and communal calling in the Lord. In simpler
times people were closer to one another and shaped their lives according to the shared
rhythms of agrarian life. In contemporary urbanized and individualistic environments
people have been separated from the natural rhythms of plowing, planting, and
harvesting, to say nothing of taking time to visit with their neighbors.
Amid the artificial, lonely pace of modern life, people hunger for the spiritual.
Because many pseudo–spiritualties offer easy ways to satisfy such hunger, we must seek
and accept with humility the unfailing help of the Holy Spirit, who is at the center of
genuine spiritual direction experiences, whether solitary or communal. Wise, learned and
experienced guides can show us how to be faithful to our calling and with courage to make
the changes this commitment requires. It is always valuable to consult those who know
how to integrate everyday concerns with the will of God. They can show us how to walk
conscientiously with the Lord and to prevent the danger of backsliding.
Using as models what has been said and written down through the ages, spiritual
direction teaches us how to deepen our faith. In addition to teaching us about the mystery
of union with God, it brings us closer to that lofty goal and enables us to share our
experiences with other believers and sincere seekers.
Spiritual direction confirms the faith that every experience we have has a hidden,
divine purpose; the hope that we can serve others whatever vocation we may choose; and
the love that allows self-forgiveness when we discover that we have mistaken our own
will for the will of God. When we set out on a long trip to a foreign land, we take a map,
don’t we? Similarly, we need adequate guidance to traverse the deserts and mountains of
Christian spirituality.

Questions for Reflection

1. In the swirl of contemporary society, it is necessary to pause in the Lord and
ponder your life direction. What insights about your faith journey have such
moments of reflection brought to light for you?
2. In which situations would you consult one-to-one with a spiritual director?
When would direction-in-common be a better option?
3. Consider this passage from Proverbs (16:9): “The human mind plans the way,
but the Lord directs the steps.” How would you recognize that you may have
mistaken your own will for the will of God for you?

Refilling Our Reservoir

B y pushing ourselves to do more and more, we risk physical, emotional and spiritual
burnout. We must take the opportunity to refill our reservoir by withdrawing temporarily
from the activities that block our openness to God. We do not get that refill merely by
going away from the world, but by returning to the wellspring of every endeavor, to
Christ who might seem distant, but never leaves our side.
Our fundamental concern should be not what we have to do but the way in which we
do it. The erosion or depletion of social presence limits our ability to serve the Lord and
others with gladness. Pausing for prayer puts the workaday world into perspective and lets
us restore a balance between doing and being. The Book of Proverbs calls a false balance
(all work and no play) an abomination to the Lord, whereas a true balance (ora et labora)
is his delight (see Prov 11:1).
When the frenzy of sheer activism freezes our interiority, temporary withdrawal,
perhaps under the guidance of a spiritual master, may be necessary. If we want to start
again we must step back. During such a time of formative distancing, we may need to pay
more attention to some facets of our commitment and let others recede for the moment
into the background. During these intentional pauses, we may be able to identify what is
separating us from prayerful presence to the Divine Presence and solicitous care for our
Periods of momentary withdrawal renew our whole being, mentally and spiritually.
Fatigue lessens, the mind clears, and we realize that if we fill every moment with activity
we cannot expect to remain centered in the Lord. Of what use, some may ask, is spending
time in reflection when we could be engaged in apostolic works? “The problems of the
world cry for our attention. How dare we divorce ourselves from their legitimate
To a workaholic world, such a question sounds convincing. But how can anyone
function at a peak of excellence without God’s sustaining grace? How can we maintain the
essential dynamics of religious living if we do not pause for prayer? Is constant
involvement in the problems of the world––as if we alone can solve them––what God
wants of us? As the theologian James I. Packer writes in Keep in Step with the Spirit, “The
concept of a Christian life as sanctified rush and bustle still dominates, and as a result the
experiential side of Christian holiness remains very much a closed book” (74-75).
Involvement without retreat makes us not more efficient, but less. When exhausted
we become impatient, unforgiving of ourselves and others. We need the rhythm of
moving from contemplative receptivity to charitable giving.
Occasional returns to the reservoirs of religious living teach us to accept our limits
and to draw strength from the Lord. Placing our functional “to do” list against this
transcendent horizon makes our choice of any vocation—single life, marriage, priesthood,
religious life, lay ecclesial ministry—purposeful and fulfilling. Making such life–

determining decisions requires a reasonable period of time to discern God’s will. Worldly
distractions may lead to a decision rooted in socio-historical motives rather than in a
transcendent call.
Stepping aside so as to start again allows us time to perceive the religious dimension
of our being. Shifting momentarily from modes of giving to modes of receiving lets us
nurture our relation to God, self, and others as a prelude to apostolic activity.
A spiritual retreat provides a “treat,” an oasis of renewal where we can reclaim our
spiritual identity. There we learn how to stay centered in God amid social and professional
demands. Our culture, which places a high value on function, tempts us to weigh our
worth in terms of productive accomplishments. A focus on productivity deflects our need
for prayer, promotes the illusion of self-reliance, and keeps God at a distance. Self–
aggrandizing motives may prompt us to take on apostolic tasks that we cannot sustain. In
endless rounds of busy work, we forget to refill our spiritual reservoir and run ourselves
dry. When we are empty, instead of pretending we are full we need to retreat, at least for
a few moments, during the busiest part of the day. It only takes a minute or two to rebind
our hearts to the Heart of Love that sustains and renews everything we do. These short
pauses make us recall our dependency on the Divine and prepare us for longer periods of
restorative prayer.
To construct a building that can withstand the elements, engineers first must dig a
deep foundation. To assure a fruitful harvest, farmers must plant good seed in good soil.
Just so, our effectiveness in Christian living depends upon inner growth in the ways of the
Lord. We must not let the rapid pace of worldly concerns erode our intimacy with the
Trinity. To advance God’s reign on earth we must take judicious breaks from the demands
of daily labor.
The more active our life, the more crucial is contemplative abiding. Unless we
minister to others from the fullness of a merciful heart, we are bound to lose our way.
Like a seed planted in barren soil, our labor will not yield lasting fruit; instead we must
plant what we do at the divine wellspring. Thence flows our formation energy.

Questions for Reflection

1. Sometimes social demands overtake you and you find yourself going through
the motions of Christian life without your heart being in it. In such circumstances,
how can you forestall such burnout before it depletes your energy and
2. When you feel yourself “running on empty,” what do you do to refill your
physical, mental, and spiritual reservoir?
3. Examine your life for tendencies to rely on your own efforts instead of the
grace of God to initiate and bring to a good conclusion the tasks set before you.
How do you need to change?

Endings as New Beginnings

H ow we handle change can turn a moment of transition into an intense crisis or help us to
move ahead on the road to mature faith. Unless we discover in every ending a new
beginning, such crises will prove to be debilitating. We need to appreciate the divine
directives they contain and the clarity of purpose they connote.
A crisis offers a choice between anxiety or peace with change and the opportunity to
seek its meaning. A crisis of the limits alters every level of our being. Physically, we
become more aware of our limits; socially, we identify in more compassionate ways with
those we serve; spiritually, we feel guilty because our plans to improve our own and
others’ lives have not borne fruit.
Throughout times of transition, we may be tempted to heed those prophets who
proclaim that believers are no longer “relevant,” that our obsolete values have little use
for future generations. Rather than caving into such negativity, a crisis offers an
opportunity for in–depth renewal. Turmoil becomes fertile ground for growth in faith.
When Christ invited Peter to walk to him on the water, the apostle strode firmly ahead so
long as he fixed his attention on the Lord. When he began to notice himself and the
reality of what he was doing, he started to sink, but Christ saved his life (see Mt 8:23–
We, too, can find ourselves walking on troubled waters, churned up by the
frustrations and tensions of seeing that what we thought would be an opening to positive
outcomes has petered out. As expectations dissolve, perseverance wanes. Our initial
fervor for community living in imitation of Christ cools with a lack of commitment. Such
troubled times lead to another turning point. Will we be stalwarts whose why for living
enables us to put up with almost any how, or will we be cowards who refuse to reexamine
our commitments to purify our motives, and deepen our reliance on the Lord?
A crisis of faith, difficult as it is to endure, can dispel our fear of failure and help us
make a new start. Christian optimism ought to propel us through tunnels of pessimism.
Whether we can face a crisis or not depends on our capacity to move from what
occasioned it through the changes evoked by it to the new insights emerging from it. We
are less likely to flee if we foresee that passing through the crisis will strengthen our faith.
Once we recognize crises as normal parts of maturation, we can come to appreciate
them. Some fear may remain, since opening one door often means closing another. If,
despite our fears we stay alert to whatever the mystery has in store for us, we can share
with those who may feel discouraged our conviction that every formative event contains a
transformative possibility. Moments of crisis can change us for the better because they
offer the chance to reconsider the course of our lives. Through suffering, we gain self–
knowledge and spiritual wisdom.
The life of the spirit never avoids reality. The Holy Spirit gives us the strength to
transcend temporary solutions and to enter into a crisis so as to conform to God’s will and

God’s perfect timing. We move in tune with a grace that invites us to live in the darkness
of not knowing until blessed assurance dawns on the horizon. Despite the instability and
insecurity a crisis may provoke, it leaves us wiser and more surrendered to God.
It is normal for any upheaval to generate doubt about the present and anxiety about
the future. We may have hoped to attain limitless goals, but we may have to assess our
limitations soberly. The deeper we look into ourselves, the more disintegrated we feel,
but “breaking up” precedes “breaking through.” Failure may be the only way to reunite our
will with God’s will for us.
A series of crises may seem to descend all at once: the difficult assignment we feel
inadequate to fulfill; our inability to pray; a general feeling of falling apart on all levels of
our being. What is the meaning of this affliction and where are these tired bones,
confused minds, and sagging spirits leading us? Do we have the strength to see this crisis
through and make a new start? Every doubt that crosses our mind, every wave of worry
that threatens to shake the foundations of our faith, can bring us to a previously unknown
depth of spiritual living. Self–sufficiency no longer obscures surrender to grace. The
more insecure we feel, the more firm becomes our need for God.
We cannot reason ourselves into a posture of humble submission. We must relinquish
our illusion of control and present our wounded selves to God for healing. Faith is not
lived in the certainty of future bliss but in the “I don’t know” of every dark night.
Surrender is not a brief detour that leads us back to our chosen way; it is a trail of
conversion that we must follow all our lives. The Lord alone knows when we will
complete our desert journey. Hope tells us, however, that we have been promised a land
of plenty.
A crisis of the limits is not a rare, heroic event but an everyday occurrence for
anyone who accepts the sacred call to live in faith and surrender. It generates in us not a
sense of complacent ego–security but a risky commitment to give of ourselves to God
and others.
Prayerful meditation stirs in us the desire to make Christ the center of our lives.
Whatever happens, we know we will not face it alone. As the storm of a crisis passes, we
cease focusing on what we may have lost. Instead we thank God for the new insights we
have gained. We remember that even under the most adverse conditions the Spirit
continues to work within us. Every crisis offers us another occasion to deny ourselves,
take up our cross, and follow the Lord (see Mt 16:24).

Questions for Reflection

1. Describe a crisis in your life that led you from realizing the inadequacy of your
way of being and doing, through a time of deep soul–searching, to a new level
of freedom that allowed you to fulfill your mission in life.
2. In your own “crisis of the limits,” describe the pull you felt between the danger
of losing heart and the opportunity of clarifying what God intends for you in
your family, church, and society.

3. In a world saturated with instant information, what convinces you to live for a
while in the “darkness of not knowing” where faith, in the words of Saint John of
the Cross, is the only proximate means to union with God?

Finding Our Center in the Spirit

A feeling of dissonance signals that we have lost our way, disconnected from the one
who is the way and the truth and the life (see Jn 14:6). The consonance characteristic of
communion in Christ comes to us when, through reconciliation, we rediscover our divine
direction. Feeling out of tune with self and others may be caused by being entrapped by
our own overly-controlling ego. We come to expect life to unfold according to our own
script. Anything that contradicts our advantage, our advance up the ladder of wealth, fame
and honor is rejected. The dissonance we feel while trying to keep this house of cards
from toppling ought to confirm that amassing worldly goods will not make us happy.
When we do not seek our center in the Spirit, we rightly feel fragmented.
The mystery can use these moments to wean us from the mistaken notion that we can
summon up our own ultimate fulfillment. The decentering caused by willfully ignoring
what has been revealed to us—that without God we can do nothing—can be frightening,
like boats on a stormy sea without a compass. Ego-desperation can lead to despair; or it
can lead to renewed devotion to God. Choosing the latter calms our inner turmoil.
Surrender to the Divine lifts from our shoulders the weight of disillusionment.
Another obstacle that blocks relationship—with God and with others— is thinking that
spiritual aridity signifies that we have fallen out of God’s favor. But that is a mistake. God
uses such aridity to awaken us from the foolish notion that we can script what God wills
for our lives in advance. Spirit-enlightened direction bestows peace and joy, despite
storms on the surface of community living. At moments of disruption that well up from
within, it is important not to compel ourselves or others to conform to rigid models of
Holiness doesn’t follow a formula. The Spirit operates not in plans or projects of our
own devising but in the inner recesses of the heart. The Paraclete teaches that death to
the old self is a prelude to new life in Christ. When the Lord lives in our hearts, we find
the strength we need to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth of
what he intends for those who love him until, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond
all knowledge, we are filled with the utter fullness of God (see Eph 3:14–19).

Questions for Reflection

1. How is dissonance a “servant source” of deeper consonance?
2. When were you so fixated on what you were expecting that you did not
acknowledge the unpredictable surprises of God?
3. What formulas for renewal in your own life may need to be modified? How
would making these modifications allow you to move forward in the spiritual life?

The Foundations of Gospel Living

O ur quest for a deeper faith and a life founded in the gospel begins when we hold fast to
the basics of our tradition and recognize ways of thinking that distract us from the truth.
One unshakable principle of gospel living is to love neighbors in need and to comfort
them in their struggles however we can. Every time we reconfirm the Christian life and its
virtues, we are less vulnerable to traditions alien to our own faith and formation. Such
love keeps us intimately united to God and others; it is like a holy fountain that never
runs dry. For example, we do what we can to overcome our prejudices that diminish
human dignity through labeling or profiling people based on their appearance. Such love
allows us to dialogue across form-traditional divides and pray for the peace Christ
promised (see Jn 14:27). Instead of debating what separates us from those from whom
we differ, sharing our spiritual experiences will draw us closer to one another.
Our ancestors in the faith, named and unnamed, became saints by practicing heroic
virtue and defending the truth, trusting in God’s word and making it the basis of their
decisions and actions. Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement, says that
loving is an art that must be directed towards everyone—agreeable or disagreeable,
attractive or unattractive, fellow citizen or stranger, believer or unbeliever, friend or
adversary….We must love everyone as our Father in heaven does. Shocking as it must
have been to its original hearers, this is the essence of Gospel living:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say
to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn
the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as
well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to
everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from
you.” (Mt 5:38-42)
Consider what those without the help of our faith tradition may fail to see. Although
one need not be a believer to act with charity, what Jesus asks in this passage from the
Sermon on the Mount transcends natural goodness. In the “normal” world, love is given
with the expectation of reciprocity. If I do someone a favor, I expect that I’ll receive a
good deed in return. I’m not about to do even more, yet going the extra mile is what Jesus
expects of us. Gospel living is challenging, particularly because we cannot expect our
own radical love to change the world around us. Every day we face a confusing array of
choices and life styles that contradict Christian principles. It takes personal courage and a
strong faith community to maintain our resolve to obey the new commandment Jesus gave
us, which is to love him in each person we meet.
To live in the world without being of the world is possible only when we let the
words of Jesus illumine the choppy seas and treacherous cliffs that we are navigating.
Christ’s light lets us discern when it is necessary to follow directions that at first sight do
not correspond to the inner compass that points to our true self. Without that light, we

risk losing the sense of our identity and our direction. We can get bogged down in a
morass of substitutes for the transcendent or, enchanted by the newest and the latest, lose
our way in keeping up with short-lived fashions.
Following the “in” at the moment distracts us from what is lasting, what is truly of the
Lord. Defining ourselves in terms of popularity and prestige, fulfilling secular roles to
win the approval of others, allowing ourselves to be swept along by the tide of the media,
beguiled by the easy path of cheap conformity to worldly standards, betrays the Christian
commitments that ought to permeate and transform whatever we do. When we find
ourselves conforming to patterns of living alien to our Christian calling, we can correct
our course by seeking out Holy Scripture and the writings of spiritual masters who have
been acknowledged by the Church. At their core, all of scripture and all spiritual wisdom
can be summed up in one fundamental principle—mutual love. As Chiara Lubich so aptly
puts it in her Art of Loving:
When several persons together practice this art of loving it leads to mutual love: in
the family, at work, in groups, in society. Mutual love is the pearl of the Gospel. It is
the new commandment of Jesus. It builds unity. These characteristics of true love as
found in the Gospel are what makes it special. (26)

Questions for Reflection

1. Worldly concerns, like consumerism, can erode essential teachings of our faith,
like giving alms to others in need. What can you do to make yourself aware when
this is happening to you? How can you resolve this conflict in your personal and
spiritual life?
2. What “substitute for the transcendent” causes you the most trouble? What
foundation of Gospel living helps you to detach yourself from it?
3. How can you resist worldliness while at the same time transforming the world
into the house of God? What can you do in very practical ways to live in the
world while not being of the world?

The Blessings of Discipleship

W hen we least expect it, from the depths of our heart we may hear the voice of the
Lord. Although we can resist or even refuse this invitation, at such moments only one
option seems fulfilling, that of discipleship.
We must not take such an encounter lightly. We may have already skirted this call at
various points in our lives, but at such a moment, as we struggle for authenticity, our eyes
are opened to the light that leads to the Lord.
Discipleship requires us to disentangle ourselves from the pressure to conform to
worldly expectations that stifle our call to Christian community. Listening to that voice
within does not curtail potential; rather, it lifts us from empty gestures of uninvolved
service to the fullness of living our commitment to Christ. His call to discipleship frees
us from the bondage of impersonal rules to do what he asks of us in freedom. Our
religious disciplines become supports for the choices we make. Instead of focusing upon
the rules and customs of external religiosity, we begin to attune our talents to a higher
When children learn to write, their teachers do not merely give them pencils and
paper then sit back, expecting them to demonstrate perfect penmanship. First, children
must master the mechanics of writing by tracing out individual letters, joining them
together to make words, and, with practice, develop legible and unique penmanship.
Early learners may see little use in sitting at their desks, feet on the floor, pencil
grasped between thumb and forefinger, paper slanted at the proper angle, copying and
recopying the letters posted at the front of their classroom. They are certainly eager to
write, and may have never expected writing to require such demanding and painstaking
We, too, need to learn the ways of the Lord. We have much to discover about
ourselves and about the intimate relationship we want to form with him. The call to
discipleship comes from him, not us. That is why we should deepen the discipline and
dynamics of faith within, not as ends in themselves but as stepping stones toward a life at
the service of the Lord. The deeper we root ourselves in the disciplines associated with
discipleship, the freer we feel.
As we grapple with the tension between freedom and obedience, we come to see that
the liberation of living in God’s will requires us to renounce our own willfulness.
Understanding what membership in the Mystical Body of Christ requires moves us out of
a complacent comfort zone onto the cross. We embrace our identity as lovers of God and
helpers of others. We strive to please not ourselves but those we encounter, adhering as
best as we can to what the Apostle Paul teaches:
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please
ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up
the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of

those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was
written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the
scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement
grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that
together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Rom 15:1-6)

Questions for Reflection

1. How do you understand the connection between discipleship and the practice
of spiritual disciplines, particularly the formative reading of Holy Scripture?
2. What do you think Christ wants you to renounce here-and-now so you can more
readily follow him?
3. How would you describe the meaning of the paradox expressed in the saying,
often attributed to Saint John of the Cross, “Renunciation is the key to



John 15:5-8
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Those who abide in me and I in them
bear much fruit,
because apart from me you can do nothing.
Whoever does not abide in me
is thrown away like a branch
and withers;
such branches are gathered,
thrown into the fire, and burned.
If you abide in me,
and my words abide in you,
ask for whatever you wish,
and it will be done for you.
My Father is glorified by this,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Testing Idealized Self–Images

S ometimes we hear the call to discipleship, but do not heed it. Many obstacles block our
response. Although Jesus himself formed the Twelve, even they did not understand his
message. They debated which of them was the greatest (see Lk 9:46) and whether three
tents ought to be erected on the Mount of the Transfiguration (see Mt 17:4).
Other narratives showing ways in which the Apostles clearly misunderstood the call
to discipleship include the time when the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John,
asked that they sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom and he says that
neither she nor they know of what they ask (see Mt 20:20-28 and Mk 10:35-45). Jesus
has to correct their confusion by reminding them that “whoever wishes to become great
among you must be your servant” (Mk 10:43). Peter displays how little he understands
of the Master’s message when he tells Jesus at the time of the Last Supper that he will
never allow him to wash his feet (see Jn 13:6-8). Patiently Jesus explains to this friend
and apostle, alas the same man destined to betray him, that “Unless I wash you, you have
no share with me” (Jn 13:8). Feet-washing is a symbol of love and service, and this is a
lesson all the disciples must learn.
One subtle hindrance is our tendency to cling to an idealized self–image that we have
created without testing it against reality. Rather than accepting that we have faults and
failings, we try to be perfect overnight. As we push against the pace of grace, we lose our
peace. We need to focus not on dramatic changes but on small but significant
For example, a person may have grown up with parents who were aloof or impossible
to please. Whatever was done to win their approval was never enough, leaving an abyss
of need no one could fill. Such an experience would generate a disquieting image of self
as hopelessly imperfect. Even if addressed through psychological treatment, forgiveness
and prayer, a residue of that idealized negative self–image would persist.
A childhood lack of confirmation from parents or their surrogates makes it difficult
for adults to affirm themselves. Laying down the burden of others’ expectations,
unrealistic as they often are, may take a lifetime, but that does not mean that it cannot be
Our Father in heaven cares for us. We are infinitely precious in his sight (see Ps
72:14). Amazingly, we can do nothing to earn this love. It surrounds us like the air we
breathe. To stand before the Lord as unprofitable servants (see 1 Pt 2:16) is the
beginning of self–knowledge; it is the key to self- affirmation. Our unique–communal call
becomes clear through obedient response to the love–will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Others may or may not understand this call fully, but we come to understand God’s design
for us by walking in the truth of who we and others are: “…so that you may be children
of your Father in heaven… [who] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and
sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). A sense of self rooted in

the Sacred relieves us of the weight of perfectionism. Our life is not a product we invent,
but a gift from God. From all eternity our Father calls us forth to embody his infinite love.
By his incarnation, Jesus Christ draws our weaknesses into the strength of his Father’s plan
of redemption. By embracing his unconditional love, our troubling illusions of self–
salvation vanish. But “acceptance” does not mean “elimination.” Rather than asking God
for the grace to accept our own strengths and weaknesses, and those of others, we may
concentrate mistakenly on eliminating our faults altogether. Our fallen condition, we must
remember, includes both virtue and vice.
Acknowledging our limits tempers our compulsion to live up to an idealized self–
image. We do not waste time trying to change direction to please others. Once we stop
trying to act as if we could be faultless, we can assess our progress realistically.
How many times have you taken an awkward tumble because you didn’t notice the
uneven pavement? After you fell, you looked around furtively, wondering if anyone
noticed. Chances are, you rose quickly, glanced up and down the street, dusted yourself
off and hurriedly gathered whatever you may have dropped. A safe distance from the
scene, only after having regained composure, did you attend to your bruised knees and
scraped hands. Your immediate reaction was not, “Did I hurt myself?” but “Did anyone
see me fall?”
When we are not at our best, we feel embarrassed. We dislike losing control of our
composed self–image. We want to walk without tripping and talk without grasping for
words, no matter how difficult it may be to maintain the pretense of being Mr. or Ms.
Perfect. Instead of an unnatural posture of perfection, signs of real humanness are
refreshing: a hair out of place, a grease spot on a tie, a coughing spell that interrupts the
decorum of a liturgical service.
We can never maintain ourselves at the pinnacle of self–perfection. A façade of
perfection means nothing without a compassionate heart within. Living under a self-
imposed tyranny of shoulds, oughts and musts produces uncomfortable tension. External
certitude often masks inner uncertainty. The stress of living this way explodes when we
least expect it.
A teacher, uncertain of her self–worth, may come to depend on her students’
approval. Signs of unpopularity dishearten her. Acclaim feeds her fragile self–esteem.
The stress caused by such a need will undermine her ability to take charge of her classes.
Unacknowledged, the acid rain of such tension may corrode her real capability.
In Leon Uris’ Topaz, Nicole, the wife of a French intelligence expert, reflects on her
broken marriage. She explains that the relationship eroded because she tried to do what
she thought her husband expected of her instead of responding honestly to what she felt.
We act in a similar way when we tell ourselves that “they” won’t like us if we say what we
mean or that “they” will assume that our ideas are foolish anyway. The anonymous “they”
begins to run our life.
How can we shift the center of our self–worth from marginal concerns to the mystery
of our love relationship with the Lord? How can we free ourselves from dependency on
what others think of us?

Visitors to the House of the Dying in Calcutta were overwhelmed at the endless
stream of forgotten persons who came seeking care. An efficiency expert would consider
the operation a failure, but Mother Teresa’s perspective touched everyone: “We are not
here to be successful, but to be faithful.” She had discovered the heart of Christian
community: unconditional love combined with infinite respect for others’ dignity.
Appreciating that we have a transcendent identity reminds us that our true self is hidden
in Christ as Christ is hidden in God (see Col 3:3).
If we realize that our sense of self emerges from the Christ–form of our soul, we
can come to an awareness of our inner worth. We need to maintain “holy indifference” to
our imperfections. “Fools for Christ” accept their failures and find peace. Every life
includes periods of self–doubt, but these reminders of our fallibility bind us to the rest
of the human race, all of whom need redemption. These weaknesses are the entrances
through which our Redeemer comes into our lives. Were we not imperfect and sinful, why
would we need the awesome power of his saving love?

Questions for Reflection

1. What old habits should you set aside in order to be truer to yourself and more
responsive to the needs of others?
2. What prevents you from accepting yourself as less than perfect? How does
perfectionism block compassion?
3. Why might others’ expectations of you interfere with the outflow of your real
gifts and talents? What must you do to align your acceptance of self with God’s
acceptance of you?

Moving from Egocentric to Other–Centered Concerns

R ecall your last serious quarrel. Opinions clashed, tempers flared. Even when your urge
to fight or flee had subsided, you still felt agitated, angry, unwilling to forgive and forget.
If you have a competitive nature, you may churn over the argument as if what
mattered was winning. While trying to interpret the other person’s motives, you review
each word you said: “Why won’t she accept my ideas? Does she enjoy embarrassing me
for some reason? She must be jealous of me. That’s why she’s furious! Maybe I remind
her of someone who criticized her in the past…”
Such introspective accusations never cease. They spin around inside our heads,
intensifying our self–justification and fortifying our ego defenses. As a result, we cannot
really listen to others, let alone submit our anger to God for healing and forgiveness. We
act like mice in an endless maze, rationalizing our behavior instead of questioning
ourselves about the meaning of scenes like this. We forget that an unexamined life is not
worth living, and instead of seeking healing redouble our efforts to justify our bad habits.
By shifting our attention from the ego-self to others, we can stop excusing ourselves
for our mistakes and instead ask how we might have acted like Christ. How can we control
a flare–up of bad temper when things do not go our way? Can we set aside our tendency
to blame someone else and ask what has to change in us? Can we move away from the
selfishness that splinters community life and move toward the life–giving renewal of our
relationship with God and others?
Giving up the need to have the last word relieves the stress that blocks our serenity.
Lessening the pressure to have our way always makes us less irritable. The problems
caused by our quarrelsome nature lessen when we submit them to the test of covenant
love. The more we center our thoughts and actions on the mystery in whom “we live and
move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), the easier it is to prevent arrogance from
overriding awe. Once we allow the Lord to release us from the clutches of egocentricity,
we move from the fragmenting effects of indifference to the unifying traits of oneness in
the Lord.

Questions for Reflection

1. What makes it difficult for you to admit your mistakes and learn from your
2. What compels you to maintain your ego defenses, even when you realize that
doing so prevents you from forgiving yourself and others?
3. When have you felt the embrace of merciful love? How did this experience
enable you to extend such compassion to others?

Dealing with Guilt

M ost of us find it difficult to deal with guilt, whether it is directed at the flaws we see
within, or outward to our failures to treat others properly. But guilt is not completely
negative. Compunction of heart, the commingling of sorrow for sin and joy in salvation,
is a great grace that can flow from authentic spiritual guilt. Instead of trusting that our
merciful God loves us unconditionally, we berate ourselves about what we did or did not
do. We put our guilt above the forgiveness that awaits us. Self condemnation will likely
spill over into condemnation of others and impair community life.
Instead of agonizing about what we cannot control or feeling trapped in the
shipwrecks of the past, we need to consider our guilt as an occasion God has granted us
to recognize our blind spots and ego defenses. True guilt can help us assess our situation
realistically and prompt us in humility to seek reconciliation. False guilt entrenches us in
laments for past wrongs and blinds us to the value of our mistakes.
True guilt helps us to become better persons, more in tune with our calling in Christ
and more faithful to his word of forgiveness in our soul. False guilt leads us into a morass
of scrupulosity and merciless self-beratement.
Some families place a high value upon proper etiquette. Good manners are a given.
Discourtesy is out of the question. Perfect appearance is absolutely necessary, especially
at social gatherings. Ben grew up in such a home. Once, he wore a business suit to an
official banquet where a tuxedo was required. Although his mistake was relatively minor,
he could not excuse himself. He felt as if he were under constant scrutiny. He apologized
often, but his guilt cost him dearly. He imagined that he had damaged his chances for
promotion. Ben’s remorse escalated out of proportion to the occasion that had triggered it.
His was not God-centered true guilt, which would have allowed him to put his mistake in
perspective (the world will not end because I wore a suit instead of a tux), but false guilt
rooted in ego-centered standards.
False guilt demands a precise but lifeless adherence to the letter of the law without
grasping its spirit. Such guilt is bound to generate imagined violations of codes of
conduct. The truth is, however, that Christ came to save not the righteous, but sinners
(see 1 Tim 1:15).
False guilt damages community life . It saps the courage we need to witness to our
faith regardless of what others think of us. We sacrifice our true sense of self, which
always benefits others, to mere demands of popularity or “political correctness.”
Such guilt poisons community living because it focuses upon self, not others and
God. True guilt motivates us to discover why we resist the gospel, even in what might
seem minor-- a condescending remark, a frown, an uplifted eyebrow.
The Apostle Peter illustrates how we ought to deal with guilt. His remorse overcame
his act of betrayal. He realized that Jesus loved him so much that he called him the rock
on which he would build his church. So when Peter denied Jesus three times, as the Lord

had predicted, he made no excuse for his actions. Contrast Peter with Judas. One betrayal
ended in despair, the other in self-acceptance and forgiveness. Having been led from
sorrow for sin to the joy of being loved and forgiven, Peter was prepared to call other
sinners out of darkness into the light of new life: “Above all, maintain constant love for
one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without
complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with
whatever gift each of you has received” (1 Pt 4:8-10).

Questions for Reflection

1. How does false guilt differ from true guilt?
2. What is the connection between the “heresy of perfectionism” and false guilt?
3. How does relentless self-observation lead to tortuous bouts of guilt? How can
you learn to forgive yourself as God forgives you?

Seeking Peace amid Conflict

H ow can we feel inner peace when we hear the pleas of the poor and know that our
efforts to help them are inadequate? The more we think about it, the more this realization
torments us. We long to find “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil
4:7), not only in contemplative moments but in restless times of inner and outer
To be at peace with ourselves, we need to admit candidly that we may desire to do
good for less than altruistic motives. This conflict may stem from a need to be needed,
from a secret wish to receive commendation, or from a desire for promotion. Genuine
giving may mask a vain desire for self–fulfillment.
But we cannot stand still until our motives to help the poor become perfectly pure.
We do not act alone. The Lord can relieve our inner and outer feelings of inadequacy. We
can never be completely certain about discerning which demands to meet and which to
relinquish. A caring heart is oriented not toward static immobility but “restful restlessness”
that sparks creativity.
In the chaos of conflict, to find peace we may have to relinquish our idealistic efforts
to cure every ill and carefully select goals that we can actually reach. The catalogue of
our shortcomings could fill volumes. We could be kinder, work harder, waste less time.
Focusing on our failures produces unrest. Living in fidelity to our day-by-day challenges
lets us serve others more effectively. Obsession with “ what I could have done but didn’t”
generates an “if only” attitude that distracts us from what the mystery asks of us in the
routine reality of daily life.
It is true that we must give to others what God has bestowed on us. It is also true that
God has lavished upon us more blessings than we could ever count. We fulfill God’s will
for us not only by doing for others but also by being together, by walking alongside one
another. Often, our presence is more valuable than our projects. Sometimes we should
give others a helping hand; at other times all they need is a warm hand holding theirs.
A fulfilled life does not consist in a “to do” list executed as perfectly as possible;
rather, it is an ongoing expression of our participation in God’s providential plan. This
seems to be what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Therefore, my beloved, be
steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in
the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).
As followers of Christ, we strive to accept the surprises that he wills or permits. By
busying ourselves from morning to night with our own works, we may miss the Master and
the task he wants us to perform. Those who live a God–centered life recognize that they
have received undeserved gifts, gifts intended to be passed on to others. Acknowledging
God’s will releases us from entrapment in our own pursuits and reunites us with God and
neighbor. Living this way, we maintain a balance between external activity and internal

Success consists not in solving every problem but in recognizing that without God we
can do nothing (see Jn 8:28).
Conflict resolution works best when we seek a quiet place where we can pray and
reflect on where we are and how we got there. Such reassessment assures us that we do
not walk alone. Our Divine Companion is with us in “war and peace” and will be with us
in the unknown land that lies ahead. Stepping back to see the whole picture picks up
threads of meaning that we missed in trying to solve our problems all alone.
In prayer we realize how in ways seen and unseen God has been guiding us on the
path to peace. God never throws us to the winds of fate, but allows our faith to
strengthen through trouble and tribulation. Conflict clarifies our call to Christian
community. The starting point for both activity and reflection is the gift of Christ’s peace
(see Jn 14:27) and our appreciation of its ever-present power.

Questions for Reflection
1. What dispositions of yours distance you from Christ’s peace?
2. In your own words, describe the benefits of living in “restful restlessness.”
3. When and why has “human doing” distanced you from “simply being” in the
presence of God and others?

Expressing Love in a Loveless World

T he art of loving and expressing love are supernatural gifts that turn our attention away
from our own egos to the needs of other people. Infants are not capable of
demonstrating care and concern for their parents, nor about selflessly pleasing them.
Sheer survival makes them focus upon themselves. When they have needs—a wet diaper
at three in the morning—they cannot postpone being changed so that their parents get the
sleep they deserve. The entire world is wet and it needs to be made dry—now!
For young babies, egocentrism is natural because they cannot provide for themselves.
As they become capable of self–care, they begin to see their parents as persons with
needs of their own who deserve love for their own sake. As they progress from ego–
centered to other–directed love, they change the object of their affections from self to
others, but this turn to maturity does not exclude their own need for care. It signifies the
movement from a self-centered to a more selfless plane of existence to which all of us
are called.
An overwhelming need to be loved without feeling obliged to give love in return
encapsulates us in our own concerns. A focus on what we desire prevents us from
reaching out to others and serving them. Instead we channel our energy into calling
attention to ourselves without admitting that no one could satisfy our unrealistic cravings.
Other–centered love emerges from respect for our own dignity and that of others. It
generates an ebb and flow of giving and receiving love that thaws self-centered
Heart–to–heart encounters warm even lives full of hardship. If we put conditions on
love—“String–love”— “I’ll love you if”— we do not help others; rather we make them
beholden to our occasional big–heartedness. We must leave others free to accept or reject
our love. We love them for who they are, not because of what they can do for us. We
ought not to coerce respect, but imitate Christ’s modes of invitation and appeal. Receiving
another’s love reinforces our ability to give love in return. Even if those for whom we
care fail to respond, we must not withdraw our love.
This way of loving usually originates in our experience of love in early childhood. If
we have received this gift, we are less likely to feel the need to manipulate others as
compensation for what we never received. Otherwise the residue of dependency can
threaten our emotional and spiritual wellbeing, since we tend to overemphasize others’
disapproval or praise.
If we “love one another [because] God lives in us and his love is perfected in us” (1
Jn 4:12), we do our best to be fully present to others. We are sensitive to the unspoken
communications between us. We do not fear that the fountain of love will dry up if we
feel guilty or ashamed, anxious or afraid. Neither do we place unnecessary “shoulds”
upon one another. Such demands betray remnants of egocentrism. Love grows when it
becomes a self–giving friendship in the Lord.

Sensitivity to others’ feelings must not degenerate to sugary sweetness. A genuine
smile is spontaneous. It cannot be forced. When we meet others at the level of the heart,
with empathy, our face softens, our voice mellows. The efficacy of love cannot be
measured. Its value lies deeper than any particular expression of it. It is not a way of
doing, but of being. We love others not out of a sense of duty that masks our desire for
self–glorification, but because we recognize each other as children of God. Expressions
of love that do not come from within remain as artificial as the grin painted on a manikin’s
The more we try to remain loving in every human encounter, the more we maintain
our call to community living. We see in Christ the paragon of unconditional love. He
radiated an ease, a graciousness, a warmth that drew anyone in need of care, whether
bodily or spiritually. He touched sinners as well as the saintly. He shared with them his
feelings, be they sad or joyful, grieving or rejoicing, weary or lively, disappointed or
delighted. He could mourn the death of a friend and celebrate the innocence of a child.
To emulate Jesus’ way of loving, we must not confuse it with a disembodied quest for
perfection. Trying to be other than who we are only generates a counterfeit model of love
based on formal politeness, impersonal tolerance, or vague humanitarianism. To love as
Jesus did, we must embrace our own humanness. We are and always will be souls in need
of love and salvation, wounded people with unmet longings for understanding and

Questions for Reflection

1. Describe an event when you felt yourself moving from ego–centered to other–
centered love. What motivated this change of heart? Did it last?
2. What causes indifference to the plight of others? What does it take to become a
Good Samaritan? How could you be one yourself?
3. How do you become more sensitive to others without merely coddling them?
How might you better balance distance and closeness in your relations with

Balancing Functionality and Spirituality

I n a work-driven culture like ours, leisure is not a luxury but a necessity. Technology
promised freedom from burdens, but it compels us to work ever faster with little or no
time to relax. We have become extensions of our machines. Being on call “24/7,” even on
the Sabbath, makes us less, not more efficient; it makes us prisoners of time and exhausts
us, but its greatest damage can be found in the persistent way it diminishes our presence
to one another.
Although we spend countless hours in life’s production mill, we feel guilty at grabbing
an occasional moment to replenish our weary soul. . Shaped by a culture that measures
success in terms of accomplishment, we compete constantly. When we do take time to
relax, we tell ourselves that washing the car is recreation, or we “multitask” by playing ball
with our children while glued to our smartphones. Even vacations wear us out. If we
cannot produce a list of leisure accomplishments—places visited, meals consumed,
trinkets purchased, golf courses played—it seems as if we have wasted the time spent
away from our desk. “All work and no play” generates unbalanced slave drivers—of
ourselves and others.
Like work, play has become serious. We think that it ought to produce results. So we
engage in leisure, even in a transcendent activity like meditation, only to become more
functional. Such an emphasis on productivity, however, blocks awareness of the hidden
power of grace.
We need to distance ourselves from labor to reassess its proper place in our life.
Having identified living with working, we may feel guilty if the activity in which we are
engaged is not generating results. If not examined, such scrupulous anxiety may lodge
itself in our consciousness, turning normal leisure into abnormal distress. We may not
notice it, but others in our community certainly will.
This debilitating pattern can be remedied if we begin to listen to mentors and spiritual
masters who appreciate the need for genuine recreation and its capacity to foster the
transcendent values that sustain our true calling. Trying harder to achieve such a balance
is not the answer. First, we must unlearn our compulsive habits of control. Understanding
our motives for holding back from the give–and–take of playfulness and prayerfulness is
the first step in finding balance. Having tasted a bit of freedom—not freedom from
responsibility but freedom to respect our own and others’ limits and gifts—prevents
further imbalance.
We may feel as if we can never do enough. To prove our worth, we may accuse
others of laziness and inefficiency, or even complain to superiors about them. We may
critique our competitors harshly, pointing out their faults while concealing our own
failings. We may assume a humorless “savior complex.” We can exhaust ourselves striving
to be all things to all people, only to find that our spiritual life is lifeless.
To prevent relentless labor from displacing the art of living, we need peaceful

replenishment. We must keep before us our real purpose—not producing more, but
radiating Christ’s love and letting others glimpse its light. Like the Lord, who paused for
prayer, so must we punctuate the business of doing by simply being in the presence of
the Almighty. As we move from a functional–transcendent to a transcendent–functional
way of living, we will rediscover a balance between work and play.
We must learn to do our best without the anxiety that we will fail if we do not do
more. Reserving time for “inactivity” gives us the peace of mind we need to respond fully
to the moment. We can set aside what else needs to be done and concentrate on doing our
best in the present moment.
Life in Christ is measured not by what we have achieved but by how our whole being
embodies God’s eternal, infinite love of souls. If we are alive in Christ, whether we are
enjoying a good book, setting the table for dinner, caring for the elderly person next door,
strolling in the park or sipping tea with a friend, we adopt a relaxed disposition of
presence to the mystery. Our actions are as prayerful as our prayers are effective. Rather
than despairing of each day’s passing, we live it to the full. We know when to rein in our
non–stop existence and to make room for the indwelling Spirit.
There is an art and a discipline to enlivening a day that began in dullness. We can
transform the world into the house of God by seeing the potential for holiness that used
to seem distant from our relationship with our Divine Teacher. Discovering how to give
meaning to all that we are and do is the best way to transform our work into an expression
of our sacred promise to renew the face of the earth.

Questions for Reflection

1. When have you felt like an extension of the machines you operate, so pressured
by the demands of the day that you hardly had time to “come up for air”?
2. Watch a child at play. How can you be more childlike, enjoying unscheduled
time and being wholly in the present moment?
3. When has your normal, work–a–day stress turned to abnormal distress that
threatened you spiritually, if not physically? What factors contributed to that

Accepting Ourselves and Others in Christ

W e need to replace our illusion of perfectionism with a willingness to accept ourselves

and others (warts and all!). This aspect of reciprocity (“There but for the grace of God
go I”) can improve all our relationships. Parents try to show equal affection for their
children, whether they are sweet and loving or surly and defiant. Spouses need to resist
the temptation to remake each other in the image of who they would like him or her to be.
Voiced or unvoiced, acted out or implied, the goal for which we strive—the condition
that best facilitates community living—is to be one in mind and heart with Jesus. At the
same time, we ought to respect our diversity and recognize our deeper unity. Heeding our
unique-communal call produces many fruits: selfless acts of love and service supersede
self-fulfilling desires; compassion replaces condemnation; peace-making takes precedence
over divisive argumentation.
Once we have cleansed our perception of our own identity and that of others in
Christ, the illusion that we have to earn God’s love by being perfect melts like the wax in a
burning candle. God befriends and forgives us, so why not offer these gifts to others?
We will never be able to paint a totally true picture of ourselves: our noblest deeds
may be motivated by willful manipulation; our humblest acts may be shadowed by envy
and jealousy. Only by deciding to sort through the confusion of our false assumptions can
we achieve self–acceptance, which means to walk in the truth of who we and others are.
In the lifelong process of self-discovery, our propensity for self–deception intensifies
our stress. Through honest reflection we can accept that our limits and our gifts have
equal value. Reformation begins when we give up the attention–grabbing tricks we play to
win others’ approval. It helps to recall that Christ’s ministry was no popularity contest.
Seeking others’ undivided attention by directing conversations to our own cleverness and
bragging about our successes actually betrays a weak self–image. Scheming to gain
attention prevents us from admitting our faults and failures candidly. Realistic self-
perception requires acknowledging our own lights and shadows, unpressured by the
demand for perfection. Through the chiseling effects of joys and sorrows, the master
carver has shaped us into who we are.
Looking at ourselves in this way frees us from the prison of anxious comparison. By
accepting our own inadequacies, we discover our dignity and worth. Sorrow for our sins
and confidence in God’s forgiveness provide openings to growth in Christian perfection.
Accepting our whole range of emotions frees us from vainglory and increases our
compassion for those who are vulnerable, which includes ourselves and our neighbors.
Self–acceptance can be learned only through our encounters with others. We need to
ponder their role in helping us to recognize our own unique identity. This two–fold
movement of solitude and solidarity entails turning within to know ourselves and turning
without to consider others. Thus we reconfirm our uniqueness while discovering the
value of our relationships.

A sincere search for self can only occur when we face both the personal and cultural
obstacles that stunt our growth and consider with candor the conditions that allow us to
emerge. We must accept not the self we would like to be or the self that others see, but
the person God created us to be, a self with talents as well as tribulations.
Someone who knows our strengths and weaknesses yet still accepts us —a trusted
counselor, colleague or spiritual director— does not deny our undesirable characteristics
or pretend that removing them would be easy. Such a person accepts us in our totality. It
does not matter whether our achievements are lofty or modest. Our value lies in the fact
that we are infinitely loved by our Creator. The Lord redeems us from our illusion of
self–perfection and invites us to surrender, as he did, to the will of the Father. When we
fall short, we fly to him for help, knowing that his unconditional acceptance motivates us
to affirm ourselves and confirm others.

Questions for Reflection
1. Do you live in the shadow of envious comparison, or do you appreciate the
true person God calls you to be, with all your limits and gifts?
2. What motivates you to minister to others? What about these motives is positive?
What is negative?
3. Name the three most important lessons your recent encounters with others have
taught you.

Returning to the Source of Our Worth

F or a while, we might get away with using external props to demonstrate our worth, but
such smoke and mirrors have no real substance. External modes of comportment might
convey an illusion of self–sufficiency, but without inner grounding in the life of the Spirit
they only hide the truth of our reliance on God. It may take a long time to free ourselves
from a web of self-delusion, or it may happen in a sudden moment of clarity. A crisis of
the limits can provide the key to our release. When the projects in which we have
invested our energy appear meaningless, when our boredom brings us to the brink of
despair, we may dare to face the void within our soul and beg God for the grace of
The stirrings of our heart tells us when it is time to change our style of living from
one that is outer–directed to one that is oriented from within. Because the consumer
society has conditioned us to measure our worth by material success in the competitive
arena, it takes courage to shift our center of values. Power, pleasure, and possession
cannot satisfy our soul’s restlessness. Such earthly satisfactions melt like ice on a hot
pavement when we realize how limited we really are. We realize how much more there is
to life than cleverness, or, maintaining the image others expect of us, or self-sufficiency at
the expense of community concerns. We recognize that self–actualization generates only a
sense of pseudo-independence; we remember that without God’s help we are and can do
nothing. Once we lay down the burden of our own savior–complex, the distress that
crippled us physically and spiritually decreases. Instead, we feel the normal stress
associated with reflective planning and creative production.
Before such a conversion we may have felt the compulsion to plan every move in
advance. Afterwards, we can respond to each situation in a less pressured, more peaceful,
charitable, and loving way. Those things that used to impress us—the promises of
success, the false sources of security upon which we once relied—pale in comparison to
the true source of our worth. Our external appearances become more integrated than ever
with our internal beliefs. This harmony radiates through every temporal activity, when we
rest and recreate, when we participate in cultural events or engage in quiet contemplation.
Prayer keeps us in the presence of the Sacred and prevents us from falling into
functional, routine patterns of mere productivity. We can offer an appropriate, personal
response to others, whether they are calling for help in an agonizing moment of terror or
voicing their gratitude for a truly perfect day. All that we do embodies the graces we have
received, albeit not deserved. Our lives demonstrate what it means to be “peaceable,
gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or
hypocrisy” (Jas 3:17).

Questions for Reflection

1. How would you counsel someone who wants to discover the true source of his
or her worth?
2. What signs in your body, mind, and spirit indicate when to let go of your
familiar sources of security and return to your deepest ground in God?
3. What dispositions of the heart need to be cultivated to reach spiritual maturity?

Committing Ourselves to Loving Service

T here is no better example of committing ourselves to loving service than that of Jesus
washing his apostles’ feet (see Jn 13:8). This humble act demonstrates that what we do
for others has to be motivated by love. Christ’s action calls us to look beyond an easeful
life of comfort to the commitment of working for the benefit of others.
If a child asks me to fix him lunch, I need to give up my plan to sunbathe in the back
yard. If I promised to meet someone for supper at 6:15, even if I have other work to do,
I ought to meet them promptly. Briefly, commitment puts others’ interests before my own.
Each choice frames my vocation and opens up avenues for responding to what my
calling in Christ requires of me. When I pursue my commitments wholeheartedly, I
discover unrecognized talents and opportunities for excellence each time I go out of
myself to care for others. In contrast, an uncommitted life fails to satisfy anyone. The
more we try to escape the love and service we owe to our brothers and sisters, the
emptier we feel. Our sense of servanthood and our call to spiritual maturity slowly but
surely fade away.
When we were young, we surveyed the many roads spread before us and wanted to
follow every one of them. Now that we are older, we may feel constrained by the
unavoidable harness of responsibility, but now is the time to discern the path that
Providence may want us to follow. Imagine life as a field of wild flowers. If we were to
pick them all, they would soon wither because we could never find a container big
enough. Wisdom suggests selecting a lovely bouquet and placing it in a proper vase.
Commitment does limit our choices, but it also helps us focus on what we might have
missed were we to try everything possible. After all, as the saying goes, God never closes
a window without opening a door.
Trying to be all things to all people all the time deludes us into accepting as real the
myth of omni–availability. Making a choice allows us to take on responsibility and be
available to others. Hasty choices lead to disintegration, wise ones to integration.
At first, a commitment to service may make us feel uprooted and uncertain. Accepting
our true calling in life can be unsettling. This initial feeling of disorientation, usually brief,
gives way to a sense of reorientation to God and others, sustained by the surety of being
closer to what the divine wills for us. Those who ignore or reject the call to commitment
may become aware, often too late, of missing a chance for happiness, an opportunity to
become spiritually mature.
Without direction our growth can become haphazard and erratic, almost like a cancer.
Our yes to life keeps us from wasting time, even years, saying maybe or not yet. Without
spiritual roots our life grows feeble. Without the light of love and service we stumble in
the shadows of inner futility and frustration. No wonder others think of us as unreliable
and uncharitable. Lasting fruits are hard to find without the grace of committed living.
Surrendering to God leaves us in a state of not knowing where the light will lead, but

obeying the call to discipleship means that we must be willing to pay the price that it
In moments of reflection, we can see the coherent direction in which our committed life
has moved us. We make decisions with more courage. Our actions bear fruitful results.
Heeding the compass of our call assures us that we have found our way.
We may think that we have chosen our commitment, but in a sense it has chosen us.
Being guided by the Spirit to love our neighbor as ourselves takes a lifetime since this
conversion takes into account not only what we do, but who we are. It is not enough to
act charitably; we must be charitable. Such fidelity may subject us to suffering, doubt or
disappointment, but these trials test our faith and make it stronger.
Marriages begin through romantic love, but are sustained by countless acts of caring.
Permanent commitment gives marriages a meaning and purpose no crisis can erode or
destroy. Popular media, disconnected from gospel values, erodes the foundation of
Christian marriage and the vows that signify the permanency of a sacramental
There is no substitute for sacrificial love, a truth to which every Christian, married
and celibate, can testify. At turning points in our life like those of vocational discernment,
we need to recognize that we are ambassadors for Christ (see 2 Cor 5:20), called to
committed living and to embody the generous gifts that flow from it.

Questions for Reflections

1. What self-correction could you make so as to put the interests of others before
your own?
2. What risks does commitment to Christ entail? How does the faith of a
committed, mature Christian alleviate the fears that may block the path to loving
3. How can you help young people see the value of permanent commitment in
single, married, or religious life, particularly in the face of the devaluation of
such commitment by the mass media?

Discovering the Joy of Life Together in Christ

O ur individualistic culture makes it difficult, but not impossible, to center our

relationships on the joys of life together in Christ. A “me-only” mindset pales in
comparison to the experience of being with and for one another as Christ proclaimed.
Nothing ought to block our ability to see the face of Christ in everyone we encounter. We
celebrate every person’s contribution and achievement. Name-calling and labeling have no
place in community life.
In a hospital setting founded on gospel values, doctors and nurses acknowledge the
importance of janitors. In a Christian school, faculty and students alike uphold the dignity
invested in them by God. The excellence pursued by, let us say, one member of the
debate team, is not a cause for jealousy but an occasion for shared joy. At Eastertide,
when Orthodox Christians proclaim, “My joy, Christ is risen,” they share this elation with
anyone who has ears to hear. Joy is infectious. It reminds us of the truth in the familiar
refrain, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”
We maintain our joy to the degree that we convey it to any and every one we
encounter. As the life of Saint Francis of Assisi testifies, joy lets us preach the gospel
without words. If we have discovered the joy of life together in Christ, we rejoice in the
achievements of others. We honor each person’s equality in dignity; we recognize their
nobility in the eyes of God, no matter how many arrows of sorrow have pierced the joy
for which they long.
Those who have discovered the joy of living together in Christ pursue their interests
with selflessness and generosity; they are sensitive to the needs of others. They seek the
lasting good that comes from ministering to anyone who asks for help. Their willingness to
be with and for others lets them maintain their other-directed focus, especially on the poor
in body and in spirit.
The joy of living together in Christ puts a true Christian perspective on social issues.
One attends to the needs of others without expecting instantaneous results. In other
words, we devote ourselves to social action not because we expect success but to do what
we can to bring about a more just, peaceful, and merciful world wherever where we live.
In community, we can acknowledge and address the repeated demands others make on us
without losing our joy. Our happiness comes not from what we accomplish but from our
delight in being disciples of the Lord.
To show concern for the well–being of others is to place the love of Christ crucified
at the center of our reality. If we do so, we will discover true joy by demonstrating in
ordinary situations the extraordinary grace of being members of one Body. When our
actions arise from deep union with God and communion with others, we are well on the
way to conveying to the world a joy no one can take from us (see Lk 16:22).

Questions for Reflection

1. How do you celebrate the communal side of your calling in Christ? In an
individualistic cultural environment, how can you do unto others as you would
have them do unto you?
2. If you detect a tendency in yourself toward self–indulgence, what can you do
to reverse it? How can you achieve success without losing your joy?
3. When has the desire to be practical and effective prevented you from
recognizing the joyful reality around you? How can you integrate the functional
and the transcendent in joyful surrender to God?

Attending to Divine Directives

A fter a packed day, I retire to a quiet corner, take a deep breath, and sink into a lounge
chair. I try to shift my mind and body from scheduled time to the unscheduled
timelessness of prayer. Almost immediately, like flies, swarms of thoughts distract me
from the Divine. Despite silence around me, I churn within. What I wanted to be a
moment of recollection whirls away like leaves in the wind, and I am left only with my
own arid thoughts.
Deadlines, anxiety–provoking headlines, phone calls, bills, misunderstandings with
co–workers––such concerns crowd my consciousness. Although I long to focus on the
Spirit moving in my personal and communal life, I end up talking to myself about my day
and its distracting encounters. Reflection dissipates into wildly scattered thoughts and
recollection eludes me.
Perhaps you’ve felt this way too. When we try to discern God’s will calmly, our
attention skips from one distraction to another. As soon as we attempt to contemplate, our
busy world rushes in and we cannot escape where we are. We can pretend, but we know
that we cannot force contemplation to happen. Everyday life, with its disappointments and
delights, is the ground from which we must submit to God’s guidance.
Conditioned by an achievement–oriented culture, we approach every activity like a
project, even prayer. The “teacher in me” plans lessons. The “homemaker in me” makes a
shopping list. The “bookkeeper in me” balances the monthly accounts. So why can’t the
“praying me” manage the mystery according to the script I propose?
A project–like mentality convinces us that with enough effort we can attain the
transformation we seek. Focused on self–centered intentions, we overlook God’s guiding
light in the churning seas of our lives. Trying to master the mystery blocks grace. We
must learn to approach life not as aggressive planners, but as humble receivers.
Day after day we come before the Lord in a disposition of watching and waiting (see
Prv 8:34). We may find tender consolations as well as moments of aridity. In such
deserts of pure faith, we can only abide in receptivity to “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kg
19:12). Trying to fill these moments with rapid–fire requests for answers is a mistake. It
is better to repeat with the psalmist, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul
longs for you, O God” (Ps 42:1). God asks us only for appreciative abandonment to the
slightest whisper of a divine directive. And, just when communion with Christ seems a
distant promise, a breakthrough happens. The spiritual dryness we thought would never
end is quenched by a sudden downpour of grace. Prayer leads to new intimacy with the
Eternal and with all those entrusted to us. We move from wordless praise and
thanksgiving to intercessions and petitions for the good of all.
Meditative reflection becomes second nature once we allow God’s word, read on a
regular basis, to purify the willfulness that kept us from listening. Placing Christ at the
center prevents us from living a fragmented existence that leaves us no time for

recollection. The noise of our egotistical self fades. Rather than trying to split our day
between action and contemplation, we let contemplation motivate every action, from
worship in the cool of the morning to visiting a neighbor in the heat of the day. Peace is
possible when our life of doing flows from our life of being in the Lord.

Questions for Reflection

1. In your own prayer life, how do you handle the distractions that disrupt your
presence to the Divine?
2. In this 24/7 world, how has fulfilling your own agenda kept you from listening
to God’s whispered will?
3. What can you do each day to facilitate the ebb and flow from contemplation to
action, from receptive listening to active engagement?

Learning to Live Appreciatively

N o matter how we try to live appreciatively, like a thief the “demon of depreciation” slips
into our soul. We look askance at others’ faults. We diminish the priority of prayer. Our
own negative self–talk deflates our spirit. If we continue to conduct ourselves in this way,
we will find it difficult to reverse these demeaning tendencies.
A first step toward reform is recognizing the deadly grip of depreciation. It makes us
doubt that moments of suffering have meaning. It tempts us toward the pessimism of
seeing the glass as half empty rather than the optimism of its being half full.
We need to restore the missing sense of meaning in our everyday life. We cannot
practice appreciative abandonment haphazardly. We must exercise that option at the first
sign of anxiety, uncertainty, or doubt of God’s loving care.
Applied right away, appreciation saves us from despondency. Its opposite,
depreciation, is like a power failure. If we stop drawing strength from an attitude of
gratitude, our energy dissipates and we feel nervous, inadequate, directionless. Our work
lacks inspiration. Our actions become a dull routine. We go through the motions without
Appreciation bonds together our always fragmented life. It keeps us focused, and
shows us a peace and joy that transcends our own efforts. Inevitably the depreciative
outlook returns, and perhaps only after more painful negativity may we return to the
permanent grace of positivity.
Living without being disposed to praise and thanksgiving is like driving in the dark
without traffic lights. At every intersection, we risk destruction. Consider Peter (Lk 5:1–
11). He had been fishing all night and caught nothing. At daybreak, Christ called from the
shore that he should cast his nets to the right; a miraculous, overwhelming catch
immediately followed. Christ showed Peter the danger of depreciative assumptions
compared to the wisdom of appreciating when and how fish could be caught. This
humbling experience reminded Peter, a master of his craft, that he really depended on the
Master. Recognizing his own depreciative tendency, he realized his need for the Lord’s
Like Peter, we need to experience our own nothingness to recover our first priority—
prayerful surrender. Instead of living in a depreciative manner, neglecting both prayer and
our neighbors’ needs, we are called to exercise the power of appreciation, believing that
every obstacle presents an opportunity for ongoing formation.

Questions for Reflection

1. What can you do to diminish the tendency to depreciate others and deflate their
2. Think of a time when someone directed negativity toward you. How did such a

put–down affect you? Did you respond in kind, or did you reverse your own
tendency toward condescension?
3. How do depreciative thinking and acting contradict the gospel message?



1 John 4:16-21
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and
those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been
perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment,
because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love
casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not
reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I
love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a
brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not
seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love
their brothers and sisters also.

Cultivating a Rhythm of Recollection and Participation

T o build community we must communicate with others and with God in prayer, those we
can say out loud and those which call for the help of the Holy Spirit.. Amid the practical
demands of daily life, it might seem as if we have no time to collect ourselves around
Christ and to bring his life and message to our faith community and to the wider world.
The flood of plans and projects that fill our calendars absorb our attention. Our
outer–directed frenzy obstructs our growth in the life of the Spirit and keeps us from
weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice (see Rom 12:15).
Inside us, however, there is an inner spirit of recollection or “in–gathering.”
It is not just monks and cloistered nuns who are summoned to revitalize their daily
life through recollection and participation. This rhythm, essential to community life, lets
us step aside for a while from the workaday world to rest in God so that, renewed and
reenergized, we may start again to take part in his care and guidance for every member of
the Mystical Body. As with our other friendships, so it is between us and God.
Relationships require time and presence. If we restrict ourselves to a few cursory words
or an occasional visit, they wither. We need to be together to nurture our love. We need
solitude, but we also need togetherness.
By sharing spirit–to–Spirit with God and with others, we begin to understand what it
means to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). This undeserved grace makes us more
aware of God’s will and our obligation to reveal God’s glory and graciousness to others.
Communion with God cannot be confined to a few perfunctory pauses during the day. We
stand in God’s presence moment by moment, aware that were God to forget us for a brief
second, we would no longer be.
We maintain this disposition of humble dependence in solitude and in shared activity.
In other words, our inner life of resting in God does not cease when we engage in worldly
enterprises. Listening to the Lord in silence becomes the ground for our speaking.
Recollection precedes our response to God’s call to bring justice, peace and mercy into
the working places of family, church, and society.
Given the demands of daily life, it is wise to set aside a period of time, morning and
evening, to meet the Lord. Through the power of his Spirit, he leads us from our fast-
paced task orientation to the quiet embrace of loving communion. In such moments of
withdrawal to be alone with him, we find our center and ready ourselves to receive his
Eventually, we must leave our place of retreat and return to the needs and demands
of everyday living. In doing so, we realize that a fulfilled life must become a graceful
rhythm of stepping aside from communal endeavors for the sake of starting again.
Recollection awakens us to the infinite splendor embedded in each finite event. Having
tasted the waters of transcendence, we can approach our daily tasks with renewed purpose
and meaning.

Doing this is not merely another duty in a long string of tiring projects; it is a way to
take part with God in the mystery of redemption. Only by maintaining an intimate bond
between ourselves and the Sacred does life—our own and others’—achieve its potential.
The sacrifices we make to step aside are infinitely less than the graces God gives us to
start again.

Questions for Reflection

1. How do you live out the scriptural–based suggestion to pray without ceasing?
2. What suggestions can you offer to help others discover the right rhythm of
stepping aside for moments of prayer and starting again to minister to others?
3. How do you rest in God amidst the restless enterprises that occupy you every
day? What helps this combination of contemplative action and active
contemplation become second nature?

Practicing the Art of Listening with Other-Centered Love

T he art of listening requires the discipline of other-centered love. Without such

discipline, during a conversation we can hardly wait for the other person to stop talking so
we can have the last word. After all Jesus had done—feeding the five thousand, walking
across the water to quell his friends’ fears, explaining the difference between manna in the
desert and the true bread that will come from heaven (see Jn 6:1-34), Jesus could
presume that the people were ready to listen to him. He revealed his true identity in an
awesome “I am” statement: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be
hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35).
Unlike the Samaritan women who listened to Jesus and believed, many refused to
accept what he said. They disputed among themselves and walked away from him, and
from an opportunity to experience life together in a community of love. Those who stayed
would enjoy the blessings of this unifying transformation. Their deep listening brought
about communion among them, and among their descendants down through the ages.
Listening in order to learn from God and others requires humility and discernment.
Presuming that we have nothing to learn from revelation or reason closes listeners off
from new disclosures of God’s will. Without such listening, members of a community fail
to grow as individuals and the community itself stagnates. Without the art of listening,
conversation may descend to superficial chats about the weather or sports, never
approaching the deepest purpose of our togetherness. Prayer itself, our conversation with
God, begins with receptive listening and leads to effective service.
We see this transition from conversation in the community to conversation with God
in the encounter between Jesus and the sisters, Martha and Mary (see Lk 10:38-42). In
this little community, where we would expect to see equal love, Jesus gently chided
Martha for using her busyness as an excuse for not resting at his feet as Mary did and
listening to him. He knew how difficult it was for someone with a heart full of worry and
a distracted mind to heed his words. The Lord wanted Martha to know that ceaseless
activity would produce nothing of lasting importance and might erode listening by
blocking the grace of unceasing prayer. It is touching that after Lazarus died (see Jn 11:1-
12:3) it was Jesus who listened to Martha and asked that the stone be rolled away from
her brother’s tomb.
This give-and-take of being and doing, of resting with the Lord and following his
lead, confirms the value of listening. Recall what Samuel, heeding the advice of Levi,
said when he heard the Lord calling in the night: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1
Sam 3:10). Just as it is hard to listen with equal intensity to two musical selections at the
same time, so we cannot attend at the same time to God’s voice and to the gongs of
mental and emotional confusion. We need to be still and know that God is there (see Ps
Silence can provide a space for deep listening, as in the Quaker tradition. The

assembly listens in silence; only when the Spirit is heard stirring within does someone
speak. The call to other-centered love obliges us to help one another distinguish between
God’s voice and background noise. Alone and together, it is good to ask for the grace to
discipline our thoughts so that we may hear the voice of God.
The cacophony in our heads is like the glowing images on a radar screen. We can’t
bear to miss any detail that registers as we proceed along the information highway. Rather
than distinguish between what matters and what does not, we attend to random ideas as
they register on our screens. The dissonance we feel ought to be a signal to turn off the
television or computer and retire to a quiet place. What stunts our growth in faith, hope,
and love? What promotes it? Neither family nor community life can survive, let alone
thrive, unless we learn how to listen. Perhaps that is why the Prologue of Saint Benedict’s
rule begins, “Listen, my son.”
As much as we cultivate a listening heart attuned to the pace of grace, we position
ourselves to discern God’s will in the ordinary routines of life. We place concern for
others above self-satisfaction. We discern what we must relinquish and what we must
retain only by truly listening to those whose counsel we trust and to God. We must die at
every moment to our willfulness, which drowns out divine directives. We must cease
trying to second-guess God and to control others and start listening with the ears of our
heart to all sides of life. When Peter, Andrew and the other apostles heard Jesus say,
“Follow me,” they dropped everything and did so. When Saul heard Jesus’ impassioned
question, “…why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), he converted. Listening deeply is a
risk, but when we block our ears to what Jesus is telling us, we stifle and kill off the very
possibility of community living.

Questions for Reflection

1. When tensions arise and disagreements escalate, what helps you give up your
defensive posture and listen more respectfully?
2. How does the ebb and flow of silence and speaking enhance your listening
skills? Why do impatient or superficial styles of listening erode community life?
3. What does the conversation between Jesus and Martha teach you about the
relationship between contemplation and action? In your prayer life, what might
happen if you turn from petition and intercession toward receptive listening?

Responding to Our Own and Others’ Emotions

F acing difficult relationships or undesirable tasks makes our emotions churn. Even trivial
misunderstandings can enkindle strong feelings, from self–righteous stubbornness to
tearful retreat. Focusing on our misery can dull our appetite, slow our productivity, and
curtail our prayer. We function better if we can put some space between ourselves and
the communal upsets that triggered our emotional response. Such a cooling off period
helps us relax and take stock of all sides of the situation and restore peace.
Relationships scarred by betrayal or lack of trust are slow to heal. It takes time and
patience to sort through what caused the quandary. Did I butt heads with a person by
refusing to dialogue in a non–defensive manner? Perceptive friends and experienced
community members can help us acknowledge and respond to a quandary creatively.
Grace can bring us to the threshold of forgiveness and prompt us to make a new start.
Once we bond again, we are less prone to magnify our occasional disagreements or to let
them dominate our feelings. We may have eroded community relations because we talked
at rather than with and to each other.
Episodes of division demonstrate that it is wise not to focus on who is correct and
who is mistaken. A “figure–ground” model illustrates this advice. If I focus on the
intricate design of my living room rug, the rest of the decor becomes a blur. Instead, if I
look at the entire room I can appreciate how the rug blends with window dressings and
furniture. In both instances, I am noticing the rug. At first I let one or two details in it
absorb me; then I shift my attention to see the rug in relation to the room as a whole.
In a similar fashion, my frustration may come from concentrating on an upsurge of
emotion triggered by a too narrow perspective. I can be so focused on an event that I do
not see how it relates to the encompassing field of meaning. This is not to say that I
should brush my frustration under the rug! On the contrary, I should try to understand
what it reveals about me and others.
Examining my frustration when people who ought to know better do not help around
the community allows me to discover why their apparent laziness bothers me. A little
reflection reveals that I am projecting my own demands onto them. When I am working on
a project, I feel guilty if I relax, so why don’t they? These false guilt feelings prevent the
Martha in me from appreciating the Mary who sits with the Lord (see Lk 10:38–42).
Perhaps that is why others’ apparent lack of concern about order and cleanliness causes
me to react judgmentally rather than respond gently.
I may have to explore this pattern of reaction or response many times before my
frustration lessens. Being this candid with myself is a risk. Admitting that the fault may
also be mine is not easy. I may not be “blocking out” certain truths intentionally, but
reacting this way does prevent me from understanding why I feel so aggravated by those
who do not work as hard as I do.
We may discover other unpleasant truths about ourselves. We may be tempted to pay

attention only to peoples’ disagreeable faults or to the imperfections in an enterprise we
are supervising. We could also ask ourselves searching questions, such as: “What makes
this person or task so irritating? Is it because they remind me of something in myself I
would rather not know or admit?” By accepting our own flaws, we turn from concentrating
merely on our frustrations to listening to what they disclose in the context of our own
profile of sin and sanctity.
We can do little to change the persons with whom we live or the projects in which we
are involved, but we are free to choose our attitude toward them. Making this choice
requires honest efforts to discover the source of our feeling frustrated. Then we can
recognize the broader context in which feelings like this are embedded. Our main concern
should be what helps or hinders community life.
Much happens among us that we cannot control. At the height of a successful career
we may be struck down by an illness. A loved one may die unexpectedly. A fire or storm
may destroy the work of a lifetime. In an instant all our planning shrinks to nothing. We
cannot reverse such events, but we can ponder their meaning.
Life may be frustrating, but such “curses” may contain “blessings” in disguise. They
let us see the fault lines in our personality, including our penchant for making life
conform to the script we have written. Such foolish and futile desires are what really
upset us.
Recognizing our faults lets us rely not on our own resources but on God’s
providential power to heal community relations. We may never foresee what God asks of
us—let alone imagine ourselves doing it! God’s action in our life may turn us “inside out
and upside down,” as G. K. Chesterton said of Saint Francis of Assisi. We can learn this
lesson only by accepting our limitations. At first, responding to emotions— our own and
others’—may seem frustrating, but doing so opens us to self–insight and lets us live more
graciously our call to Christian community.

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you rush into debates or do you assess all sides of the situation from a
respectful distance before speaking?
2. When betrayal has eroded your trust in a relationship, what can be done to
repair the damage?
3. How often do you project your own demands onto others? Why do you do so?
How would withholding your punches and exercising more patience change you
as a listener?

Maintaining a Sense of Humor

H umor requires humility. If a spinning top has enough momentum, when it begins to
wobble it regains its equilibrium and does not fall. Interestingly enough, imbalance leads
to balance. Similarly, we need to maintain the momentum of our reliance on God’s grace,
lest we spin out of control and fall. To remain sound in body, mind and spirit, we have to
let go of what we can’t control and laugh at our limitations. Otherwise relationships and
reciprocity may be endangered by too much introspection. Our spiritual life will be
healthier if we appreciate the humor inherent in our human condition. Perhaps there is
much truth in the old saying that when we laugh the world laughs with us.
There is a hint of ironic humor in the Apostle Paul’s noting the paradox that Christ’s
power is manifest in weakness. He was happy to display his own weakness so that Christ
could live in him (see 2 Cor 12:9). We need to consider our own brokenness in the same
way. We can never escape our irksome wounded condition. It is not a temporary
inconvenience or a momentary embarrassment. But we need not be dominated by our
prideful, perfectionistic illusions. We can wink at our mishaps and ask God to forgive our
faults, especially that of our taking ourselves too seriously.
Such a simple request, a polite nod, a sympathetic smile can improve our
relationships. We become milder towards ourselves and others if we acknowledge with a
smile the limits of daily life and see them as God’s way of making us more compassionate.
To focus on a problem so intently that we isolate ourselves from the creative possibility it
contains, is to turn the mouse into an elephant!.
Instead, we need to see the “postage stamp” of any mishap against the horizon of an
unfathomable mystery. Doing so transforms our weakness into strength. Like the saints,
we develop a sense of humor that enables us to regard the tragedy of life as a divine
A sense of humor lightens our self-perception. We understand that we are creatures
of God with lofty aspirations clothed in ordinary garments. We smile when we realize that
God loves us for reasons we cannot fathom and seeks only our good. God initiates an
intimate love–relationship with each and every one of us, going to extremes that seem
preposterous to mere human reason in order to transport us from deserts of desolation
into promised lands of liberation. Human imagination could never fashion so great an act
of salvation. No wonder such a revelation evokes the laughter of faith.
A sense of humor is the prelude to unshakeable belief. It offers us a vantage point
from which we can see our real selves, with all our pretensions, foibles and conceits. It is
funny that we take ourselves so seriously, as if we were the center of the world.
When we hear a humorous story we may laugh alone, but it cannot compare to
laughing together. Some of the best moments occur when we retell old stories and see
anew the humor in them. Shared laughter, even to the point of tears, relieves our tensions
and seals our togetherness.

If we are humble, we accept ourselves as we are, in our ordinariness (humus), with
no illusions or inclinations to appear better than we are, before God or neighbor. Knowing
we are loved, accepted and forgiven––recognizing the ultimate meaning and purpose of
our existence––turns sorrow into joy.
We can share humor best with those who have the same mutual confidence and trust.
True humor presupposes a shared familiarity with the Divine that permits the freedom of
light–heartedness. It allows us to live out our true identity, no more and no less. It
suffuses such self–surrender with detached wonder; it lets us feel more “at one” with
God, who heals our often self-inflicted wounds. We cannot help but smile at the largesse
of a Creator who calls us by name, gives us the gift of his only begotten Son, and
promises to be with us always. If that does not evoke grateful laughter, what will?

Questions for Reflection
1. What makes you lose your sense of humor? How do you regain it? When has it
been true for you that “Laughter is the best medicine”?
2. When have you concentrated so much on solving a problem that you failed to
see the creative possibility in it? In short, what can you do about the common
inclination to turn every molehill in your life into a mountain?
3. Luke (6:21) records Jesus saying, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will
laugh.” Try to recall an incident in your own life with others when weeping
(perhaps over a failed project) turned to laughing when you realized it was your
idea, not God’s.

Manifesting Christ-Likeness in Everyday Life

I n a faith community that is alive, the Christ in one person greets the Christ in the other.
Christ-likeness helps us over every difficulty— cheerful word when we feel depressed, a
smile that speaks more than a thousand words, a hug that lightens our mood. Christ-like
presence lets us show compassion for those who are vulnerable, including ourselves and
others. We transcend our individualistic fears of becoming overly involved. We recognize
that we ought to do what Jesus would to make others’ lives better and provide for their
care. Saint Paul instructs the Corinthians that the power manifest in him comes not from
himself but from God:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the
body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our
bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so
that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor 4:8-11)
Paul teaches that the mercy others see in us comes not from ourselves, but from
Jesus, our Lord. We are not to wait passively for dramatic breakthroughs. He asks us to
discover “little epiphanies” in the most ordinary events. Treasures in clay jars—that is who
we are. Once we accept our true identity, Jesus can use us in his ministry of
reconciliation. To live in him is to become a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17), no longer who
we were before accepting this ministry. We become “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor
5:20). Through us God appeals to others and we work with him as partners in the mystery
of redemption.
In this light, we know that we must transmit the Christ-likeness so as to attract others.
We want to be witnesses to the lightness of being that comes when we “let go and let
The Spirit calls us to wait upon the Word of the Lord, convinced that all shall be well
if we set aside our plans and follow Divine Providence. Such an attitude lets the light of
Christ penetrate the shadowy corners of every situation in which we find ourselves. We
look past external appearances, guided by an internal compass of fidelity to our calling in
The more we awaken to the Spirit within, the more the radiance of this epiphany will
overflow into every facet of our life. Spirituality is intimately connected with the reality
of the everyday life, and the Spirit makes us more sensitive to the here–and–now
circumstances that surround us. If we find ourselves devaluing the ordinary, questioning
our progress and fearing the future, we need to turn toward the light of Christ and let him
change us.
Pain can make us search our souls for negative influences and for ways of responding
more positively. The past cannot be changed. The future stretches before us. Only in the
present can we renew our trust in the power of Christ’s redeeming love. Has he not

forgiven our mistakes, comforted us at every turn, and assured us of his fidelity? It is
worthwhile to take as our watchword Dag Hammarskjöld’s famous statement: “For all that
has been—thanks! To all that shall be—yes!”
If we do not appreciate the richness of the ordinary, we may realize with regret that
life has passed us by. We ought to make each day an exercise in fidelity to the Spirit.
Doing so, we will experience what Adrian van Kaam called the “eucharist of
everydayness” in our inner being and in our behavior. Events that once may have left us
feeling empty and constrained become invitations to identify with our crucified and risen
This gift of insight enables us to transcend our passivity and inactivity and to reclaim
Christ’s presence in and among us. Chores as routine as housecleaning or as creative as
preparing a lecture for a home economics class become precious gifts. Every mundane
action becomes an awe-filled moment, a signpost of transcendence.
Illumined by grace, we become more receptive to the gifts of seeing simply and
dwelling on the sacrament of the present moment. The Divine Presence becomes as real
for us as our very breath. We clarify our own patterns of response, our motivations,
needs and desires. We acknowledge and feel remorse for our moments of selfishness
while coming to appreciate every aspect of our personality as flowing from and returning
to our center in Christ.
Instead of feeling discouraged by our slow progress, we focus on the value and the
dignity every member of our community has in the sight of God. Everything can be made
holy. We have the courage to say: “Thank you, Jesus, for taking the clay of my existence
in your tender hands and turning it into a vessel of grace. My beauty does not depend on
perfection. Just as the unique flaws in any work of art increase its value, so does my
humdrum everyday life refract the light of your boundless love, O Lord.”

Questions for Reflection

1. Try to train the eyes of your heart to see in every manifestation of daily life a
“little epiphany.” How might such vision change your relationship to God, self,
and others?
2. Others often blossom under the radiance of an appreciative glance. How can
you develop your capacity for empathy for others in your community?
3. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta radiated joy as she walked among the
destitute and the dying. She saw the face of Jesus in everyone for whom she
cared and they surely recognized something transcendent in her. How can you
cultivate a disposition like hers to become “another Christ” for others?

Deepening Our Love for God’s Word in Community

T he life of the Spirit develops not through dramatic experiences but through slow, steady
disclosures of how to live in communion with God, self and others. There are many ways
to deepen faith, but one particularly useful discipline, alone or with others, is formative
reading of God’s word so that it becomes God’s word for us. Reading for information is
useful, but is insufficient for growing as a community of faith. Becoming one in the Lord
requires daily exposure to his word. In “Choruses from the Rock,” T. S. Eliot, suggests
that although we live in an age of technical progress, it has a shadow side of spiritual
regress. We give priority to honor, fame, power and success, not to humility, hiddenness,
faith sharing, and selfless care. We do not take advantage of the many programs in adult
faith formation; by Monday morning what we heard in church on Sunday is forgotten.
Eliot notes the cycle of idea and action, endless invention, endless experiment that
fills our age, bringing with it knowledge but not stillness, speech but not silence, words
but ignorance of the Word. He asks frankly: Where is the wisdom we have lost in
knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? In this third millennium
of Christianity, his concerns still hold: Are we closer to God or farther away? Nearer to a
culture of life or to the dust of death?
We need poets and prophets. Their words compel us to reflect on the meaning of our
own life and on the importance Jesus places on our life together. They challenge us not
merely to take a few sips, but to drink deeply at the well of salvation.
Monks orient their day around communal prayer and lectio divina. Scripture requires
not speed reading but pondering the text. The Word of God is like food for the soul. By
digesting its wisdom, we grow in intimacy with God and others. We, so to speak, become
what we read. We shift from a linear to a dwelling mode of attentiveness. Life becomes a
continual homecoming to the Lord.
The attitude of dwelling and the deepening that accompanies it fosters a disposition
of docility or openness to the guidance of God. Through regular sessions of personal or
shared reading, we become more attentive to the timely and timeless value of texts like
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
(Is 50:4)
Would that everyone be given the “tongue of a teacher”! God wants us to sustain the
weary, whether we are simple or learned, a child or an elder. If we are awake and willing

to listen to what God has to teach us, we can share in the call to be his servants. Scripture
transcends “pop-spirituality,” opening us to the lasting value of words with true power. It
is a treasury of wisdom that we want to revisit and pass on from generation to generation.
Informational reading offers quick satisfaction; formative reading makes us hungry for
more. We click on the evening news, flip through the paper, and check our e-mails, caught
in a compulsion to be current. We sometimes approach spiritual reading as if it were
merely informational, treating it like a smorgasbord, tasting only a dumpling here, a canapé
there. We try to satisfy ourselves with appetizers when we are really hungry to be filled
up by savoring one of the classics.
How does informational reading affect the inner ear, the one Jesus speaks to? Our
ears may become conditioned to hear only what Dag Hammarskjöld, in his masterpiece,
Markings, calls the “shouts and horns of the hunt.” Drowned out are the whispers of the
Holy Spirit. Moreover, when a text touches upon a truth we would rather not hear, we
ward it off by putting on the armor of resistance. If we respond shallowly, our faith
cannot deepen.
We should devote time to formative reading, perhaps twenty to thirty minutes a day.
We may read, for example, Psalm 63— “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul
thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no
water”— intent on savoring its meaning. We acknowledge that our soul thirsts for God. We
have come far enough on our journey to know that God’s steadfast love is better than life.
Under the shadow of God’s wings we join voices and sing for joy. In this oasis of
dwelling presence, scripture comes alive. We seek not to master the text but to let the text
master us.
The intellect can solve problems, but the full significance of spiritual texts and their
messages for faithful living lie beyond its grasp. Of course, we must manage the monthly
budget, schedule chores and conduct meetings, but to become the servants and friends of
God we must do more. We need to widen the chinks in our armor of functionalism and
let in the mystery of God’s living grace so that it works in us through the words of truth
we read.
When we say before receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy that you
should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” we
participate in an intimate moment of divine togetherness during which the word blesses
our brokenness and makes us whole. We do not contemplate as an end in itself; the worth
of contemplation is demonstrated in the charity that flows from it. When we read
formatively we retire momentarily from our busyness in order to dwell in the wisdom of
the spiritual masters. Only then can the Spirit truly live and work in our lives.

Questions for Reflection

1. In your secular and spiritual life, how do you integrate head and heart, analysis
and synthesis, information about what you believe and formation to put it into
2. How do you know that you are on the path to a deeper faith? What spiritual

masters do you turn to for sound guidance concerning how to live each day in
humility, detachment and charity?
3. What is your strategy for revisiting regularly the words of the Lord and the
teachings of the saints and spiritual masters? When the routines of work begin to
dominate your day, what helps you to pause a while and remain with the Lord?



JOHN 15:12-17
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one
has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my
friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer,
because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you
friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my
Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and
bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him
in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Moved by the Spirit to Love One Another

A s we grow toward a holy life of love and service for Christ’s sake, we receive the
special blessing of greater openness to the Holy Spirit. We feel moved to follow
unconditionally Christ’s call to love. Chiara Lubich, explaining the art of loving, says that
an essential step toward living as a fully-formed Christian is to be the first to love. The
more we are in tune with the Third Person of the Trinity, the more likely we are to follow
the divine “initiative” to love without demanding or expecting love in return. Sometimes,
however, as we minister to others we find that we have been ministered to. As Chiara
suggests, at the beginning of the day we should focus our spirit, heart, mind and will on a
life-changing prayer: “I will be the first to love everyone I meet during the day. I will love
this one and that one, and always be the first, be the first, be the first.”
We can say such a prayer only if the Holy Spirit is praying in us. Once we risk loving
in this way, we discover many occasions to cooperate with grace. We may have held our
love in reserve before, but no longer. Prophetically, Chiara Lubich says:
This way of loving requires that we love everyone, as God does, without distinction.
We do not choose between who is nice or unpleasant, old or young, countryman or
foreigner, black, white, or yellow, European or American, African or Asian, Christian
or Jew, Muslim or Hindu…In today’s terminology we could say that this kind of love
avoids every form of discrimination. (The Art of Loving, 29)
Is this not Jesus’ key lesson? Did he not dine with tax collectors and sinners as well as
learned elders? This message is restated in the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were
baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or
Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of
you are one in Christ Jesus. (3:27-28)
Our willingness to follow the Spirit is put to the test when God asks more of us than
we thought we could do. At such moments, we draw strength from placing ourselves at
the foot of the cross. There we meet companions who willingly embrace God’s call.
Grace can guide us beyond narrow self-reliance to our unquestioning dependence on
God. The same Spirit who governs and directs our soul strengthens us to act as followers
of Christ.
When other “spirits” tempt us to avoid the will of God, we should utter a simple
prayer like “Yes, Father.” To hear the Spirit, we need to silence other voices that clamor
for our attention. We should hush our heart, like a concert hall before a symphony. There
are easy ways to silence those outer voices. When we turn off the television, fold up the
newspaper, and find a quiet spot to meditate and pray, then we realize how loud the
clamoring within us really is. Conflicting claims threaten our communion with God and
our loving care for others. Whenever this happens, if like a weaned child with its mother

(see Ps 131:2) we call upon grace to quiet our soul, we can hear again the Spirit’s
Forces of life jolt us, confusing us and making us lose our sense of direction. From
every side, popular books, lectures, and “talking heads” hammer at us with their
individualistic “What’s in it for me” outlook. But anchored by the Spirit, we are moved to
love first and ask questions later. In the silence of our soul, we discern what is of God
and set aside all that forestalls our commitment to hope against hope and to love without
always expecting to be loved in return.
We come to know the ways of the Spirit through the cumulative wisdom of our faith
community—Saint Augustine’s school of love; Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s treatise on the
four ways of loving; Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s discovery that at the heart of the Church
her vocation will be to love. Through Scripture and the spiritual masters, the Lord assures
us that “…since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11).
Nevertheless, not every voice we hear is speaking to us. We cannot support every
charitable enterprise that we may encounter; we must maintain our commitment to love in
the circumstances where we are. We may dream of working in the foreign missions, but
we must love our children here at home. The heroism that God asks of us consists in
fidelity to our call in the providential situation where God has placed us. From her
Carmelite cloister, Saint Thérèse became the patroness of evangelical missionary
endeavors around the world.
The Spirit speaks not only through words and experiences of trusted others, but in
the center of our human spirit. We need not fear making wrong choices; God knows our
limitations. The Holy Spirit teaches us to learn from our mistakes. Through the Spirit,
God puts into perspective for us the “big picture” being painted at every moment by the
Artisan of our soul.

Questions for Reflection

1. What helps you to find and follow God’s will in your everyday endeavors,
especially in times of transition from one way of life to another?
2. When Christ sets a particularly difficult task before you, what allows you to
understand what he is asking of you?
3. What helps you to still and quiet your soul like a child on its mother’s lap,
especially when inner and outer voices clamor for your attention?

Living the New Commandment in All Our Relationships

T he words of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse—“Love one another, as I have loved you” [Jn
13:34])—inspire us to embrace in earnest both the blessing and burden of following this
commandment. Blessed are we to embody the love that springs from the heart of the
Eternal Father and which, through the Spirit Jesus gave us, is poured out upon us all the
days of our life. Burdened are we at realizing how often lingering traces of prejudice, or
out-and-out impatience have marred our relationships. We act as if the ideal of becoming
“one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32) is beyond our reach. In his letter at the close of the
Great Jubilee of 2000, Pope John Paul II reminds us of what is essential to live as a
twenty-first century Christian:
It is in building this communion of love that the Church appears as “sacrament,” as
the “sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human
race.” The Lord’s words on this point are too precise for us to diminish their import.
Many things are necessary for the Church’s journey through history, not least in this
new century; but without charity (agape), all will be in vain. It is again the Apostle
Paul who in the hymn to love reminds us: even if we speak the tongues of men and
of angels, and if we have faith “to move mountains,” but are without love, all will
come to “nothing” (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:2). Love is truly the “heart,” of the Church…
The pope goes on to describe the Church as the home and the school of communion”
(43). Before making practical plans, we need to promote a spirituality of communion. We
must not put the “cart” of our works before the “horse” of the spirit of love, which alone
can transport us to a good outcome. It is contemplation-in-action, not activism, that gives
meaning to what we do. The Holy Father reminds us, “A spirituality of communion
indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us,
and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters
around us” (43).
John Paul II provides a memorable outline of the fruits of this spirituality of
communion, by which the new commandment becomes alive in all our relationships. First,
the Spirit enables us “to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound
unity of the Mystical Body.” We are not separate, but joined to one another in one body.
Then, within this domain of communion (koinonia) we share in one another’s joys and
sufferings. We sense the desires of those for whom we care and attend to their needs; we
offer them deep and genuine friendship. Next, “a spirituality of communion implies also
the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God:
not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a ‘gift
for me.’” As the pope explains, a spiritualty of communion casts out the “demons” of
rampant individualism, of cruel and competitive condescension, of envy and jealousy that
can destroy family and professional life. Finally, communion generates fruit—to bear each

other’s burdens (see Gal 6:2)—and a lasting disposition of the heart that shields us from
the barbs of careerism, materialism, and narcissism.
For people of every station in life— single and married alike—this spirituality of
communion culminates in the unconditional willingness to love others not for what they
can do for us but for who they are. Communion lived out does not guarantee reciprocity,
even though we may be surprised at the affection for us that others often display. What
matters, however, is not that we are loved in return, but that we reconfirm always our
commitment to Christ and our service to the people of God. In his parable of the last
judgment, Jesus makes clear how we will know whether we have followed his new
commandment: “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me
something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me
clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt

Questions for Reflection

1. What makes the lifelong process of maturation from self-centered to other-
centered love so demanding? How does contemporary culture make this process
more difficult?
2. Why is it critical in living out a spirituality of communion that you love others
whether or not they are in a position to return the love you’ve shown, or to meet
your needs?
3. What does it mean to you that you are a member of the body of Christ? How
does this divine revelation affect your personal relationships?

Following Christ’s Call to Friendship with God and Others

L isten again to what Jesus says in his remarkable Farewell Discourse:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one
has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends
if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the
servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You
did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit
that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am
giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
(Jn 15:12-17)
These words—so revelatory, so formative—demand our full attention. Jesus goes to
the heart of the nature of love by identifying it not with sentimental feelings but with
rigorous self-sacrifice. To love others truly we must willingly lay down our life for them.
True friends tell each other, “If I could suffer in your place, I would.” Jesus does not
define love as an act of affection but as obedience. It is not his request; it is his
incontrovertible command. He himself demonstrates what he means by obeying the will
of the Father to the end.
Christ draws us into that precious place where friendship leads: to our becoming his
intimate confidantes, to whom he can reveal all that the Father told him. What a privileged
place for believers! When our own unworthiness overwhelms us, as it will, with the
psalmist we can say, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that
you care for them?” (Ps 8:4). We realize the startling truth that it was not we who chose
him, but he who chose us. From the beginning of time he has planned not only that we
would be his anointed ones, but that we would be his appointed ones: Those he has
chosen to bear fruit in their lives. Our success is measured not in productive outcomes
but in fidelity to his commandment that we love one another as Jesus loved us.
True friendship is a unique gift; it requires that we accept it freely. In his longing to
do the will of his Father Christ offered his friendship to everyone, but not everyone
befriended Christ. He excluded no one—not even his vicious foes and sweet-talking
betrayers. For us, too, many forces hold us back from becoming friends of God and
others. Foremost among them is a selfish preoccupation with having the last word. Jesus
said woe to the Pharisees, because what they were seeking was not to hear the truth and
let it touch and transform their hearts, but to trip Jesus up. They operated through
negativity—not attending to what he said but challenging him because of what he did not
say. No wonder Jesus preferred to speak not in learned discourses but in parables.
The friendship model of community life presupposes mutual trust and the
commitment to promote our mutual good. However the apostles may have differed in age
and temperament, Jesus sought to mold them into a community of love. After the

resurrection, Peter and Paul may have had their differences but who would dare to doubt
their friendship in the Lord?
The Book of Sirach (6:5-17) describes how friendship transcends merely casual
acquaintance. The wisdom writer warns us to beware of so-called friends who seduce us
with their pleasant speech, gracious twists of the tongue, and witty gestures couched in
courtesy. These fair-weather friends come and go; a true friend may be one in a million.
True friends never fail to address our deepest needs. Because they pass the test of trust,
our relationship with them strengthens day by day. They are not “friends” only when it
suits them, says Sirach. On such “friends” we cannot depend. In a moment of crisis they
can switch colors in a flash and become our foes. In times of prosperity they become our
“second self” (Sir 6:11). Let adversity strike and they turn and run. For all these reasons:
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter:
Whoever finds one has found a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price;
No amount can balance their worth.
Faithful friends are life-saving medicine;
And those who fear the Lord will find them.
(Sir 6:14-16 [NAB])
Does not this description apply also to Christ’s call to friendship with God and
others? Our community shelters us from the storms of life, perhaps with something as
simple as a cup of tea and a biscuit. The Prophet Isaiah describes this kind of friendship:
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you that have no money,
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price. (55:1)
Of course, such friendship does not cancel the cross. Far from it. The more
vulnerable our heart-to-heart sharing, the more likely will our separation from the
community—whether by employment, vocational choice, or even death—cause us pain.
Think of Jesus’ deep loneliness when he asked his friends to watch with him in the
garden, but they fell asleep (see Lk 22:39-46). Although even the best friendships are
bound by our human limitations, relationships cannot make us more human than we are.
How humbling to know that Jesus chose us as his friends! By responding to Christ’s call
we take our place in his Mystical Body—a community that is a gift beyond measure.
Realizing how precious our life is to our friends fills us with gratitude and readies us for
union with God. Having been befriended by the Lord, we long to extend these graces by
interacting in genuine love with all those with whom we live and work.

Questions for Reflection
1. On your faith journey how important is it to maintain the friendships you have
received as pure gift? What do they teach you about yourself and others?
2. What is the effect on your relationships when you “agreeably disagree” with
friends and community members?
3. How do your encounters with friends reflect your encounters with God? How
has friendship opened you to inclusive love and deeper spiritual maturity?

Modeling Our Communion on the Trinity

A ccording to the Great Commandment, there are three who receive our love: God, self,
and neighbor. This triad suggests a Trinitarian connection between God outpouring his
own love into our hearts and our embodying this love in relation to self and others. To
help us understand Jesus, Jean-Pierre Torrell O.P. explains in Christ and Spirituality in
Saint Thomas Aquinas that the Seraphic Doctor presents the Incarnate Word both as the
exemplar according to which we have been created, and as exemplum which we should
imitate by our conduct. In this way, Aquinas indicates the place of Christ in our Christian
life as well as why this life cannot help but be wholly Trinitarian.
In effect, to be conformed to Christ is to be conformed entirely to the image of the
whole Trinity. Both Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas point out that whatever Christ does
is for our instruction. He is the model of communion for us. In his suffering and death he
demonstrates what we must do to live a Trinitarian life. To imitate Christ we must conform
ourselves to the Father’s will as he did. And the Father’s will is to purify our souls through
obedience to the truth, to have genuine mutual love, and to serve one another deeply
from the heart (see 1 Pt 1:22).
Like the Trinity, a true Christian community is a mystery. How did it come about?
Why did we meet one another across such distances? What did we do to deserve to be
here? How can people who were once strangers care so much for one another? Human
agency —planning, organization, statistics—is powerful, but cannot generate and sustain
communion. Only the Spirit can do that. Only through the unending, transformative love
of the Trinity can a group of individuals transcend their human or professional bonds and
become a “pneumatic” community.
No human assembly, however noble its secular or sacred ideals may be, can satisfy
the heart’s longing for God within the community of saints on earth and in heaven. The
tools of the world alone, techniques like sensitivity training, group dynamics, and
encounter sessions, cannot bring us to this place of grace. The mystery of graced
togetherness brings a flood of faith, hope, and love—a fullness that only God can fathom.
Our deepest affinity of soul is a bonding that comes from our baptismal inclusion in the
Mystical Body. Those who have been graced with charisms, founders like Chiara Lubich
and Jean Vanier, have realized and conveyed to those who follow them that we are
beloved equals in the sight of God. Inspired to Trinitarian life—reflecting the unity of
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and guided by Church teachings and traditions, we strive to
purify our relationships and transcend the natural barriers to unity (open or hidden
conflicts, envy and judgmentalism) any human community must face.
Visionary women and men like Lubich and Vanier draw others to the charism they
profess because in word and deed they demonstrate that what binds together the Christian
community is not human affinity but grace, a call to divinization by participation in the life
of the Trinity.

Such vision makes a community realize its mystery and ministry; without it,
community becomes a kind of service association. Many groups start out with high ideals
but as they slip away from the life of prayer they place more and more emphasis upon
efficient methods and means of functional success. In their eagerness to expand their
labors of love, they can neglect spiritual reading, meditation, contemplation, and the
sacramental life. Over time their pneumatic inspiration begins to fade; they step away from
the holy ground in which they were planted that nurtures their existence. In the Book of
Revelation, what the angel speaks to the Church in Laodicea is a message for us, too:
“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or
hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you
out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You
do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I
counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white
robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and
salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I
love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if
you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you
with me. (3:15-20)
Paradoxically, the Holy Spirit may use a community’s crisis of purpose to reawaken
the members to the centrality of prayer and its mission in love and service. Repentance
restores the priority of the Divine Presence, the source of inspired participation in any
cultural enterprise. The impetus for renewal rests in the awareness that God, who is love,
never stops loving us, however disobedient we may have become. Unlike ours, God’s
love is never fickle or arbitrary. It is everlasting, faithful, utterly unconditional, accepting
us to a degree that we cannot begin to comprehend. We become adopted into the family
of the Trinity. The opening salutation of the Eucharistic liturgy reminds us: “The grace
of Our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with
you all.” As the Catechism of the Catholic Church so beautifully summarizes: “…the
whole Christian life is a communion with each of the divine persons, without in any way
separating them” (259).
When we glorify the Father, it is through the Son in the Holy Spirit. When we follow
Christ, it is because the Father draws us and the Spirit moves us. In this way our lives are
Trinitarian through and through, for “the ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the
entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity” (Catechism 260).
There is no more beautiful tribute to this graced relationship than that of the Carmelite
mystic, Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose prayer binds our every action to the adoration that
sustains it:
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish
myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May
nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God,
but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace,

make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never
abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my
faith, entirely adoring and wholly given over to your creative action. (Catechism 260)

Questions for Reflection

1. Does your community’s life reflect its origin in the Trinity? Do you really live
together in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?
2. How can a community that has shifted its focus from the gospel to worldly
success begin a process of renewal? In your own life, what has been the effect
of dividing worship from work?
3. How would you demonstrate to youth and to adult Christians that the
community of the Trinity is the model of communion with one another? How
does ongoing, in-depth formation rest on this understanding?

As I conclude these reflections on the call to Christian community, I pray that the
Spirit of the living God may use this book to help you sense God’s will for your life and
the way of love by which you can live it out. Focusing upon what is “here” today and
“gone” tomorrow may make such appraisals difficult, if not impossible. Despite passing
signs of success, however, only such a prayerful sober look can reveal what is of lasting
In moments of stillness, you may hear the Spirit whisper in your heart how you may
have fallen out of touch with your deepest self, that external goals cannot sustain your
inner growth. A renewed longing to be faithful to your life direction may reinstate your
quest to integrate all that you are and do with God’s will for your life. No matter how
empty, frustrated, lonely and lost you may feel, such light can illuminate where you ought
to go and how with God’s help you can get there.
Self–emergence in Christ always requires change, but from the perspective of faith
sacred scripture indicates the course correctives you and I must make. We may feel
powerless and out of control, but with God’s unfailing grace we can discern God’s will
for us and respond to the call to Christian community. That response will banish false
prophets who offer empty, self-centered prescriptions for health and happiness. We will
discover the truth that there is only one formula for fulfillment: serving others in fidelity
to the loving example set by the Lord, who carries us beyond the limits of life to the love
that binds us together in time and eternity.

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Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works in The Classics of Western Spirituality. Trans. G. R. Evans (New York:
Paulist Press, 1987).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church. English Translation. Second Edition. United States Catholic Conference
(Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications, 1997).
Chesterton, G. K. Saint Francis of Assisi (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1957).
Elizabeth of the Trinity. Light Love Life. Trans. Sr. Aletheia Kane, O.C.D. (Washington DC: ICS Publications,
Francis and Clare: The Complete Works in The Classics of Western Spirituality. Trans. Regis J. Armstrong, and
Ignatius C. Brady (New York: Paulist Press, 1982).
Dag Hammarskjold. Markings. Trans. Leif Sjoberg, W. H. Auden (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964).
The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D.
(Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991).
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City Press, 2007).
———. The Art of Loving. Trans. Eugene Selzer (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2005).
Mother Teresa. Essential Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001).
Muto, Susan. A Practical Guide to Spiritual Reading (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1994).
Muto, Susan and Adrian van Kaam. Growing through the Stress of Ministry (Williston Park, NY: Resurrection
Press, 2005).
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Writings. Ed. William Thompson (New York: Paulist Press, 1989).
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Paulist Press, 1984).
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(Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011).
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Van Dyke, Henry. Poems (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1920).
Vanier, Jean. The Broken Body: Journey to Wholeness (New York: Paulist Press, 1988).
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New City Press, 1996).

About the Author

Susan Muto, executive director of the Epiphany Association and a native of

Pittsburgh, is a speaker, author, teacher, and dean of the Epiphany Academy of Formative
Spirituality. A single laywoman living her vocation in the world and doing full–time,
church–related ministry in the Epiphany Association, she has led conferences, seminars,
workshops, and institutes throughout the world.
Professor Muto received her Ph.D. in English literature from the University of
Pittsburgh, where she specialized in the work of post–Reformation spiritual writers.
Beginning in 1966, she served in various administrative positions at the Institute of
Formative Spirituality (IFS) at Duquesne University and taught as a full professor in its
programs, edited its journals, and served as its director from 1981 to 1988. An expert in
literature and spirituality, she continues to teach courses on an adjunct basis at many
schools, seminaries, and centers of higher learning. In her teaching she aims to integrate
the life of prayer and presence with professional ministry and in–depth formation in the
home, the church, and the marketplace.
As editor of Epiphany Connexions, Epiphany Inspirations, and Epiphany
International, as a frequent contributor to scholarly and popular journals, and as the
author and co–author with Adrian van Kaam (1920-2007) of more than forty books,
Professor Muto keeps up to date with the latest developments in her field. In fact, her
many books on formative reading of scripture and spiritual masters are considered to be
premiere introductions to the classical art and discipline of spiritual formation and its
systematic, comprehensive formation theology. She lectures nationally and internationally
on the wisdom of the Judeo–Christian tradition of faith and formation and on many
foundational facets of living human and Christian values in contemporary society.
Professor Muto holds membership in numerous honorary organizations and has received
many distinctions for her work, including an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from
King’s College in Wilkes–Barre, Pennsylvania. She was also one of four Catholic writers
to be honored in 2009 with a lifetime achievement award by the Catholic Historical
Society of Western Pennsylvania. For more information on her life and ministry, go to

Books by Susan Muto, PhD

• Aging Gracefully

• Approaching the Sacred: An Introduction to Spiritual Reading

• Blessings That Make Us Be: A Formative Approach to Living the Beatitudes

• Caring for the Caregiver

• Catholic Spirituality A to Z: An Inspirational Dictionary

• Celebrating the Single Life: A Spirituality for Single Persons in Today’s World

• Dear Master: Correspondence on Spiritual Direction Inspired by Saint John of the Cross

• Deep Into the Thicket: Soul Searching Meditations Inspired by The Spiritual Canticle of Saint
John of the Cross
• John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent

• John of the Cross for Today: The Dark Night

• The Journey Homeward: On the Road of Spiritual Reading

• Keepsakes for the Journey: Four Weeks of Faith Deepening

• Late Have I Loved Thee: The Recovery of Intimacy

• Meditation in Motion

• Pathways of Spiritual Living

• A Practical Guide to Spiritual Reading

• Practicing the Prayer of Presence

• Readings from A to Z: The Poetry of Epiphany

• Praying the Lord’s Prayer with Mary

• Renewed at Each Awakening

• Steps Along the Way: The Path of Spiritual Reading

• Where Lovers Meet: Inside the Interior Castle

• Womanspirit: Reclaiming the Deep Feminine in our Human Spirituality

• Words of Wisdom for Our World: The Precautions and Counsels of St. John of the Cross


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Hyde Park, New York

About New City Press
New City Press is one of more than 20 publishing houses of the Focolare Movement. Founded in 1943
by Chiara Lubich, the Focolare began with a small community in Trent, Italy, who felt called to bring
about the unity that Jesus prayed for to the Father: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21 ). Today, it is a
worldwide movement approved by the Catholic Church.
The mission of New City Press is to develop and promote the Focolare’s vision that all people are part
of the one human family. It publishes both scholarly and popular works that attempt to foster a greater
unity in the world. Our books explore theological foundations for faith and spirituality, ecumenical and
interreligious initiatives, and connections between religion and human identity, relationships, and culture.
They also aim at being practical tools that share real-world examples of how people put the gospel into
New City Press is a member of the Association of Catholic Publishers and is located in Hyde Park,
New York.
Further Reading

Keepsakes for the Journey, 978-1-56548-333-0 $8.95

Gospel in Action, 978-1-56548-486-3, $11.95
Tending the Mustard Seed, 978-1-56548-475-7, $11.95

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Living City Magazine,

Changing Our Hearts 11
Speaking from Our Hearts 13
Fostering Compassionate Relationships 15
Communicating in Uncomfortable Situations 18
Pursuing Spiritual Direction 20
Refilling Our Reservoir 21
Endings as New Beginnings 23
Finding Our Center in the Spirit 26
The Foundations of Gospel Living 27
The Blessings of Discipleship 29
Testing Idealized Self–Images 33
Moving from Egocentric to Other–Centered Concerns 36
Dealing with Guilt 37
Seeking Peace amid Conflict 39
Expressing Love in a Loveless World 42
Balancing Functionality and Spirituality 44
Accepting Ourselves and Others in Christ 46
Returning to the Source of Our Worth 49
Committing Ourselves to Loving Service 51
Discovering the Joy of Life Together in Christ 53
Attending to Divine Directives 55
Learning to Live Appreciatively 57
Cultivating a Rhythm of Recollection and Participation 61

Practicing the Art of Listening with Other-Centered Love 63
Responding to Our Own and Others’ Emotions 65
Maintaining a Sense of Humor 67
Manifesting Christ-Likeness in Everyday Life 70
Deepening Our Love for God’s Word in Community 72
Moved by the Spirit to Love One Another 77
Living the New Commandment in All Our Relationships 79
Following Christ’s Call to Friendship with God and Others 81
Modeling Our Communion on the Trinity 84
Afterword 87
References 88
About the Author 89
About New City Press 92