Sunday, August 30, 2015

Plimoth Plantation

I visited the Plimoth Plantations this week and enjoyed the historical site a great deal. It showcased a 17th Century English village and fort and a replica of a Wompanoag homesite. The museum is a living, interactive one in which the actors only speak in the terms and knowledge they have from the 1600s.

The museum is spelled Plimoth, even though the modern-day town is spelled Plymouth because most of the 17th century vocabulary was phonetic. There were multiple spellings and the colonists had not agreed upon standards by that time. They were called Pilgrims because of its religious devotions. These colonists departed from a church in Leiden, Holland to the New World. They referenced Hebrews 11:13-16 to call themselves a people on a spiritual and religious journey.

The First Thanksgiving: Harvest festivals are part of every culture. After a year of sickness and scarcity, a bountiful harvest was celebrated in the fall of 1621. People gave thanks, like in a Eucharist, in the three-day festival that were joined by the Massasoit. In the mid-1800's, commemoration of this feast began and it soon evolved into our Thanksgiving holiday.

I had a few observations about my experience.

The language parents used to answer their children's questions were disturbing. An inquisitive child would be told, "No, that's not the answer. That's silly." And the parents would laugh without offering an informative answer. Or they would be given a generalized non-answer the parent made up. It seems that the greater emphasis for the parents were the entertainment value rather than educational. I remember those days when I looked at my parents and were amazed that they knew everything, but I'm not sure the children of today are getting the same appreciation for knowledge.

It might be much better for other park visitors if children are brought there with school groups, which are more orderly. Teachers enforce civic virtues like forming single-file lines, staying to the right, raising your hand to be called upon, and waiting your turn. It is good for society if we learn to interact in a way in which the smooth functioning of society is advanced. If everyone does what they want on their own terms, then they create a chaotic society devoid of wisdom and orderliness.

Some people have little awareness that they negatively affect the flow of traffic. They stop right in the middle of a pathway and talk on the phone or with a neighbor. It would be far better to move to the side of the path so that others do not have an obstacle course. It is all about awareness and realizing that "I am not the center of everyone's universe."

The attitudes underneath one's interaction with society is the point of today's Sunday scriptures. If one disregards the norms in society, we develop a "me-first" or a "me-only" mentality. Society needs to help others recognize the need for a common good that is balanced with personal freedom and responsibility. It cannot just be about "me" and "my claim that others respect me." It has to be about awareness that I am one small part of society and it is far better to contribute to its smooth operation than to always agitate by demanding respect for "self."

In the Gospel, Jesus says that those things that defile do not come from outside of us, but from within us. It is our attitudes that determine whether we bring forth evil or good.

I can tell many people are hurting and unhappy and are overly occupied with their demands for respect. They will not get it by asserting themselves in  distasteful ways. I think they will get it when they turn charitably towards the other and recognize him or her to be brother or sister, and then have concern for their well-being. We have to teach adults who teach our children about loving ways to construct a better society. In the absence of authority that promotes these laws, we have to model it so others desire it.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dedication of Mary Major

Wednesday was the feast of the church of Mary Major in Rome, a church that holds special significance to Jesuits because it is where Ignatius said is first mass at Christmastime a year after his ordination. It is also the location where Francis of Assisi set up the first Christmas creche.

After mass we celebrated a prayer service of Taize songs and the veneration of the cross. The service was simple and yet conveyed great solemnity. It is always moving to see seventy Jesuits approach the cross as the symbol of our lives.

We sang "Mary's Song," which is a song I introduced to Amman, Jordan. It is peppered with great sighs as people realize the important work Mary is doing for us.

As I sat in the chapel, I was fixed on the stained-glass windows that depicted Ignatius laying down his sword and clothing at the foot of the Black Madonna and accepting the clothing of a beggar. I then looked at the window behind the sanctuary that showed him writing the Spiritual Exercises.

I felt a swell of pride that Ignatius was very proud of us and of all the people who have made his Spiritual Exercises over the past five centuries. Through these Exercises, he brought God's radical love to many seekers and their directors. 

His work continues today and it has touched millions. He still is actively a friend in the Lord and this living spirituality calls many back to their origins and their future.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Continuing Graces

How can something so simple be so uplifting? At the retreat center, the kitchen serves Strawberry-infused and Orange-infused ice water. It is delicious. It makes boring water seem exciting. I was also pleased with the lemon and cucumber infused ice water - two tastes that displease me on their own - but together form a tasty concoction. Very nice.

The retreat is moving along nicely. Last night was dedicated to the sacrament of reconciliation, a favorite ministry of mine, and as usual, it is quite touching. Tomorrow will be a Taize evening and Thursday will be a sharing of graces with a reception. The retreat is hastening towards its end.

I am very appreciative of the quality of conversations that happen unexpectedly during retreats. An innocent question can lead to an enriching dialogue, in which we both part recognizing that a holy bond was just formed. Conversations at mealtimes are quite fun and revelatory about a person's history. This is quite a rarified atmosphere and it is so good to soak up the graces.

Today, a former directee came to visit me and he was surprised by the number of retreat directors he knew. He tells me he was inspired by my prompting him to creatively draw and color while on retreat. He has taken it to heart and is devoting great amounts of time to his craft. He is also training to become a spiritual director.

Very many connections are being made on this retreat. It is a sacred time of companionship and a deepening of friendships. I'm very grateful. So very grateful.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Jesuit Retreat

Seventy Jesuits are attending their annual eight-day retreat in Los Altos, California. The retired archbishop of San Francisco is leading the morning discussions and he is captivating everyone's imagination. As an Ph.D. in English, he is riveting the group with his word choices and images. His reflections give us many inspirational points to ponder.

The best part of the retreat is the companionship the directors are enjoying. Since it is very relaxed, we find that we have sufficient time just to relax and to share stories. The liturgies and homilies are top notch. We know we are blessed to be in this rarefied place where we can enjoy our vocations.

We are praying for rain and and end to this four-year drought. The parched land needs relief. The mighty oaks appear sickly and the whole earth is in need of nourishment. It reminds me of Romans 8 where all of creation is groaning for redemption. We need to take better care of our environment.