Sunday, April 27, 2014

Consolation and Desolation

We sat across from each other at the coffee house.  He slowly raised his head.  He looked into my eyes and began to speak from memory:
My mission is to love, when others fail to love.  To notice, when others fail to notice.  To befriend the lonely and forgotten.  I am called to love.  I am called to love with the tender compassion of God.
As he spoke tears fell.  My friend had discovered his purpose, the meaning which would animate and bring wholeness to his life.  A life that had been filled with suffering.  

My friend was severely neglected as a child and carried the wounds into his twentieth year.  His father was in jail.  His mother was bipolar. He grew up in poverty and addiction.  He was shunned and bullied throughout school.  He was now homeless, couch surfing with his sister, and suffered from a rare genetic disorder called, Trimethylaminuria (TMAU) which causes a person's sweat, urine, and breath to give off a strong almost unbearable fishy/body odor.

At the urging of his cousin, he came to the young adult group I facilitated.  We were studying a series called, "Healing the Purpose of Your Life."  Based on a book with the same name by Dennis, Sheila and Mathew Linn.  The book provided a simple way to discover your purpose and meaning for your life.  It used Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. 

The Spiritual Exercises grew out of St. Ignatius of Loyola's own experience of feeling lost and then finding his way.  Ignatius had been a soldier who lived a wild life.  He often daydreamed about the gallant deeds he would perform and the worldly glory he would obtain.  (Does this story sound familiar - St. Francis?)  Then, on the battlefield of Pamplona, a cannonball shattered his leg.  During his recovery, Ignatius read a life of Christ and a book of the lives of the saints.  As Ignatius meditated on what he read, he experienced consolation and he remained "cheerful and satisfied."  As he meditated on the dreams of worldly glory that he previously enchanted him, he experienced desolation and felt "weary, dry and dissatisfied."  As he pondered these two different movements of consolation and desolation, he discovered his personal vocation. 

The Examen:

While discerning your personal vocation to love God and neighbor, it's important that you become aware of these two movements of consolation and desolation within your life.  You will need to put on and practice the "habits" of the friars in order to discover if it brings you consolation or desolation.   These two movements will help reveal your personal vocation. 

Applying the Examen to our Ministry:

The Franciscan Friars of the Province of Saint Barbara are dedicated to serving the poor and promoting justice, peace, care of creation, and reconciliation in the joyful and prophetic spirit of St. Francis of Assisi.  Discernment will be a time to put on and practice the "habit" of serving the poor, promoting justice, peace, caring for creation, and bringing about reconciliation.  As you practice these "habits" you will need to become aware of the movements of consolation and desolation before, during and after engaging in each ministry.  

As you reflect on each ministry you will ask:  Did I experience desolation?  Did I feel weary, dry and dissatisfied?  Did I feel consolation?  Did I feel cheerful and satisfied?   Was I able to engage in these activities with a joyful spirit?

Applying the Examen to our Fraternity-in-Mission:

The Franciscan Friars of the Province of Saint Barbara are members of a Roman Catholic Religious order, from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures and ages.  Discernment will be a time to put on and practice the "habit" of fraternal life and prayer.  You will need to attend our various discernment dinners, come and see experiences, and discernment retreats.  During your time with the friars you will need to become aware of the movements of consolation and desolation before, during and after each experience.

As you reflect on your experience of fraternal life and prayer, you will ask:  Did I experience desolation?  Did I feel weary, dry and dissatisfied?  Did I feel consolation?  Did I feel cheerful and satisfied?  Finally, you will ask did I feel at home with the friars?

Final Reflection:

When you experience a life of consolation you become physically, emotionally and spiritually alive; as my friend experienced in discovering his mission, his way of being, his way to love and be loved.  Finally, take your reflection on consolation and desolation to your spiritual director and vocation director for further examination.

Peace and all Good,
Bro. Scott Slattum, OFM

Personal Reflection:

What are you most grateful for today?  What are you least grateful for?  If you were to ask yourself these questions every day, what pattern would you see?  Feel free to share your answers in the comment section below.

Contact Information:

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Avenue
Oakland, CA 974601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Theological Reflection

Like Ray Charles he swayed his head back and forth.  He sang at the top of his lungs.  His words were different than the choir.  You couldn't help but laugh, as you realized he was holding his song book upside down.  He stopped singing and stuck out his tongue.
"Body of Christ," said the priest.  "Amen," was his response. 
She was young and innocent.  Twenty something, but a child trapped in an adult body.  Her blonde hair bobbed back and forth as she pranced forward.  She held out her hands and giggled.
"Body of Christ," said the priest.  "Amen," was her response.
His cane swept across the aisle swish, swish.  He grew tired of apologizing.  Every week he stepped on the heels of the shoes in front of him.  He was next in line.  He bowed his head, placed his cane underneath his arm, and held out his hands.
"Body of Christ," said the priest.  "Amen," was his response.    
Every Sunday, I watched this parade of characters.  The local group home dropped them off; leaving them in our care.  A handful of college students and I would welcome them each week.  However, this Sunday's service was different. 

I slowly rolled her wheelchair up the aisle.  Each week Father placed the communion wafer on her tongue.  She was deaf and mute, according to her care provider.  Developmentally and physically disabled and spent her days in a comatose state.
"Body of Christ," said the priest.  "Amen," was her response!   
She began to cry out, over and over again, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!"  She arose from her chair and began to dance.  "Jesus! Jesus," she kept repeating.  The choir stopped.  Everyone became silent.  An electricity, a presence filled the air.  I was next in line and afraid to approach.  She understood the Eucharist was Jesus.  The King of Kings.  I, on the other hand, did not.

Theological Reflection:

The next day, Father Mark, gathered our community.  He understood what took place was something other than ordinary.  Our experience needed to be reflected on, thought about, shared and discussed to help us understand its meaning within our lives.  The process he facilitated was called, Theological Reflection.

Theological Reflection denotes a process in which an individual or small group reflects on their personal or collective experience(s) in light of their faith.  The aim is not only to come to new understandings about the circumstances in which people live and the faith they profess, but to identify new ways of responding that validate their experience and give voice to their truth.

Theological reflection is an essential element in faith formation.  By reflecting on my experience of Eucharist, through the lens of my faith, I grew in my understanding of Communion:
During Mass I saw the ordinary (bread and wine) changed to extraordinary (Jesus).  The bread and wine became Christ himself during the Eucharistic Prayer when the celebrant prayed over and repeated Jesus' words from the last Supper. 
This change is called transubstantiation because the "substance" of the bread and wine changes and Christ becomes fully present in body, blood, soul, and divinity.  Theological reflection helped me to understand my faith in light of my experience. 
Theological reflection is also an essential ingredient in the process of spiritual discernment.  It holds the possibility of discerning God's presence and/or direction.  It is the process of standing before our experience 'open' to what may or may not be revealed:
During Mass I came to understand that Jesus desired to be one with me.  My mother often said to my baby brother, "I love you so much, I could just eat you!"  Jesus loves me so much, He allows me to consume Him, to literally become one with Him. 
The thought of this overwhelmed me.  The fear I felt in approaching Jesus in the Eucharist, was the Spirit of "Wonder and Awe" also called, "Fear of the Lord."  Theological reflection helped me to understand God's desire and love for me.
Theological Reflection does not simply stop at helping us understand our experiences in light of our faith, but calls us to respond to our experiences in new ways:
I now understand when I eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ I am nourished to go forth to continue the work of Christ.  I am reminded of this when the priest dismisses me at the end of Mass using these or similar words:  "Go forth to love and to serve the Lord."  It is not enough to allow God to love me.  I'm called to share His love, too.
How to use Theological Reflection:

There are different models of Theological Reflection, but all contain three elements:  Experience, Reflection and Response.  The first element is focused on our life experience, rather than on a doctrine, belief or practice.  The second element is to choose a lenses by which to view our experience (tradition, scripture, beliefs, values).  The last element is to respond to our new understanding of our experience.  

I encourage you to download the document:  "What is Theological Reflection?" by Rev. Dr. Richard Dickey for a detailed guide on how to use Theological Reflection.  A great tool to utilize while discerning your vocation to religious life a Franciscan Friar of the Province of Saint Barbara.

Final Thoughts:

Through Baptism we all share a common vocation: "To Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27)  The questions we ask during discernment is how best to love God and neighbor?  Are we called to receive and express love as a religious brother or priest?  Are we called to receive and express love as a diocesan priest or deacon?  Are we called to receive and express love through marriage or single life?  Theological reflection helps reveal how God is present, loving and calling us through our life experiences.  It's a powerful tool for discernment.  Use it!

May the Lord bless you and keep you on this journey of faith, called life. 

Peace and All Good,
Bro. Scott Slattum, OFM

The Province of Saint Barbara's Postulants spend the afternoon
reflecting on the life and death of Saint Francis of Assisi.  Theological
Reflection is a regular practice of the postulant.

Personal Reflection:

According to the National Religious Vocation Conference new members to religious life were likely to say that daily Eucharist was "very" important to them.  Do you attend Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation?  If not, why not?  Feel free to share your answers in the comment section below.

Contact Information:

Franciscan Friars
Office of Vocations
1500 34th Ave
Oakland, CA 94601
Phone:  (408) 903-3422