Loving God

Over the last week, I have had an image of two people falling in love. I remembered falling in love myself, and how I wanted to do things to make that person’s life more comfortable and to do little things for them in order to express my love for them. It made me ponder how many of us live a Christian life because it is what we’ve been taught or otherwise think it is the right way of living. How many of us have truly encountered Jesus, fallen in love, and wished to do things in order to express our love of him? How many of us practice virtue and/or serve others to express our gratitude for his life, death, and resurrection? In other words, how much of our Christian behavior is filled with joy because it is something we do in response to love as opposed to something that we do out of a sense of obligation?

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your life story in relation to your encounters with God. What motivates you to live the Christian life? Don’t be surprised if you, like me, find that the answer is multifaceted. The purpose of this exercise is to hone in on how much of your faith walk is a response to love; how much of it is a joyful expression of your love of him. If you do not like the answer, spend some time praying for the gift of a loving response to his mercy and kindness.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

Bias vs Racism

I have greatly struggled with the modern discussion on racism. For one, from my perspective, the definition of racism has drastically changed in the last few years. We used to distinguish between bias and racism. Racism was limited to situations where a person hated another just because of their race. This was not seen as a common situation. Bias, on the other hand, was something we all struggled with. Some forms of bias were good, and some not. 

This raises the question, how are biases created?  I am no expert, but in my recent studies of mindfulness, I have come to understand that we are the product of our experiences. Experiences are things that enter the brain for processing. During this processing, certain judgments and/or conclusions are created. Our mind is programmed to form conclusions and judgments that keep us safe and on the path of happiness.  The end result can be the creation of defense mechanisms or set methods of dealing with similar situations.  This whole process is natural, but the unconscious process does not always create valid conclusions and judgments; valid defense mechanisms and the like. I would suggest that biases are formed in this processing of experiences.

From this understanding, one can begin to understand my frustration with modern dialogue on racism. First, it takes what may be faulty biases, and creates shame because of the emotionally charged context of the word racism.  Plus, the structure of the dialogue limits the potential personal growth related to addressing unhealthy bias to race relations.  The truth is, we can all use some form of reflection so as to undo the damage done by the subconscious processing of our experiences. We can all benefit from growing in self-awareness, and I think that in becoming more self-aware, we learn to live life more fully. 

This concept of re-engineering faulty conclusions is at the heart of the spiritual journey. Jesus is the light. Our darkness, in part, is based on the fact that we perceive our identity as based on the conclusions and judgments formed in this subconscious processing of experiences. Thus, as we pray, we step in to the light. It is hard to come into contact with misperceptions of who we are; however, St. Catherine of Siena says that before we can love God we have to stand in self-awareness. Stated otherwise, God is truth. If we do not fully understand ourselves in truth, we cannot stand in the presence of God. If we are in the dark, we cannot stand in the light.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit looking at where your experiences have caused you to form faulty conclusions. Ask him to show you where your biases are keeping you from living life to the fullest; where they are keeping you from being fully engaged in the body of Christ. Ask him to show you how to cooperate with him to heal these things. Spend some time in silence.  Think of silence, in part, as being under the influence anesthesia, while you let the doctor do his work.  As you close your time of prayer, thank him and praise him for all that he does for you. Ask him to help you be aware of when your improper biases are coming into play, and to teach you to rely on him to deliver you from these behaviors to healthy new behaviors.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

Spiritual Treasures

I continue to muse about the concepts of treasures in heaven as life experiences, and these thoughts are creating great joy within me. I hope to share some of my ideas in hopes that they create joy for you too.

Life is about living, yet I ponder how many of us truly live. In our fast paced society, it is easy to bounce from one experience to the next, and when we do this, it is difficult to process our experiences. If we do not process our experiences, we do not fully suck the nectar out of life.

While thinking on this, I thought of one of the best scenes Hollywood ever gave us. It comes from the movie Parenthood. Steve Martin’s character and his wife are arguing about hardships in parenting. The grandmother walks into the room, seemingly oblivious of the conversation, and announces that her husband took her on a roller coaster ride when she was 19. Steve Martin just stares at her, and says, “nice story.” She continues by talking about how amazing the ride was. She talks about how it made her feel so “frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together.” She then talks about how some people do not like it, and they stick to the merry-go-round, which just goes in circles. She closes with, “I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

Of course, she was using the story as an analogy for life. We can keep ourselves safe and secure by staying on the merry-go-round where things are predictable.  However, to really live, we must take on of the complexities of the roller coaster ride. We need to live the full experience of the ups and downs, the scary and exciting.

Jesus is a good example of one who embraces this way of thinking. Implicit in his story is a life of friendship and camaraderie.  In addition, he was all powerful, and yet let people imprison him, humiliate him, and kill him. When he was offered wine as a way of numbing his pain, he rejected it. He experienced the totality of his life, the good and the bad. He lived life to the fullest, and he invites us to do the same.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your life. How are you living your life? Are you on the most intense of roller coasters, the merry-go-round, or something in between these two extremes? Do you feel like you are getting the most out of your life? Is it time to change to a different ride? Have you experienced so much of the bad, that you have shut yourself down to avoid the pain, and has that cost you the enjoyment of the good?  Spend some time praying with the Holy Spirit about where you can tweak and fine-tune your life so as to store up more treasures from your life experiences.   Take theses treasures to prayer, and see how these experiences enhance your spiritual journey.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

Treasures in Heaven

Based on my blog yesterday about heavenly treasures existing in every day life, I spent time this morning pondering the treasures I have stored up to date. This process included a walk down memory lane as I recalled moments in life that still resonate joy even with the passage of time. I will say, that very few of these memories involved the purchase of any particular item. However, they did have to do with personal achievements and encounters with people where I felt appreciated and at the same time appreciated by the person or people with whom I shared the encounter. In other words, there was great joy in the experience of feeling connected.  At the same time, some of these memories were from sad times. For instance, I was thinking about the joy of playing with my mother at the height of her dementia. We had a lot of fun. In fact, we could spend hours with the Snapchat filters.  I have a lot of funny pictures of the two of us.  In addition, there were some wonderful treasures from her funeral as we celebrated her life.  

As I sat with these memories in the presence of the Holy Spirit, I started to likewise ponder all the lost treasures. Depression has impacted my life, and this condition has caused me to miss out on many treasures. I lost several friends during the time when I was not very communicative. I turn down many opportunities to meet new people and to share new encounters with both old and new. As I concluded my prayer time, I  more clearly realized the fact that living in the world, both the good and the bad, gives rise to new treasures. It is in fully experiencing life that we increase our treasures. These treasures are definitely heavenly when they enhance the good within us and positively influence the lives of those around us.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your treasures in heaven. What are the things that I’ve actually made you happy? Take the lessons learned from this walk down memory lane and apply it to your current goals and endeavors. Spend a few minutes pondering these goals and endeavors in light of the Gospel. Talk to the Holy Spirit about whether these goals and objectives are things that will equate to treasures in heaven, or whether some tweaks might be needed to better achieve the goal of storing up treasures in heaven.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

A Reflection on Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus said to his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” NABRE

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about the joyful experience of finding the kingdom of heaven. As I pondered these words, I had many thoughts. I thought about how this is tied to Matthew 7:7, wherein Jesus directs us to seek so that we can find. I pondered the idea of how brutal the process of searching can be, and how these words of joy re-invigorated my commitment to searching. However, the thing that occurred to me most strongly was the idea that finding the kingdom is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In fact, the more I prayed about this idea, the more I realized that finding the kingdom is something that can happen daily. It is in finding treasures in our daily lives that we discover the joy of the kingdom of heaven. We can find it in contemplative prayer through which we encounter the indwelling Trinity. We can likewise find it in something as simple as a flower, a sunset, or even the smile of another person.

Of course, when we fully enter into the kingdom in the next life, our joy will be complete.  Still, this truth does not diminish the value of the joy we experience in our lesser encounters with the kingdom. In fact, we learn to live more joyfully when we work to stay in the present and to allow ourselves to be more fully aware of when we encounter the divine. Plus, we can enhance these experiences by pondering them in our hearts. In learning to cherish these encounters, we will learn to live the fruit of these two parables each and every day.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering how you have encountered the kingdom of heaven today. Spend some time celebrating the joy of these encounters, and allowing it to grow in your heart. Spend some time pondering how you can enhance your encounters with the kingdom in your day-to-day life. End your prayer with praise and thanksgiving to a God who loves you, and wants you to live a joy-filled life.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

A Reflection on Matthew 13:24-43

Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.  When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest;  then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” He proposed another parable to them.“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.  Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” NABRE

What is the kingdom of Heaven? Matthew’s parables provide some insight into what we can expect. In fact, Matthew preaches that the kingdom has come, and that it is to come. Some may read this as it was present while Jesus walked the earth and it is to come again with his second coming.  This interpretation does not recognize the Holy Spirit as an avenue for making the kingdom present today.  I think the better interpretation is that the kingdom is here, but its fullness will be realized in the hereinafter.  Still, there is much to experience in this life. 

What does today’s Gospel reading tell us about kingdom living?  The scope of its message is beyond what I want to focus on today, which is insights into the leaven and the mustard seed.  As I ponder these two parables, I see an underlying theme of growth. This insight went deeper as I realized that a mustard seed has the ability to grow on its own, its growth is passive.  Contrast this with the active component of kneading the dough.  In other words, living within the kingdom has both active and contemplative components. Both of these are important for growing the kingdom of God in this life.

In the active life, we knead the leaven by living a life of service like Jesus did. Service to others enhances the kingdom in two ways. By serving others, we live out the Gospel, and attract new members to the kingdom. It is in loving service that we draw people to Christ. In addition, through service, we die to self. Our selfish desires are broken down, and we have the opportunity to see the joy that comes from selfless living.

However, the active life is incomplete without the contemplative. The truth of the statement may come to light differently in different people. In my experience, my active ministry collapsed. I was unable to successfully continue the mission. Through the lens of my experiences, I have come to understand that service without the involvement of the Holy Spirit is good, but it is not as fulfilling and robust as service with and in the Holy Spirit. 

How do we attain this joint mission of service in and through the Holy Spirit?  I suggest it is through the contemplative efforts. It is through the mustard seed. The mustard seed is planted. The rain falls, and the sun warms the earth. These activities, plus the DNA instructions inherent within the seed, cause it to grow into a large plant.  

I would suggest that it is through sitting in silence with the son while reflecting on his love and mercy that we allow God to grow the kingdom within us. We allow him to prune away anything that is not holy. We allow him to take up a deeper residence within us. We allow him to fortify us and to make us strong.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit in silence. Invite the Spirit within and authorize him to shape your interior life so that it looks more like that of Jesus. Spend some time just knowing how much you are loved by God. As you wind down your passive prayer, invite the Holy Spirit into your active prayer. Invite him to use you to knead the dough of your social life.  Allow him to invigorate your life by helping you be more aware of his presence in your active life. Close your time of prayer with praise and thanksgiving, and sing joyful songs to the Lord.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

I Have Come To Give You Fullness Of Life

In John 10:10 Jesus tells us that a part of the Gospel message is living life more fully. During Lent, I found myself pondering what this meant. As I meditated on his passion and on his acceptance of each aspect of his crucifixion, I came to believe that living life to the fullest means embracing each moment of each day. It means accepting what God allows to happen in each moment, and praising him as Job did. Job 1:21. It means accepting the good and the bad. It means trusting that God will make something of both.

I have been studying mindfulness practices over the course of the last week.  The course I am taking explained several different forms of mindfulness practices. Some had to do with enhancing focus, like meditating on one’s breathing. Others had to do with being more self-aware. For instance, there was an exercise where one focuses on the process of walking, like focusing on raising one’s leg, placing it on the ground, and rolling the foot on the floor. Then, there were acceptance exercises and compassion exercises. The compassion exercises were directed at one’s self and others. 

In my efforts to learn to live in the moment, I spent over an hour and a half at a restaurant yesterday practicing mindfulness by endeavoring to stay present while experiencing the food. This may be common practice for many of you, but I spend most of my time reading about various topics, thinking about these topics, or escaping into television, novels, computer games, and social media. So truly working to experience food while sitting in a restaurant by myself was something very new for me. 

Today, I spent some time with the breathing exercises, and I will find other ways in which to stay fully present in the day today stuff. I hope in time, I will be able to blog more fully about mindfulness and the spiritual walk. However, in pondering how much this pandemic has caused many to focus on survival over quality of life, I hope by sharing some of these concepts, you too might find a way to turn this gime isolation into something more transformative.

On this note, I encourage you to spend some time existing in the moment with the Holy Spirit. Practice just sitting in his presence and experiencing his love. If you feel resistance to his love, talk to him about the source of your resistance. Ask him to help heal you and to show you the resources you need to more fully engage in life because the sole purpose of life, from a general perspective, is to learn to walk with and in God each moment of every day. One can only do this by living in the moment.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

Resources for those who are interested: 

https://www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/the-science-of-mindfulness-a-research-based-path-to-well-being?tn=Continue+Watching_0_0&lec=9 

https://mindfulness-solution.com/downloadmeditations/

http://www.sittingtogether.com/meditations.php 

A Reflection on Matthew 13:1-9

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.” NABRE

In this Scripture passage Jesus, the sower, goes about tossing seeds. In the commentaries, there is some discussion about this odd way of sowing. Some say that farming practices during this time included sowing first and plowing second. In other words, the sower word scatter the seed and then plow it into the ground. Others agree that this was a standard practice, but do not believe that this was the picture of Jesus was trying to paint.

While I always enjoy hearing what the scholars think, I find their focus here curious. The fact is, Jesus stood on boats, on mountains, and the like while releasing his words, and his actions are perfectly reflected in this description of the sower.  

As discussed last week, Matthew’s Gospel is intent on addressing concerns of his predominantly Jewish audience. The fact was that most of the Jews listening to the good news refused to accept it. So again, we find Matthew assuring his Jewish audience that they are the rich seeds with bountiful harvest. He again explained to them that some people are not open to his words.

Matthew’s Gospel also speaks to us. There are parts of the Gospel we want to hear, and parts that we don’t. It is wonderful to hear the words of eternal life and of a loving and merciful God. Only the people who think they are the most unworthy people alive would fail to embrace the beauty and comfort contained in these words. But what about when he talks about the narrow path and cross carrying? What about the times he tells us how we are likely to be rejected and shunned because we follow him?  Isn’t it likely that we are each and every type of soil described in this parable?  Isn’t it likely that we all need to spend some time learning to hear more clearly?

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on your acceptance of the Gospel. Which aspects do you more readily embrace than others? What about the areas with which you struggle the most? Where do you see the fruit of his harvest and where is the fruit lacking? Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to help you be more open to the parts of his messages that are more difficult to accept. Spend some time praising God and thanking him for allowing you to hear, and asking him to help you hear more thoroughly.

In Him, 

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

A Reflection on Matthew 11: 25–30

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” NABRE
 
The thing that jumps out at me when I read this passage is the glaring implication that Jesus chooses some of us, but not all of us; that some are pre-destined for Heaven and others for Hell. I don’t believe this, even though this passage strongly suggests this is true.
 
As is typical when I run into a biblical passage that is contrary to my personal beliefs, I took this paragraph to prayer. As I pondered these words, I started reflecting on what I learned in my Bible courses. One of the lessons was to treat each Gospel separately as a story, as a narrative. Each story is written for a particular audience. Matthew’s original audience was predominantly Jewish. Most scholars today believe that Matthew was writing to an audience who had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Up to this point, one of the major differences between Jews and Christians was one’s personal decision as to whether Jesus was the Messiah of prophecy or not. Over time, and likely around this time, there was a break between Jew and Christian.
 
Jews believed that they were God’s chosen ones. So, as this break started to happen, is it possible that Christian Jews were concerned with having lost their chosen status? The wise and learned, those who did not see Jesus as the Messiah, certainly thought they did, and likely treated the Christians with distain for throwing away the true religion. Thus, it is possible that Matthew may have been trying to assure them of their on-going chosen status. He might have been saying that by giving up what they had previously learned that they ensured their on-going chosen status.
 
In looking at this possible explanation with the second part of the passage, I started to grasp something more. Here, Jesus instructs us to pick up his yoke. A yoke was a piece of equipment that allowed a human to direct and control a large, powerful animal that did not want to be directed and controlled. So, in putting on Jesus’ yoke, we are choosing to submit to his direction and training. In effect, we are taught to be little. We are taught to put aside what we think we know, and allow him to fill us with his truth. In the beginning, many of us likely continue to push against the yoke and try to exercise our own free will. In fact, Jesus will allow us to remove his yoke if we want. However, those who follow his example by becoming meek, slowly start to see the benefit, the peace, and the beauty of the field he has and is plows through us.
 
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering whether you are under his yoke or not; whether you are under his direction or your own; whether you are being little or “wise and learned.” Ask him to help you submit, as needed. Do not be afraid to admit resistance for it is only in accepting truth that you can allow the Holy Spirit to perfect your efforts. Thank him and praise him for helping you to be open to truth, and beg him to help you take any lessons learned into this coming week.
 
In Him,
 
Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., JD, MTS

Mental Prayer: Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a form of mental prayer. With this form of prayer one reads scripture or another text related to God. Here, the goal is to seek the word or phrase to which the Holy Spirit is directing you. It is hard to describe how I experience the Holy Spirit working within me. For one, I don’t always figure it out. I think this is because I am resisting or distracted sometimes. When I do connect, it feels kind of like like a tugging at the heart or even a flutter. Sometimes, it feels like warmth and peace. It might take you a while to figure it out, but trust the Holy Spirit to help bring you to where he is working.

Let me see if I can provide an example of this form of prayer. Say you are reading the text of the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew’s gospel, and you read” forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us.” You feel a tug on the word “forgive.” From here, you would use this word as a mantra or sit in silence while your mind thinks about the word forgiveness. You may know immediately what aspect of forgiveness He is drawn to your attention, but you might just have to sit with that in prayer for a while. We may not always understand why we felt called to that word or phrase; however, if we have given the Holy Spirit permission to work within us through our prayer time, we know that he is doing what needs to be done. 

The word or phrase may speak to you in a way that is out of context with what you are reading. I wish I could remember an example where this occurred in my own prayer life, but I can’t. I just know that sometimes it’s about the word or phrase, and not about the surrounding text. 

How does one select the text?  There is no right or wrong way; however, that does not keep me from feeling concerned about not finding “the right text” sometimes.  So, I find it beneficial to limit the selection process by using the lectionary of the Catholic Church. I just trust that it is where God is working. Sometimes, I had to wait 10 or 15 minutes while continuing to read or ponder the text before it became clear, but I cannot think of a time where this process did not work, except when I didn’t have the time or patience to wait. Some people use Bible roulette I am throw open the Bible and start reading. You can just start at the beginning of a book, the middle, or the end. You can use the devotional you are reading. The Holy Spirit can speak to us through any text so long as we sit with that text seeking where he is working.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit today practicing this form of prayer. Invite him in to the text or scripture that you choose. Ask him to show you where he is working. Trust that he is with you and faithful. When you are finished, thank and praise him for working with and you. Do this especially if you did not connect to a word or phrase. It is important to keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is always faithful. We are the ones who sometimes miss the lead, get confused, or otherwise miss the point.

In Him,

Ms. Debra D. Weldon, O.P., MTS