Thursday, March 24, 2016

Prayer, Meditation, Integration—Ecumenical Reflections for Lent

By Father John Crossin

Prayer is necessary as we integrate our faith and the events of everyday life. This is true of the results of ecumenical conversations. We need to bring these results into our daily prayer, to reflect on these results, and to seek deeper understanding of what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in our conversations with other Christians.

This same process takes place as we interact with the culture which is around us and in us. We are part of American culture--not separate from it. In prayer, we discern the good and the questionable in our daily experience. In quiet meditative moments, we see more clearly both our emotional reactions and our understandings. Often deep insights come as we reflect prayerfully.

In these moments we often compare Jesus teaching and our experience. In the Gospel reading for Holy Thursday we see Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. We see Jesus emptying himself for our salvation. These acts of humility stand in contrast to the self-preservation, self-promotion and pursuit of power we see here in Washington. These acts of humility are affirmed in the work of So Others Might Eat, Catholic Charities, and other ministries also here in Washington.

A question that comes from such meditations is: how might I help transform the culture around me? How might the culture encourage the humility of Christ rather than political posturing or self-aggrandizement?

Ultimately prayer is transformative. Prayer that is attentive to everyday life and to the inner movements of the Spirit changes us. Such prayer leads us to action that in some small way transforms things around us.

Spiritual ecumenism is the foundation of the search for Christian unity. Deeper unity in Christ will change us and our culture.

Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spiritual Maturity and Christian Unity—Lenten Reflections

By Father John Crossin

Am I spiritually mature enough for Christian Unity? This is a question I have kept asking myself in recent years. As we get closer to unity with our Christian Brothers and Sisters [See for example the Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist on our convergences and remaining differences with the churches of the Lutheran World Federation.], this question is becoming more salient.

Spiritual growth, growth in relationship to Christ, is necessary for our engagement with the world and with our Christian colleagues. The ecumenical saying is that ‘as we come closer to Christ we come closer to one another.’ What some call our ‘inner work’ is very important for Christian unity as well as for our engagement with a secularizing world [See our former USCCB colleague Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck’s new book Francis, Bishop of Rome for more on the necessity of taking time for deep prayer as we encounter the world.]

What are the contours or what is the outline of this growth? As you know if you have read my previous Lenten Reflections, I am a follower of St. Francis de Sales [d. 1622]. Thus I firmly ground myself on the path laid out by a Doctor of the Church in his Treatise on the Love of God—though I am quick to say that I am an imperfect follower of this great saint.

For DeSales, the first two ‘stages of loving’ concern a deeper conversion to Christ and coming to some balance in pursuing good things in our lives. I have mentioned these briefly in earlier Reflections. The third of these interrelated stages of loving involves coming to love what God wants for us—sometimes referred to as ‘loving God’s will’--above all things.

At this point we become more conscious of God’s grace in the present moment. Years ago I put it this way: “Now we are continually listening for God’s will, paying more attention than we once did to the things around us and the movements of the Spirit within us.” This attentiveness prepares us for deeper prayer and service to others.

I must admit that this level is a struggle for me! Sometimes I am more attentive, sometimes less so, and sometimes not at all. The goal, Christian unity and celebrating the eternal banquet with others, is clear; the spiritual path has stumbles and detours as well as smooth stretches.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Seeking God’s Will—Lenten Ecumenical Reflections

Giving everything to God involves both listening intently for God to speak and ongoing repentance for our sins. To grow spiritually, we must continue to deal with our ‘deafness,’ our denials and our deep feelings.

We also must ‘discern’ God’s will for us. I have to seek God’s will and not Crossin’s. This search can be simple or complicated.

We can at times see what God wants us to do quite lucidly. It is completely obvious even if we don’t want to do what God is asking of us. For example we know we should visit our friend who is dying but we are afraid that it will be so painful that we find almost any excuse not to go.

Other calls from God may not be so clear. Here we may wish there was a mathematical equation with a definitive answer. All God gives us are probabilities.

Here are some of the classic criteria for discernment passed on to us by the saints:

A. We need to gather the external data that is available. For example, if God is really calling me to this work, can I live on the income?
B. We might consult our spiritual friends for their wise advice.
C. We can look within to see if the call brings us inner peace and joy.
D. We can spend some significant time in prayer to the Holy Spirit seeking insight.
E. We can decide in the time available—not the time we would like to have.

Of course, many things in life are not our choice. St. Francis de Sales refers to the ‘will of God’s good pleasure.’ He is referring to the daily things that ‘just happen.’ We seek to deal with them in a gentle, humble and loving way.

Flexibility is central to spiritual growth. Even our discernment is subject to the ‘law of unintended consequences.’ We give them to God too!

Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.