Tag Archives: theological reflection

Works of mercy

The Little Black Book, a collection of daily reflections for Lent, recently focused on almsgiving.

“Almsgiving results from feelings of pity and compassion for someone in need. It’s often associated with giving money to the poor but almsgiving includes all of the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, burying the dead.”

Visiting the imprisoned jumped off the page.


Next week will be the tenth anniversary of my friend Jim’s death. After his death, a woman at church told me how grateful she was that Jim had visited her son in prison. I remembered that visit because I had gone with Jim. She asked why, and I explained that Jim had never visited anyone in prison before, so he asked me to go with him because he knew I had. She asked if I was a probation officer or social worker and I said “no.” Then why I had visited someone in prison? “It is in the Bible,” I said. She looked confused, so I quoted from Matthew 25. She still looked confused, so I tried a different approach.

I asked if she had visited her son in prison, and she said she had. I then asked if she would visit someone else in prison, now that she could see from her son’s experience what it was like to be locked up. She became defensive and explained that her son was not like other people in prison. “He just…” she started, but I stopped her. “Your son broke the law and got caught, right?” “Yes, but…” she started, and again I stopped her and pointed out he is just like the other people in prison who broke the law and got caught.

Why, I wondered, can it be so difficult to see ourselves and those we love honestly?

To be fair, I understand that this woman wanted to put this episode in her son’s life behind her, but I wondered how she could do that without accepting the truth of her son’s situation.

A few years later, I met a woman who told me her son was at “boot camp.” I asked which branch of the service, and she said it was a different kind of boot camp. “Some people say he is in prison, but he is not in prison” she said.

I recently read an article by a man on death row, reflecting on how he and others on death row were consoled by a priest who has cared for them and helped them grow spiritually. I am doing an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and pondering how I might use what I am learning. The article prompted the thought that maybe I could offer a listening ear to someone who is in prison.

Reflecting on the article, people I have visited in prison and these two mothers made me wonder if I am being invited to this work of mercy.

Wordcloud for “When did you see me?”

A new perspective

“How are the fall colors?” my friend in Virginia asked the other night. She is coming to see me in Michigan in a few weeks and hoping to be in time to see the vibrant colors of our fall.

“We haven’t had a frost yet,” I said. “It is actually quite warm here—it’s in the 70’s.”

She laughed.

“What?” I asked.

“It is in the 70’s here, too,” she said, “and I was going to say how cool it is.”

Perspective. Same temperature but different conclusion.


I think so much of what goes wrong in relationships is because we jump to conclusions without seeking clarification or understanding another’s perspective.

Yesterday, I facilitated a retreat session for a group of local volunteers. My topic was theological reflection, a process that helps look at things from God’s perspective, that invites God into a situation and asks, “How does God invite me to see this person or situation?”

In preparation, I spent some time practicing theological reflection A friend from whom I am feeling disconnected came to mind, so I asked God, “What are you inviting me to learn from this disconnect?”

When I open myself to this conversation with God, I usually hear God ask me to love unconditionally, to forgive without limit and to let go. God invites me to see the person or situation from a stance of compassion and mercy. No matter how hurtful something might have been, when I look at it from God’s perspective, it looks different.

From God’s perspective, the person who hurt me is loved as much as I am. God invites me to see that the hurt was a result of my unrealistic expectations and/or that person’s limitations or brokenness. Theological reflection helps me understand the Biblical injunction to love my enemies and to pray for my persecutors (Matthew 5:44).

During the retreat session yesterday, I asked the volunteers to recall a specific incident which showed that their expectations had not been met, a time when they thought, “I didn’t expect that” or “That is not how I imagined it.” Unmet expectations often lead to disillusionment, and disillusionment can lead to negative feelings and actions.

Once they had an incident in mind, I asked them to invite God into the situation, to describe to God what happened and to sit with God and look at the person or situation through God’s eyes.

Reframing the situation from God’s perspective helps to see a bigger picture. My unmet expectations then become more about me instead of about the people or situation that let me down. Changing my expectations—or at least being more aware of them—can change my perspective and help to me understand people and events in a different way. When I see things from God’s perspective, I can more easily let go of hurt and anger. I can be more open to compassion and mercy, less judgmental and more forgiving. I can move toward freedom.


Daily Prayer

After college, I applied to be an FBI agent. My background check turned up no skeletons, and I was accepted. Shortly before I was scheduled to go to Quantico, though, I withdrew my application. It may have seemed impulsive and misguided, but it was the right decision for me at the time.

Then, though, I was left with no life plan. Unsure of what to do, I sought guidance through prayer and spiritual direction.

Sr. Catherine Quinn, a wise and patient woman, became my spiritual director and tried to guide me to a deeper relationship with God. I was a headstrong young woman who resisted most of her suggestions.

For example, she suggested I read An Interrupted Life by Etty Hillesum, and I baulked. I had just finished college and the thought of reading non-fiction just did not appeal to me.

She also suggested I set aside time every day, the same time every day, to pray. I already went to daily Mass, which seemed enough “set” time for me. I preferred to pray spontaneously when the spirit moved me.

In some situations, Sr. Catherine found a way around my obstinacy. For instance, about a year after she had suggested I read An Interrupted Life, someone in my book group proposed it. Once I started reading the book, I recalled Sr. Catherine’s suggestion. It turned out Sr. Catherine also saw this woman for spiritual direction. “Sneaky,” I thought.

Of course, she was right about the book. I loved it, and it profoundly affected me. I have re-read it several times and even used it as the basis for a grad school presentation.

Bringing me around to read a book only took a year. It took more than ten years for me to adopt her prayer suggestion.

It happened like this: two friends and I decided to do the 19th annotation retreat, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in daily life. We made a commitment to set aside an hour each day to pray and then to get together once a week to share what was happening in our prayer. I set aside an hour each morning, and by the end of the eight months of the 19th annotation, a daily hour of prayer was a habit.

That was twenty years ago, and the habit has persisted.

I was thinking of this today because I am preparing to facilitate a day of reflection for local Jesuit volunteers. Theological reflection on community living will be the focus. I realized that setting aside an hour each day for prayer has helped make theological reflection an integral part of my spiritual life.

I want to publicly thank Sr. Catherine for her wise guidance and to apologize for my stubbornness. She was right in these two matters—and so many more. What a blessing she has been to me.