Visitation Evangelization: “LIVE + JESUS!”

IMG_0854by Phil SoucherayVisitation Companion

What is evangelization anyway?

Faith in the context of organized religion often seems decorated with a lot of trappings. The array of dogma and doctrine that we get immersed in and the rituals we are told we are obliged to participate in for the saving of our very souls offer a lot of mystery and beauty, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found that these elements serve to distract me from my efforts to know and understand my true purpose for being. I often hear a little voice in my head screaming, “Can we please just get to the point?”

I know I’m not unique in this regard. Anyone who has faith in God addresses the “purpose” question from their own perspectives. Still, I am always fascinated by the fact that, at least in my case, I keep coming at the subject from different angles depending on my situation at the moment.

I suspect I’m not alone. Indeed, I think it’s the shared questioning that draws me and other fellow faith trekkers to the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis. It is there that I find a sense of certainty amid uncertainty, rooted in the encouragement to “Live Jesus.”

The steadfastness that the sisters exercise in trying to identify and live purposeful lives — as individuals and as a community — reminds me there is grace simply in asking the questions. And their example keeps challenging me to not give up in my efforts.

Mass at MonasteryWhy, you may ask, am I bringing any of this up?  Well, just recently I was asked by an old friend whether I would be applying for the position of Director of Evangelization at the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

There might be reason for me to consider it. I did serve in somewhat of a similar capacity for the Archdiocese between 2002 and 2007. But when I looked at the job description, I realized it probably wouldn’t be a good fit. For one thing, I’m not sure I would be qualified. They prefer someone with a master’s in Theology. Strike one. They also want someone who’s a “Catholic in good standing.” (I don’t always get to Mass on Sunday). Strike two.

But the biggest reason I don’t think it would be a good fit is that I don’t know how the current leadership of the Archdiocese defines evangelization. Based on what I do know, though, I suspect there might be a clash of ideologies.

You see, when I was working in this area back in the last decade, I found that everyone’s definition of evangelization was different. Some people thought it meant going door to door inviting people to come to “our church.” The ultimate goal was get more bodies in the pews. Others thought it meant being an apologist for the Church.

So, one of the first priorities of our evangelization initiative was to clearly state that our definition of the task was, “To make Jesus Christ known and loved, in our time, by choosing to live out the Gospel in every moment.

Do you hear the Visitation tenet inherent in that line? Live Jesus. Sweep past all the veils, unknowns, mysteries of dogma, doctrine and ritual and what you are left with is that.

Live+Jesus!

Now that’s evangelization, I think.

 

 

Contemplative practice: Just do it!

Hermann Hesseby Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

I just got done reading Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.” Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of the book. I did not know that it was the final full-length novel by this noted German writer. Heck, he won the Nobel Prize for the darn thing back in 1946.

How did this one slip by me? If the book isn’t on the shelves of the library at the Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis, it should be. (Hint, hint).

“..what sets the Visitation Community apart and continues to attract me to them is that their objective is not simply in fostering a life of the mind, but fostering it in way that reflects the greater glory of God.”

The setting is somewhere in Europe, perhaps sometime in the 25th century, at a time when the life of the mind has been elevated by society to almost religious significance. An entire church-like province has been established and is dedicated to study of arts and culture. “The Game,” which involves players delving into all recorded knowledge around a selected topic and showing connections between apparently disparate disciplines, is considered the peak and pinnacle of man’s creative spirit.

The story is presented as a biography of the man, Joseph Knecht, and relates his personal conflict as he comes to be aware that the life of the mind is empty unless the fruits of it are used to positively influence the course of human relationships.

If you have stayed with me this far and you are graced to have an appreciation for the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis, that last paragraph hopefully will resonate with you. To my way of thinking, this community of contemplative monastics in the inner-city represents the pinnacle of efforts to synthesize the life of the mind with positively influencing the world.

But what sets the Visitation Community apart and continues to attract me to them is that their objective is not simply in fostering a life of the mind, but fostering it in way that reflects the greater glory of God. God is the peak and pinnacle. They seek a unity of life, heart and mind with God, so that God can be reflected by them into the world.

I found myself thinking about the nuns and my spiritual life often while reading “The Glass Bead Game.” I was particularly struck by how Hesse’s representation of pursuing the life of the mind parallels my understanding of how to pursue life in the spirit; specifically, the necessity of contemplation and meditation in both.

This was highlighted for me in Hesse’s book by one particular scene. In it, Knecht has shared with a beloved master that he is antsy and seeking to gain his freedom from the rigors of the monastic-like life represented by the intellectual province. The esteemed teacher understands, going so far as to tell a story of his own bit of straying as a youth.

The beauty of his ultimate lesson is not one of chastisement, but one of encouragement. He reminds Joseph that the life of the mind is worthy, but cannot be the end all. It must be balanced with meditation; which in the context of the sisters I translate to mean contemplation focused on God.

It becomes easy to let the practice become an afterthought. So, what I hear my inner voice saying to me is, “Just do it!”

On Contemplative Listening: A Doorway into a Deeper Encounter With God

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice centering prayer

Vis Companions Heidi and Bianca practice contemplative listening

by Phil Soucheray, Visitation Companion

God invites. Are we willing to listen?

Be still and know that I am God.

That’s what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46.

Like many of the psalms, the context of the lyrics refers to a powerful God in whom humanity is urged to find strength in the face of distress. But, there is another facet of messaging in those words that I find I prefer. Indeed, it’s one I find I can’t live without.

It is a message of comfort; of confidence; of connection. And, as a recent spiritual retreat hosted by the sisters of the Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis reminded us, it is one of openness and hospitality. Those who are willing to immerse themselves in the implication of the message are being offered a doorway into deeper encounter with God.

The sisters and those great spiritual guides who have long gone before call the practice of being still in order to know God, contemplative listening.  What one may hear is never a certainty. But what becomes apparent in undertaking the practice is that it’s very easy to lose God’s signal for all the noises that surround us in our daily lives.

Convened in a circle

Convened in a circle

That the sisters should be particularly skilled in contemplative listening is no surprise. It is, after all, something of a staple of the monastic community they form. That they are so solid in their commitment to its practice where they happen to live is something that impresses me deeply. And that they extend that grace and invite us into their company so we can also be still and perhaps come to know God better, is a privilege.

That sense of privilege is one I know that is shared by the rest of the Visitation Companions who participated on this special day. As one of our group observed afterward, the experience of the retreat left her feeling like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. This companion admits that she is more often like Martha, planning, preparing, serving.

“I can and do read lots of books and articles on Salesian spirituality,” she says. “But nothing can compare to sitting at the feet of these wise women who share their knowledge, their lived experience and their love with all.”

She goes on to say that, “On this day, I am glad that I decided to be a Mary and leave my inner Martha behind.

I would offer that so say we all who were able to partake.

Be still and know that I am God.