Reflections by Carlos Obando
Finding Sacredness Within You
"...do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1Cor 6:19)
"...the kingdom of God is among you" (Luke 17:20)
The idea that Christians are the Temple of God occurs three times in the course of Paul's two letters to the Corinthians. Paul uses the concept of naos (Greek for "sanctuary," the innermost chamber of a temple) to articulate not only the holiness of our bodies, but also that we can find a sacred ground within us.
We are all familiar with the above two texts that speak of not only of our bodies being a temple, but also that the Kingdom of God is WITHIN us! Yet we often seem to long for holy places outside of ourselves. We live in a world yearning to bond with the sacred, looking for places or things that allow us to be one with God: the Mystery of Incarnation!
Very often I hear people say, "I found this beautiful and peaceful place that reminds me of God's presence." Others say, "When I feel lonesome, I like to go to the church and visit the Blessed Sacrament." We tend to look for "external places" to have an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, when in fact we could also take an inner journey and meet our Beloved Lord within ourselves.
It has been my experience that this inner journey can be risky and frightening at times. Risky because it requires a decision to let go and let Him be my only resting place, where I need to surrender everything before His loving presence; frightening because once I enter the mystery no one really knows what will happen! Like Mary, all I can say is, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
Meeting God will be an encounter of love, revelation, purification, and surrendering. The good thing about this journey is that I become a seeker, and my heart becomes a place where the two lovers meet, a place where God nurtures me, a place where I can hear the Lord say to me, "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away..." (Song of Solomon 2:10) and my response will ever be "My beloved is mine and I am his" (2:16).
Sanctity of Time
I thought it would be good to talk about a subject
which is very near and dear to all of us: time!
Let me begin this reflection with several questions:
What are you presently doing with your time?
Are you using your time wisely?
Are you building (or neglecting) your relationships with your loved ones?
Are you aware of the sanctity of time?
Do you find yourself running out of time?
Are you working 60 hours a week to get things done in your office or parish?
Do you feel there is not enough time to "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10)?
Many years ago I read an article by Janet Ruffing in the magazine, Spiritual Life. It was entitled, "Resisting the demon of busyness." This article really caught my attention because at the time it was published, I was very much involved with my ministry. Not a single day went by that I didn't have something scheduled to do related to a church activity--as if doing something for God made me more spiritual!
It was the constant "doing" that created a lot of problems for me and my loved ones. My personal relationships were suffering from "emotional negligence." If people wanted to see me or talk to me, all they had to do was stop by my church and find me there.
It was not until later that I realized that "the doing" does not make me more spiritual; rather, it is "the being" which gets me closer to God. It seems that for many people ministry has become a matter of doing things for God, rather than BEING for God: being present in the moment, knowing that my time is sacred and is a gift from God, knowing that I need to make the best use of it. The Book of Proverbs says it very plainly: "The human heart plans the way, but the LORD directs the steps" (16:9).
While the sanctity of place is important for Catholics and other Christians, we often forget the sanctity of time. Consider this: Sunday is supposed to be the Day of the Lord, the day we worship together as a family and as a community, and yet it is the day we (at least most of us) spend working on projects or catching up on things we could not finish during the course of a normal work week. Rather than spending time in prayer, studying the scriptures, and/or being with our loved ones, we spend our free time doing more things!
In my opinion, we need a paradigm shift regarding time. Our Jewish cousins teach us to value holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. Although we live our lives as if we have all the time in the world, we need to be aware that our days are numbered. Psalm 90 says it very eloquently: "So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Ps 90:12).
In God's eyes, our lives will not be measured by our activities or ministry events, but by how much we have loved and forgiven others, by how much quality time we have spent in prayer and silence, loving and caring for those who have been entrusted to us, rather than thinking: "If I had had more time, I would have done..."
Last year a palliative nurse recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings into a book entitled, The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish I had let myself be happier.
So take some time and reflect: How could you change the way you go about your business, your personal life, your ministry? Imagine yourself near death, and ask yourself: What would be your regrets, your "I wish I had..."? Starting right now, how will you better sanctify your time?
 In his book, The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel points out that the acquisition of "space" is an appropriate human quest. But life goes wrong when one spends all of his/her time to amass "things." "For to have more, does not mean to be more."
 From "Collective Evolution," by Joe Martino (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/03/top-5-regrets-of-the-dying_n_3640593.html)
Eres Lo Que Oras, Si No Oras No Eres
This is not another article about prayer (Heaven knows there are thousands of them already!). Rather, it is a personal reflection on prayer and the importance of prayer in my life.
Many years ago I heard the phrase, "You are what you pray." Somehow that line seemed incomplete until I added, "if you do not pray, you do not exist." Thus, in my native Spanish: Eres lo que oras, si no oras no eres. Now it made more sense to me, because by praying I know that I become my true self. In prayer I discover my Christian identity, my life makes more sense, and above all, I am able to deal with critical situations.
I went to a Catholic school and grew up believing that to pray -- or rezar, as we say in Spanish -- was just a recitation of written and/or memorized words. Sometimes the words sounded very nice but they were empty words, spoken by my mouth but never felt by my heart. It was not until many years later that I realized the magnitude and importance of prayer.
Fr. Thomas Green, S.J., in his book Experiencing God: The Three Stages of Prayer, says "prayer is growth, prayer is life." How true this is! A prayerful life invigorates our ministry, and makes us more aware of the divine within us and in others! When you pray you know prayer is never stagnant, it is dynamic, and it is like a spiritual energy: always transforming our interior, taking us from the knowing to the loving.
It is my belief that we who are doing the work of the Lord and serving others and their spiritual needs cannot be people who neglect a life of prayer. Often we find pastoral agents, clerics, and other "religious" people whose words inform us but do not transform our hearts, because we may have neglected the most important thing in our spiritual lives: to be in touch with the Divine, to let God transform me so I can transform others.
As Martin Luther once said, "To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing". There is no doubt that prayer is the breath of the soul.
When I pray, many things happen within me. Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, "Prayer should be an act of catharsis, a purgation of emotions, as well as a process of self-clarification, of examining priorities, of elucidating responsibility..." Soren Kierkegaard also said that "prayer changes the one who prays." So I believe that when I pray four important things happen to me:
God heals me
God purifies me
God exposes my innermost self
God transforms me
Prayer is God's way to keep checks and balances with my personal life. St. Ignatius of Loyola called this type of prayer the "Examen of Conscience." How am I really doing? Is what I am doing now for the greater glory of God, or mine? Am I being an instrument of healing and transformation for those around me? Or am I a disturbing force that destroys what's in my path?
It has been said that we need to be transparent when we are in God's Presence. This spiritual nakedness is essential to know what God wants from us. If "prayer is an invitation to God to intervene in our lives, to let God's will prevail in our affairs..." (A.J. Heschel), then we need to have a disposition of openness, allowing God to heal, purify, reveal, and transform my inner self.
If all I do when I pray is just say words or recite words from a prayer book, but nothing happens inside of me, maybe it is time to analyze my prayer life more meticulously and discern what is really going inside of me!
Take time to scrutinize your spiritual life. St. Teresa of Avila said that "prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God." How are you taking care of your most important friend? How are you rekindling your friendship with your Creator? Do you have time to pray or are you too busy to pray? Remember what Martin Luther said: "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer."
In conclusion, I encourage you to follow these simple suggestions to enrich your prayer life:
Slow down (1 Peter 3:4)
Take off your sandals -- remember you are in God's Presence (Exodus 3:5)
Choose a time to pray every day (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15)
Select a place to pray where you can be alone with your Beloved (Song of Songs 2:16)
Surrender yourself in God's Presence (Psalm 37:7)
 The Examen is a popular way of praying that was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). He suggested that his brothers undertake this daily way of praying by examining their lives so that they could better serve
Two weeks ago several of our LIS Associates put together a very nice presentation on "El Camino de Santiago de Compostela".
"El Camino" is the name of the pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James the Apostle in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. It is a 550 mile trip which starts in St. Jean-Pied-du-Port, near Biarritz in France, to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Many travel this route for their own spiritual growth, as a form of pilgrimage or spiritual retreat. This is a centuries' old tradition and has helped many modern pilgrims have a powerful, sometimes mystical, spiritual experience or a re-encounter with Jesus.
As I sat there listening to everyone's testimony throughout the evening, I was truly moved by what I heard. Not only had they gone through a test of physical endurance, but in the process they had to pass the greatest test of all: finding and accepting themselves at their lowest point. It was as if God said to them, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" [Matt 11:28].
As each presenter spoke of her own experience, you could actually feel their joy and pain! And while they were pouring out their hearts, you could tell there were sacred moments where you knew God had healed them from some past abusive relationships and other of life's hurts!
I thought to myself: What a wonderful and blessed experience with such a powerful spiritual meaning! It got me thinking: Do I need to do El Camino to go through these moments of grace? What if I do not have the money, the means, the time, or the stamina to walk 550 miles? Is that the end for me? Will I not be able to experience this moment of transformation? Then I realize that even if I cannot afford to do El Camino literally, in Spain, I could certainly do it right here, in my own "backyard"!
Like an epiphany, it occurred to me El Camino is essentially about LISTENING.
It involves listening:
to my heart
to what God is trying to tell me
to the Scriptures
to the events of my life ["interpreting the signs of times"]
to my body
to my needs
to the people who are important in my life
to God, who desires to heal me, nurture me, love me...
In other words, God is inviting me to take a very close look at my life and to ask myself: What needs to be better integrated? We are so broken in many ways. Our lives are so full, not only of beautiful moments but also of bitter moments. Our past has left us so many scars and even though we think we are healed. In the privacy of our sanctuaries we continue to bleed. Why? Because our culture does not allow us to grieve. We are too busy, until something tragic occurs in our lives.
Sometimes we are not even aware that we have been hurt by those who are close to us. We are constantly longing for their love, their forgiveness, their nurturing. We thirsty to be one with them, and in the process we forget our woundedness!
In many cases we not only forget about our needs and desires but negate the happiness to which we are entitled. We learn to deprive ourselves of things that are essential for our spiritual survival and overall wellbeing. Don't let this happen to you! I invite you to start your own spiritual Camino tomorrow. Do not be concerned with the destination or what gear you need to take along the way. God will take care of all the details and your itinerary. Remember this new Camino will be a lifelong journey. Godspeed!
My Spiritual Journey
Last Wednesday was my first anniversary with the Loyola Institute. Even though I have been associated with LIS since 2008, I completed my first year as a full-time member of the staff on July 1.
Ignatian spirituality places great emphasis on gratitude -- and I really feel grateful for this past year. It has been a very busy year for me. Although I don't think I have ever worked as hard as I have in the past year, I don't feel tired. Rather, I am grateful to be in this place that many fondly call LIS, hwile I call it my new spiritual home.
I have learned many things about Ignatian Spirituality; but even more important than learning "new things," I have learned and experienced first-hand a few important things regarding what Ignatian Spirituality is all about:
It sees our world charged with the grandeur of God, and with God's love for humankind.
It fosters an active attentiveness to God. Discernment is an intrinsic part of our life. We cannot make a move without making sure it leads us to pleasing God.
It emphasizes interior freedom. This is such an invigorating feeling! Ignatius calls it "indifference." A total detachment from whatever does not allow me to be my true self!
The Daily Examen is a powerful that which allows you to detect God in your life.
It is practical. Father Arrupe used the phrase "men and women for others." It is not a spirituality to be lived behind closed doors/walls. Rather, it is a "spirituality of engagement."
I especially like the idea of being "contemplatives in action." Even though we are very active, we are called to spend time with our Beloved, so that we can grow intimately in our relationship with Him.
Last, but not least: the Spiritual Exercises. For the first time in the 12 years, 24 Hispanic men and women have experienced the full Spiritual Exercises through LIS. Their testimonies are amazing. Everyone I have spoken to says the same thing: "The Exercises are about conversion, renewal, healing, transformation, and a deeper love for the Scriptures."
I have also been blessed to work with some wonderful people:
Fr. Steve: a humble and gentle soul;
Fr. Bob: a man who taught me to be patient;
Fr. David: a man with a passion for life and knowledge;
Fr. Felix: an excellent preacher and with a passion for the Scriptures;
Sr. Barbra: a woman dedicated to her ministry;
Sr. Jeanne: a woman with a heart of gold;
Br. Charlie: a man with a passion for teaching and bringing Ignatian Spirituality to others;
Lupita: a woman who has zest for life and justice;
Cindy: our well-spring of knowledge, always with a friendly disposition;
Ryan: a very transparent and humble person;
Chelo: an unpretentious human being always willing to help;
Magdalena: a generous woman totally dedicated to LIS;
and last but not least: all of our Associates.
Every our organization has its hidden treasures... ours are our Associates. During the last five months I have had the opportunity of getting to know many of them, and frankly, I am impressed and honored to work side by side with these wonderful people.
Thank you all. Each of you has taught me many things. May the Lord grant me the grace to continue working with you for a few more years; may God allow us not just to teach others about Ignatian Spirituality, but also to be an example of it in everything we do and say.
A Personal Reflection on Mark 2:1-12: Jesus and the Paralytic
I have read this story many times, and I always assumed it was about a man sick for many years who wanted to be healed of his physical condition. The Gospels are filled with stories of how Jesus cured the physical ailments of men, women, and children. Every encounter with Jesus meant two important things: healing and forgiveness. No one who met him walked away empty-handed. However, it's not just about the physical healing the paralytic experienced.
My reflection is based on "the spiritual or emotional paralysis" we often experience because we don't take care of our hearts. We very well know that our hearts (Matt 15:18-19) can be infected by feelings of anger, envy, self-doubt, and pride; many times we become indifferent to God's love and mercy.
What is emotional or spiritual paralysis anyway? The word is from Greek, meaning "paralysis, palsy," literally "loosening," from paralyein, "to be disabled, enfeebled." The dictionary  gives the following two definitions for paralysis:
a) a loss or impairment of voluntary movement in a body part, caused by injury or disease of the nerves, brain, or spinal cord.
b) a disease characterized by this, especially palsy.
2. a state of helpless stoppage, inactivity, or inability to act: "The strike caused a paralysis of all shipping".
Notice that the second definition talks about the "inability to act." I would add that when we suffer from ESP (emotional or spiritual paralysis), there is sometimes an "unwillingness to act" on our part.
How many times have we been in situations that have paralyzed us emotionally or spiritually? We know what we need to do, and yet we don't act as the paralytic did. Both he and his friends had enough faith and trust in Jesus. They knew Jesus would heal him! Think about your personal paralysis:
What is preventing you from being your best self? Do you need to forgive someone but can't (or won't)? Are you too proud to admit you're wrong? Are you still angry because it was not you who were chosen for the new job? You need to step down from your position but won't. What decisions have you not made that you need to make? Are you the cause of someone else's paralysis? Is your way of thinking paralyzing your family's growth or an entire community?
Is there a cure for an emotional or spiritual paralysis? And if there is, what is that cure?
What do we need to do, you might ask? In Mark's Gospel, there was not much thinking... they just acted on faith. Just as the paralytic's body needed a katharsis  process so does the heart and soul. We need to go through a process of an emotional and spiritual detoxification and get rid of whatever is poising our inner self and does not let us be the men/women of God we were born to be.
If the cure is cleansing and forgiveness, we must wash away our shortcomings, renew our minds, refresh our souls, and soften our hearts. Put in practice compassion, starting with yourself. After all, this is the Year or Mercy. God's mercy can wash and cleanse anything; it can make us whole!
 From the Greek catharsis, meaning purification or cleansing.
In God's Loving Presence
I was reading Pope Francis' morning meditation of Thursday, November 17, 2016 . He was talking about recognizing when Jesus passes by, when "he knocks at our door", the grace "of recognizing the time in which we have been visited, we visited and we will be visited..." He continued saying that there are "three moments of God's visit: that of correcting; entering into dialogue with us; and inviting himself to our house."
I thought it was a wonderful concept, and I particularly like the third visit: "inviting himself into our hearts," but it seems we don't have the time to be in God's Holy presence. Actually, we are in the midst of a chaotic holiday time. Running around, preoccupied with the last minute shopping, holiday parties, and usually accompanied with the anxiety that goes with this time of the year.
In Dec. 2014, Pope Francis spoke to the Roman Curia about the 15 spiritual illnesses that take us away from being in God's Presence. One of the illness was called "'Martha-ism', or excessive industriousness; the sickness of those who immerse themselves in work, inevitably neglecting 'the better part' of sitting at Jesus' feet [...] spending little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment..." I will add that we are neglecting the better part: savoring God's presence in our hearts
We all know this is the Advent Season leading to the joyful time of Christmas. A time of preparation for the coming of the Christ, Emmanuel. This is a time when our hearts should "be still" (Ps 46:10) , and recognize God is among us. A time when our hearts will be impregnated with His love. As noted in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, during Advent the faithful are asked:
to prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love,
thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and
thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world.
How are you preparing yourself for his visit? Is the Lord welcome in your house or you have been too busy to prepare for such visit? Do you hunger after God, so your inner dwelling is ready for his unexpected visit? Do you thirst for God during this time? (Cf. "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?" Psalm 42:2)
I think it is really all about love, God's love for us and our love for God. When you love someone you want to be with that person all the time... You anxiously await to be visited by your loved one! "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (John 14:23). When people truly love each other, they hunger and thirst for each other, and they develop a more intimate relationship with one another, no matter what the cost is!
So much has happened in the past year, not only in our backyard, but all around the world. It seems as if God is not there, ever present in our hearts. He really is not far away. Brother Lawrence, the 17thCarmelite mystic, said once: "You need not cry very loud: He is nearer to us than we think."
said it a very eloquent and beautiful way: "God, who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet he seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know him well, we do not realize that he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present." 
One final thought about God's presence. Brother Lawrence once said: "He converses and delights himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as his favorite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in his holy presence."
Can you feel God's loving presence healing and transforming you? Will you let the Lord come into your heart? Are you waiting to be delighted by him?
May God be with you always, may the joy and peace of Christmas be ever present in your life!
 Pope Francis' Thursday Meditation, November 17, 2016.
 Pope Francis, "The 15 Ailments of the Vatican Curia." Vatican, December 2014.
 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island.