Ignatian Social Justice Essay: The Road to College

The Road to College was the title of a presentation that Maura Brennan, Director of College Counseling at Loyola School, gave to a group of LSA (Little Sisters of the Assumption) Health and Family Services high school students and their parents. The audience was made up of eighteen students, predominantly sophomores and juniors, who are the first generation in their families to apply to college.

FAFSA, CUNY, SUNY, PELL, HEOP, EOP, SEEK, IEP, Questbridge, Posse, and Excelsior are but a small subset of a daunting barrage of acronyms, programs, and organizations that the college application machine spits out. Families are expected to know that they exist, not to mention to understand how each one of them plays a vital role to assist them in preparing their children for college.

In my experience, the road to college is daunting at first. Still, it becomes clearer if you yourself have attended college and, more importantly, if you have participated at one time in the decision-making process. I was an emigrant without family ties that attended college here in New York City, and years later, as a parent, I was fortunate that my children attended Loyola School and Regis High School. Both schools provide excellent college guidance services to their students and their parents. I am passionate about seeing that all families, irrespective of their status, have access to the same level of college guidance that I have grown accustomed to.

We are blessed in our partnership with Loyola School because Maura shares the same passion, and she welcomed the opportunity to give this presentation. The families of the high school graduating classes of 2024 and 2025 took the first steps on a journey with Maura on January 21st. With her at the wheel, and with Melina Gonzalez, LSA Community Engagement Manager, as her guide and translator, the acronyms became details, the roles of the organizations were explained, college names in both city and state were becoming familiar, programs and organizations became welcome allies, scholarships and expected family contribution figures eased financial worries, and advice on how to select a college was shared. The opportunity to attend college became real and attainable.

The parents described the presentation as being very helpful. The families LSA is connected to within their community have no experience with the college application process. Students with younger siblings will also benefit from the presentation as their parents are learning the tools to help plan for their college education in advance. This is our second year providing this type of presentation to LSA. Last year, we were of the mindset that we were supplementing the sparse and sometimes unhelpful college guidance currently available to these students in school. We were pleasantly surprised in our feedback to discover that we were also providing a tremendous benefit to the parents in attendance, as they were excluded from the college guidance process provided by their children’s high schools.

We are fortunate to have a similar relationship with Lisa Peterson, Director of College Counseling

Guidance Counselor and College Advisor at Regis High School and her colleague Elena Troy. Both will be making a similar presentation to another group of LSA families later this year.

— Jimmy Coffey

February 5, 2023 Essay: Becoming Better Versions of Ourselves

As the director of IREP, our Interparish Religious Education Program, I have the opportunity to be in the classroom teaching our students ranging in ages from 5-15 at various intervals during the school year. Last week while teaching a 5th-grade class in the grammar school, I came across a sign in the classroom which read:

What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?

This question became the focus of our 5th-grade class discussion and a talking point in the Youth Group last Saturday evening. The concept of only having what we were thankful for was profound for each age group, truly giving the students and the leaders at Youth Group pause. As a group, we began to ask ourselves and one another: when and how often do we demonstrate our gratitude, what blessings do we take for granted, and why aren’t we more grateful? This question guided us to in-depth theological talking points, and our dedication to being grateful was revivified.

Much of what I learned about gratitude I gleaned from my Uncle Frank, who served as my mentor, an older brother figure, and, in some ways, a father figure. He was only nine years my senior, and we grew up together. I followed in Frank’s footsteps graduating from his alma maters of Siena College and Yale Divinity School. In the final year of his life, 2019, I taught theology with him and in his place at Canterbury School in Connecticut.

Frank’s faith was larger than life. He would sit for hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, waiting for inspiration and saying thank you. Frank’s life was dedicated to service, and he was the epitome of gratitude. During his 60 years, he was a mentor, a teacher, a deacon, a basketball coach, a lacrosse coach, and a football coach.  Frank had been injured while playing football as a senior at Siena College and lived 39 years of his life as a quadriplegic. I had the privilege of living with my Uncle Frank and my grandmother during high school, where I learned how to truly be of service. I began to comprehend that giving is a pivotal way to experience wholeness and purpose while simultaneously giving glory to God. Frank needed plenty of assistance to do the daily tasks we take for granted, yet helping him was a gift. He was a joyful and uplifting person even though he had more reason than most to be resentful and frustrated. His attitude was contagious. You could not tell who was gaining more from the interactions.

In Isaiah today, we read the action of giving is the salve that heals our wounds. Jesus states in Matthew’s Gospel: your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Each of these readings makes clear we are called to serve, and service has symbiotic qualities. As we truly acknowledge the grace of our existence and its profound blessings with sincere gratitude, our light shines through our commitment to helping others. Our actions become our prayer of thanks, and through our giving, the world becomes imbued with heavenly light. In these exchanges, we live to our fullest human potential.

I leave you with Frank’s motto: Service makes you powerful, gratitude makes you invincible. Why not adopt this motto so we, too, become better versions of ourselves and glorify our maker?

— Kate Noonan, Director of the Interparish Religious Education Program

January 29, 2023 Essay: Barking to the Choir by Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.

So I’m in my office at Homeboy Industries talking with Ramón, a gang member who works in our bakery.

Lately, he has been veering into the lane of oncoming traffic. He’s late for work, sometimes missing it entirely, and his supervisors tell me he is in need of an emergency “attitude-ectomy.” I’m running it down to him, giving him “kletcha”—schooling him, grabbing hold of the steering wheel to correct his course. He waves me off and says, self-assuredly, “Don’t sweat it, bald-headed . . . You’re barking to the choir.”

I immediately liked, of course, the combo-burger nature of his phraseology. The marriage of “barking up the wrong tree” to “preaching to the choir.” It works. It calls for a rethinking of our status quo, no longer satisfied with the way the world is lulled into operating and yearning for a new vision. It is on the lookout for ways to confound and deconstruct.

What gets translated in Scripture from the Greek metanoia as “repent” means “to go beyond the mind we have.” And the “barking” is directed at the “Choir”—those folks who “repent” and truly long for a different construct, a radically altered way of proceeding and who seek “a better God than the one we have.” The gospel can expose the game in which “the Choir” can find itself often complacently stuck. The game that keeps us from the kinship for which we long—the endless judging, competing, comparing, and terror that prevents us from turning the corner and bumping into that “something new.” That “something” is the entering the kinship of God . . . here and now, no longer satisfied with the “pie in the sky when we die.”

The Choir is everyone who longs of and aches to widen their “loving look” at what’s right in front of them. What the Choir is searching for is the authentic.

In a recent New Yorker profile of American Baptists, the congregation’s leadership resigned itself to the fact that “secular culture” would always be “hostile” to Christianity. I don’t believe this is true. Our culture is hostile only to the inauthentic living of the gospel. It sniffs out hypocrisy everywhere and knows when Christians aren’t taking seriously, what Jesus took seriously. It is, by and large, hostile to the right things. It actually longs to embrace the gospel of inclusion and nonviolence, of compassionate love and acceptance. Even atheists cherish such a prospect.

Human beings are settlers, but not in the pioneer sense. It is our human occupational hazard to settle for little. We settle for purity and piety when we are being invited to an exquisite holiness. We settle for the fear-driven when love longs to be our engine. We settle for a puny, vindictive God when we are being nudged always closer to this wildly inclusive, larger-than-any-life God. We allow our sense of God to atrophy. We settle for the illusion of separation when we are endlessly asked to enter into kinship with all. The Choir has settled for little . . . and the “barking,” like a protective sheepdog, wants to guide us back to the expansiveness of God’s own longing.

The Choir is certainly more than “the Church.” And in many ways, Homeboy Industries is called to be now, what the world is called to be ultimately. The Choir understands this. Homeboy wants to give rise not only to the idea of redemptive second chances but also to a new model of church as a community of inclusive kinship and tenderness. The Choir consists of those people who want to Occupy Everywhere, not just Wall Street, and seek, in the here and now, what the world is ultimately designed to become.

— Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.

(An excerpt from Fr. Boyle’s book, “Barking to the Choir” [2017])


Join us on Monday, January 30th at 7 PM (in Wallace Hall & Livestreamed) as Fr. Boyle presents When the Wave Knows It’s the Ocean: Apostolic Wholeness and the Kinship of God. Fr. Boyle will explore the marks of authentic discipleship: flourishing, joy, and fearlessness.

To learn more, visit www.HomeboyIndustries.org.

January 22, 2023 Essay: The Wonder of Ordinary Time

Which are the magic moments
In ordinary time? All of them,
for those who can see.
 
These words are taken from the poem, Ordinary Time, by the American poet Tim Dlugos. In this poem, he writes about the cacophonous voices and colorful personalities that encircle his life like whirling dervishes, creating beauty and meaning out of the mundane fabric of life. He recognizes his own life in this tapestry, a life teeming with fresh perspectives and qualities of everyday experiences where magic was found. Dlugos wrote this poem as he was approaching death. He died from complications related to AIDS at the age of 40.

Dlugos’s poem came to mind as I reflected on the season of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar of the church that began this year on January 10th, the day after the celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. While I can appreciate that the church refers to that period of time as “ordinary” when no major feast days are on the church’s calendar, until it is interrupted by the Lenten and Easter Seasons, it nonetheless seems to me to be a misnomer. It diminishes the extraordinary nature of what is celebrated every time we gather for Mass. It dims the luster of what is being fashioned anew in each moment of our lives, especially when we see the hand of God at work on what we make and do and say, as Dlugos writes in Ordinary Time.

Many of us, throughout our lives, inhabit the monotonous routine of the gray tones of the ordinary. Our faith, at times, is bundled into an automatic response mechanism of doing what is expected of us as Catholics or Jews or Muslims or of any other faith tradition. Habit stifles our curiosity, dampens our spirit, and limits our vision. In such a world, it becomes nearly impossible to recognize the magical moments that surround us, the extraordinary paths that lie before us. We take for granted what is precious in the eyes of God and fail to reverence what is right in front of our eyes. Such a state of stupor is not limited to our faith life; it can tragically pervade our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with God.

The extraordinary (or, as Dlugos would refer to it, the magical) inhabits the very soul of the ordinary. The question for us is, are we among those who can see?

A gentle breeze on a summer’s day; a thunderous downpour of rain
A single breath; a heartbeat
A tear of sorrow; tears of joy
A loving caress; a longing look
A simple prayer; a hand outstretched
An ordinary Mass; a loving sacrifice.

When our hearts, our souls, and our eyes are open to the wonder of the ordinary, we will see the magical. Then we will recognize that the extraordinary is inextricably entwined with the ordinary.

We will see the hand of God at work in each moment of our lives, and our hearts will soar in a world of magic. May our discovery of this truth not come at the end of our lives, as it did for Tim Dlugos. Let it motivate us to celebrate with joy every day, every moment, and every Mass of Ordinary Time that is by its very nature extraordinary.

— Rev. Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor

January 15, 2023 Essay: Thank You, St. Ignatius, for Welcoming Me Back to God and Prayer

I am a cradle Catholic, from a perfectly average American Catholic family. Having drifted off Sunday Mass in college more than 45 years ago, I had tried to come back to the fold a few times through the years in the many cities my family and I lived in. Maybe it was me, but the message from the pulpit never resonated. I did not quite get what prompted adults to attend Mass, other than obligation.

Then, one Saturday afternoon, I entered our beautiful Church and found myself waiting in the confessional. It was time.

I came into St. Ignatius wanting to deliberately discover Catholicism anew, how it all fits together and captivated millions of minds over the ages. Once in, I was moved to go to confession. I did not realize how much I had forgotten: the only saint I could relate to was Thomas, and I couldn’t even recite the Act of Contrition. Without judgment, Father Danny suggested that I dispense with my palpable guilt and make a fresh start right there. When he handed me a cellophane-wrapped printed version of the Act of Contrition, it felt as though God had been waiting there for me all along.

The next few months were filled with early Sunday morning Masses and sermons like I had never heard before. I felt a connection to my now-deceased family that I hadn’t ever felt. For the first time in my life, I was leaving Sunday Mass feeling much better than I had entered, wanting to learn more. I can’t tell you how relieving that thought was for me. That there is so much here, that all my questions were answered enthusiastically by priests and fellow parishioners in ministries alike.

All the ministries I participated in were outstanding, but Meeting Christ in Prayer was truly game-changing for me.

Meeting Christ in Prayer is an 8-week spiritual renewal (developing in my case) program fostered by daily guided prayer. Based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I was guided to pray over Scripture readings on God’s love for all of us, Jesus’ life and ministry for others, and our response. I felt I was personally invited to meet God every day and share my concrete experiences with other participants; we created a community by sharing how the readings touched us in our daily life.

But my first week was a personal low—I completely whiffed! My MCIP book and newly purchased Bible sat there unopened, and my journey might have ended the second session. However, the facilitators invited me to start again that night (sound familiar?), and let the Holy Spirit transform what I could offer then—the fact that I showed up and was willing to listen and perhaps share.

What did I learn through the eight weeks? That prayer is becoming the heart of my relationship with God. That through prayer, I can experience the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That in prayer, I do meet Jesus and allow Christ’s love to transform me.

I learned that all of this is life-changing to me and that, like everything that is so primary in my life, I want to nurture it. I learned to pray every day . . . not out of obligation but in response to God’s invitation, a privilege to me now.

Thank you to all at St. Ignatius.

With love and appreciation, 

Mike Tierney, Parishioner & Meeting Christ in Prayer Participant 

Please join us at MCIP by registering at [email protected] before February 5, 2023.

To learn more about the upcoming session of Meeting Christ in Prayer, click here.

From the Pastor: January 8, 2023

Dear Parishioners,

Happy New Year!

I am delighted to report on the progress of the work of the Action Plan Committees whose task is to lay the foundation for the implementation of the Parish Vision Statement.

The week before Christmas I met with the four committee chairs who provided a status report of their respective committees. As you will recall, the four committees, reflecting the key components of the Parish Vision Statement, are: We Welcome All, We Worship With Joy, We Walk With Those in Need, and We Reverence God In The Wonder Of Creation.  Each chair commented both on the enthusiasm and the heartfelt commitment of all the members of the committees to the task before them.

In the Fall of this year, I will share with you the recommendations of each committee. They will be the starting point to the road map that will offer practical ways for us to implement the vision that we share as members of this parish and joyful disciples of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to have our actions reflect what we profess as a Catholic, Jesuit parish in the context of today’s world.

Let us continue to join in prayer for the success of the discernment process in which the Action Plan Committees are now engaged. May all that we, as church, do now and in the future redound to the greater glory of God and the salvation of all humanity.

Sincerely in the Lord,
Fr. Yesalonia

January 8, 2023 Essay: “Totum amoris est”

If you took home one of the 2023 appointment calendars that were on offer in the narthex last month, and if you have that calendar hanging next to the refrigerator, you will be gazing on a painting from Madrid’s Museo del Prado. The subject of the painting is Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose feast day is January 24th.

This French saint, who was born in the castle of Sales, in Savoy, on August 21, 1567, and died in Lyon on December 28, 1622, was able to help people seek God in charity, joy, and freedom in a time of great change.

On the 400th anniversary of the death of Saint Francis de Sales, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter entitled ‘Totum amoris est’ (‘Everything Pertains to Love’) in which the pope summarizes the spiritual legacy left to us by Saint Francis de Sales. The Pope highlights that the great vocation of this exiled Bishop of Geneva and co-founder of the Visitation Sisters was that of asking himself “in every situation of life where the greatest love is to be found.”

The central question of the saint’s life was, ‘Where is God to be found?’ In his Treatise on the Love of God, he explained it with simplicity and precision: “At the very thought of God, one immediately feels a certain delightful emotion of the heart, which testifies that God is God of the human heart.” Pope Francis observes, “In this light, we can understand why Saint Francis de Sales felt that there was no better place to find God and to help others to find him, than in the hearts of the women and men of his time. He had learned this, from his earliest years, by developing a keen insight both into himself and into the human heart.”

Saint Francis de Sales was educated at the Jesuit College of Clermont in Paris, and this fact provides an important indicator of the refined spirit of discernment, the interior attitude that unites thought and feeling, reason and affections, which he called the “God of the human heart.”

The Ignatian background of the discernment of spirits was further realized in two essential dimensions of the theology of Saint Francis de Sales. Pope Francis explains: “The first is the spiritual life itself, for it is in humble and persevering prayer…that we attempt to communicate the word of God…. The second is the life of the Church, the ability to think in the Church and with the Church.” This synthesis of action and contemplation, of being a person of creative fidelity to God’s Spirit in a concrete ecclesial reality, bore abundant fruit in the founding of the Visitation Sisters with Saint Frances de Chantal and, two centuries later, the Salesian optimism of Saint John Bosco.

The Pope moves on to reflect on the legacy of Saint Francis de Sales for our time, praising the saint’s realization that the world was changing, and the mark of a completely evangelical response was flexibility and a far-sighted vision. “[Saint] Francis perceived clearly that the times were changing. The word of God that he had loved from his youth now opened up before him new and unexpected horizons in a rapidly changing world.

“That same task awaits us in this, our own age of epochal change. We are challenged to be a Church that is outward-looking and free of all worldliness, even as we live in this world, share people’s lives and journey with them in attentive listening and acceptance. That is what Francis de Sales did when he discerned the events of his times with the help of God’s grace. Today he bids us set aside undue concern for ourselves, for our structures, and for what society thinks about us and consider instead the real spiritual needs and expectations of our people.”

– Michael Hilbert, S.J., Associate Pastor

January 1, 2023 Essay: Mary, Our Model of Discipleship

Our Church inaugurates the New Year with the solemnity of “Mary, the Holy Mother of God.” Is this an antiquated celebration, or one that can have real meaning for us as disciples of Christ?

Mary was first a human being before she became a plaster saint. She was a young woman, around fourteen years of age, when she heard the voice of God asking her to become the mother of God’s son. How remarkable it is that a young, Jewish, Palestinian peasant would have a faith sufficiently rich and deep that she could discern a call from God to her! Mary had to wrestle with the call that she heard, but ultimately Mary said “Yes” to what God asked of her. Her “Yes” only made sense if Mary had a profound experience of God’s goodness, steadfast faithfulness, and enduring love both in the life of her people and in her own life. Only such an experience would have given Mary the confidence to believe that God would help her to fulfill all that her “Yes” required of her.

Never forget how much Mary’s “Yes” did demand of her. The birth of her son did not unfold uneventfully but was fraught with real peril. Soon after successfully giving birth to her son, Mary, Joseph, and her son had to flee to Egypt to escape the murderous intentions of King Herod. Think of how hard it must have been to live as refugees in a foreign land – and remember that when you see the migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who have risked everything to try and cross our borders. When her son set forth to fulfill the Father’s will for him, it could not have been easy for this devout Jewish woman to see her son in increasingly bitter conflict with the Jewish leadership. Even worse was when that same leadership seized her son and handed him over to the Romans, the pagans, for prosecution as an enemy of the Jewish religion. Condemned to die by the Romans, Mary had to stand sentinel as Jesus’ life flowed out of him. Mary’s “Yes” cost her dearly, but she persevered in her “Yes” because she was rooted in her experience of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love, and was rooted, as well, in a life of prayer. Indeed, the last time Mary is depicted in the scriptures, she is at prayer with the other disciples on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.

In this New Year, each of us has to recommit ourselves every day to our discipleship in Jesus Christ. We have to make a daily “Yes” to God in all that our discipleship demands of us. Has our own experience of God’s goodness, steadfast faithfulness, and enduring love in the life of the Christian community and in our own lives been such that it makes sense for us to say “Yes” to what God asks of us? Do we have the confidence in God that Mary did to believe that God will sustain us in the “Yes” we offer to God? Sometimes that “Yes” will demand much of us: faithfulness to your spouse in difficult times; persisting in love for your child even when your child makes choices you know are harmful; choosing to stand for what is right in the workplace even if it costs you a promotion or your job; standing for what is right in our society even when to do so will result in experiencing hostility, rejection, and perhaps hatred.

In this New Year, may each of us look to Mary as our model of discipleship. Let us ask her each day to intercede for us with her Son so that we will become ever more decisive in the “Yes” we make to God – giving all of ourselves to the God whose faithfulness and love can never fail us.

— Rev. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Associate Pastor

December 25, 2022 Essay: The Gift of Christmas Day

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; golden sunlight; heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious. Glorious.

“What’s today?” he cried out, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” he asked again.

“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day!”

Perhaps you recalled these words from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge has just awakened from a long night’s sleep on Christmas Eve, having been visited in his dream by the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Be. He journeyed with each spirit with hesitation and fear. He witnessed a life that had been filled with gaiety, wonder, love, and the warmth of friendships and family. He revisited the pain of disappointment and heartbreak that transformed his life into one of bitterness, resentment, and greed. He peered into the eyes of those whose lives could have been comforted by a singular word or gesture of kindness from him. He recognized how heartless a person he had become in life. Lonely by choice, not by circumstance, his solitary journey had put him on a path to darkness and doom, vilified by those who knew him and not having recognized in life those who loved him.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is one of conversion. His single night’s journey opened the eyes of his heart to what his daily waking eyes could not. Undoubtedly scared to his wit’s end upon first hearing the rattling chains of Jacob Marley, he nonetheless ventured forward with the visiting spirits of Christmas in the likely hope that it would soon be over. Little did he know, or could even have imagined, how it would end.

As children, were not our eyes on Christmas Eve focused on the gifts that Santa would bring? Were not our hearts pumping with happiness in anticipation of Christmas Day and the days that would follow? Filled with wonder, we dreamed of futures overflowing with all the world has to offer. Friendships would be formed, commitments of love made. And then, like Ebenezer Scrooge, times of disappointment and heartbreak diminished the luster of childhood dreams. The real world intruded. The safer path for many became lined with what were perceived as protective barriers that sadly led to a false sense of worth and self-importance, forgetting those who either needed help or wanted their love acknowledged and accepted.

As Ebenezer would come to realize in the course of a night’s dream, the dark path of isolation and walls of fear lead only to the disintegration of the bonds of friendship and family and a hardened heart of resentment. He learned from Jacob Marley that the shackles of darkness bear the torment of eternal despair. His nighttime dream ended there, but he nonetheless hoped that the stories of the Christmases Yet To Be were not yet written. When he finally awakened on Christmas morning, he breathed in the air of freedom, of a new beginning that could recapture the hopes and dreams of his childhood and fuel the fire of others in their dreams for a future overflowing with happiness and the bounty of goodness.

With the realization that he was given another chance to amend his ways, he was giddy with excitement. He danced about his room that for too long had shuttered out the light of day. A dawn of hope was awakened within him. His life was transformed by the wonder of God’s love that, somehow and for unknown reasons, he experienced in his dream. May his story of conversion be for us the entryway to a path that leads to the one born this day, whose birth was heralded by angels and brought joy to the world.

When Ebenezer Scrooge leapt with joy from his bed on that cold December morning to fling wide his bedroom window, he discovered that the greatest gift of all was the gift of Christmas Day.

— Rev. Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor

December 18, 2022 Essay: Joseph—Symbol of Discernment

When Joseph discovered Mary’s pregnancy, we can imagine him being bombarded with voices competing for his attention. His betrothed’s voice might have sounded a mixture of joy, anxiety, and fear. After all, they both knew the child was not his, and this shocking news could make her look like an adulteress and he a cuckold. His family’s and community’s voice might have been one of perplexity. “Why did you wait until now to tell us? And besides, you two haven’t completed the marriage ritual yet.  What’s going on here? Is there something you’re hiding?” The voice of his religion was loud and clear. “If the child isn’t yours, your fiancée is guilty of a capital crime. Turn her in.” Perhaps Joseph prayed with the words of Psalm 85 as he lay down to sleep on that fateful night: “I will listen to what God the Lord says, he promises peace to his people.” Joseph’s role models for us discernment—he listens for the voice of truth, and he acts.

Like his ancestors-in-faith Abraham, Jacob, Joseph (the patriarch), Solomon, and Daniel, Joseph receives in a dream the wisdom and guidance he needs. We notice that this dream-sent voice, the voice among all others he chooses to obey, is one of compassion and mercy. It calls him to preserve, not take life. It is gentle and counsels a loving response to the extraordinary circumstances that have come upon him and his betrothed.  It is a voice that says, “God is with us;” that says, “I, your God, am here.”

“How do I know which is God’s voice?” We will inevitably confront this question as we journey on the path of faith. St. Ignatius Loyola tells us in his rules of discernment, “It is characteristic of God and his angels, by the motions they cause, to give genuine happiness and spiritual joy, and thereby to banish any sadness and turmoil induced by the enemy….”  Joseph discerns the voice of God because it is inviting, relational, freeing, compassionate, loving, wise, receptive, allowing, unlimited, intuitive, creative, inspired, peaceful, connected. This is a voice that says, “Do not be afraid.”

Some voices can easily be mistaken for God’s because they sound like what some forms of religion have taught us that God is like—demanding, perfectionist, moralizing, and stern. We could interpret Joseph’s story as a warning that such tones—loud, aggressive, possessive, shaming, judgmental, fearful, opinionated, intrusive, dominating, limited, rationalizing, controlling, restrictive, conventional, anxious, defensive, and separated—are not of God. If it feels like a hammer blow, if it would do violence, if it moves us away from love of God and neighbor, it is not of God. As the prophet Elijah discovered, God will not be found in the “earthquake” or the “fire” but in a soft whispering sound.

When Joseph receives the grace of God’s guidance, he takes the final, crucial step of discernment—he acts. When we receive insight, there might arise an energy of resistance that wants us to file away rather than act upon the wisdom God has given us. Perhaps acting will upset others, or will take us in a new direction, or will defy voices we’ve been taught to unquestioningly obey. This final step of discernment, action, can be the most difficult and harrowing. Joseph showed us the way when “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” The great spiritual writer and teacher Henri Nouwen described discernment this way, “To discern means first of all to listen to God, to pay attention to God’s active presence, and to obey God’s prompting, direction, leadings, and guidance.”

As Advent draws to a close, we are invited to become more still, silent, and attentive, as did Joseph, to the voice that shines like a light in a dark place, “until the dawn and morning star rises in our hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

— Brian Pinter, Pastoral Associate