Reflections on Spirituality

Reflections on Peter’s 40th Anniversary of Profession as a Franciscan Friar

Scripture readings (at end): Wisdom 8:2-7, 16-18; I Corinthians 2:6-13 and Matthew 5:13-17

Feast of St Bonaventure, July 15, 2008

  Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come give us the mind of Jesus, teach us the wisdom of God.

These words are from the second reading of this feast, they have been set to music by Marty Haugen in the hymn "Eye Has Not Seen." When I listen to those words, and to the words of the reading from the Book of Wisdom, I hear an invitation to desire and to hope


Too often in my experience as a young Catholic and as a priest I was told that desire had to be avoided or suppressed. 

Yet, St Bonaventure writes: "No one is in any way disposed for divine contemplation that leads to mystical ecstasy unless, like Daniel he is a man of desires (Daniel 9:23)." ["The Soul’s Journey into God," Classics of Western Spirituality, p. 55]

I hear in the reading from Wisdom an invitation to feel my own desires deeply, to go so deep that I recognize that God is at the core of my most passionate longings, and to channel them through the wisdom of the Spirit of God.

I remember when I began my life as a Friar and my preparation for ordination. I was very excited about prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, which had just gone from Latin to English. A Friar visited me in novitiate – I told him of my enthusiasm, he said, "You’ll get over it, Peter." Fortunately, I never did.


And then there is hope. It seems to me I have heard more about faith and love in my Catholic education and my seminary formation. Yet, I feel the need today to focus on hope. 

So, it seems, does Pope Benedict. His words (from his 2nd Encyclical) are a call and a challenge to all of us to live in hope: "We see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know … that their life will not end in emptiness. … the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.

The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life."

Have you ever felt hopeless?  Like you were in the bottom of a pit, sinking into the mud? 

There is a story told by Vaclev Havel, the poet who became the president of the Czech Republic in 1989. After dinner, he was walking home with a friend in the dark when he fell into a sewer. He was stuck there, fighting for his life, for over 30 minutes until someone put down a ladder. 

After he emerged, he wrote these words about hope: "Hope is, I believe, a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. Hope is an orientation of the spirit.

…  Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously destined for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed.

… It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. 

It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now, [even in the pit of a sewer]."

Hope is about having a relationship with someone we trust – a relationship which gives meaning to what we do and what we endure. The Scripture today makes it clear that God wants to have that kind of relationship with us. Our work and our worship have little value without being a part of that relationship.

A Hope Fullfilled

40 years ago, on July 15, 1968, I professed my first vows. In 1993, on my 25th anniversary, I was in Israel – on a bus from Galilee to Tantur, near Bethlehem. It was my jubilee trip – and I had hoped to celebrate the day itself in a special way. But my desire was not to be fulfilled in the way I had expected.

I wanted to at least go out for supper in Jerusalem to celebrate, but there was unrest in the city and the busses were not running. I was disappointed, but one of the people with me at Tantur, a Lithuanian Lutheran bishop from Chicago, made arrangements for a few of us to go to an Arab bar in Bethlehem to celebrate. 

So we walked there, through the check point, and I celebrated my jubilee eating hummus and pita bread and drinking brandy with a Lutheran bishop and his wife, a missionary priest from Africa and my roommate, George, an Anglican layman from England. 

It was glorious, and a fitting way to begin the next 15 years of my life and ministry. My expectations had been unrealistic, but my hope was fulfilled.

St. Bonaventure Wrote:

"Believing, hoping and loving with my whole heart, with my whole mind and with my whole strength, may I be carried to you, beloved Jesus, as to the goal of all things, because you alone are sufficient, you alone are pleasing to those who seek you and love your name." ["Tree of Life"]

If we are to be salt for the earth, and light for the world, we need to honor our desire and nurture our hope, even while letting go of expectations and getting past the compulsion for a quick fix.

What are your desires?

  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for holiness, they shall be filled.

What are your hopes for yourselves, and for the Church and society in our times?

Let us pray with hope, for ourselves and for those we spend our lives serving,

  Give us this day our daily bread.

Scripture Readings

Wisdom 8: 2-7, 16-18

Wisdom I loved and sought after from my youth; I sought to take her for my bride and was enamored of her beauty. 

She adds to nobility the splendor of companionship with God; even the Lord of all loved her. For she is the instructress in the understanding of God, and selector of all God’s works. And if riches be a desirable possession in life, what is more rich than Wisdom, who produces all things? And if prudence renders service, who in the world is a better craftsman than she? Or is one loves justice, the fruits of her works are virtues; for she teaches moderation and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for us than these. 

Within my dwelling, I should take my repose beside her; for association with her involves no bitterness and living with her no grief, but rather joy and gladness. 

Thinking thus within myself, and reflecting in my heart that there is immortality in kinship with Wisdom, and good pleasure in her friendship, and unfailing riches in the works of her hands, and that in frequenting her society there is prudence, and fair renown in sharing her discourses, I went about seeking to take her for my own.

1 Corinthians 2, 6-13

Brothers and sisters, there is, to be sure, a certain wisdom which we express among the spiritually mature. It is not a wisdom of this age, however, nor of the rulers of this age, who are headed for destruction. No, what we utter is God’s wisdom: a mysterious, a hidden wisdom.

God planned it before all ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age knew the mystery; if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.

Of this wisdom it is written: "Eye has not seen ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on us what God has prepared for those who love the Lord."

Yet God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit. The Spirit scrutinizes all matters, even the deep things of God. Who of you, for example, knows your inmost self but your own spirit within you? Similarly, no one knows what lies at the depths of God but the Spirit of God.

The Spirit we have received is not the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit, helping us to recognize the gifts God has given to us. We speak of these, not in words of human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, this interpreting spiritual things in spiritual terms.

Matthew 5: 13-17

Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth. But what if salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? Then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot. 

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. You do not light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket. No, you set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before the world, so that they may see goodness in your acts and give glory to your heavenly Father.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them."