During Advent, we will be posting short reflections from CLA alumni. Every member of the CLA community has their own story about how their CLA experience has empowered them to live the call to be a contemplative leader in action. Here are just a few of them...
Dec. 21, 2017 - Chris Martin, CLA-Boston 2012
It is fitting that I write this reflection today, as I eagerly await my evening plans: getting together with three dear friends from my CLA cohort. Thinking of these three friends, and all of my cohort members really, I am reminded of an Advent reflection I wrote earlier this month for the small Catholic high school where I work. That reflection focused on a story from Luke’s Gospel (Lk. 5:17-26) aptly titled, “The Healing of a Paralytic.”
I’m sure you all recall the story. Many had gathered to hear Jesus preach, including scribes and Pharisees. A group of men arrived with their friend on a stretcher and lowered him through the roof. Jesus forgives his sins, much to the consternation of the Pharisees and scribes. To show that he truly does have authority on Earth, Christ then commands the paralyzed man to rise and walk. To the astonishment of all, he does.
I love this story of Luke’s, but no offense to our Lord, it’s not because of his incredible miracle. To me, the more amazing miracle is the dedication and love of the paralytic’s friends. Not only have they stuck by their friend through his challenges, but they bring him to see Jesus when they must know how crowded it would be. Upon seeing the crowds, many people would be dismayed, and I can even picture the paralyzed man telling his friends, “Don’t worry, it’s not worth the trouble.” But instead, they climb to the roof WITH their friend in his stretcher and THEN lower him through the roof.
Another important interpretation of this is that the men did what they did because they had such faith in Christ. And I agree, but I worry that in reading the passage this way we often discount the friends. They care so much for the paralyzed man that they go to great lengths to bring him before Christ. As I reflect now on my CLA experience and how it prepared me, I realize that it taught me to stop at nothing for those in my life. I have already felt this way for my family and loved ones, but if I learned anything from CLA, it’s that all of us have a story and path, and that we need to support those we meet along the way. My cohort members I am seeing tonight, in another life I don’t know that we would be friends. And it’s not just that CLA brought us together, but CLA opened me up to being a witness to their lives, to their experiences, and seeking to share in their story.
Now, whether in my personal or professional life, I seek out opportunities to be like the paralyzed man’s friends. I try to recognize that everyone I meet has goals and that I have the ability to help or hinder them. Whether it is my life at home with my wife and son, interactions with my neighbors, collaborating with my colleagues, or supporting the students I serve, I try to be a leader in action, a person that would carry a stretcher onto a roof and stop at nothing to help someone see God.
Dec. 20. 2017 - Marco Ambrosio, CLA-New York 2016
This Advent season I'm reflecting on three pillars of CLA--discernment, action, and community. Professionally, this Fall I negotiated a custom role working with the North America Leadership Team. The new role brings new sets of challenges, learnings, and potential impact. It's been a rewarding experience, but not as fulfilling as I'd hoped. I'm looking forward to this time of anticipation to dig deeper into my decisions and choices through the year. Where have I failed, what have I learned, where have I succeeded, and where do I feel like I'm building my best self and bringing the most impact into the lives of others?
Dec. 19, 2017 - Clare Bonsignore, CLA-Washington, DC 2014
Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to travel to Loyola, Spain, for a meeting and retreat in the birthplace of St. Ignatius. I saw his childhood home, the chapel where he was converted, and the hospital where he healed after his time in France and began preaching during his convalescence. The experience served for me as a reminder of some of the resources and tools I gained through the CLA program. The examen has been the most helpful to me in my daily life, and this meeting was a reminder to me of the importance of using it for major decisions. It was a powerful experience to reconnect with the examen as a tool while overlooking the same hillside panorama that St. Ignatius did.
Over the past few years, I’ve used the examen in a variety of ways. I generally find that when I’m able to run through the examen in the morning, even if very quickly, it sets the stage for a better and more productive day.
The action piece of CLA comes less naturally and comfortably to me than contemplation. I am very comfortable with contemplation and discernment, but I have to work at moving more swiftly to action. Using the principles of the examen has helped me to better guide my contemplation toward action. I now engage in a process for major decisions that helps me to move my thinking in a confident manner toward action. As I grow in professional responsibility, this has become really valuable.
As a development officer, Advent always falls during my busiest time of year. It’s the season that will determine my annual professional success and also the financial health of my organization. It can be very hectic, and it is very easy to get lost in the chaos. I have to work particularly at this time of year on honoring my commitment to myself to continue with the examen to help drive better decisions, higher productivity, and a clearer focus to keep me from burning out or losing balance.
Dec. 14, 2017 - Kevin Moran, CLA-Philadelphia 2011
I was fortunate to participate in the Contemplative Leaders in Action program from 2009-2011 in Philadelphia. Since that experience, I have had the opportunity to continue being a ‘contemplative leader in action’ through my daily work at New Visions Homeless Day Shelter in Camden, NJ. New Visions provides a variety of social services to homeless men and women; guests who are lonely, neglected, sick, and isolated from society. More than the individual social services, New Visions provides a sense of community, a sense of belonging, and ultimately, a sense of family to people who are lost and forgotten.
As we journey through the Advent season leading to Christmas, it’s important that we take time to reflect on God’s presence among us. A reflection by Blessed Oscar Romero (12.24.1979) frequently comes to my mind at this important time of year, “We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.”
At New Visions Homeless Day Shelter, I have the opportunity to see the face of Christ in the guests we serve. New Visions serves the least among us; guests who are challenged in a variety of ways. The guests are waiting for an opportunity to seek assistance with their mental or behavioral health, with their legal troubles, with their search for employment, and ultimately, with moving from ‘homeless’ to independent living. Our goal is to meet the guests where they are, build a relationship with them, assess their needs, and provide a support for them to get back on their feet.
As a ‘contemplative leader in action’, it’s important to lead by example, and treat the guests with love, dignity, and compassion. Also, I try to understand how my spiritual life can nourish and direct my leadership capabilities in my professional and personal life. I have the opportunity to encounter homeless guests, former homeless individuals who have moved on, volunteers who continue to commit themselves to serving the homeless, and donors and friends who support the mission. Advent continues to give me the opportunity to reflect on my role as a contemplative leader. I am blessed to journey with the guests that New Visions Homeless Day Shelter on a daily basis. Emmanuel – God with Us.
Dec. 12, 2017 - Mary Kate Blaine, CLA-New York 2010
I'm a high school principal. I work each day with 499 precious (and at times wonderfully precocious) teenage girls. My students are curious, kind, and have minds of their own--which is just the way I like it. Leading my students and their incredibly dedicated teachers is a challenge, a gift, an exercise in persuasion, and an opportunity for relationship.
I am a Contemplative Leader in Action when I remember to say thank you and when I remember to sit still. I do these things imperfectly--but I am nothing if not persistent.
Gratitude--in real time and at the end of each day--is an essential part of my day. Some days at school are filled with a happy cacophony of laughter, learning, and cooperation. Some days are filled with "curve balls"--a girl in need, a colleague in conflict, a burst pipe, a national conversation to respond to, etc., etc., etc. One of my favorite Jesuit professors in college used to remind us that "God is in the details" of our lives. So, when a student sticks her head in just to say hi, or a colleague offers an extra kind word after a presentation I've made, or the flood damage was minimal and everyone was safe, I do my best to say thank you--to the people around me... and to God. Some days I don't always know what to do with a puzzle in front of me. In those moments, I try to remember to thank God for inviting me into a moment of growth - for me, for others, for my community as a whole. Practicing gratitude helps me turn outward. When God has so blessed me, how can I not try to use my gifts to help others?
(Step One of the Examen: Check!)
In the past few years, I have learned that "sitting still" is a frame of mind and heart. I confess, I don't always have as much time as I'd like to be contemplative, but I believe God meets us where we are. I believe God can take my small moment of pause--when I ask for a quick dose of patience, or the right words to say, or a sense of peace as I discern a longer term decision--and help me find the peace, grace, or strength I need. I believe God knows when I reach out for help. I believe asking for that help is a way to humble myself and my own expectations of what "should be"--and to realize that God is in charge, and it's my job to act and respond in love, to the best of my ability. It can be that simple.
Dec. 7, 2017 - Deven Comen, CLA-Washington, DC 2017
One of the first exercises we did in CLA was to write our own "first principle and foundation" in the spirit of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. We were encouraged to consider what we believed to be the most meaningful motivating force(s) in our lives (or what we wanted to be the most motivating factors in our lives). I personally found the physical process of writing and re-writing my responses to be both grounding and inspiring. I was recording what it meant to be me.
Nearly two years later, when faced with a career crossroads (whether to stay in my current role which I loved or to take the risk with a new opportunity), I returned to my first principle. Within minutes of re-reading it, the decision I'd agonized over, made pros-and-cons lists for, and talked to several mentors and friends about was made. Tuning into my most CLA-laden, spiritually full self gave me the clarity to leap into the more ambiguous role I'd been offered. It was the role that would propel me to live more fully into my strengths and zeal for education. I half joke that my answer was on the page of my good ole CLA notebook. Now, about six months into this role, I am left with the consolation of a decision well made.
Dec. 5, 2017 - Daniel Flynn, CLA-Philadelphia 2015
Thinking about my call to live as a contemplative leader in action is a welcome exercise because it is a call I am not fully answering right now. Though there is always room for more action, I generally find myself overly gravitating to this aspect. It's easier for me--especially in the current political climate--to concentrate solely on action. To be sure, there is no shortage of work for peace and justice to be done these days. But what is the foundation of these actions? Are they rooted in a knowledge of myself, a love for the other, and a desire to serve God and the world? I don't think they have been recently. Advent is an opportune time to renew my commitment to contemplation. I want to use this next month as a chance to engage in holy listening, to slow down, and to allow myself to sit with joyful anticipation. In my thoughts, words, and works, I want to be a light for people struggling in the darkness. For me, this is the call for a contemplative leader in action.