In 2018 Richard Fos­ter pre­sent­ed this, his final major talk, to a group of pas­tors and church lead­ers cel­e­brat­ing the 40th anniver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline.

Ren­o­varé, found­ed by Richard in 1988, con­tin­ues to help peo­ple every­where become more like Jesus.

The video and edit­ed tran­script of the talk is below. It is also avail­able as an ebook for free down­load and as a paper­back for purchase.

View Book Page

Also avail­able from this con­fer­ence is Mimi Dixon’s talk, Lead­ing A Trans­for­ma­tive Com­mu­ni­ty.

My lit­tle chil­dren, for whom I am again in the pain of child­birth until Christ is formed in you …”
– Gala­tians 4:19

In June of 2018, a num­ber of Chris­t­ian pas­tors and min­istry lead­ers gath­ered at George Fox Uni­ver­si­ty for a three-day con­fer­ence. Dur­ing that time, we remem­bered with thanks­giv­ing the strides that have been made in the last four decades since the pub­li­ca­tion of Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline. Even more impor­tant­ly, we gath­ered to con­sid­er the best ways to faith­ful­ly min­is­ter to our peo­ple as they deal with the dai­ly strug­gles and joys of life in this first half of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.

To mark the occa­sion of the for­ti­eth anniver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion of Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline, I was asked to attempt to cast a vision for the next forty years. Now any attempt to pre­dict the future is risky busi­ness, so our efforts need to be under­tak­en with the utmost care and humil­i­ty of heart. So we pray: Dear Lord, enlarge our hearts and minds toward all those things that reflect the Trini­tar­i­an pas­sion. Amen.

Dis­cov­er­ing a The­ol­o­gy of Spir­i­tu­al Growth

Our world today cries out for a the­ol­o­gy of spir­i­tu­al growth that has been proven to work in the midst of the harsh real­i­ties of dai­ly life. Sad­ly, many today have sim­ply giv­en up on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of growth in char­ac­ter formation.

Vast num­bers of well-intend­ed folk have exhaust­ed them­selves in church work and dis­cov­ered that these things did not sub­stan­tive­ly change the inner life. They found that they were just as impa­tient and ego­cen­tric and fear­ful as when they began lift­ing the heavy load of church work. Maybe more so.

Oth­ers have immersed them­selves in mul­ti­ple social-ser­vice projects. And while the glow of help­ing oth­ers lingers for a time, they soon real­ized that all their Her­culean efforts left lit­tle last­ing imprint on the inner life. Indeed, it often made them much worse inward­ly — frus­trat­ed and angry and bitter.

Still oth­ers have a prac­ti­cal the­ol­o­gy that sim­ply will not allow for spir­i­tu­al growth. Indeed, they just might see it as a bad thing. Hav­ing been saved by grace, these indi­vid­u­als have become par­a­lyzed by it. For them, any attempt to make progress for­ward in the spir­i­tu­al life smacks of works right­eous­ness.” Since their litur­gies tell them that they sin in word, thought, and deed dai­ly, they have con­clud­ed that this is their fate until they die. Heav­en is their only release from this world of sin and rebel­lion. Hence these folk — good folk, well-mean­ing folk — will sit in the pew year after year with­out a mil­lime­ter of move­ment for­ward in the spir­i­tu­al life.

Final­ly, there is a gen­er­al cul­tur­al malaise that touch­es us all to one extent or anoth­er. I am refer­ring to how com­plete­ly we have become accus­tomed to the nor­mal­i­ty of dys­func­tion. The con­stant stream of scan­dals and bro­ken mar­riages and may­hem of every sort under­mines our sen­si­tiv­i­ty to moral integrity. 

Michael Ger­son has observed that our cul­ture is con­stant­ly shout­ing out to us, Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruth­less. Blessed are the shame­less. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.” This all-per­va­sive dys­func­tion in our cul­ture today makes it near­ly impos­si­ble for us to have a clear vision of spir­i­tu­al progress under God. Shin­ing mod­els of whole­ness and holi­ness are so rare today.

And yet echo­ing down through the cen­turies is a great com­pa­ny of wit­ness­es telling us of a life vast­ly rich­er and deep­er and fuller. In all human cir­cum­stances — good and bad and even trag­ic — they have found a life of right­eous­ness and peace and joy in the Holy Spir­it” (Rom 14:17) to be actu­al­ly pos­si­ble. They have dis­cov­ered that real, sol­id, sub­stan­tive trans­for­ma­tion into the like­ness of Jesus Christ is real­iz­able. They wit­ness to a deep char­ac­ter trans­for­ma­tion that is well-nigh amaz­ing. They have seen their own sin­ful thoughts and ego­cen­tric pas­sions give way to such a self­less­ness and humil­i­ty of heart that it has aston­ished even them. Rage and hate and mal­ice are replaced with love and com­pas­sion and uni­ver­sal goodwill.

There is a record of more than two thou­sand years of great ones in this life — Augus­tine and Fran­cis and Tere­sa and à Kem­p­is and Julian and many, many more. These were peo­ple who by fol­low­ing hard after Jesus became per­sons of absolute ster­ling char­ac­ter. The record is there for any­one who wants to see.

Incar­nat­ing a With-God Life into Dai­ly Experience

Now our first task — our great task, our cen­tral task — is incar­nat­ing this real­i­ty of a with-God life into the dai­ly expe­ri­ence of our peo­ple right where they live and work and cry and pray and curse the dark­ness. If we do not make sub­stan­tial progress for­ward here, all our oth­er efforts will sim­ply dry up and blow away. The actu­al sub­stance of our lives needs to be so dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent — trans­formed at the deep­est sub­ter­ranean lev­el — that every­one can see the dif­fer­ence and glo­ri­fy God, who has caused the difference.

But now, before we begin in earnest, it is crit­i­cal for us to remind our­selves that spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion is not a tool kit for fix­ing” our cul­ture or our church­es or even our indi­vid­ual lives. Fix­ing” things is sim­ply not our busi­ness. So we stout­ly refuse to use for­ma­tion work in order to save Amer­i­ca from its moral decline,” or to restore church­es to their days of for­mer glo­ry, or even to res­cue peo­ple from their destruc­tive behav­iors. Such form­ing, con­form­ing, and trans­form­ing real­i­ties belong to God alone. Please under­stand — there is plen­ty for us to do in this work, but trans­form­ing the human heart is a divine prerogative. 

We begin with grow­ing the human per­son before God. God has giv­en each one of us the respon­si­bil­i­ty to grow in grace.” You can­not do that for me and I can­not do that for you. We are to take up our own indi­vid­u­al­ized cross and fol­low in the steps of the cru­ci­fied and risen Christ.

All real for­ma­tion effort is heart work.” And for good rea­son, for the heart is the well­spring of all human action. All the devo­tion­al mas­ters call us con­stant­ly, repeat­ed­ly, almost monot­o­nous­ly, toward puri­ty of heart. For exam­ple, the great Puri­tan divines gave sus­tained atten­tion to this heart work,” as they called it. In Keep­ing the Heart, John Flav­el, a sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Eng­lish Puri­tan, observed, The great­est dif­fi­cul­ty in con­ver­sion is to win the heart to God. The great­est dif­fi­cul­ty after con­ver­sion is to keep the heart with God.… Heart-work is hard work indeed.”

Now in this heart work,” exter­nal actions are not the cen­ter of our con­cerns. Out­ward actions are whol­ly sec­ondary — a nat­ur­al result of some­thing far deep­er, far more profound.

The con­stant appeal of the devo­tion­al mas­ters to heart puri­ty is a pro­found word for you and me — pro­found” because we have a per­pet­u­al ten­den­cy to neglect this most impor­tant, most cen­tral, most crit­i­cal, heart work.” And the effects of this neglect are writ­ten across the face of human­i­ty. So we con­tin­u­al­ly cry out to God, Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way ever­last­ing” (Ps 139:23 – 24). 

You see, we are — each and every one of us — a tan­gled mass of motives: hope and fear, faith and doubt, sim­plic­i­ty and duplic­i­ty, hon­esty and false­hood, open­ness and guile. God knows our heart bet­ter than we can ever know our heart. God alone can sep­a­rate the true from the false. God is the only one who can puri­fy the motives of the heart.

The most impor­tant, the most real, the most last­ing work is accom­plished in the depths of our heart. This work is soli­tary and inte­ri­or. It can­not be seen or ful­ly under­stood by any human being, not even our­selves. It is a work known only to God. It is the work of heart puri­ty, of soul con­ver­sion, of inward trans­for­ma­tion, of life formation.

Let me attempt to describe what this process looks like. It begins by our qui­et­ing all crea­ture­ly activ­i­ty,” as the old writ­ers put it. We are to become still, even though every­thing around us feels dark.

James Nayler, a sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Chris­t­ian leader, coun­sels, Art thou in the dark­ness? Well, mind it not, for if you mind it, it will feed thee more. But stand still and act not and wait in patience until the Light of Christ aris­es out of dark­ness to lead thee.” 

So we wait, yield­ed and still. And when Jesus, the true light, which enlight­ens every­one” (Jn 1:9), comes to us, we turn toward the light of Christ. For some of us, this is an excru­ci­at­ing­ly slow turn­ing, turn­ing, till we come round right.” For oth­ers of us, it is instan­ta­neous and glo­ri­ous. In either case, we are com­ing to trust in Jesus — to accept Jesus not just as our Sav­ior but as our Life. We are born from above, as we read about in John 3.

But our being born from above, of neces­si­ty, includes our being formed from above. Being spir­i­tu­al­ly born is a begin­ning — a won­der­ful, glo­ri­ous begin­ning. It is not an end­ing. The heart is cleansed, but it has yet to be puri­fied. The work of the cross con­tains a dou­ble cure,” as the old hymn Rock of Ages” puts it.

Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wound­ed side which flowed,
Be of sin the dou­ble cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.

So often today we only speak of the first part of this work of the cross. We talk a lot about our being saved from wrath.” (And this is indeed a won­der­ful real­i­ty, isn’t it?) But as the hymn says, this work involves a dou­ble cure.” The sal­va­tion that is in Jesus Christ also aims to make us pure. You see, God’s intent is to turn us into the kind of per­sons that can safe­ly and eas­i­ly reign with God.

So now we are ush­ered into this new ongo­ing, liv­ing rela­tion­ship. As Peter puts it in his first let­ter, we have been born anew, not of per­ish­able but of imper­ish­able seed, through the liv­ing and endur­ing word of God.” God is real. Jesus is alive and active in our lit­tle affairs.

Now all real for­ma­tion work has a local address. We under­take these efforts in the con­text of the com­mu­ni­ty of faith. We pray togeth­er. We learn togeth­er. We laugh togeth­er. We weep togeth­er. We suf­fer together.

Through­out this for­ma­tion process, our task as pas­tors is sim­ply and pro­found­ly to be with our peo­ple in this heart work.” Jesus Christ is the Good Shep­herd, and we serve as under-shep­herds. And as under-shep­herds we are to have the smell of the sheep on us. So what do we do? We stand with our peo­ple. We pray with our peo­ple. We weep with our peo­ple. We laugh and sing and cel­e­brate with our peo­ple. And we also ask the vex­ing, puz­zling, heartrend­ing ques­tions with our peo­ple. We are there with our peo­ple regard­less of the out­come, even if this involves no more than help­ing to pick up the pieces when the results are tragic.

Chal­lenges We Face Today That Did Not Exist Forty Years Ago

Up to this point I have shared with you issues that were equal­ly true forty years ago when I first penned Cel­e­bra­tion of Dis­ci­pline. The need for the growth of the soul was true then and it is true now.

It is now time for us to con­sid­er issues that present new chal­lenges to our peo­ple today that did not exist forty years ago. I have four areas of con­cern here. 

1. Our Tech­no­log­i­cal Revolution

Per­haps the most obvi­ous change from forty years ago is the explo­sion of infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies in our day. Back when I wrote Cel­e­bra­tion, the Inter­net was bare­ly on the hori­zon. Cook­ies” were for eat­ing. Hav­ing a virus” meant we were sick. Hack­ers were unheard of. But now we have com­put­ers we can hold in our hands or strap to our wrists.

This tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion is not unlike the explo­sion of infor­ma­tion that was pro­duced by Guten­berg and his mov­able type in the fif­teenth cen­tu­ry. The big dif­fer­ence between these two rev­o­lu­tions is that today the changes are com­ing at us with light­ning speed.

And all this email­ing and tex­ting and tweet­ing have cre­at­ed one chal­lenge that does indeed impinge upon the spir­i­tu­al life. I can state this chal­lenge in one word: dis­trac­tion. Dis­trac­tion is the pri­ma­ry spir­i­tu­al prob­lem in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. Frankly, when we are per­pet­u­al­ly dis­tract­ed, we are unable to dis­cern the Kol Yah­weh, the voice of the Lord.

Oh for the day when all we had to do was turn off the TV if we want­ed soli­tude and silence! Now we click through an end­less stream of Inter­net links, read tweets from God knows who, check email con­stant­ly, text fam­i­ly and oth­ers, and mind­less­ly scroll through Facebook.

Even more insid­i­ous are the ways we are bom­bard­ed by the broad dis­trac­tions of con­stant noise, con­stant demands, con­stant news. Every­one, it seems, wants us to be acces­si­ble 24 – 7 and to respond instant­ly to any and every request. If we delay answer­ing an email for even an hour or two, peo­ple become wor­ried that some­thing is wrong with us. Neu­ro­science stud­ies are now show­ing us that the neur­al path­ways of our brains are being rewired accord­ing­ly, so that our phys­i­cal capac­i­ty for sus­tained atten­tion is decreasing.

We, of course, com­plain end­less­ly about our wired world. But — let’s be hon­est — we do enjoy our tech­no­log­i­cal gluttony.

So we need a dis­cern­ing, life-giv­ing tech­no­log­i­cal asceti­cism. I work on these mat­ters in my new fore­word to the for­ti­eth-anniver­sary edi­tion of Cel­e­bra­tion, so I’ll let you read about it in the book. I did learn one thing this past week. If we will fast from food peri­od­i­cal­ly it will help to tem­per the spir­it of con­stant­ly grasp­ing for con­trol, and this will make it eas­i­er for us to fast from tech­nol­o­gy now and again. 

2. The Loss of a Chris­t­ian Consciousness

A sec­ond chal­lenge I want us to think about is the loss of a Chris­t­ian con­scious­ness in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture. To say it blunt­ly, church life — its sto­ry and its cul­ture — is today lost to vast num­bers of pre­cious peo­ple. When I wrote Cel­e­bra­tion, rough­ly 45 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion attend­ed church. I don’t know what the sta­tis­tic would be today, but it is clear­ly much less than it was forty years ago.

Now please under­stand me — I’m not so much con­cerned about get­ting church atten­dance high­er as I am about how we can min­is­ter life to peo­ple today right where they are.

Do you remem­ber the old parish sys­tem where a pas­tor or priest had respon­si­bil­i­ty for the spir­i­tu­al wel­fare of every­one in that parish, regard­less of whether they ever attend­ed church or not? This is the par­a­digm I am think­ing about.

Thomas Mer­ton tells the sto­ry of the Russ­ian spir­i­tu­al direc­tor who spent a large amount of time talk­ing with a lady in the vil­lage about her turkeys. When he was crit­i­cized for invest­ing so much time and ener­gy talk­ing with this lady about some­thing so triv­ial, he replied, It’s not triv­ial to her. To her these turkeys mat­ter. Don’t you under­stand? This woman’s whole life is in those turkeys!”

Long ago, when I was pas­tor­ing in Ore­gon, I became acquaint­ed with a gen­tle­man who lived out in the won­der­ful­ly wood­ed forests of the North­west. He was a pot­ter. Per­haps the phrase ceram­ic artist” is a bet­ter descrip­tion. He was most cer­tain­ly an artist, and I enjoyed watch­ing his skill at spin­ning a pot and carv­ing designs and fir­ing his pots in his large kiln. 

Years ear­li­er he had served as an asso­ciate pas­tor in a promi­nent church. But as some­times hap­pens, he had been ter­ri­bly beat­en up by the reli­gious sys­tems of his denom­i­na­tion. So he left orga­nized reli­gion, nev­er to return. He didn’t talk about it much, but the wounds were so deep that the idea of going into a church house was sim­ply not an option for him. Even so, his faith in Jesus and his deep Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al­i­ty was mov­ing to me. As we would meet now and again out at his stu­dio in the woods, I learned about sor­row and bro­ken­ness and grief. I also saw his light shine bright­ly; and I learned how a life could be re-shaped and re-formed into a thing of beau­ty, just like he did with the clay.

Now in this mat­ter of the loss of a Chris­t­ian con­scious­ness, we who work in spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion have a dis­tinct advan­tage. You see, we are not focused on the mod­ern ABCs of church suc­cess: Atten­dance, Build­ings, and Cash. No. No. No. Our focus is on the growth of the soul. And this can be done any­where and under any cir­cum­stance. Indeed, it is best done smack in the mid­dle of the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of ordi­nary life. 

3. Liv­ing Coura­geous­ly through Dark Times

Now I am hes­i­tant to speak with you about this third issue sim­ply because it con­tains some hard words for us to hear and you might end up hear­ing noth­ing else I say. I hope this will not be the case. What is this third issue?

I believe an impor­tant pas­toral task in the years to come will be for us to pre­pare our peo­ple to live coura­geous­ly through dark times. Friends, we live in a wilder­ness of cul­tur­al unbe­lief. Our soci­ety in gen­er­al now sees evan­gel­i­cals as hyp­ocrites who have sur­ren­dered their moral author­i­ty to the social and polit­i­cal cur­rents of the times. And sad­ly, friends, we too often deserve the cri­tique, and we need to repent of our com­plic­i­ty in the pow­er struc­tures of our day. We may even be wit­ness­ing the emer­gence of a new dark age. So we need to teach our peo­ple to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.

Now I know this may sound a bit like rhetor­i­cal exag­ger­a­tion to some of you …

But if you are able to speak heart to heart with women who have been sex­u­al­ly abused and mis­used, then you under­stand what I mean.

If the teenagers in your youth group feel free to share with you their fear of being shot while at their high school, then you under­stand what I mean.

If your church con­tains immi­grant peo­ple who live in con­stant fear of hav­ing their chil­dren tak­en from them, then you under­stand what I mean.

If you know African-Amer­i­can par­ents who are pet­ri­fied that their chil­dren will be shot when they walk out the front door, then you under­stand what I mean.

I am sad­dened to say these things. I wish I could speak instead about sweet­ness and light and how a great new revival is just around the cor­ner. But I can­not. And we should not. If we are to speak truth to pow­er, we need to stand with Jere­mi­ah of old, who right­ly diag­nosed the dis­tort­ed lan­guage of his peo­ple, who were say­ing “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14). And today the fear-based nar­ra­tives of racism and xeno­pho­bia, pro­tec­tion­ism and white suprema­cy, have per­me­at­ed the very fab­ric of Amer­i­can soci­ety. This, friends, is not the way of Jesus Christ.

Because we care deeply about gen­uine spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion in our­selves and in our peo­ple and in our cul­tur­al land­scape, we need to ask: Is there any­thing we can do about the moral squalor that abounds today? Oh yes, a great deal!

If we real­ly want to be a coun­ter­cul­tur­al peo­ple, I sug­gest first of all that we sim­ply shut up and lis­ten.” We lis­ten to our neigh­bor. We lis­ten to the angry. We lis­ten to the fear­ful. We lis­ten to the bruised and the bro­ken. We lis­ten, sim­ply listen.

Next, we wait. Patient­ly. In faith. In hope. All the while we hold forth a flick­er­ing but inex­tin­guish­able light in the midst of the approach­ing dark­ness. We hold tight­ly to the promised word of the prophet Isa­iah: The peo­ple who walked in dark­ness have seen a great light” (Isa 9:2). Oh friends, how we need to recap­ture the good news of the evan­gel, which brings light to over­come dark­ness, hope to trans­form despair, and peace to con­quer the vio­lence of this emerg­ing age.

Third, our lis­ten­ing and our wait­ing leads us to show forth a unique and coun­ter­cul­tur­al way of liv­ing and speaking …

where jus­tice and mer­cy are extend­ed to all peoples;

where prayer­ful civil­i­ty con­quers angry rhetoric;

where com­pas­sion reach­es out to the poor, the des­ti­tute, the hungry;

where plain, hon­est speech over­comes deceit and duplicity;

where gen­tle­ness, gen­eros­i­ty, empa­thy, and kind­ness gov­ern our lives, our neigh­bor­hoods, and our nations; 

and where love reigns over all. 

4. Nar­cis­sism Is the Spir­it of the Age

Final­ly, I would like us to con­sid­er an issue that is par­tic­u­lar­ly unique to our day in a way that sim­ply was not the case forty years ago. In the con­tem­po­rary scene today, nar­cis­sism is the spir­it of the age. I wish I could say it more gen­tly, but there it is. It is in the very air we breathe …

this extreme self-centeredness;
this total self-absorption;
this exag­ger­at­ed sense of entitlement;
this utter self-obsession.

As you know, the word nar­cis­sism comes from Greek mythol­o­gy, where Nar­cis­sus fell in love with his own image reflect­ed in a pool of water. And today our self­ie-obsessed, celebri­ty-dri­ven cul­ture has tak­en the van­i­ty of Nar­cis­sus to the nth degree.

Friends, nar­cis­sism has no place in pas­toral min­istry. We sim­ply must knock the spir­it of nar­cis­sism in the head if we expect to mir­ror the exam­ple of Jesus — Jesus who emp­tied him­self” and became a per­son of no rep­u­ta­tion (Phil 2:7). In this pas­sage, the wise apos­tle Paul adds, Do noth­ing from self­ish ambi­tion or con­ceit, but in humil­i­ty regard oth­ers as bet­ter than your­selves. Let each of you look not to your own inter­ests, but to the inter­ests of oth­ers” (Phil 2:3 – 4).

In Colos­sians, Paul is even more emphat­ic: Put to death, there­fore, what­ev­er in you is earth­ly: for­ni­ca­tion, impu­ri­ty, pas­sion, evil desire, and greed (which is idol­a­try) … anger, wrath, mal­ice, slan­der, and abu­sive lan­guage” (Col 3:58).

The devo­tion­al mas­ters had a won­der­ful recipe for deal­ing with the spir­it of nar­cis­sism. It is cap­tured in a dou­ble phrase that at first glance seems like a con­tra­dic­tion in terms, but upon care­ful exam­i­na­tion we dis­cov­er how very pow­er­ful the two com­po­nents work togeth­er to deliv­er us from our nar­cis­sis­tic han­ker­ings. The dou­ble phrase is con­temp­tus mun­di and amor mun­di: con­tempt for the world” and love for the world.”

It starts with con­temp­tus mun­di—our being torn loose from all earth­ly attach­ments and ambi­tions. This, in God’s time and in God’s way, will lead us into amor mun­di—our being quick­ened to a divine but painful com­pas­sion for the world.

In the begin­ning, God plucks the world out of our hearts—con­temp­tus mun­di. Here we expe­ri­ence a loos­en­ing of the chains of attach­ment to posi­tions of promi­nence and pow­er. All our long­ing for social recog­ni­tion is cru­ci­fied. The desire to have our name in lights begins to appear puny and tri­fling. Slow­ly, ever so slow­ly, we begin to let go of all manip­u­la­tive con­trol, all human pow­er plays, all man­ag­ing of sit­u­a­tions to make us look good. Freely and joy­ful­ly, we begin liv­ing with­out guile. A glo­ri­ous detach­ment from all that this world offers over­takes our mind and heart and spir­it. Con­temp­tus mun­di.

Then, just when we have become free from it all, God hurls the world back into our hearts—amor mun­di—where God and we togeth­er car­ry the world in infi­nite­ly ten­der love. We deep­en in our com­pas­sion for the bruised, the bro­ken, the dis­pos­sessed. We ache for and pray for and labor for oth­ers in a new way, a self­less way, a joy-filled way. Our heart is enlarged toward those on the mar­gins: the orphan, the wid­ow, the sojourn­er, the refugee. Indeed, our heart is enlarged toward all peo­ple, toward all of creation.

It was this real­i­ty, this amor mun­di, that hurled St. Patrick back to Ire­land to be the answer to its grind­ing spir­i­tu­al poverty.

It was amor mun­di that thrust Fran­cis of Assisi into his world­wide min­istry of com­pas­sion for the lep­er — indeed, for all peo­ple, all ani­mals, all creation.

It was amor mun­di that drove Eliz­a­beth Fry into the hell­hole of New­gate Prison, which led to her great work of prison reform.

It was amor mun­di that caused William Wilber­force to labor his entire life for the abo­li­tion of the evil slave trade.

It was amor mun­di that com­pelled William and Cather­ine Booth to serve tire­less­ly among the home­less of Lon­don, which led to the found­ing of the Sal­va­tion Army.

It was amor mun­di that sent Father Damien to live and suf­fer and die among the lep­ers of the Hawai­ian island of Molokai.

It was amor mun­di that pro­pelled Moth­er Tere­sa to min­is­ter among the poor­est of the poor in India and through­out the world.

And it is amor mun­di that com­pels mil­lions of ordi­nary folk like you and me to min­is­ter life in Christ’s good name to our neigh­bor — our nigh-bor,” the per­son who is near us.

Let me share with you a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence that hap­pened to Frank Laubach on the island of Min­danao in the Philip­pines in the 1930s. While on Min­danao, in expe­ri­ence after expe­ri­ence, God killed in Laubach all his sense of priv­i­lege and sta­tus and racial supe­ri­or­i­ty—con­temp­tus mun­di. Then God gave him a prayer exper­i­ment that taught him to embrace the whole world—amor mun­di. Lis­ten to Laubach’s own words:

This after­noon has brought a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence. I closed my eyes to pray and I saw the faces of those before me,
… then those in the hous­es nearby,
… then those down the line, and across the river,
… and down the high­way in the next town,
… and the next, and the next,
… then in con­cen­tric cir­cles around the lake, and over the moun­tains to the coast,
… then across the sea to the north,
… then over the wide ocean to California,
… then across Amer­i­ca to the peo­ple whom I know,
… then over to Europe to the peo­ple whom I have met there,
… then to the Near East where my mis­sion­ary friends live,
… then to India where I have oth­er friends,
… to oth­ers in China,
… and to the mul­ti­tudes who are suf­fer­ing the dread­ful pangs of cold and star­va­tion — around the world in less than a minute, and for a time the whole of my soul seemed to be lit up with a divine light as it held the world up to God!

Amor mun­di.

Let’s pray …

O Lord, whose life and light and pow­er is over all, would you touch the deep­est cham­bers of our heart:





May we enter the com­pas­sion of Jesus on every lev­el of dai­ly expe­ri­ence. Lov­ing Lord, please … 

puri­fy our spirit,

renew our mind,

sanc­ti­fy our imag­i­na­tion, and

enlarge our soul.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


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