Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, BCC, PCC
April 19th, 2020
Excerpt from

A Pocketful of Sundays
In God's kingdom, all are welcome -- sinners and derelicts, the blind and the maimed, those in disgrace and those who are broken-hearted.

In God's Kingdom, there is no such thing as a person who is not in good standing. No one is "intrinsically disordered," nor is anyone beyond God's grace.

In God's Kingdom, prodigals come home and older brothers and sisters welcome them.

In God's Kingdom, the last are first and those who were first gladly step aside.

In God's Kingdom, everyone gets paid the same, even those who show up when the work day is almost over.

In God's Kingdom, all seed falls on good soil and the birds of the air look for worms instead.

In God's Kingdom, there is no more weeping, no more mourning; instead, tears are turned into laughter -- not into restrained smiles but into loud, side-splitting laughter which shakes the very heavens ...

Stewart, Elizabeth-Anne. C.2009

  1. How are you coping with this time of forced seclusion? Does it bring out the best in you or the worst in you?
  2. If you live with others, do you help lift them up or do you drag them down with your negativity?
  3. If you live alone, how are you staying connected to the significant people in your life?
  4. What difference is Faith making to your time of isolation?
  5. How can you use this time to grow spiritually?


Sacred Union through Lectio Divina
Infinity Foundation, Highland Park, IL
Saturday, April 25th,
9:00 a.m.-noon
* Class now virtual, via Zoom! Join from anywhere!

Beyond God
The Well Spirituality Center , LaGrange Park, IL
Summer Institute,
June 26-27, 2020

Out of Your Comfort Zone
Infinity Foundation, Highland Park, IL
Sunday, August 2nd,
1:00-4:00 p.m.

Decoding the Archetypes that Drive Us
Theosophical Society, Wheaton, IL
Thursday, Sept. 24th, 2020
7:00-8:30 p.m.

Balancing Archetypes
Theosophical Society, Wheaton, IL
Saturday, Sept. 26th, 2020
2:00-5:00 p.m.

Mind-Shifting Imagery
ICF (International Coaching Federation) Midwest Regional Conference, Madison WI
October 1-3, 2020

Greetings, Readers!

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
JN 20:31

These lines from today's Gospel bring to mind new policies from the Vatican regarding group absolution and special plenary indulgences for those on the front lines and for those who, gravely ill, may die without "Last Rites." For a full commentary on this, I encourage you to read the NCR article by Joshua J. McElwee (March 20th, 2020).

While I applaud the pastoral needs the new policies address, especially in the age of COVID-19, the underlying reasons why these policies are necessary warrant further reflection. For many Catholics, the very idea of dying without receiving the sacraments, or of living without having access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is deeply disturbing. Generations of the faithful, especially those born before 2000 C.E., have been taught to pray for a "happy death" -- that is, for a death where one receives sacramental comfort and can prepare for the life to come. In some cultures, it is traditional for obituaries to state that the deceased, "went to meet the Risen Lord comforted by the rites of Holy Church," or words to that effect. The fact that their loved ones received pastoral care before they died is a source of comfort to those who are left behind, and, certainly, those who are close to death also derive consolation from being anointed and from receiving the Eucharist.

The issue as I see it is that a "happy death" is not everyone's experience. During the current pandemic, people are dying alone, deprived not only of sacramental comfort but also of the presence of loved-ones. The sad reality is that many believers never actually get to experience the much-desired "happy death." For those who die suddenly-- perhaps the victims of crime, warfare, accidents, natural disasters-- there is no opportunity for pastoral care. This is also true for those who live in parts of the world where access to spiritual care is infrequent. Death becomes a doorway to traverse alone, without human companionship or religious intermediaries.

And this is where I believe spiritual formation is needed. For anyone to be terrified not just of dying but of God's judgement and the possibility of hell is both cruel and unnecessary. In years past, religious instruction stressed the sinfulness of humankind and the punishment awaiting those who failed to repent. This was especially true for my generation of 'Boomers and for those who preceded us. Instead of learning about the love and mercy of an all-loving God, we were taught to focus on our own utter unworthiness and the horrific outcomes for the afterlife if we failed to confess our sins. How many people in their 70's, 80's and 90's are now terrified of hell and damnation because they are unlikely to have a "happy death"?

The pastoral wisdom and compassion behind the present Vatican policies on general absolution are to be commended; however, what remains to be done is to re-frame the message the faithful receive regarding God's love and forgiveness. Whether or not we receive Last Rites, the love of Christ extends beyond the tomb, inviting us, worthy or not, into the world to come; ultimately, what makes our death "happy" is that Love itself awaits us on the other side.

Easter Blessings!

Be well/ Stay well!

PS Try my spiritual self-assessment tool! I hope you find it useful!


On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, in the place where the disciples were, for fear of the authorities,
Jesus came and stood in their midst, saying, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. And he said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
When he had said this, he breathed on them, saying,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
JN 20:19-31

In 40 years of penning scripture reflections for the Sunday liturgical readings, I must have commented on this text at least 40 times, and, each time, I am drawn to the same image of locked doors. I could focus on the descent of the Holy Spirit or on Thomas' refusal to believe, but I always return to those doors -- the same doors that lock out a world of possibility and lock in FEAR.

In some ways, these doors mirror our own experience in the COVID-19 "lock-down." Those of us who are sheltering in place or observing quarantine lock ourselves in to lock out the virus. Our doors are barred against social interaction and the outside world; if we venture out for brief exercise or a hurried trip to the grocery store, we "suit up" like medical pros and de-contaminate upon return. Even packages and food deliveries require disinfecting. Safely inside, we lock our doors, assuming we are now "safe."

Locked in their upper room, the disciples hoped they were safe from both the religious and secular authorities; they were terrified of ending up the same way as Jesus-- tortured, shamed, nailed to a cross. However, the very doors that locked out their enemies, locked in FEAR, along with confusion, sadness, guilt, apathy, disbelief and other negative emotions. Only when the Risen Christ burst into their midst were the disciples able to experience joy instead of fear; only when he breathed upon them were they able to receive his Spirit in preparation for the work of evangelizing that lay ahead of them -- work that lay beyond locked doors and beyond all limitations.

What have we locked inside our homes? For some, it may be anger, bitterness, disappointment. For others, it may be boredom, restlessness, irritation. Some may be enjoying "downtime" while others may become easily irritated, unreasonable, aggressive, even violent. There are those who are finding working from home to be extraordinarily stressful while others, now unemployed, worry they will never find employment again. For many, what is locked inside is more lethal than what is locked outside.

How each of us navigates this time of being "locked-in" will depend not only upon our personalities but also upon our spiritual resilience. Christ stand outside our doors, knocking -- are we ready to let him in?

If you have canceled your retreat because of the coronavirus, you may want to think about a virtual alternative. I will be available for group or individual "virtual retreats" (by phone or Zoom) from May 15-August 15. Please contact me by email for more information. Thank you!
This video explains my approach to this ministry, while my website provides further details as well. I work "in person" as well as remotely by phone, Zoom or Skype; I am also available to facilitate retreats for groups and individuals.
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart |

C. All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,