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Saintly Snark – A Reflection for the Feast of St. Joseph

By Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Know any Christmas-y songs about St. Joseph? No? Well, I know only one, and I cherish it because it’s midrash-like: it goes behind the scene, and evokes a rich line of thought (one of the purposes of midrash).

Actually, the scene is set after Christmas, when Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus are fleeing to Egypt to evade Herod’s soldiers, coming to execute all baby boys who could pose a threat to Herod’s power (think “the Holy Innocents”, whom we celebrated a couple of days after Christmas, bringing us back with a thud from all the holiday sweetness and light).

It’s one long trek to Egypt by foot and donkey, so the family takes a break when Mary sees a cherry tree up ahead. Some juicy cherries sound wonderful to her, so the song reports her request of Joseph to pick some for her.

Snarkily, Joseph replies, “Let the father of the baby pick cherries for you.” Wow! Was he ruminating during that whole long trip over Mary’s pregnancy- without-his-involvement, and the resultant upending of all their happy plans together? (Unexpected pregnancies and other life-altering events have been known to make good, even saintly, people snarky and then some!).

There’s no record of Mary’s reply – perhaps she was stunned to silence by her spouse’s uncharacteristic testiness. But someone else does reply: that “father of the baby” causes the cherry tree to bend down far enough for Mary to pick her own cherries!

I suspect the stunned silence shifted to Joseph, who had to rejoice in such an emphatic affirmation of the baby boy’s true origin, putting to rest all Joseph’s anger, hurt and bitterness.

Of course, “The Cherry Tree Carol” is made up: there’s no mention of cherries in the scriptures, as far as I know. But in the department of “be careful what you wish for”, could this be any better a response?

So many conversations could grow from this rich, imaginative carol! What could you say to Joseph? To Mary? Even to baby Jesus?

A Spiritual Lesson from a Crown of Thorns Plant

By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min.

Recently I inherited a Crown of Thorns plant. The truth of the matter is no one wanted it. Out of partial neglect over recent years, it simply developed spidery wild projections of thorny branches with little to no signs of life. It only irritated your skin if you moved too near and touched it.

No family member wanted to discard the plant because it had been the favorite plant of their mother’s while she had been alive. Yet, no one took the time to care for it. It had become an annoyance because the plant was perceived as lacking beauty. It simply had become a lifeless plant. Each time I visited the family I commented on the care for the plant. I felt the plant simply entered a state of hibernation.

One day when I returned home from the University the Crown of Thorns plant was positioned at my front door. The family was moving. Because of my affirmation of the plant over the years, I inherited it. It remained at my front door for a few days. Did I really want to bring it into my apartment, care for it, continue to believe that life surged deep within it?

Yes. I took the time to study further how to care for my Crown of Thorns plant. I offered it the best light in my apartment by my study balcony window, proceeded to fertilizer, and water it according to the instructions, misting it occasionally; and, oh, yes, talking to it every day. In less than two weeks I observed the first showings of tiny green leaves emerge from the spidery branches. Within two months the plant radiated a headdress of bushy emerald leaves. Now I am waiting for its lush pink flowers to fill in the green headdress. Yes, life hibernated within it over the recent years. If you believe, you will see and discover the hidden beauty within and around you.

Frequently I find myself meditating on my plant during morning prayer as the morning sun streams through the window cuddling the plant. I imagine myself composing a parable centered on my Crown of Thorns experience. I discover parallels with spiritual life stories my University students share between classes, or while meeting them walking across campus. I patiently listen to their angst concerning the emptiness, dryness, fruitlessness they may be experiencing in their spiritual lives. “I am empty of any feelings toward God. Has God abandoned me?” “Where is God now in my life?” “Where can I experience God’s life igniting a fire within me?” “Why do some of my friends feel God’s closeness and love and I am so empty, lifeless?”

I found that sharing the encounter with my Crown of Thorns plant sparks a meaningful dialogue on nurturing our spiritual life. Just as a life force may have appeared to be depleted for a few years in my plant, with a little bit of care and attention the life force emerged with splendor. We may feel dryness, emptiness, a loss of life and meaning at certain moments in our lives. We are called to believe in the beauty and richness of a Divine Life Force/Energy (God) which may appear hidden but is present within us. God does not abandon us. We need only pay attention. God’s Divine Energy is constantly flowing within, through and around us. We need only be patient. We need to lean deeply into the Divine Life Force surging within us even in our bleakest hours. I encourage my students in such moments to pause and become mindful of God’s unconditional ceaseless love for them. Or, by contemplating or imagining the Divine Force surging within affirming, comforting and radiating God’s unconditional love flowing through every fiber of their being.

 

PS: Called “Euphorbia”, the Crown of Thorns is one of the few succulents with real leaves – thick, fleshy, and tear-shaped. The leaves appear on stems that are armed with sharp, inch-long spines. The plant gets its common name from the legend that the thorny crown worn by Jesus at his crucifixion was made from this plant.

Women of Strength

By Sr. Princess Mary Dawson, MHSH

The call is the motivating force that beckons us forward, no matter the doubts and fears. We are called to keep moving with the forces of the times as they change around us. We must trust that we are being led and are being called to lead. We must not give into our fears or false beliefs about who and what we are or what we can or cannot do. There is a force within us that guides and protects us no matter the unjust systems we confront in life.

We have been called from the beginning of time to be the birthing force of change in our world. We must not let apathy pin us to our seats but move onward, trusting even when the path forward isn’t clear.

The history of so many people who believed in Christ is full of accounts of humanity being moved to change. These peoples followed the guidance and prompting of God and courageously risked their very lives to see changes in vast systems of belief.

We are women who are meant to be unconstrained by the belief systems passed down by others. Instead, we must stand tall as we walk like Christ into a sinful world seeking, like Christ, transformation for all God’s peoples.

St. Joseph: Witness and Mentor During the Christmas/Epiphany Season

By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min.

 

St. Joseph is one of the patron saints of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. A careful read through our MHSH archives reverberates with attention St. Joseph receives through the gradual unfolding of MHSH history. Our prayer manual contains a beautiful prayer to St. Joseph.

 

 

 

Dear St. Joseph, man of God.

You, whose heart was always on fire

with love, and whose life was a

constant prayer and continual

contemplation, teach us the

perfection of the interior life.

Teach us how to model our hearts in

accord with the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Teach us how to live and labor for God

and our neighbor in the faithful

observance of our vows and commitments.

May we, after having honored and

imitated you on earth, eternally sing

with you, the mercies of Jesus, and

Mary.

St. Joseph, pray for us. Amen.

During these days of the Christmas/Epiphany Season we are reconnected with the two direct solitary references to St. Joseph by name in all of scripture. He does not speak. He listens. Both times it is in a dream that he encounters a call. Scriptures simply indicates he acts upon the call within the dream. He is the silent one in the crèche’ scene but the strength of his presence is the anchor for the early years of Jesus and Mary’s life.

St. Joseph demonstrates the power of listening, silence and acting upon the inner voice that calls us each and every day of our lives.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Exhortation “Redemptoris Custos: On the Person and Mission of Saint Joseph in the Life of Christ and of the Church.” The Pope writes: “He (Joseph) took her (Mary) in all the mystery of her motherhood. He took her together with the Son who had come into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this way he showed a readiness of will like Mary’s with regard to what God asked of him through the angel.” (#3) Through moments of ambiguity and unsettled questions, the Holy Family’s exodus into Egypt, and the remaining silent years, Joseph represents one who is open in deep listening to the movement of God and with complete confidence responds in faith.

Pope Francis’s pre-Christmas (December 23, 2019) reflection on the vocation of St. Joseph said: “The example of this meek and wise man calls us to raise our gaze and press ahead. The surprising logic of God isn’t about making calculations of what people will accept, but of opening their hearts “to new horizons, to Christ and his word.”

As Mission Helpers move forward into a new period of our history, we discover the silent, firm faith and presence of St. Joseph modeling for us the way into the future.

The Christmas Encounter

By Sr. Princess Mary Dawson, MHSH

 

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

 

The birth of Christ into the world was not one filled with the comforts one would expect.

The evening was cold and in some ways empty of joyous celebration – at least to the eyes of onlookers. The child came into the world with much love from his parents and with the air of mystery in their hearts.

 The infant Jesus’ birthing was bringing many gifts to the world. The gifts could not be wrapped, but instead would grow as Jesus would and be given to all who opened their hearts.

 Jesus is the loving gift of God to the world. The very son of God became small in the taking on of our flesh. Jesus in his humanity would feel our pain, grief, hunger and more. This child Jesus, born into the world, was given in love and was destined to teach us how to love.

All who would encounter Jesus would find they are loved completely without conditions and such loving would bring about transformation to many wounded hearts.

Jesus Christ, the infant born to us this day with a heart full of God’s love for each person, is the Christmas Encounter fully alive. There is no greater gift.

Being Advent People…for Life

By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH

Growing up in a tight knit Catholic, (Polish/German) faith community, I came to understand and appreciate the message, awe and beauty of the Advent season. 

The Advent wreath was the center of our homes, classrooms and parish. There was anticipation with lighting of each new Advent candle during the four weeks of Advent. Our religious imagination remained kindled with expectation, hope and the awareness that Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birthday was near.  I am delighted when I visit a family to discover the Advent wreath as the center of their home and Advent prayers become the fabric of their faith journey.

Many years ago I discovered the Advent homilies of Fr. Karl Rahner,SJ, a leading Catholic Theologian of the 20th Century.  His homilies enriched my understanding of the breadth and depth of the meaning of Advent. He reminded me that Advent is not only about the past but the present and future.

He wrote, “Advent demands that we look to the future: we are people of expectation and hope.”

Today we all need to embrace ‘hope’.  Advent brings a fresh perspective amidst the angst, stress, distractions and polarization we experience in our world today. If we embrace that we are ‘Advent people of expectation and hope’, this makes all the difference how joyfully we experience the Christmas Season. Contemplate that each of us can be a beacon of hope and promise during these Advent days within a world that experiences darkness instead of light.

 By reading select biblical narratives during Advent, we remember and celebrate God’s unconditional love for each one of us. This is one of the great mysteries we live each day: God with us ‘now’ but ‘yet to come’. 

How wonderful is this? It is only through the eyes of faith that we believe (embrace) the ‘newness of God’.  In one sense, we are referring to what we call is a Theology of Presence – a sense of sacredness to the now – the present moment.  With this awareness, we are people of expectation and hope. We live, move and breathe in a ‘sacred world’ of God’s spirit – alive, dynamic and energizing – inspiring us forward. 

Pope Francis consistently invites us to prepare for and experience an encounter with Jesus Christ. This is what Advent is all about. It is preparing our minds and hearts to be open to receive Jesus’ presence in our lives.

Fr. Rahner reminds us Advent means that every person and every Christian is and should be an Advent person- not just in this part of the church year, but also in his or her entire life. 

Therefore, there are many ways we can prepare our minds and hearts for living as Advent persons.  Prayer, sacraments, scripture reading, meditation, Lectio Divina and the study of our faith. It is in this spirit the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation offers a broad spectrum of online  e-courses and e-seminars to prepare us during the year to celebrate with depth, wonder and expectation the Advent Season.

Yes, we are women and men of expectation and hope. We are Advent People. Let us rejoice! 

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min, is the Director of The Institute for Pastoral Initiatives. IPI oversees many university and global projects, including the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation, a distance learning program serving 88 (Arch)dioceses worldwide for adults who want to enrich their faith, for religious educators, Catholic teachers,catechists, youth ministers or those interested in faith formation.  To see the complete online e-course list in English, Spanish & Arabic, go to VLCFF.UDayton.edu

 

Heart on Fire

By Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

(This post is the last in a six part series on “To Love Like Jesus: A Spirituality of the Heart”.  Each week, we have posted a reflection based on the Litany of the Heart by Wendy M. Wright.  To read the Litany, click here.  As Women of the Heart, the Mission Helper Sisters invite you to pray and reflect with us.) With us, ponder:

What would it mean to love like Jesus?
What would it mean to have a heart like his?

 

Warmth of our hearts
Transforming fire
Cosmic furnace
Enflamer of hearts
(Fifth stanza of Litany of the Heart)

 

The picture of the heart on fire that we have used as the icon for this series has captured my imagination since I first beheld it.  It evokes a number of images for me, including:

·         The energy of the “big bang” of eons ago that gave rise to all life forms – the creation into which Jesus was incarnated, the dynamic cosmos that God sustains still;

·         Jesus’ zeal as he continuously traveled, taught, reconciled and healed during the years of his public ministry;

·         The profound compassion of Jesus, as expressed in his sorrow for the widow of Nain, his weeping at the death of Lazarus, and as he was “moved by pity” for the dejected crowd;

·         Jesus’ white hot anger as he confronted injustice and abuse of power and stood up for the marginalized (for example, when he was opposed by the Pharisees as he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, when he chased the dishonest money changers from the Temple);

·         The warmth of the friendships between Jesus and his companions: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the beloved disciple, the other apostles and more;

·         Jesus’ courage and his love for all people that impelled him to accept torture and death, in the ultimate act of fidelity and solidarity with his Father and with God’s people;

·         The movement from despondency to soaring hope and new life that Mary Magdalene at the tomb (“Rabboni!”)  and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (“Were not our hearts burning within us…”) experienced when they realized that Jesus had indeed risen, and

·         The enflamed hearts of the apostles and disciples after Pentecost that enabled them to carry the Good News to the ends of the earth and which continue to burn in many present day disciples.

We, too, are invited to adopt the heart of Jesus in our own lives, to try to love as he loved, to have a heart like his.  As Jesuit James Martin says: “For in the end, the Sacred Heart is about understanding Jesus’s love for us and inviting us to love others as Jesus did.”

Will we embrace this invitation and resolve to imitate the heart of Jesus? If we do, perhaps the prediction of Teilhard de Chardin will come to fruition: “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

A Heart That Gives Life

By Sr. M. Judith Waldt, MHSH

(This post is part 5 in a six part series on “To Love Like Jesus: A Spirituality of the Heart”.  Each week, we will post a reflection based on the Litany of the Heart by Wendy M. Wright.  To read the Litany, click here.  As Women of the Heart, the Mission Helper Sisters invite you to pray and reflect with us during the next week, as we publish one reflection each week on this rich and inviting spirituality).With us, ponder:

What would it mean to love like Jesus?
What would it mean to have a heart like his?

 

 

Heart of Jesus, Hear our prayer!    

Womb of Justice

Birthplace of peace

Our dearest hopes

Longing of our lives

 

I am often reminded of the words of Meister Eckart who said, “Unmovable disinterest brings man (woman) into the likeness of God.  To be full of things is to be empty of God; to be empty of things is to be full of God. We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Taking to heart these words shown at the top of this post from the Litany of the Heart by Wendy M. Wright, I am challenged to ask myself, “What am I bringing to birth in the world today?”  Do I reflect the mercy of God in the womb of justice? What would that look like for you? In a reflection by Pope Francis he states, “Lord, let me be just, but just with mercy. In God justice is mercy and mercy is justice.”

What if each of us were to bring justice to birth? Can we strive to create a birthplace of peace in ourselves, in our homes, our borders, places torn apart by violence?

My dearest hope is that we will turn our swords in to plowshares. That our efforts to be a womb of justice, a birthplace of peace be woven into the longing of our lives.  That our efforts will bear fruit and will have a “pay it forward effect” in the lives and place of our world most in need of God presence.

“We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.”

Heart of Jesus, hear our prayer.

Forgiving, Grateful Heart

 

 

By Sr. Barbara Baker, MHSH

(This post is part 4 in a six part series on “To Love Like Jesus: A Spirituality of the Heart”.  Each week, we will post a reflection based on the Litany of the Heart by Wendy M. Wright.  To read the Litany, click here.  As Women of the Heart, the Mission Helper Sisters invite you to pray and reflect with us during the next 2 weeks, as we publish one reflection each week on this rich and inviting spirituality).With us, ponder:

What would it mean to love like Jesus?
What would it mean to have a heart like his?

Ever since Pope Francis became our Church leader, I have been struck by his constant reminder to us that we are called to be people of mercy and forgiveness.   He is urging us to let go of grudges, hurts, and slights – anything that keeps us at odds with others.     My reflection on the Litany of the Heart focuses on the last stanza, that asks us to have mercy, to develop a  gracious heart that leads us to gratefulness and tenderness towards all that comes into our lives—even through our dark days and difficult challenges.

The encyclical “Laudato Si” has captured my attention since it was published.  In the parish where I minister, we are trying to raise awareness that we each of us has been entrusted with the care of our common home.  We are people who like convenience to the point where we sometimes lose consciousness of how we ‘use’ things and even people for our own gain. Can we hear God’s invitation to think about where all good gifts come from? Can we cultivate gratitude for the generosity of the Giver of them?

 Once we realize the source of all our blessings, we begin to relate to our God differently.  We are called to treat people and things with respect and gratitude and to approach life with a tenderness that we would show to a newborn baby.  It is a process of conversion over a period of time.  It leads us to an insight that we are all connected and need to relate with one another.  We are called to ‘disconnect’ from our technologies more so that we can ‘connect’ with people and experiences.  With all the ‘isms’ displayed in our world (racism, sexism, etc.), how do we get in touch with how each of us embraces any of them so that we can rid ourselves of these biases?  How can we learn to love all ‘because’ of their differences and not in ‘spite’ of them?

We call upon the Heart of Jesus to hear us in our plea to learn how to love as He loves!  Take a long and loving look at your heart and hopefully you will see a love that indeed reflects His love a bit more each day.

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms of Love

By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH

(This post is part 3 in a six part series on “To Love Like Jesus: A Spirituality of the Heart”.  Each week, we will post a reflection based on the Litany of the Heart by Wendy M. Wright.  To read the Litany, click here.  As Women of the Heart, the Mission Helper Sisters invite you to pray and reflect with us during the next 3 weeks, as we publish one reflection each week on this rich and inviting spirituality).With us, ponder:

What would it mean to love like Jesus?
What would it mean to have a heart like his?

Where do you go when you need a helping hand and no one is around, or no one understands what you are going through.  Maybe you have experienced a major disappointment, lost a job or were turned down for a promotion.  Perhaps you feel alone, lost, confused, hopeless, unloved, or you do not know what to do or where to go.

 Do you remember that Jesus, the visual image of the Trinity, is always approachable and ready to lavish grace and love on anyone who asks?  The title of this reflection comes, in part, from an old spiritual that was popular in the days when pioneers were setting into the Southern and Western parts of the United States.  It was a long and dangerous undertaking.  Many travelers put their trust in God and hoped to survive the journey.  Where else could they put it?

 The section of the Litany of the Heart I choose to explore (eighth stanza) is near the end.  It highlights some qualities that Jesus can share with each of us in our life journey.  In fact, the entire Trinity wants to participate in this outpouring of grace.

 Here’s what the litany might suggest:

 Be our refuge when we feel alone, confused, and away from home.

 Be our shelter when we feel rejected, misunderstood, lost.

 Be our comfort when we don’t know where to go, or what to do when we are sick, confused or weary.

 Be our rest when we try too hard, are lost and alone along the way.

 Be our welcome breast when there seems to be nowhere to go, when we are hungry and cold.

 

 For reflection: What graces do you desire from God?  Do you ask in confidence?