“For the love of God…” were the words that launched the founding of our congregation, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. It is this same love of God that compels us to condemn the acts of violence against truth and democracy that we witnessed in our nation’s Capitol.
As citizens of the US, we were shocked but not surprised, that the rhetoric of hate that shapes the leadership of our country, permeated its very marrow, resulting in the needless death of 6 people and acts of domestic terrorism against the democracy we cherish.
Since 1890, we have partnered with people of color, with immigrants, refugees, and those seeking asylum in our country. Engraved in our hearts is the suffering they have endured and the hope they cling to – to live in a democracy supported by a constitution and a rule of law that sees all people as God sees them.
Words and behavior matter.
We call on all elected leaders, by voice and by vote, to condemn the violence and vandalism that erupted in our cherished institution and the hateful rhetoric that incited it.
We call on all Church leaders, by voice and behavior, to guide us to our best selves. Speak the truth of the gospel, offering hope that God is indeed with us.
We call on ourselves to look closely at our words and actions, to repent of complicity that leads to division, to seek transparency in our witness.
The way forward is not clear. We grapple with much that divides us. “For the love of God”, let us begin anew the conversation.
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a German mystic, theologian and philosopher. He was a member of the Dominican order. He spoke of the Feast of Christmas and the Eternal Birth borne by God and which God never ceases to bear in all eternity. He says, “but if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.”
During this year’s Advent time, I have been “sitting with” the words and meaning from the Christmas story: “…and there was no room in the inn.” Of course, that phrase calls to mind and heart all those in our world who are seeking refuge, acceptance and inclusion. How welcoming and inclusive am I/are we?
I reflect upon our Mission Helper outreach to women, men and children seeking asylum. Those who flee from unspeakable, unimaginable persecution to save their lives. They are bearers of the suffering, persecuted face of God. They are bearers of hope and incredible courage as they leave all to begin anew. What of my inclusion of those who may perhaps think or believe differently then I /we do? Can I/we make room for those people and life events that sometimes disappoint, exclude or dismiss me/us? Can I/we make room for God’s surprises?
The phrase further calls me to reflect on how open my heart is to make room for God. Do I welcome God into all of who I am? Do I sometimes try to hide from God and clutter my life, thus leaving little room for that still, small voice of a God? Have you noticed, usually in retrospect, how people and situations come into our life and stretch or challenge us to make room for a new way of being? We are all called to be bearers of God and to open ourselves to those many God bearers all around us. Do I allow the Light of Christ to illuminate those dark, fearful, broken parts of myself that can only be healed by the love and compassion of God?
This Christmas may we truly experience the awesome gift of God’s very self coming to dwell within and among us! May we welcome the Light of Christ that dispels the darkness and calls us to be light bearers. Let us celebrate Emmanuel – God with us!
We wish each of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year of peace and joy. We extend our deepest gratitude to all our dear friends, donors and families who assist and support us in our efforts to give birth to Christ—the true Light of the World! Let us continue to raise our hearts and voices in prayers for Peace.
Let me end this Christmas greeting by sharing the following reminder of the Divine’s call to become the bearers of God:
“Not to one but to many you have called: on the dancing wind come from the deepest forest come from the highest places come from the distant lands come from the edge of darkness come from the depth of fear and become the bearer of God.”
“Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words.” –Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
As I grappled before God over the horrific and senseless mass shooting in Orlando, Ignatius’ words echoed within me. From centuries ago, Ignatius joins the anguished voices of today, crying, “Don’t just pray, do something!”
Perhaps prayer is most pleasing to God when our relationship with God leads us to see the face of God in another, to be the face of God to another.
Hate terrorizes. Guns kill. Prayer acts.
The act of prayer takes place when we act for justice. We pray when we sign a petition for gun control, or we vote to ban the sale of assault weapons. We pray when we accept and embrace the differences in our faith, in our expression of love, in our gender, and in our culture.
We pray when we recognize mental illness as a disease and provide proper care and funding. We pray when our hearts are free from judgment.
Our hearts are broken. Our prayer is broken. Something tells me that one won’t be healed without the other.
(Image created by and used with permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart)
Pope Francis’ address to the joint session of Congress was an historical milestone. His message, not surprisingly, called on Congress and all Americans to be beacons of light and hope, especially for the poor, the elderly, the immigrant, the young – indeed, all God’s people. He called on all of us to put aside the polarizing stances that we often adopt and work together for the betterment of all people and the environment. Francis invoked four influential Americans in communicating his message: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. The text of his address, as published by America Media, is linked below.
Leave a comment below telling us what most inspired or challenged you about Francis’s address to Congress.
What does non-violence, forgiveness and reconciliation mean to you? How can prayer move the “enemy”? Here is a story that Fr. Robert Hamm, S.J., told a group of Mission Helpers, illustrating the mysterious and empowering gift of God’s grace.
Fr. Hamm was a Jesuit missionary priest in South Africa for 25 years. He presently directs a House of Prayer in Baltimore, Maryland. I share this truth:
“It took place in a courtroom trial in South Africa: a frail black woman about 70 years old slowly rises to her feet. Across the room and facing her are several white police officers. One of them is Mr. Van der Broeck, who has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman’s son and her husband some years before. Van der Broeck had come to the woman’s home, taken her son, shot him at point blank range and then set the young man’s body on fire while he and his officers partied nearby.
“Several years later, Van der Broeck and his men had returned for her husband as well. For months she knew nothing of his whereabouts. Then almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, Van der Broeck came back to fetch the woman herself. How well she remembers in vivid detail that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, ‘Father forgive them….’
“Now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confession offered by Mr. Van der Broeck. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, ‘So what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?’
“‘I want three things,’ begins the old woman calmly…‘I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.’
“She paused, then continued, ‘My husband and son were my only family. I want secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broeck to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining in me.’
She also said that she wanted a third thing. ‘This is also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Broeck in my arms and embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.’
As the court assistants came to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr. Van der Broeck, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. As he did, those in the courtroom – friends, neighbors, relatives – all victims of decades of oppression and injustice, began to sing, softly but assuredly, ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.’”
Reflection: What does non-violence, forgiveness and reconciliation mean to you?
–From the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). The LCWR is an association of the leaders of approximately 330 congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The Conference has about 1,500 members, who represent 90 percent of the 55,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States. Sister Loretta Cornell, MHSH President, Sister Dolores Glick, Vice President, and Sisters Elizabeth Langmead and Clare Walsh, Field Advisors, are LCWR members representing the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.
As we commemorate the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, let us reflect on the past ten years and how we have responded as children of God. We continue to pray for those families affected by the loss of loved ones and the many that were injured.
Though we as a country went to war to create solace through violence, we also saw the coming together of people of all faiths to try to understand each other in deeper and profound ways. We have witnessed some families of the victims who declared, “Not in our name!” coming together to call for peace during the most heart-rending times of their lives. People of faith have come together realizing that healing does not come through violence.
We also recognize the backlash against all Muslims, the hate speech and attacks that occurred using 9/11 as the reason. We were challenged by Saadia Khan, Civic Outreach Coordinator of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in our Resolution to Action: “It is the collective responsibility of all community and faith leaders to work together to ensure that the voices of hate and bigotry are not the loudest ones. Each of us shares the duty to direct the public discourse and educate our communities on accepting one another. If this type of hate speech and bigotry continues, it will affect the Muslim American youth the most.”
May what we have witnessed during the past ten years call us to recognize that which unites us more than that which divides—our common humanity. May we continue to pray for peace throughout the world and be bearers of forgiveness and reconciliation.
By Rosemary Thompson, Executive Director, P. Francis Murphy Initiative for Justice and Peace*
Perhaps the most magnificent teaching of our Catholic faith is the beauty of the Mystical Body. The concept that “what happens to one – happens to all” is both a call and an obligation. We are bound to one another through the love and grace of Jesus. There is something radical and essential in these simple words. We cannot live without one another. Nor can we allow suffering to occur without confronting the source and comforting the victim. As we approach Labor Day 2011 this teaching takes on even more meaning.
On June 29, 1894, The U.S. Congress voted to create Labor Day as a national holiday to honor working people’s contribution to society. Fast forward to September 2011 where unemployment in our nation is more than 9 percent—for people of color as high as 17 percent. These terrible statistics reflect a culture that spends more on war and weapons than on the needs of its people. And yet, we know that God hears the cry of the poor and marginalized. Our society is filled with people longing for full and satisfying employment. We need jobs that are fair, life-giving and just.
Labor Day needs to be more than symbolic or the last hurrah of summer. Labor Day can and should be a day of commitment to seek justice for all workers. The legacy of the American worker is rich. We cannot afford to stay on the slippery slope of wealthy bosses and unhappy workers who spend their days with too little income or self- esteem.
Labor Day is in fact a promise and a celebration of what we are called to become: A community where each of us has meaningful work at a just pay in a safe environment and where we all have adequate education, good medical care and safe housing.
We are the Mystical Body and what happens to one, happens to all.
*The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart is a sponsor of the P. Francis Murphy Justice and Peace Initiative (Murphy Initiative), which works collaboratively for social justice and peace. For more information on the Murphy Initiative programs go to: PFMjpi@missionhelpeprs.org.
In anticipation of Mother’s Day we invited sisters and staff to share brief memories of their mothers. In these reflections our posters recall moments of tenderness and joy, express appreciation for special talents that their mothers possessed and describe those personal characteristics of their mothers that they admire to this day. As you read these reminiscences we invite you to reflect on your own mother or mother figures in your life, and give thanks for the love, nurturing and good example that these women have given you. Let us also remember those mothers in areas of the world wracked by war, natural disaster, oppression, disease and poverty. We commend all mothers to the love and care of Mary – mother, teacher, healer and disciple. __________________________________________________________________________________
I think of my mother often during these spring days when all the flowers are in bloom. In a household of twelve, on an artist’s salary, there was no money for extras or frills, but my mother could make us feel rich and elegant just by decorating our large living room with bouquets of dogwood and azalea. Her love of beauty and sense of celebration that she taught us still enrich my life today.
–Sister Jane Geiger, MHSH, loving daughter of Antoinette Fuchs Geiger
When I was about four years old, on a beautiful summer day, Mom (Emily Viola) and I were in Prospect Park having a picnic near the lake. As we sat together Mom picked up some beautiful fresh green grass. She then started to teach me how to make a doll out of these stems of grass. To this day I treasure this memory of Mom and me together.
–Sister Madeline Gallagher, MHSH
No specific word or incident captures the “who” of my mother, Anna, for me. It was the example of her unconditional love and trust in God and humanity that helped mold the “who” and “how” of what my family and I are today. Thank you, dearest one.
–Sister Agnesine Seluzicki, MHSH
My mother, Catherine, was a model of steadfastness and fidelity. Her life was unalterably changed when my dad contracted polio in the early 1950’s when my brother and I were quite young. Her own “yes” to God and her family was tested in ways she could not have imagined. Through it all she was a loving, generous and faith-filled wife and mother.
At age 58, my mother, Jeannette, retired with my dad to Florida to enjoy the Gulf and play golf. She made time to tutor migrant children, give food to beggars on the street and always be a compassionate heart for the needy. At age 90, she continues to bring food to the church pantry for the needy. [Sr. Susan (left), Jeannette Engel (mom), and her sister Joanne.]
–Sister Susan Engel, MHSH
I’d like to take a moment to honor my mother, Mildred Lucian. Although she passed away three years ago, not a day goes by without me thinking of her and missing her. She was my rock and my best friend. I truly miss our “talks” and visits to the beach. God bless you Mom and may you rest in peace. Your loving daughter, Karen
My mother, Rosalie, was a woman of deep faith. She taught my family and me about the gentle love of Jesus, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the grace-filled love of God. Mom always treated others with respect and dignity. She saw Jesus in the other. This is the message she gave to us – love one another as Jesus would love you. She was a great witness to me, my family and to so many people.
–Sister Loretta Cornell, MHSH
Many, many years ago as I searched for a religious community to consider as a life choice, the young priest who was helping me spoke of a group of Sisters he had ministered with. He said of them: “Each one treats you like she’s your mother.”
That gave me a new slant on women religious. So I drove from West Virginia to Baltimore to meet these “mothers.” They were the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and I liked their many qualities. Here I am today at the age of 92 still trying to emulate and imitate them, all the while using the personal qualities they developed in my initiation and my life with them in Community.
The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart was founded in post-Civil War Baltimore more than 120 years ago. Thousands of freed slaves had headed north; many settled in Baltimore in the late 1800s. A book titled “The Catholic Church and the American Negro” describes the black community at the time: “It is now generally agreed that while the emancipation [of the slaves] was in one sense a great boon to the colored people, the manner in which the majority of them were thrown into an entirely different mode of life caused great evils…”
In Baltimore, Mary Frances Cunningham—later Mother Demetrias—was dismayed that the black children in the neighborhood of St. Martin’s Parish could not participate in religious education classes inside the church. She began teaching them on the church steps and later obtained permission to hold Sunday School classes for them in the church basement.
She visited the homes of the Sunday School children and the homes of other black children, getting to know the families and learning about their needs and their hopes. She set about finding solutions to the problems of these families.
She soon met three other women who were doing similar work elsewhere in Baltimore, and in August of 1890 they held a retreat to discern the will of God for their work. Afterward, they felt that “God willed the foundation of an institute devoted to the religious instruction of black people and that He willed that they should found it.”
Baltimore’s James Cardinal Gibbons—the first American Cardinal—was an early and staunch supporter of religious education for black children and was committed to forming a religious community “to take up the work for black people.” He accepted and approved the decision of the small band of women to form a congregation; a small house was rented and the first postulants were accepted for membership.
And so began the ministry of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.
By Anne Guinan, MHSH, Director, Mission Helper Productions
Mission Helper Productions has recently completed and released a 40-minute documentary entitled “Just to Live in Peace.”
Sister Caritas Kennedy, RSM, our Associate Director, and I have travelled extensively in the Holy Land producing a video Scripture course and leading tours. Each time we return home we realize that many American Christians have no idea there are thousands of Christians in the Holy Land. Many Arab Christians trace their heritage back to the first Pentecost!
As experienced videographers, we felt compelled to produce this documentary where residents of the Holy Land could speak for themselves and where viewers could see what life is really like there. The U.S. media seldom reports the ongoing abuses. We met with residents (young and old), educators, peace activists and key Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders.
We became increasingly distressed by the deteriorating conditions we found in the West Bank and Gaza. Now a 30-foot concrete wall is built on Palestinian land isolating the Palestinians. Bethlehem, for instance, is completely surrounded by the wall. Children who live only five miles from Jerusalem have never seen the Holy Sepulcher because of travel restrictions.
Palestinian homes are demolished and centuries-old olive groves are destroyed. Such collective punishment also includes rejection of Palestinian permits to build new homes and sudden curfews that cripple business and close schools.
We hope that those who see this DVD will join us in asking key questions: How are the billions of dollars the U.S. gives to Israel being used? Why are thousands of Palestinians still living in refugee camps in their own country or abroad, and why is Israel still occupying the West Bank and Gaza?
There is an old saying, “You have to go there to know there.” We offer this video to “show there” so the viewer can feel more personally acquainted with the people and the situation. Our hope and prayer is that the experience will motivate our fellow citizens to join in peacemaking in whatever way is possible for them.
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation has given its President’s Award to Sister Anne Guinan, MHSH, and Sister Caritas Kennedy, RSM, in recognition of their ongoing work for peace in the Holy Land.