Preparing the Way

A Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH

Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120620.cfm

During Advent in the northern hemisphere, we observe a shortened span of daylight.  For many people, this can bring on a downturn in mood, and some even suffer from a condition known as seasonal affective disorder.  This darkness can extend to our spiritual lives as well.  How then do we bring more “light” into our lives and the lives of others?  Lighting our Advent candles is one way of keeping vigil as we await the birth of Jesus, and the rituals we observe around the candle can bring a sense of hope and joy.  During this season we might also try to rid ourselves of egotistical tendencies and some of the “busyness” in our lives and spend some quality time in prayer and reflection, calling to mind who we really are in the sight of God.

In the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist say:

“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In his book, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent, Richard Rohr, OFM states:

“John the Baptist’s qualities are most rare and yet crucial for any reform or authentic transformation of persons or groups.  That is why we focus on John the Baptist every Advent and why Jesus trusts him and accepts his non-temple, offbeat ritual, while also going far beyond him.  Water is only the container; fire and Spirit are the contents, John says. Yet if we are not like the great John, we will invariably substitute our own little container for the real contents.  We will substitute rituals for reality instead of letting the rituals point us beyond themselves.

John the Baptist is the strangest combination of conviction and humility, morality and mysticism, radical prophecy and living in the present. This  son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a man born into privilege who dresses like a hippie; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything, creating his own water baptism and then saying that what really matters is the baptism of “Spirit and fire”!  He is a living paradox, as even Jesus said of him: “There is no man greater than John…but he is also the least” in the new reality that I am bringing about (Matthew 11:11). John both gets it and does not get it at all which is why he has to exit stage right early in the drama.  He has played his single and important part, and he knows it.  His is brilliantly a spirituality of descent, not ascent.  “He must grow bigger; l must grow smaller.”  (John 3:30).

The only way such freedom could happen is if John learned to be very empty of himself already as a young man, before he even built his tower of success.  His ego was out of the way so much so that he could let go of his own ego, his own message and even his own life.  This is surely the real meaning of his head on a platter.  Some have cleverly said that ego is an acronym for “Edging God Out”.  There’s got to be such emptiness, or we cannot point beyond ourselves to Jesus, as John did.  Such emptiness doesn’t just fall into our laps; such humility does not just happen. It is surely the end product of a thousand letting-goes and a thousand acts of devotion, which for John the Baptist gradually edged God in.”

For Reflection:

How do you manage to schedule some down time in your day? Can you make this a priority during Advent?

How are you bringing more “light” into your own life, and the lives of others during this season?

Do you keep a journal to help you track your progress?

How is your spiritual life one of “ascent” or “descent”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching and Waiting in Chaotic Times

A reflection for the first Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH
President, Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart

Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112920.cfm

 

Our Advent season opens with Jesus saying to his disciples, “Be watchful! Be alert!”  Again, at the end of our Gospel reading Jesus says, “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”   Watch for what?  Watch for who?  This Advent season is like no other as we live in this time of Covid-19 with great unrest and division in our country and in the world.  We wait for healing, we wait for peace, we wait for a vaccine.  We focus our Advent waiting and watching on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior.  In faith, we trust that Emmanuel God is with us.  In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we are reminded of the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus.  We are reminded that as we wait, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  We have all that we need to prepare.  This time of Advent – this time before Christmas, we are given the invitation to deepen our awareness of God’s love for us and for all the world.  Just as Mary prepared for the birth of Jesus, we are invited to ready that space within us for something new to be born.  As we wait to welcome the Light of the world, we are called to be light for the world.  What does that mean in your life?  What would a deeper awareness of God’s love look like in your life?

 

We know that we come to discover our selves in and through our relationships.  Advent is an opportunity to take some time, to make some space in our busy lives to sit in quiet and deepen our relationship with God.  Tell God what it is you hope for, ask God to help you let go of whatever keeps you from loving with an open heart.  Confide your fears and concerns to God who loves and cares for you more than you can imagine.  Become aware of who you are becoming during this Advent season, not just about what you are doing.  As you wait, you may want to invite Mary and/or Joseph to wait with you.  Try to imagine their preparation, their hopes and dreams, their fears and concerns.

 

We pray, ‘Come Lord Jesus, come into our waiting, keep us alert and watching as we awaken anew to your presence within us and all around us.  Thank you for this time and may we use it to deepen our commitment to follow you and be instruments of your peace.’

 

 

 

 

 

The Passion in Real Time: A Triduum Reflection in a Global Pandemic

By Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH

Holy Week is more palpable this year than most of us imagined possible. We are experiencing the passion played out in real time.

We are confined, masked, distanced as health care workers offer themselves so others may live, while essential workers help to carry the cross thus making the way less burdensome. Neighbors being neighborly, looking out for the most vulnerable. A Holy Week where we “keep watch”.

This is an anxious time, “a night different from all other nights”. Questions arise from deep inside our being. Throughout scripture, Jesus posed questions to engage us, perhaps none with more urgency than those questions asked during his passion and death.

His questions probe, drawing from life as it emerges, and looking for a response hidden within us. The questions of Jesus are where prayer has always been valid. The initiative is always His. The graced response is ours. In his questions, Jesus holds us within his gaze.

We cannot use Holy Week to escape COVID19…this global pandemic calls us to solidarity as we share suffering with our sisters and brothers around the world.

Jesus’s deepest desire is to be in relationship with us.

Would you want to spend some time these days allowing Jesus to lovingly ask you the questions he voiced in the darkest of times?

Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?

 

  Do you know what I have done for you?

 

 And, what shall I say?
Father, save me from this hour?

 

 Whom are you looking for?

 

 Shall I not drink the Cup given to me by my Father?

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

God Bless us all these holy and frightening days. We wait in faith-filled Hope.

The Stations of the Cross Chaplet: Journeying Together During Holy Week

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

 

Several years ago, while in Assisi, Italy with my University of Dayton students, I encountered the Stations of the Cross Rosary, or Chaplet, as it is to be called.  We were waiting to enter the Carceri (St. Francis’ Hermitage in the mountains above Assisi).  There on the side of the road was a stand vending religious articles.  There, on the mountain, I discovered the beautiful Chaplet that has become central to my daily prayer particularly during Covid-19.  

 Covid-19 is preventing us from being physically present for our Catholic Services and particularly our Lenten Traditional Stations of the Cross. I remember when growing up that no one in the parish ever missed 7:30 Friday evening Stations Devotion during Lent.  The entire parish was present. This Lenten Catholic Tradition was woven into the fabric of our Catholic spiritual lives.  

Today, more than ever, the Stations or Way of the Cross prophetically speak to us as we listen or view daily news. We are experiencing a living Way of the Cross in the lives of millions of people around the world. It is imperative now for us to daily embrace afresh journeying the Way of the Cross as a means of daily connecting with and supporting one another.

 During the 2000 Jubilee Pope John Paul II guided us through a moving Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum for Good Friday. It can be found with this link: http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2000/apr-jun/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20000421_via-crucis.html

 I treasure praying the Stations of the Cross Chaplet each day as a way toward connecting spiritually with all who are experiencing effects from Covid-19, related illnesses, suffering from angst, distress, ambiguity, despair, and death of loved ones in their lives. Each one of us is journeying through our own personal difficulty brought on by Covid-19. Yet, together, especially during this Holy Week, while we are isolated in our own personal spaces, we can spiritually reach out supporting one another along each of our Way of the Crosses with Jesus by our side.

 For how to pray the Stations of the Cross Chaplet, click on this link:

https://www.blessedbeadsrosaries.com/stations-of-the-cross-chaplet-prayers

 Throughout this Holy Week, we invite all to join our Mission Helper of the Sacred Heart family united in prayer for recovery and end of Covid-19. Our Sisters hold each of you in prayer.

 

 

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.

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.”