A reflection for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent
By Sr. Amarilis Flores Arrioja, MHSH and Sr. Rosa Sofia Toledo, MHSH
The Third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete” Sunday, which in Latin means “Rejoice” — be joyful, be hopeful, be cheerful and glad. The Canticle of Mary (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”) invites us to recite our own canticle of praise and joy to God, our Savior.
Liturgically, this Sunday of Advent is a joyous celebration flowing from the Spirit into our own hearts as we prepare to celebrate that the coming of our Savior and our Redeemer, in human flesh, is near. In a world faced with so many threats in our times, particularly the Pandemic crisis, where some of our loved ones have died “alone,” the Word of God comes to console the brokenhearted; to lift the sorrowful and neglected, to bring healing to the sick and hope to the hopeless. The Prophet Isaiah invites us to rejoice in the Lord with our whole heart and to find in our God the joy of our soul.
In the first letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians, we are reminded to rejoice in the Lord always, at all times, no matter what the circumstances of our lives are. He shares with us key exhortations on how to live the Christian life joyfully, as we prepare to celebrate the first Christmas, as well as being vigilant to the ongoing manifestation of the Lord who continues to come, and who will come in glory at the end of times. Let us, then, pause to ponder on the message of Saint Paul in this Advent season:
- Rejoice at all times.
- Never cease to pray
- Be grateful in all circumstances
- Do not extinguish the fire of the Spirit
- Do not underestimate the prophetic utterances
- Examine all and keep what is good
- Renounce any kind of evil
Like Paul, let us claim this prayer as our own: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As we enter more fully into the Advent joyful season, let us reflect on the following questions:
- What am I most grateful for to the God of my life?
- At this time, where is our world crying out for true joy?
- In Saint Paul´s letter to the Thessalonians, which exhortation stands out challenging me to live more fully in Christ during this Advent season?
(Srs. Amarilis and Rosa Sofia minister to people in Manzanita and surrounding areas in Venezuela)
By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH
I just came across a new book* that invites the reader to imagine one’s prayer space as an inner chapel where God speaks to each of us personally. Pondering this as Mother’s Day approached, my mind was flooded with images from the infancy narratives described in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. In my imagination, I beheld scenes of the Incarnation…Visitation… trip to Bethlehem…Jesus’s birth… Flight into Egypt—and all of this Mary held in her heart. She must have had a great heart to accept what God was asking of her during some perilous times. That would require a large inner chapel!
During this global pandemic with its dangers and upheavals, mothers are asked to accept, and to do, quite a lot. Perhaps you are working from home while home schooling your children, looking after elderly relatives or neighbors, trying to keep some sense of normalcy for your family. Whatever your own situation is, what do you need from God or from Mary during these days? What do you wish to ask of them?
If you can, find a quiet time and place to pray, perhaps before the rest of the family is up or after they’ve gone to bed. Bring your hopes, fears, concerns, and questions to Mary, or Jesus, or other person of the Trinity. Talk with them as you would to a good friend. Then, just sit quietly and notice what you are feeling. Perhaps jot down your thoughts in a journal. Start with a 10 minute prayer period if you can, and increase the prayer time later, if circumstances allow.
Be assured that the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart are holding you in our prayers. We give thanks for all mothers…all women who have shared life and love with us. We pray for God’s abundant blessings on you and your families this Mother’s Day and every day.
*“The Inner Chapel: Embracing the Promises of God” by Becky Eldredge. Available at Loyola Press.
By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min
During this Easter season we, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, send you prayers and blessings for you and your family. Here we are, like the apostles, in our “upper rooms” -many of us since mid-March until today – and most likely for a while longer. How much longer, Lord?
How often the apostles left that room during those 40 days from Good Friday night to Pentecost, is not so important. They were in the Upper Room pondering and wondering what had happened, how it happened and why it happened. How the journey with Jesus ended was not what they imagined and hoped for? In the Upper Room, they waited, carried on conversations, tried to strategically plan for what to do next. Jesus left no clear strategic plan that they understood with their imperfect, partial or inadequate faith. I am sure they tried to support one another as one or the other began to flounder into worry, distress, or darkness. I like to imagine Mary, the Mother of Jesus, holding her own amongst them as ‘mother’ soothing their fears. Her faith was strong enough to carry them into the events they were about to encounter in the coming 40 days.
The Upper Room soon became an encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ. The closure did not prevent the ‘light of the world’ to seep through into their presence. When Jesus suddenly appeared he understood their hearts. He first says to them: “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. It is I.” How unbelievable those moments must have been. Were their minds and eyes tricking them? Could it be he was there in their midst? I try to ponder what their diverse emotions were.
The Upper Room was to become the ‘place’ – a ‘sacred place’ where the apostles were to enter a new missionary formation experience. Here they were being tested and strengthened with a new or deeper faith and hope for the task ahead of them. Jesus had promised his Spirit would come to them. The Upper Room experience was a maturing period for each one to reimagine their vocation/ mission.
Perhaps, as we are in our “upper rooms” (homes), this is what is being asked of us. Jesus says to us today: “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. I am here. It is I!” Let us rest our minds and hearts in/on the Risen Jesus. Let us keep our focus clear for our mission. Let us not falter. May these be days of new religious imagination, courage, compassion, and service to all those we are called to serve in a COVID-19 milieu.
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
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 Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart would like to share the following Christmas reflection with you:
is going away
Bishop Helder Camara (1909-1999)
Going away above all,
going beyond myself
to make the universe the center,
instead of “me” and “myself”;
it is breaking through the crust of egoism
that encloses each one of us as in a prison.
Going away means I cease
putting my little world under a microscope;
I stop turning around myself
as though I were the center of life, of all that is
Going away is not about traveling miles
and reaching supersonic speeds
above all else, it means opening my eyes,
opening myself to others, reaching out to them
Finding someone who walks alongside me,
on the same road, not following me like my shadow
but seeing things I do not see
and pointing them out to me.
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.
Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH
LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy
August 23, 2018
[Silver Spring, MD] The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.
Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.
We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis. We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.
We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.
Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.
Contact: Sisters Annmarie Sanders, IHM| Director of Communications| Leadership Conference of Women Religious
A Reflection for Lent
By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH
Last spring, during the Easter season, we enjoyed the beauty and fragrance of several hyacinth plants. After they had bloomed and then gradually wilted and dried, I continued to water them in the hope of a second bloom. Nothing happened and after a while I gave up and put the pots aside. Almost a year has passed and the other day something in the neglected flower pots caught my eye.
What was that yellowish, white thing? Could it be? Yes, it was a tender shot pushing through the earth saying, “I died and was buried but now, here I am emerging from the earth alive and new.” It took time, but the transformation happened. Another and another bud pushed through and I was awed at the miracle and determination of life over death.
We hear about such surprise and transformation in the Lenten readings. Jesus tells us that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Being the servant, the follower of Jesus means that we understand the story of the seed, the lesson of the plant. Those periods of death, darkness, loss, doubt and confusion that every one of us experiences in our lives, are the environment, the incubation period from which faith, enlightenment and rebirth emerge.
And where is the nurturing place for such a faith? We hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
God has placed the seed of faith in our hearts. Our hearts are that place of incubation for renewal, discovery, transformation, birth. Our Lenten discipline enables us to clarify the direction of our lives, to face and deal with the dark places within and to accommodate the challenges of daily dying and rising.
May we nurture in our hearts during this season of incubation new stirrings of hope, possibilities and responsiveness to the call of the one who “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”