Upper Rooms – Then and Now

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.

 

 

Begin Your Journey to Jerusalem – A Reflection for Lent by Sister Natalie DeLuca, MHSH

“TO LIVE IN HEARTS WE LEAVE BEHIND IS NOT TO DIE”

                                                                                                                            –Thomas Campbell

Lent 2017 lights our hearts with the realization that Christ suffered, died and is with us!  Thomas Campbell’s quote is a song of praise, a hymn of joy, an alleluia of faith and hope and truth.  As the Lenten journey begins, invite the presence of Christ to fill your heart.  That is the grace He wants to give us. Build your relationship in silence with Scripture – His Word of this season with an attitude of thankfulness,

lent-2017Approach Him with thanks for all His goodness bestowed on you.  Count the ways:  parents, loved-ones, family, health, sickness, friends, and all the hardships –your journey to your Jerusalem, your losses, struggles—your life as you live now.

Besides living in our hearts, Jesus is alive—risen with an incorruptible body and spirit.  Lent gives us space out of our busy and noisy lives to stop and ask: “What have I done for those I love?  What have I done lately for Christ?”

Matthew 25:35-37 goes to the heart of our reality check:  “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, sick and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…”

05 School mealAt the beginning of Lent, try to live in the present moment with the Christ.  He will go to Calvary, Yes.  But He is risen and wants to walk with us—with you—on this 2017 trek to Jerusalem, a time that will never come again!

He is not dead. He lives. He lives in the broken lives and silent cries of our brothers and sisters who make up the mystical Body of Christ.

Find a quiet space.  Read or remember your favorite Scripture story of Christ.  Place yourself in the scene.  Notice His gestures, His expressions.  Hold a conversation with Him about your hopes for this Lent.   Remembering our brothers and sisters, share with the Lord your Lenten plan.

Suggested Scripture: Matthew 25:31-41

Our Advent Journey: A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

By Sister Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH

Readings:

MI 5:1-4A
HEB  10:5-10
LK 1:39-45

Our readings this Fourth Sunday of Advent are a great reminder of how God uses the ordinary in extraordinary ways!  The prophet Micah prophesizes that from small, ordinary, even insignificant Bethlehem will come one who is to be the ruler of Israel, and St. Paul reminds us that rather than desire extraordinary efforts by us, God desires us…our willingness to say, “Here I am, use me as you will.”  Luke’s Gospel then shows that the one that seems insignificant, even barren some said, can be fruitful in ways unimaginable and the one who says “Let it be done to me according to your word” will bring forth the Good News of our salvation.  In these two women reside “the Word made flesh” and the Voice who will herald that Word!  Extraordinary, indeed!

advent-4th-sunday-wreath4Actually, our readings today give us the story of Christianity – our story – that was unfolding even before the birth of Christ – and at the center of this story are Elizabeth and Mary.  Last Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, we were invited to rejoice for the Lord is in our midst; today we hear of a manifestation of that joy that comes from the presence of the Lord.

Mary and Elizabeth visit with Joy 1Mary teaches us that we are meant to bring Christ to others, and Elizabeth shows us that we are to welcome Christ and look for Christ in others.  We are called today to experience the joy of this Visitation encounter; a joy that was conceived alone but came to fulfillment in relationship with the other.  Often, that ordinary, unknown, seemingly insignificant other.  Pope Francis in his first encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (Light of Faith), highlights for us that “Persons always live in relationship.  We come from others, and we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others.”


So what can we take away from these readings that speak of relationship, of encounter?   One suggestion might be to ask ourselves:  How might we, like Mary, strive to be faithful, in our work, our relationships, our lives.  How can we recognize that we, too, bear Christ?  In the midst of our current times, how are we being called to recognize and welcome the Christ and how might we learn from Elizabeth’s patient waiting?  How are we being invited to become and be used as instruments in spreading the message of hope and joy?  Isn’t spreading joy with others what our Christmas gift giving, our visiting, our singing, our praying, and our traditions all about?

Mary’s journey to the Visitation comes with risks.  She sets out and travels to the hill country, a difficult terrain, away from the comfort of home.  How might her journey help us get in touch with our journey to Christmas; our journey to Christ?

crosslightWhere are the rugged terrains of our lives, our neighbors, and our world?  Might it be that as we journey to the Light of Christ, it is together that we name the darkness and learn how to live together so it doesn’t overcome us?  When we recognize and name our inner poverty, our emptiness, our longing, our darkness then we ready ourselves to receive the light of Christ.  Our Advent journey has been a time of waiting, of trusting that God is with us, and that God will continue to show us the way.  Let us journey on praying to do so as Mary and Elizabeth have shown, in relationship, full of faith, hope, love and joy.

Contemplating the Mystery of Christmas

A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent
by Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Advent-wreath-week-2Each year, the Church invites us to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas by focusing on the birth of the One who reveals the infinite love of God, the Creator and Father.  The Sunday Scripture readings that we hear in the season of Advent invite us to look again at God’s creation and rediscover God’s love.  The Advent scriptures offer us some rich images to contemplate as we approach Christmas.  Here’s a sampling:

John the Baptist: …a man who reduced life to the essentials so he would not be distracted from hearing God’s voice and responding to it.  John’s single-hearted response attracted the attention of many who were seeking conversion and repentance, but didn’t know where to turn.  John pointed them to Jesus, the image of the invisible, all-loving God.  What can you do to minimize distractions? What do you do to make yourself available to hearing God’s voice?

Isaiah’s description of rain falling down from the heavens producing plants that sprout and bloom: This image invites us to appreciate the hidden work of God who enlivens all of creation and brings all things into being, including ourselves!  This image calls us to patient attention and grateful appreciation of all God is accomplishing in us and in others.  What are some of God’s gifts for which you are grateful?How do you affirm the gifts of others?

Mary: …in whom the word became flesh. Mary’s example can serve as a blueprint for our own lives.  She holds the mystery of God in her heart.  She trusts God.  She is present and attentive to Jesus from conception to the cross, and beyond.  Her entire life is shaped by Christ.

How do you see your life as shaped by Christ? In what way(s) are you inviting Christ into your life in a new way this year?                       

God’s very being revealed in an infant: …vulnerable, needy and dependent on others for its very existence.  This image invites us to look at our dependence on others, as well as others’ dependence on us.  It leads us to grasp the interconnectedness of everything in the created order and, ultimately, the connection of all creation to God.  We exist in a web of inter-dependence that extends throughout all of creation and into the mystery of the divine.  Who are the people who thrive on your attention?  Who are the people who inspire and enliven you?

Contemplation is a way of discovering the truth that all of creation receives its existence from God.  According to Thomas Aquinas, when we learn a humble, serene attentiveness, we shall see the goodness of the world. The world is simply the expression of divine bounty, simply an expression of love.   As Christmas draws closer, let’s look deeply at creation.  Let’s discover God’s presence in the world around us.   Can you imagine God looking at you?  Can you imagine God loving you?  Can you imagine God depending on you?  Can you see God in others?  That’s the mystery of Christmas!

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience” –Emily Dickinson

An Easter Reflection by Sister Clare Walsh, MHSH 

A missing plane from Malaysia, a mudslide in the state of Washington, countless Syrian refugee children, school violence…sometimes our soul and the season seem out of sync.

Yet the tomb is empty.

Jesus' Tomb empty2When our ‘soul stands ajar’, we catch a glimpse of resurrection.  Resurrection joy is not simply the joy of satisfaction that follows a productive day, or happiness in scoring well on an exam.  Resurrection joy is experienced when our hearts are drawn to God.


When our ‘soul stands ajar’, faith may not change the story, but it may change the way we see the story, and that in itself can make all the difference.

When our ‘soul stands ajar’, our attention is focused outside and beyond ourselves and lifts our hearts so we can participate in the joy and sorrow of others.  Whenever joy enters into those who are in pain, sorrow, and distress, it is experienced as consolation; God consoling.

When our ‘soul stands ajar’, we notice that the Risen Jesus listened to the disciples’ stories and then named the story of God that ran under and through their story.  They were so close to their story they could not see the fullness of it.  Jesus longs to do the same for each of us.

open soul_2When ‘our soul stands ajar’, we recognize the fire that burns within.

When ‘our soul stands ajar ready to welcome the ecstatic experience’, Easter holds far more for us than we can ask or imagine.

If Mary Magdalene had been given what she desired, what she begged for, she would have been given the dead body of Jesus.  Instead, she came face-to-face with the living Christ and heard him speak her name.

What would it take for your ‘soul to stand ajar ready to welcome the ecstatic experience’ of Easter?

Easter Blessings galore, one and all!

 

Getting in Shape—Spiritually

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius   
By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Almost like clockwork, ads for Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nautilus, Bowflex and other quick and easy weight-loss and physical improvement programs flood the media after the Christmas holidays.  It seems that many people make New Year’s resolutions to look and feel better by spring, even though most of us know that a life-long dedication to regular exercise and attention to diet are necessary to achieve overall good health.

What about our spiritual health and well-being?  Can a simple quick-fix approach deepen our relationship with God?  Spiritual masters tell us that we have to develop “habits of the heart” or practice spiritual disciplines consistently throughout our lifetime if we wish to grow closer to Christ.  One such method was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century.  Based on the reflection of his own conversion experience, he designed a plan to help spiritual seekers learn the art of discernment: seeking and responding to God’s will in the circumstances of one’s particular life.  He called his method the Spiritual Exercises, and the text is considered a unique spiritual classic.

Ignatius intended the Spiritual Exercises to be completed during a month-long retreat or spread out over many months in the midst of everyday life.  In the process of doing the Exercises the “retreatant” learns various ways of prayer and is invited to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ in order to make a serious decision in tune with the mind and heart of Christ.  The most common method of prayer that Ignatius suggests is a form of contemplation in which the person uses the active imagination in praying with certain gospel events in the life of Christ.  At the end of the Exercises the retreatant has developed a habit of prayer that can be nurtured throughout a lifetime.

Many retreat centers and some parishes offer the longer format of the Spiritual Exercises, often between September and the following May.  Retreatants make a commitment to pray one hour a day and to meet in a group once a week (or every other week) to share prayer and experience support from each other.  This format can be particularly helpful for those who want to develop a way to pray and reflect in the midst of professional careers and family life.

Here is one of St. Ignatius’ prayers:

Lord, I freely yield my freedom to you.
Take my memory, my intellect and my entire will.
You have given me anything I am or have;
I give it all back to you to stand under your will alone.
Your love and your grace are enough for me;
I shall ask for nothing more.

A Letter from Eastern Point

From Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

I am spending the month of July directing four people through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The Exercises were developed by St. Ignatius as an aid in helping people know, love and follow Jesus Christ in the midst of their active lives.  Through a series of prayer experiences—“exercises”—a retreatant is led to deeper intimacy with Jesus and discovers his or her call to labor with Christ in the world in order to further the kingdom of God.

Eastern Point is located on the ocean and the natural beauty that surrounds the house draws retreatants to a desire to know the Creator. On further reflection, they begin to realize how deep and unconditional God’s love is.

The Exercises then invite the retreatant to consider the quality of his/her response to this unconditional love. As the retreat progresses, the participants consider the gift of God’s son, Jesus, to the world, and they are invited to respond to Jesus’ invitations to friendship and His call to labor with Him in redeeming the world and restoring all of creation to His Father.

The focus then shifts to an invitation to be with Jesus in His passion and death and to consider the cost of discipleship.  Toward the end of the retreat, participants encounter the risen Christ, who is with us always, and contemplate God’s presence in all things.

Throughout this month, retreatants pray with selected passages from the Scriptures, asking God for graces necessary to live out this call to discipleship.  For more than 450 years, the Spiritual Exercises have been a source of inspiration, spiritual strength and a deep, abiding friendship with Jesus Christ.

A number of those doing the Exercises this summer are men and women preparing for final vows in their respective religious communities. There are also a significant number of lay people who desire this friendship with Jesus as they continue to live out their vocations in the world.

P.S.  The Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola is July 31.