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.

 

 

The Hope and Light of Easter

 

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

We struggle this year for thoughts of Easter and songs of Alleluia.  Perhaps more than ever, we enter into the emotions of that first Easter as we gather in solidarity, pain and hope.

We hope in God who frees us from the burden and illusion that we are control.  Hope in God who calls us out of darkness into Light – into the knowledge that we are God’s and there is so much more to the story than we, in our limited vision can see.

The Light of Christ risen from the dead dispels the darkness and brings peace.  Just as on the evening of that first Easter when the disciples gathered in a room, isolated, grieving and fearful, Christ offers us the gift of hope, the gift of peace.  We hear Jesus invite us to give Him our despair, for we have been promised Light – the Light that shines in the darkness and will not be extinguished.

The Christian symbol for hope is an anchor, and the cross is our anchor.  Amidst the storm we ground ourselves in the hope of new life.  For us, the cross is not a symbol of defeat, no, it is a symbol of the triumph of God’s love over death.  By the cross of Christ, we have been saved and nothing and no one can separate us from the love of God.  Jesus is risen and walks with us.

We hope together and like any friend, God desires our happiness.  More than any friend, God accompanies us in our sorrow.  God will never leave us to face our fears alone.  We can rest in God who will never abandon us.  God who gifts us with God’s own Spirit of hope, a hope that resounds in the words of the poet, Emily Dickinson:

“Hope is the thing with feathers –

that perches in the soul –

and sings the tune without the words –

and never stops – at all -”

It is hope, ‘the thing with feathers,’ the anchor upon which we lean and are grounded, that gives us assurance of the unsurpassable, inexhaustible love and goodness of God who brings new life from death.  God who gives hope amid tragedy and loss.  It is God who is both the meaning of our hope and the way to attain it, who summons us and calls us by name.  Hope marks us with resilience, trust, confidence, and perseverance.  Hope gifts us with ways in which to live boldly in the unwavering conviction that Paul proclaims in Romans: “If God is for us who or what can be against us?… nothing can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:31, 39 italics added)

How then does Hope change us? How are we to be People of Hope?  How are we to be Resurrection – to be Justice – to be Compassion?

We thank each of you dear friends for your witness of hope especially during this global pandemic.  We hold you in our hearts and prayer this Easter season like no other we’ve known.  Let us stand together in Light and Hope sustained by our faith — an Easter people.  


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.”

Loving, Compassionate Heart

 

By Sr. Onellys Villegas, MHSH

(This post is part 1 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 6 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?

 

Loving, Compassionate Heart

“So loving”… the all-encompassing loving presence of the Sacred Heart in our lives helps each of us to contribute to the holiness of the Church and give glory to our God.  It is this loving presence in our lives that leads us to experience the Soft Whisper of Love.

Leaving for my work (as a counselor to women who are victims of abuse) one morning I had this deep sense of a loving presence. As my morning continued and a I listened to women experiencing pain, desperation and fear, I looked up through the window and I saw a huge tree with branches spread wide, as if it wanted to give me a big hug. I called it to the attention of the woman in the room with me to see if she was seeing what I was seeing, and she smiled. At the end of the session, I shared with her the big hug that I experienced from a loving presence in the room.  She was open to it and left with a big smile on her face!

We read in the Gospel of Matthew: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be”. (Matthew 6:21)

“So Compassionate”… Compassion alludes to kindness and sympathy, but there is something deeper, something even more profound and powerful, in its meaning. Compassion inspires and encourages us to expand our circle, it invites us to embrace all life, regardless of species,  and be able to make loving, merciful choices.

The Sacred Heart represents a God of Compassion who desires that we live and act compassionately. “Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight”. (Psalm 119: 77)

Compassion occurs when the heart “quivers in response” to the suffering of another, giving rise to the wish to alleviate that suffering.  When we are suffering and feel the urge to help ourselves, we are experiencing self-compassion.

I will end this reflection by sharing with you a reminder for all of us from a teacher at Loyola University of Maryland, Robert J. Wicks:

NURTURING YOUR HEART

Read a bit

Listen to a favorite song

Call a friend

Remember a kindness

Help the poor

Keep perspective

Smile broadly

Laugh loudly

Close doors gently

Do what you can

Live gratefully

Relax for a moment

Breathe deeply

Tease yourself often

Take a quiet walk

Tell God a funny story

 

 

“…Your Kindness should be known to all… The Lord is near. Have no anxiety…”

A Reflection for the Third Week in Advent by Sister Natalie DeLuca, MHSH

Readings:
Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

You may have read (or heard it more than once) that when Pope Francis was on his American visit, he brought an indescribable sense of joy and excitement that touched hearts; cheering crowds felt a presence. As we enter the third week of “waiting” for Christ’s coming, we read and listen to the Word of Scripture with a sense of excitement that recalls simplicity and joy.

3rd Sunday of Advent WreathHe, the Christ, is coming. We prepare for the coming of the anniversary of his birth. Our longing does not leave us empty or bereft, as if we had been deprived of being present at his historic coming. For we know he comes still. He comes to us in a multitude of mysterious graces. He comes in the Eucharist to share our life’s journey. He comes in mystery of the stranger and of the beloved ones who are his face and voice.

He will come again—in Glory! The Word today cautions us: He is near. Have no anxiety. He is the Light who shatters the darkness; He is Mercy and Compassion who comforts in moments of darkness; He is Gentleness who fires our heart with love, understanding and courage. He will come to welcome each of us to His heavenly kingdom and death will be no more.

“…Your kindness should be known to all…The Lord is near. Have no anxiety.”

 

Take a few moments to reflect on Past Advents:

What Word of Advent Scripture lights your path to Christmas?

What present experiences of meeting Christ in Mystery do you cherish?

What Advent experiences of the past have shaped this Christmas celebration?

What persons from your personal history are enshrined in your heart and influenced you on your journey to meet the Christ of Glory?

Christmas Blessings!

A Reflection for Christmas by Sister Loretta Cornell, MHSH President

shepherdsThe Shepherds said to one another, “Let us go then to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what they had been told by the shepherds….The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

–Luke 2:15-18; 20

 Like the Shepherds, we, too, are to make known the message – The Good News of Jesus. It is in our words of charity and in our deeds of love. Jesus is present in our actions, words and charity.

God is peace; let us ask our God to help us be peacemakers each day, in our life, in our families, in our cities and nations, in the whole world. Let us allow ourselves to be moved by God’s goodness.

–Pope Frances

 We remember that God was revealed in Glory through Jesus and continues to bring wonder, joy, hope, compassion, understanding, blessings and Love—the love that is born in each of us every day and dwells among us.

The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart wish you a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

 

“This Night” – A Reflection on Holy Thursday

By Sister Clare Walsh, MHSH

Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 116:12-13, 15-18; 1Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Holy Thursday. Passover. “Why is this night different from all others?”

We are tempted not so much to ignore the evil in the world as to feel overwhelmed by it, frozen by a sense of futility. Holy Thursday opens countless opportunities for prayer, but among them are ordinary acts having a profound, long-lasting effect.

Friends gathered, a meal shared, forgiveness offered, bread broken, wine poured, memory evoked, service rendered. Most often it is the small, everyday act of kindness and compassion that define us and break the cycle of futility.

Holy Thursday makes clear that we are not here to lord over one another; we are here to wash another’s feet. It is as if Jesus is saying to us, “Do not be afraid to stoop down and offer the most humble service imaginable to one another.”

Homeless people having their feet washed by volunteers at the First United Methodist Chuch of Miami.

Foot washing is one of those small, everyday expressions of humble service that reveal us to be followers of Jesus. Look around your world of family, neighborhood, work…what might foot washing look like today?

Why, in 2012, “is this night different from all others?”

A Sacred Time – A Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

By Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

[Readings: Genesis 9: 8-15; Ps. 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15]

As you contemplate the season of Lent, you might consider reflecting on its meaning to you now as well as at other times in your life.  For me, growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Lent was a time set aside for repentance, for “giving up” things that I liked, such as desserts or movies or even the sleep I could have had if I didn’t attend daily Mass.

In the parochial school I attended, participation in the weekly Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons was mandatory, thus adding to the sense of obligation. While even then I appreciated the sacred nature of Lent experienced through the “smells and bells” of the pre-Vatican II Church, the emphasis was on self-denial and sinfulness.   The season often seemed interminable, oppressive and stark.

Today, Lent is a time that I actually look forward to, as the season seems to invite me to deeper contemplation.  My focus is not on deprivation, but on deepening my relationship with Jesus through prayer.  I think the change occurred when I started to go on weekend and then week-long silent retreats each year.  At first, these retreats truly felt like desert experiences.  Even though there were 30 or 40 other people in the retreat house, we passed our time (and each other) in silence.  Time took on a whole different feeling, with no particular structure to the day.  All the familiar distractions of television, email, internet browsing, phone calls etc, had been left behind.

In that environment, I was tempted to throw myself into reading the many spiritual books in the library, but I had a graced insight that this would only be a further distraction.  So I entered into what at first seemed like the unwelcome, solitary work of looking deeply into my own heart and mind, asking myself where I was in relationship to God, and what I (and God) wanted that relationship to be.

At first, this situation seemed almost as frightening as facing any amount of wild desert beasts.  I was not sure I wanted to head in this direction, and was afraid of what I might hear as answer in prayer.  But with trust in God and the patience of a skilled spiritual director, I was able to pass out of that narrow, somewhat desolate place in which I found myself.  What opened up for me was an abundance of new life.

The God who made a covenant with each of us waits for us to approach.  The psalmist reminds us that God’s ways are love and truth, that God is kind and full of compassion, desiring to guide us through our own personal and communal wildernesses.  With humility and trust, perhaps we can all spend some sacred time with God this Lent, knowing that God will provide us with what we need.

Lenten Prayer

Give yourself permission to carve out some time each day for prayer.  Give it whatever time you can, although 30 minutes or more is desirable.

You can pray with the scripture passages of the day, or with the many fine Lenten reflection books and guides that are available.  You can also simply pray from your own experience.

Tell God what is on your mind and in your heart.  Be sure to include a time of interior silence to listen to what God is saying to you.  Sometimes, just resting in the presence of God is the best prayer.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 3 Prayer and Reflection

Day 3: Changed by the Suffering Servant.

Scripture
Isaiah 53:3-11, The man of sorrows accustomed to suffering.
Psalm 22:12-24, He did not despise the affliction of the afflicted.
1Peter 2:21-25, Christ suffered for us.
Luke 24:25-27, Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things?
Meditation
The divine paradox is that God can change tragedy and disaster into victory. He transforms the enormity of history’s pain into a resurrection that encompasses the whole world. While appearing to be defeated, He is the true Victory whom no one and nothing can overcome.
Isaiah’s prophecy was completely fulfilled in Christ. After suffering enormous agony, the Man of Sorrows shall see His offspring. We are that offspring, born from the Savior’s suffering. In this way we are made one family in Him.
Psalm 22 is not only about Jesus. The Savior Himself prayed this psalm on the cross. In the second part of the psalm the lamentation changes into praise of God for God’s works.
Peter presents to us as an example: Jesus did not curse God, but submitted to the one who judges righteously. His wounds have healed us, and returned us all to the one Shepherd.
As with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Jesus is our constant companion on the stony road of life, stirring our hearts and opening our eyes to the mysterious plan of salvation. The power of the cross draws us into unity. Here we encounter Christ’s suffering as the source of compassion for and solidarity with the entire human family. In our shared solidarity with all who suffer we learn from the crucified suffering servant the lessons of self-emptying, letting go and self-sacrifice. These are the gifts we need from His Spirit on our way to unity in Him.

For Your Reflection

This day calls us to reflect on the suffering of Christ. Following Christ the Suffering Servant, Christians are called to solidarity with all who suffer. The closer we come to the cross of Christ the closer we come to one another.

  1. How can our faith help us in our response to long-lasting suffering?
  2. What areas of human suffering are unnoticed and belittled today?
  3. How can Christians bear witness together to the power of the cross?

Prayer
God of consolation, you have transformed the shame of the cross into a sign of victory. Grant that we may be united around the Cross of your Son to worship Him for the mercy offered through his suffering. May the Holy Spirit open our eyes and our hearts, so that we may help those who suffer to experience your closeness; You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

A Reflection for the First Week of Advent

By Sister Mariel Ann Rafferty, MHSH

As a child in a Catholic family, Advent was a time of preparing spiritually for Christmas.  We often “gave up” something such as candy as a reminder that these days had a holy significance.   We never set up the tree and crèche until Christmas Eve. Daily attendance at Mass was scheduled into our school days.  Of course, there was the usual excitement about what we wanted for Christmas – and occasionally I stumbled upon a “hidden” Christmas gift.  I remember the girl’s bicycle in the cellar – Yes, I was the only girl!  Participating in the Annual Nativity plays kept us focused on the real meaning of Christmas.

In Catholic high school, the Sister distributed a prayer card with a Novena in preparation for Christmas.  I faithfully recited that prayer and still sometimes return to it at present.

When I entered the Mission Helpers, our Scripture and theology classes and special prayers enriched my understanding of this holy season.   I began to appreciate more fully the cries of the prophets to change our lives in preparation for the coming of Christ.    I have come to realize that on Christmas we do not simply celebrate the past event of Christ’s coming, but also the coming of Christ in the graced and sacramental moments of our lives, as well as Christ’s final coming at the end of time.

Advent is a season of joyful hope.  The hope that is stirred in my heart at this time of the Liturgical year brings with it the conviction that I can be a source of hope to others as I reach out in caring and compassion throughout the holiday season. Now, as Christmas approaches, I find myself linked to my past as I once again recite that familiar Novena prayer:

“Hail and Blessed be the hour and the moment in which the Son of God was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary at midnight in Bethlehem in the freezing cold.  In that hour, vouchsafe O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my petition.”

Reflection:  How can I be a source of hope to others during this time of preparation?