“See, I Am Doing Something New” – A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

By Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

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The woman central to today’s Gospel reading seems submissive, if not defeated. She had to feel embarrassed at best, clearly not hopeful of forgiveness. How befuddling that Jesus offers that very thing, forgiveness, without being asked. How long did it take her to realize that she was free to go?

Jesus had in fact “opened a way in the sea…a path in mighty waters,” as Isaiah had predicted. She could forget about her past, about “the things of long ago.” Amazing! It seems that Jesus really does come to set us free, to liberate us from all that holds us back, and weighs our spirits down.

As we observe our current world situation, we may see no way out for us, or for our country or indeed our world. There seem to be so many complications that we feel overwhelmed. God says, “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.” We may reply, “No, I do not perceive it, God.  I cannot imagine how you will make a way in this wasteland. Give me a hopeful spirit and some sort of booster shot for my imagination. I want to trust in your promises and keep my spirits up and my hopes alive.” This is not a matter of feeling jolly or optimistic as much as it is of keeping within me a determination to trust God’s promise through Isaiah.

Soon we will commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and death. We need not lose sight of his resurrection and glorification – which, as a long-time radio host used to say – truly is “the rest of the story.”

 

The Immense Love of God

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

By Thomas Mackin

For Mass readings, click here.

 

The compassionate love of God in Christ is always ready to forgive sinners and welcome them home.  This is the challenging truth that Jesus proclaims to the tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes who were his audience.  Today we are Jesus’s Lenten audience.

Paul tells us, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”  When a sinner comes to Christ, that sinner is made new.  “(A)nd all of this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

The readings today give us the opportunity to place ourselves in the midst of the sinner.  It is one thing to welcome a sinner back into the fold, but an entirely different experience to go out into the world, our neighborhoods, parishes, communities and share space with sinners.  This is the ministry of reconciliation, so that we, like the father in today’s gospel, can see someone coming from a long way off.

During Lent, the church calls us to remember the gifts of God that we have squandered and that have led us into the small or greater mess of our spiritual life.  With great wisdom, the church also knows that we need this time of heightened awareness of our compassionate Father who embraces us in the outstretched arms of the Crucified.

Loving God, our needs are no surprise to you.  In your love and mercy forgive us of our sins, that we might always grow deeper into relationship with you.  Amen.

Tom Mackin is the IT coordinator for the Mission Helpers.

Lent: Making All Things New

A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

By Bernadette A. Sahm

 

“Ash Wednesday is full of joy … The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.”
-Father Thomas Merton

It is that time of year when we anticipate more sunshine and the beauty, color, and newness that the spring season affords us. As I walk through my garden, I notice things that are dormant after months of winter weather. My hydrangeas seem to be dead and brittle and without life. My faith knows better. Looking closely, I see the burrowed closed ends of what I believe will return as hot pink and baby blue flowering hydrangeas.

“Lent comes providentially to awaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” –Pope Francis

Lent and spring are synonymous for me as they both represent the opportunity to make all things new again. We know what a garden can be with proper nurturing. and what it will look like after it receives water, sunshine, and food to grow. Lent affords us the opportunity to reflect on all our relationships and to grow them with love and in faith. God wants us to see His face in all living things.

We begin again in Lent; we witness signs of new life, and we too can create that new life when our hearts open and are birthed again. Even a heart that has been dormant can spring back to life.

There is nothing like the beauty in a flowering rose, yet it shows us; “non c’e rosa senza le sue spine’” (translation – there is no rose without its thorns). Lent does not have to be solely about giving up our favorite foods and drink, but it can remind us to forego hatred and lack of forgiveness and instead, build a pure and clean heart.

May your Lenten season be filled with an abundance of love, kindness, forgiveness, grace and all things beautiful.

Bernadette Sahm is the Director of Mission Advancement for the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

A Lenten Journey of the Heart

By Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.

With these words from today’s first Mass reading from Joel, we commence another season of Lent. The passage invites us to a journey of the “whole heart”, with our destination being the God who offers us forgiveness, mercy, and kindness.

The following poem from Jan Richardson invites us to spend these forty days exploring the inner chambers of our fractured hearts, trusting that our loving God accompanies us during this time and will restore us, and our broken world, to wholeness.

Rend Your Heart

A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering,
for trusting the breaking,
for tracing the rupture
that will return you

to the One who waits,
who watches,
who works within
the rending
to make your heart
whole.

—Jan Richardson

From Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Blessings on your Lenten wandering.

 

Forgiving, Grateful Heart

 

 

By Sr. Barbara Baker, MHSH

(This post is part 4 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 2 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?

Ever since Pope Francis became our Church leader, I have been struck by his constant reminder to us that we are called to be people of mercy and forgiveness.   He is urging us to let go of grudges, hurts, and slights – anything that keeps us at odds with others.     My reflection on the Litany of the Heart focuses on the last stanza, that asks us to have mercy, to develop a  gracious heart that leads us to gratefulness and tenderness towards all that comes into our lives—even through our dark days and difficult challenges.

The encyclical “Laudato Si” has captured my attention since it was published.  In the parish where I minister, we are trying to raise awareness that we each of us has been entrusted with the care of our common home.  We are people who like convenience to the point where we sometimes lose consciousness of how we ‘use’ things and even people for our own gain. Can we hear God’s invitation to think about where all good gifts come from? Can we cultivate gratitude for the generosity of the Giver of them?

 Once we realize the source of all our blessings, we begin to relate to our God differently.  We are called to treat people and things with respect and gratitude and to approach life with a tenderness that we would show to a newborn baby.  It is a process of conversion over a period of time.  It leads us to an insight that we are all connected and need to relate with one another.  We are called to ‘disconnect’ from our technologies more so that we can ‘connect’ with people and experiences.  With all the ‘isms’ displayed in our world (racism, sexism, etc.), how do we get in touch with how each of us embraces any of them so that we can rid ourselves of these biases?  How can we learn to love all ‘because’ of their differences and not in ‘spite’ of them?

We call upon the Heart of Jesus to hear us in our plea to learn how to love as He loves!  Take a long and loving look at your heart and hopefully you will see a love that indeed reflects His love a bit more each day.

Taking the Long View

By Sr. M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Quick!  What do O.J. Brigance, the Baltimore Ravens football player; Michael J. Fox, the movie actor; and Joseph, son of Jacob from the Old Testament, have in common?  No idea?  I didn’t know either, until I recently (July 13) read a portion of the book of Genesis (49: 29-32, 50: 15-26a) and the connection became clear.

Joseph wanted to comfort his brothers, who feared his vengeance for selling him into slavery.  They were envious that their father Jacob preferred him over all his other sons (remember the Technicolor Dreamcoat?).  To reassure his family that he intended no harm, Joseph said, “Even though you meant to harm me, God meant it for good, to achieve God’s present end, the survival of many people.” What a great attitude on Joseph’s part!

So – Brigance and Fox:  Brigance, after a successful career in football, developed ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which quickly or slowly paralyzes its victims to death.  In his case, and with much medical care, it has progressed slowly, and with the help of his wife, Chanda, he has developed an enormous second career, counseling and supporting other players through the struggles of their playing days. His “street cred” is huge, because everyone in the Ravens organization has witnessed his and Chanda’s efforts on behalf of the Ravens – not as players but as people.

O.J. and Chanda Brigance

 

Michael J. Fox had a successful career, too, as an actor.  Drinking and partying were close to destroying it (see his memoir, ironically titled Lucky Man) until he awoke one morning and noticed his little finger oddly twitching on its own.  Medical investigation led to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.  It’s hard to say which (Parkinson’s or ALS) is worse.  Gradually, Michael took up the cause of Parkinson’s research, again encouraged mightily by his stalwart wife, Tracy Pollan.

Michael J Fox and Tracy Pollan

 

Like O.J. Brigance, Michael Fox lives on, doing great good for many people because of the misfortune that befell him long ago.

 It seems God takes a very long view when “permitting” harm to happen and is cleverly creative in eventually drawing good out of what certainly seems evil or tragic to us.  “God meant it for good,” Joseph explained.  Let’s pray for a similar long view, especially for the many who are suffering all around us.

The Paradox of the Cross

A reflection for Palm Sunday

By Sister Princess Mary Dawson, MHSH

 

The Palm Sunday Gospel is long and provides much to ponder.

Jesus begins with the Passover meal and goes on to speak of a betrayer in his midst. What do I do when I feel betrayed?

Jesus then listens to his disciples quarreling over who among them is the greatest. Jesus proclaims to the disciples that the one who serves is the greatest and calls Himself a servant. How does this call to service sit with me? Do I feel “above” this call of service? 

 Jesus withdraws to the Mount of Olives and prays for the strength to do the will of His Father. Then Jesus had to face the courts and undergo the Passion that was His destiny. Let us remember the injustice and suffering that Jesus would face.

On Calvary, it was a criminal who defended Jesus as He hung on the cross.  In a few words he proclaimed in faith, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus promised him the reward of paradise.  Before He died, Jesus uttered forgiveness and commended Himself to God.

The pain and agony of the cross did not prevent Jesus from reaching out in this profound action of love. Let us remember that Jesus’ actions on the Cross shows there is “No Greater Love.”

 

 

 

Amazing Grace

A Reflection by Sister Natalie DeLuca, MHSH

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:

African Woman puzzle like“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….’

African Truth and Reconciliation Commission“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.’

amazing grace 6As 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?

 

No Healing Through Violence—The Years since 9/11

–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.

North Pool of the National 9/11 Memorial Waterfalls at the World Trade Center site, called "Reflected Absence" (Amy Dreher photo).