The Gifts of Christmas

By Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH

Growing up in my family, Christmas Eve meant gathering around the Christmas tree, house lights dim, tree lights glowing, the scent of logs burning, the fragrance of pine needles, as my Dad read with great fanfare The Night Before Christmas. His boisterous rendition was always followed with our attention turned to the creche as my mother proclaimed, with more hush than gusto, Luke’s Infancy Narrative. From an early age, I learned that the sacred and the secular go hand and hand.

This is the time of Christmas. This is the time of a global pandemic. Perhaps there has never been a time when we were more in need of God entering our chaos and becoming human in Jesus.  The Incarnation is plain enough to be understood by the shepherds and almost by the sheep.

The troubadour of Christmas. G.K. Chesterton, helps us to uncover the spiritual center of the secular:

THE OTHER STOCKING

 What has happened has been the the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it.  It happened in this way. As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good ~ far from it.  And the experience was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. Of course, most people who talk about these things get into a state of some mental confusion by attaching tremendous importance to the name of the entity.  We called him Santa Claus because everyone called him Santa Claus, but the name of a god is a mere human label. His real name may have been Williams. It may have been the Archangel Uriel. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea. Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking, now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now, I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

                                                                          

                                                                                             

For our pondering

 Where in my life is God inviting me to enlarge my heart and to love a bigger God?

Recall a moment of Wonder/Amazement in your life.  Revisit.  What happened inside of you?

Does the Incarnation provide an invitation to live your life differently post-COVID?

 

 

 

 

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.’

 

 

 

 

 

A Reflection for Christmas 2016

By Sister Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President

Readings:
Isaiah 52:7-10;
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6 ;
Hebrews 1:1-6;
John 1:1-18

God comes among us in total helplessness, dependency and all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God!  What a mystery!

Our second reading on Christmas Day from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us: “In times past, God spoke … through the prophets….” Now it’s a new day and God speaks to us through Jesus – the Word made flesh; the very imprint of God.  The Word that John reminds us is God – the Word became flesh and dwells among us.

20 days old baby sleeping in a christmas nativity crib

The Savior of the World – the Prince of Peace – the Light of the World – a baby!  Recently I was with some of my family and marveled as I watched my nieces, nephews and their spouses tend to their babies.  Besides wondering how quickly the years have passed, I was filled with gratitude and tenderness as those parents tended to the vulnerability, the dependency, the preciousness of their little ones.   How awesome that our God chose to come to us by becoming one of us!  Doesn’t that just turn everything upside down?

The heart of God bursts forth to come and be among us – to be the true Light that enlightens everyone, and the darkness will never overcome it.  What a radical hope is ours!  Can we this Christmas accept the Word within us and among us – the Word around us that continues to depend on us to be light in a world that often seems to be on the brink of being overcome by darkness?  Can we be light in the darkness of injustice, of poverty, of mental illness, of broken relationships, of war, of our own shortcomings and failures?

We gather this Christmas fed by the hope and promise of our Advent waiting and longing.  With mercy and in joy, may we truly awake to a new dawn of a promise fulfilled – a Love so deep that it cannot be contained and must dwell among us and be a Light to all peoples.  Can we accept the gift?  Can we embrace the Light of the World and the promise that the Light will fill us and be with and among us always?

light-has-shoneWhat might it look like as we gather with others this Christmas and into the New Year if we truly accept the gift given us – the gift of God’s very self to share with all the world and to recognize in all our sisters and brothers; the gift we have received through the promise of God’s Spirit poured out on all flesh?

It is the Spirit that frees and empowers each of us to take up the challenge offered us by Howard Thurman (1899-1981), an African American theologian, educator and civil rights leader in his reflection, The Work of Christmas, found below:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.”

Thank you from your sisters, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, for joining with us in our efforts to give birth daily to the Reign of God and “to make music in the heart,” especially this Christmas as we sing: Glory to God in the highest and on earth PEACE!

img_1383

 

 

Discovering Something New – A Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent

By Sister Rita Lynch, MHSH

Isaiah 43:18-19   “Remember not the events of the past….see, I am doing something new”

Philippians 3:12-13  “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained it, but I continue my pursuit….forgetting what lies behind, but strained forward to what lies ahead.”


Holy_Week_DispayEach year, we celebrate the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter.  It is full of special events—Ash Wednesday, Rites of Initiation, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil.  We make personal choices of how to journey this most holy and spiritual time of the year.  It is a time to remember again the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was sent by God to show us the way to live in God’s presence.  It reminds us of all that Jesus lived and died for: “US”!

The readings for this week encourage us not to forget, but also to remember that there is something new waiting for us to receive from our God with open minds and hearts.  Each of us has traveled this same journey for as many years as we have had birthdays.   Sometimes those years are a repeat of the prayers and liturgies of the previous ones.   

something newSometimes it seems that we are not called to do the same thing over and over every year. And, if we listen to the words of Isaiah and Paul, we are challenged to look for the deeper meaning, the expanded vision, the next deeper insights of what this time of the year is meant to be for us. 

Our faith not only repeats the past words and events, but needs to bring us to “continue the pursuit” as Paul suggests. We are called to discover the “something new” that allows the season to change our hearts and lead us to new understanding of how this time affects our spiritual life and gives us the impetus to carry this season into the future in a new way.  

A New Things

2016 is not the same as 2015, or 2014, or any other year.  We are different, have had many new experiences since we celebrated this holy time last year.  Perhaps our lives have seen a new commitment—and so we are reminded of the commitment Jesus made with the Father when he came to earth and walked among us. 

 

“Mercy is Misericordia” – A Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent

By Sister M. Judith Waldt, MHSH

The Latin term for Mercy is Misericordia. This is illustrative in that the meaning of the term “Miseria” refers to suffering, which so many people experience in many and varied ways. “Cordia” refers to the heart. Thus, Misericordia means joining in one’s heart to the suffering of others. This is the core of what extending Mercy is all about – uniting our hearts to the suffering of others, placing our lives in solidarity with the suffering.

mercy_visiting the hospital

If we reflect on the Incarnation – how God enters into our world and embraces our humanity we see that God chooses to unite the Sacred Heart of his Son to our suffering. God does not do this out of necessity but out of love. Our suffering is transformed, not eliminated.  It is akin to visiting someone who is ill in the hospital – not because you have to, but rather, freely, and from love.

Their suffering is transformed, not eliminated, because they are no longer alone. The one who chooses out of love to enter into their suffering changes the reality. When we think of the Sacred Heart of Jesus joining his heart to our suffering, it reminds us that we are no longer alone.sister-judy-waldt-visiting-the-hispanics

As Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, this is our mission: to enter into the suffering of others out of love and to bring the Sacred Heart to themIn doing so, we do not eliminate suffering, but transform it by the love of the Sacred Heart, helping  people know that they are not alone.

“Lent is no fun…” A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent by Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

I have never liked Lent.  Where I come from, it’s a season of mountains of dirty snow obscuring every intersection, making just crossing a street a death-defying drama.

slushy snow 0

Even getting on or off a city bus was fraught, as the stops were usually at corners where clogged storm drains filled with slushy water, daring the bus rider to either plunge a booted foot into the abyss (hoping to land on anything solid and supportive), or to launch herself beyond the icy stew to the steps of the bus, if boarding, or to the hill of scuzzy snow if disembarking.

Add to all that trouble was the required “sacrifices” of no candy and no desserts for 40 days: Tell me, what’s to like?

station of the crossWell, you might say, not every liturgical season has to be likable. Let’s settle for meaningful.  From little up, I understood about the Way of the Cross (also mandatory on Friday afternoons; all the school children in heavy coats and wet wool scarves, hats, mittens, in the pews in our church, genuflecting repeatedly—Catholic calisthenics, some call that—recalling and honoring all that Jesus suffered for us.

I can’t remember if any of our Sisters told us to offer our chapped lips, windburned faces, raw wrists and shins in union with Jesus’ agony.

Maybe that would have made a good religion class, especially if she encouraged us to unite our suffering with His for some special intention.

Maybe I can’t remember because that lesson has sunk too deeply into my psyche to be dredged up at will.  I still do believe in “offering it up”—as much my mother’s instruction as any religion teacher’s—and offering it for particular intentions—take your pick, they are myriad in our world, and offering gives our small and larger pains some positive purpose—or so I hope.

Well, clearly, Lent is no fun, but I guess it’s useful to put the sad and sore and negative in our lives to some hopeful, positive use before God.  At least, that’s my hope.  And spring and Easter are only a few weeks away!

“A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.”

                                                                –Pope Frances, Encyclical Letter on Ecology,
                                                                “Laudato Si” (Praised Be)

 The following are excerpts from Laudato Si, prepared by the Catholic Climate Covenant, in Washington, DC, and published on June 18, 2015. The first four segments were posted on this site on June 19; the final three will be posted on Tuesday, June 23. 

Climate Change

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes that produce or aggravate it.

climate-change_Man

If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.

Climate change is a global problem with serious implications, environmental, social, economic, political, and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.

Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources that can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.

The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.

epa00162905 Women sell coconuts in the Abobo community of Abidjan, the commercial capital of Ivory Coast, on Monday, 29 March 2004. The French-speaking Ivory Coast was once one of the richest countries in Africa due to its valuable ivory exports. However, droughts in the region and economic recessions have hit, causing the country to experience hardships.  EPA/Herve Gbekide

We must maintain with clarity an awareness that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States Bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”

Individual Actions

This simple example [of cooperative action] shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land.

Group of environmentalists walking with wheelbarrow and potted plant in park

Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power, national, regional and municipal, it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.

recycle_childrenEducation in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.

If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them, and personally transformed to respond.

caretakers of earth-handsThere is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.

Along with the importance of little everyday gestures, social love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all of society.

The Faith Perspective

We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.

This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world.

Climate 7 polar bearsClearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

Everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice, and faithfulness to others.

Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by a love which calls us together into universal communion.

hand of God 2Creation is of the order of love.

A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.

When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequalities, injustices and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model is the ideal of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus.

most-beautiful-nature-images-world-5The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.

All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect.

Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.

brother son sister moon care of the earth[This conversion] entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.

We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.

Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.

Integral Ecology

We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

environmental issue 2Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective, which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.

If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.

We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis that is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature.

world globe_social responseNature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live.

NOTE: The final three segments of the Encyclical will be posted here on Tuesday, June 23, 20

Reflection for Holy Thursday

Salvator Mundi: Via Crucis

By Denise Levertov 

  rembrandt jesus

Maybe He looked indeed
much as Rembrandt envisioned Him
in those small heads that seem in fact
portraits of more than a model.
A dark, still young, very intelligent face,
A soul-mirror gaze of deep understanding, unjudging.
That face, in extremis, would have clenched its teeth
In a grimace not shown in even the great crucifixions.
The burden of humanness (I begin to see) exacted from Him
That He taste also the humiliation of dread,
cold sweat of wanting to let the whole thing go,
like any mortal hero out of his depth,
like anyone who has taken herself back.
The painters, even the greatest, don’t show how,
in the midnight Garden,
or staggering uphill under the weight of the Cross,
He went through with even the human longing
to simply cease, to not be.
Not torture of body,
not the hideous betrayals humans commit
nor the faithless weakness of friends, and surely
not the anticipation of death (not then, in agony’s grip)
was Incarnation’s heaviest weight,
but this sickened desire to renege,
to step back from what He, Who was God,
had promised Himself, and had entered
time and flesh to enact.
Sublime acceptance, to be absolute, had to have welled
up from those depths where purpose
Drifted for mortal moments.

The “Sticky Fingers of Divine Providence” – A Reflection for the Fourth Week of Lent

By Sister Jane Geiger, MHSH

[2 Chr 36:15-16, 19-23; Ps 137:1-6; Jn 3:14-21]

“Gutsy” might best describe Nicodemus:  gutsy, but not stupid. It seems he had to meet with Jesus, but he took care to come in the dark so fewer people would see—although, as part of a small population, he certainly knew that even the night has eyes and word travels fast.

So his status as a respected religious leader might have been jeopardized by his visit to a questionable “wonder worker.”  Nevertheless, he went, impelled by a hunger to understand.

Cyrus, too, seems daring. Yes, he may have wanted to deport a troublesome ethnic group, but they were also one of his main sources of labor (why does this sound familiar?), and their exodus left the country in significant need of workers.  Credit—or blame?—is attributed to God for inspiring Cyrus’ decree.

In our time, God gets less credit or blame for the decisions of humans.  Only when we look back from some decades’ distance do we perceive the sticky fingerprints of divine providence and mutter to ourselves, “So that’s where God was going,” or “So that’s why that evil was allowed to happen.”

Hands_of_God_and_Adam

We need to learn and relearn, all through the span of our days, that life can be drawn even from darkest death.  We need to be patient, giving God time to draw dazzling good out of deep evil.

–What “deep evil” do you see—in our world or in yourself—that you are hoping God can heal?

–How might your patient waiting and working toward that healing be in itself a work of God?

–Do you see any sticky fingerprints as you look back?

The Transfiguration – A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

Excerpted from a Meditation by Larry Gillick, S.J., Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality

[Readings: Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-19; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10]

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent presents the Transfiguration, or the “the Changing of the Garb.”  Peter, James and John go up a hill with Jesus.  They have a most intimate encounter with Jesus, God the Beyond, and, of course, themselves.

Jesus dazzles his followers with some state of glorification. Moses, the man of the law, and Elijah, the man of prophesy, are seen conversing with Jesus.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, and the “voice” again ordains him as “my beloved son.”  The terrified trio is encouraged also to “listen to him.”

Immediately after this experience, there they are, just the four again and nobody else, no other sounds.  They leave with this experience and their questions about what it was all about.  They are charged by Jesus not to speak about it until he had risen from the dead. They did not understand this, either, but they kept on walking back down from this hill of intimacy.

Peter, James and John experienced an unusual convention and communion.  They are “befuddled-beholders” and they go off into the routine down-the-hill living of their lives.

Their faith seems to be strengthened, but at the same time they experience bewilderment and must ask themselves about the “realness” of what has just happened.

Devotion, prayer, liturgy can be similar calls to simple and honest closeness.  Trying to figure out these experiences and explain them cheapens them and flattens them out into a practice rather than a delight. We go toward a time of being met by the Holy, given something of ourselves by the encouragement and comfort of God’s presence and then sent away, but always the little question, “Was that really real? Or was I talking to myself, comforting myself, judging myself?”

Intimacy with God does not lead to comprehending, but to sending, living, transfiguring, changing because we are so loved.  I wish to come away from every liturgy or times of personal prayer less able to explain why I live the way I do.  I wish to be a befuddlement  and, in a sense, be a transfigurational experience, not easily explained away.

Reflection:  Am I able to delight in the unexplainable mysteries and experiences of my faith?