The Passion in Real Time: A Triduum Reflection in a Global Pandemic

By Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH

Holy Week is more palpable this year than most of us imagined possible. We are experiencing the passion played out in real time.

We are confined, masked, distanced as health care workers offer themselves so others may live, while essential workers help to carry the cross thus making the way less burdensome. Neighbors being neighborly, looking out for the most vulnerable. A Holy Week where we “keep watch”.

This is an anxious time, “a night different from all other nights”. Questions arise from deep inside our being. Throughout scripture, Jesus posed questions to engage us, perhaps none with more urgency than those questions asked during his passion and death.

His questions probe, drawing from life as it emerges, and looking for a response hidden within us. The questions of Jesus are where prayer has always been valid. The initiative is always His. The graced response is ours. In his questions, Jesus holds us within his gaze.

We cannot use Holy Week to escape COVID19…this global pandemic calls us to solidarity as we share suffering with our sisters and brothers around the world.

Jesus’s deepest desire is to be in relationship with us.

Would you want to spend some time these days allowing Jesus to lovingly ask you the questions he voiced in the darkest of times?

Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?

 

  Do you know what I have done for you?

 

 And, what shall I say?
Father, save me from this hour?

 

 Whom are you looking for?

 

 Shall I not drink the Cup given to me by my Father?

 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

God Bless us all these holy and frightening days. We wait in faith-filled Hope.

“I Rejoice Heartily in the Lord”

A Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

By Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

Readings:
Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1: 46-48, 49-50, 53-54
Thess. 5:16-24
Jn. 1: 6-8, 19-28

advent 3 candlesThe Church designates the third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice.” At the midpoint in this Advent season of expectant waiting and watching, we are called to reflect on the joy of God’s presence and promise.   As we hear Isaiah exult in the mission he has been given by God, Mary brimming over with gratitude and praise in her Magnificat, and Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice always,” we are led to the Gospel’s joyous promise of “the one who is coming.”

We invite you to pray with the passage of Isaiah, found below, using the technique of “lectio divina” (holy reading). In this approach, you first settle yourself in a quiet, comfortable posture, acknowledging the presence of God. Read the passage slowly and reflectively, noticing if any words of phrases stand out for you. Allow those words or phrases to sink in. You might repeat them a few times. Don’t try to analyze them, just allow them to be with you.

Slowly read the passage a second time. Reflect on what the significant words or phrases are touching in you. It might be your own experience of comforting someone who is brokenhearted, or of being comforted yourself. Whatever it is, trust that God speaks to you in your own personal experiences. Talk with God about this reaction, just as you would speak to a good friend. Then sit quietly and notice how God seems to be responding to you. That response may be a feeling of peace, or a sense of close presence. You may sense that God rejoices over you!

Read the passage a third time. What grace (gift) do you desire as a result of your prayer? Or, what might God be calling you to do, or to become?

Close your prayer time with the Lord’s Prayer or another prayer.

During the week, you might wish pray with the other readings, using lectio divina.

Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.

I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord God make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What is God trying to say to us in our busy lives? Be patient! Learn to wait—for each other, for love, for happiness, for God!”**

**Title quote from Carlo Corretto, Letters from the Desert

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

Two-Purple-CandlesCertainly the thoughts of Carlo Corretto are underscored in the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent. Isaiah foretells of a time when the Lord will visit the Israelites and gather them in his arms like a shepherd gathers sheep so they may be comforted. St. Peter extols his readers to be patient for the return of Jesus Christ and to live today in hope and faith as we long for an intimate experience of God’s nearness and love. Finally we hear John the Baptist’s plea to prepare the way of the Lord in the desert—a time to clear away all that distracts us from realizing our utter dependence on God as well as God’s unconditional love for each of us.

What are we to make of all this waiting? In all of these readings there is an underlying sense of hope that God is somehow present to us in a real yet hidden way and also there is an awareness of a longing for a more immediate and personal experience of God’s care and love for each of us from moment to moment as we go about the art of living from day to day.

How do we live in the in-between time? How are we to be present to the not yet while we wait for a clearer and more intimate experience of God-with-us? The spiritual tradition offers some helpful practices that can help us remember our fundamental relationship with God that is grounded in our utter dependence on God’s generosity, beginning with every breath we take to every grace we receive day by day.

Advent is a good time in the year to call to mind and heart the goodness of God in our past life by remembering, appreciating and expressing gratitude for the many blessings we have received throughout our life. This practice is often called Remembering our Blessed History.

 Another helpful practice is to take some time each evening to review our quality of attention to the day that is just ending in order to become ever more aware of God’s presence moment by moment. In our prayer time we can ask God to reveal to us those moments when we were responsive to God’s invitation to act in a spirit of charity and compassion, and also to reveal to us those moments when we neglected to respond to (or did not even notice) that invitation. This practice is called an Examen of Consciousness. Over time the practice of an Examen can help us live more fully in the present, allowing God to heal our past and calling us to live in the now.

And finally, we can ask God to deepen our faith that God is present and active right now, loving us as we are, and calling us to greater generosity as we are led into a future that God intends for us.

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves.
Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answers
.
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Called by Circumstances

A Reflection by Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

In the first reading for the Second Sunday of Lent (GN 12:1-4A) God tells Abram:

“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”

Midrash is one of my favorite things.  (No, it’s not a terrible affliction akin to shingles, although that’s what it sounds like.)  Midrash is the practice of students of scripture who read a passage like the one above and wonder what happened before and after the event recorded.

What might have led up to it?  What outcomes were possible?  It’s all speculation, of course—none of it is verifiable in history—but pondering a reading in that way can be quite rich.

stars 2 Magic SkiesMy first thought on this little reading is, “God sure knows how to sweeten a deal!”  Certainly God realized how wrenching it would be for Abram to surrender his land.  Ownership of land in many (not all) cultures confers status, security, even the right to vote (as in our country at one time).  Abram should give all that up?

“You must be kidding, God.”

But then the sweetener:  God promises Abram a new great nation, a wonderful reputation, unlimited blessings.  Wow!  So “Abram went as the Lord directed him.”  Lucky for us he was so easily persuaded.  But, I have to wonder what his wife had to say!

Circumstances call us, (not divine voices exactly, but…) and we are rarely so compliant as Abram.  We dither, ponder, discuss, maybe dispute.  “Why should I do that, or go there or accept such-and-such or so-and-so?  Why me, now, here?  What if I had other plans?”

I think particularly of women I’ve known or heard about—mothers of young families whose husbands suddenly die—a car crash, a stroke, a heart attack.  Then what?  How to acquiesce to that?  How to go on?  Could I?

For Reflection:

 Is such a tragedy a call that can bring its own grace, making acceptance possible?  Are such experiences our transfiguring events?  How many such calls come to us in the course of one lifetime? How do we answer them?

Pomp and Circumstance – A Reflection on Graduations

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Last week I and other members of my high school graduation class of 1962 served as honorary marshals for this year’s graduation ceremony.   This was the first time I had returned to my high school, and it was quite a treat to reconnect with some of my former classmates, share memories of the past, and wish the Class of 2012 well.

The school auditorium seemed a lot smaller than I remember it, and the library is much more high tech, but the students seemed pretty much the same—all excited to be going off to college, hoping the current economic situation will turn around, having some misgivings about being on their own and wondering what the future holds for them.

Graduation is often called commencement—a beginning. When I think of beginning something new, I am also reminded of the necessity to let go of something in the past.  We cannot fully embrace the new unless we let go of what has been. Yes, the new has joys and blessings of its own, but these cannot be realized unless we let go of the past and live in the present.

Graduation is a wonderful metaphor for the spiritual journey. At each stage we rely on what we have learned in the past, but we are called to use that life experience in creative ways in the present.  We have all learned that we cannot relive the past, but we can rely on lessons we learned in the past to face new and challenging situations.

From a spiritual perspective, we can remember God-with-us in the past and know that God is with us now. We also know that what is happening in our lives now will offer us wisdom in the future.

Questions for reflection:

  • What are some things you have had to let go of in your life journey?
  • Who are some of the people that helped you negotiate major life transitions?
  • What is something you need to let go of now?
  • What memories do you cherish?
  • For what are you grateful?
  • What grace do you need from God to move forward now?

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 1 Prayer and Reflections

Day 1, Changed by the Servant Christ.
Scripture

Zechariah 9:9-10, A King righteous and victorious – and humble.
Psalm131, My heart is not proud.
Romans 12:3-8, We have different gifts with which to serve.
Mark 10:42-45, The Son of Man came to serve.

Meditation
The coming of the Messiah and His victory was accomplished through service. Jesus wants a spirit of service in the hearts of His followers as well. True greatness consists in serving God and one’s neighbor.
Zechariah’s prophecy concerning a victorious and humble King was fulfilled in Christ. The King of Peace comes to Jerusalem – the City of Peace. He does not conquer it by deceit or violence, but by gentleness and humility.
Psalm 131 describes the picture of a mother and child as a sign of God’s tender love and of trust in God, to which the entire community of believers is called.
St. Paul challenges us to discover our own abilities. Each of our traditions has been endowed by the Lord with gifts that we are called to place at the service of others.
By His service, Christ redeemed our refusal to serve God. St. Paul reminds us that the diverse gifts given to us are for service. In our diversity we are always one body in Christ, and members of one another. The use of our diverse gifts in common service to humanity makes visible our unity in Christ. They are an expression of the practical ecumenism which the Church and the world badly need. The imitation of Christ the Servant provides eloquent testimony to the Gospel, moving not only minds, but also hearts. It is a sign of the coming Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of the Servant Christ.

For Your Reflection:

On this day we encounter Jesus, on the road to victory through service. We see him as the “one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life, a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Consequently, the Church of Jesus Christ is a serving community. The use of our diverse gifts in common service to humanity makes visible our unity in Christ.

  1. What opportunities for service are most threatened by pride and arrogance?
  2. What should be done to ensure that all Christian ministries are better experienced as service?
  3. In our community, what can Christians of different traditions do better together than in isolation to reveal the Servant Christ?

Prayer 
Almighty and eternal God, by traveling the royal road of service your Son leads us from the arrogance of our disobedience to humility of heart. Unite us to one another by your Holy Spirit, so that through service to our sisters and brothers, Your true countenance may be revealed; You, who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

(Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute)

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.

Simple Steps in Prayer

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Many people are looking for real and practical ways to pray that help them pay attention to God in the midst of their busy lives.  A way that has proven helpful to me is to structure my prayer time around four movements: Reading, Reflecting, Responding and Remaining (in the Latin of the Middle Ages they would refer to Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio and Contemplatio).

READING: The fundamental act of prayer is listening (paying careful, loving and alert attention): to Scripture, first of all, but also to the events of our lives. We are people to whom God speaks. That’s the heart of the art of prayer, the art of genuine attention.

REFLECTING: Digesting what we have slowly read, using imagination, paying attention to insights, noticing feelings and connections: all are essential aspects of understanding and integrating what we have heard in God’s speaking to us in Scripture and in the silence of our hearts.

RESPONDING: Saying words (our own or formal prayers) comes as a natural response to the first two elements of prayer.  Often, giving thanks—gratitude—is a first response to noticing God’s presence in the Scriptures and in the experiences of our lives.

REMAINING: A simple resting (in faith, hope and love) in the reality of the Triune God who speaks to us in order to draw us into a sharing in the Divine Life.  In this silence we offer ourselves as an empty vessel that God may fill with grace and love.

We will never acquire the art of prayer unless we give the time to practice prayer. A specific time of 20-30 minutes each day can be our gift to Christ, a time no longer at our own disposal, but a time that belongs to Christ and us together. Sometimes spent with others, sometimes in the company of Mary, this Christ-time in each day will become the place where we discover the depth, creativity andprofound human value in the living art of Christian prayer.

Prayer is communion and conversation with God.  We all know from our experience that a genuine conversation requires speaking and listening.  We are often ready to speak, but neglect to listen carefully and attentively.  Communion, or friendship, develops when both dynamics are present.

How do you pray? What works for you?

Reflections for the Fourth Week of Advent–The Grace of God Has Appeared

By Sister Natalie DeLuca, MHSH

We are drawing near the December date that brings vivid images of a tiny bundle of humanity—a promised child filled with grace who will fill us with hope and joy.  All children are beautiful. All children are filled with promise. But this child fills the desire of nations!

Set to music, our hearts swell with joy as we recall, read, hear and sing the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us;

Upon his shoulder dominion rests,

They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,

Father-forever, Prince of Peace…”

The grace of God has appeared.  During these gifted moments that surround the anniversary of the birth of Christ, memories of many past Christmases crowd the space in our hearts.  We cherish the memory of children who perhaps left our side much too soon, of family members or friends whose love of life and whose strong faith revealed Christ to us.  They fed us with a bread of blessing.  They were Eucharist for us.  We are who we are today because of their joy, their hope, their excitement of life.

As we visit the crèche in our churches or place the small figure of the infant Jesus in the manger under the tree, we recall the birth of Jesus and all that He did for us.  It is a good time for recalling the joy and blessing of other births – of sons and daughters who gave their lives unselfishly for others; family members whose kindness let us grow in freedom as children of God; friends and teachers of our childhood or adulthood whose lives were transparent with honesty and truth and made a difference in our journey of life.

We rejoice.  We celebrate.  We are so grateful for the lives of the many who touched our lives during their journey to God.  In celebrating the birth of the ONE who was the face of God, we celebrate all the births of those loved ones who gifted us with the grace of the Babe born in Bethlehem.  Their birth was a Christmas gift to us that will last our lifetime.  We pray our Christmas praises and, in joy, give thanks!

During this last week of Advent, allow some time to reflect on the gift of Christ in your life.

What difference does He make in your life?

Who brings Christ to you today?

To whom do you bring Christ?