“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.”

 

What’s New?

A reflection for the fifth week in Lent.
By Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

Thus says the LORD…
Remember not the events of the past,
the things of long ago consider not;
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.
Wild beasts honor me,
jackals and ostriches,
for I put water in the desert
and rivers in the wasteland
for my chosen people to drink,
the people whom I formed for myself,
that they might announce my praise.

-Isaiah 43:16-19

 

Is God doing anything “new” in your life?  Putting water into any of your personal deserts, or rivers in whatever might be a wasteland for you?  Perhaps more importantly, would you notice any of this “newness” if it were happening?

Many aspects of our lives conspire to prevent us from being able to see things anew, or to believe that anything new is possible.  We become overly accustomed to the same people, places, activities and events.  We become jaded by apparent corruption in institutions that we formerly esteemed and trusted.  Fixation on our mobile devices literally prevents us from seeing what is around us.  How can we believe that anything new and good is possible?

The late Rose Mary Dougherty, SSND, captured this phenomenon well in an article she wrote titled “Windexing the Eyes”.  She described a monk who, after his 30-day retreat, said “It was as if my eyes were Windexed.”  The hours of prayer, meditation and silence were “the knife that excised the ‘cataracts’ formed by years of biased, habitual ways of seeing and refusal to see”.  Now, he was able to see beyond externals to a deeper reality. He felt that nothing stood between him and the other.

You may not be able or even inclined to undertake a 30-day retreat, but spending even some time in prayer, meditation and silence each day will provide you with the time and space with which to withdraw from the “externals” that consume you. It will allow you to get in touch with your authentic self and see what God is doing in your life.  During these final weeks of Lent and into Holy Week (and beyond), why not give it a try?

An Advent Gift "From the Heart of God"

heart-lydia-cho-rscj“From the Heart of God…” was the theme that captured the attention of nearly 80 people who gathered on Saturday, December 3, 2016, at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart for an Advent Day of Prayer.

Mission Helper Sr. Clare Walsh, facilitator of the day, began with a quote from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” inviting us to look at where our hearts might be “two sizes too small.”  Dr. Seuss gave way to reflecting on Advent Scriptures from Isaiah and Luke, followed by Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy challenge – to enter the chaos of our world with Jesus, Mercy Incarnate.

Participants were asked to reflect on “Where in our lives is God inviting us to enlarge our hearts and to love a bigger God?” dsc_1735

The day of prayer provided an opportunity to slow down, linger, ponder, wonder…to step out of the rush of Christmas into the hush of Advent.

“From the Heart of God…” came reflection, silence, prayer, lively faith sharing, and a delicious lunch.

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Our gathering ended at 3pm with Rev. Robert Albright presiding at Liturgy during which Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH, renewed her vows.

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The Mission Helpers have sponsored days of prayer at their Center for the past 12 years. Sr. Jane Geiger, MHSH is the behind-the-scenes person that has made it all happen. Keep your hearts open for the next one…watch for the announcement.

(Heart image by Lydia Cho, RSCJ)

 

A Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

Reading I: Isaiah 11: 1-10
Responsorial Psalm: 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Reading II: Romans 15: 4-9
Gospel: Matthew 3: 1-12

Advent 2 pic 2The word “hippie” came to mind as I began reading the Gospel for the second week of Advent. John the Baptist certainly marched to his own drummer, living in the desert, wearing “odd” clothes, eating “strange” food. People like John are often written off as kooks, nut-jobs, outliers. In spite of his off-putting ways, though, people of his time seemed drawn to him, traveling (on foot, remember: no Greyhounds to tourist meccas) “from Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan.”

His message wasn’t very cheerful, either, nor was he much of a diplomat in presenting his thoughts. Really, if someone invited you to go for a long, rough hike to hear an oddball, sort of angry person scold everybody and warn them of impending punishment, how likely is it that you would have gone?

Maybe the appeal lay in seeing someone blast the religious leaders of that day – aristocrats and legal scholars of their faith, not known for sensitivity to the human condition. Whatever drew people to John (nothing good on TV?) they certainly came and were motivated to be baptized as a sign they would change their ways.

There’s a balance to John’s fire in the first reading. Isaiah is just as intense as John, but more hopeful, perhaps because he foresees justice for the poor, safety even for a baby playing near a snake (which had to be a much greater concern in those days), no harm or ruin anywhere on earth. Who wouldn’t go for that?

In the second reading, we’re encouraged to endure and be hopeful – something we can all get behind these days – expressing our trust and hope by the way we relate to one another – just as Jews and Gentiles were urged to get along, though in Paul’s time that was a wildly radical notion! Is it too wild and radical for us in our time? Do we have enough of Isaiah’s vision to give it a try? Where will you begin?

 

 

Contemplating the Mystery of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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