A Reflection for the Third Week in Advent by Sister Natalie DeLuca, MHSH
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.
He, 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?
–Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter on Ecology, “Laudato Si” (Praised Be)
Following is the third and final set of excerpts from Laudato Si, prepared by the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington, DC, and published on June 18, 2015. The first segment was posted on this site on June 19; the second on June 23.
The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume.
Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.
Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them.
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.
A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.
Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full.
We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.
When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.
True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.
It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same.
The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. By itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.
A technological and economic development that does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.
The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very nature of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is shown about whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment; as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution. In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved.
Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.
Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.
In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart
–Excerpts from a homily given by Bishop Denis J. Madden on
October 10, 2014, at a Mass marking the beginning of the
Community’s yearlong anniversary celebration
In the annals of the Mission Helpers we read, “United in their love for the poor, early Mission Helpers banded together to incarnate God’s love for all those who are spiritually or temporally in need.”
Mother Demetrias (Mission Helpers’ foundress) took to heart the words we heard this evening from John’s first letter:
“In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us.”
Just the other day…I saw a man with a bent back walking down the street. I could not see his face, only his hunched back. And by the grace of God I could see and experience the presence of God in him. I thanked God for that visit and at the same time wondered how often have I missed His other appearances.
You, my dear Sisters, have not missed these sightings of the Lord; you, my dear Sisters, have not missed the Lord coming among us for the last 125 years in various shapes and forms—now that’s a lot of sightings!
With no anxiety but in a spirit of thankfulness at being able to serve the Lord by serving others your missions have taken you all over the United States, to central and south America, and your ministries have extended beyond the borders of the classroom to faith formation, spiritual direction, hospital ministry, care of the elderly…You have served in centers for those with special needs and offered shelter and protection to abused women and extended a welcome to asylum seekers.
Pope St. John Paul II said: “To welcome the weakest, helping them on life’s journey, is a sign of civilization. These persons belong in every way to the category of the poor whom Jesus reminded us in his beatitudes ‘will inherit the Kingdom of God’.”
My dear Sisters, you have been doing this for 125 years, and I am especially thankful that you have been doing it here in this Archdiocese where you have served in more than 150 parishes and countless social service centers.
From your earliest days you were known as “new kinds of Sisters.” You were not the traditional school teachers or nurses. Instead you went out among the people, reached out to those who were the most alienated or neglected by society, and responded to their needs.
It’s amazing what a whole group, a congregation of women, can do! It’s amazing what a group that takes the Gospel seriously can do.
How sorely the world and this local Church today still need your presence and your service so filled with love. You, the good Mission Helpers, change people’s lives, you give hope when there is no reason to hope, and you bring joy when lives are surrounded by darkness. Can anyone thank you enough for this? I don’t think so, but at least we can try.
May God continue to show His face to you and bless you with His most favored Blessings.
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:
“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….’
“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.’
As 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?
–At the Mission Helpers’ Mission in Manzanita, Venezuela
The annual Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16, is a major feast day in Venezuela, and especially in the 16 villages of the Buria District and its capital, the village of Manzanita, which is home to the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the area’s patroness saint and the name of an 18th century church founded by the Franciscan Capuchin missionaries. That church was long gone when the Mission Helpers came to this undeveloped and impoverished region in 1990. There had been no church and no church presence in the district for many decades; the nearest priest was many miles away.
The first Sisters began their ministry by setting up a tiny worship space that has since blossomed into Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish. The church also serves as a community and outreach center for the villagers. It is the center of social and spiritual life in the region.
For the people of the Manzanita region, the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a weeklong event. Here is a recap of last year’s festivities:
The celebration began a week before the actual Feast Day with prayer services in all of the villages. On the Sunday before the Feast Day, Bishop Antonio Jose Lopez Castillo celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation. Twenty-two teenagers made Confirmation, among them were 12 Guajiros (indigenous people) from Yuba tribe who live at the Barquisimeto Boys Town.
To help the young people celebrate their Confirmation, the Mission Helpers organized a concert with a Christian Catholic band from city of Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara State.
The Feast Day itself began at 6:00 a.m. when women from the community prepared a meal that was served to everyone following the 10 a.m. Solemn Mass. At the Mass, 30 children from the villages made First Communion. At 3:00 p.m. the rosary was recited and at 4:00 the procession began.
More than 300 people came from the district villages as well as from villages across Lara State. They processed with the revered statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, leaving the church at 4:00 p.m., walking a distance of about six miles, and returning to the church at 7:30. There was a final blessing, followed by fireworks.
The much-loved yearly celebration—a highlight of religious and community life—is organized and executed by the Mission Helpers with the help of a dedicated corps of Lay Missioners.
I would guess that she was about five years old. The parish hall was filled with people eagerly awaiting the performance of the Irish dancers. The music makers were ready to strum their guitars and at that first strum, the dancers raised their feet in rhythm as they faced their audience. About four feet away, to the left of the dancers, was the five-year-old little lady facing the stage. Oblivious to all on-lookers, it was clear her focus was on the professionals. She was in her zone. She was a delight. Her little body moved as quickly as it could. Sometimes, the dance was hard work and she lifted her small hand to brush aside a curl as she continued with unabashed freedom and all the dignity of a child of God. Her round happy face shone with brilliant, intense and serious joy.
Sunday’s first reading (Sam.16:1b, 6-7,10-13a) always stops me short. Perhaps, like some, I need this strong, clear reminder that what we see is not necessarily what God sees: “Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is here before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature…. not as man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” The Gospel is about “seeing”— asking God to heal our blindness.
Our culture often dictates the opposite of our values. Does our need for acceptance sometimes translate to choices based merely on appearances?
The dancers that night so long ago received the applause of the people of God assembled to give recognition and enjoy the talent. I wondered how many were delighted by the sight of that small child, not in the spotlight, who gave so many so much delight.
“Unless you become as a little child….” Not childish. Not losing dignity or responsibility. But freedom to share our gifts. And the greatest of gifts is love–a love that does not judge on appearances…on cultural criteria…on what’s in it for me…or on what or who is out of favor.
During these last days of Lent, we are called to assess if and/or why we exclude. In turn, we will be given evidence of Christ’s great love for each and all of us. He paid the ultimate price. Let us ask for the great gift of “seeing with our hearts.”
Mission Helpers Celebrate 325 Years in God’s Service
By Loretta Cornell, MHSH, President
On Saturday, June 9, we celebrate Jubilees—one of the most joyous occasions we Mission Helpers have each year. It gives us the opportunity to reflect on the lives and ministries of women who have been called by God, and who have responded…
“…I will go Lord, where you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.”*
Each of this year’s six Jubilarians has lived the words of the hymn, “Here I Am Lord.” They have gone where God has led them; they have held God’s people in their hearts. And, they have done much more.
Together they have spent 325 years in God’s service. Directly or through the many hundreds of people they have trained to teach, these Sisters have introduced God and Jesus and the Church to thousands of youngsters. They have re-introduced religion to parents and adults and guided non-Catholics on the path to the Church.
And, Sister Dolores has done it all in sign language, too!
They have cared for the children of immigrants and have brought religious education to the children of men and women in the military. They have been by the side of the dying and grieved with those they left behind. They have lived and worked with those who have developmental disabilities, ministered in AIDs hospitals and helped refugees find sanctuary. And, collectively, they hold 10 college degrees.
They have done it all and we salute them: Sisters Dolores Beere and Maureen McKenna, 70 years; Sister Barbara Wills—who has also been the keeper of the Community’s Archives for the last 36 years—60 years; Sisters Martha Pavelsky and Rita Lynch, 50 years; and Sister Julianne Hau, 25 years.
They have, indeed, gone where the Lord has called them to go. And, as Sister Maureen (70 years) says, “God has held us by the hand every step of the way.”
We hold each of them in our hearts.
* Hymn, “Here I Am Lord;” Lyrics by Dan Schutte, S.J.
Is it uniquely Catholic to speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as “the Blessed Mother”?
In what sense was she “blessed”? I think of a French word that looks similar—blesse—but gives us more to ponder: It’s a word that means wounded.
Now that is accurate. Mary’s involvement in God’s plan was profoundly wounding. Reread the first four chapters of Luke’s gospel, plus other mentions of Mary further on and see how obscure, terrifying, horrifying Mary’s life was at times.
Their boy was not an easy responsibility. Like most offspring, he made life “interesting” to an extreme extent. Parents who look on anxiously as their children navigate life’s tricky passages might find it helpful to reflect on those rough spots and converse with Mary.
A Wounded Life
How blessed exactly did she feel when her 12-year-old went AWOL in Jerusalem, or when his buddies sent word for her to come and get him because he was “talking crazy”?
Thinking along these lines about the Blessed Mother helps me to understand why my mother and so many other women (and men) raising children today still turn to Mary for inspiration. Her life was anything but a holy card in pastels and gilt. Even though she herself was sinless, the sin-pervading the world touched and wounded her life repeatedly, and she, like us, had no choice but to live it out moment by moment with no idea how it would end.
Sound familiar? If you intend to follow God’s plan for living, reckon with what that might require of you, and pray for Mary’s courage to stick with your commitment!
Note: Sisters and friends of the Mission Helpers post their reflections on their mothers on our Mothers Day Blog, Sunday, May 13.
The World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland, proclaimed June 1 to be International Children’s Day in 1925. The Day is usually marked with speeches on children’s rights and well-being, children’s television programs, parties, various actions involving or dedicated to children and family activities.
Universal Children’s Day
Universal Universal Children’s Day takes place on November 20 annually. First proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1954, it was established to encourage all countries to institute a day, first to promote mutual exchange and understanding among children and second to initiate action to benefit and promote the welfare of the world’s children.
Día de los niños – Children’s Day
Día de los niños is celebrated on various days in many places around the world to honor children. Although most Latin American countries celebrate it at different dates, we at St. Gabriel’s Church in Baltimore, Maryland–due to a large population of Mexicans–celebrate it the Sunday closer to the date they celebrate it in Mexico: April 30th. We celebrate with ALL the children of the parish since we are a multi-cultural parish—so we have children who are North American, Africans, Asians, African-American, Filipino and Hispanics from Central and South America. We honor children and childhood by having a fun time for them—providing delicious traditional foods, along with other typical picnic food, and entertain them with activities like piñata making, face painting, and a variety of games for all ages.
What are you and your community doing to celebrate the gift of children?