Our First and Most Important Duty Is Love…

…for without love there can be no service“.
Mother Demetrias, Founder of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

On Sunday, April 23rd, Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President, joyfully welcomed approximately 60 people to the annual Donor Appreciation Mass and Brunch at the Mission Helper Center. Sr. Liz thanked our donors for their continued loving accompaniment and support of the ministries of the Mission Helpers, confirming that these are vital to the continued thriving of our varied works.

Rev. George Witt, SJ, Provincial Assistant for Spirituality Ministries of the Maryland Jesuit Province, presided at the liturgy. He reminded the congregation  that after the Resurrection the apostles were sent out on mission to carry on the work of Jesus.  Referencing the words of Acts 1:8,  “You shall be witnesses unto me to the uttermost parts of the earth”, he noted that this is also the call of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

After Mass, guests and Sisters enjoyed a delicious brunch in the dining room, prepared by Carolyn Rodgers. Patricia Dodd, Mission Advancement Director, thanked the assembled gathering for their loyal support. Two MHSH Sisters, Onellys Villegas and Danielle Murphy, spoke about their ministries, which are made possible in part by the financial support of our donors. Sr. Onellys spoke movingly about her full-time work with women victims of domestic violence through the House of Ruth. Sr. Danielle, now semi-retired, performs visitation ministry through Oak Crest Retirement Community, and also tutors children at the Immigration Outreach Service Center of St. Matthew Parish.

Attendees were given cards created by Administrative Assistant Tom Mackin, each with a quote from Mother Demetrias, including the title quote, above.

Day 6: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

week_of_prayer_logo_216wDay 6, Listen to this Dream

Scripture

  • Genesis 37:5-8, Listen to this dream that I dreamed.
  • Psalm 126, We were like those who dream.
  • Romans 12: 9-13, Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
  • John 21:25, The world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Meditation

Joseph has a dream, which is a message from God. However, when Joseph shares his dream with his brothers they react with anger and violence because the dream implies that they must bow down before him. Ultimately famine drives the brothers to Egypt and they do bow before Joseph, but rather than the abasement and dishonor they fear, it is a moment of reconciliation and grace.

Jesus, like Joseph, unfolds to us a vision, a message about the life of his Father’s kingdom. It is a vision of unity. But like Joseph’s brothers, we are often upset, angered and fearful of the vision and what it seems to imply. It demands that we submit and bow to the will of God. We fear it because we fear what we might lose. But the vision is not about loss. Rather, it is about regaining brothers and sisters we had lost, the reuniting of a family.

We have written many ecumenical texts, but the vision of Christian unity is not captured in agreed statements alone, important though these are. The unity God desires for us, the vision he puts before us, far exceeds anything we can express in words or contain in books. The vision must take flesh in our lives and in the prayer and mission that we share with our brothers and sisters. Most of all it is realized in the love we show for one another.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, grant us humility to hear your voice, to receive your call, and to share your dream for the unity of the Church. Help us to be awake to the pain of disunity. Where division has left us with hearts of stone, may the fire of your Holy Spirit inflame our hearts and inspire us with the vision of being one in Christ, as he is one with you, so that the world may believe that you have sent him. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

For Reflection:

  • What does it mean to place our own dreams for Christian unity at the feet of Christ?
  • In what ways does the Lord’s vision of unity call the churches to renewal and change today?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 8

2015_WPCU_Poster_inner_240x349Day 8, Many believed because of the woman’s testimony

SCRIPTURE: Exodus 3:13-15, Moses at the Burning Bush

  • Psalm 30, The Lord restores us to life
  • Romans 10:14-17, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news
  • John 4:27-30.39-40, Many believed because of the woman’s testimony.

 

MEDITATION:

With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission. She announces  that she has found the Messiah. Many believed in Jesus because of her witness. The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Thanks to her openness, she recognized in that stranger “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4.14)

Mission is a key element of Christian faith. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Pope Francis told missionaries, “wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us.”  Mission is not proselytism. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference. Our mission requires us to learn to drink from the living water without taking hold of the well. The well does not belong to us. Rather, we draw life from the well of living water which is given by Christ

Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. We seek to live out what we proclaim. The late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara once said that “many have become atheists because they have become disillusioned by people of faith who do not practice what they preach.” The witness of the woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation. If our word and witness is authentic, the world will hear and believe. “How are they to believe if they have not heard?” (Rom 10: 15).

PRAYER:

God, Spring of Living Water, make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives. Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well, and give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another. Transform our hearts and our lives so that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News. And lead us always to the encounter the other, as an encounter with you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source: Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

 

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 8

2015_WPCU_Poster_inner_240x349Day 8, Many believed because of the woman’s testimony

SCRIPTURE:

  • Exodus 3:13-15, Moses at the Burning Bush
  • Psalm 30, The Lord restores us to life
  • Romans 10:14-17, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news
  • John 4:27-30.39-40, Many believed because of the woman’s testimony.

 

MEDITATION:

With her heart transformed, the Samaritan woman goes out in mission. She announces  that she has found the Messiah. Many believed in Jesus because of her witness. The force of her witness stems from the transformation of her life caused by her encounter with Jesus. Thanks to her openness, she recognized in that stranger “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4.14)

Mission is a key element of Christian faith. Every Christian is called to announce the name of the Lord. Pope Francis told missionaries, “wherever you may go, it would do you well to think that the Spirit of God always gets there ahead of us.”  Mission is not proselytism. Those who truly announce Jesus approach others in loving dialogue, open to mutual learning, and respecting difference. Our mission requires us to learn to drink from the living water without taking hold of the well. The well does not belong to us. Rather, we draw life from the well of living water which is given by Christ.

Our mission must be a work both of word and witness. We seek to live out what we proclaim. The late Brazilian Archbishop Helder Camara once said that “many have become atheists because they have become disillusioned by people of faith who do not practice what they preach.” The witness of the woman led her community to believe in Jesus because her brothers and sisters saw coherence between her words and her own transformation. If our word and witness is authentic, the world will hear and believe. “How are they to believe if they have not heard?” (Rom 10: 15).

PRAYER:

God, Spring of Living Water, make of us witnesses of unity through both our words and our lives. Help us to understand that we are not the owners of the well, and give us the wisdom to welcome the same grace in one another. Transform our hearts and our lives so that we might be genuine bearers of the Good News. And lead us always to the encounter the other, as an encounter with you. We ask this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Source: Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

 

Celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

–At the Mission Helpers’ Mission in Manzanita, Venezuela

Maria del CarmelThe 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:

Manzanita_Mt. Carmel 3 Kids dancing before the imageThe 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.

 

Manzanita_Mt. Carmel 2 Carring StatueMore 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.

My beautiful pictureThe 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.

 

 

 

Fruit of D’Vine

This past Saturday evening, the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart launched the first annual “Fruit of D’Vine” wine tasting event at Loyola Blakefield High School in Towson.  Over 300 people, many of them new friends of the Mission Helpers, turned out to sample over 30 different varieties of wine spread over 17 tables and to select from the delectable food offerings of over a dozen local restaurants and food specialty shops.

Live and silent auctions contributed to making this a very successful event in support of the Mission Helpers’ ministries.  Auction items included a Caribbean vacation cruise, a week’s stay on St. Martin, a diamond necklace, tickets to a Broadway play, a well-stocked golf accessory bag and many other enticing things.

Guests enjoyed mingling, getting to know the Mission Helper Sisters and staff and enjoying a night of fine wine and food in support of the varied ministries of the Mission Helpers in the United States and Venezuela.


We are looking forward to the 2012 edition of “Fruit of D’Vine”.  Keep an eye on our website for next year’s date, and plan to be there!

Our Lady of Mount Carmel – A Venezuelan Celebration

By Sisters Asdruanny García and Rosa Sofía Toledo, MHSH

Last Saturday, July 16, was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Nowhere is the day celebrated with more fervor than in rural Manzanita in the state of Lara, in Venezuela, where the Mission Helpers have had a mission since 1990.  We have been in Venezuela since 1963.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the patron saint of the village and the name of the church that the Mission Helpers established there.  Her feast day is always an extremely meaningful and joyous occasion for the people in the region.  Last Saturday was no exception.

La Virgen del Carmen en ManzanitaThe day before the celebration, the villagers and the young people preparing for Confirmation thoroughly cleaned the church and filled it with exotic, fragrant flowers.

On the morning of July 16, a priest from Barquisimeto (the large city 50 miles to the north of Manzanita) celebrated Mass and the sacrament of Confirmation for 49 young people.  During the Mass, individuals expressed their deep gratitude to Our Lady of Mount Carmel for her intercessory power in the community.  They showed their appreciation through song, dance, poetry, gifts and applause.

Following the joyful Mass the festivity continued with a shared lunch for 300 people in an atmosphere of brotherhood and sisterhood.

The procession began at 3 p.m. with the recitation of the Rosary; the statue of Our Lady was placed in a niche, which was donated by the local government, and hoisted to the shoulders of the men and women of the village.

From the church, we processed through the three main sectors of Manzanita, making stops at villages along the way.  At one stop, a family gifted Our Lady with a group of Mariachis who sang as we walked.   At each stop we led the people in reflections and prayers for families, businesses, police, health and agricultural institutions and government agencies.  And, all along the way, there was music and song.

At one point we were surprised by a sudden downpour of rain, but the people were so filled with joy that we continued, disregarding the rain.

When we returned to the church, the Mariachis joined us with their songs and stayed with the people of God for a long time.  The celebration ended at 6:30 p.m.

Reflection:  This feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is a particularly Latin American celebration.  What are your religious and cultural roots? Do your celebrations reflect your culture?

Have you felt the presence of Mary through the human and spiritual warmth of other people?

Have you ever experienced the intercessory power of Mary in your life?

Note:   All of the Our Lady of Mount Carmel events are coordinated by Mission Helper Sisters Rosa Sofía Toledo, Marita Rodríguez Segarra and Asdruanny García.

                                                                                                                                                                     

BOOK: THEY COME BACK SINGING

By GARY SMITH, SJ
LOYOLA PRESS, 2008

Book Review by Marilyn Dunphy

In the 1990s Gary Smith found himself contemplating yet another turn in his life.  Smith, a Jesuit priest ministering to prison inmates and homeless people in Portland, Oregon, felt called to something else. The “something” felt like it was radical call, not just a tweaking of his then-current life.

After much discerning and with the approval of his Provincial superiors, Smith, then age 63, left for Uganda in 2000 to work with the Jesuit Refugee Service.  He would spend the next six years providing pastoral care and catechetical training to Sudanese refugees.

Smith’s life had already seen at least two major shifts:  converting to Catholicism after years of espousing atheism, then entering the Jesuits and being ordained to the priesthood.

“They Come Back Singing” emerges from Smith’s journal of his time working with the Sudanese refugees who fled to northern Uganda to escape the ravages of the civil war in Sudan.  Smith describes his book as a “portrait of refugee hearts” and a “story of mission.”  It is a deeply moving, elegantly written account of his experience.

Smith is the antithesis of the aloof cleric or the judgmental Westerner. He comes to know and love the people he ministers to and freely acknowledges how he is changed by them. In the face of overwhelming infant, child and maternal mortality as well as violence, he comforts the grieving, provides material assistance and tries to come to grips with his own sense of outrage over such poverty and deprivation.  He enters into their suffering without reservation, and the bonds of friendship and affection between priest and people are apparent.

But the book is not a portrait of darkness. Smith captures the resiliency and vibrant spirit of these people as they face continuing hardship.  We see how their faith and strong sense of community sustain the refugees. We are invited into celebrations with food, music and dancing, and we marvel at their gratitude and hope for the future. We see young people determined to get an education and women demanding their rightful place in society.

Smith’s sense of humor (often self-deprecating) is evident in this book as is his honesty about his occasional callousness and impatience with the never-ending needs of the refugees.  His articulation of his own inner spiritual journey is both inspiring and instructive.

The subtitle of this book is “Finding God with the Refugees,” which is a variation on the Jesuit motto “Finding God in All Things.” In reading this book you will see how both Smith and the refugees find and hold onto God in their situation.
Chances are that after reading it, you will find God anew yourself.

The Mystery of God in Transition

By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH

During Lent I reread a book entitled “He Leadeth Me” by Walter Ciszek, SJ.  I first came across this wonderful book more than 30 years ago as I discerned a call to join the Mission Helpers.

Ciszek describes his 23 years of captivity in Russia during World War II and the Cold War and his experience of God’s grace, faithfulness and love in the midst of his trials.  Ciszek was also given many opportunities to minister to fellow prisoners and to establish underground parishes in an area hostile to Christianity.  He came to see that the value of his life was not simply about his accomplishments, but about God’s presence and love in darkness and in the unknown.

Sister Donna, at left, last Easter Vigil with candidates at Cornell University.

While reading this book again I am in the throes of another major transition in my own life.  In July I left a truly life-giving ministry as Chaplain to students, faculty and staff at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to become the primary caregiver of my mother.  She is 90 and her health is failing.

Since she retired in 1990, mom has spent her time visiting my brother, my sister and me.  As the years went by, we all noticed that it had become increasingly difficult for her to get around and to be as independent as she would like.  Her poor eyesight and failing health affected her ability to drive; her hearing loss restricted her ability to enter easily into conversations.  She can no longer take care of her basic needs.  A caregiver was in order.

An Uneasy Transition

As a family we made a decision that I would be the most likely of the three children to take on that task full-time.  (The Mission Helpers have also blessed this decision.)  And although I agreed that this is the right thing to do, it was not an easy transition for me to make.

Sister Donna, at right, last Easter at Cornell.

I was very comfortable working with young adults, and the university atmosphere was very alive and exciting.  In addition to the various aspects of the ministry, there was always something going on—concerts, athletic events, lectures, walks on campus, dinners, service projects.  Never a dull moment.  And after 16 years at the same location, it felt like home.  And I was beginning to delude myself that this could last forever.

Aging—An Ever Changing Process

To let go of all this activity and enter into what seemed like the limited world of a frail, elderly person—even though it’s mom—didn’t seem very attractive.  However, in prayer, God persistently invited me to embrace this new mission.  I have come closer to the mystery of human existence as ever changing, knowing that there is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to be young and a time to be old; and that we are called to appreciate each moment for what it is—an opportunity to be present to the mystery of God.

Sr. Donna and her mom, Lillian.

I now see that there is a lot of change going on in the life of an aging person. I have also come to a deeper realization of how great a gift it is to be part of a family—a microcosm of the family of God.  I suppose I began this new venture out of a sense of duty, but during this past year I have come to see how God continues to lead me (along with my brother and sister) into a new appreciation of the mystery of life in all of its wonder and fragility.

In this Easter Season when the Church celebrates the presence of the Risen Christ everywhere, I pray that God will continue to lead me—and all of us—to see more clearly and to appreciate Christ’s presence more deeply.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 6

Today (Sunday, January 23) marks the sixth day in the eight day Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  During this week, daily scripture references, meditations and prayer are offered for readers’ reflection. ( Material provided courtesy of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute).

Day 6, Devoted themselves… to the prayers.
Scripture

Jonah 2:1-9, Deliverance belongs to the Lord!
Psalm 67:1-7, Let the peoples praise you, O God!
1 Timothy 2:1-8, Prayers should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.
Matthew 6:5-15, Your kingdom come, your will be done.

Meditation
It is prayer that empowers Christians for our mission together. For Jonah the intensity of his prayer is met with dramatic deliverance from the belly of the fish. His prayer is heartfelt, as it arises from his own sense of repentance at having tried to avoid God’s will. He had abandoned the Lord’s call to prophesy, and ended up in a hopeless place. And here God meets his prayer with deliverance for his mission. The Psalm calls us to pray that God’s face will shine upon us — not only for our own benefit, but for the spread of His rule “among all the nations.”

Prayer is a part of the strength and power of mission and prophecy for the world. Paul instructs us to pray especially for those with power in the world so that we may live together in peace and dignity. Our own prayer for unity in Christ reaches out to the whole world.

In Matthew’s Gospel we hear of prayer as a “secret” power, born not from display or performance, but from a humble coming before the Lord. Jesus’ teaching is summed up in the Lord’s Prayer. Praying this together forms us as a united people who seek the Father’s will, and the building up of His Kingdom here on earth, and calls us to a life of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Prayer
Lord God our Father, we rejoice that in all times, places and cultures, there are people who reach out to you in prayer. Teach us to pray better as Christians together, so that we may always be aware of your guidance and encouragement through all our joys and distress, through the power your Holy Spirit. Amen.