These Holy Days

A Reflection by Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH

wi0821bi_4c1[1]Pange Lingua, the smell of incense, The Stabat Mater, ” Were you there…?”, crucifixes draped in purple cloth…. just a few of the sights and sounds of a Holy Week long embedded in memory.

When we are familiar with something, it can lose its edge, its ability to disturb us, move us to action, or rest in its solace. The scriptures of Holy Week are not immune from this familiarity. We know the narrative, we know how it ends. At least, we think we do.  Familiarity can lead us to dismiss the mystery, to fail to let it engage us, and to escape from “going the distance” with Jesus.

When Columbian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked about his relationship with his wife, Mercedes, he replied, “I know her so well that I have not the slightest idea who she really is.”  For Marquez, rather than dismiss, familiarity contained an invitation. An invitation to adventure, intimacy, and mystery.

Marquez’s words challenge us to enter these holy days more porous, more vulnerable, more willing to render our hearts.   Do we know Jesus so well that we have not the slightest idea who he really is?

How can we accompany Jesus through Holy Thursday and Good Friday? How can we experience these days as if for the first time? How can we console Jesus for the betrayal, the loneliness, the feeling of abandonment? How can we be with Jesus at the table, walk with him in his suffering, and companion him in death?

As scripture scholars remind us – Jesus’ passion for the Kingdom of God led to the passion of his death. We cannot separate them.

Does my life story reflect the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Caesar?  With whom does Jesus stand today? Are we at his side?

What if, as Jesus did, we let the stranger break our heart and enter our prayer? The refugee, the prisoner, the person brought low by poverty, the neighbor who annoys us, the one burdened by life?  What would it take for us to wash the feet of the stranger, to accompany the one forsaken, to be Simon of Cyrene?

What if our prayer these Holy Days led us from the beauty of a Holy Week liturgy to the streets where Jesus lives?

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!

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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!

On "The Way" at Eastern Point*

A Reflection on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

*The title of this post is inspired by the film, “The Way” which is filmed on the Camino in Spain. Each year thousands of pilgrims walk hundreds of miles on the Camino en route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Pilgrims began walking this route in the 9th Century to venerate the tomb of St. James. Many pilgrims now walk the Camino to discover aspects of the mystery of themselves.

Today, July 31, is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

We recently celebrated the feast of St. James the Great (July 25). St. James and his brother John were followers of Jesus and were referred to as the Sons of Zebedee in the Gospels. They (or their mother, according to one of the stories) made a request to Jesus that they be granted seats at the right and left of him in the Kingdom. Jesus asks them if they are willing to drink the cup that Jesus will be asked to drink in order to bring about that kingdom. Then Jesus quietly tells them that it is up to the Creator to designate places. Later we learn that James and John are with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is the night before the Crucifixion they cannot even stay awake to keep Jesus company as he struggles in accepting God’s will to go through with the pain and agony that await him the following day. Finally, all of the apostles desert Jesus in his Passion, the risen Jesus meets them in the Upper room, forgives them, bestows the Holy Spirit on them and commissions them to spread the Good News of reconciliation to all.

I reflect on the story of James and John and their relationship with Jesus at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where I am again directing the full Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I can’t help but be reminded how, like James and John, so many are called to participate with Jesus Christ in renewing the face of the Earth. James’ and John’s story is a metaphor for each of our journeys with the Lord, and how we, too, must learn what it means to be a disciple.

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Pilgrims walking the Camino.

The Spiritual Exercises lead retreatants through a series of prayer experiences—“exercises”—that reveal God’s love for all of creation and God’s desire that all of creation be redeemed and charged with grace. Those who enter into the Exercises are invited to take a long, loving look at our broken world—the way that the Trinity would gaze on it—and to get in touch with our deepest desires to live in harmony with all creation. Retreatants discover God’s unconditional love for them in ever deepening ways. They are invited through a series of imaginative exercises to seek a deeper friendship with Jesus and make a commitment to co-labor with Jesus in his on-going work of redemption that restores all creation to his Father.

This summer there are 22 people being directed in the Spiritual Exercises. It is an ecumenical group and includes men and women ranging in age from 30 to 80+ with a wide range of life experience.