Lent: Making All Things New

A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

By Bernadette A. Sahm

 

“Ash Wednesday is full of joy … The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.”
-Father Thomas Merton

It is that time of year when we anticipate more sunshine and the beauty, color, and newness that the spring season affords us. As I walk through my garden, I notice things that are dormant after months of winter weather. My hydrangeas seem to be dead and brittle and without life. My faith knows better. Looking closely, I see the burrowed closed ends of what I believe will return as hot pink and baby blue flowering hydrangeas.

“Lent comes providentially to awaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” –Pope Francis

Lent and spring are synonymous for me as they both represent the opportunity to make all things new again. We know what a garden can be with proper nurturing. and what it will look like after it receives water, sunshine, and food to grow. Lent affords us the opportunity to reflect on all our relationships and to grow them with love and in faith. God wants us to see His face in all living things.

We begin again in Lent; we witness signs of new life, and we too can create that new life when our hearts open and are birthed again. Even a heart that has been dormant can spring back to life.

There is nothing like the beauty in a flowering rose, yet it shows us; “non c’e rosa senza le sue spine’” (translation – there is no rose without its thorns). Lent does not have to be solely about giving up our favorite foods and drink, but it can remind us to forego hatred and lack of forgiveness and instead, build a pure and clean heart.

May your Lenten season be filled with an abundance of love, kindness, forgiveness, grace and all things beautiful.

Bernadette Sahm is the Director of Mission Advancement for the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.

Heart on Fire

By Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

(This post is the last in a six part series on “To Love Like Jesus: A Spirituality of the Heart”.  Each week, we have posted a reflection based on the Litany of the Heart by Wendy M. Wright.  To read the Litany, click here.  As Women of the Heart, the Mission Helper Sisters invite you to pray and reflect with us.) With us, ponder:

What would it mean to love like Jesus?
What would it mean to have a heart like his?

 

Warmth of our hearts
Transforming fire
Cosmic furnace
Enflamer of hearts
(Fifth stanza of Litany of the Heart)

 

The picture of the heart on fire that we have used as the icon for this series has captured my imagination since I first beheld it.  It evokes a number of images for me, including:

·         The energy of the “big bang” of eons ago that gave rise to all life forms – the creation into which Jesus was incarnated, the dynamic cosmos that God sustains still;

·         Jesus’ zeal as he continuously traveled, taught, reconciled and healed during the years of his public ministry;

·         The profound compassion of Jesus, as expressed in his sorrow for the widow of Nain, his weeping at the death of Lazarus, and as he was “moved by pity” for the dejected crowd;

·         Jesus’ white hot anger as he confronted injustice and abuse of power and stood up for the marginalized (for example, when he was opposed by the Pharisees as he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, when he chased the dishonest money changers from the Temple);

·         The warmth of the friendships between Jesus and his companions: Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the beloved disciple, the other apostles and more;

·         Jesus’ courage and his love for all people that impelled him to accept torture and death, in the ultimate act of fidelity and solidarity with his Father and with God’s people;

·         The movement from despondency to soaring hope and new life that Mary Magdalene at the tomb (“Rabboni!”)  and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (“Were not our hearts burning within us…”) experienced when they realized that Jesus had indeed risen, and

·         The enflamed hearts of the apostles and disciples after Pentecost that enabled them to carry the Good News to the ends of the earth and which continue to burn in many present day disciples.

We, too, are invited to adopt the heart of Jesus in our own lives, to try to love as he loved, to have a heart like his.  As Jesuit James Martin says: “For in the end, the Sacred Heart is about understanding Jesus’s love for us and inviting us to love others as Jesus did.”

Will we embrace this invitation and resolve to imitate the heart of Jesus? If we do, perhaps the prediction of Teilhard de Chardin will come to fruition: “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

The Change That Changes Everything – A Reflection for Easter

By Sister Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President

We live in a world and in a time of rapid change.  All avenues of social media keep us aware moment by moment of how quickly things change all around the world.  Closer to home, “in the blink of an eye” as they say, our lives change.  It could be a phone call, a medical diagnosis, news about a loved one and life is never the same.  Perhaps it’s the death of one we hold dear or the birth of a child, a grandchild, a niece or nephew.  Change is all around us; change is the one constant in life.

Recently I was struck by a phrase that I heard and shortly thereafter read in an article. The phrase – “the change that changed everything.”  I kept coming back to that as I prayed about this Easter blog.  Truly, Easter is THE change that changed everything for us who today proclaim, “Jesus Christ is Risen!” 

 Our Lenten preparation and opening to the love and grace of God that is all-surrounding, have perhaps changed our hearts to see even more clearly the awesome mystery that from death comes new life.  We come to embrace in a deeper way what the great mystics knew, that resurrection is how reality is – that nothing dies, everything is transformed.  These forty days have invited us to grow more fully into being a resurrection people.  Our faith is meant to witness a message of hope.  How does this hope allow us to stand with others in their deepest sorrow – in their deepest joy?

 

 May we, like the women at the tomb and those first disciples be surprised by the mystery of resurrection.  May we, like them, experience new freedom as the children of a God who calls us from all that entombs, entraps and keeps us bound.  May our despair, doubt and disappointment be transformed in the light of the resurrection as we find new life, hope and the gentle breath of presence and peace.  For truly Easter is THE change that changes everything!

 

LENT- A TIME FOR CREATIVE CONTEMPLATION

By Sister Agnesine Seluzicki, MHSH

[Ed. note: Sister Agnesine Seluzicki went home to God on February 13, 2015.

She was 95 years old and had been a member of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart Community for 74 years. A daughter of Russian immigrants, she once said that being a member of the Community, ‘enabled me to allow God to work through me. I discovered the truth of the phrase, ‘In him I can do all things.’”

 She shared the following reflection on Lent with us in February 2012. Her belief in the promises of new life and her view of Ash Wednesday and Lent as “movement toward the Resurrection” are both inspiration and comfort as we prepare for her wake and funeral. A wise and gifted teacher and counselor, Sister Agnesine will be greatly missed.]

As the days begin to lengthen, unfolding gradually the promises of new life, the Church enters into its movement toward the great feast of Life – the Resurrection – with the celebration of Ash Wednesday.  For the next forty days, we will be invited to enter into a virtual desert experience, an experience where one can hear more deeply, within one’s own heart, the voice of God.  How is this to be accomplished?  The readings and prayers at the Mass on Ash Wednesday set the tone.  The first reading for Ash Wednesday from the prophet Joel begins,

Even now, says the Lord,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting and weeping…
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord your God.

Saint Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, follows this up with the exhortation, “…We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God…Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

As you present yourself to be signed with ashes and hear the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” accept this invitation as a call by our God to a renewal of life.  Allow yourself to look at any excesses that may have crept into your life, which are blurring Gospel values.  Settle on the ways in which you are able to find your fasting and desert experiences.

Be creative!  Your most contemplative experiences might just occur on a crowded subway or while performing some unpleasant task.  Your fasting might come from five minutes of listening to that boring individual whom you usually tune out. And, what of a smile to that harried employee at the check-out counter?  Or, that effort to keep from judging others or from complaining.

As we commemorate the sufferings and death of Jesus during Lent, let us remember that Jesus lives and that in our remembering, returning, reconciling and repenting we are responding to the call of our living God who calls us to life in the risen Christ.

Is There a Cost to Us at Pentecost?

A Reflection by Sister Barbara Baker, MHSH

This weekend we celebrate the major feast of Pentecost. Just 10 days ago we celebrated the feast of the Ascension.  Now we all know how nervous the apostles of Jesus were that he was leaving them to do what He had prepared them to do—that is, to go forth and make disciples of all nations.  That’s a pretty tall order to fulfill.  However, we also know that Jesus was telling them for a long time that when He returned to His Father He would not leave them orphans.  He would give them someone to advocate for them—namely, the Holy Spirit.  I can only imagine how fearful they must have been when this moment actually arrived.

They gathered one more time in their comfort zone—the same Upper Room where they had shared in the Last Supper with Jesus, gathered after the resurrection to experience Jesus’ presence anew and now to find support and solace once more where so much had taken place.  They must have wondered, “What will happen to us next?”

holy-spiritThey got their answer very soon when a great wind blew in on them and the Holy Spirit settled upon them and filled them with His energy and new life.  It is the birthday of a new entity—the church.  Jesus fulfills His promise not to leave them orphaned.  They spoke in their native tongues and all at the same time.  It must have been a time of great emotion and perhaps confusion.  But, I believe that in a very short time they experienced a great peace come over them to reassure them that indeed God was with them.

teach all nationsWhat was and still is the cost for each of us to go forth to make disciples of all nations?  Since Pope Paul VI issued an encyclical about the New Evangelization around 40 years ago, the Church has put before us the need for each and every one of us to do something to initiate and/or deepen one’s connection to Jesus Christ.  In recent days everyone is talking about evangelization and our need to go forth and build our Church on relationships to one another and ultimately to Jesus Christ.  To carry it one step further, Pope Francis is calling our attention to this responsibility by his own actions and words.  Are we listening and watching?

Let’s Think About:

  1.  Do I listen to the Spirit in reaching out to family, friends, co-workers or neighbors to introduce or continue a conversation about Jesus and how He invites all to befriend him?
  2. Are we ready to have a new fire lit within us with the coming once again of this Holy Spirit who will breathe new life into us?
  3. What real difference does the coming of the Holy Spirit mean in our own life?

“The earth will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song!” –Isaiah 35:2

A Reflection by Sister Mariel Rafferty, MHSH

Cactus 2 closeupA cactus plant!
A single flower…its first!
A dry desert can bloom,
Its flower a sign…
…of promise
…of hope
…of resurrection
…of new life!

As the spring rains of the month of May water God’s world,
Nature springs forth in the awesome beauty of new life!

As we experience the life of God’s Spirit within us,
The winter deserts of our lives give way
To the graced flowering of springtime…

Detail of a cherry tree --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ponder:

What can I do to bring to new life the desert areas in my own heart?
How can I extend God’s compassion and love to others to transform
their desert experiences into springtime peace and love?

 

ARE NOT OUR HEARTS ON FIRE? Pentecost 2012

By Sister Barbara Baker, MHSH

Once again we approach a significant moment in the life of our church—a moment when that special gift of the Holy Spirit fills all with new life and an invitation for a new beginning.  Jesus’ appearance, once again, from out of nowhere, in the midst of a scared group of followers takes them up short.  Jesus stood among them and said “Peace be with you.”  He tried to reassure them that indeed it was HE who had recently ascended to the Father.  Once they realized the truth, they rejoiced.  Jesus addresses them again and says “Peace be with you.”  He has returned to them to send them forth as commissioned ambassadors to spread the Good News.

There are tensions and divisions within the community.  Each received a special gift from the Holy Spirit and could not rejoice in this because of jealousy and comparisons with the gifts others received.  They didn’t realize that the gifts were to be shared with others for the good of the community.

Paul reminds us that our bodies are the same—each part has a role to play and no one is more important than another if it wants to be whole, healthy and in harmony.  So, as we approach this great feast of new birth perhaps we could look at our hearts to discover the fire or lack of fire within us for life and service to one another.

For Reflection:

What is the “special gift” that God has bestowed on me, and how do I share the gift with the community no matter what my age?

In this time of uncertainty about our future, how and where do I see the Holy Spirit guiding and leading us to a new place with new fire and energy?

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Waiting for Resurrection

By Sister Joanne Frey, MHSH

Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Jn 10:1-9 

We live much of our lives in waiting, most of it waiting in hope:

…For the birth of a first child, or of a second child
…For white smoke over the Vatican
…For word we’ve been accepted at our preferred college
…To hear we got the job
…To be tenured in our position

All these periods of waiting can be completed in joy, in exultation; in a fullness of life that we had hoped for. All positive waiting is seeking new life, enriched life, fulfilled life.

The celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection is all about life—life that overcame the greatest of losses—death of the self—of his very being.

Looking at Jesus’ life among us in one way is all about causing resurrections:

  • The man blind from birth is given sight; surely he rises to a new life.  He knows, he experiences resurrection. (John 9:1-41)
  • The woman touches the garment of the Lord with faith in what Jesus can do for her and she is cured of a hemorrhage she has suffered for years and years.  Surely she rises to a new life among her family and friends.  She experiences resurrection. (Luke 8:44-49)
  • The paralytic takes up his bed and walks at the word of Jesus.  Surely he rises to a new life among his comrades.  He experiences resurrection. (Matt 9:1-8)
  • The woman at the well, searching with a determined perseverance for happiness, she feels deeply that happiness is her right.  The Lord offers her “living water” and she accepts discipleship.  She surely experiences resurrection.

Alright, Jesus, we get the message. It isn’t meant that we wait until this body “gives up the ghost.”  We are meant to experience resurrections as we travel the journey of this life.

I experience a taste of resurrection when the word comes that my friend’s pathology report finds “no cancer.”  The word is shared among family and friends, life is shared and resurrection is experienced.

My friend phones after a long wait.  She has been overly busy.  I hear her voice and loving greeting.  She has missed me as much as I have waited for her call.  I delight in new life.  I experience resurrection.

All of this waiting and all the joys of resurrection won’t hold a candle to the great day of our rising to new life in Christ.  In the meantime, let’s wait in joyous expectation.

For your reflection:

It may be a good start to take your New Testament and read the stories in the sections mentioned in the above text.

Now, just sit quietly and recall the experiences of resurrection to new life that you can truly call your own.

A reading of John, chapter 20, will describe for you the Resurrection of our Savior. Spend time with Jesus to describe for him your experiences.


An Easter Prayer

Lord, we believe we are here to be light, to bring out God’s hue, God’s color, in the world. Imagine the transformation if we make a commitment to flood our world with God’s brightness, with positive energy, with hope and compassion. We want to stand in the light and spill the amazing and astounding light of God at the center of all that we can hope to be  for our world.  Amen  (Edith Prendergast)

A Reflection for Good Friday

By Sister Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH

Is 52:13-53; Ps 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-17, 25: Heb 4:14-16; Jn 18:1-19:42

Good Friday.  Five brief days from the glory of Palm Sunday when Jesus entered into Jerusalem amidst cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…Hosanna in the highest.”  Today, in the Gospel of John, we hear the crowd cry, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!”  How quickly life can change.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord,” goes the hymn.  Our readings for Good Friday speak of some of those who were there and of some who foretold the happenings of this day regarding Jesus the Lord, the suffering servant.

Jesus, the one who says, “…learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Mt 11:29)  St. Paul writes, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 9-10) What does it mean to believe that when we are weak we are strong?  How are we challenged to be followers of this suffering servant?  Where in our world today do we see the Cross of Christ—the one who “was spurned and avoided by people, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom people hid their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.” (Is 53:3-4) We might pause and call to mind those we hesitate to look upon…who did we pass by today?  Who is it in our world we consider weak or when are those times we become discouraged by our own weakness?

Perhaps a guide for this day can be Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Can’t you almost hear her speaking to us in the following worlds by Robert Browning Hamilton:  “I walked a mile with Sorrow, and never a word said she; but, oh, the things I learned from her when Sorrow walked with me?”

Not too many days ago we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of God.  As she pondered this happening in her heart did she have any idea of where that “Yes” would lead her?  Mary gives witness to “love as a verb.”  To hold in heart and prayer the pain of a loved one is no passive act.  Oftentimes, it has been my realization of how very little I can do for another in their pain that allows me to surrender to the need to do something.  It is then that I am able to give myself over to simply being with another in their sorrow. 

Have you sat with a friend or loved one experiencing the betrayal of divorce…the death of a child, a spouse, a sibling, a parent?  Perhaps it was when you were waiting with someone in the doctor’s office or emergency room of a hospital.  Have you tried to reach out to someone hurting?  Mary stood by and stood with Jesus and his friends knowing the deep sorrow of powerlessness, while remaining faithful to her “Yes” to the mystery of God.

We know that Good Friday and the Cross are not the final answer, yet endure our crosses we must if we are to rise to new life.  Look to Jesus, the one who shows us the Way, who is our Truth and our Life. (Jn 14:6). In his weakness is our glory!

A Sacred Time – A Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

By Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

[Readings: Genesis 9: 8-15; Ps. 25: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Peter 3: 18-22; Mark 1: 12-15]

As you contemplate the season of Lent, you might consider reflecting on its meaning to you now as well as at other times in your life.  For me, growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, Lent was a time set aside for repentance, for “giving up” things that I liked, such as desserts or movies or even the sleep I could have had if I didn’t attend daily Mass.

In the parochial school I attended, participation in the weekly Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons was mandatory, thus adding to the sense of obligation. While even then I appreciated the sacred nature of Lent experienced through the “smells and bells” of the pre-Vatican II Church, the emphasis was on self-denial and sinfulness.   The season often seemed interminable, oppressive and stark.

Today, Lent is a time that I actually look forward to, as the season seems to invite me to deeper contemplation.  My focus is not on deprivation, but on deepening my relationship with Jesus through prayer.  I think the change occurred when I started to go on weekend and then week-long silent retreats each year.  At first, these retreats truly felt like desert experiences.  Even though there were 30 or 40 other people in the retreat house, we passed our time (and each other) in silence.  Time took on a whole different feeling, with no particular structure to the day.  All the familiar distractions of television, email, internet browsing, phone calls etc, had been left behind.

In that environment, I was tempted to throw myself into reading the many spiritual books in the library, but I had a graced insight that this would only be a further distraction.  So I entered into what at first seemed like the unwelcome, solitary work of looking deeply into my own heart and mind, asking myself where I was in relationship to God, and what I (and God) wanted that relationship to be.

At first, this situation seemed almost as frightening as facing any amount of wild desert beasts.  I was not sure I wanted to head in this direction, and was afraid of what I might hear as answer in prayer.  But with trust in God and the patience of a skilled spiritual director, I was able to pass out of that narrow, somewhat desolate place in which I found myself.  What opened up for me was an abundance of new life.

The God who made a covenant with each of us waits for us to approach.  The psalmist reminds us that God’s ways are love and truth, that God is kind and full of compassion, desiring to guide us through our own personal and communal wildernesses.  With humility and trust, perhaps we can all spend some sacred time with God this Lent, knowing that God will provide us with what we need.

Lenten Prayer

Give yourself permission to carve out some time each day for prayer.  Give it whatever time you can, although 30 minutes or more is desirable.

You can pray with the scripture passages of the day, or with the many fine Lenten reflection books and guides that are available.  You can also simply pray from your own experience.

Tell God what is on your mind and in your heart.  Be sure to include a time of interior silence to listen to what God is saying to you.  Sometimes, just resting in the presence of God is the best prayer.