The Immense Love of God

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

By Thomas Mackin

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The compassionate love of God in Christ is always ready to forgive sinners and welcome them home.  This is the challenging truth that Jesus proclaims to the tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees and scribes who were his audience.  Today we are Jesus’s Lenten audience.

Paul tells us, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”  When a sinner comes to Christ, that sinner is made new.  “(A)nd all of this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

The readings today give us the opportunity to place ourselves in the midst of the sinner.  It is one thing to welcome a sinner back into the fold, but an entirely different experience to go out into the world, our neighborhoods, parishes, communities and share space with sinners.  This is the ministry of reconciliation, so that we, like the father in today’s gospel, can see someone coming from a long way off.

During Lent, the church calls us to remember the gifts of God that we have squandered and that have led us into the small or greater mess of our spiritual life.  With great wisdom, the church also knows that we need this time of heightened awareness of our compassionate Father who embraces us in the outstretched arms of the Crucified.

Loving God, our needs are no surprise to you.  In your love and mercy forgive us of our sins, that we might always grow deeper into relationship with you.  Amen.

Tom Mackin is the IT coordinator for the Mission Helpers.

Love. Changes. Everything.

A reflection for the fourth week in Lent.

By Sister Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH

“Prodigal Son” by Kristi Valiant

 

Today marks the fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally known as Laetare Sunday, from the word ‘”rejoice,” be joyful.  We are halfway into Lent and Easter is fast approaching.  Our readings this Sunday speak of love, mercy, reconciliation and forgiveness. 

As I reflected upon today’s reading a song repeated in my heart, “Love Changes Everything!”  Love, the song tells us, “will turn your world around….”  Each of our readings speak of changed worlds – changed hearts.  The Israelites have reached the promised land of Canaan and Paul reminds us in the second reading that “whoever is in Christ is a new creation…the old things have passed away….”  I wonder what has passed away for me/you these four weeks of Lent or where have we found the newness that comes in our returning to or deepening our friendship with God?  It is through that deepening friendship that we bear fruit (remember the barren fig tree from last week).  What is the fruit we are bearing – tending?

Again, the lyrics of the song, “Love changes everything, brings you glory, brings you shame. Nothing in the world will ever be the same.”  How have we been reconciled to God these weeks and what is the call we have received to be reconcilers?  When Paul implores us on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God, to whom else do we need to be reconciled?  The parable of the Prodigal Son shows that through love everything is changed.  It is love that restores and brings us to our senses.  Who is it in this parable that speaks to you today?  Is it the loving, forgiving and merciful father?  Is it the young son who went off to do his own thing only to find he lost it all and needed to find a way back home?  The young son who was, most likely, expecting a reprimand (maybe even a dismissal) and instead was greeted by a loving father who ran out to meet him on his return and threw a party in his honor. 

Have you experienced that kind of love and acceptance that goes beyond humiliation at mistakes and uplifts and restores to life?  Some would say the father was a fool and perhaps that’s even what the older son was thinking, yet, “love does change everything…and love makes fools of everyone.”    Has love ever made a fool of you or made you do seemingly foolish things?  Can you relate to the older son’s upset – the absence of his joy in serving – his feelings of being unnoticed and unappreciated? The older son’s understanding of the limitlessness of the father’s love is revealed in his jealousy.  Don’t you wonder if the older son’s heart was changed by the love of his father who left the celebration of his younger son to go out and plead with this older son?  I do think love changes everything and as the song says,  it changes everyone and “love will never, never let you be the same.”

Amazing Grace

A Reflection by Sister Natalie DeLuca, MHSH

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:

African Woman puzzle like“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….’

African Truth and Reconciliation Commission“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.’

amazing grace 6As 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?

 

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 5 Prayer and Reflection

Day 5: Changed by the peace of the Risen Lord.
Scripture

Malachi 4:5-6, He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.
Psalm 133, How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
Ephesians 2:14-20, To reconcile both groups to God in one body, putting to death hostility.
John 20:19-23, Jesus stood among them and said: Peace be with you!
Meditation
Malachi’s words convey God’s promise of sending God’s chosen one to establish harmony and respect in all households. He draws attention to one of the most difficult conflicts — the heartbreak in relations between parents and their offspring. This restoration of unity is not possible without God’s help. It is God’s emissary who performs the miracle of transformation in people’s hearts and relationships.
The psalm shows what great joy such unity among people can bring. Happiness consists in living in a human community in harmony, peace, trust and understanding. Living together in unity is not restricted to family members only – this is rather a declaration of the closeness between people who accept the peace of God.
The epistle tells us of Him whom the prophet Malachi announced. Jesus brings unity, because in His own body He has demolished the “wall of hostility” between people. Jesus puts an end to alienation. He transforms, heals and unites all that they may become “members of God’s household.”
“Peace be with you” is Christ’s greeting and also his gift. It is an invitation to seek peace with God and establish new, lasting relationships within the human family and all of creation. Jesus has trampled down death and sin. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord invites his disciples into his mission of bringing peace, healing and forgiveness. As long as Christians remain divided, the world will not be convinced of the full truth of the Gospel. Peace and unity are the hallmarks of this transformation. The Churches need to appropriate and witness to these gifts as members of the one household of God built upon the sure foundation of Jesus as the cornerstone.

For Your Reflection

Today we celebrate the peace of the Risen Lord. The Risen One is the great Victor over death and the world of darkness. He unites His disciples, who were paralysed with fear. He opens up before us new prospects of life and of acting for His coming kingdom. The Risen Lord unites and strengthens all believers. Peace and unity are the hallmarks of our transformation in the resurrection.

  1. What forms of violence in our community can we as Christians confront together?
  2. How do we experience hidden hostilities that affect our relationship to each other as Christian communities?
  3. How can we learn to welcome each other as Christ welcomes us?

Prayer
Loving and merciful God, teach us the joy of sharing in your peace. Fill us with your Holy Spirit so that we may tear down the walls of hostility separating us. May the risen Christ, who is our peace, help us to overcome all division and unite us as members of his household. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: January 18-25, 2012

Preparation: Observing the Week of Prayer

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gives Christians an annual opportunity to continue their quest for the unity they already share in Christ. It is also a time to gather in praise of the Triune God and to deepen the understanding of the ecumenical movement. By joining in this annual celebration Christians raise their voices, hands and hearts to God seeking the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God, “that they all may be one.”

The Week of Prayer also invites those who participate to use it as an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of the ecumenical movement in seeking to end the divisions among Christians. From the smallest to the largest communities, from all cultures, races and language groups, from all the baptized to all those in ordained ministry, the Week of Prayer is also an opportunity to ask examine the level of support they have given to this important movement in the life of the Church. An accounting of each Christian’s discipleship and faithfulness to the proclamation of the Gospel – the good news of reconciliation – can be taken every year during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

What follows are some suggestions that we hope can assist Christians in the experience of observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and celebrating the 2012 theme of “We Will All Be Changed by the Victory of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (cf. 1Corinthians 15:51-58). This is by no means a comprehensive listing. We hope that as you create your own opportunities of prayer for Christian unity you will share those with others. Each new experience of prayer and gathering provides the Christian faith community with opportunities to grow in our understanding of one another as we celebrate our unity and common mission.

From Wednesday, January 18 through the following Wednesday, January 25, “From The Heart” will post daily scripture passages, commentary and questions for reflection.  We invite all of our readers to pray daily in communion with Christians worldwide.

(Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute)

Celebrating Around the Throne – All Saints


By Sister Jane Geiger, MHSH

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS on November 1 is one that can really fire our imaginations, have cosmic dimensions and resonate down to the nitty-gritty of our lives.

We celebrate the triumph of Jesus and our salvation through the blood of the Lamb.  The Feast of All Saints joins all who have been saved in a spectacular way in a universal celebration of the unfathomable love of God for us.

Imagine…All creation, people of every nation and tongue proclaim the glory of God’s graciousness to us.  Angel choirs, patriarchs and prophets, martyrs and saints of every age join in the chorus of praise and thanksgiving.

As we reflect on this panorama, do we see murals on a wall and statues on pedestals to be admired from afar?  Or, do we allow this heavenly array to surround us and welcome us into their company?  They were once where we are now, striving to make their way through life’s journey.  Their challenges were most likely not the same ones we face today, but their lives were filled with choices and decisions.

They elected to say “yes” to the journey with Jesus in the death/resurrection mystery of life. Now, they inspire us to strive for ideals of love and service, reconciliation and healing beyond what we ever imagined we could do.  They show us that sinfulness, reluctance and unworthiness can be overcome.  It can be done!

As we live our lives today, the saints stand with us as friends, advocates and models of response to the One who shed his blood for us and loved us to his death.  No, we are not spectators, but part of the company of the holy people who surround the throne giving glory and unending praise to God.  Holy! Holy! Holy!

Who are the Saints you look to for help and guidance?

 

No Healing Through Violence—The Years since 9/11

–From the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).  The LCWR is an association of the leaders of approximately 330 congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The Conference has about 1,500 members, who represent 90 percent of the 55,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States.  Sister Loretta Cornell, MHSH President, Sister Dolores Glick, Vice President, and Sisters Elizabeth Langmead and Clare Walsh, Field Advisors, are LCWR members representing the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart.   

As we commemorate the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, let us reflect on the past ten years and how we have responded as children of God.  We continue to pray for those families affected by the loss of loved ones and the many that were injured.

Though we as a country went to war to create solace through violence, we also saw the coming together of people of all faiths to try to understand each other in deeper and profound ways.  We have witnessed some families of the victims who declared, “Not in our name!” coming together to call for peace during the most heart-rending times of their lives.  People of faith have come together realizing that healing does not come through violence.

We also recognize the backlash against all Muslims, the hate speech and attacks that occurred using 9/11 as the reason.  We were challenged by Saadia Khan, Civic Outreach Coordinator of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in our Resolution to Action:  “It is the collective responsibility of all community and faith leaders to work together to ensure that the voices of hate and bigotry are not the loudest ones.  Each of us shares the duty to direct the public discourse and educate our communities on accepting one another.  If this type of hate speech and bigotry continues, it will affect the Muslim American youth the most.”

May what we have witnessed during the past ten years call us to recognize that which unites us more than that which divides—our common humanity.  May we continue to pray for peace throughout the world and be bearers of forgiveness and reconciliation.

North Pool of the National 9/11 Memorial Waterfalls at the World Trade Center site, called "Reflected Absence" (Amy Dreher photo).

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 8

Day 8, Called out by the Word we have heard.

Today (Tuesday, January 25) marks the eighth and final day in the eight day Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  During this week, daily scripture references, meditations and prayers are offered for readers’ reflection.  (Material provided courtesy of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute).

Day 8, Called out by the Word we have heard.
Scripture

Genesis 33:1-4, Esau ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him… and they wept.
Psalm 96:1-13, Say among the nations, “The Lord is King!”
2Corinthians 5:17-21, God… reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Matthew 5:21-26, Leave your gift before the altar, and go: first be reconciled to your brother or sister.

Meditation
Our prayers of this week have taken us on a journey together. Here we have seen devotion to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. At the end of our reflections we return to our own contexts — the realities of division, discontent, disappointment and injustice. Concluding this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the question is posed: to what, then, are we called, here and now?

We pray for Christian unity so that the Church might be a sign and instrument for the healing of divisions and injustices and for the growing in understanding between people of all faiths. In our personal and family lives, too, the call to reconciliation must find a response. Jacob and Esau are brothers, yet estranged. Their violence and the habits of anger are put aside as the brothers meet and weep together.

The recognition of our unity as Christians leads us into the Psalm’s great song of praise for the Lord who rules the world with loving justice. In Christ, God seeks to reconcile to Himself all peoples. St. Paul celebrates a life of reconciliation as “a new creation.” The call to reconcile is the call to allow God’s power in us to make all things new.

This “good news” calls us to change the way we live. As Jesus challenges us in St. Matthew’s gospel, the call to prayer for Christian unity is a call to reconciliation. The call to reconciliation is a call to action.

Prayer
God of Peace, we thank you that you sent your Son Jesus, so that we might be reconciled to yourself in him. Give us the grace to be effective servants of reconciliation within our churches. Fill us with love for one another and may our unity serve the reconciliation that you desire for all creation. We pray in the power of the Spirit. Amen.