Preparing the Way

A Reflection for the Second Sunday in Advent

By Sr. Donna Fannon, MHSH

Readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120620.cfm

During Advent in the northern hemisphere, we observe a shortened span of daylight.  For many people, this can bring on a downturn in mood, and some even suffer from a condition known as seasonal affective disorder.  This darkness can extend to our spiritual lives as well.  How then do we bring more “light” into our lives and the lives of others?  Lighting our Advent candles is one way of keeping vigil as we await the birth of Jesus, and the rituals we observe around the candle can bring a sense of hope and joy.  During this season we might also try to rid ourselves of egotistical tendencies and some of the “busyness” in our lives and spend some quality time in prayer and reflection, calling to mind who we really are in the sight of God.

In the Gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist say:

“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In his book, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent, Richard Rohr, OFM states:

“John the Baptist’s qualities are most rare and yet crucial for any reform or authentic transformation of persons or groups.  That is why we focus on John the Baptist every Advent and why Jesus trusts him and accepts his non-temple, offbeat ritual, while also going far beyond him.  Water is only the container; fire and Spirit are the contents, John says. Yet if we are not like the great John, we will invariably substitute our own little container for the real contents.  We will substitute rituals for reality instead of letting the rituals point us beyond themselves.

John the Baptist is the strangest combination of conviction and humility, morality and mysticism, radical prophecy and living in the present. This  son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a man born into privilege who dresses like a hippie; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything, creating his own water baptism and then saying that what really matters is the baptism of “Spirit and fire”!  He is a living paradox, as even Jesus said of him: “There is no man greater than John…but he is also the least” in the new reality that I am bringing about (Matthew 11:11). John both gets it and does not get it at all which is why he has to exit stage right early in the drama.  He has played his single and important part, and he knows it.  His is brilliantly a spirituality of descent, not ascent.  “He must grow bigger; l must grow smaller.”  (John 3:30).

The only way such freedom could happen is if John learned to be very empty of himself already as a young man, before he even built his tower of success.  His ego was out of the way so much so that he could let go of his own ego, his own message and even his own life.  This is surely the real meaning of his head on a platter.  Some have cleverly said that ego is an acronym for “Edging God Out”.  There’s got to be such emptiness, or we cannot point beyond ourselves to Jesus, as John did.  Such emptiness doesn’t just fall into our laps; such humility does not just happen. It is surely the end product of a thousand letting-goes and a thousand acts of devotion, which for John the Baptist gradually edged God in.”

For Reflection:

How do you manage to schedule some down time in your day? Can you make this a priority during Advent?

How are you bringing more “light” into your own life, and the lives of others during this season?

Do you keep a journal to help you track your progress?

How is your spiritual life one of “ascent” or “descent”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reflection Moment

By Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH

This morning I am once again being entertained by my hummingbirds. This is the first time in my life I ever had a summer off (if one imagines recovery from surgery as a summer off) to spend quality time in the mornings or evenings during prayer observing hummingbirds dive between the feeders.

I discovered the opportunity has been a kind of inner healing experience for me.  I have heard that simply surrendering time to observe hummingbirds is a healing opportunity but now I understand and embrace it.

Several years ago while in Trinidad a friend invited me to a hummingbird sanctuary. I had never imagined how many kinds of hummingbirds there are or how many could be in one location each morning and evening at the feeders. I mean hundreds and hundreds. I felt I was in the middle of a hummingbird circus which was amazingly delightful. Thus, my love for hummingbirds grew.

Last week I even purchased (via Amazon) another Shepherd’s Hook and feeder since so many hummingbirds are fighting over the two feeders I have.  I know that soon the hummingbirds will be headed south. Thus, offering me another glance at the meaning, value, and preciousness of time. Or, how and where do we focus our time and energy along life’s journey? How many major initiatives or activities have I allowed myself to be absorbed in, worthy as they were, yet to miss perhaps the ‘little moments’ that may offer the greatest insights in life. Or, render the richest and deepest meaning and impact on life and the life of those around me.

As the early fall days draw upon us, there is now a rush of hummingbirds on the balcony each morning. They are delightful as they scatter, chase and swiftly zoom to and fro guarding their Shepherd’s Hook domain.  (Click on link below to see video). Their numbers are increasing each day simply indicating the arrival of those who are migrating from the north headed south. There, I understand, they spend our winter and prepare for their migration north once again in early summer. The hummingbirds have become a daily reminder for me of all humans who are migrating around the world today. I hold them all in prayer.  I wonder and ponder who is willing to care for them during their migration or exile? (Text continues below video).

So, during these few short weeks, my balcony is one of their ‘resting & feeding’ stopovers.  I really have found these meditative moments not only healing but bringing inner comfort peace and joy into my life.  This is what we need today in our lives. There is too much hecticness.  I hope I can bring my new inner harmony and peace into the lives of those I will encounter when I return to campus September 4th when my medical leave is over.

 

(Sr. Angela Ann is the Director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton).

 

An Advent Gift "From the Heart of God"

heart-lydia-cho-rscj“From the Heart of God…” was the theme that captured the attention of nearly 80 people who gathered on Saturday, December 3, 2016, at the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart for an Advent Day of Prayer.

Mission Helper Sr. Clare Walsh, facilitator of the day, began with a quote from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” inviting us to look at where our hearts might be “two sizes too small.”  Dr. Seuss gave way to reflecting on Advent Scriptures from Isaiah and Luke, followed by Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy challenge – to enter the chaos of our world with Jesus, Mercy Incarnate.

Participants were asked to reflect on “Where in our lives is God inviting us to enlarge our hearts and to love a bigger God?” dsc_1735

The day of prayer provided an opportunity to slow down, linger, ponder, wonder…to step out of the rush of Christmas into the hush of Advent.

“From the Heart of God…” came reflection, silence, prayer, lively faith sharing, and a delicious lunch.

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Our gathering ended at 3pm with Rev. Robert Albright presiding at Liturgy during which Sr. Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH, renewed her vows.

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The Mission Helpers have sponsored days of prayer at their Center for the past 12 years. Sr. Jane Geiger, MHSH is the behind-the-scenes person that has made it all happen. Keep your hearts open for the next one…watch for the announcement.

(Heart image by Lydia Cho, RSCJ)

 

A Reflection on Reality for Palm Sunday

palm sunday jesusSister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH 

Somewhere in one of the Gospel accounts, the observation is made that Jesus “knew what was in man.” That sounds ominous, but I think it’s simply stating the fact the he knew our flawed, fallible human nature and didn’t trust our rather irrational exuberance.

So, as he lurched along through the crowd on the back of that donkey, I suspect his enthusiasm for all the hoopla was muted by the awareness that “this too shall pass,” and the same folks who were cheering wildly for him could at any time shift to booing—and worse.

palm sunday crowd 2 hands onlyJesus was a realist; we—not so much, or at least not consistently. We want so badly for stories all to happy endings. Where do we get that almost irrational hope? Childhood happily-ever-after storybooks?

It would take a major revamping of our culture to alter our expectations.

What do other cultures, other countries teach their children to hope for?

I guess in many places it would be pointless to hope at all, even for a safe and quiet place to sleep, or something—almost anything—to eat. Happily-ever-after is a dream for white, middleclass Americans, for ourselves and our children.

As we lurch along through life, can we widen our perspective on the future, consider others who might need our help, and try to be more grateful for all we already have (and take for granted as our “birthright!)—something to eat, enough to wear, a safe place to live, a comfortable bed to sleep in, a worthwhile occupation to fill our days?

Compared to most in this world, and to many even in our own city, we are so very wealthy. What can we spread around so others may have a reason to rejoice, if only for a bit?

For Reflection:

Watch the local and national news every day. Rather than tsk-tsking about the events you see, ponder how you might make a difference somehow, somewhere.

Listen to conversations around you, your own and those of others. Do you hear attitudes of criticism or entitlement? Are any of them yours?

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?

 

“Independence” – A Reflection on Independence Day

By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

“Independence.” From toddlerhood on, our children are encouraged to walk by themselves. No one with any sense tries to prevent their walking because they might fall: spills are part of the process and another valuable lesson, scary and painful though they be.

Middle-schoolers learn gradually to speak truth to power, starting with peers on the playground. If well mentored, they grow in courage as teens, finding their backbone and making hard choices as they enter adulthood. We agonize with them at times but cheer their insights and brave decisions.

On a parallel, our country struggles to become itself, free, courageous in confronting evil, determined to go forward no matter the price in lives or money—and if you’ve lost a loved one in one of our many armed conflicts, you know that “pricey” doesn’t begin to describe the pain.

american flag 2As we sing our National Anthem on this July 4, enjoy fireworks and hot dogs, and recall the struggles that bought our freedom, let’s say a prayer of gratitude for all those—proud new parents, wise teachers, spiritual mentors, brave soldiers—who have bought and nurtured our independence, individually and as a country.

Let’s pray as well for people around the world who are still striving to be free and self-determining.

Whose example of hard-won independence inspires you? How will you express your gratitude for freedom this year?

 

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?

GREAT SOULS – A reflection on the death of Maya Angelou

By The Rev. F. M. “Buddy” Stallings, Rector,
St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City*

Maya Angelou died this week. Over the years, I have read her work and heard her rich, sonorous voice at various events, never once failing to be inspired by what she had to say. I have quoted her poem, When Great Souls Die, as part of All Saints’ Day sermons, probably more often than permissible. The poem begins: 

Maya AngelouWhen great souls die,
The air around us becomes
Light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
See with
A hurtful clarity.

And it ends:

And when great souls die,
After a period peace blooms,
Slowly and always
Irregularly. Spaces fill
With a kind of
Soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
To be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
Better
For they existed. 

And now she is one of those great souls gone from us. Our world is diminished for that, not quite as actively good as it was when more than her spirit prevailed: when her voice, even if only through Twitter, as it was a few days ago, could still be heard.

This week I have contemplated what it was about her that moved me so. A woman and a person of color, Maya Angelou and I don’t/didn’t have much in common—though the power of common southern-ness should never be completely discounted. But it was more than our regional connection…that made her so profoundly compelling.

She knew me—without even knowing that I existed. She knew what hurt inside me, the part that I never wanted to share with anyone; she knew what held me back, what gave me hope, what enraged me and what made me laugh. To be known like that is an amazing thing and the rare gift of a great soul, particularly one who can do it through her words from afar. I will miss her, but even as I do I shall give great thanks that because she existed, I can “be and be better.”

*This reflection first appeared in Fr. Stallings’ weekly e-letter, “From my Heart to Yours.”

 

“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?

 

Called by Circumstances

A Reflection by Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH

In the first reading for the Second Sunday of Lent (GN 12:1-4A) God tells Abram:

“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”

Midrash is one of my favorite things.  (No, it’s not a terrible affliction akin to shingles, although that’s what it sounds like.)  Midrash is the practice of students of scripture who read a passage like the one above and wonder what happened before and after the event recorded.

What might have led up to it?  What outcomes were possible?  It’s all speculation, of course—none of it is verifiable in history—but pondering a reading in that way can be quite rich.

stars 2 Magic SkiesMy first thought on this little reading is, “God sure knows how to sweeten a deal!”  Certainly God realized how wrenching it would be for Abram to surrender his land.  Ownership of land in many (not all) cultures confers status, security, even the right to vote (as in our country at one time).  Abram should give all that up?

“You must be kidding, God.”

But then the sweetener:  God promises Abram a new great nation, a wonderful reputation, unlimited blessings.  Wow!  So “Abram went as the Lord directed him.”  Lucky for us he was so easily persuaded.  But, I have to wonder what his wife had to say!

Circumstances call us, (not divine voices exactly, but…) and we are rarely so compliant as Abram.  We dither, ponder, discuss, maybe dispute.  “Why should I do that, or go there or accept such-and-such or so-and-so?  Why me, now, here?  What if I had other plans?”

I think particularly of women I’ve known or heard about—mothers of young families whose husbands suddenly die—a car crash, a stroke, a heart attack.  Then what?  How to acquiesce to that?  How to go on?  Could I?

For Reflection:

 Is such a tragedy a call that can bring its own grace, making acceptance possible?  Are such experiences our transfiguring events?  How many such calls come to us in the course of one lifetime? How do we answer them?