A Spiritual Lesson from a Crown of Thorns Plant

By Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min.

Recently I inherited a Crown of Thorns plant. The truth of the matter is no one wanted it. Out of partial neglect over recent years, it simply developed spidery wild projections of thorny branches with little to no signs of life. It only irritated your skin if you moved too near and touched it.

No family member wanted to discard the plant because it had been the favorite plant of their mother’s while she had been alive. Yet, no one took the time to care for it. It had become an annoyance because the plant was perceived as lacking beauty. It simply had become a lifeless plant. Each time I visited the family I commented on the care for the plant. I felt the plant simply entered a state of hibernation.

One day when I returned home from the University the Crown of Thorns plant was positioned at my front door. The family was moving. Because of my affirmation of the plant over the years, I inherited it. It remained at my front door for a few days. Did I really want to bring it into my apartment, care for it, continue to believe that life surged deep within it?

Yes. I took the time to study further how to care for my Crown of Thorns plant. I offered it the best light in my apartment by my study balcony window, proceeded to fertilizer, and water it according to the instructions, misting it occasionally; and, oh, yes, talking to it every day. In less than two weeks I observed the first showings of tiny green leaves emerge from the spidery branches. Within two months the plant radiated a headdress of bushy emerald leaves. Now I am waiting for its lush pink flowers to fill in the green headdress. Yes, life hibernated within it over the recent years. If you believe, you will see and discover the hidden beauty within and around you.

Frequently I find myself meditating on my plant during morning prayer as the morning sun streams through the window cuddling the plant. I imagine myself composing a parable centered on my Crown of Thorns experience. I discover parallels with spiritual life stories my University students share between classes, or while meeting them walking across campus. I patiently listen to their angst concerning the emptiness, dryness, fruitlessness they may be experiencing in their spiritual lives. “I am empty of any feelings toward God. Has God abandoned me?” “Where is God now in my life?” “Where can I experience God’s life igniting a fire within me?” “Why do some of my friends feel God’s closeness and love and I am so empty, lifeless?”

I found that sharing the encounter with my Crown of Thorns plant sparks a meaningful dialogue on nurturing our spiritual life. Just as a life force may have appeared to be depleted for a few years in my plant, with a little bit of care and attention the life force emerged with splendor. We may feel dryness, emptiness, a loss of life and meaning at certain moments in our lives. We are called to believe in the beauty and richness of a Divine Life Force/Energy (God) which may appear hidden but is present within us. God does not abandon us. We need only pay attention. God’s Divine Energy is constantly flowing within, through and around us. We need only be patient. We need to lean deeply into the Divine Life Force surging within us even in our bleakest hours. I encourage my students in such moments to pause and become mindful of God’s unconditional ceaseless love for them. Or, by contemplating or imagining the Divine Force surging within affirming, comforting and radiating God’s unconditional love flowing through every fiber of their being.

 

PS: Called “Euphorbia”, the Crown of Thorns is one of the few succulents with real leaves – thick, fleshy, and tear-shaped. The leaves appear on stems that are armed with sharp, inch-long spines. The plant gets its common name from the legend that the thorny crown worn by Jesus at his crucifixion was made from this plant.

Discovering Something New – A Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Lent

By Sister Rita Lynch, MHSH

Isaiah 43:18-19   “Remember not the events of the past….see, I am doing something new”

Philippians 3:12-13  “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained it, but I continue my pursuit….forgetting what lies behind, but strained forward to what lies ahead.”


Holy_Week_DispayEach year, we celebrate the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter.  It is full of special events—Ash Wednesday, Rites of Initiation, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil.  We make personal choices of how to journey this most holy and spiritual time of the year.  It is a time to remember again the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was sent by God to show us the way to live in God’s presence.  It reminds us of all that Jesus lived and died for: “US”!

The readings for this week encourage us not to forget, but also to remember that there is something new waiting for us to receive from our God with open minds and hearts.  Each of us has traveled this same journey for as many years as we have had birthdays.   Sometimes those years are a repeat of the prayers and liturgies of the previous ones.   

something newSometimes it seems that we are not called to do the same thing over and over every year. And, if we listen to the words of Isaiah and Paul, we are challenged to look for the deeper meaning, the expanded vision, the next deeper insights of what this time of the year is meant to be for us. 

Our faith not only repeats the past words and events, but needs to bring us to “continue the pursuit” as Paul suggests. We are called to discover the “something new” that allows the season to change our hearts and lead us to new understanding of how this time affects our spiritual life and gives us the impetus to carry this season into the future in a new way.  

A New Things

2016 is not the same as 2015, or 2014, or any other year.  We are different, have had many new experiences since we celebrated this holy time last year.  Perhaps our lives have seen a new commitment—and so we are reminded of the commitment Jesus made with the Father when he came to earth and walked among us. 

 

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.

 

 

 

Renewal

By Eloise Downing

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

There is comfort in the familiar. Our daily routines keep us from having to “re-invent the wheel” for each of our mundane endeavors. Over the years, the relationships we’ve built with our families and friends pave the two-way street of love, understanding and trust by which we support one another on our journeys. Yet, if we entrap ourselves only in the familiar (the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” approach to life), we run the risk of being bored (and boring!) and cheating ourselves out of the wonder of discovery, the exciting potential for growth and spirited life.

I find the Scriptures call us from the comfort of the familiar to openness to the new. There are passages we’ve heard time and time again — so much so that we can recite them from memory. However, just when we hear a familiar proclamation, when it is easy to think, “Oh, I’ve heard this all before”, is perhaps just the time we’re invited to forsake the familiar and seek out the ever-renewing unfolding of the spirit-life.

Sometimes this openness to a renewed inspiration in Scripture is revealed in the simple turn of a phrase or in reading a different translation of the passage. Recently, I experienced this in the phrase from Ezekiel – “I will create a new heart in you and breathe into you a new spirit” — a passage I’ve heard, read and sung many times.

But for some reason, I found myself reflecting on a paraphrase: “I will create a new heart in me” — not in the sense that I am an ultimate creator — but rather in the sense that, because the new heart has already been bestowed on each one of us, we are responsible for how we continue the creation of the new heart, the enlivening spirit, in our midst.

So, my paraphrase of Ezekiel is my Lenten reflection, calling me to continue the creation of the new heart and spirit with which we’ve all been so richly blessed. May your Lenten inspirations be times of gratitude for all the gifts of heart and spirit in your life, whether they be familiar or new or some of both.