With God in the Wilderness

A reflection for the third week of Lent (written on the Feast of St. Joseph)

By Sr. Loretta Cornell, MHSH

I’ve been reading a publication called “A Lenten Pilgrimage: Journeying with Jesus.”   One of the reflections is titled: “In the desert we cling to essentials.”  It says: “A trek into the desert wilderness is no simple matter.  There are hazards, privations and loneliness, uncertainties, fickle weather, wild animals, and the frightening prospect that overnight the wind could alter the landscape beyond recognition.  It is easy to lose oneself in the wilderness.”

Joseph and Mary had to go through the desert, the wilderness, to get to Bethlehem and then out again into the wilderness to escape Herod’s soldiers who would slaughter the innocent. Both Joseph and Mary were examples of listening to God speak to their hearts, experiencing God with them.  They nurtured and protected Jesus, guiding him all through his life, and taught him how to survive the wilderness in all its forms.

“After his Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he fasted for forty days and nights and was tempted.  The desert wilderness is that place where what is essential (food, clothing, and shelter) is made abundantly clear”.

The wilderness is where God “I Am” nurtures us.  “The wilderness is that place where we enter to be reminded of the One, “I Am”, who is truly essential in our lives. It is where we stand before God,” I Am.”  It is the place where we stand in the light of God,” I AM’s” strength.  Our God says “I alone give you life and I give it to you fully.  Cling to me and I will care for you.  Trust in me and you will find freedom.”

Did you know…

Fig trees can grow in the desert!  Mary and Joseph may have come across one in their travels.  The beautiful fig tree yields two harvests per growing season and produces deliciously sweet fruit. Fig trees might take about 3 or more years to start producing a viable crop, but when they really start to produce you will have all the figs you can eat! Figs, one of the oldest cultivated crops, were a favorite of some early societies. The ancient Greeks, Romans, and even Egyptians enjoyed figs.

For reflection:

What is essential for me to live?
What will nurture me?
Can I meet God in the wilderness?

“I Rejoice Heartily in the Lord”

A Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent

By Marilyn Dunphy, MHSH

Readings:
Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1: 46-48, 49-50, 53-54
Thess. 5:16-24
Jn. 1: 6-8, 19-28

advent 3 candlesThe Church designates the third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice.” At the midpoint in this Advent season of expectant waiting and watching, we are called to reflect on the joy of God’s presence and promise.   As we hear Isaiah exult in the mission he has been given by God, Mary brimming over with gratitude and praise in her Magnificat, and Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice always,” we are led to the Gospel’s joyous promise of “the one who is coming.”

We invite you to pray with the passage of Isaiah, found below, using the technique of “lectio divina” (holy reading). In this approach, you first settle yourself in a quiet, comfortable posture, acknowledging the presence of God. Read the passage slowly and reflectively, noticing if any words of phrases stand out for you. Allow those words or phrases to sink in. You might repeat them a few times. Don’t try to analyze them, just allow them to be with you.

Slowly read the passage a second time. Reflect on what the significant words or phrases are touching in you. It might be your own experience of comforting someone who is brokenhearted, or of being comforted yourself. Whatever it is, trust that God speaks to you in your own personal experiences. Talk with God about this reaction, just as you would speak to a good friend. Then sit quietly and notice how God seems to be responding to you. That response may be a feeling of peace, or a sense of close presence. You may sense that God rejoices over you!

Read the passage a third time. What grace (gift) do you desire as a result of your prayer? Or, what might God be calling you to do, or to become?

Close your prayer time with the Lord’s Prayer or another prayer.

During the week, you might wish pray with the other readings, using lectio divina.

Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the Lord
and a day of vindication by our God.

I rejoice heartily in the Lord,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord God make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entry Into the Paschal Mystery – A Reflection for Palm Sunday

By Sister Donna Fannon, MHSH

Mk 11:1-10 (At the procession); Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-19, 17-20, 23-24; Mk 14:1-72; Mk 15:1-39

Palm Sunday ushers us into Holy Week.  As we receive our palm branch and listen to the opening Gospel we are transported in our imagination to the scene of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, seated on a donkey.

The crowds are still looking for a triumphant hero who will release them from the treacherous rule of the Romans.  But, as we hear the Passion narrative—this year it’s from Mark—we remember that Jesus was alone in his suffering and death. The crowds did not get what they were looking for.

It is significant that Mark’s Passion narrative begins with the story of a woman who manages to break into a dinner party where Jesus is present.  She anoints Jesus’ body with expensive oil.  We are told that the oil was worth a year’s wages.  She breaks the jar and pours the oil on Jesus’ head.  Her action was not appreciated by the dinner guests.  However, Jesus commends her.  Immediately after that, Judas goes off to look for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to the authorities.

This story can inspire us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We might think of how we spend a year’s wages (a sharing of our gifts) to soothe the pain of those who make up the suffering Body of Christ in the world today.

As Holy Week unfolds and leads us to Easter joy, we come to a deeper realization that although there may not be many earthly rewards for us as disciples, Jesus promises to be with us now and “he prepares a place for us so that where he is, we also may be.” (Jn 14:3)

Questions for reflection:

  • Do you feel confident enough in your relationship with God to trust your life with him?
  • How does God trust you?  Who are some of the people that God entrusts to your care?
  • What graces do you need in order to live in this trust?

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.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 7 Prayer and Reflection

Day 7: Changed by the Good Shepherd.
Scripture

1 Samuel 2:1-10, Not by might does one prevail.
Psalm 23, You are there with your rod and your staff.
Ephesians 6:10-20, Be strong in the Lord.
John 21:15-19, Feed my sheep.
Meditation
Hannah’s realized that some things happen only with the help of God. It was through His will that Hannah and her husband became parents. In what would seem to be a hopeless situation this text is an example of victory.
The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 guides his sheep even through the darkest places, comforting them with his presence. Those who place their trust in the Lord have no need to fear even the shadows of disunity, as their shepherd will lead them to dwell together in the Lord’s own house.
St. Paul urges us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power” by putting on spiritual armor: truth, righteousness, proclaiming the Good News, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer and supplication.
The Risen Lord urges Peter and each disciple to discover in himself a love of Him who alone is the One True Shepherd.
The witness to Christ that has been confirmed in us obliges us to act jointly for the sake of unity. We have the ability and the knowledge to bear such witness! But are we willing? He invites us to cooperate with Him unconditionally thus we will be able to help one another on the road to unity.

For Your Reflection

On this day the Bible texts show us the Lord strengthening His flock. Following the Good Shepherd, we are called to strengthen each other in the Lord, and to support and fortify the weak and the lost. There is one Shepherd, and we are his people.

  1. How does the Good Shepherd inspire us to comfort, revive, and restore the confidence of those who are lost?
  2. In what ways can Christians of various traditions strengthen each other in confessing and bearing witness to Jesus Christ?
  3. For us today, what can be the meaning of St Paul’s exhortation: “Be strong in the Lord…. put on the whole armour of God”?

Prayer
Father of all, you call us to be one flock in your Son, Jesus Christ. He is our Good Shepherd who invites us to lie down in green pastures, leads us beside still waters, and restores our souls. In following him, may we so care for others that all see in us the love of the one true shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day 2 Prayer and Reflections

Day 2: Changed through patient waiting for the Lord.
Scripture

1 Samue1:1-20, Hannah’s trust and patient waiting.
Psalm 40, Patient waiting for the Lord.
Hebrews 11:32-34, Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice.
Matthew 3:13-17, Let it be so now, for it is proper to fulfill all righteousness.
Meditation
From a Christian perspective victory is a long-term process of transformation. Transformative victory teaches us that it occurs in God’s time, not ours, calling for our patient trust and deep hope in God. Hannah witnessed to such patient trust and hope. After many years of waiting to be pregnant, she prayed to God for a child. When Eli assured her that God would grant her prayer, she simply trusted, waited, and was sad no longer. Hannah’s trust and hope results not only in her own transformation, but that of her people.
The psalmist echoes Hannah’s patient waiting. He gives thanks that God has transformed his shame and confusion, and continues to trust in God’s steadfast love.
The Letter to the Hebrews recalls the patience of people who were able to be victorious through their faith and trust in God. God’s intervention into human history eliminates the temptation to be triumphant in human terms.
Jesus, does not succumb to the temptation to usher in the Kingdom of God without delay, but patiently reveals what life in the Kingdom means through his own life and ministry which leads to his death on the Cross. While the Kingdom of God breaks through in a decisive way in the resurrection, it is not yet fully realized. The ultimate victory will come about only with the second coming of our Lord.
Our longing for the visible unity of the Church likewise requires patient and trustful waiting. Our prayer for Christian unity is like the prayer of Hannah and the psalmist. Our work for Christian unity is like the deeds recorded in the Letter to the Hebrews. Our attitude of patient waiting is not one of helplessness or passivity, but a deep trust that the unity of the Church is God’s gift, not our achievement. Such patient waiting, praying and trust transforms us and prepares us for the visible unity of the Church not as we plan it, but as God gives it.

For Your Reflection

On this day we concentrate on patient waiting for the Lord. To achieve any change, perseverance and patience are needed. Prayer to God for any kind of transformation is also an act of faith and trust in his promises. Such waiting for the Lord is essential for all who pray for the visible unity of the church this week. All ecumenical activities require time, mutual attention and joint action. We are all called to co-operate with the work of the Spirit in uniting Christians.

  1. In what situations in our life should we have a greater trust in God’s promises?
  2. What areas of church life are particularly at risk from the temptation to act hastily?
  3. In what situations should Christians wait, and when should they act together?

Prayer
Faithful God, you are true to your word in every age. May we, like Jesus, have patience and trust in your steadfast love. Enlighten us by your Holy Spirit that we may not obstruct the fullness of your justice by our own hasty judgments, but rather discern your wisdom and love in all things. For You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

Source: Greymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute

My Ministry is a Privilege

By Sister Onellys Villegas

I am a counselor at the House of Ruth Family Safety and Support Center in Beltsville, Maryland.  I knew I was called to this ministry even as I went to the mailbox to send off my resume.  And, when I was told that the work would be in the area of domestic violence, I was sure that this was where I belonged.

I work primarily with Latina women who are referred to the Center by the courts, by other social service agencies that do not handle domestic violence cases, and by agencies that work with the Latino population in the area, which is a suburb or Washington, DC.

I see as many as 30 women each week—that’s too many, but I haven’t the heart to turn anyone away.  Entering into the inner world of another person’s life is an awesome privilege and responsibility.  Together, the abused woman and I explore her pain with love, with trust and with compassion.  We work together toward her healing.

She shares her story with me and I learn about her history of domestic violence, about her parents.  I get to know where she is coming from.  It takes a long time before the woman realizes what is happening to her and, very important, that she does not deserve it!

This is the key factor in my counseling.  I tell them that there is nothing they could possibly do that would justify being beaten.  Nothing!  At first this passes over them, but when they’re ready, they come to the realization:  “No. I don’t deserve this.”  Only then are they ready to move on—and out.

I have been blessed by the trust that these women have placed in me.  They have inspired me by their courage in telling their stories and in making choices for their future.  These sacred moments of shared human feelings have moved me and transformed me.

Reflection:  Whose “inner life” do you share?  Do you think of it as a privilege or a burden?   


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.

LENTEN LESSON FROM THE HEART

By Sister M. Madeline Gallagher, MHSH

We are entering our third week of Lent. This week the Church gives us the story of the woman at the well.  Let us contemplate two hearts. The heart of Jesus and the heart of the woman.

Jesus sits to rest. A woman comes to the well. It is afternoon. Neither one should look or speak to each other. But Jesus asks her for a drink. Surprised, shocked, the woman replies, “How is it that you, a Jew, asks a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”

Jews did not deal with Samaritans. Jesus’ heart felt for her. He begins a simple, yet profound,  conversation with her. His heart goes out to this woman. He sees that her heart is good. She is seeking love, affection and security in the wrong places and with the wrong people. Jesus knows this. He sees her heart.

She believes the Messiah is coming. Her heart must be pounding. She does not know what to say, so she says, “You have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep…are you greater than our father Jacob?”  

Two hearts, each different, each seeking love. Jesus draws her out so He can reveal himself to her as the Messiah.

Ponder the two Hearts. Is Jesus seeking after me during this third week of Lent?

Can I be open to the loving heart of Jesus? What is Jesus asking of me? What is Jesus revealing to me? Is my heart open to receive His love as was the woman’ heart at the well? Do I seek love and affection in the wrong places?

Jesus, I place all my trust in you.