I am living the Mary and Elizabeth story of the relationship between holy women of different generations, exploring the mysteries of life, filled with gratitude and new awarenesses. It is a story of mutual love and deep respect. It is a story of “visitations.”
Advent is about waiting, anticipation, and preparation! Advent is a time of growth in hope, peace, joy, and love! And on this Second Sunday of Advent, we also do a second collection for the Retired Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests. This year, I am grateful to the Sisters in my life in new and profound ways.
Last month, several family members went to visit my Benedictine aunts in Lisle, Illinois. Of the five, three are alive and well at the ages of 92, 94, and 96. We visited, told stories, laughed and cried. I know that I cried all the way to the airport thinking that this may be the last face-to-face visit with at least one of them. I felt my mother’s presence with us (from heaven).
People are always curious about why I didn’t join the Benedictines; after all, I love their charism of hospitality and welcome, of respect for all, and their prayer lives. It’s just that I only came to know them as an adult. They all entered the convent before my mother was married. My mother thought she had a vocation too, but when the Texas family was reduced from 12 to 7 to 3, my mother stayed home to help on the farm.
Almost all of my high school teachers, Sisters of Divine Providence, are in the communion of saints in heaven, except for Sister Rose Marie, my senior English teacher, who will be 90 soon. I recently wrote a reflection on our 55 years of shared life. She taught me to love literature and to write. She told me when we last visited that as a 17-year-old, my high school compositions made her think! Imagine my surprise! I was thinking of myself like people thought of Jesus—what good can come from Nazareth or from Hostyn! I was young and had no idea that I could influence an elder, my teacher.
Mary, the very young mother-to-be, needed Elizabeth, the much older, also unexpected mother-to-be. We all know the story of their visitation—the need to companion, to accompany, to share mystery and to share joy. I can only imagine the story-telling, the tears of joy and the tears of wondering about all the unknowns. Theirs was a story of birth. Theirs was also a story of the “birthing” of much that was new, and profoundly counter-cultural. Both John the Baptist and Jesus would change structures, laws, and ways of thinking about the relationships of people. Their lives and their deaths led to profound change—voices crying out for an end to injustice, new commandments of love that are inclusive of all, mercy and compassion for those considered unworthy of attention or rights.
I continue to be profoundly grateful for the wise women, the elders in our Sisterhood, who have shown me the way to follow Jesus. This is why I joyfully speak on behalf of all who have given their lives in service, in visitation to all the places they have ministered, and in loving us into “births” we never expected.
The costs of healthcare, the realities of an aging membership, the maintenance of buildings that we have outgrown, and our great desire to choose mission over maintenance motivate us to ask for assistance through this appeal.
Thank you for contributing generously. Call or visit a Sister you know. Pray for vocations. Lord, hear our prayers and move us to action.
We begin the season of Advent with the lighting of the first candle, representing hope. This hope is based on God’s promises, God’s plans for humanity. The prophet Jeremiah describes the promise to grant David a descendant, the Messiah, who “shall do what is right and just in the land.”
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a prayer of affirmation as well as challenge. He reminds us that Jesus’ greatest desire for each of us is to be blameless in holiness before our God. We do that by increasing and abounding in love for one another and for all. He reiterates that they have learned from him, a devoted follower of Jesus, how to behave. Now, he wants them to try even harder so as to be pleasing to God.
Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and preparation. Each week, we light another candle as a reminder that we are to be a light in the darkness—to be the light of God’s hope. The call to be a light to others often involves living in right relationship with one another and all of creation. To be a light in the darkness is also a call to work for justice. God is made flesh in each of us when we act as Jesus did—do what is right and just in the land.
What are some “right relationships” that are a challenge for us in our world today? How do we bring hope, the light of Christ, in the midst of all the darkness? What will we do this Advent to try even harder to be pleasing to God?
What kind of a king is Jesus? To what truth does Jesus testify?
Throughout the year, we have imaged Jesus as shepherd, light, true vine, and the way. Today we image Jesus as our king. Jesus is the opposite of an authoritarian, dictatorial, self-serving king. His is a servant leader, particularly concerned about the most vulnerable, the outcasts, the unrecognized and unnoticed. When we follow Jesus, how does that affect the way we see others? Who sits on the throne in your heart, you or Jesus?
And about the truth! What does it mean to tell the truth? About our faith? About our commitment to justice? About our love for all people?
The invitation to us is strong—listen with the heart to hear the truth. Listen to the voice of Jesus. Recognize that Jesus is the source of truth.
Heaven on Earth?
If you knew that this is your last month, or last week, or last day on earth, how would you spend it? What would take priority in your day? Where would God be in the picture?
There are events in all of our lives when we feel as though the end is near. Some of the events are personal: a terminal illness, a damaging secret about to be revealed, the break-up of a relationship, sudden financial loss. Other events are social: wars, persecution, uncontrollable wildfires, famine, violence and poverty and refugees seeking asylum all over the world. As difficult as these events are, we know by our faith that God is here in the midst of it and life goes on. But we also have assignments…
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” To be ready for the end time, the time of our accounting for how we lived our lives, we must have been hard at work, with a sense of urgency, building the Kingdom of God on earth. What would that look like? What would we be doing?
Who are the builders of the Kingdom of God on earth who inspire us? The prophet Daniel calls them shining stars, giving out points of light, showing the way.
There are powerful movements of the Spirit and Spirit-filled actions all over the world. There are stirrings and actions of persons and communities that are rising up, organizing and collaborating to act on behalf of change that brings about peace, justice, freedom, dignity, truth, equality and hope in their families, their communities and in our world. What will we do to join them?
And so we pray: Lord, fill us with your Word. We trust that it will never pass away. Move us to action. Help us to be vigilant, look and listen to the voices of the least among us. Help us to become the wise who shall shine brightly like the stars to guide the way.
Giving of the Little We Have
What is the difference between giving “out of abundance” and giving “out of poverty?” The two widows we meet in the readings this week both give out of their poverty. When asked, the widow gives away the flour and oil needed for her next meal, one to be shared with her son. She gives what she would ordinarily need for her and her son’s sustenance. And she discovers that her jar of flour never goes empty.
Many years ago when I first traveled to Mexico to meet the family of one of our CDP Sisters, I experienced poverty that I had never known before. Dirt floors in the house, having to bring water from a distance, no indoor plumbing of any sort. We visited for a while and before we left, the family sent us home with the two eggs that were on the counter and some tortillas. As far as we could see, that was all they had. We didn’t want to take it. But we were reminded that this is hospitality and it would be rude for us to not accept the gift. They gave “out of their poverty.”
I admit that I have felt the tug of giving from my poverty, from my limited resources. When I was doing graduate studies, I lived with a community of Sisters who struggled to cover all the household chores needing to be done. I would help, of course. And because I was more able-bodied than most, I was often asked to do more, especially when someone was sick or absent. I struggled to give away my precious time, needed for my studies. What I discovered, however, was that after giving away my limited time, I returned to my studies and suddenly I was inspired in my writing and could finish reading more quickly. All I needed was faith that it could get done?
In the Gospel reading, we meet another widow. Jesus observes the rich who proudly contribute lots to the treasury. And then he sees the widow add her two coins, all that she has, also needed for her livelihood. In Jesus’ time, widows were among the marginalized, the ones living on the periphery. Jesus notices and Jesus cares. He declares that she has given more than anyone because she gave from her poverty.
How do you rate your own capacity to give? When do you give “out of abundance” and when do you give “out of poverty?”
How do you rate your ability to give?
No Exceptions to Love
Did you hear any love messages in the media? In your workplace? In your neighborhood? In your family?
Jesus is quite clear when he answers the lawyer in Mark’s gospel. The greatest commandment is love of God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is: Love your neighbor as yourself!
Jesus’ answer is true to the Jewish prayer called the Shema, from the Hebrew word “hear.” This Shema was known to Jesus as a practicing Jew. This Shema affirms the basic tenets of the Jewish faith then and now. And we, as Catholics, hear the same expression of the greatest commandments in our Scriptures.
We have powerful evidence of the love commandments lived by the Jewish congregation who experienced the loss of many of their people last Saturday, during their holy day observance. Their grief and mourning are filled with messages of loving remembrances of the dead. They are also strong in their conviction that they will continue their tradition of love extended to neighbors—to asylum seekers and migrants. In spite of the hate of that tradition and the people who live it, the hate that consumed the killer, they vow to keep loving!
In our world today, Scripture and society look at love differently, don’t they? Who is my neighbor? Only the one I agree with, the one who is like me? Jesus is very clear in his preaching and in his living example. Love of God, love of neighbor and love of self—NO EXCEPTIONS!
We are given some powerful challenges in Mark’s gospel.
How can I love God, neighbor and myself with my heart and emotions?
How can I love God, neighbor and myself with my soul and essence?
How can I love God, neighbor and myself with my mind and intellect?
How can I love God, neighbor and myself with my strength and body?
Can we honestly say “I love you God” without widening our hearts, our souls, our minds and our strength?
Choosing to See
“Master, I want to see!” The words of the man born blind really speak to me these days. There is so much that I would like to see, that I want to see. For me, to see is also to understand. And there is so much that I would like to understand, perhaps to see in new ways. If Jesus were to say to me, “What do you want me to do for you?” I’d have infinite lists of things that I would like to see differently.
I’d like to understand why racism persists, why so much of the language we use today is divisive and makes us choose sides, why basic needs for food, shelter, and healthcare are refused to anyone, why we don’t have equal rights for everyone. My list is long!
Seeing changes us. Sometimes I find myself saying, “Oh, Jesus, don’t let me see another thing that needs to be done, that needs attention.” The next thing that happens is that I say is “Why doesn’t anyone else see this and take care of it?”
Am I really wishing to be blind to all of that? Maybe I am like the crowds who told Bartimaeus to just be quiet, to remain silent. Stay out of it and just be quiet! Is it really better to not see?
And then a co-worker puts a magnet on my door that says, “Do not be afraid. Speak loudly. Use your voice.” And that changes everything! That which has been in darkness needs to be brought into the light. What wasn’t seen needs our sight, our vision, and OUR VOICE so that new life, joy, and healing can come to all of God’s people.
I pray this week that God will use my weakness and strengthen me for the journey. I pray that God uses my vulnerability to serve in new ways. Want to join me in that prayer?
To Lead is to Serve
During the past few weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time going to funerals both in the parish and in my Sisters of Divine Providence community. Today we are burying the sixth Sister in the last month. Two more are on hospice care! In the parish, just this week we have had two large funerals.
As our parish community and my Sister community bury the dead, that very meaningful corporal work of mercy, we remember and we celebrate the ways in which our friends, our companions have led and served. We celebrate their discipleship. We name the ways that they have witnessed to living the faith, to modeling the capacity to “drink of the cup” that Jesus describes. In many ways, they urge us and lure us to greater service, to greater leadership.
One of the things I am most grateful for at St. Francis is the examples of servant leadership I see all around me, every day. I’ll share some examples: the coach who encourages the CYO player who only wants to quit, the liturgical ministers who make sure everything is ready for our Masses each weekend, the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers who give attention, love and assistance to our brothers and sisters in need, the Mobile Loaves & Fishes teams who joyfully prepare and serve meals, the ministers who regularly bring Communion and messages of love and care to our homebound parishioners, the festival volunteers who brought joy to all, the Habitat volunteers who weather the weather and will persist until the house is built, the catechists and Bible Study leaders who form parishioners of every age in the faith, the choir members and musicians, our priests and deacons, our marriage sponsor couples, our teen and adult retreat teams, the women and a few men who wash and iron altar linens and dust the statues, the parishioner who sees someone coming out of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and stops to talk and be present to someone needing comfort, the man who hands the young altar server a small gift in recognition of their service. I am sure you have countless examples as well.
And so we pray this weekend: Loving and merciful God, help us to follow your example of sacrificial love, by being servants who lead and leaders who serve! Help us to grow in our capacity to serve! Give us generous hearts.
Will We Too Go Away Sad?
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing.’” The rich, young man was looking to Jesus to tell him what he needed to do to enter the kingdom of God. He was proud of himself for keeping the commandments and probably expected Jesus to acknowledge his goodness and to praise him for good work.
Jesus, however, challenges him with these words: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The response of the otherwise confident young man is described in this way. “…his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Wealth offered the young man access to so many things in life—health, reputation, respect, and fullness of life. What the young man was seeking was God, a relationship with God, a quest to ultimately be with God.
Imagine Jesus looking at you, loving you and saying to you, “You are lacking in one thing.” What is the one more thing lacking in your life? What is the “wealth” you need to sell or give away? What is Jesus asking of you when he says “Come, follow me?”
Happy Feast of St. Francis!
We need St. Francis today, in our world, in our community, and in our hearts. Francis was so deeply embedded in the gospel that he was out of step with everything. If we follow the example of our parish’s patron saint, we too would be risking much for the gospel. The invitation is ours! Will we follow?
Many quotes are attributed to Francis. One of my favorites is this:
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received…but only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”