Tuesday, January 17, 2017

In honor of Agnes . . .we remember, we celebrate, we believe!!

Feast of Agnes of Rome, January 21
Patroness of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes

Someone once wrote: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

This is a question to reflect upon today as we celebrate a true Christian martyr, the spiritual inspiration of our founders and exemplification of selfless devotion to God.  As I pondered this question and its connection to the call to being a faith witness, it reminded me of the time I was living in Menomonee Falls, WI. One day, two very young men from the new Open Bible Church appeared at my door with their bibles in hand and asked me, “Have you chosen Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” 

This resulted in a twenty minute sharing of conversion stories and Scripture texts– and when they departed, I reflected on how skilled they were in locating just the right passage to prove their faith and convictions; I admired their desire to give testimony to the power of God in their lives, their eagerness to have me make a commitment, and their overall tenacity!  So I asked myself, would I be able to do what they are doing? How do I witness the Word and Wonder of God?

Today we gather to remember and to celebrate St. Agnes of Rome, under whose patronage CSA was founded and called into being.  She declared herself Christian in a pagan society and committed herself to remain virgin in a patriarchal culture.  She gave testimony that she had chosen Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior with the public sacrifice of her life.

Much of her life and death are surrounded by legend, but early writings tell us that Agnes was born into a wealthy and powerful Roman Christian family and, according to tradition, she suffered martyrdom at the age of 12 or 13 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on January 21, in the year 305. 

The story is told how the Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son; for women at that time were property of the State and had children to promote the State's agenda.  But Agnes refused and remained adamant that she had consecrated her virginity to Jesus Christ.

Her refusal was considered an act of treason and punishable by death.   At that time, Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, so Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. In one version of the story, it is said that as she processed through the streets, Agnes prayed, and her hair grew and covered her entire body.

Some also asserted that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind.  She was sentenced to death with many other Christian companions who refused to worship the Roman gods and to pay homage to the emperor as divine.

Legend has it that Agnes went unshackled to her death because all the irons were too large for her wrists.  According to some accounts, when Agnes was led out to die, she was tied to a stake; however the bundle of wood would not burn or the flames parted away from her.  As a result, the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her.  

Agnes grew up in a patriarchal culture, whose religion included many gods – a religion of laws, customs, and prescriptions that no longer had the power to define her.  Agnes chose a new way of life – a life of virginity.  She was resolute in choosing her own power in Christ to define her new identity.


She is one of seven women commemorated by name in the prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  She is the patron saint of gardeners, young girls, engaged couples, rape victims, and virgins.  For her steadfast faith, she has been honored as a martyr.

The word “martyr” comes from the Greek meaning “witness.”   Originally, the term referred to the Apostles who had witnessed the events of Jesus’ life and who died violently for their faith.  However, as more early Christians were executed for their faith, “martyr” soon came to mean those who firmly believed in Jesus and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the Gospel. They found a treasure in this new way called, Christianity. Truly their search for this new Kingdom required a great price at this time in history.

Agnes, like many of the early Christian martyrs, is referred to as a “red martyr” as she shed her blood for Christ. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many of these brave women and men who chose death, rather than to forsake Christ.

So, we may ask . . . are there martyrs today?  Is there heroic and courageous witness for faith happening in our lifetime?  Are we brave, steadfast, and worthy enough to be counted among their ranks as genuine witnesses to our faith?

Indeed, there are new witnesses of faith who have been killed because they professed their faith, promoted Christian values and convictions, held fast to a stance of social justice and non-violence, or who were voices for the poor, the least, the last, and the lost, or who died at the hands of persons with hatred for the faith.  These witnesses bring us both hope and inspiration that God’s reign is truly alive in and among us, calling us to reflect on our own lives and willingness to sacrifice genuinely and selflessly.

These modern Christian witnesses most certainly are the new heroes and she-roes of our times who work for social justice at risk to their own lives – Let us recall:
• Oscar Romero of San Salvador, a champion of the poor who was assassinated while celebrating liturgy;
• Jean Donovan, Sisters Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, and Maura Clarke, murdered by Salvadoran government troops in 1980;
•  S. Dorothy Stang, SSND, who in Feb. of 2005, was murdered in the Amazon because she was outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor and the environment.      
• In April of 2014, Jesuit priest, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, 75, who served the poor and homeless in Syria for 50 years and who refused to leave the war-torn country and was beaten and killed by two bullets to the head.
• In Sept. of 2014, three Italian women religious, Bernadetta, age 79, Luica, age 75 and Olga, age 82 years of age) were beaten, raped, and stabbed to death in Burundi, Africa as a result of a botched robbery and, other reports assert, that it was because their convent was built  on the perpetrators’ ancestral land.
• And today, we undoubtedly, remember our own women of faith – CSA Sisters Maureen Courtney,(45) Jenny Flor Altamirano, (26) and Teresa de Jesus Rosales,(24) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – young women who gave testimony with their lives as they lived justice in action and faith-filled generosity.                    

                                                                                                      
So what is the Good News for us today?
• Our God continues to invite everyone to live with hope, trust, courage, and faith.  We are all called to be new witnesses of the Risen Jesus living the Beatitudes in this earthly community. 
• As in the readings, we celebrate all witnesses who risk everything and refuse to be separated from the love of God; may we strive to model their zeal, courage, and conviction.                                           
• That like Agnes, when we find ourselves standing naked in our vulnerabilities, limitations,  powerlessness, doubts, dilemmas, and decisions that affect the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political challenges of life – may we more and more learn to call upon the Spirit for guidance, grit, and grace - for it is in God that we live and move and have our being.   
• That like Agnes, we are all called to claim our new identity as women and men of faith in the 21st century – we pray to be attentive and open to the signs of our time, while  remaining faithful to our own integrity as individuals, as a congregation, and as  People of God in the church and world community.


So let us ponder again the question of the day:  If we were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?
(Previously presented on January 21, 2015)

Breathing our way through transitions . . .

Dear Viewers. . .
During this time of transitions . . .why not just RELAX!

I found a great website that offers practices of Three Deep Breaths for breathing one's way into relaxation . . .with the Centering Breath, the Possibility Breath, and the Discovery Breath.  I've posted the link below . . .
for "transitions of every sort mark our lives." (CSA Constitutions)

"Want a quick way to transform your reality? Start by breathing in focus, discovery and possibility – then see the world through different eyes."

https://experiencelife.com/article/three-deep-breaths/


Thursday, January 12, 2017

All Saints Day ~ A Moveable Feast!



I am posting my writings from a 2013 All Saints Day reflection. I believe its message is very appropriate (once again) in this “Ordinary Time” in which some things seem quite “extraordinary.”  In light of the transitions that will soon take place on January 20th, may these words give focus, energy, and hope to all as we are called to be courageous, and live and act with a holy resiliency as the saints who have gone before us! Why? Because the time is now, and we are here!



During World War II a German widow hid Jewish refugees in her home.       
As her friends discovered the situation, they became extremely alarmed.
“You are risking your own well-being,” they told her.
I know that,” she said.
“Then why,” they demanded, “do you persist in this foolishness?”
Her answer was stark and to the point.
“I am doing it,” she said, “because the time is now and I am here.”


Today we celebrate the feast of all Saints - those known and unknown women and men, and even children - who are called holy because their lives manifested the very holiness of God.  And we do this today because the time is now and we are here. These women and men are those who form “the great multitude of which no one can count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”

In the early Christian Church the first saints were martyrs, virgins, hermits and monks who were declared holy by popular acclaim.  Since the 16th century, when the modern saint-making process began, canonization was in the control of the popes and became a judicial process complete with evidence and cross-examination.

The person had to pass through a scrutiny of investigations and many proofs of miracles. Once proven, then an elaborate ceremony of canonization occurred.  A feast day assigned, a Church and shrines were dedicated to the saint.

The person would be declared patron saint of a country, a diocese or other religious institutions.  Statues and images would be struck, along with public prayers, relics venerated and possibly a Mass would be composed in the Saint’s honor.

In the times from these early centuries until now, those declared saints have contributed to God’s reign as artists, authors, founders/foundresses of religious orders, monks, martyrs, missionaries and mystics, bishops, popes, poets, peasants, and prophets, women and men religious, kings, queens, historians, and hermits, wives, husbands, reformers, scientists, theologians, teachers, virgins, children, widows, carpenters, shepherdesses and a thousand more paths in which these holy ones gave themselves as self gift.

They lived in times of turmoil and times of tranquility; they endured persecutions, wars, church councils, crusades, The Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Black Death, enemy occupation of their countries, and struggled with unjust government, church, and social systems.

We may tend today to think of Saints as holy and pious people, sometimes irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos above their heads with ecstatic gazes or surrounded by angels or holding a symbol particular to their story.

But today – saints are men and women like us who live ordinary lives and struggle with the ordinary and extraordinary problems of life.  What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people.  And so we may ask, who are the holy ones for us today?  And what does holiness look like in our time and place?
Are we not all called to holiness by our very Baptism?
The time is now and we are here.


It can be said that holiness is conditioned by socio-cultural and religious factors. In the early centuries, the martyr paradigm certainly was a manifestation of God’s holiness.  As one author remarks:  "For centuries the church has presented the human community with role models of greatness. We call them saints when what we really often mean to say is 'icon,' 'star,' 'hero,' ones so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness that they give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. They give us a taste of the possibilities of greatness in  ourselves."- Joan D. Chittister in A Passion for Life

And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people through human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, then we can be sure that the saints will be those who lives are spent working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering.
Because the time is now and they are here.


In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, the saints will boldly choose life through the cost of death.  Because the time is now and they are here.

In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, the saints will name the injustice and call it social sin. Because the time is now and they are here.

In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups but not to others, the saints will witness to the freedom of the Spirit to give gifts as the Spirit chooses, regardless of restrictive laws about use of the gifts. Because the time is now and they are here.

In an  age when discrimination, elitism, and oppression operate in society, in governments and in our Churches, the saints will again proclaim the reign of God and be "voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all." Because the time is now and they are here.

Because the nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture.  But the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are here and those beyond this faith community –
to witness to the freedom of the Spirit;
to run, to risk, and wonder at our daring;
to boldly choose life through the cost of death; to confront the oppressors and marvel at our courage; and work tirelessly for the people of God as we proclaim God’s reign.


For it is God’s caring we witness and
God’s love we share
because the time is now and we are here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr. His life mattered . . .



For my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. prayer was a daily source of courage and strength that gave him the ability to carry on in even the darkest hours of our struggle. I remember one very difficult day when he came home bone-weary from the stress that came with his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the middle of that night, he was awakened by a threatening and abusive phone call, one of many we received throughout the movement. On this particular occasion, however, Martin had had enough.

After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee. He began to worry about his family, and all of the burdens that came with our movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God: "Lord, I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can't face it alone.

Later he told me, "At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: 'Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at our side forever.'" When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence, and he was ready to face anything.

--Coretta Scott King from "Standing in the Need of Prayer" as published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ~ January 16, 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017

Witnesses of Light . . .



Lord, make me your witness. In this world of darkness, let my light shine.
In this world of lies, let me speak the good news of truth.
In this world of hate and fear, let me radiate your love. 
In this world of despair, let me spread hope. 
In this world of systemic injustice and institutionalized evil, let me promote justice and goodness.

In this world of sadness and sorrow, let me bring joy.
In this world of cruelty and condemnation, let me show your compassion.
In this world of vengeance and retaliation, let me offer your mercy and reconciliation. 

In this world of war, let me serve your gift of peace. 
In this world of violence, make me a teacher and apostle of your nonviolence. 
In this world of death, let me proclaim the new life of resurrection. 

Help me to witness to the resurrection of Jesus by loving my enemies, showing compassion, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, serving the poor, liberating the oppressed, resisting war, beating plowshares, and disarming my heart and the world.
In the name of the risen, nonviolent Jesus, Amen

Taken from:
You Will be My Witnesses: 
Saints, Prophets and Martyrs
By John Dear

To Live Epiphany . . .




Creator of the Stars, God of Epiphanies, You are the Great Star.  You have marked my path with light.  You have filled my sky with stars naming each star, guiding it, until it shines into my heart, awakening me to deeper seeing, new revelations and brighter epiphanies.

O Infinite Star Giver, I now ask for wisdom and courage to follow these stars for their names are many and my heart is fearful.

They shine on me where ever I go: The Star of Hope, The Star of Mercy and Compassion, The Star of Justice and Peace, The Star of Tenderness and Love, The Star of Suffering, The Star of Joy.

And every time I feel the shine, I am called to follow it, to sing it, to live it, all the way to the cross and beyond.

O Creator of the Stars, You have become within me and unending Epiphany.               

(From: Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Epiphany ~ The journey of another route . . .

 
 
The Map You Make Yourself
By Jan Richardson

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.


For today,
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.


Travel the most ancient Way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.


No map
but the one
you make yourself.


No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.


Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.


Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.


Pray for protection.
Ask for guidance.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come,
and then
let them go.


Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way,
and you will know it
not by the light that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you,
telling you
where you are
is holy
and you are welcome
here.


From: Circle of Grace, Wanton Gospeller Press, Orlando, FL, 2015

http://www.janrichardson.com/index.htmlichardson.com