Saturday, March 30, 2013

Vigil Darkness ~ Vigil Light!

It is written that Jesus told so many stories that he became one.  This past week we have been privileged to listen to Jesus the “storied one” through the readings of the Passion and other Scriptures that speak to us of God’s faithfulness to humankind.  In a way, we have been filled up with the wisdom of the God who dwells with us.  It is said that it is a truth so large that we can only touch one part of it at a time.”We have to let ourselves encounter it bit by bit, without expecting that we will comprehend the whole story.  We can never grasp this mystery; we can only allow ourselves to be grasped by it.”

In our Gospel reading this evening (Lk. 24:1-12), we hear how the women set out to anoint the body of Jesus.  Author Irene Zimmerman gives poetic form to this story of the empty tomb as she writes:

“None of the men had offered to go, so the women had set out in haste alone to straighten twisted feet and fingers, comb black blood from matted hair, anoint the precious body with spices.

‘But who will roll away the stone?’ They whispered again as they neared the tomb.  When they looked up, they saw that the stone had already been rolled back. From inside they heard –' He has been raised, he is not here.'  Fleeing from the tomb, intent on telling no one, they tripped pell-mell over terror and amazement.
After the telling, they set out in haste together this time, a community of equals, to roll away stones, straighten crooked paths, comb the far countries, and anoint the precious world with Good News.”

Over the next few days, we will hear again and again of the power of the Resurrection through all the appearance stories that surround Jesus. He passes from cross to tomb and from death to new life; he shatters all boundaries and moves through closed hearts, locked minds, and anxious spirits, both then and now.

In the Resurrection, we are assured that there are no doors that are eternally closed.  Every time we close a door or one is closed to us, God opens another for us to cross over to a new threshold –one that assures us that God never gives up on us.

I’d like to conclude by sharing a story about  a group of monks who were filled every day with the Words of Scripture-and they were nourished daily with the stories of God’s love for them, as they too were filled to overflowing and spilling over with amazement, wonder, and awe of the God who loves unconditionally.

Story:  The story is told that there was a small group of monks living in the high mountains of a faraway land. Early in the dark hours of morning, they would gather in the chapel. One of the monks would rise and begin the readings of the day, and then there would be a silence. Then some of the monks would leave and return to their cells.

Again, the Scriptures would be read, followed by a long pause for silence and more monks would leave. The Scriptures would be read again and again, allowing the monks to hear and absorb each word of the readings. And when there was no one left in the chapel, the reader would read the Scriptures one more time to the emptiness of the chapel – listening to its echoes and the Spirit, and then he would close the book and leave. Each monk would reflect upon the Word of God, and then later, they all would gather back in the chapel to share what they had heard and how it had impacted their lives.

At this vigil time, we have been filled with the wonder and amazement of the story of the empty tomb – yet, much like the monks, we will leave with our faith, hope, and joy spilling over again and again into our everyday lives. We are challenged to give voice to what we have experienced here this evening and how it has impacted our lives.

So let us too like the disciples in the Scriptures – set out in haste together, as a community of equals, to roll away stones, straighten crooked paths, comb the far countries and anoint the precious world with Good News! Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia,Alleluia!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good Friday ~ And it was night. . .

Crucifixion by Irene Zimmerman

Stripped of godliness, hands hammered open, arms yanked wide,
The crossbeamed Christ pours himself out
Till rivers run red with wine enough to satisfy
Century-cries of thirst.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Holy Tuesday

If you can't let go completely, try to 'hang on loose.’ (Melodie Beattie)

The process of letting go is never easy and certainly is not one we enjoy. The process calls us to move from comfort, security, routine, success, control, efforting to be right, and certainty to a space of high anxiety, insecurity, uncertainty, dis-ease, not knowing, experiencing inner and outer chaos, loss of balance in our way of living and sometimes we even move into a “fog of forgetfulness.”

It is a place of many questions, of facing fears, struggling against disconnecting and disassociating and possibly having to even name our illusions.  We struggle to walk in faith – having only enough light for the next step – and we attempt to believe through it all, that in this place of paradox, ambiguity, and confusion that God is our faithful companion, loving us intensely and creating us anew!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Holy Week ~ From Cheers to Tears!

Between Parades
We’re good at planning! Give us a task force and a project and we’re off and running!
No trouble at all! Going to the village and finding the colt, even negotiating with the owners is right down our alley. And how we love a parade! In a frenzy of celebration we gladly focus on Jesus and generously throw down our coats and palms in his path. And we can shout praise loudly enough to make a Pharisee complain. It’s all so good, the parade! It’s between parades that we don’t do so well. We don’t do so well from Sunday to Sunday. For we forget our hosannas between parades. The stones will have to shout because we won’t. ~by Ann Weems~ from Kneeling in Jerusalem 

Friday, March 22, 2013

From March Gladness to March Madness!

Here in the USA, NCAA March Madness has been set in motion. It is all about college basketball tournaments in Men’s and Women’s respective divisions. Sports related sites state: it is “a feverish month of college basketball filled with more than 60 games across the country,” and “three weeks of legendary performances, fantastic finishes — and the alternating agony and ecstasy of predictions gone right or wrong.” Well this is the extent of my sports expertise. Unfortunately, I can’t tell the difference between brackets and braces or sort out the groupings of The Final Four or The Magnificent Seven!  However, I think this March Madness term can be a clue as to what will happen in the Scriptures as we attend to the readings of the Passion this Holy Week.

Recently, we all in some form of technology or in person gathered around a little chimney to watch it produce white smoke to signal the election of a new pope.  Eventually, Francis appeared on the draped balcony amidst red robed cardinals and “priests in waiting.” The days kept building with March Gladness in preparation for the pope’s inauguration when he would be presented with the Pallium, the Ring, and the Book of the Gospels signifying the beginning of his pontificate.

His election became even more of a reality when throngs of people in the square outside St. Peter’s Basilica appeared including marching bands, Swiss Guards in their finest, clergy in their finest as well, with trumpets blaring, and with Patriarchs and Major Archbishops of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, heads of the official delegations from various countries, accompanied with vested cardinals in attendance. Again, this is the extent of my hierarchy expertise.  However, I believe this March Gladness can also be a clue as to what will happen in the Scriptures this Holy Week.

Holy Week presents us with the reading of the Passion after processing with palms. Then we listen to the reading of the Gospel of Luke telling again the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  Here begins the March Gladness which will eventually be turned into March Madness on Good Friday . . . These readings are filled with much symbolism. I suggest you consider reading a biblical commentary, i.e., Preaching the New Lectionary by Dianne Bergant, Year C .  

Jesus enters riding upon a colt, no Popemobile. He will meet throngs of people cheering Hosannas now and later hurling shouts of “crucify him.” Religious and political leaders presently puzzled now, already plotting in their hearts how to get rid of this “presence that disturbs.” No banners, no bands, no ring, no Pallium of lamb’s wool. For you see, he is the “sacrificial lamb.” No Book of the Gospels - for he is Word;  he is the Good News that now comes in gladness only to enter into the Good Friday madness of darkness, anger, and hate. He will stare evil in the face – this, too, will be a legendary performance with a fantastic finish - alternating with the agony and ecstasy of predictions gone right - gone Mysteriously right!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sentinel of Wisdom

A first day of spring reflection . . . anticipating summer!

On the day of Judgment God will only ask one question: “Did you enjoy my world?” (Traditional Jewish Saying) 

She stands sentineled near the waters edge, surrounded by birch, ash, and maple companions with vines entwined between her exposed ground roots. This white oak remains upright and almost motionless as the whispers of the lake breezes float through her branches. Gentle winds seem to tease her leaves as if prompting them to stir with laughter. Her sapwood continues to produce leaves that encircle her like a crown, while her center’s heartwood is now completely spent. This is the prized wood sought after for special wood artistry. Yet she thrives. She becomes our teacher and speaks these wisdoms to us: 
Live life by giving your heart-center away. 
Always provide shade and shelter for those who seek refuge from this world’s storms. 
Be sure to have friends stand by you when struggles find you. 
Seek nourishment from the waters of laughter, prayer, love, and solitude. 
Enjoy the beauty of creation and let butterflies teach you about transformation. 
Dream often and reach beyond the possible. 
Practice speaking words of comfort, mercy, and forgiveness. 
Don’t be afraid to bend and risk a new perspective. 
Always be a learner and trust in your talents. 
Be curious and chance walking to the edge. 
Be content when your growth is steady and slow, for that is what makes you of value.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Joseph is the man on the outskirts, standing in the shadows, silently waiting, there when wanted and always ready to help. He is the man in whose life God is constantly intervening with warnings and visions. Without a complaint he allows his own plans to be set aside. His life is a succession of prophecies and dream-messages of packing up and moving on. He is the man who dreams of setting up a quiet household, simply leading a home life and going about his affairs, attending to his business and worshiping God and who, instead, is condemned to a life of wandering. 

Beset with doubts, heavy-hearted and uneasy in his mind, his whole life disrupted. He has to take to the open road, to make his way through an unfriendly country finding no shelter but a miserable stable for those he holds most dear. He is the man who sets aside all thought of self and shoulders his responsibilities bravely — and obeys. 

His message is willing obedience. He is the man who serves. It never enters his head to question God's commands. He makes all the necessary preparations and is ready when God's call comes. Willing, unquestioning service is the secret of his life. This is his message for us. 

Author Unknown

A Prayer for Work . . . 
Creator God, thank you for providing us with the gift to share our talents. Provide our community, our nation, our world the fortitude to provide work for all which is decent and fair. Make us faithful stewards of your creation to enhance the human dignity of our global family.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen. 
(From Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice, USCCB)

From Downton Abbey to Jerusalem ~ Part 2

This week we begin to be ever mindful of the Lenten readings, practices, prayers, and ponderings that have moved us toward a deeper awareness of ourselves and our relationship with our God and all creation. The week that is named Holy is fast approaching. Therefore, it would be an excellent opportunity to lean back into the seasons of our lives as we have journeyed from Advent to Lent. What have you noticed? Where have you felt resistance? With what have you resonated within  the readings?  Are there places within you that need “realignment” as you manage your journey of life?

A beggar tugged at the sleeve of a passer-by and begged for money to buy a cup of coffee.  This was his story. ‘There was a time, sir, when I was a wealthy businessman just like you.  I worked hard all day long.  On my desk was the motto: THINK CREATIVELY, ACT DECISIVELY, AND LIVE DANGEROUSLY. That’s the motto I lived by – and money just kept pouring in.  And then . . .and then’ the beggar’s frame shook with sobs, - ‘and then the cleaning woman threw out my motto with the trash.’

So what is the Good News for us this week?
Let us ask to be open to the graces of the Scriptures as we take up the challenge to walk in mystery with Mystery this pre-Holy Week.

Let us be receptive to God’s invitation to “think creatively, act decisively, and live dangerously” as we discern what it means to embrace Jesus’ mission.

Let us practice using the Examine to reflect on our lives as to what is life-giving or life- zapping!

Let us ask for the grace we need to grow in our belief that God believes in us  . . . and ponder what would be a great motto for each of us to live out this week?

Monday, March 18, 2013

From Downton Abbey to Jerusalem~Part 1

Downton Abbey, a British period drama is aired as a TV series on PBS Masterpiece Theater and is in its 4th season of production. This series is set in the fictional sprawling country estate of Downton Abbey, and portrays the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants.  World events impact their lives at all levels. Yet, they continue, especially, Lord Grantham, head of the Crawley family, to struggle to hold true to their traditions, values, and way of life. 

The series has covered the time period from 1912-1921 in which key characters have exited and new actors have been cast to add drama.  Hopefully I have stimulated a possible interest in you to search out this series. However, I also believe, that we can each find ourselves portrayed in many of the characters! 

Liturgically, we are soon taking leave of the fourth season of the high drama of Jesus’ ministry and mission. His whole life’s journey has been that of moving toward Jerusalem.  Along the way, much like Downton Abbey, cast and characters have exited while new actors have entered for the next series where the plot begins to thicken!!  There have been beheadings,  feasts, cures, miracles, wonders, spying, visitations, storytelling, storms at sea, divisions among political and religious leaders, and people being raised from the dead – to name just a few of the special effects!

We, too, have passed through  four seasons, namely, Advent, Christmas/Epiphany, Ordinary Time, and Lent. Now we come to the end of a series of events that have Jesus soon to make his way to Jerusalem. Now in these days before the celebration of Palm Sunday, the Scripture readings have us become aware that his face is set and there is no time to waste – his mission is on the line. An ancient poet writes of this moment in this way . . .

“He knows that he is going to die, and he has nothing left to hold onto – no illusions of the mind, no resistance in his body. He doesn't think about his actions; they flow from the core of his being. He holds nothing back from life; therefore he is ready for death." 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Caught In The Act!

“I am touched to the core with a presence I cannot explain. A loving plan enfolds me. Someone is always believing in me, calling me forth, calling me on. I am standing in grace filled with mystery touched with the eternal.  I cannot get away from goodness. I think I name you, God.” (An Amazing Presence by Macrina Wiederkehr)

This Sunday’s Gospel is the story of the adulteress woman “caught in the act” and brought before Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees. Seems her lover was given the nod to run off and not be held accountable for this crime against the Mosaic Law.  I have often wondered how they were able to get her to this place of exposure without pushing or pulling her or touching her. Was that not a crime as well that made them “unclean"?  It was a set up. They were trying to trap Jesus saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus is cornered and caught in the act, but in what God does best – pouring forth unconditional compassion, forgiveness, and love. He stoops to write in the dirt not once, but twice. Even though we know not what he wrote, could we imagine that it was her name – for her accusers call her, “this woman,”  Or maybe - "you are loved."  He then stands up to look not only in her eyes, but deep into her soul – and invites her to trust being loved unconditionally without judgment, exploitation, or condemnation.

He reaches into the very depths of her heart - there to catch her with the grace of forgiveness, and invites her to sin no more – not just for the next half hour, or the next day – but for the rest of her life!  He catches her in the act of sorrow, offers healing and freedom, and has her claim her new way of being woman – believing in herself – and knowing that God believes in her!

He then stands and turns only to prepare himself to have the “rocks of lies” cast at him as he moves deeper into the week named Passover. There he will be “caught in the act” of being betrayed, judged, stripped, crucified, buried – but already making plans to break the Law once again by not staying dead – for no stone can keep God’s power contained!!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Living on the Edge!

Situated on the Niagara Escarpment, our CSA motherhouse is truly “on the edge.” This 400-million-year-old limestone cliff runs all the way from eastern Wisconsin to Niagara Falls.  The phrase “living on the edge” has no single or universal meaning and is often equated with living dangerously.

Oftentimes the Spirit can offer us opportunities to “live on the edge” through a call to discern that unique part of ourselves that hungers to make a difference in the world.  Time and again we are challenged to be voices that break through the rock of oppression and marginalization so that “streams” of compassion can bring comfort and courage to all.

Within CSA’s history and ministries, the congregation has also “lived on the edge,” surviving many difficult circumstances over 153 years of existence, including the threat of being disbanded.  Many of our members have been willing to take the risk of “moving to the edge” in the fields of health care, education, social services, and specialized ministries in wellness, art, retreats, spirituality, social justice, and prison ministry.  Whether protecting newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island, establishing education and health care facilities where there were none, founding community organizations to assist victims of abuse and addiction, or challenging unjust social systems, the sisters “live on the edge.”

“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning . . . It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes on.” (Natalie Goldberg)

 Reflection in honor of Mother Agnes Hazotte - First Superior General of the Sisters of St. Agnes 1864-1905.  Died March 6, 1905 -  a woman who truly "lived on the edge."

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Extravagant God - Part II

Today, in our Gospel, Jesus tells us that God is outrageous with love, extravagant with love, reckless with love for us, like a generous father or a loving mother. God is on the lookout for us.  God can’t wait for us to return home; to welcome us and embrace us.  God is filled with compassion for all of us.  God wants to throw the best party we’ve ever been to in our honor. 

God wants to put a ring on our finger and start the music and dance for joy because of us. And if we refuse to come to the party, God is going to seek us out and come outside and plead with us to come in. God wants all of us to celebrate life and to live in God’s love, justice and peace.

Jesus invites us not only to turn back to God, but to reject  sin and resentment, to let go of selfishness and anything that is in God’s way of gracing us  – for Jesus desires us to  celebrate life with God, to become one with God, to be extravagant with our love for one another and with every human being on this planet –

So what is the Good News today for us from this parable as we are invited to change?:
•    That like the younger brother, we must come to our senses, turn
away from that which pulls us from being  “homed” with God and turn back to God in our vulnerability, in our desire to be internally free, forgiven, understood, welcomed, received, loved.

•    That like the older brother, with the help of God’s grace we will let go of any resentment, anger, judgments or self-righteousness that gets in the way of God’s intimate, loving embrace.
•    That God desires to welcome us with open arms and with infinite compassion.
•    And that we may become people of extravagant gratitude, forgiveness and compassion as we celebrate life with one another.

And finally, if we were to review the Master Card expenses of Jesus today – the reconciliation form would possibly read in this way:

Master Card Expenses:  Jesus of Nazareth

  • Incarnated
  • Good-newsing
  • Missioned
  • Blessing, healing, forgiving, loving, exorcizing demons
  • Sharing bread, walking on water, washing feet
  • Friend of women and children
  • Storyteller, teacher
  • Way, Truth, Life,  Living Water, Good Shepherd, Light of the World, Narrow Door, Living Bread,  Vineyard
Cost:  Embodied Love
  • Disturber of the status quo
  • Threat to Sadducees and Pharisees and other religious and political leaders
  • Wandering over borders, crossing boundaries, breaking rules
  • Banqueting with sinners and tax collectors
  • Welcoming the poor and outcasts, touching lepers, giving sight to the blind, forgiving sins, raising the dead
  • Betrayed, arrested, tried, crucified, buried
Cost: Everything 
  • Resurrected, Ascended, Pentecosted  
  • Redemptive Love for all 
  • Eternal invitation to new life with robe, ring, sandals and endless banqueting  
  • Timeless Honeymoon of Big Joy 
  • A never-ending compassionate, merciful, generous and loving embrace to God’s breast 


The Extravagant God - Part I

I am sure that most of us have watched the Master Card commercials on TV that delineate a person’s expense activities and then concludes with the word “priceless” as we view a precious moment that is beyond all price. What if we would do that for the youngest son in our gospel today? It may look something like this . . . 

Master Card Expenses: Youngest Son
  • Travel to a foreign country
  • Food, shelter, entertainment and wasteful spending
  • Enduring a famine
  • Tending pigs as a hired hand
  • Coming to one’s senses
  • Return trip back Home 
Cost: A share of the inheritance
  • “Welcome Home” Party
  • Hall rental 
  • Hired musicians 
  • Purchase of new robe, ring and sandals 
  • Forgiven, restored to son-ship with honor and dignity 
  • Fatted-calf barbeque
Cost: Endless joy!   
  • A compassionate, merciful, generous and unconditional loving embrace from the father  
Our Gospel is one of the greatest stories ever told. Jesus is a genius storyteller and he tells this parable because the Pharisees and Scribes were mad at him saying, “This guy eats with sinners.” They were judging him for not being as holy as them and for violating the Mosaic cleanliness laws - but for Jesus, he always obeyed the divine law of love and compassion. 

Parables are forms of story using metaphor or simile drawn from ordinary life or nature and often used by Jesus to make a religious point. He heavily utilized metaphor and even shock to get his point across. He used his parables to make his hearers think. He challenged them to a new vision of God's reign that always radically turned up-side down the common views -- whether religious, cultural, ethnic, or social views. 

Jesus' parables encouraged his hearers not simply to think outside of the box. They declared that there is no box -- only God's unconditional compassionate, all-powerful, just and wise reign over all. In the face of the religious restrictions preached and mandated by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, priests, and scribes, Jesus was inclusive, not only in his words but in his life. 

He was willing to regularly suffer the humiliation, mean-spirited insults, and physical persecution resulting from his associating with those who were disenfranchised, repudiated, or despised by others. He ate and mingled with his critics, the rich and poor, young and old, women and men, those self-assured of their righteousness and those who in the eyes of others were living sinfully.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mid-Lent Reflection

"One kind word can warm three winter months." -  Japanese proverb
Here are some kind words that may warm your heart during these
winter months in the northern hemisphere.

“There is no pain or sorrow which comes to us that has not first passed through the heart of God.” -Meister Eckhart

The river birch, with its salmon colored shaggy bark, is very hardy; able to withstand frost and wind, and thrives well in damp riverside soil.  About the only thing it cannot tolerate is shade. Shedding its bark is a natural developmental characteristic – the peeling of paper-thin layers makes room for new growth to happen.  If the peeling is premature, the tree will become “wounded” and fail to grow.  

Sometimes along our journey of life, we come to an awareness that we need to be healed from our inner wounding that resides deep in our soul space. This healing is always a challenge, a process, and a sacred adventure! Much like the river birch trees, we, too have layers of old wounds that need to be peeled away, each in their own time.     
To set out on this inner quest, we (unlike the river birch) learn to befriend the shade – our shadow self, who truly is our teacher - inviting us to name our fears, doubts, pains, and illusions. In so doing, we gently peel off  layers placing all into God’s loving embrace.  

With each inner “pilgrimage”, we gather courage and integrity to go ever deeper to enter our wounding with grace and faith.  We then let grief have its way with us, allowing our tears to bless us as they carry away our hurts.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Prayer for the Conclave of Cardinals

God of Infinite Wisdom, on the day of Pentecost your Holy Spirit descended on the disciples locked in the upper room.  Send that same Spirit on those cardinals gathered in conclave entrusted with electing a new pope.  In your mercy grant your Church a pope who will strive for the healing of the nations, the dignity of all people, the concerns of the poor, the safety of the vulnerable, and the unity of all Churches.  May he constantly turn to you in prayer and be filled with your Holy Spirit.  We pray this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.