Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Many Faces of Satisfaction! ~ A.K.A. GRATITUDE!

Story: The Heart of the Matter
A holy one said to a merchant, ‘As the fish perishes on dry land, so you perish when you get entangled in the world. The fish must return to the water and you must return to the spiritual.’
The merchant was aghast. ‘Are you saying that I must give up my business and go into a monastery?’ And the holy one said, ‘Oh, no, no, never. I am saying, hold on to your business but go into your heart.’ (Author, Joan Chittister)

Prayer for a Questioning Heart
It seems to me, Lord, that we search much too desperately for answers when a good question holds as much grace as an answer. Jesus, you are the Great Questioner.  Keep our questions alive that we may always be seekers rather than settlers.
Guard us well from the sin of settling in with our answers hugged to our breasts. Make of us a wondering, far-sighted, questioning, restless people. And give us the feet of pilgrims on this journey unfinished. (Author, Macrina Wiederkehr, Seasons of Your Heart)

Story: The Rolling Coin
A wise old man once owned a precious golden coin. One day, as he sat gazing at this precious coin and rejoicing in its beauty, a thought occurred to him: ‘It isn't right that I should be the only person to have the pleasure of possessing this golden coin. What use is it if no one shares it?’ And he went out and gave the coin to a passing child.

The child couldn't believe her luck. She couldn't take her eyes off this shining coin. Then she had a sudden idea: ‘I’ll give this coin to Mum. She needs so many things. This coin will make her very happy.’ Of course, the child’s mother was delighted with the coin—such an unexpected solution to so many of her problems. She pondered in her mind as to how to spend it and what to buy first. As she was thinking about this there was a knock at the door, and there stood a street beggar. ‘Poor soul’ she thought. ‘He has nothing, and we are just about getting by.’ And she gave the gold coin to the beggar.

The beggar was speechless. This coin could be turned into food for a month. He made his way back to the subway where he slept, and there he noticed a new resident, just arrived. The poor guy was blind and disabled. No chance of getting anywhere near to the folks who might have spared him a coin or two. ‘I guess he needs it more than I do,’ he thought to himself. And he pressed the gold coin into the blind man’s thin, cold fingers. 

That evening, a wise old man walked through the dark subway. He noticed the blind, disabled beggar and stopped to speak to him. The beggar couldn't remember the last time anyone had bothered to speak to him. After a while, the wise old man put his arm around the beggar’s shoulder. ‘I've nothing left to give you, except my friendship,’ he murmured. 

A tear rolled across the cheek of the blind beggar. How could he ever repay this gift of human kindness that had changed a dark night into a new dawn? With his shaking, aching hands, he reached into his pocket, brought out the golden coin and gave it to his new found friend. ‘Thank you for loving me,’ he said. (Source Unknown)

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.                                                  (Author, Melody Beattie)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Faces of Dissatisfaction, A.K.A. "Greed"

Inspired by the words and example of Pope Francis, a priest in Santa Marta, Colombia, said that he has decided to sell the luxury Mercedes-Benz his family gave to him. On July 9, Father Hernando Fajid Alvarez Yacub, chaplain of Saint Michael’s Cemetery, told reporters that the money he gets from selling the car – valued at $62,000 – will be given to his family members. The family gave him the car a year ago as a gesture of gratitude for caring for his three younger siblings after their parents died. The decision came two days after Pope Francis told a group of seminarians and novices in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall that “it hurts me when I see a priest or a sister with a brand new car.” “And, if you like that beautiful car, think about how many children are dying of hunger,” he advised, urging them to choose humble transportation options. The Pope himself was known for taking public transportation, even as a cardinal in Argentina. + + +

Recently, left fielder, Ryan Braun, of the Milwaukee Brewers was suspended for 65 games due to PED’S (performance enhancing drugs). The Brewers are set to pay Braun $133 million over the next eight years as part of a 2011 contract extension. Given Braun's suspension, the Brewers could seek to void the remainder of his contract. I recently heard an interview with a child in response to the news of Braun’s suspension: “He was already good. Why did he need drugs?” + + +

Someplace deep in our inner selves is this sense that what we have is never enough. There seems to be a culturally induced dissatisfaction that we live in – “a spirit of craving that swirls around us and within us, as pervasive as the air we breathe.” We are bombarded with advertisements everywhere that tell us that we don’t have enough, that we are not enough, that we are not good enough!  So then the illusion nudges, woos ‘n wows us to buy, to buy more, and then we will be enough – at least for this moment in time.

Our gospel is a story within a story. The farmer has a banner crop year – and he lacks the storage space for his high yield. He makes a perfectly normal and wise decision to address his dilemma of what to do with his abundance and not let his resources waste away.  So he builds bigger barns.  However, it’s his rationale that causes great inner scarcity. He speaks only in terms of himself: my crops . . .my barns. . .my grain . . .my goods. . .myself.  So thereafter, God addresses him as “fool” – all this is nothing – it’s the Kingdom not the “thing-dom” that truly is what is worth possessing!

So let us ponder:
what we have “stored up” (life commandments, material items, attitudes, etc.)
what our attitudes are toward our possessions;
if we are possessed by them.

The "Thing-dom"  (See July 11, 2013)

History of Greed q=youtube+the+history+of+greed&view=detail&mid=ACC77A851FCFCCFA1688ACC77A851FCFCCFA1688&first=0&FORM=NVPFVR

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prayer ~ Palms Down, Palms Up!

When I was in third grade, I coaxed my classmate, Mary, to come with me to church at noon recess. My plan was that we were going to visit Jesus and pray. Well, this is what we did. In the far left front section of the sanctuary was a side altar with a statue of the Blessed Mother. In front of the altar was a long metal table that held an abundance of colored glass votive holders with candles in each one. I had seen folks kneel in front of this table, light a candle, and bow their heads in prayer. So Mary and I, during this noon time pilgrimage, would do the same, and re-enact the prayer gestures observed from other devout pilgrims. So we knelt in front of the metal table with some of the candles flickering within the beautiful colored glass holders.  We then proceeded to light some candles, then more, and soon we had lit all the candles. We then folded our hands in prayer and bowed our heads.  However, we didn't pray any words since we weren't sure which prayers were the best ones to recite.

Within a few minutes we heard the church doors open and the sounds of rosary beads and keys jingling in the darkness of the church. Immediately our names were called and two soft voices asked what we were doing in church at this time? We turned and saw two Sisters looking at us with concern. We proceeded to tell them that we were here to pray to Jesus and lit the vigil lights like other people did. They asked if we had paid the ten cents for all the ones we lit. Pay?  Ten cents? Of course not.  I never noticed that part of the prayer ritual. Sure enough, they pointed to the small metal box under the table labeled - “10 ¢”!  So what could we do? Mary and I, without any hesitation, stood up and took a deep breath and proceeded to blow out each and every candle like a huge birthday cake.  

This Sunday’s gospel is the story in which the disciples want Jesus to teach them to pray. Certainly prayer is not kneeling in front of a table of colored lights, bowing your head, and folding your hands like we did in third grade. We just made the outward gestures, nothing more. However, prayer is much more than outward behaviors so others can see our piety. Prayer demands much more from us. Prayer truly costs – it costs everything from us.
Prayer actually is about conversion deep within, it is about transformation, it is a relationship of an ongoing conversation with God!  

As one author writes, prayer can be going to prayer, prayer can be saying prayers, but true prayer is becoming your prayer. I recall at one time a person came to me and said that she had been praying to be a saint. I asked her how she was going about it. She said that she went to the near-by chapel everyday and prayed ten Hail Marys, ten Our Fathers, and ten Glory Bes. So I asked the Dr. Phil question, “So how’s that workin’ for ya?”  She said it wasn’t. So I said to her, “Why not try meditating for 15 minutes just on the phrase, ‘Our Father,' and see what it does for your heart and how if it helps to transform you into a saint.” She turned and said, “Oh, that’s much too hard.” I said to her as she turned to wave me a good-bye – “What do you think becoming a saint is all about?”

Let us all pray that we not just go to prayer, or just say prayers, but truly become our prayer through God’s grace, mercy, and unconditional love.  So let us reflect on prayer through the words of author, Joyce Rupp: “Prayer is not a competition  not an experience of winning or of accumulating good feelings and great insights. Prayer is about ‘showing up’ with an open mind and heart, being willing and ready to grow and change.” 

Palms Down, Palms Up 
This is a very simple prayer meditation that can be done anywhere and anytime.

Be seated. Close your eyes. Relax, but keep your back erect. If you need to stretch, do so.  Rest your hands on your knees with your palms down. Breathe deeply and slowly, inviting the Spirit of God in with each breath.

Your hands, with the palms down, indicate your desire to turn over any concerns, worries, anxieties, fears to the God who loves you. Let any anxieties or anger come to mind and into your feelings.  Then, hand them over to God in a prayer like: “Loving God, I give you my worry about . . .” Whatever is weighing your spirit down, palms down, release it as if you were dropping the concern into God’s hands.  Let God take it and hold it gently for you. 

When you have handed over each item to God, turn your hands palms up as a sign of your desire to receive from God.  Ask God for the graces you need right now that will help you to trust in God’s goodness.

Finally, rest in God’s presence.  Listen.  Attend to God’s Spirit speaking from the depths of your heart.  If images or guidance come, well and good; if you find only calm silence, be content.

Feast of Mary Magdalene - Saint!

"Where have they taken him? Your story of the empty grave was dismissed as rambling – distraught woman – nonsense.  But you returned to the empty space and stayed there – unable to leave the ground made precious by the brush of his skin.  It was there, in that deep and empty space, that he whispered your name, Mary, leaping you into another world – hurtling you from reality into the Realm of God – spinning in a miracle, love saturated, as Jesus, Son of God all risen up, breathed your name – claiming you as treasured and chosen."
From: “Soul Sisters” by Edwina Gateley

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mary, Martha and Jesus - BFF's!

I don’t know about you, but every time I hear the Martha and Mary Gospel, I get a little nudge of conscience. I flip into questions, such as: 
Am I too busy to invite God into a deeper relationship in my life? Am I willing to let go of my expectations and control of how God needs to be for me?
What is the gift of hospitality that I present in my daily life to others, to God, to myself?
Do I daily design time in which I hold still mindfully, heartfully, and soulfully, listening to God’s Word revealed to me through the Scriptures, through nature, and through the wisdom of others?

I will provide a few links below to assist you in your own personal reflections regarding this wonderful Lukan Gospel story. However, I think for myself, I’d like to come at this story by way of another portal – that is, through the art of spiritual direction and retreat ministry. But first I’d like to muse on a few other ideas. 

So often commentaries, in referring to this Gospel, speak with comparison between Martha – whose name means, “lady of the house” - symbolizing the active lifestyle, and Mary – whose name means, “wise woman” - symbolizing the contemplative lifestyle. The reader then is invited to consider to which woman do they relate?

If that’s not enough to consider, I suppose we could also reflect on extrovert and introvert temperaments. Again, Martha – the extrovert, (my thoughts) invites Jesus into her home, is comfortable with Jesus and spoke to him as if he were a part of their family. They were close friends, not just acquaintances, they were truly BFF’s!  Their home could be considered Jesus’ home away from home. Mary – the introvert – not getting all bothered with the household tasks, may be a little shy, was dedicated to Jesus and his teachings. Her approach was one of sitting as a student at the feet of Jesus. He loved them both – here he found refuge from the crowds and the criticism of the religious and political leaders. 

Or we could ponder the personality types of the “concrete sequential” - (Martha) – one practical and efficient, delighting in all the multi-taskings overtaking one’s every moment. And in contrast, the “random romantic,” - (Mary) - who is at ease with a slower pace to life’s tasks – (or who may ask, “What tasks?”), and who loves lots of options and finds it difficult to choose just one, and goes with the flow of life - enjoying something like lying in the grass stargazing while eating marshmallows!

In other commentaries, it is said that that this Gospel reflects the role of women in the early Christian church. “At the time the gospels were recorded, the early Christians were arguing about what women could and could not do in the early Church. Should they be ministers? Should they be allowed to speak in public meetings? Should the traditional Jewish custom be followed, with ministry held by men only? Or might the Christian communities have priests and priestesses, as other ancient religions did?” Certainly these comments are thought provoking and heart-stirring as well, besides being pertinent for today's ecclesiastical realities.

Finally - and here is my original purpose in focusing on this Gospel - this story reminds me of the art of spiritual direction and the ministry of retreat work. So often people can come to retreat or spiritual direction with all the business of life – they may come “wired” with so much tornadic energy that getting settled, focused, and relaxed takes quite awhile.  For retreatants, it may take a couple of days of quieting, resting, and allowing one’s spirit to arrive! For those in spiritual direction, it may take a couple of sessions with the director to slow down inwardly, and to truly hear what the voices within are saying, and even how God has been trying to get one’s attention.

So no matter if we are an extrovert or introvert, a random romantic or concrete sequential, or an active multi-tasker or a star-gazer-dreamer-deep listener – we all are invited into God’s heart, who provides unconditional love and hospitality 24/7 or 25/8! No one is turned away – God IS the better part, and God’s mercy and compassionate love can never be outdone in generosity!

Monday, July 15, 2013

CSA Emerging!

God of beginnings, be compassion in us as we walk together the path of mystery, preparing for Chapter 2013.
Be trust in us as we explore our tomorrows. May we listen to what is emerging, so that we will be receptive to what is real and true.
Be love in us as we strive to suspend the voice of judgment. May we persist when we are fearful, resistant, or impatient. 
Be courage in us as we enter ever deeper into the mystery of our lives. May we break forth into a new vision for our future.
Be peace in us as we draw ever closer to You and to one another.  May we see the fullness of this time with eyes of hope, mercy, and faith.
God of our past, present, and future, we lift this prayer to You. Amen.

CSA New Leadership:
Sister Jean Steffes~ General Superior

Sister Jomarie Zielke ~ first counselor
Sister Anita Henning ~ second counselor
Sister Sue Seeby ~ third counselor
Installation - August 10, 2013

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Samaritan and the Good Innkeeper!

Shalom to you!
I am the owner and manager of this establishment, which some would call an inn. It seems to be the only inhabited place on this rugged stretch of road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  I see many strange happenings along these heavily traveled paths, for it is a major trade route. Travelers along this road must be vigilant against many dangers, especially bands of robbers who surprise unsuspecting victims.

Among these travelers, I have often encountered merchants, pilgrims, temple elders, and foreigners from nearby provinces looking for work.  I know that some are not of my faith, but my wife says I need to offer hospitality to anyone who seeks refuge from the desert sun or needs rest from walking the dirt roads or who may be on a pilgrimage of atonement for sins of long ago. Besides, I have a young, new family, and the extra money is essential for me, so that I can feed and clothe them and, of course, pay taxes to the governor!  

I learned many things from my father, who was also an innkeeper in Bethlehem.  When I was a child, he often told me stories of the people who came to his inn.  He always enjoyed telling one story in particular about a young pregnant woman who traveled with a man with strong hands and an anxious heart. It was during the time of the census, and they sought lodgings with relatives, but no one would make room for this unwed mother-to-be.  It was my father who gave them a place to stay.

I remember this story when a Samaritan, with his clear accent and traditional garb, approaches my inn, leading a donkey upon which is seated a young man, slumped forward, bleeding, and badly beaten. I am hesitant as he stands before my desk – we are a simple, respectable establishment. No magnetic swipe cards, no room service (unless there is money to accompany the request) and no extra sets of clean towels. 

The tall, burly Samaritan tells me that he found this Jew along the roadside, beaten, abandoned, and half dead – another victim of greedy robbers. He requests a room in which he might care for this injured man. I accommodate these new guests and even give them extra towels at no charge – my wife reminds me that it is the compassionate thing to do. 

Early the next morning, the Samaritan gives me money – two days wages – and requests that I give the injured man further care with a bed, food, and healing oils.  I agree to do so immediately – perhaps it was his eyes, his gentle voice, or his deep concern for this traveler, whose name he didn't even know.  He tells me that he will return in a few days and pay me more money to cover any additional expenses. Something causes me to trust him.  

Before leaving, the Samaritan pauses, turns, and speaks a blessing for me and for my family. I am grateful and wonder if he might be a follower of the man from Galilee, the one whom they call Jesus.  This Samaritan, scorned and regarded as outsiders by many, was so compassionate toward this unlucky traveler, a stranger, a Jew.  

I think when he returns, I will ask him where I can find this Jesus.  

(Written by sjh)

Friday, July 5, 2013

"What is the reign of God like?"

“What is the reign of God like? The reign of God is that sacred space where everyone loves everyone else unconditionally, where everyone dwells in peace, where everyone acts in perfect nonviolence, where everyone is happy, where everyone rejoices because they are in the presence of God—most of all, where everyone loves and worships the living God with all their being.

The reign of God is within us, among us, and far away from us all at the same time. It is right here in front of us, and it is nowhere near us.  It is the spiritual experience of inner peace and perfect unconditional love, but it is also an eschatological existence, the heavenly place where God lives, where we shall one day live with God. It is that space of vulnerability, innocence, wonder, peace, and joy that children know. It is the presence of our Lord Jesus.  It is life."     (From: The Questions of Jesus by John Dear)

“Jesus sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he intended to go.”  In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus is sending the disciples to the towns and villages before him to prepare the way. What a great opportunity for his followers to be entrusted with the message that the Kingdom of God is at hand!  However, there are a few “guidelines” in the Disciples’ Handbook that they are to practice:
Ask “the God of the harvest” to call up more disciples to assist with this mission to preach the Good News that the kingdom is here! 
Be cautious – it is hazardous work – you can often feel like a lamb among wolves!
Travel light – carry no GPS, no iPad, no Smart phone, no extra equipment; Remember - YOU are the equipment!
Greet no one on the way. This is a help to keep you from being distracted from your purpose.  In other words, minimize your social networking!
Enter a home with a greeting of PEACE!  It is always helpful to make a good first impression.
Eat what is placed before you – no “global whining” allowed.  Have an attitude of gratitude.
Don’t move from house to house – be content with the gift of what is.
Cure the sick – and tell them, “God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!” Remember, it is God working in and through you. Keep your ego out of the way!
If you are not received, shake off the dust of the town from your feet and move on. Try not to hold a grudge.  Maybe they were not ready for the message – but keep the experience as a source of learning and as a container of new wisdom for yourself.

In the quote from John Dear, sj, he writes that the kingdom of God is a space of vulnerability.  I’m sure all of us can lean back into our life experiences and recall a vulnerable moment or two.  I recently listened to a TED Talk by Brene’ Brown on the power of vulnerability.  Yes, there is power in vulnerability. She states that for vulnerability to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, and that vulnerable people:
live from a wholeheartedness – a worthiness – a sense of courage 
tell who they are with their hearts
are compassionate, kind to self and then able to be compassionate toward others
live a life which connects to others and the world; they live with authenticity 
they let go of who they thought they should be 
live with believing that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful 
live with a willingness to accept that there are no guarantees in life

Her final bit of advice to those willing to be vulnerable is:
Let yourself be seen; love with your whole heart even with no guarantees
Practice gratitude and joy in all moments, especially vulnerable moments
Believe that you’re enough!  Then you are kinder to yourself and to others

Returning to the Gospel, the disciples had to move into this space of vulnerability to prepare the way for the Good News!  So let us all pray to the “God of the harvest” this week to give us the grace we need to be seen as whole hearted as we live with struggle, pain, uncertainties, imperfections, ambiguities, and the learnings of life. Let us gain courage that the reign of God “is within us, among us, and far away from us all at the same time.” May we all live with knowing that we are enough, that we are impacted by what we do and are to each other, and that what makes us beautiful is our vulnerability!!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Blessing Prayer for July 4th

Blessed Are You, O God, Who Has Made Us Free Persons

With joyful hearts uplifted in gratitude, we rejoice in that freedom which each of us has been given. We are a free people since we have come forth from the God of freedom. We are a free people because we have worked to remain free of all that threatens to enslave us.

We are filled with thanksgiving that You, our Redeemer, have shown us how we might be free in spirit and in heart as well as in body.

As You directed Your holy servant Moses to lead Your children Israel from slavery, from the oppression of the Pharaoh, so continue to direct us so that we may stay free from the oppression of evil, of greed and the lust for power over others.

As free daughters and sons of God, may the lamp of truth burn brightly in our home and in each of our hearts. As sisters and brothers of Jesus, may we be faithful, as was He, to the wondrous freedom of the children of light and be ever grateful for the joys of liberty.

May our profound reverence for truth, as piercing as a sword and ever-liberating, be our burning torch of freedom and shield against oppression in mind, heart, and soul.
Blessed are You, our God, who has made us free persons.  Amen. 

(Adapted from Prayers for the Domestic Church)