Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Doing things from our souls!

Below is a reflection I wrote a few years ago when I happened to stay in Dubuque, IA for a retreat.  At that time the Midwest was experiencing a severe drought.  As we walk in this Lenten time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I post this reflection again and ask you to weave it through your Lenten journey and listen to its message for you now.  Blessings!

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you . . .”
(Coleman Barks)

Once upon a time there was a town that was built just beyond the bend of a large river. One day some of the children from the town were playing beside the river when they noticed three bodies floating in the water. They ran for help and the townsfolk quickly pulled the bodies out of the river. One body was dead so they buried it. One was alive, but quite ill, so they put that person into the hospital. The third turned out to be a healthy child, who they then placed with a family who cared for it and who took it to school. 

From that day on, every day a number of bodies came floating down the river and, every day, the good people of the town would pull them out and tend to them – taking the sick to hospitals, placing the children with families, and burying those who were dead.

This went on for years; each day brought its quota of bodies, and the townsfolk not only came to expect a number of bodies each day but also worked at developing more elaborate systems for picking them out of the river and tending to them. Some of the townsfolk became quite generous in tending to these bodies and a few extraordinary ones even gave up their jobs so that they could tend to this concern full-time.  And the town itself felt a certain healthy pride in its generosity. However, during all these years and despite all the generosity and effort, nobody thought to go up the river, beyond the bend that hid from their sight what was above them, and find out why, daily, those bodies came floating down the river. 

This story is often used to have the listener reflect on the difference between charity and justice. Author and storyteller, Megan McKenna, would frequently pose the following questions after she told a story: 1) How does the story make you feel? 2) What is disturbing for you in the story?     3) What is true in that story?  I’m sure you are pondering these questions right now! That’s a good thing.

I share this story of The River because this past week I had the opportunity to be in Dubuque, Iowa along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. I often would watch the river traffic which was mostly recreational. On my final day, I observed two barges heading south to the Mississippi Delta. Barges are approximately 200 ft. in length and move 170,000,000 tons of freight each year.  Recently, over 100 barges were literally stuck in the mud due to low water levels at the Delta.

So I thought of this story and pose a few questions for reflection:
• Like the people in the story, when do we become comfortable with certain ways of doing things because we have always done them this way? . . . Or satisfied with the familiar, the routine, the certainty in life, or the “same old” approaches to problems? . . . Or find that we are unbending in perspectives or attitudes or behaviors?  
• Do we ever lose sight of the bigger picture? 
• Are we ever called to consider looking at the justice of certain systems and making a personal choice to change an attitude or behavior in our lives that would affect our community, or country, or planet for the better?

As I thought about the drought from our summer that has affected the Mississippi River (it’s down 14 feet) and the problems now facing the businesses, the farmers, and all who depend on this river – (it is the largest river system in North America and the most fertile agricultural region of the country) I ask - how are we much like the Mississippi River?
• When in our lives have we experienced drought? Or floods? (I’m referring to our inner selves).
• When in our lives have we experienced the “muddy waters” of loss, sadness, grief, depression, challenge, and felt “stuck”?
• Who was there to listen to our souls? Our story? Our joyful and sorrowful mysteries?
• Have we ever sensed the need to courageously venture beyond the bend that hid from our sight to seek new perspectives, solutions, or directions that nudged our creative and innovation center? 
• Do we just “go with the flow” or do we make choices out of our center where the Holy One dwells?

Let us practice this week being aware of the “rivers and droughts” in our lives.  Let us choose daily to do things from our soul.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Fasting & Feasting
Lent is more than a time of fasting, it can also be a joyous season of feasting.
Lent is a time to fast from certain things, and to feast on others.

Fast from judging others
        Feast on the Christ dwelling in them
Fast from emphasis on differences
        Feast on the unity of life
Fast from apparent darkness
        Feast on the reality of light

Fast from thoughts of illness
        Feast on the healing power of God
Fast from words that pollute
        Feast on words that purify
Fast from discontent
        Feast on gratitude

Fast from anger
        Feast on patience
Fast from pessimism
        Feast on optimism
Fast from worry
        Feast on Divine Providence

Fast from complaining
        Feast on appreciation
Fast from negatives
        Feast on affirmatives
Fast from unrelenting pleasures
        Feast on unceasing prayer

Fast from hostility
        Feast on peace
Fast from bitterness
        Feast on forgiveness
Fast from self-concern
        Feast on compassion for others

Fast from personal anxiety
        Feast on trust
Fast from discouragement
        Feast on hope
Fast from acts that tear down
        Feast on acts which build up

Fast from thoughts that weaken
        Feast on promises that inspire
Fast from idle gossip
        Feast on purposeful silence
Fast from problems which overwhelm
        Feast on prayer that is supportive

Closing Prayer:
God, we honor the Mystery of your presence in us.  We celebrate through feasting and fasting your Indwelling Presence in our daily lives.  You are here today in ways we did not know.  We cherish your presence in our lives as we journey through life.  We receive your joy in the midst of our sorrows.  We receive your love in the midst of our fears and we receive your light in the midst of our darkness . . .
And so we pray:
May there always be a little light in our darkness.
May there always be a little faith in our doubt.
May there always be a little joy in our sorrow.
May there always be a little life in our dying.
May there always be a little hope in our sadness.
May there always be a little courage in our fear.
May there always be a little slow in our hurry.  Amen.                        

(Adapted from Song of the Seed by Macrina Wiederkehr

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lent ~ An Inconvenience?

In May of 2006 in the cities of New York and Los Angeles a documentary film opened.  On Memorial Day weekend the film grossed an average of $91,500 per theatre, the highest of any movie that weekend and a record for a documentary, though it was only playing on 4 screens at the time. The film has grossed over $24 million in the US and over $42 million world wide as of January of 2007. 

The film to which I refer is entitled, An Inconvenient Truth.  It was an Academy Award nominated documentary film about climate change, specifically global warming, directed by Davis Guggenheim and starring former United States Vice President Al Gore. The film explores data and predictions regarding climate change.  Gore reviews the scientific evidence for global warming, discusses the politics and economics of global warming, and describes the consequences he believes global climate change will produce if the amount of human-generated greenhouse gases is not significantly reduced in the very near future.

In one particular scenario, he presents the film footage of his presentation on this subject to the US Senate in 1992 and he also brought in climate scientists to authenticate his findings. 

He thought that once legislators heard the compelling evidence, they would be driven to action.  Not so.  Some listened, some became skeptical and others shirked it off. It was simply viewed as an inconvenient truth.

Our gospel for Ash Wednesday is a small section from Matthew’s writings of the Sermon on the Mount.  If we read between the lines, we will discover why Jesus was an Inconvenient Truth for both the religious and political leaders of his time.  He was a presence that disturbed the status quo; he burst the bonds of tradition, for Jesus was the fulfillment of all the OT prophesies – he was none other than the Messiah.  His words would stabilize and destabilize, comfort and discomfort – he spoke what people didn’t want to hear; his words were full of force and challenge.
The Sadducees saw their financial and religious interests in danger.
The Pharisees were criticized for their behavior and admonished for their hypocrisy.
The poor, the sinners, the despised and those without rights were welcomed and invited to experience “up close and personal”  God’s unconditional love for them – truly the first became last and the last first.

Jesus was an outsider by choice.  He seemed to be attracted by the people who lived at the margins of society.   He was forever wandering on the borders and crossing boundaries.  He banqueted with sinners and tax collectors; played with children and blessed them. Women were in relationship with Jesus.  He healed them, touched them, raised them up, and freed them from demons and patterns of life which restricted them. He spoke to people of the Reign of God. He spoke to their hearts.  Here they were accepted, loved and liberated.

He challenged them to become light and salt; to forgive and love their enemies, to ask, to seek, and to knock on the door of God’s heart; to walk through the narrow gate; and that when they fasted or gave alms that it would not be done for show; that they would give away their extra cloak, go the extra mile and bend and wash each other’s feet.He could speak to the wind and the waves of the sea; he cast out demons, he gave vision to the blind, and the capacity to stand tall to the lame and all those bent over
from the backbreaking burdens of the Law.

Truly, he was the way, the life and the Inconvenient Truth.

Jesus calls us all to be disciples. Jesus’ idea of discipleship is not about giving people answers but leading them into that space where they will long and yearn for God – for wisdom, for healing and for transformation.  Every authentic encounter with the Holy, “every true experience of God in whatever form, makes a person less insular, less complacent, and less isolated – and more restless, more inspired and more engaged with the world and humanity.”

And now we begin the season of Lent.  The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that’s conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well.  Throughout this journey of Lent, let us be open to all and every word, nudge, challenge, invitation, encounter and opportunity of the Holy One, who leads us to our own truth – be it convenient or inconvenient …


Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Lent-ing We Will Go!

Mardi Gras Prayer

Blessed are you, God of all creation,
for it is from your goodness that we have this day
to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.
Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat.

Today we feast.
We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us.
We thank you especially for one another.
As we give you thanks,
we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do.

As we share these wonderful gifts together,
we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those
who need our support.
Prepare us for tomorrow.
Tasting the fullness of what we have today,
let us experience some hunger tomorrow.

May our fasting make us more alert
and may it heighten our consciousness
so that we might be ready to hear your Word
and respond to your call.

As our feasting fills us with gratitude
so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us
a place for deeper desires
and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor.
May our self-denial turn our hearts to you
and give us a new freedom for
generous service to others.

We ask you these graces
with our hearts full of delight
and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead.
We ask them with confidence
in the name of Jesus the Lord.  (Creighton University)



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Some loving words to anoint our spirits!

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here.  Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine.  Give bread.  Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit.  Feast on your life.
  ~ Derek Walcott ~

And God said:
I myself will dream a dream
within you.
Good dreams come from me
you know.
My dreams seem impossible,
Not too practical,
Not for the cautious   
woman or man,
A little risky sometimes,
A trifle brash perhaps.
Some of my friends prefer
To rest more comfortably,
In sounder sleep,
With visionless eyes.

But for those who share my dreams,
I ask a little patience,
A little humor,
Some small courage,
And a listening heart.
I will do the rest.
Then they will risk,
And wonder at their daring
Run, and marvel at their speed;
Build, and stand in awe at the beauty
of their building.

You will meet me often as you work:
In your companions,
who share your risk;
In your friends,
who believe in you enough
to lend their own dreams,
Their own hands, 
Their own hearts,
To your building;
In the people who will find
your doorway,
Stay awhile, and walk away
Knowing they, too, can find a dream . . .
There will be sun-filled days,
And sometimes it will rain.
A little variety!
Both come from me.

So come now,
Be content.
It is my dream you dream:
My house you build;
My caring you witness;
My love you share;
And this is
the heart of the matter.  
Sister Charity, RGS -
Image by Doris Klein, CSA

Friday, February 6, 2015

Passion, Purpose, and Call!

Pope Francis has declared 2015 the year dedicated to Consecrated Life.  CSA has proclaimed a day of welcome with an open house at our motherhouse in Fond du Lac, WI, on February 8.

I thought it would be a time to remember a few of those women who paved the way for the future of the Church in the United States with courage, commitment, and tenacity!

Source: Called to Serve (A History of Nuns in America) by Margaret M. McGinness
Story #1:
Approximately 1840 ~ (Archbishop of Indianapolis and Sisters of Providence)
“Bishop Hailandière’s strong opinions on the way the Sisters of Providence should live and work did not always coincide with those of Mother Theodore.  He challenged her authority on numerous occasions, and opened two convents while she was in France that he expected to fall outside her jurisdiction.  Because sisters living in those residences would be under his authority rather than Mother Theodore, the community would be divided into two, but the sisters themselves refused to live in those convents established by the bishop. The relationship between Hailandière and Mother Theodore grew from bad to worse as the bishop demanded complete authority over the community.  During one particularly contentious disagreement in 1847, the superior was locked in the bishop’s residence until she agreed to carry out his orders.  A day later, Mother Theodore was removed ‘as superior, released . . . from religious vows,’ and those sisters who agreed with her were threatened with excommunication.”


Story #2:
“Hard work combined with extreme poverty created difficult situations for women religious. When several Pittsburgh Sisters of Mercy accepted an invitation to minister in Chicago, their new convent was a small, one story, unpainted building in poor condition. The poverty faced by the women was ‘extreme and they often had to depend on the generosity of the people for mere necessities.” The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, according to community legend, usually walked barefoot to church to save wear and tear on a valuable commodity, putting their shoes on before entering the building.”

Story #3
Angels of the Battlefield
“When the Civil War broke out in 1861, women religious were staffing or administering about thirty hospitals in the United States. As a result, they were already trained to provide much needed nursing care to soldiers from both the Union and Confederate camps. . .  Medical and army officers specifically requested sisters to tend to the wounded. Some doctors had worked with nursing sisters before enlisting in the war effort and admired their ability and work ethic, and those who had not came to respect the knowledge and skills of those women with whom they came in contact.  As they cared for the wounded and dying, women religious usually agreed to work wherever and whenever necessary, even if it meant laboring in dangerous and sometimes hostile territory. Their duties included housekeeping, cooking, personal care, distributing food and medicine, assisting in surgery, supervising hospital wards, and ministering on the battlefield.  In short, they were willing to perform any task necessary to ease the suffering of the wounded and the work of military physicians.”


Artist: Jerome Connor

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Stand still to be found . . .


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

                                                           -- David Wagoner

A Tired World . . .

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired                          
the world is tired also.

When your vision is gone                       
no part of the world                     
can find you.

Time to go into the dark     
where the night has eyes                        
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure           
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be                          
 your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.                
The world was made                                  
to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you

Sometimes it takes darkness
and the sweet confinement
of your aloneness
 to learn

Anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

- David Whyte