Monday, February 27, 2017

Lent ~ A moveable feast!

“Certain pieces of our journey are moveable feasts.” (Fran Dorff)

There was a time, long, long ago – in fact, in the past century - that I recall an Ash Wednesday liturgy, when the presider at the beginning of his homily asked: “What things in your life have turned into ashes?”  At that moment, I thought I was the only one in the assembly and that he was speaking directly to me. You see, I had just finished three months of a sabbatical time and was struggling with what was to happen next in my life? I asked myself often: Who am I now?

However, before I stepped into that Sabbath time, I experienced a “dying” – a drastic letting go ~ for so much of my life had turned into ashes. I can’t begin to name all the pieces that collided together to create this tectonic shift in my life.

However, here are a few of the seismic movements that created this liminal space of “holy newness” ~
• I left my successful ministry of twelve years of working with a dedicated group of faculty and staff at our nearby college. 
• I left my students of whom I was a mentor for their potential as teachers.
• I left my friends in the town where I worked.
• I had no car, no place to call “home”, no particular ministry, and a whole lot of a blurry identity.

It seemed that so many things to which I had held tightly for purpose and passion had “turned into ashes” and that I was experiencing my own desert. And yet, “cathartically,” there was the phone call from my superior (at just the right time) who told me to take things easy and don’t rush into getting a new ministry. Ah, she didn’t forget me! 

There were the women of my community, who provided me housing in a basement bedroom – of which I lovingly named the “catacombs of St. Agnes.” Ah, they didn’t forget me and provided for my needs.

Then there were openings that came as volunteer opportunities which led to other possibilities for my potential to unfold in such a way that I had no idea of the transformative grace that was now being heaped upon my very spirit. Ah, God had not forgotten me and was loving me into a “holy newness.”

Then, during the liturgy, I remembered coming back to consciousness; (I  believe I missed hearing the homily in total). However, at the end of his reflection, I recall the presider’s final question. It was this: “What in your life is God asking you to turn into ashes?” With that question, I became aware that I was now marked with a cross of ashes, and invited to move out from there with renewed courage, trust, inspiration, hope, creativity, and the grace to honor the ashes that marked my path to Easter joy!

So what is the good news for us on this Ash Wednesday?

Let us ponder:
• What things have turned into ashes in your life?
• What things now is God asking you to turn into ashes?
• May we all have a blessed Lent of Holy Newness!

“But is there a transformation-truth
in this experience of ashes?
Yes, for in the ashes is a story of resurrection.
Yes, for in the ashes is strength about rising.
For remember, you are dust
and to dust you shall return.
For Ash Wednesday is a moveable feast.
A day to celebrate ashes and Easter!
For remember, you are loved,
And to Love you shall return.
For Easter is a moveable feast!”
Sjh 1995

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mardi Gras . . .Feasting to Fasting!


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)

Prayer for Guidance . . .

O, God,
Guide my thoughts with your spirit of truth;
Lead my actions with your heart of generosity;
Empower my decisions with your wisdom;
Take away my fears with your heart of courage
And embrace me in your love
that protects me from all harm.

Kathleen M. Sullivan ’82MA                                                                                                
Notre Dame University

Guidance in dark and fog . . .

Trust That Guidance Will Come

Trust and act on the guidance you have now. 
Some parts of our lives appear like a long, paved highway. 
We can see exactly where to go; we have a panoramic view. 
Other times, it may feel like we’re driving in the dark
with only one headlight on a winding road through the fog. 
We can only see a few feet in front of the car. 
Don’t worry if you can’t see that far ahead,
if you only have a glimmer of light to guide your path. 

Slow down.
Listen to your heart.  Guidance will come. 
Trust what you hear.  Do the small thing.  Take that one step. 
Go as far as you can see. 
Then go back to your heart, and you’ll hear the next step.

It may be a step of immediate action, or deliberate inaction. 
Sometimes you may have to quiet down,
wait, and prepare yourself to hear what you’re to do next. 
Trust and act on the guidance you have now, and more will come.  

Melodie Beattie (Journey to the Heart)


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Walking Trees . . .

In the gospel of Mark (8:22-27) there is a story of how people from a village brought a blind man to Jesus for healing.  The story unfolds with Jesus taking the blind man by the hand and leading him beyond the village.  “He put spit on the man’s eyes, laid hands on him and asked, ‘Do you see anything?’”  The man responded that he saw people, but they looked like trees walking.  So Jesus had to lay his hands on the man’s eyes once again and the man recovered his sight with 20/20 vision!

This is a great story of how we come through the process of discernment.  The spirit often invites us to leave our comfort zones so that in our discomfort we can be detached enough from our illusions and certainties to notice how we feel within, so that we can learn to trust God’s grace and light.  Much like the man in the story, we are never alone. God is present with us as we encounter new events, circumstances, relationships, and experiences that are part of our search for what God desires of us. 

Discernment is a way of deep listening that cannot be forced.  There is no “drive-thru” for discernment; there is no App for quick and easy answers; and there are no flashing lights with bells and whistles pointing to the right path!  Often, we find clarity and peace a little at a time – we get “blurry-clear” insights and begin to notice more and more of God’s purpose for us with each step on our journey. We are invited to notice signs in our everyday lives that God seems to put in our path to point to the way that will give us peace and joy. This movement is often slow, so as to allow God to gently take us by the hand and to touch our hearts again and again, so that our seeing becomes a vision of how we are being called to a new way of being and becoming. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Gathering Prayer . . .

Gather Me to Be with You

O God, gather me now to be with you as you are with me.
Soothe my tiredness; quiet my fretfulness; curb my aimlessness;
Relieve my compulsiveness; let me be easy for a moment.

 + + + 
O God, gather me to be with you as you are with me.
Forgive me for claiming so much for myself that I leave
no room for gratitude; for confusing exercises in self-importance
with acceptance of self-worth;
+ + +
For complaining so much of my burdens that I become a burden;
For competing against others so insidiously that I stifle celebrating
them and receiving your blessing through their gifts.
+ + +
O God, gather me to be with you as you are with me.
Keep me in touch with myself, with my needs,
my anxieties, my angers, my pains, my corruptions,
that I may claim them as my own rather than
blame them on someone else.
+ + +
O God, deepen my wounds into wisdom; shape my weaknesses
into compassion; gentle my envy into enjoyment,
my fear into trust, my guilt into honesty,
my accusing fingers into tickling ones.
+ + +
O God, gather me to be with you as you are with me.
(From: Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Valentine's Day Heartful Reflection . . .

A few seasons ago, I presented the following reflection on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. As we move into the much "heart-anticipated" celebration of Valentine's Day in the USA . . .why not ponder the Heart of God . . .  So I post this reflection:

Image design by: Doris Klein, CSA

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The story is told that once a young boy was about to have open-heart surgery.  To prepare him the surgeon said, “Tomorrow I will look at your heart.”  Smiling, the boy interrupted, “You’ll find Jesus there.”  Ignoring his remark, the surgeon continued, “After I have seen your heart I will try to repair the damage.”  Again, the boy insisted.  “You are going to find Jesus in my heart.”

The surgeon who had suffered losses in his own family and was still in pain from a failed marriage, felt very distant from God. He replied in a chilling tone, “No, what I’ll find is damaged tissue, constricted arteries, and weakened muscle.”

The next day he opened the boy’s chest and exposed his heart. It was worse than he expected – a ravaged aorta, torn tissue, swollen muscles and arteries.  There was no hope of a cure, not even the possibility of a transplant. His icy anger at God began to surface as he thought, “Where is God? Why did God do this? Why is God letting this boy suffer and cursing him with an early death?”

As he gazed at the boy’s heart, he suddenly thought of the pierced heart of Jesus, and it seemed to him that the boy and Jesus shared one heart, a heart that was suffering for all those in the world experiencing pain and loss; a heart that was redeeming the world by love. 

Struck with awe at such goodness, such redemptive, unconditional love, tears began rolling down the surgeon’s cheeks, hot tears of compassion for the little boy. Later, when the child awoke, he whispered, “Did you see my heart?”  “Yes,” said the surgeon.  “What did you find?” the boy asked. The surgeon replied, “I found Jesus there.”
The heart can be understood as a physical part of each of us – that hidden yet vital organ that circulates the full human blood supply three times per minute and whose hundred thousand beats a day are often taken for granted. The heart is the very core of a person.  When that very center is deeply affected, one’s whole way of thinking about the world, one’s whole way of feeling it, of being in it is profoundly altered. As in our opening story, the doctor experienced a conversion of heart – a healing from heartlessness to heart-fullness. And the child – who was all heart and shared in the heart of Jesus – had a heart filled with redemptive and unconditional love.

Today’s feast (June 3) is the celebration of the “enlarged heart” of God as it was enfleshed in the heart of Jesus through the womb of Mary – a heart filled and overflowing with unconditional love and mercy.

Today is not necessarily a feast of our devotion to the heart of Jesus, but it is a celebration of God’s devotion to us by offering us a heart of love beyond our comprehension, a heart of love beyond any Hallmark card expression, and a heart full of love that is unfathomable. Our God’s love is tender; Our God is totally in love with us, and desires to be of one heart with us. For as John writes: God is Love!

As we celebrate this feast today of God’s love for us it was different in the Middle Ages – as the devotion was not to the heart of Jesus but to the wound in the side of Jesus. In later times, especially rising from the visions of St. Margaret Mary, the focus shifted more to the Heart of Jesus.

In the writings of Margaret Mary, she describes what happened one day as she was praying when she received a vision of Jesus:  “For a long time he kept me leaning on his breast, while he revealed the wonders of his love and the mysterious secrets of his Sacred Heart. Till then, he had always kept them hidden; but now, for the first time, he opened his Heart to me.”

Margaret Mary continued to describe in her writings how Jesus revealed his heart as a heart on fire with love as he said: “My divine Heart is so passionately fond of the human race, and of you (Margaret Mary), that it cannot keep back the pent-up flames of its burning love any longer.”  She then reveals what followed. “Next, he asked for my heart. I begged him to take it; he did, and placed it in his own divine Heart.  He let me see it there – a tiny atom being completely burned up in that fiery furnace.  Then, lifting it out – now a little heart-shaped flame – he put it back where he had found it.”

In our Gospel today, Jesus reveals to us that his heart is humble and invites us to find rest within his heart. Jesus lived love and mercy throughout his ministry as he encountered the least, the last, and the lost.

In Scripture we find a number of examples of how his love was lived out. . .
• Let the children come to me . . .then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them
• At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them.
• Moved with pity, Jesus touched their eyes and immediately they received their sight.
• (Rich man) Jesus looking at him loved him.

So what is the good news for us today?
Let us through our daily reflection imagine ourselves resting in the heart of God hearing the heartbeat of God in the intimacy of our own prayer. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Clad Yourself in Peace!


Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
It says, come, rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made, proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet know you still
Knew nothing.
The River sang and sings on.

 ~ Maya Angelou, On the Pulse of Morning

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Creative Carpenter!


Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on the older brother's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days work" he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?"

"Yes," said the older brother. "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor, in fact, it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll go him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence - - an 8-foot fence -- so I won't need to see his place or his face anymore."

The carpenter said, "I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I'll be able to do a job that pleases you."

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge -- a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all -- and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

"You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done." The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other's hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. "No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you," said the older brother. "I'd love to stay on," the carpenter said, "but, I have many more bridges to build."

REMEMBER THIS: God won't ask what kind of car you drove, but God will ask how many people you drove who didn't have transportation.

God won't ask the square footage of your house, but God will ask how many people you welcomed into your home.

God won't ask about the clothes you had in your closet, but God will ask how many you helped to clothe.

God won't ask about your social status, but God will ask what kind of class you displayed.

God won't ask how many material possessions you had, but God will ask if they dictated your life.

God won't ask what your highest salary was, but God will ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.

God won't ask how many promotions you received, but God will ask how you promoted others.

God won't ask what your job title was, but God will ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.

God won't ask what you did to help yourself, but God will  ask what you did to help others.

God won't ask how many friends you had, but God will ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

God won't ask what you did to protect your rights, but God will ask what you did to protect the rights of others.

God won't ask in what neighborhood you lived, but God will ask how you treated your neighbors.

God won't ask about the color of your skin, but God will ask about the content of your character.

God won't ask how many times your deeds matched your words, but God will ask how many times they didn't.

Author Unknown

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

CSA Promoting Justice . . .

Electronic billboard
posted in Fond du Lac, WI
 for the month of February
~ sponsored by CSA! ~

Sometimes It Just Seems to be Too Much

Sometimes, God, it just seems to be too much:
too much violence, too much fear; too much of demands and problems;
too much of broken dreams and broken lives;
too much of war and slums and dying;
too much of greed and squishy fatness and the sounds of people
devouring each other and the earth; too much of stale routines and quarrels,
unpaid bills and dead ends; too much of words lobbed in to explode
and leaving shredded hearts and lacerated souls;
too much of turned-away backs
and yellow silence, red rage and bitter taste of ashes in my mouth.

Sometimes the very air seems scorched by threats and rejection and decay
until there is nothing but to inhale pain and exhale confusion.
Too much of darkness, God,
Too much of cruelty and selfishness and indifference. . .
Too much, God,
Too much, too bloody, bruising, brain-washing much.

Or is it too little,
too little of compassion,
too little of courage, of daring, of persistence, of sacrifice;
too little of music and laughter and celebration?

O God,
Make of me some nourishment
For these starved times,
Some food for my sisters and brothers, who are hungry for gladness and hope,
That, being bread for them, I may also be fed and be full.
(From Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder)