Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Ascension Day - an "Uplifting Feast"!

The story is told that in Valladolid, Spain, where Christopher Columbus died in 1506, stands a monument commemorating the great discoverer. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain’s motto for centuries. 

Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spaniards thought they had reached the outer limits of earth.  Thus their motto was ‘Ne Plus Ultra,’ which means, ‘No More Beyond.’  The word being torn away by the lion is ‘Ne’ or ‘No’ thus it reads ‘Plus Ultra.’ Columbus had proven that there was indeed ‘more beyond.’ 

In the same way, our readings today, proclaim that there is ‘more beyond.’  The Ascension is part of what we call the Pascal Mystery.  There are 4 interrelated parts: suffering and death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Spirit. 

These sacred events are closely interlocked as one reality.  As the resurrection proclaims that Jesus is alive, the Ascension asserts that Jesus has entered into glory.  In this celebration of the Ascension, we are invited to let go of our linear thinking and stand in the space of accepting and embracing Mystery. 

Jesus did not ride up into the sky in Shepherd 1.  For we know that heaven is not a place but a relationship with God – Jesus is totally and forever reunited with God.  Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Spirit form a ‘seamless garment’ so to speak, one single movement - the passing of Jesus through death to life!

Today, on the feast of the Ascension, we remember, we celebrate, and we believe - the more beyond.  The more beyond pain and suffering; the more beyond doubt and death; the more beyond grieving and loss. 

We are invited into embracing the mystery which Jesus reveals is an intimate forever, eternal, everlasting, never ending, timeless, priceless, unconditional love relationship with our God in which Jesus will be with us until the end of the age.

Jesus promised that we would never be left alone.  The Ascension of Jesus was not the end of his presence with us, but a new way of being intimately present.  As St. Augustine writes, “You ascended before our eyes, and we turned back grieving, only to find you in our hearts.”

The four gospels do not end with Jesus’ absence, but with his continuing presence.  Mark writes that Jesus was taken up into heaven and then adds “the disciples went forth and preached everywhere while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message with signs.” In John, Jesus is saying to Peter and to us, “Follow me.”  In Matthew, he does not mention the Ascension.  His Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” And in today’s Gospel, Luke ends with Jesus ascending into heaven in order to send the promise of the Spirit. 

And Jesus continues his presence with us in Eucharist, in the Scriptures, in our assembly here, and in our hearts.  Through us and in all believers of this Mystery, Jesus continues to heal and to comfort, to forgive and to include.

It is in all hearts of believers of this Mystery, that beyond this space of bread and wine, Word and ritual that his love and compassion continues to be found. We are not to stand and stare up at the clouds but to risk entering into the uncertainties of life, and to truly see God’s presence in each other, in the eyes of the poor, the marginalized, and in the needs and hearts of the "last, the least and the lost."
Ascension tells us that if we’re looking for Jesus, we need a new way of seeing, a new way of following, for the Paschal Mystery belongs to each of us. "Its footsteps are traced in our lives as we negotiate the physical, psychological, and spiritual challenges inherent in our human journey."

So today, let us pray in this liturgy that we will be open to the graces of these powerful readings as we seek to find Jesus in all hearts, especially in this time when we find ourselves living in a Good Friday world with great chaos, fear, and violence.
And so we pray:
  • May we have the courage to be witnesses of Jesus’ message for we have been given a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge;
  • May we embrace the mystery of this feast so that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened and know the surpassing greatness of God’s power for all who believe. 
  • And finally, may we truly and intimately know the hope that belongs to God’s call now and into the more beyond!   

The Presence of the Presence!

The Auction

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art.  They had everything in their collection from Picasso to Raphael. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.

About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door.  A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart, and he died instantly.  He often talked about you, and your love for art.” The young man held out his package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”

The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”

The father died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings.  Skip this one.”

But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?” Another voice shouted angrily, “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!” But still the auctioneer continued, “The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford. “We have $10, who will bid $20?” “Give it to him for $10.  Let’s see the masters.” “$10 is the bid, won’t someone bid $20?” The crowd was becoming angry. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD FOR $10!”

A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now, let’s get on with the collection!”  The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.” “What about the paintings?” “I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything!”
(Author Unknown)

Be ready for the God of surprises . . .

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Gretchen Crowder Preaches for the Solemnity of the Ascension

Women of the Song!

The Wise Woman’s Stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.  The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.  She did so without any hesitation.
 The traveler left rejoicing in his good fortune.  He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a full lifetime. But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. I've been thinking,” he said.  “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.” (Author Unknown)

We gather to celebrate all that Mary had within her that enabled her to trust in Mystery, to walk in the holy darkness of questions, to ponder her experiences in the light of faith, to hope in God’s love amidst the joys and sorrows, losses and findings and the deaths and risings she encountered, and to live with courage as she responded moment by moment to the challenges and surprises that resulted from her “Yes, let it be done” –
Most of what we know about Mary in Scripture comes from the Gospels of Luke and John. As a young Jewish girl, she grew into womanhood with an extraordinary faith.  Oftentimes she did not understand what God was asking of her, but she believed with all her heart that it could and would be done, and she acted accordingly.

It was enough for her to be called to move within holy mystery and gently hold the tension of all that was being asked of her.  She did not seek answers, clarity or quick results- we are told that “she held all these things in her heart” and treasured them until their meaning was revealed a grace at a time!

In our Gospel (Luke l: 39-56), Mary, a young pregnant woman went with haste about 70 miles south to the hills of Judea to visit her older pregnant cousin, Elizabeth who has lived the past six months no longer barren and with a quieted husband.  Mary remains there for at least 3 months to be of help and to share the joy of expectation that most mothers-to-be experience.  They embody God’s mercy while sharing their fears, finding courage through one another, expressing their hopes, and learning practical wisdom of body, mind and spirit together.

The mystery of the Incarnation is set in a familiar context – the friendship between pregnant women who await the birth of their children.  Luke summarizes for us the deep relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and is the first person to recognize Mary’s child, Jesus, as the long-awaited one.

Elizabeth’s loud cry is translated with the same words used to describe the loud cry of the Hebrews before the Ark of God’s presence when it was brought into their midst.  Mary is now the living Ark of God and the promise to God’s people has begun to be fulfilled in her. 

In response to Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary proclaims a song of liberation for all people; one in which ideals are reversed and the household of God will be peopled by the poor, the hungry, and the ones with no power.  Hers is the first proclamation of justice in the New Testament.  Her song is revolutionary – She speaks of a political revolution in which God has shown strength and brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. 

“She speaks of a social revolution in which God has filled the hungry with good things; and she sings of an economic revolution, in which God has sent the rich away empty, and the poor are filled with good things.” Her message is so subversive that even in our time, it is written that “for a period during the 1980’s the Government of Guatemala banned its public recitation.”  Her song of courage invites us to identify the poor, the oppressed and marginalized of our day, to be in solidarity with them, and to dare to engage with God in the liberation of these people, believing, like Mary that this can be done so that we too can build up the kingdom with love and justice.

These women, who stand pregnant in an embrace of joy, laughter, and praise for God’s marvels, will give birth to children of the Magnificat. These children in turn will one day stand together and sing a new song that would be revolutionary as well.  John will sing his song of repentance and ring out the Good News that the Messiah is here.  Jesus, will sing his song of Beatitude that breaks through to the hearts of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized and beyond the strict laws of purification.

Winds of Change . . . Winds of Trauma . . .Winds of Loss . . .

Author, Edwina Gately, once wrote a book entitled, “There Was No Path, So I Trod One.”  This touched me as I pondered how to pray today after seeing and hearing the reports of the destructive tornadoes throughout the Midwest.  I couldn't find an online prayer that would name what was in my heart, so I wrote one. I share it with you and encourage you to write your own as well.

God of Creation, here we are again as a nation devastated by the winds of storms. The east coast braces for severe storms and the west coast continues to recover from fires and floods - I'm sure you remember - Now I place all the peoples who have survived these recent tornadoes before you - and those who are now named as victims. Even though sirens and warnings echoed through the cities and small towns -  and the surrounding areas farm areas,  the tornado stepped down all too suddenly from the clouds, and caused a deep gouge in the earth and in the lives of these people. So how do we pray at a time like this? How do they recover? How do they cope, adjust, and manage?

 I recall how Jesus spoke to the winds and the sea while he was with his friends in the boat during the storm on Lake Galilee – yet, there are no “magic words” that can take away the pain, anxiety, fear, trauma, and damage done in the wake of these tornadic episodes. It is through the hands, hearts, voices, and skills of responders that your presence is felt.

We now hand you the lives of those lost as victims; we send blessings and strength to families, friends, and citizens of these cities and towns; we send the support of courage and compassion to those who are responders, health care workers, rescue workers, and all who assist in any way to rebuild homes and hearts of these people. 

God, it is written, that in the beginning you created out of chaos, bring your Spirit of comfort to all who walk these paths, streets, and neighborhoods of destruction and chaos. Place your words of “Peace, be still” in their hearts as they work, walk, and wander among the wreckage of these terrifying storms. We trust in your loving care with all who now are moved in any way to respond to these disasters.  We place all these needs and concerns in your loving embrace. Amen.

God, the Divine Gardener!

Story:  A woman went into a marketplace, looked around, and saw a sign that read “God’s Fruit Stand.”  “Thank goodness. It’s about time,” the woman said to herself.

She went inside and she said, “I would like a perfect banana, a perfect cantaloupe, a perfect strawberry, and a perfect peach.”  God, who was behind the counter, shrugged and said, “I’m sorry.  I sell only seeds.” (John Shea)

In the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived and is struggling to consistently entertain the warm winds of the south.  With only the slightest caress of a lukewarm breeze upon the face of wannabe gardeners, the garden centers are experiencing “flash mobs” of “earth-mid-wives.” People buy flower or vegetable plants and then invite the challenge of nurturing the plants with just the right amount of water, sunlight, or fertilizer so that one day they will rejoice in their accomplishment of growing their own vegetables and beautiful flowers.  Gardens can be seen in flower boxes outside windows, on rooftops among skyscrapers, and even in large fields shared by a community.

However, God offers us only seeds – this process takes longer, more tending, patience, and the gift of surprise.  I’d like to think that God was the first organic gardener who did not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  Organic gardeners think of the whole system – the soil, water supply, the people, wildlife, and even the insects.  Organic gardeners are concerned about building healthy soil and nurturing the connectedness of all things.  And so it is with the Divine Gardener – offering us seeds of hope, integrity, risk, resiliency, dreams, purpose, passion, and call.  It is up to all of us to offer these seeds just the right or best environment for germination so we will carry on the creativity and love of the Divine Gardener – and we need not be perfect at this – just willing!

So what is the Good News for us today?  Let us ponder these quotes:
·         The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?  Jack Kornfield

·         Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.  May Sarton

·         An ordinary favor we do for someone or any compassionate reaching out may seem to be going nowhere at first, but may be planting a seed we can't see right now. Sometimes we need to just do the best we can and then trust in an unfolding we can't design or ordain.
Sharon Salzberg

·         Love is the seed of all hope. It is the enticement to trust, to risk, to try, to go on. 
 Gloria Gaither

·         Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. Henry David Thoreau

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Vision for the Future of Religious Life, Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI

Living reflectively, living wisely!

I often ponder the message on the side mirror of the passenger side of my car. The safety warning at the bottom of the mirror reads: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. The science of this is: “Convex mirrors (ones that curve outward in the center) make objects appear smaller than they are, and by doing so show a larger field of view than the other types. They are often used in side view mirrors of cars to give the driver a better view of all the other cars in the vicinity.”

I think this is a great metaphor for encouraging the practice of the art of reflection in our lives. We often think that just because the past is history, and what may have touched us in a good or not so good way, emotionally, spiritually, physically, or psychologically is over and done.  Sometimes we even quip, Out of sight, out of mind!  However, we can still hold onto some of these past events in our memories, dreams, imagination, and even down deep in our cells. So then when we meet some person or event that triggers a memory or feeling, we find that things are truly closer than they appear.  I find that the practice of daily reflection will help to heal, bless, and move us on to “whole-ing” any and all of these life learnings.

The practice of reflection is basic to discernment.  Here is what Margaret Silf writes about living reflectively from her book, Wise Choices.

“Life is a bit like that beach. It is full of hidden hazards, quicksand that sucks us down into the depths of despair. But it also has areas of solid rock, where we know we are on firm ground and we can walk with confidence. The key to discovering the natrue of the terrain begins with our feelings.  It can be very helpful to cultivate the habit of reflecting back over the evenings of the passing days.  It helps us to begin to live reflectively."

Living reflectively helps us to grow into honoring our feelings and letting them be our teachers so that we too, will be able to gain a larger field of view and notice that the challenges in life can also be gifts. Although they are a part of our past journey, their power, energy, and wisdom  is closer than it appears.  “Reflection like this only needs to take a few minutes, but it can make a big difference to your ability to make wise choices.”
(previously posted)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Let God "easter" in us!

The Magdalene’s Blessing
(For Easter Day)
From: Circle of Grace, Wanton Gospeller Press, Orlando, FL, 2015

You hardly imagined
standing here,
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you,
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.

And now
you do not know
how to abide this hole
in the center
of your chest,
where a door
slams shut
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.

I tell you,
this is not banishment
from the garden
this is an invitation,
a choice,
a threshold,
a gate.

This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
have dreamed,
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge,
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.

So let the tears come
as anointing,
as consecration,
and then
let them go.

Let this blessing
gather itself around you.

Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.
You will not remember the words –
they do not matter.

All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Colleen Gibson, SSJ Preaches for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Shepherding 101!

A shepherd was tending his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a dust cloud approached at high speed, out of which emerged a shiny silver BMW. The driver, a young man in an Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes, the latest Polarized sunglasses and a tightly knotted power tie, poked his head out the window and asked the shepherd, "Hey! If I can tell you how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?" The shepherd looked at the man, then glanced at his peacefully grazing flock and answered, "Sure."
The driver parked his car, plugged his microscopic cell phone into a laptop and briskly surfed to a GPS satellite navigation system on the Internet and initiated a remote body-heat scan of the area. While the computer was occupied, he sent some e-mail via his Smartphone and, after a few minutes, nodded solemnly at the responses. Finally, he printed a 150 page report on the little laser printer in his glove compartment, turned to the shepherd, waving the sheaves of paper, and pronounced “You have exactly 1,586 sheep."  "Impressive. One of my sheep is yours." said the shepherd.
He watched the young man select an animal and bundle it into his car. Then the shepherd said: "If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?" Pleased to meet a fellow sportsman, the young man replied “You’re on.”  "You are a consultant." said the shepherd without hesitation.  "That's correct," said the young man, impressed. "How ever did you guess?" "It wasn’t a guess," replied the shepherd. "You drive into my field uninvited. You ask me to pay you for information I already know, answer questions I haven’t asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog." (Author Unknown)
Sheep definitely have not changed, but the shepherds have changed quite a bit.  At the time of Jesus, shepherds were not considered good.  In fact, it was just the opposite.  They were known to be dirty, thieves, and were forbidden by Jewish law from being witnesses in any trial because they were flagrant liars.  So why would Jesus call himself a “Shepherd” and a “Good” one at that? 
Well, isn’t this Jesus’ usual style of inviting the listener to go beyond “the box”?  For with Jesus, there was no box.  He turned the world upside down and inside out; he crossed boundaries and borders, and challenged traditions that bound the spirits of the eager of heart.  He was “a presence that disturbed the religious and political worlds.”  He lived on the edge and the margins of society and ministered to those who would be found there.  He banqueted with sinners and tax collectors; challenged people to become light and salt, and told them to forgive their enemies.  He also could speak to the wind and the waves; he cast out demons, and gave sight to the blind. 
So who are the Good Shepherds of today?   We are all called to be shepherds of our world today – to care for creation, to be voices for the poor, the marginalized. – These shepherds need to be willing to confront the systems that keep humanity and creation defenseless and vulnerable. 
NCR/Oct. 2013
“The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”


Knowing the Shepherd . . .

The banquet hall was filled. To speak for the occasion, a renowned orator had been brought in. After a wonderful meal, he mesmerized the crowd with his voice as he recited poetry and famous selections of speeches.

Near the end of the program, he asked if anyone had a favorite selection that they would like for him to recite. From the back of the room, an old man stood up and kindly asked if he would mind reciting the 23rd Psalm. The speaker said that he would be glad to do it if, when he was finished, the old man would recite it as well. The old gentleman nodded his head and sat back down.

In a beautifully trained voice that resonated throughout the great room, the speaker began, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” When he was finished, there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

He then looked at the old man and said, “Alright sir, it is your turn now.”

In a trembling voice that was cracked by time, the old man began to recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” It is said that when he was finished, there was no applause, but neither was there a dry eye in the building.

After the event, someone asked the famous speaker what he thought produced the different responses in the crowd. The speaker paused, thought for a moment and said, “I know the 23rd Psalm, but that man knows the shepherd. That makes all the difference.” (Source/Author Unknown)