What do you long for? More time? More money? A change in habits or attitudes? Whatever you long for, “If we go down into ourselves we find that we possess exactly what we desire” (Simone Weil). God puts into our hearts the desires that will help us become the person we are meant to be, while simultaneously aiding the world in becoming what it’s supposed to be—a place of peace, justice, and unity. Reflect today on your desires. How can they surface? What could be put aside so that you have the time and energy to fulfill that desire? Of course, this isn’t easy. e. e. cummings wrote: “To be nobody-but-myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting. Am I really myself? Or am I a conglomeration of all the false selves other people wanted me to be?” Be yourself today by attending to your desire.
Our unusually warm and wet winter may set our sights on spring much earlier this year. Gardeners are becoming impatient to clear the ground. George B. Shaw claimed “The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” So maybe those who are saying “Isn’t it Lent yet?” are longing for that yearly season of extra prayer, reflection, and penance. Their souls are saying, “It’s about time.” Though the fields and gardens are still fallow, our souls don’t have to be. Let the longing for Lent’s conversion be the prayerful attitude of your heart. And no one says you can’t start early to dig for God.
“Who shall I be today? The answer is more obvious than the question. Of course I’m going to be me. Me yesterday, me today, me forever. But if I were to start my day with the question “Who shall I be today?” I’d have to start with a decision bigger than Honey Nut Cheerios or Rice Chex. Actually the choice would be a commitment, which is a lot to expect in the first moments of consciousness. A momentous moment to be sure. How about this? Today I will be a person who pays as much attention to the interests and concerns of others as to my own. Would I push the unity-of-humanity gauge a little higher? Or maybe this. Today I will never lose patience. And nobody gets hurt. Or this. Today I will take the first steps to meet others. Would there be one more warm smile in the world? While brushing my teeth, I decide to make it a gargantuan day despite its paltry twenty-four hours.
Ronald Rolheiser’s book Sacred Fire is written for “mature disciples.” In one section he discusses “the religious faults of mature disciples.” Rolheiser claims that mature disciples find the seven capital sins disappearing from their lives; however, these “seven deadly sins” may just be in a subtler guise. He writes that pride in a mature disciple may take the form of refusing to be small before God, of being proud that we take the last place and give generously. Envy may take the form of nitpicking, looking for flaws, or omitting compliments. Sloth may involve settling for second-best when better is possible. Greed might not include the desire for money and possessions at all; instead we may wish to accumulate a good name. Capital sins come in small-case letters, I guess.
Today is the feast of St. Angela Merici, the foundress of the Ursuline Sisters. We Sisters of Notre Dame have close connections with the Ursuline Sisters here in Toledo. These sisters and their employees have taken care of our older Sisters with much love for several years. Some Ursuline Sisters, such as Sister Stephanie and Sister Ellen, have been spiritual directors for us. Although each religious community has its own charism and its own way to contribute to the Church in the building up of the Kingdom, we are really all on the same page. Like Angela Merici and the Ursuline Sisters of today, we Notre Dame Sisters—and all religious sisters—do whatever needs to be done for God’s People. That has been our history. For the Ursulines, the need they saw was helping girls to lead a Christian life in the 1400s. For the Notre Dames it was teaching immigrant children in the 1800s. Really it’s all the same—doing God’s work of the present need. Happy feastday, Ursuline Sisters!
Between Christmas and Lent the little space of Ordinary Time gives us stories of Jesus’ boyhood and young adulthood. Jesus grows up. And Jesus goes out—away from the carpenter shop, away from his home town. He heard a call or he felt growing pains or maybe his mother said, “It’s time.” Whatever it was Jesus, who is like us in every way, probably asked, “Who me?” Life had been so simple for 28 years or so. Go to school, learn a trade, make a living with hammer and saw. But there it was again—that little tug, that restless drive, that I-gotta-do-what-I-gotta do. Why did that little word “Abba” keep going through his mind with every turn of the lathe? Off went his apron. With surety he packed the tools and left the business in good hands. “Take care of my mom!” he said, a tear in his eye, a firm hand on his friend’s shoulder. A forward look, a forward step, and the “Who me?” became with each mile, with each desert day, “I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me” (Jn. 7:29).
Many parishes distributed the book Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly as Christmas presents. The title and its cover message “why we sabotage ourselves” stop us in our tracks. Who would resist happiness? Who would sabotage themselves? Yet Kelly writes almost two hundred pages to showhow we really do resist happiness. Each chapter proposes a remedy. Chapter 10 calls the reader to “get busy living.” Really? Aren’t we always busy? Yet such busyness can prevent our living. Brian Doyle writes “Words and miracles are swift and rude/And they don’t wait.” How many words have we missed today? Have we been deaf to pleading words? Do words uttered without response die, the breath in them sucked out through indifference? And what about the miracles? A prayer answered even before the Amen? A kid who steps out of shyness? Hands clenched in armpits moving outward. A math problem solved in a eureka moment? Reconciliation achieved across a room with forgiving eyes? Attentive to words and miracles, we will be busy living in happiness.
Recently I was told this true story. The husband had died in early December. Christmas was a sad time for the bereaved wife, children, and grandchildren. His presence was felt, though, when the wife gave her children and grandchildren pillows made from his shirts. Each had a pocket containing a message reflecting what Dad or Grandpa would have said, each fitting the son, daughter, or grandchild exactly. After this gift-giving one granddaughter wanted to give her grandmother a gift. Shy, she asked her grandmother to go upstairs to unwrap the gift more privately. Only two grandchildren were there. The younger, a grandson, started crying because he missed his grandpa. His grandmother consoled him by saying, “When I miss him, I sit in a chair and imagine him sitting next to me. I talk to him, and he talks to me.” The grandson, quite surprised, took this message literally until the grandmother explained that she listens with her heart. To further console him, she added, “”We don’t see him, but he sees us.” With that the granddaughter said, “I see Grandpa,” and she pointed next to her grandmother. Further questioning proved this to be true. The mother attested that her daughter occasionally sees those who have died. Certainly the veil between heaven and earth is very thin.
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit. That Jesus of Nazareth really was the Anointed One of God was the earliest profession of faith. To be a Christian, one had to believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the Christ (both terms meaning “anointed one”). The earliest believers in Jesus of Nazareth as Lord, Messiah, the Anointed of God took on the same name—Christian. Ever since, Christians are the Anointed People.
Anointing was the way to show one had authority and power from God. So when Jesus began his public ministry, he read aloud this text from Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore, he has anointed me.”
We, too, have been anointed at baptism and Confirmation. Like Jesus, we are marked with power and authority. We have received the same gifts of the Holy Spirit that were bestowed upon Jesus of Nazareth: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, courage, and more. What did Jesus do with the gifts of the Holy Spirit? “Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” What are you doing with the Spirit’s gifts? Are you rejoicing in them? Are you living the life of Christ as you were meant to live it, or are you living the life that others want you to be?
Sister Maria Ignatia (Lisette Kühling) is the co-foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, the faithful friend and co-teacher of Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring. It is interesting that their birth dates are only one day apart.
Of Sister Maria Ignatia it is written “Everything reminded her of God and spoke to her of God’s goodness.” In honor of Sister Maria Ignatia, let everything today remind you of God and God’s goodness. Challenge yourself today to say “God is so good!” Wouldn’t that make a great birthday present for Lisette?