Richard Rohr claims in The Naked Now that God seems to be “totally into change.” In elementary school I learned that God was immutable, and I understood that big word to mean that God will never, ever change. God couldn’t change, because God was perfect. How could someone be improved who was already 100%? Now in my adult life having read books by Teilhard de Chardin and having attended presentations by Ilio Delio and others expounding on evolution and the discoveries of cosmologists, I understand (as much as God can be understood) that God is changing.

The pandemic has been changing everything over the past several months—individuals, communities, the whole world. The times are calling us to greatness. Great people adjust to life’s changing demands. Being patient in uncertainty and adapting to each new guideline calls for greatness. It’s the change that can help us become more like God. We’re all in this together—with God!

Do you remember your tenth birthday? Didn’t you feel special to have a two-digit number? My tenth birthday coincided with the wedding of an aunt, and I recall telling my cousins, “It’s my birthday! I’m ten!” Twenty was special, too, but each succeeding decade less glorious. Well, another birthday ending in zero is coming soon, so guess what I’m reading. Joan Chittister’s The Gift of Years: Growing Old Gracefully. The chapter titles fit: Letting Go, Ageism, Wisdom, Legacy, Memories, and so on. While never reading the last chapter first, I allowed myself the last sentence in the epilogue fittingly titled “The Twilight Time.”  It read: “Now it is finished.  Now it is only beginning.” The author sees so many possibilities and blessings in growing older, that I’m looking forward to the next zero. Her wisdom runs deep. One message running across the pages is to let go. Good advice. As Richard Rohr writes in The Naked Now, “All great spirituality is somehow about letting go.” The zero is my birthday present—a constant reminder let go, to spend a new decade emptying myself of myself.

I have a large picture of “The Windsock Visitation,” a copy of the one painted by Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath. From the instant I saw the painting, it spoke to me of the deep soul-to-soul friendship between Elizabeth and Mary. The energy of the Holy Spirit surrounds the cousins, uniting them in joyous ecstasy. Their delight emerged not so much from the family reunion, but from souls magnifying the Lord who had done great things in them.  Holy be His name!

It was only recently when I discovered the book This Little Light: Lessons in Living from Sister Thea Bowman written and illustrated by Brother Michael O’Neill McGrath that I learned how the painting came to be. Brother Mickey (as he is called) visited the Sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary, who traded their “cozy comforts of the academies” to live among the poor. A windsock was hung outside the monastery on days children could come for after-school care and playtime. A German Renaissance picture of the Visitation hung in the monastery clashing with modern times and the neighborhood. Brother Mickey was commissioned to paint an “Afro-centric rendition of this timeless mystery.”  On the day of the unveiling the children were told the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. They heard that everyone needs an Elizabeth, someone to tell them that “it’s gonna be all right, stop being afraid, God is here, so just keep on stepping.” That’s the message behind Sister Thea Bowman’s life and the insightful homespun paintings. May you discover the book, and I pray that you have an Elizabeth soul friend, too.

The feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is July 31. You’re probably familiar with his phrase “for the greater honor and glory of God.” Service of God and God’s glory, empowered by surrender to God’s will, animated all Ignatius’ endeavors. His famous prayer is one of total surrender: “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will. . . . All I have is yours.  Dispose of it, wholly according to your will.” Could I pray such a prayer and mean it? Take my memory, my understanding? Would I want such a prayer to be answered? What motivated Ignatius to pray such a prayer? Assuredly it came from his close following of Jesus who prayed, “Not my will, but Yours be done” in his agony in the garden. In Gethsemane Jesus was so terribly afraid that an angel came to strengthen him, and “his sweat became like drops of blood.” Courageously Jesus surrendered himself totally: “Yet not my will but Yours be done.” Whether a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) or not, we are challenged to pray the scary prayers prayed by Ignatius and Jesus.

You’ve probably seen “Christmas in July” sales and Christmas programs on the Hallmark channel in July. It seems rather gimmicky to me, but as a liturgist, I know that every day is everything.  Every day is Christmas. Every day is Easter. Every day is Good Friday and Ascension and Pentecost and everything else. How so? No matter the day on the calendar, liturgy celebrates the whole reality of Christ’s life—his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, sending His Spirit, and everything in between. Although the Church doesn’t sing “Silent Night” in July, the reality of the Incarnation is celebrated 365 days of the year. The first instant of creation, which some call the Big Bang, was for the purpose of the Incarnation. Then 14.7 billion years later when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Incarnate Word was laid in a manger. And someday at the end of the world, the Second Coming will complete the Incarnation when all creation will be one with its Creator. What a Christmas that will be!

We have a sister in our community whose nickname is Martha. I’ve never been sure whether she got that nickname from Martha Stewart or Saint Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. This sister is the perfect homemaker. She could have become an interior decorator. Her food is scrumptious, and the meal’s arrangement convinces anyone that it’s a matter of presentation, presentation, presentation. Being impeccably clean and neat is a given. Whatever she does deserves a blue ribbon. So does her nickname come from Martha Stewart or Saint Martha?

I’m sure this sister would be flattered by either Martha, but I’m going to suggest the saint. You remember that the Itinerant Preacher and his disciples knew where they could get a homecooked meal. Perhaps they invited themselves into Martha’s home. She had the grace to “welcome [them] to her home.” As Martha rushed to bake more bread and set 13 more places, Jesus teased Martha for being too busy: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing is required.” What was that? Simply being present, enjoying the presence of Jesus, listening to his words. Jesus wanted Martha to be present to her guests: that was, and is, the “better portion” of hospitality.

The sister nicknamed Martha has the aplomb to create a fine feast and be present to her guests. Doing both she will never be deprived of the “better portion.” Nor will her guests.

Get a Grip

July 18th, 2020 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Richard Rohr in his book The Naked Now writes that when you surrender to God, “you are in Someone Else’s grip.” What a powerful image! Scripture is replete with images showing the close unity between God and us. God and we carry the yoke together. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. During a prayer said at the Last Supper, Jesus prays, “As long as I was with them, I guarded them… I kept careful watch, and not one of them was lost.” The Twelve share Jesus’ authority to cure and expel unclean spirits. Love of God and neighbor are one and the same. We are called his mother and brothers and sisters when we do the will of God. God fosters us like “one who raises an infant to his cheeks.”

During this stressful time of disease, unemployment, anxiety of all kinds we are in Someone Else’s grip. Grab God’s hand. God will never let you go.

I have loved words for as long as I can remember. My baby book claims that my first three words were Mama, Dada, and pasteurize. My family had dairy cows, so I must have heard the third word often. Or did I think it was the name of one of my siblings?

We Sisters of Notre Dame give one another lots of cards. Some sisters gather for card-making parties, and some houses have drawers full of stamps, tagboard, and special scissors—all of which make the card-sending less expensive but certainly not less labor-intensive.  Besides holiday, birthday, and feastday cards we send the annual jubilee cards. Every sister celebrating 25, 40, 50, 60, 70, or 75 years receives one. These cards are treasured and kept long after the special day.

Some sisters randomly select a card, re-read its message, and pray for the sender throughout the day on which it was selected. Perhaps she even phones for a little chat. One particularly unusual card designed by Ministry of the Arts in LaGrange, Illinois, had this on the cover: “Blessed are women who join together with hearts and souls as one.” This randomly selected card and dozens of others unite us with their blessed messages. Card-making, sending, and lovingly re-reading are some of the most beloved “hallmarks” of our SND community.

When Jesus gathered his disciples at the Last Supper, he assured them that they would receive whatever they asked for, and that their joy would be full (John 16:24). What a beautiful, reassuring final message. Jesus’ promise continues through the ages, and we Sisters of Notre Dame are relying on that promise today.

On Sunday, July 5th, the four United States provinces of the Sisters of Notre Dame (California, Chardon OH, Kentucky, and Toledo OH) became one province under the new title of Immaculate Conception Province. Our new provincial superior, Sister Margaret Mary Gorman, was installed along with her councilors and 15 community coordinators (largely regional). Though original plans were for a Notre Dame gathering in Chardon covid19 changed those but this did not prevent our gathering in small groups across the USA, joined through live streaming. The installation included a Mass and ceremony with short speeches including one from our Superior General, Sister Mary Kristin Battles, delivered from Rome. And, of course, after the installation, there were festive meals held in many convents across the miles! We never forget that part! There were also three celebratory programs to be shared via technology. This was certainly an HISTORICAL DAY celebrated with distance but with great joy!

We believe that God will answer our prayers for unity and increased cooperation in mission. And we believe that our joy will be full!

Creating

July 7th, 2020 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Ever since God said “Let there be light,” God allows creation to keep creating itself. The tomatoes that rotted in the ground last fall seeded new plants this spring. The lettuce that was cut for salad just two days ago is taller than it was then. Every living thing is potential for new life, for more creation. Yet every living thing depends upon many things outside itself for growth. Tomatoes and lettuce depended upon soil, rain, sun, and a gardener willing to weed. As we “create” ourselves, we recall that without that first “Let there be light,” we would not have the potential to evolve. Our evolution toward full personhood owes everything to God, other people, and an unimaginable number of “seeds.”

Today reflect on the “seeds” in your evolution. What seeds developed your body, mind, spirit? Be grateful for them.