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?
On January 9, 1828 Hilligonde Wolbring was born. As her parents held the newborn, they wondered, “What will this child be?” Both parents died before Hillligonde was eight years old. It was only from their heavenly vantage point that they discovered Hilligonde became the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, along with her co-sister Lisette Kühling.
Perhaps we’ve held a newborn and wondered “What will this child be?” Many other times we’ve held a “newborn”—a new thought, an incipient plan, a heart’s desire that calls for action. Hilligonde and Lisette held a newborn thought: “We need to do something more for the poor children.” Within two years their concern became an orphanage that was also the convent for the first two Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Maria Aloysia (Hilligonde) and Sister Mary Ignatia (Lisette).
Now we Sisters of Notre Dame hold a newborn: What shall our congregation become? Where is the Spirit leading us? Our recent general chapter in Coesfeld, Germany points to commitment to living incarnational spirituality, growth in life-giving relationships, and oneness in diversity. Although the direction may start with our own religious communities, the thrust is outward to all cultures and creation. Happy birthday to us, too!
Badges and identification speak volumes. They shout, “Official!” and “I’m representing something/someone bigger than both of us.”
Let’s imagine that each of us wears under our jacket or on our vest a badge that claims “Agent of God’s Reign.” What power we’d feel! How official we’d become! Imagine yourself walking into a situation of conflict. “Stop the violence in the name of the Lawgiver!” Imagine meeting someone in great sorrow. “I’m an agent of God’s reign. Let me introduce you to the Prince of Peace.” Perhaps someone is careless with the environment. “Excuse me. I’m an Agent of God’s Reign. Do you know Earth is an extension of God? Are you aware of what you are doing? Remember ‘All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be’ (Jn. 1:3).”
Be a badge-wearing Christian today. Identify yourself with all that is right and good. Don’t worry. You’re official—sworn in by baptismal promises.
Summer is coming to an end. With some sadness do we count our losses? No more picnics, no more swimming, no more trips to the beach. Or do we look back over June, July, and August and count our gains? What have the bits of extra leisure gained for us or for others? Did we have more opportunity to put service to others over our own personal desires? Could we afford the time to prepare some delightful surprises for children? Did we include in our vacation space for God? The coming short winter days may make us greedy with our daylight time. The cold may keep us sitting by a fire or in front of a TV. But for now El Nino promises a pleasant autumn, a couple more months to focus on our gains. What will we do with the hours of daylight savings time?
When you miss an important message, when the toilet overflows, when the pork chops burn, when all your hard work seems futile, when the lawn mower doesn’t start, when you break a fingernail or glass, when you can’t find a parking space, when you’ve lost your date book, and when you wonder why you even got up in the morning and whether anything at all has been achieved on your bad day, there is a cure for your day-long frustration. Just take a moment to think of God, how much God loves you—even delights in you. Anthony de Mello wrote, “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.” Does anything matter compared to God’s smile?