A couple walked into the parish office and said they had phoned ahead to ask for a meeting space. As I was showing them the community room, the wife excitedly told me that she was going to meet her birth mother. Some time ago the wife had graduated from our parish elementary school and was later married in our parish church. Now they were living in South Dakota but had been able to locate the birth mother still in Ohio. They thought our parish would be an appropriate place to meet. I told the couple that our parish was honored to be chosen for such an occasion. I showed them the community room and the nearby flower garden, and then I waited at the main entrance. A few minutes later I heard a shout. Using another door, the birth mother and daughter had found each other. The wives with their husbands spent two hours talking and taking pictures and then left aglow with joy. Our parish has many blessed moments, as we celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments, as we open a food pantry weekly, as we share faith in many ways—and in the unforeseen delights that dot a parish’s day.
Summarizing Two Great Books in One Word: Relationship
This past week I began reading two books. The first The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr was one I’ve tried to get hold of since its publication in 2016. The second is Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship by Gregory Boyle, author of Tattoos on the Heart. At first glance these two books could not be more diverse, but they share the same theme: relation, relation, relation. William Paul Young, author of The Shack, calls Rohr’s book “a celebration of Relationship,” the relationship within the Trinity and our relationship with God and one another. I’ve been reading about God as a “fountain fullness” of love always pouring out the flow of divine love. Barking to the Choir has stories on every page about the individuals from gangs that Boyle has helped through Homeboy Industries. Every story warms the reader’s heart with its focus on belonging and “the holiness of second chances.” Boyle writes: “In all my years of living, I have never been given greater access to the tenderness of God than through the channel of the thousands of homies I have been privileged to know.” Both books bring God closer. Both books delight. The reader smiles in the midst of abstract truths made accessible through humor, malapropisms, slang, and clever expressions. Among the intriguing titles of Rohr’s chapters are “Tide Boxes at Kmart,” “Paradigms Lost,” “Transcendence Deficit Disorder,” and “Metaphors Be with You.” God is with us. Both books make God incredibly close and infinitely open to us. When we are in need, God is there. Or as Boyle in the language of one of his Homeboys writes: “The Dude shows up.”
The Way Forward is the Way Inward
Our readers may know that the four United States provinces of the Sisters of Notre Dame are in a process of becoming one province over the next two years. Some efforts toward unification have been in the works over the past few years, but with the proximity of 2020 the efforts are intensifying. What I have found so beautiful is the peace that pervades the sisters, along with trust in those most involved in the decision-making. In this process we have had to let go, for example, the selling of our provincial center property. Paradoxically, it’s in the letting go that we can create something new.
When we gather with sisters of other provinces, there is such evident unity. We have a common vision; everyone seems to be forward-looking. What a blessing! We are open to the future, and that is why we see the present as a time of rich possibilities. We know that the heart of all life is oneness, and so we work toward oneness to let new life flourish. The way forward can only be successful by simultaneously making the way inward. As we strive for unity, readers, please join us with your prayers.
The Miracle Story of Annie the Bus Driver
On a day in April the entire student body at St. John High School, Delphos, gathered in the gym to pray for Annie, one of our associates, who had bone cancer. Because the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Maria Aloysia, lived in Delphos several years, we prayed through her intercession for Annie’s complete cure. Students continued to pray for Annie, their favorite bus driver. Eventually the oncologists declared that Annie was completely free of bone cancer.
However, after 15 years, the cancer returned. This week Annie’s family and friends will celebrate her funeral and acknowledge her deep spirituality shown in her great involvement in her parish church, especially as a cantor and choir member. Annie has been an associate of the Sisters of Notre Dame since 2004.
May Annie be a great intercessor for our ND Associates
and all of us.
Around this time of year you may hear of priests’ anniversaries of ordination and religious sisters’ jubilees. Some religious orders mark the years from the time of entrance into the community as postulants. My congregation marks jubilee from First Vows. (The first vows a Sister makes are temporary for a few years until her Final Vows or Solemn Profession.) This year’s celebration ranged from 25 to 75 years of religious profession.
For many, the community’s celebration of jubilee is the high point of the year, whether one is a jubilarian or not. This joyful time is a time of laughter, memories, and foods beyond the typical convent fare. Above all, it’s a time of gratitude. It’s a custom in our community that when the Mass is over, the program performed, and the food cleared, that the Sisters celebrating jubilee have a chance to address the community. Whether in song or poetry or paragraph, the message of each group is the same:
Jubilee—a special day to thank God
and thank Notre Dame.
“Thank you” says it all.
Throughout Church history there have been two major ways to follow this demand. Monastic orders make the Liturgy of the Hours top priority, while other aspects of their day (work, meals, recreation, sleep) revolve around these times of prayer. There were even times in history when monks would allow themselves only one hour of sleep to have almost the whole day devoted to prayer. Lay persons, along with priests and sisters not living in monastic communities, follow “Pray always” by leading the best Christian lives they can while punctuating their day with prayer. Such periodic prayer can be a quick one-liner, a period of meditation, the Mass or any other “lifting of the mind and heart to God.” The two ways, of course, need to be more nuanced than this short description allows, but my point is that both are meritorious responses leading many to lead very holy lives.
Whether living in a monastery or “in the world,” all of us can aim to “pray always.” One technique is to have a “signal” reminding us to pray more often than our regular prayer. One signal I use is lifting my coffee cup when I sit to pray first thing in the morning. God and I hold our mugs like beer steins and tell each other “cheers.” Just one word, one second of time, one thought, and a smile between God and me. Often this first prayer of the day is my best prayer of the day.
Probably many of you have a sign that you know comes directly from God. Maybe it’s a butterfly that shows a deceased loved one is present. Maybe it’s a deer that reminds you of God’s great care for you.
For me, it’s a heron often seen at Lial Renewal Center in Whitehouse, Ohio. Generally I make my annual week’s retreat there, and I hope to see the heron which for me means that God approves of my direction in life. During some annual retreats I see the heron only once, and that time is usually at the end of the retreat. Its flight says to me, “All is well. Keep flying the same route.”
This summer the heron showed himself on the very first day. As I walked toward the lake, I mused, “I wonder if I’ll see my her__.” Before I could get the last syllable out, there he was! Some hours later I saw him again, standing quite still, then walking a few steps, standing quietly, then taking a few more steps along the path around the lake that I had intended to make. I waited so as not to disturb, and then another heron joined him. Together they flew off, and I continued my trek where the heron had been. Within a couple minutes back came the heron, and he flew parallel to me for a few seconds. Wow! Was that ever a sign from God that this would be a wonderful retreat!
Someone recommended a book to me that she had heard recommended by Oprah Winfrey. The title? The Sun Does Shine. It’s written by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit. Although at first, he was justifiably angry for the blatant racism and his lawyer’s ineptness that convicted him—a conviction no white or wealthy person would have received—he decided that freedom resided in his soul. Hinton traveled the world in his imagination, the only way he could escape his 5-foot by 7-foot cell without windows. He started a book club for the other inmates and in other ways helped those on death row become a community. He kept up his spirit for 30 years until the day he walked out of prison as he said, “The sun does shine.” He received his freedom in 2015 from the Supreme Court of the United States. Since then he has worked to show people that capital punishment and our prison system are not the answer.
Perhaps you and I have had experiences of grave injustice, perhaps we have lost some years during which we could not use our talents, perhaps we have felt betrayed by persons who should have been our friends. Whatever those experiences, if you read Hinton’s book, they will be put into perspective. If you are still angry about those experiences, this book will show you ways to overcome the hurt.
On May 27 Father Andrew Wellmann officiated his First Mass after the previous day’s ordination. I can’t imagine the thoughts that went through his mind as he lifted the paten and chalice for the first time “in persona Christi.” Were they nervous thoughts like “I hope I do this right”? Were they feelings of awe? Were they humble thoughts of how bread becomes Jesus Christ through the words of consecration? Regardless of thoughts or feelings, the words transformed simple gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. God entrusts Himself to us, God lets humans hold him—how humble our great God!
The occasion of a First Mass is a celebration of the parish. It’s a parish’s achievement to have a priest from among them, the fruit of their parenting, schooling, befriending, supporting. And what a celebration it was: flowers in abundance, trumpets and flutes, eight men harmonizing in the choir loft, the newly-ordained priest’s sister as cantor and soloist, the presence of the Knights of Columbus, a sanctuary filled with priests, deacons, and altar servers. May St. John the Evangelist Church in Delphos, Ohio have many more such First Masses.
The diocese was blessed May 26 by the ordination of three newly-minted priests. The two and one-half hour liturgy was resplendent in its beauty and symbolism. The Rite of Ordination begins with the Director of Diocesan Priestly Vocations attesting to the candidates’ worthiness. Then the candidates promise to fulfill their duties and responsibilities of the priesthood by placing their hands between those of the bishop, promising respect and obedience to him and his successors. The candidates then prostrate themselves as the assembly sings the Litany of the Saints. The conferring of the sacrament of Holy Orders involves, as in most sacraments, the laying on of hands. The bishop imposed his hands first, then all the other priests. Each candidate was invested with a stole and chasuble. Their hands were anointed with sacred Chrism showing that these priests participate in the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ. (A linen cloth is used to wipe the chrism, and these cloths are presented to the mothers of the priests during the First Mass.) Finally there is the fraternal “Peace be with you” as the bishop and all concelebrating priests give a sign of welcome into the Order of the Priesthood.
Diocesan priests do not live in community the way religious order priests do. In large parishes priests may live together in the rectory, and I’m sure bonds of friendship and camaraderie are often formed. (I hear jokes between the priests at weekend Masses sometimes.) However, even when a priest lives alone, he has the memory of the fraternal “Peace be with you,” the sign of welcome. I imagine that the Twelve Apostles had special bonding. Peter, James, and John seemed to be selected as special friends of Jesus. Perhaps the four had other excursions besides going up to Tabor. At the Transfiguration the three apostles felt close to Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. And did they say to one another, “I love being here with you guys”?