I have just finished reading Walter Brueggemann’s book Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out. In the first three chapters of this small volume Brueggemann guides the reader through the Hebrew Scriptures demonstrating how YHWH hears the groans of the people and commands prophets and psalmists to speak. The remainder of the book focuses on figures in the New Testament who refuse to keep silent. In chapter 4 titled “Jesus Rudely Interrupted” we read about the Syro-Phoenician woman who wouldn’t allow her ethnicity, gender, or religion prevent her from speaking up on behalf of her daughter. The author shows how the importuning of this mother actually changes Jesus’ mind. Jesus tells the woman that he had come only for his Jewish race. But the woman persists, breaking the consensus that God’s food was only for Jews. Jesus did not defend privilege, he did not defend Jewish chosenness, and he did not insist that he was right the first time. “Because she broke the silence in a daring, insistent way that reeducated him, her daughter is set free, just as she had asked” (p. 52). Was it the mother’s courage and passion that pushed Jesus’ ministry beyond Galilee? Yes, Jesus moved into the “region of Decapolis” and began healing in Greek territory among Gentiles.  Similarly, the crowd tries to silence blind Bartimaeus, but he cries out “more loudly” not for alms but for complete restoration. Again Jesus hears.

What I appreciate most about this book is the emphasis on how silence protects privilege and why the privileged are often silencers. Written in 2018, this book is apropos to our political, social, economic and religious systems. The reader reflects: How are governments, churches, and laws silencing persons on the margins? How would Jesus respond today? We need to ask

“What would Jesus do?”

Sr. Mary Dean Pfahler SND
Parish Ministry Director / Spiritual Director
St. Bartholomew Catholic Church
Long Beach CA

The low-tire-pressure icon appeared on the dashboard – again.  The first time that happened to me in Long Beach, I was informed that – by California law – air is free at gas stations.  However, it turns out I paid a self-service pump $1.50 with a major credit card for enough air to get the icon to go away.

So this time I was going to get professional help.  The Goodyear tire store on the way home from St. Bartholomew’s looked promising; service persons were working on cars in 6 bays.  The gentleman at the desk pointed out an empty bay where I should pull in.  Then he asked, “You’re a nun, right?”  That question  intrigues me, so I had to ask, “How did you know?”  He said he could always tell but didn’t explain how.

The fact that I was wearing a white blouse, black pants and the congregational cross probably helped.  But I was wearing “normal” clothes on Monday night when I accompanied a friend to A Place for Kids in Orange County.  She had been volunteering with this bereavement group for years, and I was sitting in for the first time.  While children meet with their age cohort, the parent or guardian meets with other adults for mutual support.  The grandmother who sat on the far side of the table told my friend afterwards that she knew I was a sister even though I introduced myself as “Mary.”

After 50 years, apparently, the long black habit and veil I used to wear becomes extraneous.


Traipsing through Oak Openings Metropark

On this first day of autumn, a day suddenly 20 degrees cooler than yesterday’s last day of summer, I took the red trail in the metropark. Every step put a few more grains of sand into my tennis shoes, as I ascended to a sand dune. I thought of the glacier that receded eons ago leaving us this dune. I felt grateful for the glacier and God’s creative plan that has evolved into everything we enjoy today—plants, animals, trees, rocks, birds. Although after two miles, I was aware of my physical body, I was more aware of my spirit. The feeling reminded me of Teilhard de Chardin’s writing: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” My soul grew stronger, as my feet grew heavier. Having enriched my spirit, I felt a little more human. My spirit jogged along.

27/3=9   or    27/3 could = 8 remainder 3

I hated third-grade math, especially division. My teacher insisted that 3 into 27 is 9—always, immutable, indisputable. But what if I have two friends with whom I want to share 27 pieces of candy? We wouldn’t eat them all at once.  We could each eat 8 and have 3 left over. Thus 3 into 27 is 8 remainder 3. Isn’t that logical? And doesn’t that leave me with 3 extra pieces of candy I could hoard for myself when my friends leave?

Why divide the human race
unless the distribution is equal
and the remainder is abundance…

I still have antipathy against division. It’s the thing I most hate about our country, our Church, and any other group. Division seems so abnormal when we’re all part of the same human race. We have so many divisors:  discrimination, racism, political views, religious backgrounds. And the dividends are so monstrously important:  peace, clean environment, acceptance, and much more! What will be our quotient? Whatever the quotient is I pray that there is always an equal distribution between rich and poor, the gifted and less talented, the healthy and disabled, those living in the West and those living in the East, Democrat and Republican, believer and atheist. And may the world’s resources be an abundant remainder.

The Church honors Mary, the Mother of God, four times within four weeks from mid-August to mid-September: the Assumption (August 15), the Queenship (August 22), the Birth of Mary (September 8), and the Sorrowful Mother (September 15).  My two favorite feasts are the first and last. Belief in the Assumption goes back to the ancient Church of the first century; however, it was never declared a dogma until 1950. Perhaps that is the reason why many girl babies were baptized Madonna or Donna that year. The Sorrowful Mother is dear to me, because I grew up in Bellevue, Ohio, six miles from the Sorrowful Mother Shrine.  My family would often attend Mass and join in rosary processions there. I was in awe of the crutches left behind after miraculous healings.


I appreciate learning new things about Mary. I read that the government of Guatemala banned the recitation of the Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise uttered at the time of her visit to Elizabeth. The civil leaders determined that its language of raising up the lowly and casting down the powerful was just too subversive.  Not bad for a humble maiden living 2000 years ago!

Mary, Sorrowful Mother
and glorious Queen of Heaven,
bless all who read this blog.
Make them powerful like you.

Be On the Lookout

Stories and movies of suspense often have a scene in which someone is on the lookout. In times of fear being on the lookout comes quite naturally. Should being on the lookout ever come “unnaturally”? Gregory Boyle in his book Barking to the Choir writes: …be constantly on the lookout for the holy in each moment. With 86,400 seconds in each day, that’s a lot of opportunity! Let’s try to find the holy a dozen times today. Listen to the wisdom of an elder or a small child. Notice the shape of clouds, the song of birds, the noise of traffic. Pay attention to lyrics, facial expressions, the unexpected, the under-appreciated. If holiness is seeing God in all things, as the Jesuits claim, then locate the God-element in everyone today. Latch on to the myriad of God-expressions, for everything can be a reminder of the holy. Be on the lookout. With practice, being on the lookout for the holy may even come naturally.

The life—and death–of Senator John McCain proved there is always a larger view and a larger love. You’ve probably read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. His books begins by asking the reader to look at the lens through which he or she sees the world. How does that lens shape one’s interpretation of the world? Maybe our country needs a new lens; maybe we need to change our perception. Having viewed much of Senator McCain’s funeral, I wonder how many Americans will change our perceptions of what the United States is.
Will we have the same lens as John McCain and see the good and the bad, the true and the false, for what they are—realities that continually challenge us to work together in unity? Can we become a united United States? Can we widen our views to see across the Senate Chamber aisle and the Atlantic? From our colonial days Americans have loved freedom—political, religious. We formed our country on respect for life and pursuit of happiness. Has our country’s paradigm shifted? Once upon a time we imagined democracy, and a whole new way of governing was born. Once upon a time we imagined a world without slavery, and amendments were added to our Constitution abolishing this evil. Once upon a time we imagined forgiving our enemies and rebuilt Germany. Will all the “once upon a time” values become mere fairy tales? I can only hope that today’s speeches at John McCain’s funeral will bring people of good will to our founding fathers’ large view and large love.

Faith with Coffee

September 4th, 2018 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The saints knew how to evangelize. It seems they had one rule: go to the people; don’t wait for them to come to you. Missionary saints like St. Paul, St. Patrick, St. Francis Xavier, and countless others traveled the globe to tell others about Jesus Christ. Other saints, like St. Therese of Lisieux, shared the gospel with letters and prayers without leaving their monastery or convent. Still others like St. Maximilian Kolbe evangelized by the witness of their heroic virtue and self-sacrifice. Every place on earth is a field ready for the seeds of evangelization.

In our parishes are there groups who are hungry for spiritual awakening or religious deepening? Are there groups that are underserved? Perhaps parents with small children?  Maybe the octogenarians who ponder how to live their remaining years well? Those with disabilities? The homebound or those who don’t drive at night? Care-takers?

One of my goals this new academic year is to increase opportunities for those who may be underserved. One way I call “Faith with Coffee.” When parents or drivers drop off children at school, they can stop by for a cup of coffee and 30 minutes of adult religious education. (They may bring their pre-schoolers, and anyone else is the parish is invited, too. The time was chosen designedly for the space of time between dropping off students and the next thing that needs to be done.) This Tuesday presentation will also include something Gospel-oriented to take home for themselves and the rest of the family. Similarly, those who bring children for religious education classes on Wednesday evenings will have the same opportunity.

Please pray that these Catholic Coffee Klatches truly evangelize. And let me know how you or your parish goes to the people to evangelize. Like all good vocation directors, let’s not wait for people to come to us.

Sr. Mary Dean Pfahler SND
Parish Ministry Director / Spiritual Director
St. Bartholomew Catholic Church
Long Beach CA

Books let you know they want to be read….

I was in South Carolina as the house guest of Denise, a friend of Springbank Retreat Center for Ecospirituality and the Arts.  While dicing vegetables for her detox salad recipe, I noticed Joan Chittister’s slim volume Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible lying at the other end of the kitchen counter.  Denise recommended it, having shared its treasures with a women’s book study group at the nearby Lutheran church.  I made a mental note of the title in case I would have a chance to read it alone or with others.

Now here at St. Bartholomew’s in Long Beach, California, I have that chance.  The Women at the Well book study group will be inviting Lydia, Prisca, Deborah, Miriam, Esther, Ruth, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, Martha and other biblical women into the conversation we women will be hosting.

Not only that, another likely candidate for the book study was sitting on the parish secretary’s desk yesterday.  Gina Loehr’s The Four Teresas had been on my wish list for some time.  In fact, I was about to buy a copy on amazon.com with a gift card received at my 50th anniversary celebration.  When I saw The Teresas on Chris’ desk, I had to find out more.  She was about to donate it to the “Little Library” an Eagle scout had just constructed at the edge of the church property.  I will move it in that direction after a slight detour!

Another surprise surfaced at the St. Bart’s Women’s Council book sale in early June.  I had heard about metaphorical theologian Sallie McFague at Springbank but had not had a chance to read her.  Then Brother Don Bisson FMS mentioned her name in a CD talk I was listening to on the commute to work.  Wouldn’t you know it?  A donated copy of Super, Natural Christians: How We Should Love Nature appeared at the book sale.

See?  Books get in your face and don’t give up until you read them.
What book has been stalking you?


Editorial Note
I just checked the website for BetterWorldBooks and all three of these books are currently available. The prices are great and shipping is free within the USA. Besides that, for every book you purchase BetterWorldBooks will donate a book to a Literacy Program. Can’t beat that!!

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.